February 13, 2016

GUEST COLUMN: Transforming waste into sustenance

By Donna Barlow Casey and Justin Johnson

Last May, Vermont enacted legislation aimed at reducing the amount of solid waste the state sends to landfills while maximizing recycling and composting. The first of its kind in the country, Act 148 bans disposal of recyclables, yard waste and food residuals, and mandates the implementation of parallel recycling and composting programs statewide. This will enable us to significantly reduce the growth of our landfills, and enhance soil fertility through the application of compost.

In Vermont, approximately 160,000 tons of food waste is generated annually and only an estimated 20 percent is currently composted. Wasted food means wasted money for Vermont businesses and households, and unintended impacts to the environment through production, storage and transportation of food, and ultimate disposal of the waste in landfills.

Historically, the waste management system in Vermont has been driven by consumer convenience and large-scale operations. Food scraps have been mixed with garbage and carted to landfills, where their inherent value to replenish our soils is not only wasted but contributes to environmental degradation through emissions of greenhouse gases that are not captured at our operating landfills. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, up to 20 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, and landfills account for the single largest human-made source of methane in the earth’s atmosphere.

Vermont is in a unique position to lead the nation in diverting 100 percent of our food waste from landfills by 2020—reducing our ecological impacts and investing in our local agriculture movement. Act 148’s requirement to remove food from the waste stream begins in 2014 for large generators and will be required for all generators in 2020. Solid waste haulers and facilities will be required to offer collection services for those materials. This phased-in approach offers a window of time in which critical information about the process can be reviewed by local elected officials, businesses, non-profits, entrepreneurs, farmers and consumers.

Fortunately, we have a solid infrastructure in place for the redirection of safe, wholesome excess food or leftovers; it occurs through churches, food shelves and pantries. Local partnerships between generators (such as grocers, schools and food processors) and farmers also prevent unwanted food from going to waste. Additionally, a number of commercial and on-farm compost operations across the state, plus community and backyard composting, also have a foothold. This infrastructure forms a base upon which to build and expand a thriving food and nutrient redistribution system in our state. This can encompass the social, environmental and economic impacts related to collecting food residuals of all types and redirecting them in keeping with the hierarchy established in the legislation of reducing at the source, feeding hungry people, feeding animals and seeking industrial and compost uses before disposal.

With ongoing analysis, inclusive communication, and continued vigilance, we can reduce waste and use waste that is generated to rejuvenate our soils for increased food production, an improved environment and a healthier world.

Justin Johnson is the Deputy Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Donna Barlow Casey is the Director of Vermont Technical College’s Center for Sustainable Practice.

Around Town

Old Brick Church concert Friday

A cappella group Maple Jam will present a holiday choral program at the Old Brick Church on Dec. 21 at 7 p.m., the latest concert in the Brick Church Music Series.

Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door, with a $2 discount for seniors and children. Children under 6 are free. Tickets are available at the town clerk’s office.


CVU to host family formal

Champlain Valley Union High School business ethics class’s fourth annual family formal is set for Jan. 26 in the school cafeteria from 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade—though older and younger students are welcome—can bring an adult or their families to the dance.

Tickets are $15 per adult, $5 per child or a maximum of $40 for a family of four or more. The class’s goal is to raise $7,500, which will be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

For more information or to order tickets, email tamie-jo@cvuhs.org.

School budget may raise taxes more than 9 percent

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Williston School Board reviewed 23 decision packets at its Dec. 13 budget meeting—all of which would have the effect, if implemented, of increasing the school district’s baseline budget, which is already projected to increase 4.18 percent in fiscal year 2014.

The baseline budget, an apples to apples figure which represents the amount needed to maintain the current fiscal year’s level of academic services, is estimated to be $17,317,451—a $695,583 increase over the school district’s current operating budget. The 4.18 percent increase, according to Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason, is primarily due to a 15 percent hike in health care costs and an aggregated 3 percent raise in salaries.

Last year, Williston voters approved a 1.95 percent WSD budget increase.

The decision packets included a $75,000 proposal for a science coordinator, whose duties would involve implementing a plan to improve the Williston School District’s lackluster scores on the 2012 New England Common Assessment Program science assessments.

Another pair of packets included proposals for two intervention instructors for students struggling in math and literacy in kindergarten through fourth grade—each of which carried an $80,000 price tag.

