Keeping our food safe was Sutton man’s career


copyright the Chronicle May 31, 2017


by Tena Starr


This country frets about terrorism a lot. But one of its more potentially effective, if less splashy, forms — attacking the food supply — has occurred with surprising infrequency.

Hank Parker, an agroterrorism specialist who has retired to Sutton, is among those who have played a part in that.

Mr. Parker is a scientist, and one of the things he’s spent his long and unusual career thinking about is the safety of U.S. agriculture and food. He was a fellow at the National Defense University, where he wrote a treatise on what the federal government could do to protect American agriculture and the food supply. He’s been acting director for homeland security for the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA). And in retirement he teaches a graduate level class in agroterrorism at Georgetown University.

Before September 11, 2001, he said in a recent interview, the U.S. food system was highly vulnerable — and in many ways still is. But back then agriculture wasn’t even considered a critical infrastructure, he said.

Yes, there were people in the federal government who recognized the potential threat, but it took the September 11 attacks to improve coordination of security in general. There was also a more serious effort to make sure that Americans don’t have to worry about eating, at least not because of terrorists.

Mr. Parker’s career has not run in a straight line. He started out in biological oceanography, specializing in aquaculture. Basically, that’s fish farming. The USDA hired him as coordinator of its aquaculture program in 1992, and over time, he got involved in research programs.

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Newport Center approves water bond


copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017


by Joseph Gresser


NEWPORT CENTER — Voters here gave the nod to a plan to provide an ample supply of safe drinking water to residents of the village of Newport Center. In balloting Tuesday, town residents approved a $745,000 bond by a vote of 95 to 13. One hundred nine out of 1,316 people on the checklist voted.

The money will pay for two new wells, a treatment facility to remove arsenic and manganese from water, and the electrical and plumbing connections needed to keep the new wells flowing.

At an informational meeting held at the town offices March 30, Steve Barrup, who chairs the select board, said the village water board has applied for grants from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development program to help pay the cost of the system.

Because Newport Center is part of the Rural Economic Area Partnership Program (REAP) zone, comprised of Essex, Orleans, and Caledonia counties, it’s eligible for grants that could cover up to 75 percent of the project’s cost. The hitch, Mr. Barrup said, is the USDA will not consider a request unless a municipality has authorized a bond for the project.

With the positive vote, the town can wait to see what size grant it gets before deciding whether to go forward with the project, Mr. Barrup said.

The entire town must vote for the bond because it will continue to exist even if all the water department’s customers leave the area, he said.

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Officials offer Newport economic hope


copyright the Chronicle August 24, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — Although it’s had some reverses in the past year, Newport has friends. That message was clearly delivered Monday night when representatives from a wide variety of government agencies and nonprofits gathered for a city council meeting.

The roll of distinguished guests included Ted Brady, who heads the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development program; newly appointed Secretary of Commerce and Community Development, Lucy Leriche; David Snedeker, the director of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA); and Jon Freeman, president of Northern Communities Investment Corporation (NCIC).

Representatives of the Vermont Land Trust and Vermont Council for Rural Development helped round out the panel.

City Manager Laura Dolgin introduced the assembled dignitaries and suggested the city might see changes in the coming months. State judicial officials are looking over their properties around Vermont.

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USDA money available for home repair and ownership



Leonard Gregoire stands in front of the house in Lyndonville, which he purchased with a USDA loan through its direct home ownership program.  Photo by Elizabeth Trail

Leonard Gregoire stands in front of the house in Lyndonville, which he purchased with a USDA loan through its direct home ownership program. Photo by Elizabeth Trail

copyright the Chronicle June 24, 2015

by Elizabeth Trail

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has about any kind of loan or grant a low-income homeowner, or prospective homeowner, could possibly need. And it wants to give that money out, especially in the Northeast Kingdom.

That’s the message rural development specialist Dianne Drown and regional director for rural development Jon-Michael Muise, both with the USDA, gave at a public meeting held at the Burke school on June 17.

The point of the USDA rural housing program is to help people own houses that are safe, clean, and affordable to heat.

