Category Archives: Agriculture

The Veepies, Again: Too Fast, Too Furious

For those just joining us, The Veepies are my occasional awards for stupidity in the public sphere. We’re still setting a brisk pace in that regard. So, here we go…

The We Gave You a Crappy Half-Apology Because We Had To, But We Really Didn’t Mean It Award goes to the Bennington Selectboard. Last month, the town reached a settlement with former state representative Kiah Morris over the police department’s actions, or inactions, regarding threats against Morris. This came after the state Human Rights Commission issued a preliminary finding that the Bennington PD had discriminated against Morris and her husband James Lawton. As part of the deal, Bennington had to issue a formal apology. And it was kind of half-assed, blame-the-victim stuff: “It is clear that Kiah, James and their family felt unsafe and unprotected by the town of Bennington.”

See, it’s not that the town did anything wrong; it’s just that Morris and her family felt unsafe. Put the onus on the victim. But wait, there’s more!

Whatever little value there was in that “apology” was completely undercut by the town’s attorney Michael Leddy, who insisted that there are “no reasonable grounds to believe” that the town was guilty of discrimination, and by Selectboard chair Jeanne Jenkins, who told VTDigger last week doesn’t believe the police department discriminated against Morris.

All they will acknowledge is that Morris “felt unsafe.” Well, Morris and her family have since relocated to Chittenden County, so problem solved, I guess?

After the jump: Empty climate rhetoric, Medicaid money for school cops, and propping up a dying industry.

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When Will We Confront Our Other Agricultural Shame?

Marita Canedo and Jose Ignacio De La Cruz of Justicia Migrante

The first agricultural shame is the polluting of our lakes and waterways. The second: migrant farm labor. This isn’t a new story by any means, but it’s still true that we have failed to come to grips with a system that (a) props up the farm economy with cheap, pliable labor and (b) is, by definition, wage slavery.

Like I said, not a new story. But it got a human face Thursday morning before the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. Two members of Justicia Migrante, Jose Ignacio and Marita Canedo, spoke to the committee about the sorry state of worker housing on Vermont’s oh-so-picturesque farms. And they offered reasonable, practical ways to address the problem.

They were remarkable witnesses. They aren’t asking for pity, and they certainly have no use for condescension. They do want some basic protections for their working and living conditions (the kind we all take for granted), and they want some funding to help them and the farmers address the housing problem. They can’t do it by themselves, and the farmers can’t afford it.

They also have solid ideas for new kinds of farm housing. Ignacio, who spent four years as a migrant laborer, now works for New Frameworks, a firm creating sustainable, low-cost ways to design and build housing for farmworkers and others.

As you can perhaps tell, I was inspired by their testimony. These people are smart, hardworking, and willing to put their noses to the grindstone to gain a safer, more stable life.

What they’re asking for is really the least we should do. We have a moral obligation to change a broken system that takes advantage of the people who raise and harvest our food.

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A Case Study in Arguing Against Your Own Interests

“Right to Repair” ought to be a simple, straightforward concept. But when it gets inside the legislative process, all sorts of complications arise.

The background: Large manufacturers want to keep taking your money long after you’ve purchased their product. They do this by severely limiting access to parts and manuals, and by voiding warranties if you try to fix it yourself or take it to an unauthorized repair shop. So you’re locked in to the manufacturer for service and parts, which is always more expensive than DIY or your local technician.

In response, some states have adopted Right to Repair legislation, which requires manufacturers to lower those barriers. The concept is, if you buy something you own it (incredible notion, that) and you have a right to take it outside the manufacturer’s ecosystem.

A Right to Repair bill was introduced by Sen. Chris Pearson in 2018. It got derailed, thanks mainly to a blizzard of testimony from high-priced suits representing the manufacturers. The Legislature passed a stripped-down version calling for, you guessed it, a study committee. That panel did its business in 2019, and produced a mealy-mouthed report that didn’t come to any firm conclusions.

Which brings us to now.

Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, has introduced H.58, a Right to Repair bill specifically aimed at farm equipment. It got an initial hearing last Wednesday before the House Agriculture & Forestry Committee. That hearing was yet another case study in why this common-sense legislation gets all tangled up in outlandish worst-case scenarios and a curious solicitousness for the interests of big business.

The gory details… after the jump.

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Bask In The Glory

Rarely do you see something so perfect that you wonder if it can possibly be real.

Submitted for your consideration: The above Craigslist ad from a rebel wannabe right here in Vermont. If you needed any evidence that we’ve got people like that just like every other state, here it is.

Now, I can’t swear to the authenticity of this thing. You’ll pardon me if I’m not anxious to get in touch with the self-described vendor. But let us take just a moment to marvel at this piece of artfully rancid Americana.

Confederate flag? Of course.

Random articles of militaria hanging on the wall? Yuh-huh.

Symbol of anti-American rebellion proudly displayed by someone selling U.S. military — pardon me, “millatery” — supplies? Oh the irony.

Only the vaguest acquaintance with the fineries of one’s native language? F’sho.

Prepper wannabe? Mmm-hmm.

Couldn’t resist sampling the goods? That freeze-dried SOS was calling to him.

Hoping to land a pickup truck worth $720? Definitely transport-challenged.

But if you’re in the market for 118 yummy-in-the-tummy military-grade meals that can be served hot or — eeeewwwww — cold, don’t let me stop you. I’d hate for you to be left Un prepaired.

Can’t solve a problem? Then make it invisible.

(Not exactly as illustrated)

The traffic jams that formed outside “Farmers to Families” food giveaways around Vermont weren’t quite this bad, but they were bad. Embarrassing, appalling, a sign of exactly how much food insecurity exists in our great (but not as great as we like to think) state.

