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August 2011

August 31, 2011

Putting Snooki on Hold to Save Vermont

215594_10150581311000297_624280296_18426137_3821723_n The "Jersey Shore" and disaster relief go together like spray tans and muck boots. Which is to say, not at all. But somehow, the folks behind the Tropical Storm Irene relief website are making it happen. Inexplicably, the team connecting Vermont storm victims with eager volunteers are also the people in charge of a fledgling business called Reality Venture Capital. Their company name is a bit deceiving — a deep-pocketed venture capital firm they are not. At present, they run reality television fantasy leagues. Yep, that's right. Fantasy leagues are no longer the dominion of armchair quarterbacks. Reality tv fans can get in on the mix, too.

Sarah Waterman (who we recently wrote about here), 27, and Matt Sisto, also 27, are the masterminds responsible for creating the reality tv fantasy league concept. And don't let any reality tv fantasy league biters tell you differently. The business began as a hobby, says Sisto, who with a friend started assigning points to various reality show themes — vomiting, crying, hooking up, the word "situation," etc. Within three years, the idea grew into an online enterprise for the general reality tv-addicted public.

At present, they run a fantasy league for the "Jersey Shore," and they are just about to launch two other leagues — one for the "Real Housewives" series and one the upcoming Kim Kardashian wedding. So far, they have about 30 players, who get points when the characters they pick to be on their team do or say certain reliably predictable reality show things like getting drunk or telling someone that they're "not trying to make any friends."

The leagues, which are free to join, make money via web ads. Recently, they've been working on their business plan and getting all their legal ducks in a row (there has been some unwanted encroachment from sports blog Grantland, the pair say). But then Irene rolled in and soaked and flattened much of southern Vermont. That's when Waterman, a veteran Hurricane Katrina volunteer with a masters desgree in public administration, kicked into action. The pair, along with "social media ninja" Katie Kent, quickly set up to serve as a one-stop shop for people looking for Irene resources. 

Continue reading "Putting Snooki on Hold to Save Vermont" »

Katrina Recovery Veteran Launches #VTResponse

Vtresponse Vermonters looking for a way to help their neighbors in need are connecting with volunteer opportunities through #VTResponse, a new website at The site aggregates requests from people and agencies, letting volunteers know who to contact and where to show up. Recent posts include “Help Wanted: Marlboro” and “Update: Resources in Northfield.”

#VTResponse is mentioned on the governor’s website, and has been popping up on Facebook, Twitter and in local media outlets (including Seven Days), though it’s not part of any “official” relief effort — it’s a grassroots clearinghouse organized by Sarah Waterman, a 27-year-old Winooski resident with a keen interest in disaster preparedness. 

Waterman, who grew up in East Montpelier, has a master’s degree in public administration, with a concentration in public health. She spent six months volunteering in Biloxi, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina.

Waterman created #VTResponse after texting with her parents in Montpelier Sunday night. Their power had gone out. “There was just no information reaching them,” she says, so she relayed information she was getting on Twitter. 

On Monday morning, the premed classes she was supposed to start at the University of Vermont were canceled, so Waterman spent the day glued to her computer. She created #VTResponse with assistance from her coworkers at Reality Venture Capital, a start-up that hosts reality television fantasy leagues. She says they’ve dropped everything to help her work on the site.

Waterman isn’t putting on wading boots herself, but she’s frantically fielding tweets and messages from people all over the state. With disaster relief, she says, “There’s this huge component of just being there for people.” 

She recalls her experiences cleaning up after Katrina. “Here you are, thinking that people want to get this tree out of their yard, but what they really want to do is to tell you their story… sometimes being the person who’s there listening is the most helpful thing of all.”

August 30, 2011

Surveying Irene's Destructive Path in the Mad River Valley and Beyond

14a_proud_flower Merely 15 minutes from Burlington, Irene's legacy is mud and dust, buzzing generators and pumps, chairs and rugs and the entire contents of houses left on front lawns to dry.