Depending on income and credit, people could be eligible for a loan of up to $205,000 in Orleans County, $200,000 in Essex County, or $215,000 in….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Vermont leads nation in sugarmaking again


Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle July 16, 2014 

by Natalie Hormilla

Vermont again led the nation in maple syrup production in 2014, according to a report by the United State Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Vermont’s total production for this year was 1,320,000 gallons, about 42 percent of the total U.S. production of 3,167,000.

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Weather problems drive up beef prices sharply


Bob Butterfield’s son, Ethan, is pictured with his seven-month-old heifer, Chloe, on one of the Spring Hill Angus farms, in Barton.  Chloe was an embryo transplant calf, or “E.T.” for short.  Her egg was taken from a top-ranking heifer.  Chloe is off to Randolph, New York, soon, to be auctioned at the New York State Angus Association sale.  Her genetics make her a desirable purchase, Mr. Butterfield said.  Someone from Montana has already expressed interest.  Photos by Natalie Hormilla

Bob Butterfield’s son, Ethan, is pictured with his seven-month-old heifer, Chloe, on one of the Spring Hill Angus farms, in Barton. Chloe was an embryo transplant calf, or “E.T.” for short. Her egg was taken from a top-ranking heifer. Chloe is off to Randolph, New York, soon, to be auctioned at the New York State Angus Association sale. Her genetics make her a desirable purchase, Mr. Butterfield said. Someone from Montana has already expressed interest. Photos by Natalie Hormilla

copyright the Chronicle May 7, 2014

by Natalie Hormilla

BARTON — The price of beef in most stores is at a record high, and the price of locally raised beef is getting higher, too.

The average price of a pound of ground beef in most U.S. states hit almost $3.70 for the month of March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI).

That average price was up from $3.55 in February and $3.47 in January. In March of 2013, it was $3.33; four years ago, it was $2.24.

Just like in the rest of the country, shoppers at the C&C Supermarket in Barton have been wondering why the prices have been so high lately.

“We had a sign over the meat department for three months, stating why we had higher beef prices,” said Ray Sweeney, who works in the meat department at the C&C. “Just to kind of explain ourselves.”

“People were asking a lot,” he said.

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Hungry Vermonters face cuts in aid

hunger web

Joe Patrissi at the NEKCA food shelf. Mr. Patrissi said it was fully stocked on Monday morning, but demand is great, and a few hours later several of its shelves were bare. Photo by Tena Starr

Years ago, Kim Arel found herself in a tough spot.  She had two young children to feed, and for a brief time the only way to swing that was to visit a food shelf.  “I was surprised to see other people there that I didn’t think I would,” she said in a recent interview.

Later, when she was in a better place, Ms. Arel decided to pay it forward, and became a donor to food shelves herself.  And for the past 12 years or so, she’s been running the food shelf in Jay, which serves five towns.

Last week, she said, many of her clientele were talking about the latest round of cuts to 3SquaresVT, the program that helps poor Vermonters put food on the table.  “They don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Those cuts, which will take effect on November 1, are due to the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, which passed in 2009 and included a temporary increase for help with food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The temporary boost increased the monthly SNAP benefit by 14 percent. Continue reading


Apple crop is skimpy this year

Mort Gellman of Holland, Vermont, stands next to one of his Honeycrisp trees. He manages a 100-tree apple orchard on his property. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

by Natalie Hormilla

copyright the Chronicle 9-5-2012

After a long, hot summer, people may be looking forward to fall foliage, cooler weather and crisp apple cider.  When the foliage will change or the weather cool is anyone’s guess, but at least one thing is certain:  This autumn’s apple crop won’t be nearly as bountiful as it was in 2011. 

“We had a lot of frost damage this spring,” said Mort Gellman, who manages an orchard of about 100 apple trees of ten different varieties on his property in Holland. 

Mr. Gellman, like many apple growers, was hit hard by the April frost that followed an unusually warm March. 

“Just when they were in full bloom, the temperature went down to 15 degrees,” he said.  “Yep, it was a big hurtin’.” 

Mr. Gellman sells his apples mainly through the Newport Farmers’ Market, and people are welcome to come pick their own.   

“I sold every apple I had,” Mr. Gellman said in reference to last year’s season. 

Some varieties fared better this year than others.  He estimates that he’s down about 75 percent on his crop of Cortlands, but only about 50 percent on his Honeycrisps.  His Rome Beauty tree, which is a very late bloomer, had its best year since he planted it three seasons ago. 