The most expensive item was a $165,500 request to establish a one-to-one iPad-to-student ratio for fifth- and sixth-graders, who would retain the devices for the remainder of their middle school lives. If implemented in the fiscal year 2014 budget, it would carry forward into the fiscal year 2015 budget for incoming fifth- and eighth-graders, meaning that the measure would ensure that students in grades 5-8 would receive iPad-related instruction in perpetuity—unless subsequently amended by a future iteration of the WSD board.

“It’s a tool. And it’s a very, very powerful tool,” Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli said of the instructional value of the Apple iPad. “Our students really need to have this ability … and they need to be very flexible with technology. It has to be second nature with them, and the earlier we can start, the better off they’re going to be. There’s no question about that.”

The board was in general agreement about the benefits of the proposed decision packets, but its enthusiasm was tempered by Mason’s calculations that even a 4.18 baseline budget increase would result in a 9.59 percent homestead tax rate increase for Willistonians.

The projected homestead tax increase is based on Vermont Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson’s Nov. 30 letter to Vermont Senate and House leaders, which suggested that plummeting statewide student population numbers could lead to a 5-cent increase to the state education base tax rate. Mason’s figures are based on the assumption that legislators will follow Gov. Peter Shumlin’s recommendation that the statewide property tax rate not exceed the rate of inflation and increase by only 3 cents, in the hope that school districts across the state will curb expenditures.

Jeanne Jensen, one of Williston’s four representatives on the Champlain Valley Union High School board, made a cameo appearance at the WSD meeting. She reported that the CVU baseline budget is projected to increase approximately 4.3 percent. Like its primary and middle school counterparts, Jensen said the CVU board is having difficulty reconciling desired education expenditures with the increased burden on taxpayers.

“This is the most divided board for CVU that I’ve seen in 10 years,” Jensen said.

Williston School Board Chairwoman Holly Rouelle requested that Mason and Nardelli, for comparison purposes, put together a potential budget that would increase Willistonians’ homestead tax rate by only 8 percent, instead of the current projected rate of 9.59 percent. However, she warned that such a budget cut could be a rude awakening for parents accustomed to the current level of education services.

“If we did go that low, it would seriously impact what a student’s education would look like in Williston for next year,” Rouelle said.

The next Williston School District budget meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10 at 4:30 p.m. in the dining room of Williston Central School.

Bringing woodworking to Williston

Students in a Sawmill Studio class in Essex Junction focus on their work. Sawmill Studio is set to bring a beginning woodworking class to Williston kids in grades 2 through 6 in January. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)

Observer staff


Williston’s old schoolhouse on the town green will soon be filled with work benches, flying sawdust and the whirring of handsaws.

Sawmill Studio—a mobile education company that teaches woodworking to kids in grades 2 through 6—is set to bring a beginning woodworking class to Williston in January through the Williston Parks and Recreation Department.

“The kids just jump right in, they love it,” said Sachi Hergesheimer, who runs the program with friend Stuart Cheney. “I’m always amazed at how quickly they know how to use everything. After the first project, they’ve got it.”

Cheney and Hergesheimer started Sawmill Studio four years ago, after discovering a mutual love of woodworking while both working at IBM.

The classes are intended as an enrichment program.

“They’re really learning life-long skills,” Cheney said. “If they ever own a house or live in an apartment or own a piece of furniture, these are the kinds of tools they’re going to need.”

Hergesheimer added that the classes are a good alternative to video games and television, as well as consumerism.

“To just be able to sit down and make something on your own I think is pretty powerful,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of this hands-on learning anymore.”

Each student builds a birdhouse to introduce them to the tools and techniques. Once the birdhouse is finished, students can choose from a variety of projects, from lunch boxes to back scratchers.

Cheney assured any potentially worried parents that Sawmill Studio doesn’t use any power tools.

“All the projects are really designed for kids of this age,” he said. “Everything is handpicked or hand built by us to make it work for them, for their safety and for their convenience and for their enjoyment.”

Hergesheimer said she loves watching kids’ faces light up when they finish a craft.

“It’s awesome when the kid finishes a project and they are just so proud and amazed at what they have made,” she said. “That’s always the best moment, when someone has a big smile on their face and says ‘look at what I made.’”

The class is set to begin Jan. 15 and will run for five weeks. It is scheduled for Tuesdays from 3 – 4:30 p.m. at the Old Schoolhouse on the green by Williston Central School. The class costs $85, and all materials are provided. To sign up, visit the Parks and Recreation section of www.willistonvt.govoffice3.com.

