May 30, 2018
Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts, right, waits for a cheeseburger made with beef raised by Missisquoi Valley Union’s Animal Science II class. Beside him, Ruth Laroche, a local freelance writer, and James Messier, the school’s animal science teacher, chat with Abbey Group employees.

By STANLEY BLOW III Special to the Messenger

SWANTON — Abbey Group staffers were slinging sizzling burgers at the Missisquoi Valley Union’s annual end-of-year barbecue Friday. Far from run-ofthe- mill, the burgers they served bring a whole new meaning to the word local. They were raised a couple hundred yards from the kitchen.

The Abbey Group, with help from the Healthy Roots Collaborative, partnered with James Messier’s Animal Science II class to serve about 50 pounds of beef — more than 200 burger patties — at lunch, the event even garnering attention from Montpelier with Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts and staff stopping by for a tour of the barn and a bite to eat.

From barn to bun, animal science students were involved in every step of the meat’s journey. They even helped to make the patties Friday morning.

“The students are the ones that pick out the projects,” Messier said. “We have a step-up day in May before the end of school, so the question that I ask next year’s students is ‘what animals do you want to be taking care of?’ “We emphasize valueadding products,” he said. “You take your strawberries and you put them into

jam or whatever and sell the product. That gives the students knowledge of not only raising the product, but how to market it.”

And marketing is an essential skill for aspiring young farmers, Messier said.

In addition to beef, the program puts out a plethora of other products, such as Christmas trees, blueberries, maple syrup, rhubarb and winter-hardy kiwi.

Jennifer Bessette, an associate director for The Abbey Group, runs the grill at Missisquoi Valley Union’s local beef barbecue last Friday. The cafeteria served hand-pressed beef patties raised by students in the Animal Science II class.

Messier said MVU’s agriculture program is a unique one, and students appreciate the opportunity to contribute to their local economy.

“I personally think it’s awesome that we raise beef that is then being sold in our lunchroom,” said Journi Luten, a junior in the animal science class. “I think it’s cool that we’re learning about them as we’re raising them.”

“It makes me feel great saying ‘I helped raise that animal,’” said Anna Mashtare, another junior in the class. “I watched him grow up the whole time and now we’re able to sell it and provide it (food) for other people.”

The Abbey Group is happy to give back to programs like this one. Local food and community involvement are integral parts of the company’s mission.

“Part of our mission at The Abbey Group is to encourage students to develop lifelong, healthy eating habits,” said Nina Hansen, the company’s vice president of operations. “We believe using locally-produced products in our menu offerings helps children achieve that goal.”

Both The Abbey Group and Messier hope to continue this partnership into the future.

The Abbey Group is a food service management company based in Sheldon, Vt., with than 30 years’ experience dishing up local favorites in schools and corporate cafeterias across Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.

Stanley Blow is a marketing specialist for the The Abbey Group.

May 29, 2018


On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Phil Scott joined Vermont’s Congressional Delegation and Vermont Agency of Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts to encourage dairy farmers to take a hard look at the revised Margin Protection Program.

“On June 1, farmers in Vermont and across the nation face an important deadline. Farmers could receive financial help if they enroll in the Margin Protection Program (MPP). Vermont is ready to help with financial support for the farmers who sign up,” said Gov. Scott.

The Governor and state legislators worked to get $450,000 to assist Vermont dairy farmers. Support from the state will occur after farmers sign up for the program. By working with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) will contact farms that have signed up directly to issue reimbursement checks.

“Any Vermont farm that does not enroll…they’re going to be leaving money on the table,” said U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy.