Mr. Gellman said the Rome Beauty is one of the finest baking apples, and it’s a variety from the 1800s. 

As of August 30, his apples weren’t ready for picking just yet.  His earliest variety, Zestar, had about one and a half or two weeks left before harvesting could start. 

Mr. Gellman planted all the trees himself, and takes care of them mostly by himself, sometimes with the help of a neighbor.  He turned 86 in August. 

“I’m not doing this to get rich,” he said.  “The orchard is my life.”

Mr. Gellman started working in apple orchards when he was 18 years old.  At one point in his life, he ran a large vegetable farm in his native New Jersey, where he planted 50 acres of tomatoes for the Campbell’s Soup Company.  He also worked on a 5,000-tree apple orchard in Missouri in the mid-90s. 

“I know enough about growing because that’s most of what I ever did,” he said. 

He isn’t alone in having fewer apples this year.  In fact, the apple crop for all of Vermont is forecast to be down about 28 percent compared to last year. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the state can expect to see a crop of about 24 million pounds of apples, down from last year’s 33.5 million pounds. 

The dip in statewide production mirrors a drop in national production for the year.  NASS has forecast that U.S. apple production will weigh in at 8,065.7 million pounds this year — about a 14 percent drop from last year’s 9,420 million pounds. 

Cate Hill Orchard in Greensboro also expects much less of a crop this year.

“I think we had a total crop failure, really, from that late freeze, or rather that early spring,” said Maria Schumann, who owns and operates the orchard withJosh Karp. 

Last year, Cate Hill Orchard had about 60 or 70 fruit bearing trees, Ms. Schumann said.  This year, about 20 of their trees bore fruit.  “And they all have way less than they had last year,” she said. 

Ms. Schumann cites the same reason as Mr. Gellman:  the April frost. 

“It’s a normal time to have that kind of freeze, it was more just that everything was three weeks ahead because of that warm weather in March,” she said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this year’s March was the warmest ever for the U.S. since formal record keeping began in 1895.   Some states experienced warmer weather than others that month.  Vermont was one of the states to experience its record warmest March, along with the biggest apple producing states in the eastern half of the country, Michigan and New York. 

Cate Hill Orchard sold apples and cider at farmers’ markets in Hardwick, Montpelier and Stowe last year.  Ms. Schumann said they probably won’t do cider this year, except for by the glass maybe. 

Cate Hill Orchard has a mix of trees that are about 100 years old and were inherited from Mr. Karp’s family.  They also have much newer trees, for a total of about 250 trees.  Ms. Schumann said there is no real difference in production among the fruit-bearing trees in terms of their ages. 

“Last year was such a fantastic year,” she said.  “There were apples everywhere.” 

She said that last year’s bounty may also have something to do with this year’s dearth. 

“A lot of apples, not all, but especially heirloom varieties, will tend to have on years and off years.  They won’t bear the same amount every year, even without a frost.” 

Terry Bradshaw, president of the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers’ Association, also said last year’s big crop was a factor in this year’s smaller one.

“Last year was an incredible apple year in terms of quantity of fruit,” he said.  “Even maple trees had apples on them.”

Mr. Bradshaw said it’s prudent to manage an orchard so that spring buds are thinned to a number that doesn’t stress out the trees. 

“If you don’t, you’ll get what’s called biennial bearing,” he said, meaning that the trees will produce a big crop every other year, with little or no production on the off years. 

“So that’s kind of the one-two punch of why things might be a little bit lower this year,” he said.  “I noticed before the frost even came that the count of buds was low.”

Mr. Bradshaw makes the bulk of his observations at his home in Calais and on the orchard he manages for University of Vermont (UVM) Extension in South Burlington. 

He estimates that even without the frost, many trees that produced heavily last year would have only had about 70 percent production this year.  

Mr. Bradshaw explained that it’s in the apple trees’ best interests not to produce a lot of apples each and every year. 

“The only reason why any plant produces fruit is not to feed us, but to have a baby, to keep spreading the plant along,” he said.  “What the plant wants to do is make lots of those seeds, a lot of apples, and it wants to be fairly small so animals can spread them and it doesn’t mind not doing it every year because it breaks up pest cycles.  But the role of an apple grower is to grow big red apples every year, so we’re trying to steer nature in our direction.”