‘Healthy Challenge’ aims to get Williston moving

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

If your New Year’s resolution is to get more exercise, you have exactly four days to slack off before it’s time to get on the stick.

On Jan. 5, the “Healthy Challenge,” a 5-kilometer snowshoe (weather permitting) or fun walk will be held at Catamount Outdoor Family Center from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. A joint venture between Catamount, the town of Williston, Vermont Senior Games and the Center for Aging at the University of Vermont, the event will serve as the kickoff for “Williston Moves,” a yearlong fitness challenge that will follow a template established by the Vermont Senior Games’ Move for Well-Being program.

“Williston is only as healthy as its people,” said Catamount co-owner Jim McCullough. “This effort is to make sure our Williston residents have an opportunity to improve their health and wellness.”

McCullough noted that there will be no registration fee for the Healthy Challenge and snowshoes will be available for rental at a reduced rate of $6.50.

Unlike the Vermont Senior Games program, which is limited to people 50 or older, the Williston Moves program is for all ages and fitness levels. A strictly honor system-based program, participants are asked to pledge to one of four levels: copper, bronze, silver or gold—which entail respective commitments of 75, 150, 225 or 360 minutes of exercise per week.

Gary Eley, chairman of the Vermont Senior Games’ Move for Well-Being program, said the initiative is geared toward getting people off the couch, be it as simple as taking an evening stroll around the neighborhood.

“People over 50 can get really sedentary and not moving much, just watching TV and not doing much with their bodies,” Eley said. “If people can get out and just do 30 minutes a day of walking, it can make a tremendous difference in their health and a tremendous difference in our health care costs.”

Eley said he expects a website to be operational by Jan. 1 that will allow participants to track their progress. In the meantime, Eley said, registration forms and hard copy progress logs can be obtained by calling or emailing him at 373-3188 or garyweley@gmail.com. Forms will also be available at the Catamount event on Jan. 5.

McCullough said there will likely be an awards ceremony at the end of the year for participants who complete the 12-month program.

“They will be eligible for awards, but, of course, the real award is feeling better and a new life paradigm,” McCullough said.

Williston Moves is the first in a series of townwide initiatives that will lead up to Williston’s 250th anniversary celebration on June 7.

Williston Town Clerk Deb Beckett said other tentative plans include a community pot luck dinner prior to Town Meeting on March 4. She said the dinner will likely feature a mock debate that will use historical records to recreate a specific town meeting from centuries past.

Other plans include a 24-hour photo project on June 7 that will utilize a fleet of photographers to capture a day in the life of Williston. The celebration will likely conclude with a group photo shoot at Williston Community Park on June 8 for any and all Williston residents who wish to attend.

Public divided on Maple Leaf Farm

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Maple Leaf Farm officials provided details regarding its plans to locate an alcohol and drug rehabilitation clinic at the former Pine Ridge School Tuesday—although it did little to assuage the concerns of several local residents who object to the planned location’s proximity to residential housing and schools.

The former Pine Ridge property, located at 9505 Williston Road, is immediately adjacent to the Sunrise at French Hill neighborhood on Sunrise Drive. It is 1.7 miles from Williston Central School.

Maple Leaf Farm Executive Director Bill Young explained during Tuesday’s Williston Planning Commission meeting that the Underhill-based nonprofit is seeking a zoning change for the Pine Ridge property because of the need for additional capacity to handle large waiting lists of addicts seeking rehabilitative treatment. He said about 700 people had to be turned away last year due to lack of space.

Young also responded to residents’ safety concerns, stating that the Underhill facility has averaged about a dozen calls to the state police on an annual basis for minor incidents.

“I’ve been unable to find any record or memory of anybody (in the past eight years) leaving the property while in treatment with us and assaulting anybody,” Young said. “Nobody’s left the facility to peddle drugs to neighbors or anyone in our community while in treatment. We understand safety concerns, but I think the facts speak for themselves.”

Lee Orsky, a physician assistant who serves as primary care director at Maple Leaf Farm, said background checks are conducted and potential patients are queried about psychiatric and criminal histories. She said Maple Leaf Farm does not accept convicted arsonists, sex offenders or people with a history of violent crime.

Williston resident Robert Nesbit, a doctor who specializes in plastic and reconstructive surgery, suggested that increasing Maple Leaf Farm’s capacity while also moving it closer to homes could create safety issues.

