July 28th, 2008
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON — Unsurprisingly, dairy farmer Mike Eastman is a big milk drinker.
“I drink three quarts, three and a half quarts a day,” he said, grinning. “I drink a lot.”
But Eastman’s smile — and that telltale milk moustache — aren’t splashed across the iconic “Got Milk?” posters made famous over the last 15 years by a national advertising campaign. Instead, he’s at the forefront of a fight closer to home.
From his Addison farm — and from his seat as co-chairman of the board of directors for Rural Vermont, a nonprofit farm advocacy group — Eastman is at work putting “raw” milk — milk that has not been pasteurized or processed to kill potential bacteria — into the hands of Vermonters.
Legislation passed last winter doubled the amount of unpasteurized milk that farmers can sell from their farms — but raw milk sales remain a contentious issue among consumers, farmers and health officials.
“I think that a lot of people really feel, including myself, that drinking fresh, raw milk is healthier,” said Eastman.
But with the Vermont Department of Health strongly warning of potential perils, consumers are left to negotiate the murky territory between the opposing camp, choosing between gallons of pasteurized milk in grocery stores and the increasingly popular farm-fresh milk peddled by farmers like Eastman.
AT THE EASTMAN FARM
Eastman’s farm is small by Addison County standards — he has 40 Holsteins under his careful watch. But his organic certification — and the unusual fact that his cows are purely grass-fed — attracts milk enthusiasts from Middlebury, Vergennes and as far away as near Burlington.
When a customer arrives at the 300-acre farm, Eastman directs them to a small, dark, cool room off the main barn. A large silver bulk tank takes up the majority of the small space.
By JOHN FLOWERS
LEICESTER — Leicester Republican John “Ike” Hughes believes the state Legislature has strayed off course.
That said, Hughes said he is running for the Addison-2 House seat to help bring lawmakers’ focus back home and away from issues over which Hughes believes the state has little or no control: The War in Iraq, global warming and impeachment of President George W. Bush.
“I just don’t think the state is spending proper time on state issues,” Hughes said, citing energy policy, school spending and smaller government as among priority topics.
Hughes, 63, is a retired United States Navy master chief petty officer who most recently ran his own instrumentation business. A Pittsford native who has lived in Leicester for the past 25 years, Hughes is challenging incumbent Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, in the district that includes Salisbury, Cornwall, Ripton, Leicester, Hancock and Goshen.
Hughes has been an active volunteer in statewide GOP politics since 1983. He became involved in Addison County Republican causes around 10 years ago. When the July 21 candidates’ filing deadline was fast approaching and no Republicans had declared an interest in Addison-2, Hughes stepped forward.
“I think the voters should have a choice,” Hughes said. “I think if you feel strongly about the issues, you should get out there.”
Hughes has developed strong opinions about health care, government spending and energy during a life that has included a 21-year stint in the United States Navy. He served three tours in Vietnam and visited more than 100 countries during a military career that saw him in charge of repairs to 26 nuclear submarines. That experience has given him a respect and appreciation for nuclear power at a time when the state is approaching a crossroads in determining whether to re-license Vermont Yankee.
By JOHN FLOWERS
SALISBURY — Faced with mounting expenses, soaring fuel bills, lower client rolls and the prospect of major new competition, Shard Villa — one of the oldest and most historically significant senior care facilities in Vermont — will likely close its doors this November.
While the Shard Villa board of directors plans to keep the ornate, 130-year-old mansion and its spectacular Italian wall murals open to the public, the senior care component of the estate — barring a quick, major infusion of cash — will cease operation this fall after an almost 90-year run. That portends a potentially traumatic uprooting for more than a dozen current Shard Villa residents (most of whom are in their 90s) and layoffs for the 14 full- and part-time workers at the facility.
“It is a decision that has been a long-time coming, and not an easy one to make,” said Shard Villa board President Diane Benware. “But it does not seem economically feasible to continue.”
While the board has not yet formally voted to close Shard Villa’s elder care operation, it is taking steps that would lead toward ending that service on Nov. 1. Those steps include notifying the state of Vermont and securing permission through Addison County Probate Court, which is responsible for enforcing the execution of wills.
