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VEGI our greatest need?

It was just announced that Green Mt. Coffee (GMC) plans to buy a Seattle coffee wholesaler for $40m in cash. This is the same company awarded $1.8m in payroll tax rebates to create jobs in Waterbury (the VEGI program administered by VEPC).  GMC is a good company simply taking advantage of a program created by the Legislature. But what should Vermonters think about the state's willingness to give money to a successful company that had $40m in cash? Especially at a time when state revenues are declining and programs are being cut. Was this really the best use of that $1.8m?

Localvore

Vermont is a national treasure, but this state we are fortunate to call our home is at a crossroads. Our farmland, a beautiful and productive facet of our working landscape, is disappearing rapidly and being swallowed up by housing developments and chain store dominant shopping centers. This is bad news for our state on so many levels. In the words of Elizabeth Courtney, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, “While Vermont’s rural landscapes are beautiful to behold, we’re not interested in saving farms and forests just so we can look at them. We are talking about using Vermont’s natural resources to sustain the local community and nurture the local economy.” One way we can help sustain our family farms is by buying locally grown meats, poultry, produce and locally produced value-added products such as cheese. Buying locally produced foods also lessens harmful emissions produced by the vehicles that ship food from every corner of the globe to our supermarkets. The “Vermont Localvore” (eating local) movement challenges anyone who’s interested to eat Vermont-only foods for a given time period, usually a week, at various times of the year. This movement is raising public awareness of the benefits of eating homegrown products and thus is raising the demand for these goods. As the demand for local food products increases, farmers will not only be able to stay in business, but, in some cases, expand production. . For instance, the localvore desire for a “Vermont-only” bread resulted in Randy George, co-owner of Red Hen Baking to approach Charlotte wheat farmer Tom Kenyon with a request for more Vermont wheat. As a result, Kenyon plans to increase his wheat crop and has also located a group of community members willing to fund a mill to grind the wheat. In the words of Mad River Valley localvore Robin McDermott, “It’s a total win-win-win situation.” While larger farms are decreasing in number in Vermont, small organic farms are actually on the increase. Organically raised meats and produce can be sold for higher prices, making these farms more profitable and sustainable. Organically grown and raised foods are not only healthier for the consumer to eat; the organic farming practices themselves are healthier for the environment and this benefits everyone in Vermont. Chris Morrow, a founder of Local First Vermont, notes that, “By preserving and building our local businesses, we promote character, specialness. Who wants to live in or travel to a place that looks the same as everywhere else? An element of LFVT is about protecting the natural and business landscape that tourists find attractive.” Supporting local farmers and other businesses makes good economic sense. According to the Local First Vermont website, “In study after study, researchers have found that the economic impact of shopping for goods and services at locally owned businesses is significantly greater than at non-local alternatives. For instance, in Austin TX, Civic Economics found that for every $100 spent at a local bookstore $45 stayed local, but for every $100 spent at a chain store, only $13 stayed local. Transferring some of this money from chain or internet businesses can have a huge impact!” Buying local is a “statriotic” act—something we can all do to improve the economy and well-being of our state. According to Jennifer Grahovac from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, “By shifting just 10 percent of weekly food purchases to locally grown food purchases, Vermonters can add over $100 million to the Vermont agricultural economy.” And if the farmers buy local as well, this will further enrich our economy.  If we extended that “Ten Percent Difference” to all of our personal spending, the impact would be tremendous. And if we had a governor who “walked the walk” and made a commitment to localize state spending, we could revolutionize our economy.