Biennial bearing may contribute to a lack of wild apples this year, which were in abundance in many areas of Vermont in 2011.

“A managed orchard has an annual crop,” Mr. Bradshaw said.  “Whereas wild trees, if they put all their resources out one year, they don’t mind taking a breather.”

Mr. Bradshaw said that state crop production has been variable.  He said the UVM Extension orchard is looking at about a half crop this year. 

“But I’ve heard of some growers saying they’re having their best year in recent memory, so it’s variable, and it depends on the varieties and when their blooms open,” he said.

“In Cabot there are maybe 3,000 trees in a fairly young orchard and they’re having their best crop ever,” he said.  “I’ve heard in the Eastern Townships they’re doing very well.  So there’s plenty of fruit.”  

“The economics of growing is interesting this year,” he said.  “If you’ve got fruit, you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, because all those packing houses and processors in west New York and Michigan have been driving to New England with checkbooks in hand trying to buy up fruit, and a lot of that’s for processing cider.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see $7 or $8 jugs of cider this year, so it’s good to be a grower.”

Mr. Bradshaw also said that those who did get fruit this year may find themselves with an especially good quality crop.  He said the sunny and warm weather has been complemented by just enough moisture to get the fruit to size.  

“I’m seeing larger fruit and redder fruit, because there hasn’t been a lot of cloud cover,” he said.  “The sun is what turns the apples red.”

Leaves turn solar energy into carbohydrates, which translates into a sweeter, higher quality apple, he said. 

“The other factor that turns apples red is cool nights,” Mr. Bradshaw said.  “Macs are classic with that, once you get nights in the 40s — and I think the weather is shifting and we’re going to come into the fall weather here.”

He pointed out that apple trees are grown all over the world, so they are very adaptable to different climates.  He said lack of rain and warm temperatures shouldn’t affect the trees. 

“The fruit buds are already set,” he said, referring to the middle of summer.  “If you get a drought in June, that would affect things.  The conditions that we’ve seen, I think we’ll have a good crop for next year.  Trees are adaptable, and they know that in August it dries up.  August is our least precipitous month every year, and all of the tree’s growth processes slow down by the middle or end of July because that’s how the tree’s programmed, to work with the systems we have.”

Chris Rawlings of Heath Orchard in Stanstead, Quebec, said that he’s seeing a crop of smaller quantity but higher quality this year. 

“It’s holding at about 65 percent of an average year,” he said.  “There are varieties which are better than usual in quality, not quantity.

“What I’m seeing on the MacIntosh is that, despite the fact that we had this event of frost on the blossoms, the apples that have come through for the most part are beautiful — round and have very little crevices and bumps for scab spores to install themselves, so they’re much prettier.  They’re an average size, no bigger, no smaller.  They’re looking good and they’re a reasonable size given the dryness.”

He said his Cortlands are looking particularly good as well.  The MacIntosh apples will start getting picked this Friday, September 7, which is early.

“We’re harvesting a week to ten days earlier than usual, across the board,” he said. 

Mr. Rawlings owns and operates the orchard with Lynn Heath.  They have 3,500 trees on 15 acres.  

Mr. Rawlings told the same tale as other growers — that the warm March followed by cold snaps accounts for most of this year’s lighter yield.  He said his Melba trees do take a breather every second year.

He also said that “micro micro climates” within his orchard account for some of the discrepancies he sees among his trees, even among the same varieties. 

“Nothing much is making a lot of sense, you know,” he said.

Still it sounds like Heath Orchard will have plenty of fruit to pick, as will most Vermont growers. 

Even though Vermont will see a significant drop in apple production, it’s still doing better than some other states.  Michigan — normally a top three apple producing state — is looking at a crop of 105 million pounds, as compared to last year’s 985 million pounds; New York is forecast to have 590 million pounds, compared to last year’s 1,220 million pounds. 

Washington — usually the apple producing leader of the country — is slightly up this year, at a total of 5,700 million pounds. 

NASS surveyed orchards of 100 or more bearing-age apple trees to gets its numbers.

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