In Richmond and Waterbury, Waitsfield and Moretown, you can tell where the filthy waters travelled by the grey-brown crust that coats porches, flowers, cars, and walls. Entire fields of corn lay spent, the filthy water rendering them inedible.

10_alchem_inside In Richmond, the Winooski River spilled throughout downtown, claiming 15 pigs and all of the crops and hay at Jericho Settler's Farm, ruining the entire garden at On The Rise bakery in Richmond and of course, spilling through houses. When the same river poured into downtown Waterbury on Sunday night, it filled the basement of The Alchemist Pub & Brewery, tossing around kegs and bags of grain as if someone picked up the room, shook it and threw it back down. It also rose onto the main floor to waist-level before pulling back Monday morning. Later that day, some of the pub's 22 employees were scrubbing and pushing out mud, and co-owner Jen Kimmich seemed beside herself.
"They're here cleaning, and I don't have anyway to pay them," she said of her workers, overcome. Once she regained her composure, she said it would be easy to gut the building and sell it, but that was something they likely wouldn't, and couldn't, do.

Continue reading "Surveying Irene's Destructive Path in the Mad River Valley and Beyond" »

Tropical Storm Irene Hits Vermont [VIDEO]

Like a true coward, I covered Tropical Storm Irene from the safety of my living room. I watched the WPTZ and WCAX news crews getting soaked to the bone reporting on the flooding and devastation across Vermont. 

I vigilantly monitored my Facebook feed all day/night on Sunday and saw shocking images that have since become iconic, the Bartonsville covered bridge collapsing (284,202 views on YouTube and counting) and a car being propelled down a river in Bennington (174,559 views and counting). 

Initially, some Vermonters felt the national media was not giving us much attention. After these striking images hit the internet, national articles began covering Vermont — from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, and all the way to the Daily Mail in England. We were the first story on Google News and VT flood videos were trending on YouTube.

Imagine if these brave photogs and videographers had not faced a deluge of wind and rain to capture these images? Would Vermont's flood be the current hot national news topic? I am very grateful to these fearless shooters who allowed me to include portions of their videos in this week's Stuck in Vermont.

Continue reading "Tropical Storm Irene Hits Vermont [VIDEO]" »

Alice Eats: Pho Vietnam

IMG_2681-1 9 Park Street, Essex Junction, 878-6699

The old house on the corner of Park Street, just across the street from the Lincoln Inn, has seen its share of Asian restaurants. For years, it was home to Ming's, a Chinese eatery remembered more for its abuse of workers than its food.

Then, there was the excellent Thai restaurant, Drunken Noodle House, which closed with little fanfare early this summer. Pho Vietnam quickly filled the spot, but I didn't have time to try it until this stormy Sunday.

The interior was clean and bright, much as the Drunken Noodle House folks left it. The first three quarters of the menu was standard Vietnamese — pho, bun, rice plates and eggrolls. A final page of house specials included pad Thai, pad kee mao and a few Vietnamese seafood stir-fries, featuring salmon or swordfish.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Pho Vietnam" »

Federal Disaster Coordination Has Vermont Roots

Stafford When President Barack Obama signed a federal disaster declaration Monday designed to bring federal support to the water-ravaged Green Mountain State, he did so under the so-called "Stafford Act." It was named for former Vermont governor and U.S. Sen. Robert T. Stafford.

The ironies don't end there.

Stafford championed federal funding for higher education (does low-interest "Stafford loan" ring a bell?), and the environment, including hazardous-waste sites and the Clean Water Act. He was also ... a Republican. And, like former Gov. Jim Douglas, a Middlebury College grad.

Listening to some of the national GOP voices calling for an elimination of FEMA or placing restrictions on federal funding of disaster relief, you can see the ideological shift from Stafford's days in the GOP to now.

Continue reading "Federal Disaster Coordination Has Vermont Roots" »

August 29, 2011

After Irene: How You Can Help Vermont

Shem2 Many people have been asking how they can help Vermonters who have suffered the most from the historic flooding Tropical Storm Irene caused on Sunday. Here are some resources with information on donation and volunteer efforts.

