Grange Notes by Tim Swartz, Grange President (with everyone’s help), June 12, 2020
The robin’s nest on the old entrance porch is in full swing, and the flowers are blooming in the beds we made around the new entrance!
Graffiti? What graffiti?
A little paint makes a big difference…besides avoiding our building look like “a good place to put some more graffiti”, the new coat covered up the old paint patches on the concrete basement wall. The purple spray paint at the bottom of the ADA ramp also got painted over. Since I didn’t get any offers of help, I had to enjoy painting in the sunshine all by myself…
And Kids Trade & Play is back–Different and Yet the Same
The kids’ clothing/games/toys/gear exchange, sponsored by the Grange is starting up again. Grange member and organizer Erin Barry asked interested families to donate (clean and in great shape!) last Saturday, and to pre-order items that they want, for pick-up this Saturday, June 13th. Orders were even taken for games & books as well as clothing–and even requests for a “surprise toy” from the KT&P stock. Volunteers will do their best to match requested sizes, colors, etc., and will pack bags with “customer’s” names on them, which will be available for pick-up outside the Hall. Only volunteers will be allowed inside the Hall–and they will be wearing masks & gloves, and following proper social distancing.
Erin points out “you may not love everything you get, but this is only temporary”. Items that you don’t like can be brought back the next time this event is held.
The Grange appreciates the hard work that Erin and her corps of volunteers does to keep this excellent event going, and making such a positive difference in the lives of families with kids! We look forward to when the “in-person” event can resume function in the lower level of the Hall.
For the latest news on KT&P, check out their Facebook Page.
Rural Vermont’s Policy Director
gave us the inside view of the organization, its history and its response to current situations. Graham Unangst-Rufenacht, who has worked as an organizer for Rural VT for several years (as well as co-owning his own agricultural businesses) was introduced by Grange Lecturer Carl Etnier, who had signed him up as this month’s speaker in our series of one-hour Programs about local issues–all with larger connections. Carl also hosts “Relocalizing Vermont” on WGDR weekly, and hosted Graham, as well as the head of the Finnish Food Safety Authority on June 4th. The interviews with both of them are available until June 18th at http://www.wgdr.org/relocalizingvermont/
Local Agriculture: Our Current Situation and Its Roots
Graham started out with an overview of the history of Rural VT, and quickly moved on to a discussion of the differential impact of agricultural policies on small farmers–and in particular on African-American farmers. He quoted Malcolm X on the importance of land ownership as a basis for black economic prosperity. Instead of increasing since those days, we currently have the lowest percentage of black-owned agricultural land since the Civil War–98% is owned by white farmers. This represents the opposite of progress.
Rural Vermont has always worked on being part of a national and global farming culture; it is part of the National Family Farm Coalition. Graham attended their recent Board meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, where he learned more about the history of white supremacy in the South and in the U.S., and about the history of loss of black land ownership.
The organization is currently working hard to make sure that benefits from the COVID-19 assistance from the federal government are shared among farms of all types and sizes–and to make sure that the undocumented migrant farm workers who are vital to the operation of dairy farms in particular get aid in these difficult times. Rural VT has always worked closely with Migrant Justice, the Vermont organization of those workers and their supporters. Rural Vermont is also speaking out for all farm workers as part of the “essential workers” who keep Vermont going.
Beyond the current preoccupation with the pandemic, Rural Vermont continues to work on its long-term projects to enhance local agriculture and connections between farmers and consumers. One of these is improvements to the ability of farmers to slaughter meat animals on-farm, rather than having to use the limited number of USDA-approved slaughtering facilities in VT.
The movement to allow direct sales from farms grew from the desire of a local pizza maker, who wanted to buy chickens from his neighbors’ farm for its pizza. Following the forbidding of this sort of local deal by the State of Vermont, the pizza-maker, the farmer and Rural Vermont began campaigning for changes in the laws regarding on-farm slaughter. This culminated in the passing of the 2007 “Vermont Chicken Bill”, which allowed farmers raising less than 1,000 birds per year to sell whole birds (also including turkeys and ducks) at farmers’ markets and directly to restaurants, as well as direct from the farm. The cap has since been raised to 5,000–or even to 20,000 per year if USDA sanitary standards are followed.
Rural VT has also worked to promote mobile, USDA-approved slaughtering trucks, which could come to farms to process poultry even for interstate sale. More information on all of these initiatives is available at www.ruralvermont.org In another meat-raising campaign, they have successfully lobbied for the right of farmers to sell the meat from whole animals (including cattle, pigs and more) to a group of purchasers, rather than just one. The difference this sort of real-world provision can make for small-scale farmers is clear.
Other major initiatives that have led to legislative changes include the required labeling for dairy products from cows given rBST (also known as BGH), legalization of hemp cultivation, GMO labeling requirements for foods, and legalization of on-farm sales of raw milk. Before the advent of the Coronavirus crisis, they were lobbying for classification of chicken-processing of compost as a legal option that satisfies the state requirements. They were also working to get compensation for farmers to recognize the positive eco-system services they provide–everything from carbon sequestration to recycling of compost materials to storm-water containment. They are part of the Ag Department working group on this issue. At this point, Rural Vermont is a recognized major player in Vermont agricultural policy, and is often involved in drafting and testifying on farm legislation.
Graham also talked about larger-scale issues that impact farmers. An excellent example of the intersection of “agricultural” policy with other issues is our U.S. health-insurance “system”. The vast majority of farmers (in a nationwide survey) have to get health insurance through off-farm employment by themselves, or a spouse or other family member; this is because for most people, employer-provided health insurance is the only affordable option. If we had a national health insurance system that covered everyone, not tied to employment, farmers would be freed from a major budgetary worry–as well as being more able to stay healthy! Similarly, the difficulties of finding affordable, quality child-care is a major worry for farmers, as it is for most parents.
