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Farm Fire

Side Dishes: High Ledge owners prepare to rebuild


Nothing prepares you for a house fire. But if you’re a farmer and your property provides your livelihood as well as your home, the loss seems greater.

Last Thursday in Woodbury, a fire destroyed High Ledge Farm’s vehicles, farm equipment and greenhouses, as well as the 1880s farmhouse formerly occupied by Paul Betz, Kate Camilletti and their two children. The conflagration was said to be sparked by a leaky, 500-gallon propane tank, which eventually exploded. The family also lost their cat — a neighbor rescued the dog — and all the seedlings they’d planted for the 2009 growing season.

Nevertheless, the couple is determined to start planting. Fellow grower Rachel Nevitt of Hinesburg’s Full Moon Farm says, “They need to feel a part of the earth and feel things are moving forward after this tragedy.” Nevitt, who has been getting her information from Tom Stearns, owner of High Mowing Seeds and a friend of Betz and Camilletti, also guessed that the High Ledge Farm stand at the Montpelier Farmers’ Market will see an unprecedented number of visitors this summer. “Everyone will want to give Tom and Kate their business,” she predicted.

Enid Wonnacott, executive director of the Vermont branch of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, says the farming community quickly banded together to support the family. “Growers near Paul have donated seedlings and are starting additional seedlings,” she explains. “The growers are supporting his agricultural needs.”

For now, she reports, neighbors are providing basic necessities. To help meet the family’s other needs, High Mowing has created a webpage to coordinate donations. Large, tax-deductible contributions can be made through NOFA.

Wonnacott says the family is in the process of mourning their lost home. “It’s almost like a wake,” she suggests. “People are stopping by to celebrate the land and remember it and bringing contributions of food … [Paul’s] so overwhelmed, positively, by all the support, but he’s also really reeling.”