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News
Thomas Dairy to close Oct. 1

A local family-owned dairy processor will shut down after nearly 100 years in the milk business.

“With gratitude, pride and very heavy hearts, we have made the difficult but necessary decision to close Thomas Dairy at the end of this month,” stated Thomas Dairy in a Thursday email.

Abbey Thomas, co-owner and director of marketing at Thomas Dairy, said Oct. 1 will be the last day the processor is in operation. After that it will begin the process of selling several hundred acres of land, and dairy farming equipment.

Thomas said the business employs about 30 people.

“We have several people who pasteurize, package the product every morning and then we have several milkman delivery route drivers and helpers, and we have a garage team that works on trucks and maintenance, an office, four operating owners, but the employees are who we’re focused on,” she said.

She said Thursday was spent notifying employees of the pending closure.

“We’ve provided employees with a list of resources that we’re sure can help them immediately,” she said. “We’re hoping they will stay with us until the end, same with the customers.”

The company is working with the three farms it buys milk from to find them another buyer. Thomas stated in an email that according to Vermont statutes Thomas Dairy needs to provide 90 days notice to its suppliers before it stops taking their milk. Thomas said several of the company’s supporters are working to help here.

After Thomas Dairy closes, it will work with FarVision Consulting on selling off its assets.

Besides Abbey Thomas, Thomas Dairy’s owners include: Dick Thomas, Christa Thomas, Perry Thomas and John Thomas.

The company stated in its release that after 99 years in business this was far from an easy decision to make, and that it was not made in haste.

“The financial impact we have endured as a result of the COVID shutdown has proven to be formidable, and ultimately insurmountable,” Thomas Dairy stated. “The substantial loss of business from colleges, restaurants and tourism has hit us hard, and we’ve been operating with a negative cash flow since March.”

The government’s measures to stymie the COVID-19 pandemic, while so far apparently successful, have come at a high economic price, impacting nearly all sectors of life.

Thomas Dairy stated that government relief efforts allowed it to operate through the spring and summer, but ultimately weren’t enough. During that time it made use of the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and the Farmers to Families Food Box program, the latter of which was a federal effort through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to buy products from struggling farms and give to individuals in need.

“Unfortunately these economic lifelines have come to an end,” stated Thomas Dairy. “The new normal under these circumstances is just not sustainable for us as a small business.”

Even without the COVID-19 crisis, the milk business in Vermont is a tough one to be in. Dick Thomas said in a past interview that milk prices have been in flux for many years and that the pandemic introduced even more volatility in a year many in dairy hoped would be a period of recovery.

“We are losing more and more of our market share to organic milk and alternative beverages, and competition for out-of-state milk has forced us to keep our margins tight,” stated Thomas Dairy. “It was already a struggle to be a small Vermont dairy — even before COVID hit.”

The company added that much of its facilities need costly upgrades and that its owners are nearing their retirement years. Thomas Dairy worked with FarVision Consulting to find a buyer for the operation, but after speaking to 27 possible buyers it became clear that timing and other factors weren’t on their side.

“Our primary focus and desire is to close our business with grace and integrity and with the best possible outcomes in mind for our employees, farmers and vendors,” stated Thomas Dairy. “We believe the time is right, while the business is still intact, and we can pay our bills.”

According to the company’s website, thomasdairy.com, its history begins in 1854 with the farm being bought by the grandfather of Orin Thomas. Orin Thomas was 23 when his father died, leaving him to assume management of the 325-acre farm and its 40 Holstein cows. By 1996, Thomas Dairy was sitting on 500 acres of land, managing 155 cows, 70 of them milkers, running eight delivery routes, employing 26 people, and processing 18,000 gallons of milk a week.

In 2005, it sold its cows and related farming equipment, and continued to buy and process milk from surrounding farms.

“We want to thank all the family members that came before us; we want to thank the extended Thomas family that has gotten so big over the century; and we are forever grateful to our employees, producers, and loyal community of milk drinkers who have all shared in the success story of this small, Vermont family business,” Thomas Dairy stated.

Anson Tebbetts, Vermont agriculture secretary, said in a statement Thursday that Thomas Dairy closing marks the end of an era.

“We pause to thank the Thomas Family for their 99 years of hard work and dedication. We celebrate their contributions; from dinner tables to cafeterias and everywhere in between, Thomas Dairy milk provided comfort, fuel and nutrition to countless Vermonters over a period of generations. They were committed to agriculture, community, their employees and their neighbors. We wish the Thomas Family and their employees success in their next journey,” said Tebbetts.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


Shannon Bryant remodels her childhood home at Lake Hortonia on Thursday afternoon in Sudbury. Bryant moved back to Vermont a year ago and is planning to have the house closed in before winter hits.

Hortonia remodel


Local
Mill River to defer flag raising

NORTH CLARENDON — No new flags will fly over the Mill River Unified Union School District any time soon.

