Editorial: The rapid pace of change

Review the Addison Independent’s top 10 Stories of the Year and what you realize is that while many things seem like they stay the same, change is more rampant than we realize.
Take our number one story: changes on the ag scene. The topic may surprise the state’s non-farm community. No particular headline would come to mind for most readers, yet it is a rapidly changing scene. Congress stalled on the 2012 Farm Bill and dairy farmers lost a critical safety net when the federal milk subsidies program, known as MILC, expired on Sept. 30. That failure left farmers exposed to price drops if and when milk prices drop below the cost of production. Thank a short-sighted House (led by Tea Party conservatives) intent on cutting domestic spending regardless of the value those programs deliver.
Dairy farmers are also in the crosshairs of activists pushing for a cleaner Lake Champlain, citing high phosphorus levels from cow manure (and lawn fertilizers) as primary culprits. State aid is helping, and farmers are doing what they can, but solutions are not inexpensive, putting farmers between those proverbial hard rocks.
Not all ag news was bad. A Vermont working lands grant of $1 million hopes to jump start food, agriculture and forestry entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, Ferrisburgh’s Kimbrook Farm started its organic milk operation and two new slaughterhouses were proposed for the New Haven/Middlebury area.
But the declining farm numbers tell an indisputable story on the dairy scene: the state is losing dairy farms, even as milk production is up. The current number of dairy farms in Addison County is 145, compared to  970 in the state. The number of dairy farms in the state has seen a steady decline since 1991 when a .046 percent increase was reported. But that momentary blip hasn’t stemmed the tide of closures and consolidation over the decades, which, since 1951, demonstrate the changing face of agriculture: There were 10,608 dairy farms in 1951; 8,465 in 1961; 4,083 in 1971; 3,356 in 1981; 2,381 in 1991; 1,565 in 2001; and 984 in 2011.
The dollars from those farms are still strong, and milk production is up, but there are not nearly as many farm families working the land as there used to be and that shows up in the state’s demographics in numerous ways.
On the business scene, the language-based start-up eCorp English in Middlebury closed its doors after a two-year struggle, and RetailVision, a magazine sales promotion company, shut down with a loss of 25 local jobs after years of declining sales. Good news came from Vermont Hard Cider Company, maker of Woodchuck Hard Cider, when it was purchased by an Irish cidery and announced it would proceed with plans to build a new $30 million facility in town that would more than double its production capacity and continue to add jobs to its current workforce of 125. Vergennes-based Goodrich Corp. was bought by United Technologies Company with a promise to work on a “business as usual” basis with its 850 employees. Bristol Works made great strides with its long-range plans in that community, and in Middlebury the town appropriated money to hire an economic development director to help jump-start a number of promising activities and ideas.
Adding to the business news, the proposed advancement of a natural gas pipeline into Vergennes, Middlebury and the Route 7 corridor through Addison County (as well as a spur to Ticonderoga) will mean lower prices on fuel for major users like Middlebury College, Agri-Mark, Woodchuck Cider, and many other businesses in town, as well as residents. That’s good news to help recruit businesses and industry, as well as residents seeking lower fuel bills. Public transportation also got a boost with news that the state has committed to a western rail corridor project that would put higher-speed passenger train service from Burlington to Rutland and on to Albany, N.Y. in the near future — perhaps by 2014.
Less grandiose events, issues and developments, of course, are part of the every-changing world around us as illustrated by a review of our top online stories as gauged by reader interest. Those stories ran the gamut from the EEE scare in southern Addison County to crime stories, the loss of local leaders, robots that act like humans, and rural phone calls that are dropped too often.
All that, just as you were thinking “nothing ever happens in my small town.” It does. Read, remember and get involved in your community to become part of the ongoing change.
— Angelo S. Lynn

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