Leahy achieved changes to the MPP program in the Appropriations Bill. Changes include:

  • Affordable Buy-up Coverage — Dramatically reduces the premium costs for “Tier 1” enrollment to incentivize small and medium farm to consider higher levels of protection. Eliminates the premiums for $4.50 and $5.00 coverage.
  • Allow Flexibility — Provides farmers a chance to immediately take advantage of the revised program.  USDA will re-open the election period. Open now! 
  • Farmer-Friendly Improvements — Calculates potential payments on a monthly basis.
  • Target Small and Medium Farms — Adjusts the “Tier 1” threshold that corresponds with substantially lower premium costs, to the first 5 million pounds of production.
  • Target Those Most in Need — Waives the $100 administrative fee for underserved producers (limited resource, beginning and minority farmers.)

“We’re just saying, take a look at this, really push the pencil, don’t look at the past look at the future, economists have looked at this and you can really do the math on this, a lot of stuff can be done already and you can see the possibility of return on this,” said Vt. Agency of Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.

“The people who are farming are our neighbors, they are our friends and they work harder than almost anyone I know. They create jobs, they produce quality agricultural products and they maintain the beauty and iconic landscapes that help define rural Vermont,” said U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

“These farmers deserve to earn a decent price for their milk and to live at a level of dignity and security which they now don’t have,” said Sanders.

The $450,000 secured by the state will be distributed evenly amongst the farms that have signed up by June 1.

To see if MPP-Dairy is right for you, try the USDA Margin Protection Program Decision Tool.

WATCH the full press conference:

May 18, 2018

Important June 1 Deadline Nears for Dairy Farmers

Vermont ready to help pay portion of federal milk margin protection program

May 18, 2018 / Montpelier, VT - Vermont dairy farmers are strongly encouraged to push the pencil and closely look at the Milk Margin Protection Program by June 1. The USDA program received upgrades in 2018 thanks to diligent work by Senator Patrick Leahy.

 “The improved Margin Protection Program could be a significant net financial benefit for most Vermont dairy farmers this year, especially with the important added funds from the State of Vermont, but ONLY if farmers sign up,” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.  “Now is the time for Vermont dairies to sign up and take advantage of this extremely discounted risk protection.  Whether you have 30 cows or 330, the forecasts from USDA are clear that you should sign up at the top level of $8.00, where lower premiums that I was able to secure, at 14.2ȼ/cwt, are now less than the 15ȼ/cwt farmers pay for the Dairy Checkoff and promotion program.”

Now farmers could receive state dollars to sign up thanks to legislative leaders and Governor Phil Scott. 

“Vermonters know how important dairy is to our economy, and that family farmers are struggling through incredibly tough times as milk prices continue to drop and feed, fuel and other production costs rise,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I’m pleased to support our family farms to ensure that Vermont farmers can afford to enlist in this federal program, which is important in this difficult period. I appreciate the support of Senator Leahy at the Federal level, and our state Legislature for its good work on this initiative.”

The Milk Margin Protection Program offers dairy farmers a risk management tool to protect the margin between milk price and feed costs – one of the greatest costs of operating a dairy farm. 

All dairy farmers are eligible to take part in the program if they are not already enrolled in the Livestock Gross Margin Program.  The program insures the margin between the national all milk prices and a nationally calculated feed cost.    The higher margin requires farmers to pay an insurance premium. Helping make the program more affordable Governor Scott and Agriculture leaders in the Senate and House have agreed to help pay for some of the costs if farmers sign up.

Vermont Senator Bobby Starr of Orleans County said, “The Vermont legislature is very committed to helping one of our state’s most important business. The dairy industry is vital to our rural economy, landscape and most importantly, it promotes and protects our heritage.”

Under the proposal, Vermont will provide a minimum of $600 toward the insurance premiums for dairy farmers that take part in the program in 2018.  This assistance could make this program even more attractive to dairy farmers of different sizes.

All farmers need to complete their own calculations.  Farmers should contact their local USDA Farm Services Office prior to the June 1 sign up deadline to ensure that sign up is completed in a timely manner.  

Visit for more information, calculation tools and contacts.

You can also find more information on the Agency website at: .