Well, last week, the state found an answer. If you can’t find enough food for your people, at least prevent them from creating a public spectacle. This week, in advance of scheduled food drops in Middlebury (Wednesday), Brattleboro (Thursday) and Morristown (Friday), the state Emergency Operations Center switched to a registration system. You can’t just show up; you have to sign up in advance for specific time slots.

This is definitely a service to those who might otherwise wait in line for hours, their cars idling away throughout. But it also eliminates the politically charged images that have resulted from past giveaways. News coverage, if any, will be focused on grateful recipients and hard-working volunteers rather than the desperation of food-insecure Vermonters or the unprecedented demand on our system of charitable food distribution.

Those pictures were, again, unfortunate for all involved. But they made an undeniable point — underscoring the need for more resources. This, at a time when state anti-hunger organizations are warning that the system could collapse without a fresh infusion of state aid.

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We’ll clean up Lake Champlain with platitudes

Last week, the gubernatorial candidates discussed environmental issues at a forum organized by Vermont Conservation Voters. It can be viewed online here; unfortunately, the audio quality is poor. Here’s a link to the video with better sound quality.

I’m writing about the two Republicans, who delivered wheelbarrows full of bromides, boilerplate, and empty words. It’s safe to say that if Phil Scott or Bruce “Still A Candidate” Lisman wins the corner office, we’ll be back to the Jim Douglas age of high-falutin’ words and little or no action.

This is disappointing if unsurprising on issues like renewable energy, regulation of toxic chemicals, transportation, development, carbon emissions, and energy efficiency. But on Lake Champlain?

Hey, guys, we’re under a federal mandate. If our actions don’t satisfy the EPA, the feds are going to swoop in and force remediation. On their terms, not ours.

That realization hasn’t penetrated their skulls. Or it has, and they’re just whistling past the graveyard. Because their “plans” don’t even begin to seriously confront the situation.

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Maybe Vermont farmers aren’t so pure after all

Will Allen, writer and organic farmer, has issued a scathing report on Vermont farmers’ use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. The report is based on official state data, which shows that between 2002 and 2012, herbicide use nearly doubled on Vermont farms.

Farmers used 1.54 pounds of herbicide per acre in 2002; that number increased to 3.01 pounds per acre in 2012.

That, in itself, is appalling — especially for a sector that wraps itself in the pure-Vermont blanket when it comes to political issues like, say, the pollution of Lake Champlain.

Allen’s report focuses mainly on herbicide and pesticide use, which spiked at the same time GMO corn* became nearly universal on Vermont farms. You know, the stuff that’s supposed to reduce the need for killer chemicals. (See note at end of this post.)

*A factoid for those impressed by our GMO labeling law: 96 percent of corn grown in Vermont is genetically modified. Ninety-six percent!

Gee, maybe Monsanto sold us a bill of goods?

But there’s another aspect that really struck me.

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Welp, the mouse died.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the marijuana debate entitled “They labored mightily and brought forth a mouse.”

Turned out I was overly optimistic, because the mouse didn’t make it.

No legalization. No grow-your-own. And as for the House’s idea of a study commission (thx to Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, who never would’ve gotten this into the Free Press):

“Fuck the commission,” a frustrated Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said after his effort to create a public advisory vote failed. “The commission was unnecessary.”

Agreed. Especially since the commission would have apparently been funded with money diverted from opioid treatment. Sheesh.

The only good thing about this: the House’s brilliant idea of a new saliva test for buzzed driving also failed. That’s the test with no clear scientific basis, according to a state-sponsored study.

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They labored mightily and brought forth a mouse

Rarely have I felt so ambivalent about being right.

Last Friday, in my inaugural appearance on Vermont PBS’ “Vermont This Week,” host Mark Johnson asked the panel to predict the outcome of the marijuana debate in the House — a big change, a little change, or nothing at all.

The three of us all agreed on “little,” but I put my answer in two-word form: “Study commission.”

Take it away, distinguished lawmakers…

In the end, the chamber barely agreed to create a commission to study legalization. With the legislative session expected to end this week, marijuana legalization supporters conceded they’ve run out of time to try for more.

Hip, hip, hooray. Let’s hear it for representative democracy. The study commission: the Legislature’s favorite decision-avoidance technique.

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Pot’s last stand

Monday’s the big day for marijuana legalization. The House is set to hold votes on two very different versions — so different, it’d be fair to say they are diametrically opposed. And therein lies the problem: the momentum toward legalization has splintered. Governor Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith, who both favor legalization, could pull a rabbit out of a hat — and that’s what it would take: a last-minute snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat.

Ironically, one possible outcome of the legalization drive is not any loosening of the law, but instead a crackdown on buzzed driving.

Unlikely, but possible. The most probable scenario is some sort of incremental, unsatisfying move that will provide a fig leaf of political cover for those (starting with Shumlin) who invested heavily in this fight. What might that be? Perhaps a nonbinding statewide referendum. Perhaps, as WCAX’s Kyle Midura said on “Vermont This Week,” some loosening of the state’s medical marijuana law. Perhaps something that’s not even on the table at the moment. Monday could be a long day on the House floor.

There are two major obstacles. First, not enough pro-legalization movement in the House, which was always the most likely killing ground for the idea. Second, the Senate and House took such different approaches that there’s no room for compromise.

The Senate took a top-down approach, establishing a regulated market for marijuana. It specifically rejected a grow-your-own exemption, arguing that it would weaken the broader effort to control the consumption of marijuana.

The House bill that will be considered on the floor Monday is centered on grow-your-own. It would create a licensing process for people who wanted to grow small amounts for personal consumption. Precisely what the Senate didn’t want.

Rarely do I find myself saying this, but I agree with the Senate.

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