Columbus Smith built Shard Villa in 1872-74. He and his wife Harriett began taking in elders in 1919, then the family formally launched the senior care facility in an L-shaped addition built in 1922 — a service they sought to perpetuate through their respective wills. Shard Villa leaders will have to convince a probate court judge that financial hardship now makes the senior care operation untenable.
Officials vowed to work with families to find new accommodations for current Shard Villa residents. They also promised to work with staff to line up new jobs.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
SALISBURY — Collin Tompkins was one of the first out of the old Lund boat, springing onto the narrow dock while the 16-foot craft shimmied up alongside its moorings.
He, like the other three young men in the boat, was damp and smiling. It was a game of back and forth for a little while, and the four men, their wetsuits slung down to mid-waist, looked like they’ve done this a hundred times. Someone secured the boat. Another hoisted their dripping scuba equipment into a deep wheelbarrow.
And among the last items unloaded onto the dock, and then piled into the wheelbarrow, were several mesh bags filled with heavy, wet weeds — Eurasian watermilfoil, the invasive species this team of young divers is at work carefully plucking from Lake Dunmore’s lakebed.
Tompkins, 22, Nate Bierschenk, 19, Derek LaRosee, 19, and Will Pitkin, 17, are the specially trained corps of divers that make up the Lake Dunmore/Fern Lake Association (LDFLA) Milfoil Project. They’re charged with keeping the milfoil problem in Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake — Dunmore’s little sister — in check.
But in addition to serving as lake watch guards, these divers also happen to be a friendly gaggle of students — boys happy with a summer job that puts them on the lake, in the water and among good company.
“It’s a nice way to be on the lake all summer and help out,” said Bierschenk, whose family owns a house on Dunmore.
It’s a remarkable team, in large part because Tompkins, Bierschenk, Pitkin and LaRosee — and the “Lake System Monitors” who have staffed the project in previous summers — demonstrate that it is possible to control milfoil in an environmentally friendly way, without chemicals, herbicides or lumbering, expensive mechanical harvesters.
By VICKY SINAGRA
BY KATHRYN FLAGG
VERGENNES — That 10-month-old Haley has never had a home to call her own is a burden her mother, Crystal Kendall, carries with her everyday.
“I just hate putting her through it,” said Kendall, 27, as Haley — sleepy-eyed and happy after a long afternoon nap — squirmed in her lap. “People say that she’s too young to know where she is — but I kind of want to think she does. One minute you’re camping in a tent, the next minute you’re at somebody’s house, now she’s here.”
“Here” is the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter in Vergennes, where Kendall, Haley and Haley’s father, Jack Walters, 22, all temporarily live.
The family has been homeless since before Haley was born, staying in the shelter for the first time last October. They moved back in earlier this month after friends they had been staying with kicked them out of their house.
And while Kendall and Walters considered themselves lucky to find beds in the crowded shelter, it’s no substitute for a place of their own.
“This is a place to stay but nothing you could really call home,” said Kendall.
According to a report published last month by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA), families like Kendall’s make up a growing portion of Vermont’s homeless population. The number of homeless families in Vermont increased by 20 percent over the last seven years, from 429 families in 2000 to 516 families in 2007.
For Vermont — which last year had the highest per capita rate of homelessness in New England — family homelessness poses unique problems for state government and for the families struggling to find housing.
The trouble, according to shelter director Elizabeth Ready, is that many Vermont families are teetering increasingly close to the edge of homelessness — and a single event can sometimes be enough to tip the scales against them.
CORNWALL — A recent college graduate from Cornwall is hoping his senior thesis serves as a learning tool for politicians to change federal immigration laws and working conditions for the state’s migrant Mexican farm workers.
Bjorn Jackson, an aspiring filmmaker who recently graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., spent seven months — spanning September 2007 through April 2008 — making his documentary, titled “Under The Cloak of Darkness: Vermont’s Migrant Mexican Farm Workers.”
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — Chart-topping heating oil prices have some local fuel vendors considering scrapping pre-buy plans this winter. With fuel oil prices having risen 80 percent in the past two years to near $4.50 a gallon, some say prices have got to fall.