Wednesday evening, the Mill River Union Unified School District (MRUUSD) School Board voted to “defer the display of any flags” until it has developed a district-wide policy for vetting all requests for the display of flags.

The decision includes Black Lives Matter and Pride flags, which the board had previously voted to raise at schools earlier this summer.

The board’s reversal comes as the district — which serves the towns of Clarendon, Wallingford, Tinmouth and Shrewsbury — has faced public backlash and a threat of legal action over flag issue.

“Considering the threatened litigation and our continuing fiscal responsibility to taxpayers, and consistent with advice of our legal counsel, the board will create a district policy that allows us to move forward with receipt, review and decision-making as it relates to all requests to fly flags on school district property including requests for the BLM and the Pride flags,” Board Chair Tammy Heffernan said in a prepared a statement.

She explained the School Board has subsequently received several requests for other flags to be displayed.

“Sadly, this dynamic has created a level of legal complexity around the flag issue, especially related to principles of free speech,” she said.

Heffernan said that while the board still supports the display of the BLM and Pride flags, it has deferred to the advice of legal counsel on the topic.

“To be clear, when that policy is approved by the board, the board will receive, review and decide the flag requests we have received … in the context of that policy,” she said.

When reached Wednesday night, Heffernan and Superintendent David Younce declined to comment any further on the issue.

In recent weeks, more than 500 district residents have signed a petition objecting to the display of the flags.

The effort has been led by district resident Art Peterson.

“We’re pleased that the board has been forced to reconsider,” Peterson said Thursday. “And we’re looking forward to having input as they craft the policy.”

Peterson acknowledged the threat of litigation against the district, but declined to offer specific details.

“We’ve looked at their processes and procedures and their policies, and together we felt there were some violations and we sought some legal help as a group,” he said, though he declined to divulge who else was involved in the group.

Peterson is running as a Republican in the Rutland-2 House race. In a comment thread from Sept. 2 on his campaign’s Facebook Page, Peterson said, “We have a problem with ANY flags other than the U.S. and state flag. All children are safe when those flags fly.”

When asked to clarify what he meant by “safe,” he said, “I mean that all kids are included in the U.S. and Vermont flags. Everyone’s included in those flags and, thus, they’re safe to be at school and to be educated the way that it needs to be.”

Peterson has been vocal about his disapproval of the district displaying both the BLM and Pride flags.

At a School Board meeting earlier this summer, he called the Pride issue “perverse,” claiming that it sexualizes children’s education.

When asked if she still believes that to be true, he said, “I think that the subject represented by the flag is better left to parents. I don’t think schools have any business delving into it.”

He emphasized that his objection to the flag does not extend to LGBTQ+ people.

“I don’t disapprove of anyone’s lifestyle. They want to have that, that’s totally not my business.”

Regarding his comparison of the BLM flag to the Nazi flag, which he called “about the same thing to me” at another board meeting, Peterson said, “that might have been a little harsh characterization on my part.”

“But given the actions of people flying the BLM flags around the country, the level of violence that’s taken place using that flag as a banner, there are some parallels.”

Peterson said he is “totally against” anything that makes children feel uncomfortable in school, including racism and homophobia, but argued that those problems can be addressed in coordination with parents, students and administrators.

“We don’t need flags to separate people, he said. “And that’s what those flags do, in my opinion.”

Peterson said that if the flags make it through the district’s new vetting process he will honor the decision.

“I personally won’t be happy, but if it makes it through the process, it makes it through the process.”

Reached Thursday afternoon, Reese Eldert-Moore, the 17-year-old Mill River senior who led the effort to display the BLM flag called the delay “frustrating.”

She said while the requests for displaying other flags were not without merit — for example, she liked the idea of a suicide prevention flag — some of the requests seemed intended to antagonize supporters of the BLM and Pride flags.

“I’m out here working my butt off to try to make sure that students at Mill River feel comfortable in their environment, and then other students or parents are coming out here and putting out these flag ideas only to put them down,” Eldert-Moore said.

Flag suggestions she disliked included an “All Lives Matter” flag and an anti-abortion flag.

Eldert-Moore said she remains undaunted in continuing her effort to get the flags raised, despite the harassment she has endured online and in person.

She said last week she was called a “dumb n----r” by a man who approached her outside her place of work while she was wearing a BLM face mask.

“It hurts to hear things like that,” she said.

However, regarding the online harassment, she said she doesn’t let it get to her.

“Angry white people are going to be angry white people,” she said. “And if that’s how you take your anger out, if that’s how you want to show your racism, go right ahead.”

jim.sabataso

@rutlandherald.com


A sugar maple tree shows off an early touch of foliage on Thursday afternoon at Monument Farms Dairy in Weybridge.

Early foliage


News
Killington: Protocols will change

Opening day at Killington Resort will be Nov. 14, and a number of changes will be in place to make skiing as safe as possible during the pandemic, according to Mike Solimano, president and general manager of the ski mountain.

