Opening day at the 71st annual Farm Show

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(Host) For nearly three-quarters of a century, the Vermont farm show has attracted farmers, industry people and those who simply enjoy checking out what’s new in farming. VPR’s Steve Zind visited this year’s farm show on opening day to see what’s changed and what remains the same.

(Elliot Morse) “Hey, David. Stick around a minute. I want to visit with you a minute.”

(Zind) Thirty years ago, Elliot Morse repaired Volkswagons in a shop next to his family farm in Montpelier.

“That got maple syrup on it?”
“Sure does.”

(Zind) Today Morse is serving up maple popcorn at the farm show. The Morse family’s business is doing well. Years ago Elliot’s parents gave up dairy farming in favor sugaring and catering to tourists and cross-country skiers. Now Elliot no longer needs to make a living off the farm.

(Morse) “It’s grown from a little bitty building that sold fruits and vegetables about four months of the year to a year-round, four-season thing.”

(Zind) The big Barre Auditorium and neighboring BOR building are arranged with aisles of booths. They’re staffed by sales representatives for equipment manufacturers and volunteers with a range of groups, promoting everything from beer brewing to Belted Galloway cattle.

This is a knowledgeable crowd that speaks in a farming shorthand that sounds foreign to non-farmers. As more people gravitate toward cities and non-farm jobs, it’s a language many Vermonters no longer understand. The UVM Extension service booth features a computer quiz designed to test your knowledge of Vermont farming.

“Test your agricultural IQ. Touch the letters to select your answers. An average cow in Vermont produces about how many gallons of milk per year? 22 gallons, 220 gallons, 2,200 gallons, 22,000 gallons of milk per year?”
“I pick 2,200.”
“You guessed correct!”

(Zind) There are plenty of young people here, but the green and red plaids, the caps worn the old fashioned way with the bill in front – these things haven’t changed in the 71 years the Vermont Farm Show has been around.

Agriculture in Vermont is a balancing act of preserving some of the past and adapting to change. Ron Miller’s alpaca farm in Peacham is part of the evolving face of Vermont farming.

(Miller) “There’s actually about 780 animals in Vermont, which is the highest concentration of alpacas in the northeast. They’re very curious animals but somewhat standoffish. They’re livestock animals and, as such, don’t seek out affection.”

(Zind) A few feet away from Miller’s alpacas there’s a group dedicated to preserving part of farming’s past. At first glance it looks like the woman behind the table has a hen sitting on her head. Up closer it’s clear it’s a chicken shaped hat.

(French) “I’m Frances French. I live in Roxbury and I’m one of the directors of the Vermont Bird Fancier’s Club.”
(Zind) “What birds do you fancy?”
(French) “We fancy different birds, mostly the old breeds of birds. The old backyard poultry farms, basically is what we’re promoting. We’re trying to educate people that you can’t kill off all of these birds because the new ones might not make it. If there’s diseases, it will go right through the big flocks and somebody’s got to have a bird around or two.”

(Zind) Stroll up and down the aisles at the farm show and you’re struck by the diversity of Vermont agriculture. Emu farmers and Christmas tree growers mix with beekeepers and dairy farmers. Nan Perron has taken time off from her small dairy farm. She says for her, the annual farm show is a chance to learn what’s new and a social occasion. Most importantly, she says, it’s a chance for her to support Vermont agriculture in all of its varied forms.

(Perron) “I’m proud to be a farmer and support Vermont agriculture. The combination of farms and wilderness is what makes Vermont Vermont.”

(Zind) And as long as Vermont remains Vermont, there will be a farm show.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Barre.

The Vermont Farm Show runs through Thursday at the Barre Auditorium.

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