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Posts Tagged ‘Vermont’

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Large-scale solar “farms” are becoming the norm across the country. It’s best to put them on places that are already treeless. We need trees to absorb carbon and give us oxygen.

There’s an organization I follow on twitter, @ecorinews, that has made me more cautious about the renewable energy I advocate. I love that people are using more solar energy, but it should not be at the expense of trees, which are also important in controlling climate change. There are plenty of buildings and already empty spaces where panels could go.

Still, it’s heartening to see communities embracing sustainable energy, and I liked a story from Vermont about strange bedfellows getting the message and working together on solar — on a landfill.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling wrote about the collaboration at the Valley News in September.

“As Vermont’s ever-shifting energy landscape continues to shake up the renewable energy sector, a community solar array coming online this month will showcase a new twist on existing financial models.

“ ‘This is a hybrid,’ said Dori Wolfe, whose company, Wolfe Energy in Strafford, has purchased two shares — at a cost of $2,784 each — of the 185-kilowatt array, which is sited beside a closed landfill site just off Route 113 in Post Mills.

“Community solar arrays — those which serve multiple customers, some of whom might not have solar-friendly homes — are nothing new in Vermont. …

“The nearly finished ‘Thetford-Strafford Community Solar’ array is designed to generate 230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity during its first year, enough to power about 35 average Vermont homes.

“But it differs from projects in neighboring towns because it will be the first solar farm to serve a mix of customer sectors — the array is a partnership between residential customers, a commercial farm, and the town of Thetford itself. …

“Wolfe said that, among the 25 member-owner shareholders, the commercial entity — Dave Chapman’s Thetford-based Long Wind Farm — acts as the anchor, and purchased enough of the roughly 185 shares on offer to create a critical mass that allowed area residents to buy into the entity, ‘Thetford Strafford Community Solar LLC.’

“The shareholders (who live in Thetford, Strafford and Norwich) expect to recoup their investment and then some through reduced electric bills — about 85 percent of the electricity produced at the site will be sold to Green Mountain Power through the state’s net-metering program, which guarantees customers a minimum rate for feeding solar energy back into the grid.

“The remaining 15 percent of the power will be sold to the town of Thetford at 90 percent of the normal utility rate, which Wolfe said will exert downward pressure on the property tax rate. …

“Wolfe said she hopes that the Post Mills project will lead to a second phase in which more solar is installed on top of the adjacent landfill.

“Though having more solar options is expected to help more Vermonters access renewable energy, a report released earlier this summer by the Energy Action Network suggests that more regulatory action will be needed to get the state on pace for its ambitious goal of achieving 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.

“The state has made progress — in 2017, Vermont energy use was 20 percent renewable, up from 12 percent in 2010. But it is significantly off pace. … In 2017, the rate of newly added capacity was down 30 percent as compared to 2016, and new wind generation has seen an even steeper decline, according to the report.

“There are several reasons for the slowdown. … A new, 30 percent federal tariff on solar panels produced overseas [has] affected pricing, leaving solar projects looking for new ways to make the numbers work.” More.

If you are interested, click here to see what Rhode Island is doing to encourage siting of solar arrays on developed lands, like the landfill used in the Vermont story.

Does your community have a policy to spare forests from being taken down for the otherwise worthy purpose?

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
The Office of Administration, featuring the solar array below, is one of three Rhode Island government buildings to join the Lead by Example initiative.

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Photo: Anna Kusmer
An old Estey Organ Company factory space filled with donated reed organs.

Here is something the internet should be perfect for: finding the unusual person somewhere in the world who would like nothing better than to give new life to an old reed organ. There don’t seem to be too many such enthusiasts in the vicinity of the old Estey Organ Company in Vermont.

Anna Kusmer writes at Atlas Obscura, “In its heyday, the Estey Organ Company factory was the beating, bleating heart of Brattleboro, Vermont. It produced more than half a million organs in total and, at its peak, employed more than 500 people. On a fateful day in 1960, however, the assembly lines shut down and workers departed. After nearly a century in operation, the organ factory had gone silent.

“And then, like the most improbable boomerangs, the organs started coming back.

