In 1999, Vermont resident Judy Ferraro wrote the governor’s office complaining about pesticide poisoning from her neighboring orchard farm. Ferraro wrote in her letter, “Our gravest concern is that we are being exposed to these toxic chemicals in the air we breath; inhalation of pesticides is the most dangerous kind of exposure, and it is the most difficult to monitor. Many days I have called to my children to come indoors and shut the windows to protect ourselves. We have experienced burning eyes and lips when standing by our front door. Our property is surrounded on three sides by orchards.
"Last year, after many phone calls and pleas for assistance, the head of the Agriculture Dept. came to our place to check things out first hand. He was clearly disturbed by what he saw.”
As the report by Vermonter’s for a Clean Environment notes, many other organized citizens wrote Dean in hopes of persuading him to intervene in the use of harmful chemicals on Vermont farms. Ashley Green was one of the first Vermonters to speak out about the problem -- she has been writing and complaining about her neighbor’s pesticide use since 1992.
In a letter dated January 2001, Green wrote governor Dean saying of her neighbor, “The grower in this case is using some chemicals that are recognized carcinogens. Increasingly, research is showing links between chemical exposure and disease, and children are most vulnerable to the effects of chemicals. I am very concerned with the chemical exposure my two children are getting. Recently I learned of a study in the Netherlands that has documented mild cognitive dysfunction in people exposed to pesticides, including problems with numbers, letters, and speech. Both my children are now receiving special aid at school for speech difficulties. Is there a correlation? I don’t know. But it seems that our current agricultural standards and Department of Agriculture permit land use practices that are potentially hazardous.”
These letters are most likely protected and locked away along with Dean’s other generational records in Vermont.
Howard Dean all but ignored these written complaints, and instead sided with the large polluters. In an Amicus brief filed by the state in October of 2001, the government stated that the farm does not have “a substantial adverse effect on the public health and safety.” And that the farm is “in compliance with Vermont’s water quality standards.”
This defense came after an Addison County Superior Court Judge found that the orchard was a “nuisance.” The report adds that Vermont’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets (DAFM), “repeated the history of the department’s advice to move the pesticide mixing area in 1995 and again in 1996, noting that at the time of the violation in June 2001 ‘the mixing and loading area remained unchanged from the previous investigations.’ The violation charged: ‘The orchard worker mixed pesticides that resulted in either the pesticide product, dilution or rinsate entering an unnamed stream, thus violating 6 VSA Section 1111(a)(6).”
The Vermont Supreme Court has yet to decide on the matter. “Pre-existence” of the polluting farms, the lower courts said, was reason enough for allowing the corporate farms to continue conducting their practices as they always have -- even though the courts acknowledged the negative effects on small egg and dairy farmers.
Native Vermont farmer John Tremblay was forced to move his egg factory to New Hampshire because of Dean’s lackluster farm policies.
Tremblay contends that Dean “is a business man with big money. He is not a farmer. He doesn’t care about the people or the environment. He doesn’t care that the air stinks or that there are flies everywhere. He doesn’t care that his trucks ruin the roads and make it unsafe for your children to ride their bikes. He doesn’t care that he destroys your way of life, and unfortunately the state of Vermont doesn’t care either.”
Fran Bressette, a small dairy farmer in Vermont, is also irate over governor Dean’s polluter friendly politics. She notes that the DAFM allowed Canadian hog-growing multi-millionaire Lucien Breton to open up a huge polluting egg factory in Highgate, Vermont. Bressette claims small Vermont farmers have been victims of Dean’s outrageous leniency toward environmental protections in the state.
Bressette and her neighbors have been victims of a number of problems including, “flies, noise, odors, traffic, air quality, threats from disease, chemical exposure, loss of property values, increased stress and significant impacts on water.” Dean ignored their concerns, and was often “vicious” in his replies, according to Bressette.
In a letter to Bressette governor Dean wrote, “As you know, Leon Graves, Commissioner of Agriculture, has said he will deny Vermont Egg Farm a permit to expand until the fly problem has been taken care of.” Not once in the letter did Dean say he was going to address the Bressette’s grievance, nor did he say he supported Vermont farmers in their plight against a Canadian hog-baron.
During the testimony of Sherry Kawecki at the reconfirmations hearings of Vermont’s Agriculture Commissioner, Leon Graves, Kawecki stated; "Commissioner of Agriculture Leon Graves has lost the respect of both farmers and the consumers of this state. By his actions, he has shown disdain for small farmers, thumbed his nose at laws set by the legislature and sold out to corporate special interests."
Even though Dean in a CNN interview on August 12th 2003 said, "The destruction of the middle class and the widening gap between the rich and poor is being played out right before our eyes with the concentration of the agriculture industry."
Many small farmers in Vermont wish Howard Dean had done something about the problem in their state while he had the chance. Many have picked up and moved out, and others have stayed and suffered as flies have ruined crops, and pesticides have poisoned vital water supplies.
We are “victims in this nightmare” Bressette concluded, “Dean washed his hands [of] the whole ordeal. We suffered major impacts from all this. If [people] want the truth on how Dean handled this, tell them to ask the victims. Us.”
Josh Frank is a writer and activist living in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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