• Editor's Note Summer 2012

    Editor's Note Summer 2012

    Not everyone gets to eat popcorn popped in pork fat. But there it was in a big pot, greeting four sweaty interns after our morning removing a winter’s worth of bedded pack from a hoop house and doing other tasks too numerous to mention. The popcorn was mighty tasty, and eager hands grabbed for it around the communal table.

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  • Weed Eater

    Weed Eater

    ‘What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I planned the dinner with Emerson’s optimism and an eye on my backyard. Through spring’s soaking rains I watched Japanese knotweed swell beside the garden shed and was cheered by the sight of garlic mustard peeping up between the raspberry canes. When slender stalks rose amidst the mustard’s heart-shaped leaves and a few early flowers appeared, it was time to send out the invitations.

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  • A Smokin’ Place

    A Smokin’ Place

    The previous home of Vermont Smoke & Cure was at the end of the Exit 6 ramp off I-89, at the bottom of a long hill, at the first stoplight on the corner, inside the back of a gas station.

    “Don’t laugh,” the company’s website said. “Remember that other Vermont food company that started out in a gas station (hint: the ice cream guys).”

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  • Set the Table with Gluten-free baked goods

    Set the Table with Gluten-free baked goods

    We fell in love over dessert—pie to be specific—and when our relationship began, a friend exclaimed to Edge, “This is perfect! Katie loves to bake, and you love to eat baked goods!” The truth is, we both love to bake and eat, so for one whole summer we enticed each other with homemade bread, muffins, and treats made of flour and sugar and butter, stuffing dozens of cookies in our packs for each climbing or hiking trip. During that same summer, Edge was battling a parasite he’d picked up in Mexico the winter before. After many weeks of seeing naturopathic doctors, he finally gave in to a three-day antibiotic regimen, which killed the parasite for good and wiped his gut clean at the same time. That changed everything.

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  • Reflections of a Restaurateur | Part 2

    Reflections of a Restaurateur | Part 2

    When I tell farmers that I’m planning to grow a portion of the food for my Montpelier restaurant, sometimes they laugh at me. “Good luck with that,” one wiry, tanned grower at the farmers’ market chortled, noting that I’d probably lose money for the first three years rather than save a bundle.  “Let me know how it goes for you,” he suggested as I walked away, a wicked gleam in his eye.

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  • Diversifying Dairy in Vermont

    Diversifying Dairy in Vermont

    Turkey Hill Farm sits on 50 acres of land in Randolph. The view was breathtaking from Stuart and Margaret Osha’s porch, as we sat one morning in April listening to the songbirds and the happy pigs rooting under the trees. I came to the farm to find out what it’s like to launch a value-added dairy product after years of selling raw milk. A few weeks later, the Oshas announced they will be moving on from farming this fall, but their story remains compelling.

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  • The Development of a Recipe

    The Development of a Recipe

    When I entered college I planned on being a computer programmer, but by the time graduation rolled around, plans had changed. My baking hobby was fast becoming a professional interest, and while it might not seem like a clear path from computer science and applied math major to choosing a career in baking and recipe development, both interests make good use of my logical brain that likes to play. I spent a couple of years working in other kitchens before I got the nerve to start Butterfly Bakery of Vermont, and I love the repetitive day in, day out of the wholesale baking gig. But my recipe development gives me some room to play without having to create and maintain whole new product lines for stores.

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  • Farming without Harm

    Farming without Harm

    Ray Bernier, like many farmers, is inventive. When he realized he needed to transition out of the dairy business, he turned his Milton farm into a home for 400 emus. The emu market didn’t materialize (although he still swears by emu oil and buys some every year at the fairs) so he turned to raising horses. Somewhere along the line there were ostrich in there, too, but he could never get the chicks to grow to adults.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Blueberry Bounty

    Farmers' Kitchen—Blueberry Bounty

    How many blueberries can you fit in your mouth? I’ll race you up Blueberry Hill! Can we go to the pajama party in the blueberry field? When is the Blueberry Festival? These are just a few of the questions we hear over and over again as the blueberry season begins.

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  • Mizuna

    Mizuna

    Mizuna, tatsoi
    tokyo burkana
    red kumatsu
    claytonia, minutina -
    I dip these foreign leaves by the bushel
    into a sink pond cold and clear
    and wash away the clay that coats my farm.

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Farming without Harm

tractor

Written By

Helen Labun Jordan
Helen Labun

Written on

June 01 , 2012

Ray Bernier, like many farmers, is inventive. When he realized he needed to transition out of the dairy business, he turned his Milton farm into a home for 400 emus. The emu market didn’t materialize (although he still swears by emu oil and buys some every year at the fairs) so he turned to raising horses. Somewhere along the line there were ostrich in there, too, but he could never get the chicks to grow to adults.

After Ray underwent knee surgery two years ago, his farm needed a bit of a re-invention again to make work easier on his body. Ray made some work adjustments on his own to accommodate the bad knee, including more horse boarding and less horse raising, but his physical therapist recommended that he call Vermont’s AgrAbility program to find out what more might be done.

The National AgrAbility Project was established in the 1990 Farm Bill, and Vermont’s own program began at that time. The Vermont AgrAbility Project is a collaborative partnership between University of Vermont Extension, Rural and Agricultural VocRehab, and the Vermont Center for Independent Living. It provides education and technical assistance to help farmers with a disability continue their work. Disability in this case might mean anything from difficulty hearing to the need for a wheelchair. In Ray’s instance, as he simply puts it, “my knee didn’t work too well.”

Gail Lapierre, an Extension agent, met Ray on his farm to see what could be done. It’s a beautiful farm, with fields sloping up a long hillside and Ray’s house at the very top. The sloping hills become less beautiful and more problematic, however, when you have a bad knee and are trying to push a wheelbarrow. Gail first reduced that strain by introducing a motorized wheelbarrow. She also added hand clutches to the tractor.