“You talk about not having people with diagnosed mental health issues, but as we all know, plenty of addicts have undiagnosed mental health issues, too,” Nesbit said.

Jim McCullough, a Governor Chittenden Road resident and owner of Catamount Outdoor Family Center, stated his support for a Maple Leaf Farm facility in Williston.

“It’s easy to generalize and categorize and call people criminals or addicts. Pick a problem and put a name to it, but they’re all people, and they’re all somebody’s child, and many of them are somebody’s mom or dad or brother or sister,” McCullough said.

McCullough further suggested that a possible condition of approval for the facility could involve the requirement that Maple Leaf Farm give waiting list priority to Williston residents suffering from alcohol or drug addiction.

Williston Road resident Phyllis Phillips suggested that the real safety threat is addicts who are not receiving treatment, noting that when they are in a facility like Maple Leaf Farm, “that’s the safest that they are.”

“If we’re not going to have a facility in Williston, then where?” Phillips asked. “This seems like a perfect place to have it, facility-wise.”

Sunrise Drive resident Kate Martin expressed concerns about staffing and security, observing that Maple Leaf Farm has one nurse and no physicians on duty overnight and employs no security officers. She also pointed out that Maple Leaf Farm hasn’t formally committed to setting a limit on its capacity.

“There is nothing to prevent Maple Leaf Farm from adding more beds or expanding its services, including the types of drug rehab services it offers. There’s nothing to prevent that in the future,” Martin said.

Martin also questioned whether Maple Leaf Farm’s specific plan application offers substantial public benefit under the town’s zoning bylaws. The primary public benefit proposed under the specific plan is preservation of open space.

“To me, this area is already preserved. There’s no access to it. It’s very rugged,” Martin said. “So what is Maple Leaf bringing to the table that’s new?”

Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau noted that the Planning Commission has yet to make a formal recommendation on the public benefit question. As the Observer reported in August, the commission made a “tentative determination” at its Aug. 7 meeting that “a possible substantial public benefit can be obtained by the town of Williston from the proposed specific plan.”

The Planning Commission, as an advisory body, will eventually be asked to make a recommendation to the Williston Selectboard, which has the authority to approve or deny the zoning change, following a warned public hearing.

PHOTOS: Gingerbread houses

More than 20 kids gathered at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library on Dec. 18 to build gingerbread houses. The event is the library’s most popular activity, said Librarian Marti Fiske. (Observer photos by Stephanie Choate)

PHOTOS: CVU wrestling

The Champlain Valley Union High School wrestlers took third place at the St. Johnsbury Early Bird Tournament  on Dec. 8, and were the top Vermont team. (Observer courtesy photos by Jennifer Olson)

THIS WEEK’S POPCORN: “Killing Them Softly”

Hard to Take

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


In Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly,” an unrelentingly violent meditation on the world of contract killers, French art house meets Quentin Tarantino with a delirious swirl of über naturalism. Almost every assassination is accompanied by the sound of shattering bone. Then the camera switches to the morgue, where an ID tag is tied to the victim’s toe.


Slow motion heightens the horror of the deed. But then, by now we’re hip to the drill, understanding full well, as Mario Puzo put it in “The Godfather” I and II, that it’s just business, and nothing personal. Whew…that kind of takes a load off my mind. But fact is, you can’t view this without wondering just how intentional its gratuitous appeal is.


Further confounding us, it’s all done quite creatively, an avant-garde texture achieved via some very good performances. Between executions, as if flicked on like a light switch, the story’s decidedly fringe personae engage in dialogue and soliloquy that, in addition to creating anticipatory tension, impart an oxymoronic humanity to the doings.


Brad Pitt’s Jackie Cogan, who by all accounts is the hit man extraordinaire, tacitly takes hold of the narrative after some small time desperadoes trying to steal from the big boys prompt his entrée. The physical embodiment of the story’s juxtaposing bevy of contradictory elements, his devilishly good portrayal establishes an anarchical aura.


The film is profuse with unsavory people, starting with the most bottom-feeding of criminal elements with whom we’re soon vicariously rubbing elbows. Thus it crosses one’s mind that, unbeknownst to us, like aliens who metamorphose into human form, these sorts stealthily slither through our everyday lives. It gives you a case of the creeps.


Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) and Frankie (Scoot McNairy), young punks who’ve been in and out of the pokey since childhood, put the nasty gambit in motion when they bid for a heist planned by Johnny Amato. It’s a card game run by Ray Liotta’s Markie Trattman, a well liked hood known for his double-dealing ways. Well, you know what hits the fan.