Just say "No"

The recent national news about a high-profile teen pregnancy and planned shotgun wedding should be a wake-up call to all who have supported abstinence-only sex education. It doesn't work! The Bush administration has limited its funding to programs that assume teens can and will “just say no.” Faced with the reality of her daughter’s premature parenthood, Sarah Palin still champions this failed policy. (In fact her own first child was born on April 20, 1989, less than eight months after she “eloped” to be married on August 29, 1988.) Besides increasing the risk of teen pregnancy and fatal or disabling disease, abstinence-only education can have another pernicious effect. It suggests to pubescent teens that their sexual feelings are somehow bad. I would contend that this implicit message actually feeds the pornography industry. All of those very real feelings must be pushed underground, where they can be joined with other “bad” feelings, including the impulse to inflict pain on another. In a climate where we urgently want our kids to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy sexual behavior by everyone they know and trust, it is more critical than ever that sex education be comprehensive. Surely we can mention the virtues of abstinence and teach safe sex -- just on the off chance teenagers chose to explore their sexuality.

Retail Politicking

Much of electoral politics is a mind-numbing slog: looking up phone numbers, stuffing envelopes, waving signs in a cold November rain. I sent this out on our e-mail list recently:
Dexter Randall kicks off his re-election campaign this Saturday, September 13th, with a pig roast at the Randall Farm. This event is free and open to the public, and will include a presentation by longtime Dexter supporter Senator Bernie Sanders. The event will kick off at 1:30 pm, and Senator Sanders will address the crowd at 2:30. “Dexter has been a consistent advocate for farmers and the rural economy for many years. Please join me in supporting his re-election to the legislature,” said Sanders. “We need more leaders like Dexter.” The Randall farm is located at 627 Bonneau Road in North Troy, just off Route 100, one mile north of Troy Village. Bring a friend and an appetite for an afternoon of good food, good company, and good conversation.

These are the events that make politicking fun. Please keep an eye on our site, and in your local papers, and go to these events when you can. Our state government is much more accessible than other states'. More government accessibility is worth encouraging, and worth celebrating at say a pig roast.

Accountability in Health Care

Monday on the Mark Johnson show, the host went on at length about the sad state of affairs here in Vermont concerning health care costs. I called him and said that for sure costs were out of control, however had he noticed the lack of political guts in Montpelier to address these costs? Further I said to him that over-use (as he posed) was not the central problem, but rather the 35% administration/overhead cost by Insurance Companies as well as overcharging drug bandits. I do not refer to those who are peddling on street corners of our villages, but rather the big drug companies, such as Squibb and a host of others, who are charging us 80% more than they get in Europe for the same drug. And then there are the just plain bad hospitals. And by the way, why do they have to advertise? At the end of our conversation he said he would like to see what his next guest had to say on these matters. The guest was Tom Peters, author of a number of how-to business books and a Southern Vermont resident. Peters quickly came to the point that the current health industry is riddled with gross inefficiencies, citing the work of Dartmouth research health study. In fact, Peters said that some hospital's ought to be shut down before they could inflict any additional harm to the public! And that dollars alone do not insure quality health care. So dear reader, the stark fact is that the various components of the health industry in our state have managed to bully continued uneconomic operations as well as having thrown off any semblance of cost restraint. And where is the fearless fourth estate, commonly known as the press, in bringing these affairs to light and in holding elected officials accountable on these matters?

Why have primaries?

What's all the fuss about the primaries? Well...this year is one of the quietest primary seasons Vermont has ever seen. There are no Gubenatorial primaries (no surprise...the parties basically take care of that internally...nice Democracy there). There is a very low key Democratic Primary for LG, in part becuase the race got started so late because no one really wanted to run for that office. The Republicans are not even fielding candidates in some statewide seats. Nnow that is the real story...are they dying? I mean, they are the "other" real major party. Locally there are a few House and Senate primaries...but really not many. So where is our Democracy at this point? People do not want to run for office. The public exposure and frustration with our government has made serving an undesireable position. What can be done about this? How can politics become the art of positive messages and debate? What will it take to get us away from politics of slime and innuendo? Does anyone know the answer? Will there be no candidates for office in the future? Will a few people in each party decide who we all get to vote for? What are the real options here? Any answers?
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