June 1, 2018

June 1, 2018 / Montpelier VT. – As outdoor activities increase along with the warm weather, state officials and the Vermont Horse Council wish to spread a public safety message impacting all those using our roads; please share the road while riding and driving.

To help share this message, Vermont Department of Public Safety Commissioner Thomas D. Anderson and Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets Secretary Anson Tebbetts teamed up to shoot a Public Safety Announcement to highlight the message’s importance to the public. 

The PSA can be viewed here

Vermont has a proud equine history.  From draft horses and the Morgan Horse to today’s equine community, horses are an important part of our state’s landscape.  This idea is the spirit of the new PSA, while recognizing that those who use our public roads must respect each other whenever they share the road.

“Horses and riders can be vulnerable on Vermont’s roads,” Commissioner Anderson said. “We’re asking drivers to be considerate and careful any time they encounter a horse. Slow down. Leave plenty of room. Don’t swerve. Together we can help all users of our roads stay safe.”

Currently, there are approximately 75,000 horses on Vermont’s farms and back roads.  The Vermont Horse Council hopes those who occasionally ride their horses on our roads can traverse in safety, while respecting those drivers they encounter.

“The Vermont Horse Council promotes safe horse and rider travel on our roadways by encouraging single file riding to the right, hand signals, and slow travel speed,” commented Carmel Stone of the Vermont Horse Council.  “This respect for drivers promotes safety for our horses and horse community, but we depend on our neighbors in cars to help us get to our destination safely.”

We encourage all Vermonters to view the PSA, and engage in safe travel practices for all who share the road.

May 31, 2018

Vince Foy loves farming.

For more than three decades Foy and his wife Debbie Yonkers have farmed the hilts in Caledonia County in the town of Danville. She may be biased but Debbie thinks her husband is a fantastic farmer.

"I really enjoying coming home. Every day and being able to come to this beautiful farm that he works every single day. Seven days a week," said Yonkers.

It's a routine that never gets old for Foy.

The Danville couple have dozens of animals from sheep to cows to pigs. It's all part of their diversified business.

The primary focus these days is selling meat, but it wasn't always this way. When they first started farming here they were a dairy, one of the first farms to transition to organic back in the 90's. While the milkers are now gone-part of their business plan includes boarding and raising organic heifers for other dairy farmers.

"These are finished calves for I draw them out of here for slaughter and these are dairy heifers-bred heifers all mixed by age," said Foy.

It's a business relationship that works for Foy and other farmers. Foy takes pride in finding niche markets that keep him close to the land. Over time Foy has built new barns and converted other structures to new uses.

Take the old milk house, it is now a retail store. Freezers loaded with food. From lamb to pork to beef. Loyal customers come to the farm each week and choose what they want to buy:

"We have stayed away from glass fronted freezers and all that expensive overhead," said Foy

Foy says it's a close relationship because the consumer knows exactly where their food is coming from and customers are supporting a fantastic farmer who is connected to the working landscape.

Foy has no plans of slowing down-always adapting and trying new things. He's also helping the next generation by working with a young farmer who just purchased a farm a few towns over in Wheelock.

A Fanastic Farmer who loves his family, animals, land and his community.

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: .