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Vermont Public’s weekly dose of all things environment.

Out There: How farming has gotten harder

This is the web version of our email newsletter, Out There! Sign up to get our bi-weekly dose of all things environment — from creatures you might encounter on your next stroll, to a critical look at the state's energy transition, plus ways to take part in community science and a roundup of local outdoor events.

It’s Thursday, February 8. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • A proposal to log state land
  • 5,000 acres conserved
  • Furry animals that love sledding

But first,

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Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


A tough couple seasons

A greenhouse build made up of plastic covers and tarps sits collapsed outside. The photo has been edited to turn the sky pink, and the ground blue.
Photo by Lexi Krupp, photo illustration by Sophie Stephens
Vermont Public
A greenhouse at Four Blooms Farm in Bristol is completely unusable after a windstorm in early January. Sarah Heffernan put it up a few months ago, and planted 8,000 tulips in the ground under the enclosure. “You kind of have to be prepared for bad things to happen,” she said.

In the town of Bristol, winds clocked over 80 mph during a storm last month. The gusts snapped tree trunks, tore off roofs, and mangled greenhouses. Elsewhere, trees toppled on homes and entire towns lost power.

The windstorm was the latest in a series of extreme weather that’s hit Vermont recently: the July flooding that fueled the state’s wettest summer on record, a late spring frost, and another windstorm last winter, in December 2022, with some of the highest gusts ever recorded in the state.

Farmers often feel impacts from these storms directly, and those damages can be felt well after a storm has passed. “It will be years to come with all the trees that are still hung up,” said a sugarmaker who rents property in Bristol that was heavily damaged last month.

There is government aid available to help farmers, but it’s often incomplete. “The whole system was designed when we didn’t have these back to back storms,” a representative with the U.S. Department of Agriculture told me. That’s especially true in Vermont, where many farms are relatively small and diversified, without the same federal safety nets of large-scale operations.

Here’s how government, nonprofits, and normal people are trying to help farmers contend with the impacts of unprecedented extreme weather:

  • 💰The Vermont Agency of Agriculture and private business owners just announced a big fundraising campaign for family farms impacted by extreme weather last year, with a goal of raising $20 million.
  • 🍁 The USDA has a program to help farmers repair damages caused by natural disasters. This can help sugar makers in particular. Several have already applied for assistance after the January storm. But working with the federal government can be complicated and slow – the program is still paying out farmers who suffered damage in 2022. 
  • 🧑‍🌾🐄 In Congress, some lawmakers want to create a new insurance program to better serve small farms. That’s after some 70% of Vermont farmers who reported damages this summer said they have no crop or livestock insurance.
  • 🥕 The New England Organic Farmers Association of Vermont has a long running farmer emergency fund for growers impacted by any sort of disaster. Normally they get a handful of applications in a year. Last year they had 215 farms apply for and receive funding. 

In other news

🪵 Should Vermont log on state land in the face of climate change? That’s the debate playing out as the state considers a plan for managing the Worcester Range – a nearly 20,000-acre stretch of undeveloped ridgeline that runs from Middlesex to Elmore. A draft proposal calls for opening about 2,000 acres to timber harvests, which state managers say would help diversify tree species and age. But some environmental groups want the trees to be left alone.

☀️ 😎 Sunshine, after a record cloudy month: This January has been the cloudiest month in Burlington since 1951 (!) and much of the region saw similarly gray skies. That could be because of warmer-than-average temperatures (a warmer atmosphere holds more water), along with southerly winds that brought more moisture northwards. Cloudy skies aren’t so unusual for this time of year though – January is often the cloudiest month in the region.

🌑 Have plans for April 8 just after 3 p.m.? It’s a Monday, when a certain celestial phenomenon will grace the skies above northern Vermont. Several school districts have already said they’ll dismiss students early to avoid what’s expected to be a traffic nightmare, and short-term rentals for the night before have nearly booked up.

🌲5,000 acres permanently conserved: The land in the northern Green Mountains, once owned by the Atlas Paper Company, is part of a 10,000-acre stretch of contiguous, unfragmented forest that lies between Vermont and Quebec. Much of the area is boreal forest — a habitat that is particularly threatened by climate change.

In your backyard

A drawing of three brown otters hanging out in water.
Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public
River otters are active year round, but it's more common to see them during the day time. They're excellent swimmers — they can dive down to 60 feet and remain underwater for several minutes before coming up for air. Notes from Mary Holland's book Naturally Curious Day by Day.

Get out there

🐻🥾 Look for bear signs at Stark Mountain: A snowshoe trek with a naturalist in Waitsfield, in Washington County, will focus on bear hibernation and cover other critters that live in the woods. RSVP ahead of time, then meet at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10 on Mad River Glen property. If you need to rent snowshoes, you can get some for $15.

☃️🦉 Winter festival in Rutland: Going 20 years strong there’s a food tour at the farmers market, a snow sculpture competition, winter survival workshop for kids, a winter hike at Pine Hill Park, and lots more. Events running from Friday, Feb. 16 to Sunday, Feb. 25. More details here.

⛷️Harris Hill Ski Jump: Another Vermont tradition, this one on its 102nd year in Brattleboro. International competitors try to jump the farthest after skiing down a nearly 300-foot drop. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 17 - 18. $25 per day for adults.

🦆 “Beautiful and strange ducks”: The Feminist Bird Club of Northern Vermont has a winter birding outing celebrating “weird ducks” at the Colchester Causeway Sunday, Feb. 18 at 1:30 p.m. Organizers say they’ll plan to walk about two miles out and back. Bring binoculars if you have them, and they’ll have some to loan out. Suggested donation of $10.

One last thing


A device that translates light into sound helps create a unique solar eclipse experience: 

An astronomer at Harvard wanted to make her labs and telescopes more accessible, including for people who are blind or low-vision. That led to the creation of a handheld device that maps bright light to the sound of a flute, and darkness to a low clinking. Her lab is reaching out to schools for the blind across the path of totality, along with universities, libraries, museums and small gatherings, to get hundreds of these devices into the hands of people to use during April’s eclipse.

Enter your email to sign up for Out There
Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


Thank you for reading! Don’t hesitate to reach out, we'd love to hear from you. Just email us.

Credits: This week’s edition was put together by Lexi Krupp with editing from Brittany Patterson and lots of help from the Vermont Public team, including graphics by Laura Nakasaka and digital support from Sophie Stephens.

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