Brave New World of Farming
[Re "Milking It," March 13]: My congratulations to Chelsea Edgar for her fine article on the intense collaboration of the thousand dairy cows of Vorsteveld Farm in Panton, together with the three cuss-a-plenty Vorsteveld brothers who work and manage the farm, as well as the 10 Mexican workers who reliably perform the cow-shit-spattered labor of the seven-day-a-week, round-the-clock milking chores.
I'm not a regular reader of Seven Days, but within my limited contact with the paper, I think that Edgar's article was exceptional for both its length and quality. Editors Paula Routly and Pamela Polston share a nice bundle of discernment for having given Edgar the means — seven pages, eight photos and a week down on the farm — that she needed to produce such a fine piece of journalism. Throughout my 50 years as a Vermonter, I've lived within a mile and a half of dairy barns of the small, old kind housing 50 or so milkers and found myself both educated and shocked by Edgar's report on the new style of 1,000-cow-plus dairy farming that now prevails in the state. The man-devouring, brave new world of farming...
Seven Days should be commended for calling attention to the difficult financial and labor issues facing dairy farms, but some statements in ["Milking It," March 13] were sensational and unfair.
The Vorsteveld Farm receives premiums for milk based on quality that they share with their employees. Undeniably, cows produce a lot of manure — about 120 pounds a day — but the farm would not be receiving quality premiums if their cows were truly living "in their own excrement."
Difficulty finding capable, reliable employees is not unique to farms. Nearly every business I see has a "Help wanted" sign or a "We're hiring" banner. Like any business, farms need to adapt with the times, and the days of cows being milked by hand in little red barns have gone the way of the mom-and-pop grocery store. Is milking in a windowless parlor for 12 hours much different than producing computer chips in a windowless "clean room" or stocking shelves in a big-box store for a 12-hour shift? Farm owners work just as long hours as their employees and are probably making less per hour.
The Vorstevelds are indeed "rough" and not representative of every dairy. Our farm has three non-family employees, all college-educated and born in America.
I am sorry that the Vorstevelds' employees were mistreated on other farms in the past. Abuse happens everywhere, and I am ashamed that it happened on a dairy farm. Instead of blaming these farmers, let's pressure our government to fix this broken system.
Whitcomb is co-owner of North Williston Cattle Company, a family dairy farm that milks 250 cows.
I'm writing to address your recent story titled "Exodus? Tenants Flee A Newly Built Burlington Apartment Complex," [March 6]. I read the article and, having been quoted in it, I would like to provide additional clarifying commentary.
I have developed several hundred multifamily housing units in recent years in Burlington and South Burlington. Every project offers its own set of challenges during and after construction and, while those experienced by Redstone at Pine and Flynn are unfortunate, they are not all that unusual. When and if issues do arise, what's most important is to tackle them immediately, while cooperating fully with the impacted residents. I worked at Redstone for 10 years up until 2006 and know them to be very responsible and respectful developers. As I like to say often: "If it were easy, everyone would be doing it."
Keep Religion Zipped
[Re "Bible Study on Aisle Three: Church's 'Pushy' Tactics Spook Vermont Shoppers," February 27]: To church spokesman Victor Lozada: Just imagine your religion is like a penis to others. If you were a decent human being, you would not stick it into strangers' faces and wave it around, would you? Don't pester others with your religion; if someone really wants to come and join your cult, they'll find ways. There are plenty of folks, including myself, out there who not only don't care for your religion but also feel deeply bothered by strangers pestering them with it.
[Re "Martial Lawmakers: Should the Legislature Elect the Leader of the Vermont National Guard?" January 23; Off Message: "House Committee Approves New Vetting for Adjutant General Candidates," March 15]: This talk by some members of the Vermont legislature about giving up their power to the governor to elect the state's National Guard adjutant general is dangerously myopic. Especially in light of the threatening situation at the federal government level, where the executive branch power is being seriously misused by a would-be fascist dictator who is part of a long line of executive power abuses that started in the second half of the 20th century and have gotten worse through each presidency. Already we have seen broad powers given to the executive branch through the 2001 Patriot Act, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Act and 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which have created a state of total governmental surveillance unrivaled since the days of the Third Reich.
What is needed to counteract all this is to place more — not less — major governmental office leadership positions at the federal, state and municipal levels in the hands of the citizens by elective public ballot. The heads of governmental departments for agriculture, environmental standards, fish and wildlife, health, finance, public safety, transportation, etc. that make decisions and policy that have a major impact on the public should be directly under the people's elective power.
We must demand of our legislators at both the federal and state level that they do their utmost to curtail and reduce executive branch powers. The Vermont legislature should start by putting the National Guard adjutant general election into the hands of the Vermont citizens from now on.
Vermont, Not Venezuela
In his February 27 Fair Game, John Walters refers to Venezuela in summarizing Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) foreign policy. Unfortunately, Walters uses the same lazy, one-sided, decontextualized approach seen across the mainstream media to infer that all Venezuelans are being held hostage by a "dictator" who tyrannically refuses international "aid" rather than sovereign people — in an independent country with a much better election record than that of the U.S. — being undermined by sanctions and embargoes.
Further, Sanders is "at risk of being depicted as a socialist appeaser." Racism, greed, hubris and fearmongering have produced our "fraught history" in Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia under the guise of democratic "intentions." Democrats and Republicans alike still deviously concoct the Red Scare, and far too many reporters willingly dose the public.
I am withholding my vote for Bernie until he challenges the military-industrial-espionage complex that consumes our national budget and inflames global conflict. Walters should withhold his international reporting until any historical "skepticism" allows for more than a trite summary of a real, present-day crisis. Continue with the solid, local journalism.
Kiss IRV Hello
I was glad to see that ranked-choice voting is being proposed again as a system for electing some of our Vermont representatives [Fair Game, March 6]. Sen. Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden) got it right that former mayor Bob Kiss' unpopularity was the real excuse for doing away with Burlington's instant runoff voting (one other name for ranked choice) in 2010. There was absolutely no reason to kiss IRV goodbye just because of one mayor's perceived shortcomings.
Ranked choice completely does away with spoilers and, as columnist John Walters implied, thereby allows people to vote their dreams instead of their fears. Take the 2000 presidential election, for instance. With ranked choice, you could've voted for Ralph Nader and not harmed Al Gore's chances at all. Who knows how history might've been changed had Gore instead of George W. Bush won back then.
Is ranking too complicated for you? Then just vote as you always have. There's no obligation to choose more than one candidate, just the option to do so for those of us who don't want to keep agonizing over whether to vote for our second choice rather than our first so as to keep our last choice candidate from winning.
In addition to yielding a truer indication of the will of the electorate, other benefits of ranked-choice voting include increased turnout, decreased costs and a more positive, issue-oriented approach to campaigning. That's why it's always won my vote. If you do even minimal research, no doubt it'll win yours, as well.
Charge for Bags
[Re Off Message: "Vermont Senate Bill Would Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags," March 13]: As Vermont legislators dither about banning single-use plastic bags, stores could take the positive step of charging for all bags, plastic or paper.
In Germany more than 50 years ago, I learned that without my own bag, the grocery store would charge me about 25 cents for each bag I needed to carry off my purchase.
If our markets charged accordingly, people would soon remember to bring in reusable bags — and our environment would benefit.