Grange Notes by Tim Swartz, Grange President (with everyone’s help), May 8, 2020
With his wife Rachel Nevitt, Dave Zuckerman has run Full Moon Farm for decades. As an organic farmer and also as a politically involved Representative, Senator and Lt. Governor, Dave has been involved in our “food system” in many ways. In the May 2nd Zoom program, he shared farming facts, thoughts on how the system could change, and ideas for making those changes a reality.
If you missed the Zoom meeting, here’s a recording: I’ve posted an audio recording made by Carl on the Grange website Calendar listing, just click on this link to the 5/2 program, and click the “Play” arrow.
Starting off the program:
Dave was introduced by Carl Etnier, our Grange Lecturer, who set up the program, provided the Zoom platform from East Montpelier, where he is a Selectboard member, and moderated the meeting. We had about 25 poeple, by my count–a decent turn-out given the beautiful weather that tempted many others outside! The attendees included a mixture of Grange members and friends, plus a variety of “new” folks–a sign that our publicity was working.
Carl introduced our guest speaker, noting that Dave had said, back when he was a representative, that VT could conceivably make a transition to food self-sufficiency in one growing season. Dave elaborated on that statement from 20 or so years ago. Looking at the situation today, he said that sort of shift would require a “major cultural shift”, as well as significant reconfiguring of our infrastructure. While farmers could probably ramp up production that quickly, other changes would take time, planning and incentives to achieve. Some of the ideas he cited for changes we could make:
- Change the food expectations of consumers to match the products which can be produced in VT–a long-term proposition.
- Use the food-processing we already have in the form of restaurant kitchens (currently many closed) to provide prepping/freezing/canning of farm products.
- Build storage facilities for produce and meats, to allow year-round food supply, not just during the growing season.
He also used the example of his & Rachel’s Full Moon Farm, which employs 5 people year-round, plus 6 seasonal employees, growing vegetables on about 15 acres, plus about 100 chickens and 40 pigs. Their peak storage need in October/November is for about 100,000 lbs. of food, in 4 storage rooms. This is about the equivalent amount of total food which is consumed in one day in Chittenden County. This will be the sort of storage we would need to scale up to self-sufficient food production for VT. Dave also commented on the “Defense Production Act” which the President invoked to “require” meat processing plants to re-open–he pointed out that this order can only force the owners to open the plants. It will be economic necessity which may cause the actual workers to return and risk their lives–the owners will not be the ones facing those dangers. This highlights what the COVID-19 crisis has shown us–that “essential workers” are those on the front lines–and not just medical workers. Now, the “new” essential folks are recognized to include the farmworkers, food processors and retail workers, all at the lower end of the payscales. Their working conditions put them at higher risk at the same time they are being deemed “essential”.
Knowing that Grange members and friends are interested in growing food (as well as eating it!), Dave talked about some of the issues and decisions he and Rachel are dealing with on their farm in Hinesburg, in the farthest southern end of Chittenden County. They have been pushing planting earlier, hoping for the best as farmers must, planting lettuces, spinach, beets and radishes about April 5th, about 2 weeks earlier than they used to–in hoop houses, not uncovered. They have been “hardening off” brassica transplants–cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc.–in preparation for planting them. They are using colored plastic mulches, including red for tomatoes to speed ripening, silver for alliums (onions, leeks, scallions) to reduce thrips in the root ends. He recommends that early-planted zucchinis have some flowers pinched off to reduce the number of early fruits developed,before the plants develop completely.
Dave also discussed the difficulties of frost at this point in the season–at their farm, it was very close to freezing in the week before our May 2nd meeting. (Note–in Northfield Falls, it was in the low-mid 20s this week) He related stories of covering strawberries, plus spraying water (which releases heat as it changes from liquid to ice), and seeing ice on top of the covering, and liquid water dripping off below. There are limits to how much you can raise the warmth for the plants, unless they are in a heated greenhouse!
Questions and discussions:
Following Dave’s presentation as summarized above, Carl opened the discussion section of the meeting–as we expected, the attendees had a wide range of questions they wanted to bring up; here are a few:
- How to change the dairy farming “culture” to consider ways to reduce milk production to keep prices higher and more profitable? Dave discussed the VT “dairy culture” as an expression of pride, farms maintained by the same families for generations, providing a strong identity. He would like to see a conventional (not organic) “VT Milk” brand established, with higher standards for quality, good treatment of farm workers, etc., as a way to get higher prices in the larger, southern New England markets. He also talked about how he had to convince farmers at an American Farm Bureau conference that a young “hippie farmer” like him could be a “real farmer” by showing that he understood the business aspects of selling his produce, citing pricing and quantities produced and sold at the Burlington Farmers’ Market, for instance.
- How can the Grange, Grange members and others support an increasing local food supply? Dave says about the most useful thing–besides buying local food of all types–is to work with existing local groups, like Rural VT for instance, who have been working on this problem for years. A significant project of theirs is promoting on-farm, small-scale animal processing capacity, to make it easier for farmers who raise animals for meat.
- How can local farmers increase their ability to make a livable wage and sell food at prices which “normal” people can afford to buy it? Dave agreed that this is a dilemma, one which will require structural changes. For example, switching to a single-payer health care system which cuts the cost of health insurance could free up income for people to buy more produce and other nutritious, fresh foods, which in turn will help maintain better health. He also discussed the role of personal choices about how people spend their money.
