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35 posts categorized "Farms and Agriculture" Feed

March 20, 2012

Start Your Seeds Struggle Free at the UVM Greenhouse

Photo(2)Aromatic purple tulips, tiny sprouting seedlings, pale-green pilot tomatoes, and hanging, spiky cacti contribute to the wondrous botanical array inside the University of Vermont Greenhouse these days. While most of the greenhouse is dedicated to ornamentals, there is banana and avocado arboriculture, too, and even a “fruit cocktail” tree — a grafted combination of peaches, plums and nectarines.

Visitors might be surprised by something else inside these transparent walls: that anyone in the community can lease greenhouse space here and start springtime seedlings for their home garden. 

Last Friday, I escaped the gray, slanting rain to tour the Main Campus Greenhouse, one of three that the university owns and operates. This branch — the only one routinely open to the public — serves an educational and social purpose that is not widely known.

My tour guide was UVM greenhouse manager Colleen Armstrong, who's had the job since shortly after construction of the building in 1992. She caught the “botany bug,” she said, at the University of Michigan, where she was the first female employee in her alma mater’s greenhouse program. 

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March 12, 2012

Vermont Senate Scheduled to Vote on Bill Banning "Torture Pens" for Pigs

Pigs_gestation_crate_270x224Most days it's easy to forget that a civilized society still allows cruel animal-husbandry practices to occur in the name of cheap, abundant food — that is, until you spend a few minutes with an animal welfare advocate. Thankfully, one such abysmal practice could soon be ended for good, at least in Vermont.

This week, the Vermont Senate is scheduled to vote on S. 239, "an act relating to ensuring the humane treatment and slaughter of animals." The bill, sponsored by Sen. Harold Giard (D–Addison), would outlaw housing pregnant pigs in so-called gestation crates, a practice the Humane Society of the United States calls one of the cruelest, intensive confinement systems used in factory farming today.

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February 14, 2012

Growing Figs in Vermont with the Northeast Organic Farming Association

Lee2Figs are a sultry, sensual food. When opened, they are thought to resemble female sex organs. Purported to have aphrodisiac qualities, they contain zinc, magnesium and vitamin E, all crucial for sexual vigor.

They’re not a food you might normally associate with Vermont. But Lee Reich (pictured), who calls himself a farmdener (“more than a gardener, less than a farmer”), has had exceptional success growing figs in Zone 4. Last weekend he shared his passion for this ancient, alluring fruit at the Northeast Organic Farming Association conference at UVM, in one of many seminars held throughout the weekend.  During his “Growing Figs in Vermont” workshop, Reich revealed various techniques to plant, ripen, harvest and even eat figs, and offered tips to help the plants survive the cold.

Most people assume figs can only grow in a tropical climate, but they are actually a subtropical deciduous plant, which allows them to endure temperatures dipping into the teens. Fig trees can also thrive in a range of well-drained soils, from sandy to clay loams. Of the many fig cultivars, two are ideal for our climate, according to Reich: Green Ischia and Brown Turkey.

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January 30, 2012

Former Lawmaker David Zuckerman Joins Patent Lawsuit Against Monsanto

ZuckermansOrganic farmer David Zuckerman, a former Vermont legislator, has joined a class-action lawsuit against genetically modified seed giant Monsanto and will appear in a Manhattan courtroom tomorrow for the first hearing in the case.

With his wife, Rachel Nevitt, and their daughter, Addie (pictured), Zuckerman runs Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg, a 115-acre 151-acre certified organic, community-supported-agriculture farm that raises vegetables, pigs and poultry. Zuckerman served seven terms as a Progressive representing Burlington in the state House of Representatives, including four years as chair of the Agriculture Committee, before retiring in 2010.

Monsanto is infamous for suing farmers whose crops were cross-pollinated with the company's patented genetically engineered seeds — and now the farmers are fighting back.

The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), representing 83 farmers and farm organizations with membership upward of 250,000, is asking a federal judge to protect farmers from patent lawsuits should their crops become cross-pollinated with Monsanto's transgenic seed. (Click here to read the complaint.)

As a legislator, Zuckerman sponsored the Farmer Protection Act to protect Vermont farmers from just such lawsuits. "The Farmer Protection Act said that if genetic material did trespass onto another farm, and that farm loses money, the owner of the patent would be liable, not the farmer," Zuckerman tells Seven Days. "It would have placed responsibility for cross-pollination with seed manufacturers like Monsanto."

The legislation passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Jim Douglas in 2006.

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January 27, 2012

Sold! Middlesex Farmers Snap up Mobile Slaughter Unit

Resizedimage300225-rabbitsIt’s official. The that mobile poultry processing unit we first wrote about two weeks ago has sold to the highest bidders — in this case, Lila Bennett and David Robb of Tangletown Farm in Middlesex. Bennett and Robb logged the winning bid in an online auction at $61,000. That’s a pretty penny, but it's also 65 percent of the original $93,000 price tag that the state paid for the mobile slaughterhouse in 2008.