“Families with old, unwanted Estey organs started to donate them, one by one, to the Brattleboro Historical Society. First a few, then a few more, and the organs kept coming. Over the years, hundreds of organs have made their way back home. At first, the historical society was at a loss for what to do with them all.

“In 2002, the society chose the most interesting and playable organs and opened the Estey Organ Museum on the premises of the old factory. …

“Beyond the museum, since the 1970s, the Brattleboro Historical Society amassed what might be the largest organ collection in the world, at around 200 instruments. The majority are stored in other adjacent factory buildings owned by Barbara George, a historic preservationist and longtime Brattleboro resident.

“ ‘In a way, it’s my fault that we have all these organs,’ says George. She was generous with the old factory space, which at first provided ample room. But after years of accepting any and all organ donations, many of the buildings began to fill up. It was a unique predicament for any local society. …

“ ‘They’re a curse,’ George says, only half-joking. Today, the museum only accepts donated organs in perfect working condition, or rare or unusual examples. But this hasn’t completely stopped the tide. On a couple of occasions, organs have been anonymously left outside the door of the museum. ‘In the museum world, we call that a “drive-by donation,” ‘ says George. …

 

“Rock ‘n’ roll and the rise of electric instruments, however, did the old organs in. … However, the instrument is still occasionally found in contemporary music—John Lennon and Nico were fans.

“Collecting so many of them, in one place, was never George’s plan. ‘The mission of the museum is to promote continued use and enjoyment. They’re certainly not doing anyone any good in here,’ she says. …

“ ‘People don’t want them,’ says George, ‘but they also don’t want to throw them away.’

“Brattleboro’s best bet for its tidal wave of busted organs is to raise awareness about just how many they have, so they can find people willing to breathe new life into them. Says George, ‘We’d most like to see a reed organ revival.’ ” More history and some great pictures here.

Any takers out there? I’ll bet KerryCan knows a likely reed-organ lover.

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Photo: Jessica Ojala
Rabbi David Fainsilber (left) and Rev. Rick Swanson are working with law enforcement and volunteers to combat winter homelessness in Vermont.

Vermont gets really cold in winter, and the most recent winter was especially brutal. That is why a coalition of volunteers, religious leaders, and law enforcement officers have banded together to combat homelessness. Seeing families with young children living in their cars in bitter, brutal weather made them say, Enough is enough.

Reports Mark Davis at Seven Days Vermont, “An improbable alliance of religious leaders, law enforcement officials and volunteers quietly opened Lamoille County’s first homeless shelter. The sheriff’s department owns the Yellow House in Hyde Park, and a band of volunteers and sheriff’s deputies has been staffing it since the first frozen weeks of February.

“The shelter isn’t getting any government funds or charitable donations; in fact, it hasn’t been officially ‘approved’ by the town. But the Yellow House has hosted a steady stream of guests this winter. …

“The number of people without housing in Lamoille County swelled from 22 in 2016 to 64 in 2017, including 34 children, according to an annual survey by the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness. But the closest shelters were more than an hour away, in Burlington and Vergennes.

“Organizers tried without success for three years to open a permanent shelter in nearby Morrisville. They concluded that it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission and opened the Yellow House with little public notice.

” ‘It’s a “Let’s just do this” approach. Enough is enough. There simply can’t be families and individuals out in the cold anymore,’ said Rabbi David Fainsilber of the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe. ‘I appreciate all the questions and concerns people may have. And yet, at the end of the day, I personally have to ask myself, Did a family stay out of their car and have a warm place to stay?’

“Organizers such as Fainsilber envisioned Yellow House as a winter-only endeavor. The Hyde Park planning and zoning offices gave the shelter temporary verbal approval before it opened, according to backers, but will spend the coming months mulling over whether to grant official permits. No hearings have been scheduled.