May 15, 2018

From Vermont’s inception, freedom and unity have spurred innovation. John Deere invented the tractor. Ben and Jerry created world-class ice cream.  Environmental leaders like George Perkins Marsh defined conservation. The state’s rich history highlights how Vermonters and their values have led the way.

Innovation continues today. Farmers are working with engineers, scientists and researchers on projects that improve the environment while improving their finances. Biodigesters transform manure to electricity. Perennial plants and grasses transform bare soils into buffers to protect rivers, and lasers help milk cows. 

Our next challenge is phosphorous innovation. Phosphorus is essential for plant growth, and both human and animal health. Too much phosphorus can be harmful to our waterways.  Farmers deploy a bevy of conservation measures to keep phosphorous on their fields. Adopting these best management practices to protect water has also improved soil. And efforts are currently underway to spark further innovation in phosphorus management, building on that progress.

Governor Phil Scott has challenged the agencies of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Commerce to find engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs who can work with farmers to deploy new and innovative approaches to capture and reuse phosphorus.  That innovation could take the form of extracting phosphorus from manure, processing waste to produce energy, and perhaps generating revenue and creating jobs. Possible approaches include production of compost, fertilizers and bio-char. There are many companies working on these solutions and, through the Phosphorus Innovation Challenge, Vermont is at the table.

In phase one of this project the state has made $250,000 available for “proof-of-concept” grants to support several projects. The state is accepting proposals for this seed money over the next two months. A panel comprised of scientists, entrepreneurs, and business experts will help guide the selection. If you would like to take up the challenge, we look forward to hearing from you!

We know that achieving Vermont’s clean water goals will require us to deploy both traditional conservation measures and new methods and ideas. We look forward to a day when products or processes that ensure clean water and farm viability are the standard, taking their place alongside other tools on our farms, many of which have their roots in Vermont. Freedom and unity includes innovation which continues to move Vermont forward, as it has for centuries, improving our environment, families and communities.

Secretary Anson Tebbetts  

Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

Secretary Julie Moore

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources

Secretary Mike Shirling

Vermont Department of Commerce and Community Development

For more information about the Phosphorus Innovation Challenge, visit:

May 13, 2018


MONTPELIER - Motorists in the areas of Plainfield, Groton, Calais, Williamstown, Washington, and Barre may notice new flashing road signs reading “Don’t move ash firewood beyond this point.” The signs are part of an inter-agency partnership between the Agency of Transportation, the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation (VTFPR) and the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (AAFM) to slow the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), which has been detected in the vicinity.  Signs are located on state highways and are visible to motorists leaving the EAB-infested areas.

EAB’s most common and damaging mode of transportation is by hitching a ride on firewood into a new area. To slow the spread, VTFPR is recommending that no ash firewood that has not been heat-treated be transported out of the known infested area, including loads of mixed firewood that may include ash logs that were harvested within the infested area. Ash firewood may be transported within the infested area.

The signs will be in place through Memorial Day weekend. In addition to their message, they serve as a visual reminder of where the borders of the infested area lie.

Vermonters outside the EAB-infested area and throughout the state should always ask their firewood dealer where the wood is coming from. The rule of thumb is to not move any untreated firewood more than 50 miles, and Vermonters living outside the infested area can do their part to slow the spread of EAB by making sure they are not purchasing infested ash.

EAB overwinter as larvae under the bark of ash trees where they feed on the inner bark tissue. Once infested, ash trees rapidly decline and are killed in 3-5 years. This pest is known to be established in 32 states and three Canadian provinces, and is responsible for widespread decline and mortality of hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America.

Vermonters are encouraged to look for signs and symptoms of the emerald ash borer and report suspicious findings Detailed information about the pest and what to look for may be found at the same website. Vermonters can also learn more about what EAB damage looks like and how to report a potential sighting by visiting Video and pictures of EAB damage in Vermont can also be found there.  Private land owners looking for information about managing ash in woodlots and UVA (current use) plans should contact their county forester, contacts for which can be found at


Jenny Lauer, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation


(802) 828-1531,