The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf recently found itself in the hole, desperately short of cash. Over the past year, the nonprofit has experienced a 19 percent increase in demand for food-relief services. For years, its Chittenden County client base was a fairly constant 1500 households per month. But last summer that number jumped to 1800 families, and by this spring it had surpassed 2000.
Why so many hungry mouths? Sarah Barnett, the Food Shelf's administrative coordinator, ticks off the usual forces that are driving up the cost of living in Vermont: higher prices for gasoline and home-heating fuel, rising medical co-payments, cutbacks in food stamps and federal housing subsidies, and the ticking clock of welfare reform that is moving many of the working poor off public assistance.
Meanwhile, says Barnett, the Vermont Food Bank has seen its once-steady supply of reclaimed canned foods dwindle, as food manufacturers have improved quality controls to cut down on the number of dented cans that find their way to food banks, for a fraction of their value. At the same time, discount grocers are now buying up dented cans for retail sale, forcing food banks to buy canned goods at wholesale prices. It all amounts to a significant increase in expenses.
It's worth noting that only 15 percent of the Food Shelf's clients are homeless, and 40 percent have jobs. Many are either recently unemployed or seasonally out of work and cannot make ends meet on their meager savings or unemployment checks. Barnett admits that she is wary of "crying wolf" too often about the agency's fiscal woes, which might siphon precious resources away from other vital social services that are also feeling the pinch. Nevertheless, the Food Shelf's mission has undergone a paradigm shift.
"Basically, the rules of the game have changed in the last three years," Barnett says. "If you look at the word, 'emergency,' it used to be that people would come to us when they were in a really bad situation. However, now we are part of people's monthly budgets. We are how the working poor are getting by."
Some folks in the Moretown area are bracing for a more literal cut: a controversial quarry that could start operating on Route 100B, about four miles south of Middlesex Village and three miles north of Moretown Village.
Rivers Development LLC of Waitsfield has filed an application with Moretown's Development Review Board (DRB). If approved, "Rivers Quarry" would operate six days a week, 10 hours a day, between April and December. The mining operation would extract 2.5 million cubic yards of rock and gravel over 25 years, lowering the elevation of 17 acres roughly 110 feet. The quarry is also looking to conduct 15 blasting operations a year, with additional blasts done as needed.
Some neighbors aren't thrilled with the idea of all those explosions rocking their world, not to mention the dust, water runoff and diesel fumes from the 100 or so trucks that would access the site each day. They're also concerned that all that new truck traffic will pose a safety hazard to the bicyclists who use 100B as a recreational corridor.
Scott and Pat Sainsbury own a 400-acre horse farm across the road from the proposed quarry. Like other horse-farm owners, they are concerned that the blasting and drilling will affect the health and safety of their animals and riders. The Sainsburys have built an indoor riding arena on their property and lease stalls for equestrian events. Earlier this year, one of the Sainsburys' champion horses bolted after getting spooked by a test blast at the site.
Art and Linda Hendrickson live 1100 feet from the proposed quarry. They worry that the quarry's incessant noise, vibrations and diesel exhaust will detract from the serenity of the mostly residential area, affect local tourism and depress property values.
Richard Rivers, who owns the 93-acre quarry site, couldn't be reached for comment by press time. His DRB application states that the quarry would use natural and manmade barriers and vegetation to minimize noise, pollution and other disturbances to neighbors and livestock. And though the quarry is expected to generate about 96 truck trips a day, a traffic study submitted by the applicant contends that ongoing construction in the Mad River Valley now brings in crushed stone and gravel from other parts of Vermont. The new quarry will simply tap into that existing market and create little or no net increase in traffic on 100B, the applicant claims.
Some Moretown residents have suggested that opposition to the quarry that's been marshaled by the Mad River Neighborhood Association is nothing more than a "Vermonter versus flatlander" spat. But Art Hendrickson, a native Vermonter, dismisses that notion. He points out that he and his wife have lived there 31 years, and his wife is a fourth-generation Moretown resident. He says he has no objection to Rivers building luxury homes on the property -- coincidentally, Rivers built the Sainsbury's house -- but contends that an industrial-sized quarry is incompatible with the area's rural character, not to mention the Town Plan.
Moretown's DRB will dig into this issue again at its next meeting on July 14 --Bastille Day. Expect some fireworks...