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Photo: Don J. Usner for Searchlight New Mexico
Art Schaap had a successful dairy farm in Clovis, New Mexico. After he learned that “forever chemicals” from a military base were polluting his cows’ milk, everything changed.

Suzanne has a college friend who writes well-researched investigations into things that go wrong in our world and what people are doing to address them.

In this report at the Huffington Post, Sara Van Note writes about dangerous “forever chemicals” getting into our food supply.

“At Art Schaap’s dairy farm in Clovis, New Mexico, sprinklers draw from deep wells to water green fields of sorghum and corn. Near the milking barn Schaap built almost three decades ago, glossy black-and-white cows lap water from a pipe. Schaap used to ship thousands of gallons of milk each day to milk co-ops and cheese producers, who in turn sold to consumers across the country. But for the last year, he has poured all that milk down the drain.

“In September 2018, Schaap got an unexpected visit from an official with Cannon Air Force Base, which adjoins his Highland Dairy property. The official gave him a letter indicating that tests found his well water was contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals that have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems as well as cancer. The chemicals had migrated into Schaap’s groundwater from foams used in firefighting exercises on the military base.

“Schaap and his family, the letter said, should immediately stop drinking the water. Schaap, 54, is a third-generation dairy farmer [and] has been raising cows and crops here since 1992. Air Force officials told him they’d supply his family with bottled water. But he wondered about his cows.

‘Milk is 90% water,’ he thought. ‘It kind of hit me like a rock,’ he recalled in a recent interview, ‘that my cows are drinking this polluted water.’

“Testing by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture showed that his milk was contaminated at levels 70 times above a federal advisory health limit for PFAS. The compounds are often called ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down and instead accumulate over time in the environment and the bodies of animals and humans.

“When Schaap found out his water was polluted, neither the state Agriculture Department nor the Food and Drug Administration had a protocol for testing milk for PFAS — they developed a test expressly for his milk.

When Schaap sent his first samples to the Agriculture Department for testing, he made the decision to dump his milk in order to avoid selling a potentially contaminated product.

” ‘Schaap has since laid off 35 employees, and his 4,000 cows — not to mention his family’s health and livelihood — are in limbo. …

“Some Clovis dairy farmers have installed filtration systems on their wells, at a cost of about $260,000 per system, with yearly maintenance costs around $50,000. The Schaaps have not — the price is simply too high for the level of contamination in multiple wells, with no guarantee of adequate purification.

“The farmers say the contamination is an ‘existential threat’ not only to their livelihoods but to the region’s economic future. …

“The nonprofit Environmental Working Group estimates it has affected over 1,300 locations in 49 states, based on an analysis of state and federal records. That includes more than 400 military sites that used firefighting foam with PFAS compounds, according to the Pentagon. …

“A highly publicized case of PFAS contamination from a DuPont factory in West Virginia became the basis for the new Hollywood film ‘Dark Waters’ starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway. But Schaap’s case, which the small nonprofit news outlet Searchlight New Mexico highlighted earlier [in 2019], is only the second known example of dairy contamination. …

“Linda Birnbaum, recently retired as director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said [she’d] like to see a larger array of foods surveyed from multiple communities across the country, and she noted that the tests measured just 16 PFAS compounds, leaving out the potential impact of thousands of more chemicals. …

“Given the uncertainty around federal PFAS limits for drinking water, several states are moving to create their own limits.”  More.

Happy to say my state is working on this issue. I hope yours is, too.

P.S. The above report was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit investigative news organization.

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Looking through a pile of magazines recently, I found a 2011 newspaper article I had cut out about Hardwick, Vermont. It’s about reinventing the local culture around food and food-related businesses.

Dirk Van Susteren wrote at the Boston Globe, “If there were a ‘Locavore Capital of America’ one would expect it to be in sunny California or perhaps somewhere in the heartland … But, surprisingly, in rocky northern New England, just 45 miles from the Canadian border, is a place that could contend for that honor: Hardwick, a former quarrying town that until recently knew more pain than promise.

“In recent years Hardwick, population 3,200, located along a tumbling stretch of the Lamoille River, has seen a half-dozen innovative agricultural enterprises crop up, many with mission statements including such words as ‘community-based,’ ‘sustainable,’ and ‘organic.’

“The town, always a bit scruffy, and with a high jobless rate, might be on a green trajectory. And people are taking notice.

“Among the new operations here or in nearby towns: Jasper Hill Farm, which makes artisanal cheeses and provides aging, distribution, and marketing services to local cheesemakers; High Mowing Seed Co., an organic seed business, whose owner likes traveling around the country to tell the Hardwick farm and food story; Highfields Center for Composting, a soil-making business that collects its raw materials from restaurants, farms, and schools; Pete’s Greens, a CSA (community-support ed agriculture) farm that grows organic vegetables in gardens and greenhouses; and, finally, Vermont Soy, a tofu and soymilk producer.