” ‘I’m hoping it’s not a battle. But if it is a battle, I’m committed, because the interfaith community is, too,’ said Sheriff Roger Marcoux Jr., a key backer of the project. …

“Part of the problem is the nature of rural homelessness, according to shelter advocates. In Burlington, the itinerant people who congregate downtown are highly visible. But the homeless in Lamoille County tend to live out of sight in an unheated camp in the woods, or in cars, so residents don’t appreciate the size of the population. …

“In late December, temperatures plummeted to minus-25 degrees, and Rev. Rick Swanson of Saint John’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church heard that people were sleeping in tents in the woods. Swanson opened the doors to his Stowe church. One man came in from the cold and spent several nights sleeping inside, by the altar. …

“Religious leaders reached out to Marcoux, the longtime sheriff, who is elected to his post and enjoys broad discretion in setting program and budget priorities within his jurisdiction. Marcoux wasn’t just cooperative; he offered to host the shelter.

“The Yellow House is part of a complex of abandoned buildings across the street from the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department in Hyde Park village. …

“To head off any potential community concerns about safety, he pledged on-duty deputies would regularly stop by. …

” ‘I’m in the business of protecting the public, and I feel like I’m doing that,’ Marcoux said. ‘Why are people living in cars when I’ve got a house I’m heating?’ ”

More.

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Some days it was too cold for our skiers to ski, but since I wasn’t planning to ski anyway, I just did the things I usually do — blogging, reading, exercising … I finished a masterful biography of poet Elizabeth Bishop and launched joyfully into the first volume of Philip Pullman’s new series, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage.

I discovered a new liking for a treadmill, but only one with a view of the mountains beyond an outdoor hot tub in a fitness center with no noisy music or TV. I set the treadmill at Snail. That’s not the very slowest, you know. Sloth is slower.

And I ate. A lot. The Austrian-themed food at the Trapp Family Lodge is pretty rich. I especially loved the breakfast buffet, where even though I ate a lot, I could make choices that were good for me.

The only thing I’d do differently is bring a tea kettle to make my own kind of coffee at 4:30 or 5. That’s just me. Lots of people like those Keurig, one-cup brewers using Green Mountain Coffee. The lodge has them in guest rooms. Lots of people are also able to sleep until 7, when you can get better coffee in the bar.

The trip was a nice break from routine. I hope you had a good holiday week, too.

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Dressing in Austrian dirndl at Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont.

Nearly five years ago, when I was an editor, I solicited an article on Latino dairy workers from Daniel Baker at the University of Vermont. Dairy farms are practically synonymous with Vermont, where cows dot the mountainous landscape. The article summarized Dr. Baker’s research showing how essential immigrants were to the Vermont dairy industry’s survival. (Read the piece here.)

Of late, however, Vermont dairy farmers are anxious about their industry’s viability as walls both figurative and solid threaten the labor supply.

Visiting the state this week, I did note that there seemed to be a good supply of immigrants or former immigrants working in the hospitality industry at least.

I try not to ask people where they are “from” since friends in my Race in America group at the Fed have convinced me it’s a question that can make people feel unwelcome. But I was interested when someone whose way of speaking suggested Africa came to fix the hotel shower and when I noted the dirndl-garbed young lady above working the breakfast shift.

According to 2015 data from Migration Policy, Vermont has 2,619 residents born in Africa (9.3 % of the state’s foreign-born population in 2015), 8,199 born in Asia (29%), 9,113 born in Europe (32.3%), 3,038 born in Latin America (10.8%), 4, 875 born in North America, with small places like Greenland added to that mix (17.3%), and 403 born in Oceana (1.4%). By far the largest group is from Canada, which borders Vermont on the north. Vermont would be a more empty state than it is and nearly devoid of workers without all the foreign born.

If you’re interested in more, take a look at American Migration Council’s Vermont data, too. It’s here.

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Photo: No Strings Marionette Company
In this production,
Treasure Hunt, a boy called Jim is lured out to sea, where he encounters a mermaid, “a giant clam, a fish that swallows him whole, an electric eel and an angry octopus guarding his treasure.”

Tuesday night at the Trapp Family Lodge, my husband and I watched a charming puppet show about a fox called Sharp Ears. The show was created and performed by the Vermont-based No Strings Marionette Company. Our four grandchildren were too tired for theater after a day of skiing, but we were charmed — especially by unusual marionettes like the frog, the chicken and chicks, the rooster, the grasshopper, the cow, and the numerous butterflies and flying bugs. And in case the theatrical company’s title threw you off, the puppets do have strings.