When the issue of “what can the Grange do to help farmers” came up in the discussion–some of the answers Graham gave may be obvious: we have already been advocating for a universal health insurance program, supporting migrant workers’ rights, and promoting locally produced food through organizations like the Food Bank, the Farm-to-School program and more. Continuing to put our energies into these causes is helpful to everyone in our mostly-rural state, definitely including farmers. The Covid-19 pandemic has only increased some of these stresses–the state has seen around 17 dairy farms close during this period. Graham also praised the Grange for maintaining our community Hall as a meeting place for all types of local organizations (including Rural Vermont), as well as hosting social events, everything from contra dances to baby showers.
For the latest info on issues that Rural Vermont is advocating on, and to find out what you can do as an individual, Graham recommended checking the Action Alerts page on the Rural VT website. Here’s the link: https://www.ruralvermont.org/action-alerts. We thank Graham for joining us in our Zoom meeting–he has just come “back to work” after paternity leave, by the way!
Grange meeting report
Our “executive session” Zoom meeting filled the half-hour before the program described above. After a few minutes delay due to tech issues with signing in, we started with a reading of a “Land Acknowledgement”, which Merry & I heard read at the beginning of “kneel-in” gatherings in Montpelier during the previous week, in response to the killing of George Floyd. This Land Acknowledgement is suggested as a way to begin all meetings; I will put the text below, separately, and will be interested in feedback.
Our short meeting discussed the rental situation, and those present approved the rules which Merry and I have agreed on for use of the Grange Hall during this beginning of Vermont “opening up”:
- Use of the upstairs “Main Hall” is limited to 12 people or less, based on the guideline of 1 person per 200 sq. ft..
- Use of cloth masks and maintaining “social distance” of at least 6 feet between people or between household groups are required.
- Users should open windows and use the ceiling fan to increase ventilation during use.
- No one who has a fever or a cough, or has been exposed to COVID-19 is to enter.
- The lower level of the Hall (including the restrooms and the kitchen) is off limits to renters, due to the limited ventilation. Only the upstairs restroom is to be used, to reduce the burden of disinfecting the Hall.
- Gatherings outside the Hall are limited to 25 or less; people attending outdoor gatherings must wear masks and follow the same “social distance” guidelines.
We also looked at the Treasurer’s report for the end of May; as we expect, rental income is way down; at this point our monthly expenses are also very low. Projected lower usage will reduce costs somewhat even into the winter, as less snow-plowing/sanding (our biggest winter expense by far) will be required; nevertheless we are expecting to show a significant loss over the foreseeable future. We have a total of approximately $15,000 in total reserves (savings account, CD and loan to the VT Community Loan Fund), but of course we do not want to use up too much of that cushion. Our savings are meant to back-stop us in case of major expenses to maintain the building, as well as for meeting “unforeseen circumstances” like the ones which have certainly showed up this year!
It is certainly unclear when the social dancing which has been a mainstay of our rental market will be able to re-start. Based on my reading of the national dance community discussions, no one has much confidence that it will be safe to do this sort of close-contact, aerobic event, with multiple partners and much sweating, until a vaccine is in wide use.
Alison Forrest suggested one possible fund-raising rental we might try to arrange: a private couples dance, with live music in the Grange Hall. This would require social distance and mask-wearing for musicians, and mask-wearing for the couple(s). If we could set this up for some couples who love the Grange Hall and waltzing together (or other couples dances–swing, Scandinavian, etc) this could work. We would sure like some help setting events like this up! Email Merry or Tim if you want to help out!
We all agreed that our next meeting will not be one with a program, as summer is not a good time to get people to take part in the interesting serious discussions we like to have. We would like to have more time to look at finances and rentals, so will plan a meeting to focus on these areas for July. Since the first Saturday is July 4th, it seems best to plan for a 3rd Saturday/July 18th meeting–likely still by Zoom. Carl Etnier has set up a recurring Zoom meeting, which will be available on that date. I will get the log-in information in the Calendar listing on the Grange website well before then.
We are continuing to pay close attention to the guidance given by the VT Dept. of Health and the Governor’s weekly briefings. While we don’t fit exactly in the buckets of “business re-start” or “retail spaces”, the general advice given is very helpful. Our first priority must be to protect the health of everyone who uses the Grange Hall.
What is a Land Acknowledgment?
A Land Acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories. Here’s a link to more information: https://nemanet.org/nemn/spring-2020/guide-land-acknowledgements/#. Below is the one I read at the June 6th Zoom meeting: Land Acknowledgement We are on the land which has long served as a site for meeting and exchange among indigenous peoples for thousands of years, as is the home of the Western Abenaki People. We honor, recognize and respect these peoples, especially the Abenaki, as the traditional stewards of the lands and waters on which we gather today. In that spirit, today we will begin by acknowledging that we are guests in this land. We need to respect and help protect the lands within our use.
The Grange Hall is great, and grated…
Patty Giavara sent me some more photos of Kurt and I installing the grate on the accessible main entrance porch–see below.
And there is still more indoor painting to do: we still have some trim from the renovation project which need a final paint coat, and some wall areas too, specifically the bathroom and kitchen walls. This will put the final touches on our spruced-up look of the lower level, in preparation for its eventual opening for rentals. I am happy to spend time doing this, but would very much like some company! It’s especially nice to be down in the cool basement when the weather is hot and humid outside. We can easily keep at least 6′ apart; we’ll supply rollers and brushes and paint. Call or email me to let me know if you can help: 802-225-8921 –Tim