“The area also has dozens of small-scale producers, from orchardists to maple sugarmakers. Their products sell at farm stands, at the summer farmers’ market, and at Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op and Cafe, a landmark in its 36th year. …

“Monty Fischer, the executive director of the Center for an Agricultural Economy, the nonprofit organization that helped spur these farm efforts, has kept count. ‘People from 40 states and 40 countries have come to ask about our agricultural cluster,’ he reports, from his downtown office.”

Read about the 2011 federal grant for the Vermont Food Venture Center, an incubator facility, the organic North Hardwick Dairy, where sunflowers are grown as a value-added crop, mead maker Caledonia Spirits, and more here.

And if anyone has been up there recently, I sure would love to know if the food culture is still going strong.

Photo: Wikipedia
North Main St., Hardwick, Vermont

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Newport, Vermont, is way up north near Canada. It’s the southern port of vast Lake Memphremagog, whose name comes from an Abenaki Indian word meaning “beautiful waters.”

Any destination near Canada, as I should have known, means having access to French radio on the drive up, one of many small bonuses. Another bonus was the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, which provides shop space for sellers of many Vermont products under one roof. I bought a very nice turkey sandwich there and a bottle of Granny Squibb‘s Unsweetened Black Currant Tea. (I thought Granny might be a local, but the bottle says she’s a “Rhode Island original.”)

Discover Newport blogged about the Tasting Center in June, “The Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, LLC, has completed its equity financing and will open its doors to the public this summer, announced Managing Partners Eleanor Leger and Gemma Dreher.

“ ‘This is a unique enterprise that we hope can serve as a model for other rural areas, not only in Vermont but in other regions that value their working landscape,’ said Eleanor Leger, the primary leader of the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center project.

“A total of sixteen individuals and two foundations purchased equity shares in the holding company that purchased the building at 150 Main Street in downtown Newport in September of 2012.  Their equity of $562,000 is being leveraged with $750,000 in financing from Community National Bank and the Vermont Economic Development Authority [VEDA]. …

“Said Gemma Dreher, an early lead investor. ‘The Tasting Center will benefit from all of the changes happening in the Kingdom, but it will also play a key role in keeping our local farms and food producers viable for the future.’

“The building is fully leased to four local food and beverage businesses that feature products from across the region.” More.

You can learn how Newport conducted a visioning process to get input from residents on what they would like their community to be like in the future, here.

And there’s more at Newport’s website, here.

While I was enjoying my turkey sandwich and currant tea, my friends were taking a tour of nearby Jay Peak, which is benefiting from that special type green card that foreign nationals can get if they invest $500,000 in high-unemployment or rural areas. The resort is posh. I don’t think Princess Mononoke would like the loss of woodlands, but I am pretty sure the people getting the new jobs are grateful.

By the way, even if you hate superhighways, the drive  to the Northeast Kingdom, as that part of the world is known, is spectacular — green mountains, rivers, farms, red barns, cows. For all the photo ops, there are not nearly enough places to pull over and capture the autumn asters or the clouds over the mountain over the farm over the river.

Photo: http://discovernewportvt.com/fresh

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Vermonters care a lot about their farms. So when a dairy farm in South Woodstock was threatened with development, the neighbors bought it.

“Perched on a hill overlooking a valley,” writes Ann Trieger Kurland at the Boston Globe, “Farmstead Cheese Co. began as a neighborly plan to preserve a dairy farm.

“The bucolic 18-acre site was a former water buffalo farm and creamery that produced mozzarella and yogurt. When its owners moved to Canada and put the land up for sale, locals worried about the loss of jobs and the disappearance of another bit of the Green Mountain State’s rich heritage. They feared that the pastoral landscape might be grabbed by a developer.

“So 14 neighbors banded together to buy the farm and decided cheese making might safeguard its future. Within the year, they rebuilt the creamery, brought in a mixed breed herd — Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire, and Swiss Brown — to blend milks and make farmstead cheese. They started the first community-owned dairy farm in the state. In two years, the company has won dozens of awards for its cheddar, a harvarti-style tilsit, Edam, and English and French-style cheeses.

“The new owners are not novices. They include seasoned farmers and food industry executives who hired experienced staff. The top cheese maker, Rick Woods, 46, has been plying his craft for 19 years. ‘We’re a new company, but it’s not the first time around the block for these people,’ says Sharon Huntley, who is in charge of marketing.” Read more about the community-owned farm and where you can buy the cheeses.

Photo: Vermont Farmstead Cheese Co.
At the community-owned in South Woodstock, Vt., there are 135 cows.

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