Bidding on the slaughterhouse ended on January 13 but the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets announced the official sale Thursday after mulling over the final bid. In a press release, Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross said the agency is happy with the selling price, and will be reinvesting the money earned through the sale into the meat processing industry in Vermont. Farmers have long identified meat processing as a weak link in the growing local foods industry in Vermont, saying that the few inspected slaughter facilities in the state are overbooked or too far away.

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January 25, 2012

USDA's New Plant Hardiness Zone Confirms Vermont Is Getting Warmer

Vt"Hot enough for ya?" Get used to hearing that remark a lot more than you used to, or so say climatologists and atmospheric researchers. As this week's Seven Days cover story "Totally Uncool" points out, Mother Nature's warning signs are now big and obvious enough for even us nonscientists to notice.

The newest evidence? Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled its new, 2012 Plant Hardiness Zone map. The Vermont map confirms what local growers have been saying for years: The Green Mountain State is becoming more temporate and now more resembles the climate of Virginia in the 1960s.

What's worse, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at their present rate, by 2080 Vermont will look and feel more like northern Georgia. The good news? More peach cobbler. The bad news: Say goodbye to real Vermont maple syrup.

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January 19, 2012

Ag Activist Balks at Popular "Working Lands" Bill


Top among Vermonters’ values is this: Ninety-seven percent of residents in the state say the “working landscape” is key to Vermont’s future. 

That’s according to questions asked in 2008 and 2009 by the Council on the Future of Vermont, which conducted what they’re calling the most comprehensive survey of Vermonters’ values in the state’s history. More so than any other value, Vermonters could agree on the fact that supporting farm- and forestland is important. Now, champions of the new “Working Lands Enterprise Investment Bill” are parlaying that support into a plan that backers say could revitalize Vermont’s farm and forestry economies.

The bill (known by Statehouse followers as H.496/S.246), is currently being reviewed by the House ag and commerce committes and the Senate ag and economic development committees. When the bill cropped up for a public hearing last night in Montpelier, the mood in the Statehouse meeting room was overwhelmingly supportive.

Groton farmers market manager Mary Berlejung said she’d watched farmland disappear first on Long Island, then in Fairfax County, Va., and didn’t want to see the same thing happen in Vermont. Montpelier resident and well-known writer Tom Slayton called the bill a “bold step” that would protect the working landscape that he called a signature of the state. From Bethel resident Carl Russell came this: “It’s about time.”

So… what’s not to like?

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January 17, 2012

Mad River Food Hub's Grand Opening is a Meaty Matter

IMG_3441As a dairy farmer himself, it's no surprise that Gov. Peter Shumlin took the time out to cut the ribbon at the Mad River Food Hub's official grand opening today.

Perhaps a greater testament to the importance of this particular project was the number of legislators who followed him up the snowy driveway behind the Shaw's Supermarket in Waitsfield to tour the food storage and production facility. Senate license plates lined the parking lot and when the Governor asked for a show of hands among legislators, it seemed that nearly half of the assembled group raised theirs. They had all made the trek from Montpelier, then had to return for the day's session by 1 p.m.

Other attendees, mostly agricultural advocates or farmers hoping to learn more about the new resource, stuck around for in-depth tours and question-and-answer sessions.

The warehouse was hushed as Shumlin declared to the roughly 50 gathered guests, "This is yet one more example why Vermont has such a bright agricultural future." 

However, Mad River Food Hub founder Robin Morris was the real star of the event. The venture center is the brain child of the former chief financial official of American Flatbread. It was also his idea to open the facility as an L3C, a privately owned company with a social mission and limited profit. That way, the Mad River Food Hub is not dependent on public funding.

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January 14, 2012

Temple Grandin to Speak at Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference

GrandinThere’s exciting news for the ag aficionados out there: Temple Grandin is coming to town.

Well, she's coming to Fairlee, Vt., which might be a bit of a hike for some. But the trip is worth taking: Grandin is a pioneering thinker in livestock handling, behavior and processing — in other words, the real deal (and something of a rock star, in my humble opinion as an amateur cattle farmer).

Grandin is speaking on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the 16th annual Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference. (If you're not interested in attending the whole conference, you can buy a $10 ticket to Grandin's talk.) Perhaps best known for her work in slaughterhouse innovation — equipment she designed is used in half of all cattle processing facilities in North America — Grandin has written bestselling books on animal behavior, consulted for corporations such as McDonald’s on animal welfare, and inspired the excellent HBO biopic Temple Grandin.

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January 12, 2012

Going Once, Going Twice! Mobile Slaughterhouse on the Auction Block

Auction1In the market for a slaughterhouse? You’re not alone: As of Thursday morning, the website Auctions International had logged 152 bids — and counting — for the state of Vermont's mobile poultry-processing unit.

Think “Pimp My Ride” gone poultry: Custom designed and built for the state, the 36-foot trailer comes with kill cones, an eviscerating trough, turkey broiler shackles (whatever those are) and a giblet station, to name just a few features.

The state purchased the unit in 2008 for $93,000, using $85,000 in legislative funding, in addition to private foundation money. On Thursday morning, bidding hovered around $19,100 — but it’s too early to call the auction a fire sale.

Continue reading "Going Once, Going Twice! Mobile Slaughterhouse on the Auction Block" »

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