- Another attendee asked about the prospects of getting more organic grain grown locally–especially having heard that VT was part of the “breadbasket” of Northern New England before the “west”–at that time Ohio–took over growing wheat. Dave said that our climate is not ideal, and climate change is leading, it seems, to wetter springs and falls, which present problems for harvesting wheat in particular. Winter wheat and rye seem more likely possible crops to him. [Note: check out northerngraingrowers.org to find out what people are doing to re-learn how to grow grains. The Northern Grain Growers Ass’n is working with UVM Ag School to spread info about these types of crops.]
- Alison Forrest, who as many of you know is the head of the Food Service for the Huntington school, told us that she has been sending out food from the school to students and their families, a service that is now extended through June. She strongly urges families to apply for free or reduced-price lunches, especially those who have lost income due to the pandemic. This program will provide a special EBT card for $5.50 per child per day–7 days a week to supplement food purchasing. PLEASE SPREAD THIS INFORMATION to all families you know!
I’ve tried to capture a good bit of the discussion, please listen to the recording to get the whole story!
1/2 hour Grange meeting before the program
Our “executive session” commenced with Grange Musician singing and playing piano, while some of us at home, at least sang along–at our April meeting we learned that it’s just not possible to sync-up group singing on Zoom!
After a brief check-in on how we are all doing, we had a brief discussion of Grange finances. With reduced expenses (no cleaning, no plowing and very minimal heat and electricity use), we are holding steady with contributions from a few renters who are continuing to pay some rent to support us. We will gradually deplete our savings as this goes on, of course.
We did discuss the Gillespie Fuels options for heating oil payment for the upcoming year, and the group endorsed my recommendation that we sign up for budget payments, but no “protected” pricing, since that comes at a premium. The group agreed that the current low prices may well continue due to the economic downturn and other market factors, and that our fuel use should be improved due to the excellent insulation added to the basement. So it seems to make sense to “gamble” by taking the market price option.
I reported that Northern Basements has completed the burying of the drain line from the sump pump, under the driveway on the West (Rt. 12) side of the Hall. This is the last step, except for some painting, on the entire project!
Patty Giavara, Chair of the Friends organization that funded and managed the project, reported that she is working on the final report to the Arts Council, the granting agency that will reimburse the Friends for 1/2 the cost of the project. Since she is working more than full-time, this is taking some time, but she is making progress.
Since the meeting, Merry & I have begun being contacted by the Montpelier Church of Christ about re-starting their Sunday morning services; at this point, we are advising them that under the Governor’s order we are not able to allow gatherings yet; we will continue to discuss the situation with them and other Hall users. We have also reached out to our cleaning service about disinfectant cleaning, which we will certainly need to have done, as part of re-opening the Hall even for small groups who can maintain “social distances”.
For the short-to-medium term: The Grange Hall is staying empty, and we can’t yet advertise our wonderful new lower-level for public use. We can afford to stay closed, but we’ll be gradually depleting the savings that we have. In that way, we are in the same boat as other organizations and individuals.
Since we finished the basement renovations just before the shut-down, we have not been able to publicize our excellent “new” space. While we have time, I am still asking for input about creating a marketing campaign that we can use when the very necessary restrictions are loosened, to advertise our facilities, including the lower-level with its new insulated walls, new carpet, new electrical outlets–and no more mildew!
I would also like to publicize needs for volunteers for the work of other organizations, that people know about. I believe we have a lot of readers of the Grange Notes who want to do community service work–and most have more time on their hands! Let me know if you have a need our readers might be able to fill!
You can also post this sort of info on the Capital City Grange Facebook page! The link for this is also at the top of these Notes.
On behalf of the Grange–Stay Home, Stay Safe and Stay Healthy!
Wi-fi is free at the Grange Hall!
Since 2014, we’ve offered Free Wi-fi there, and it’s available without a password outside the Hall as well as inside. I found the best signal on the driveway on the West side of the Hall, that is the side closer to Rt. 12.
For Grange Notes readers in other parts of the state, the State Dept. of Public Service has posted a map of public Wi-fi hotspots all over Vermont. You can get to it via this link: https://publicservice.vermont.gov/content/public-wifi-hotspots-vermont. We are listed there, along with hundreds of other locations.
If you have kids who need broadband access, or you need it for working “from home”, these are all resources that will help.
A little history: We got our Wi-fi router installed for free, as part of the “Vermont Digital Economy Project”. The VDEP arranged for hotspots like ours and Wi-fi zones to be installed for public use all around the state. The intent was to help communities stay connected, especially in cases of emergencies–like our current one!–which require good communications and strong community institutions.
The VDEP was funded by federal grants through the VT Council on Rural Development, in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. That statewide disaster revealed which communities recovered fastest–it was those with strong connections, strong communications and strong community institutions. The Grange’s mission fits very well with these criteria, and the help we got through the VDEP made us a stronger community partner. Besides the Wi-fi, we got help rebuilding our website, and were introduced to MailChimp as a tool to send these Grange Notes!
We greatly appreciate the help we got, and are eager to do our part to help those who need it in our current crisis.
To learn more about the VDEP, visit https://www.vtrural.org/programs/digital-economy