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Growing Up With The Land: Insights And Reflections With Bill Scott
Tuesday February 21, 2012
By Cookie Steponaitis
“I was brought up on Norton Town Road in Addison in the heart of farm country,” recalled Bill Scott. “My Dad worked for Forest & Parks and we had enough land to have chickens, pigs, and my FFA Project, a dairy cow and two beef animals. At eight years old I worked on Alfred Vanier’s farm just up the road in the summer driving tractor on the hay loader and raking hay for 10 cents a load. When it rained I did odd jobs around the farm in the shop, cleaning up and cutting burdocks. I also helped with tractor driving, picking up corn bundles that were hauled back to the barn in the fall. The next year I earned $1 a day for my efforts.” Simply put, Bill Scott has never been separated from the land or the changes on it since he was a child in Addison County.
Bill Scott has had an intriguing and life long partnership with the land that includes teaching agricultural science for forty years, thirty six of them at the Hannaford Career Center, three at Vergennes Union High School and one at Lake Region High School in Orleans, Vermont, opening and running a small farm and vegetable stand since 1975 and still going strong, President of Addison County Farm Bureau, County and State Farm Bureau Boards, serving on the Ferrisburgh Zoning and Planning Board for ten years, helping to start the Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission and the Addison County River Watch. He is uniquely qualified to offer not only a historical perspective of agriculture and Addison County, but to also provide insights about the future.
Bill is not only connected to the land through farming and work but found his calling so to speak when he joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA) as a sophomore in high school. He learned not only skills, gained knowledge and guidance, but FFA became a role model that would come to shape not only his life but countless others in the county. “I would be an Ag Teacher like my advisor and mentor Mr. Ray Davison,” explained Bill. “At that time fifty cow dairy farms were selling for $50,000-60,000, an amount I could never afford, so teaching and being in the classroom and out on field trips seemed a good profession. I served as Chapter Reporter and Chapter President and went on to be State FFA Secretary my senior year and State President for two years in college while at UVM,” a decision that not only shaped Bill’s life but those of literally over a thousand students who would called his classroom home.
Most Vermonters are aware that today’s farmers operate quite differently from those of forty years ago and through Bill’s lifetime the changes have even been more visible. As a child and through the early part of his teaching career farms were not only more numerous but smaller than today. “The largest tractor was 35-40 horsepower,” shared Bill. “Grain threshers went from farm to farm to harvest oats. Herds averaged about 12,000 pounds of milk per cow verses today’s around 20,000 pounds. Numbers of jobs on farms haven’t changed that much compared to then. Farms are bigger now and more mechanized but requiring about the same number of operators and employees. The last survey I did as an Ag Teacher showed around 600 jobs directly related to the dairy farm in Addison County. Agribusiness, those jobs working to help farmers provide seed, feed and fertilizer has doubled. Agriculture and Agribusiness comprise 20% of our jobs in our local economy.”
While agriculture does require classroom instruction and traditional book learning there is something to be said for the direct approach. Over the years Bill and his students worked on a myriad of agricultural/business projects linking families, business and even opening new areas of interest in the region. “While teaching Forestry Natural Resources at HCC we completed athletic field projects at Vergennes Union, Middlebury Union and Junior High, Bridport, Mt. Abraham, Salisbury, and Lincoln,” remarked Scott. “My classes also worked on Cannon Park, Mary Hogan Play Space, Ripton Elementary School site work and playground, Middlebury Park and Trail on Weybridge Street, Vergennes Middle School Nature Trail, HCC North Campus Field Project and managed the Vergennes Waterworks for many years. All these projects offered my student hands on experience in engineering, soils, forestry and equipment operation. We also worked closely with the National Forest Service on Forest and Wildlife Projects, the Otter Creek Natural Resources District and NRCS projects and with Dead Creek Wildlife Projects.”
One special project synonymous with Bill and his students was the Maple Sugaring Project in the early 1970’s on South Munger Street and included 600 taps on the Jordan Farm. “We helped Maple Meadow Farms in Salisbury for three years after the Jordan Farm was sold and continued to the Grant Farm in Addison from 1984 to retirement in 2007,” Bill explained. “It started out with about 600 taps and worked up to nearly 1000 during that period.” Not only has the agribusiness part of the community increased, but the technology has also become diversified and even more specialized.
While change is a constant, so are organizations like FFA and the leadership skills that the students take away from them. Whether it was Parliamentary Procedure, community service, public speaking, citizenship or agricultural skills, Scott holds that the Future Farmers of America is not only an institution that bridges past and present but is a key to the future. “I see the future as bright for students with an Ag and FFA background to produce and maintain a sustainable Food and Natural Resource system,” remarked Scott. “We always have the need to eat!”
In fact, Bill Scott concluded the interview with a forecast that is resolute and certain for the future of farming in Vermont. “Most people wouldn’t know that farm numbers are up to 7500 in Vermont. Small fruit, vegetables, nursery, beef, sheep, goats, and even rice farm numbers are up. Yes, dairy farm numbers have dropped to around a thousand, but other food enterprises have increased to provide locally grown food. The goal is to increase our local food consumption from 3% to 20% in Vermont. Dairy should stay viable in our area along with an increase in animal and vegetable agriculture. Vermonters are most interested in keeping our agricultural economy stable and growing. They believe in their farmers, a crop we should continue to grow to insure our future in Vermont.”
Indeed Vermonters do and the Valley Voice salutes not only Bill Scott for his continuing involvement and passion for agriculture and the way of life it teaches to each generation, but to all those who work with the land and pass the love of it on to the next generation of Vermonters.
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