“I didn’t know they had these hand clutches,” Ray explained. “But [Gail] came up, took measurements, designed the clutches, and added them to the tractor.”

When Ray says “designed,” he means from scratch. Gail has a kit she put together of flagpole holders and PVC pipe so that she can mock up a prototype using photos and measurements from a particular tractor. She brings the prototype to a fabricator and, voila, custom hand clutches.

“Each case is very individual,” Gail explains. “I have a [research] toolbox from the national AgrAbility program, but I’ve also got files I’ve built on each individual case…I can’t always remember the company [that supplied equipment] but I can always remember who it was for.

AgrAbility is an important resource in an occupation that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) designates as one of the most dangerous in private industry. According to OSHA’s 2009 statistics, agricultural work has a rate of fatal accidents seven times the average and an average daily rate of 243 serious injuries, 5 percent of which result in permanent impairment. The National AgrAbility Project ensures that not only is there assistance to help prevent those accidents, there is also assistance afterward to help individuals continue to work on the farm.

The statistics for serious injury in farm work are dramatic. But even if farmers could maintain a perfect safety record for accidents, they would still need to manage the types of injuries we all encounter as we grow older, which are compounded in their case by years of stress on the body from farm work. Hearing loss from working near loud equipment, back pain from lifting, hip and knee pain that make getting on and off a tractor difficult…. Vermont farmers are likely to encounter one, or many, such challenges at some point in their lives.

George Cook, UVM Extension’s Farm Safety specialist, notes that the average age of a farmer is around 57. “We recognize that farming is one of those family businesses that maybe someone doesn’t retire from…. There are plenty of farm situations where there’s someone in their 80s or even older doing productive work on the farm.”

Of course, for disabilities such as hearing loss, it’s better to reach a farmer before he or she is 80, when there’s still time to prevent the damage. George notes that “as soon as [my son] was old enough to help with chores and he was helping in a noisy environment, the rule was he put on ear plugs or ear muffs. It became second nature to him. When I was his age it was not second nature.”

There are many simple precautions that younger farmers—who are not only working on family farms but often coming to farming for the first time through avenues like the local foods movement—should make second nature. There’s hearing protection and also adequate sun protection (Gail points out that a ball cap does not count as adequate), or climbing on and off a tractor instead of jumping off and jarring knees and hips. It all adds up. George recognizes that habits are hard to change. “Everybody gets busy,” he says, and the safety focus can get lost in the focus on finishing a day’s work. AgrAbility is trying to encourage an entire safety culture so that precautions are fully integrated into daily routines.

In larger operations, adopting safety measures can be more formal. For example, UVM Extension works with Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture and Department of Labor to offer a safety program for large dairy operations. As part of this program, the farms identify a manager who receives safety training and creates a farm safety plan. They also commit to conducting monthly safety trainings for farm employees. For smaller operations, AgrAbility relies on ongoing outreach through exhibitions at fairs and field days, workshops, and inclusion in educational programs such as the UVM television program, “Across the Fence.”

The National AgrAbility Project estimates that 15 to 20 percent of agricultural workers have a disability that hinders accomplishing some on-farm tasks. What that has meant for Vermont’s AgrAbility program is a need to be inventive to address the range of situations this statistic encompasses. These strategies may be fabricating hand clutches for farmers like Ray Bernier or they may be educational, such as teaching a new farmer how to make sure that used farm equipment has the necessary safety features (see below). At the end of the day, AgrAbility ensures that fewer farmers need to give up their work, and that more farmers do that work safely.

 

What’s the most dangerous part of farming?

Turns out, it’s the tractor. Not only is farming one of the most dangerous occupations, the highest number of fatal farm accidents involve vehicles, usually a tractor overturn. And the Northeast leads the nation in rollovers each year.

But tractor rollovers need not be deadly, or even cause serious injury. A seatbelt plus rollover protection bar are 99 percent effective in protecting a tractor driver.

That’s why Matt Myers, who coordinates UVM Extension’s Rebates for Roll Bars program, insists that installing a roll-over protection system (ROPS) is a “no brainer.” He notes that Vermont recently had three fatal rollovers within four months of each other. Those accidents, so close to home, have sent scores of tractor owners to UVM’s toll free number (1-877-767-7748) to find out their options for creating a safer tractor.

Unfortunately, while we now know that the simple change of a roll bar plus seatbelt can virtually eliminate the leading cause of fatal accidents on a farm, many older tractors don’t include these safety features. With tractors often staying in use for well over 40 years, a lot of retrofitting remains to be done.

Rebates for Roll Bars began in 2010 to help with those retrofits. The program subsidizes 70 percent of the ROPS cost. It began with seed money from UVM Extension, then gained support from donors, including Co-operative Insurance, the Lamoille Economic Development Corporation, more than seven county Farm Bureau chapters, the Maple Association, and Pete’s Equipment.

These supporters aren’t just protecting farmers’ lives. Studies show that 7 out of 10 farms close within a year after a fatal tractor accident, causing a ripple effect throughout the local economy. A simple investment in ROPS yields a major benefit, preventing both personal tragedy and loss to an entire farming community. Find out more at ropsr4u.com.

About the Author

Helen Labun Jordan

Helen Labun Jordan

Helen Labun Jordan lives in Montpelier, where she works for Bear Pond Books. Read more of her work at her website, discoveringflavor.com.

Helen Labun

Helen Labun

Helen Labun runs Hel’s Kitchen takeout restaurant in Montpelier (helskitchenvt.com). She also coordinates events (and reviews many cookbooks) for Bear Pond Books, also in Montpelier.

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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