We very much enjoyed hanging around afterwards to listen to the questions that children asked the puppeteers: how do you make puppets? how do you make them move? how did you make the bench? did you paint your sets or buy them? do you have other shows?

Puppeteers Dan Baginski and Barbara Paulson have about 12 other shows, which they tour widely, keeping them so busy that the story of Sharp Ears took them two years to create at night — instead of the four months in which they could have finished if they’d been able to work nonstop.  “Sharp Ears” is still new, not even up on the website yet.

The show was based on the Czech story called “The Adventures of the Vixen Known as Sharp Ears,” on which the opera The Cunning Little Vixen is also based. In this version, a henpecked woodcutter who’d rather hang out in nature than do his chores brings home a fox as a pet for his grandson, with unfortunate consequences for the farm.

Dan and Barbara, says their website, “have toured America together for over sixteen years.  Their traveling stage transforms any space into an intimate theater, where the seamless blend of movement, music and masterful manipulation captivates young and old alike.

“With puppeteers in full view,  the audience sees how the puppets are brought to life. These Vermont artisans lovingly hand craft the marionettes, props and scenery, whether for an original tale or an adaptation of a classic.

“Shows begin with an interactive song featuring audience members, and finish with demonstrations sparked by the audiences’ curious questions.”

More here.

Photo: No Strings Marionette Company
Puppet characters from
The Hobbit.

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Vermont’s Farm Ballet

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Photo: Jonas Powell
The Farm Ballet performing at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont. The atmosphere is casual and allows small children to have fun, too.

Around the country, arts organizations are continually thinking up new ways to expand their audiences whether it’s New York City’s public schools adding Broadway shows to the curriculum with $10 tickets (here) or free admission for teens to the Art Institute of Chicago (here).

In today’s post, a ballet company makes professional dance performances available to people who prefer to be outdoors and dress casually.

Elizabeth M. Seyler writes at Seven Days, “Going to the ballet often conjures images of elegant theaters, dapperly dressed adults and thin young people dancing across a pristine stage. But what if ballet were more than that? What if parents in jeans and sandals brought their rambunctious children to a farm picnic to watch ballet lovers of all ages dance across a verdant, or muddy, field? Would it still be ballet?

“In Vermont, it sure would. Since 2015, the Farm to Ballet Project, founded and directed by Vermont-raised ballet professional Chatch Pregger, has given 24 full-length classical ballet performances for adults and children at 17 Vermont farms.

“Featuring six string musicians and 25 adult dancers, each performance conveys the work and life of a female farmer during the growing season and the natural forces she encounters. …

” ‘At our performances, I see all the adults with their picnic blankets and their dinners — eating, drinking, enjoying themselves,’ says company soloist Maria Mercieca. ‘And I see all the kids dancing along, running around. They’re watching, they’re enjoying it, they’re taking it in, but they’re not being made to be still. I love that about it. It’s a family- and kid-friendly event, and I mean little, little kids.’

” ‘It’s really a great event for our members and our community,’ says Tre McCarney, director of community programs at Shelburne Farms. She’s coordinated four Farm to Ballet events there, and each has drawn more than 600 spectators. …

“From two performances this year, McCarney expects to receive approximately $8,000 to support Vermont Food Education Every Day, a partnership of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. More specifically, funds help sustain Jr Iron Chef VT, a statewide culinary competition for teams of middle and high school students charged with creating healthy, locally sourced dishes to improve school meals. …

” ‘The company is very tight; we’re very close,’ says Mercieca, 41, a member of Farm to Ballet since 2016. “‘It’s not competitive; it’s really supportive and a good place to be. …

” ‘We aren’t 40-pound creatures who can wrap their legs around their heads,’ adds company soloist Avi Waring. “We’re human beings,.’ …

“For most of Farm to Ballet’s choreography, Pregger reinterpreted ballet classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle’ to allow dancers to perform on grass without turns or pointe shoes. But each year he also created original choreography for one of the concerti in Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. ‘Bees & Friends’ combines those original works into a 45-minute performance set to the Vivaldi piece.” More here and here.

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