“I think the general premise is, there’s a lot of tough choices to make with all the restrictions going on in the world. We’re just trying to not do everything we normally do and prioritizing what’s most important,” he said.

Solimano said Killington guests were looking for a place to ski and ride snowboards so that was the priority when deciding what needed to be modified.

The changes are necessary to respond to the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Solimano said Killington’s winter plans were created with a goal of reducing the amount of time people would not be able to practice social distancing.

The general conditions on a ski slope are expected to keep people wearing masks and other personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“Indoors is much more complicated, so we’re going to limit and make our indoor offerings much simpler,” Solimano said.

To that end, the resort staff will limit the number of guests by reducing tickets and passes and limiting the number of tickets sold on any given day. There are no plan to host bus groups or offer promotions valid on weekends or peak days.

Killington will have an online parking reservation system for all guests, whether they have a season pass or a day ticket.

Vermont’s restriction of businesses to half their capacity, including staff, will limit the use use of the base lodge.

“For example, lodges will act more as a ‘warming hut’ for skiers and riders with limited grab ’n’ go food, new egress/ingress flows and other measures to ensure access to restrooms without affecting the overall capacity, and non-skiers/riders will not have access to lodges,” Solimano wrote in his letter.

“Plan to operate out of your car like it was a base lodge and pack extra snacks to re-fuel throughout the day,” the letter adds. “New England winters can be chilly, so we ask that you use the base lodges sparingly and limit your time inside. This will make it more available to everyone that needs it while we work around current capacity restrictions.”

Killington officials are planning snowmaking on the mountain, but this year it will be focused on getting multiple lifts open and spreading out guests across the resort to facilitate physical distancing.

Killington employees will have their temperature checked daily and are expected to self-screen for whether they have been exposed to anyone with COVID and whether they are feeling sick. Employees who feel sick are required to stay home and the letter asks guests to stay home as well if they feel ill.

Equipment and lessons will be available, but must be scheduled in advance.

Solimano said he sees some positive in the coming season. For instance an app, that will provide information in real time about lifts and trails will continue to provide useful information after the pandemic.

This winter, Solimano said, Killington staff want to be sure they can open and stay open,

“We don’t want to have big crowds together and areas where people aren’t wearing masks so our whole plan is looking at the areas of the business where it’s hard to have social distancing and either not running it or changing what we’re doing to spread people out,” he said.

Solimano said the staff at the resort want guests to understand the steps that have been taken for safety and how they might make this year’s experience different but he said the guests would still find their visit to be fun. He said the staff had learned some lessons from this year’s summer programming that he believes will help them combine outdoor fun with health protections.

“We had a lot of people mountain biking this summer. We had really strong numbers. We required masks and social distancing, and it was outdoors. I think most of our customers felt really good. I got a lot of feedback that they felt we did a great job managing the place, spreading people out but also letting them have a good time,” he said.

Solimano noted there are limited recreation options during the pandemic and said Killington staff wanted to be sure skiing and snowboarding were still available.

Opening day for Pico Mountain is planned for Dec. 19.

Visit bit.ly/KillingtonOpener to find Solimano’s full letter with more detailed plans about the season.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com


Covid19
BROC seeks refrigeration grant

BROC Community Action is looking to buy a walk-in cooler.

The Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to support the organization in an application for a $25,000 federal grant to add refrigeration capacity to its facilities, which Executive Director Tom Donahue said will help it expand its food security offerings to help meet the growing need triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rutland Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Brennan Duffy said he learned additional federal COVID-19 relief funds had been made available to municipalities, either for direct town-projects or to be passed through to nonprofits, and that he reached out to local organizations looking for possible uses. That brought him, he said, to BROC and its desire for refrigeration capacity.

Duffy said the grant required no local match and that the application was due later this month, so BROC would need to city’s endorsement quickly. He said the RRA board had made a formal recommendation.

The vote at the Board of Aldermen was unanimous, with Alderwoman Lisa Ryan abstaining because she works at BROC.

“The foundation of a great community is only as strong as we treat our most vulnerable,” Donahue told the board Tuesday. “We’re seeing a lot of them at BROC right now, unfortunately.”

In an effort to remove food as a concern for families struggling with all the other challenges of the pandemic, Donahue said BROC has significantly increased the amount of food it provides within the community, but is still struggling to keep up with a 40% increase in demand.

Expecting the pandemic to continue for another year, Donahue said he wants BROC to provide “robust meals,” including frozen meals, but the organization lacks the freezer and refrigeration capacity to handle the donations that are available. He said Thomas Dairy has loaned the organization a truck to serve as a cooler during food distributions.

“We do have coolers, we do have freezers, but not at the magnitude of walk-ins,” he said. “We’ll be able to take a lot more of what’s being made available to us and serve more families.”

Donahue said the grant would help pay for a combined freezer-refrigerator outside the BROC building. He said he expects the total cost to be more than $25,000 and he is looking at other revenue sources.

gordon.dritschilo

@rutlandherald.com


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