Before we get to the rest of the list: If you're looking to volunteer somewhere, or if you need assistance, visit first. They've been doing amazing work linking up volunteers. That site should be your first stop if you want to lend a helping hand. (We've covered their story here and here.)

If you know of any relief efforts that aren't listed here, let us know in the comments. We'll update the list periodically.

Photo of flooding in Richmond by Shem Roose

Continue reading "After Irene: How You Can Help Vermont" »

Intervale Farmers Race to Save Crops After Irene [VIDEO]

IMG_5986 Just after sunrise, less than 24 hours after Tropical Storm Irene barreled down on Vermont, Intervale farmers were out in the fields racing to save their crops. With plastic totes and wooden bins in hand, the farmers and a number of volunteers harvested what was left to harvest before the water from the nearby river and surrounding wetlands submerged their fields.

They ran through rows of cabbage, ripping them from the ground and tossing them into huge boxes on the back of a rumbling tractor. They sliced off the tops of kale plants, working double time to salvage the produce ahead of the rising waters. And they plucked nearly ripe tomatoes from weather-beaten vines.

It's a familiar story for Intervale farmers, who live with the understanding that flooding is a possibility, and often an inevitability.  For as long as there have been farms in the fertile floodplain, which skirts the Winooski River, farmers have had to deal with flooded fields and destroyed crops. But this time felt worse. This time the downgraded Irene took no notice of the fact that many farmers were still recovering from the spring's devastating rains, which caused many of them to lose early plantings and set them back weeks. Like an unsportsmanlike competitor, Irene hit them when they were struggling to get up. 

For Hilary Martin of Diggers' Mirth Collective Farm, the potential loss is painful in the wake of the destruction from the spring flooding. "We're really just starting to break even. We're still paying back the loans, so the fact that we can't sell a lot of this stuff means we won't necessarily be able to absorb this," she said Monday morning as she picked delicata squash from her sodden fields. By 11 a.m., she predicted, the field would be underwater and then nothing could be saved. 

Continue reading "Intervale Farmers Race to Save Crops After Irene [VIDEO]" »

August 28, 2011

Irene's Impact on Vermont: A Crowdsourced Map of Storm Photos and Videos (Updated 9/1)


UPDATE (9:45 pm): Parts of Vermont were simply devastated by Tropical Storm Irene today. Torrential rains have led to flooding in the state's rivers and streams. Historic covered bridges have been washed away. The National Weather Service expects floodwaters to crest in Montpelier overnight, and says it could be worse than the floods that inundated Montpelier in May. Numerous other Vermont towns are underwater or cut off from surrounding areas due to washed-out roads, too.

If you'd like to lend a hand to help local emergency shelters provide relief, please dial 2-1-1. And Twitter users are coordinating relief efforts using the hashtag #VTresponse.

We're still collecting photos and videos from Irene's aftermath for our interactive map. Click here to send us yours. And scroll to the bottom of this post to see the map so far.


Continue reading "Irene's Impact on Vermont: A Crowdsourced Map of Storm Photos and Videos (Updated 9/1)" »

August 26, 2011

Grazing: A Barrel-Rocked Marquette

Picture 2
Though some wine drinkers publicly enthuse about Vermont wines, in confidence, they'll scrunch their face when they recall a few wayward bottles: weird-tasting, they'll say, or just plain foul. 

Happily, the days of grin-and-bear-it quaffing, of believing — hoping — that our local wines would improve, are rapidly fading.  As growers get more familiar with the cold-hardy varietals they grow, press and ferment — grapes with unfamiliar names such as La Crescent, Louise Swenson, St. Croix and Marquette — their wines have gotten better and better. This year, though, those baby steps became a giant leap, and Marquette is a huge reason why.

Continue reading "Grazing: A Barrel-Rocked Marquette" »

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