To paraphrase Driver, an agent of those powers that be played by Richard Jenkins, it just doesn’t look good if such lowlifes can invade crime’s inner sanctums. Where’s the justice? Meeting with Pitt’s expediter, the lawyerly go-between discusses methodology and price whilst bemoaning the boardroom mentality that now grips his higher-ups.


Mr. Pitt, who joins the ranks of big league movie hit men with this splendid conjuration, etches his own niche. Shunning the anomalous compassion Jean Reno styled so well in “León: The Professional (1994), his philosophical patter takes more of a world view. Suffering no fools, he is a pragmatist, and probably more antisocial than his employers.


Jackie talks economics and pooh-poohs the social contract as TV coverage of the 2008 Presidential campaign spews from the backdrop in a cynical contrast implying some very disturbing beliefs. And as the panoply of human scourge is depicted, we remember Dante noted that the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who stay neutral in a moral crisis.


Chilling via an equivocating pose that only serves to accent his sinister status, Richard Jenkins is Driver, the buttoned-down middleman who connects the two, supposedly different worlds whose interests he facilitates. Perennially attired in a business suit and driving an executive sedan, his deadpan delivery suggests the Bob Newhart of villains.


Rounding out the troika of characters who populate this Chaucer-like parable of human greed and foibles is James Gandolfini as Mickey, the once great triggerman from out of town who Jackie subcontracts for a key assignment. Now part Pagliacci, but mostly buffoon, he is a jaded model of gluttony gone out of control…a study in pathos.


Truth is, there’s nothing very pretty to look at here. Even the comedy relief, which comes only in thin strands of sarcastic observation, disallows any opportunity to let your guard down. This is an ugly world, not because it might exist alongside ours, but rather, because it strews through that which we have always assumed is free from harm and evil.


Thus, by design or not, the director has fashioned the filmic answer to the reversible jacket, offering a creative look at society’s underbelly to the dilettante who might not always divert his eyes from a car accident, while providing unmitigated carnage for the bloodthirsty. You glance to the left, and then to the right, wondering who slots in where.

Nothing is sacred, not even Thomas Jefferson, who the normally terse Jackie makes the subject of a diatribe disdainfully meant to burst a bubble about the American dream. Distasteful stuff, albeit presented with artistic aplomb, “Killing Them Softly” refuses to let the viewer off easy as it loudly proffers its pessimistic thesis about human nature.

 “Killing Them Softly,” rated R, is a Weinstein Company release directed by Andrew Dominik and stars Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins. Running time: 97 minutes




By Kim Dannies

For better or worse, the holiday season can really throw the schedule off—the lists are long and the time is short. Now is a good moment to reflect upon what brings us real joy and let the rest go. A goal for making our homes feel like a cozy haven is that we have time to sink into the comfort we have created and experience a buffer against the holiday jingle and jangle.

Delicious meals are essential to this process. It’s cold outside; we need to eat well to maintain stamina and good humor, so plan meals with care. Personally, I think there is nothing finer than a simple roasted chicken (paired with a fruity shiraz) for dinner. It perfumes the air with citrus, herb, and garlic, it is cheap, and it feeds many (even fussy guests). Supplement it with easy, creamy pasta and you are more than halfway to bliss. So, don’t get your tinsel in a tangle this holiday season. When you make time to relish the joy, all will be merry and bright, even if every little detail is not just right.


Simple roasted herb chicken

Choose a bird, note cooking directions and weight, unwrap, discard giblets and rinse under cool water. Place in a roasting pan and sprinkle salt all over the skin. Stuff the bird with a big lemon or orange that has been sliced in half, a few garlic cloves, and a handful of rosemary, sage and/or thyme. This step can be done two days ahead. Roast the chicken (20 minutes per pound) in a 375-degree oven.


Creamy goat cheese pasta

This simple sauce is amazingly versatile. Prepared a day ahead (or even frozen), it is best on whole-wheat penne pasta (16-24 ounces) boiled for 12 minutes. In a food processor or blender, mince three garlic cloves and the peel of one lemon. Add 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 8 ounces creamy goat cheese, 1/2 cup milk, and the juice of the lemon. Blend 30 seconds until a thick sauce forms; season with sea salt and fresh pepper. Toss sauce with hot pasta. Recipes serve 6.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three twenty-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.