Royalton Turns Out To Help Dairy Farmers

09/05/11 7:51AM By Ross Sneyd
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Governor Peter Shumlin, Congressman Peter Welch and Penny Severance at Perley Farm in Royalton on Sunday

(Host) Scores of volunteers turned out on Sunday at the Perley Farm in Royalton to help clean out a dairy operation that took a direct hit from last weekend's floods.  Even Governor Peter Shumlin showed up with federal officials to thank the volunteers.

VPR's Ross Sneyd was at the farm along the White River, and has this report.

(Sneyd) Penny Severance runs the farm with her husband and other family members. She had a simple message for the governor and Congressman Peter Welch, who were gathered in what used to be her dooryard.

(Severance) "We made it through the 1927 flood, Perley Farm, and we made it through this flood and we're going to make it through whatever comes again."

(Sneyd) A squadron of friends, neighbors and complete strangers showed up on the Perley Farm on Sunday to help clean up.

(Sarah Buxton) "Get the team leaders and we'll kind of redistribute this wealth of new blood, a little fresh energy."

(Sneyd) State Representative Sarah Buxton has been one of the organizers of all these volunteers.

(Buxton) "We've had upwards of 800 to 900 volunteers come through us just in the last five days. And it's just an ad hoc grassroots thing me and a guy named Mark Edsall put together. And we said, ‘We need supplies, we need volunteers and we can put ‘em to work.'"

(Sneyd) And work they did, in hot, humid conditions. The Perley Farm has quickly become a symbol of the utter destruction wrought by Tropical Storm Irene.

The raging White River ripped through the farm, inundating the farmhouse and barn, trapping cattle and the farm crew.  All the family and workers got out safely. But 25 of the 60 cows are gone, drowned or swept downriver.

Penny Severance is amazed by the support, and says she has no idea where all the volunteers came from.

(Severance) "I bet I don't even know half of them. I don't. Some of them I recognize the face. I don't know the name. I've seen them in the community. I have people who drove in from Massachusetts who said, ‘Hey, we have a camp up on the hill.' They brought us grain."

(Sneyd) Severance and each of her family got big bear hugs from the governor, who toured a barn that just a week earlier was a swirling mass of muddy water, frantic cows and desperate farmer workers trying to save them.

All around them, volunteers from Vermont Law School, a local church and all over the community pried up waterlogged flooring, ripped out soggy walls and loaded it into a Dumpster.

Dan Kinney of Royalton is the coordinator.

(Sneyd) "What brought you here?"

(Kinney) "The need. I had work. I'm self employed, so I could make the time. So I've been doing it most of the week."

(Sneyd) Standing below the twin interstate highway bridges that tower over the farm, Kinney says his crew won't rebuild the house. This is all about demolishing what can't be saved so the rest can be rebuilt.

(Kinney) "We're trying to save the house. To save it looks like we're destroying it. We're getting all the moisture out. When that floodwater came up there was a food of water in there, in that living space."

(Sneyd) Rebuilding will be another story. And the Severance family was already quizzing officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Congressman Welch's staff about assistance.

For his part, Governor Shumlin says he'll continue visiting families like the Severances. He says he's lost track of how many visits like this he's done in eight days.

(Shumlin) "The one thing that I think is very important right now is for Vermonters to know that there are people there to help them through this crisis. And as self sufficient as we are, as extraordinary as Vermonters are about taking care of themselves, this is a time when we all need to pull together

(Sneyd) And several hundred people were helping the Severances do that, this weekend.

For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd in Royalton.

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