by Bob Bennett
It’s June, my favorite month. The garden’s in and growing and it’s time to go fishing. I look forward to June all year in Vermont, but, uh oh, I was sent to our Manhattan office for three weeks. Itching to return home for the weekend, on Friday afternoon I phoned my friend Cal in Arlington to ask if the brown trout were snatching the Mayflies in our favorite brook.
“How’s the hatch?” I asked.
“Forget it,” he said. “Too much rain. Stream’s roily. Fishing’s lousy. Been buckin’, splittin’ and stackin’ firewood.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I told him, but I knew he wasn’t. Whenever Cal is on the woodpile the fishing can’t be worse.
“Of course I am, you dope. Don’t you watch the weather reports? It hasn’t dripped a drop up here. The fishing’s great.
Oh yeah, Cal tripped me again with his brand of Vermont humor. He tells me a whopper, sees me swallow it, then laughs in my face and up his sleeve. I don’t know why this works on me every single time. Cal does. It’s because I was born elsewhere. A flatlander. The ultimate type. From Jersey.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll drive up tonight. Let’s get on the stream in the morning. Hey, and while I’ve got you on the phone, you know that June is Dairy Month, right? Well you are just not going to believe this one – they are selling Vermont milk in Manhattan now!
“I was down in the Village and ducked into one of those health food stores to buy some lactose-free gummy bears and a couple of cartons of pumpernickel gluten.
“Anyway Cal, I’m wearing my camel hair sport coat, you know, the one that makes me seem like I almost amount to something. The cashier eyes me up and down approvingly and looks left and right to make sure the coast is clear. I’m expecting him to show me one of those $25 fake Rolex watches, but he reaches under the counter to a little cooler and pulls out a quart of milk.
“You have to be careful in the city, but he’s wearing a flannel shirt and Johnson woolen pants and so I know he’s on the up and up. Says the mob brings the milk down to the city and one of their minions delivers it when he collects the protection dough. It retails at a couple of bucks a quart more than the local stuff from New Jersey, but he claims the artsy types in the Village go nuts for it even though it’s not organic.
“Just having the word Vermont on the label, he says, is enough. It trumps everything. Several Wall Streeters cart it home to New Canaan and Saddle River in their briefcases. A congressman even carries some back to Washington on the shuttle.
“Anyhow, this guy is excited. He tells me it comes from a Vermont cow on a Vermont hill in the clean Vermont air, drinking from a babbling brook. He says it’s nature’s most perfect food in nature’s most perfect environment and not from any cow grazing on a smoggy medical waste landfill next to Exit 16 on the Jersey Turnpike, swallowing sewage in the Raritan River.
“And get this Cal – the bottle says 100 PERCENT PURE VERMONT MILK in big letters. Looks just like the Vermont Maple Syrup can. Of course, being produced on the sly and smuggled, it doesn’t have the state seal of quality.
“I know all about it,” Cal shot back.
“The creamery’s up near one of our favorite trout streams, not far from Chippenhook. Hardly anybody in the whole state knows where Chippenhook is. A bunch of big Addison County dairy farmers built it on land donated by that retired New York gangster who shoots pool all day in Rutland. He closed the whole deal with his old New York mob, probably in self-defense, and even encouraged the local lumber company to supply the materials, if you catch my meaning.
“The power company ran the line underground up there. They say the stockholders pay the electric bill, not the ratepayers, but that’s what they always tell us when something slick is in the works. The truth is so many farmers were selling their dairy herds and putting in those eyesore solar disarrays that they are trying to throw them a bone. Their P. R. people always try to do something nice that will make us forgive them a little for soaking us so much. You probably remember when they started that Share With A Hungry Neighbor food project in the supermarkets. Can’t complain about that.
“The dairy farmers still supply some of their output to the co-op to avoid suspicion, but they send most of it to Chippenhook. It comes down from the county in antique tin cans on the Amtrack train just like in the old days. It gets pasteurized and homogenized and they don’t steal any cream out of it. It’s shipped to the city down Route 22 in the meat company’s refrigerated trucks, to avoid the vehicle inspection stations on the Northway. Very inconspicuous.
“Lots of people up here know about it – even the governor. It’s not in the papers because the editors only like bad news. The real estate developers and solar panel people are having a fit because the farmers won’t take their money anymore. The ice cream boys and cheeseheads complain it’s reducing their supply and driving up their overhead.
“But the ones really squirming are our two senators. They are catching it from their jealous colleagues. They don’t just want to be re-elected. They also need to get along. You know how they are all hung up on national dairy policy, with all the rules and regulations against this sort of thing. It’s transforming a government-run commodity into a specialty product with real cachet – you know, like Cognac and Champagne and Pure Vermont Maple Syrup.
“The politicos don’t dare stop it, though. Everybody knows those Addison dairy farmers on the shore of Champlain inherited an independent streak. They descended from the Green Mountain Boys who took it to the Redcoats across the lake at Ticonderoga. Enough said about that. Besides, the tourism people love it because visitors come to see working farms, with pastures and cornfields, not acres of solar panel blight. On top of everything else, ag school dairy program enrollment is up and two kale farmers got caught rustling heifers when nobody would sell them any.
“And get this, the dairy farmers actually are painting their barns!”
The author is an expert rabbit breeder and raiser, author, Air Force veteran, and retired news reporter, editor and marketing executive. As with all tales Bennett, this one has a back story:
“Back in the ’80s when I worked for CVPS the state was looking for a commissioner or agriculture. I didn’t want the job but I applied and was granted an interview. What I wanted to do was send the powers that be a message about milk. About five or six people interviewed me and the first thing I did was place on the table a milk carton I doctored up to look like a Vermont maple syrup container but it said “Pure Vermont Milk” and I told the interviewers that I thought milk should be promoted in the same way the syrup was. I was asked what my priority would be if hired and how would I spend any monies as commissioner. I said everything for milk and nothing for berries, sheep, veggies or anything else.”
He didn’t get the job.