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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Work begins to reconstruct Turner heifer barn



By Lisa Loomis

Volunteers cleared the debris and augured post holes for a new heifer barn at the Turner dairy farm in Waitsfield this week.

The family's heifer barn collapsed due to snow and high wind conditions during last week's February 14 blizzard, killing five of their dry cows, three of whom were pregnant. There were 21 cows in the barn.

Early on the morning of February 15 when Doug and Sharon Turner's son Joe discovered the collapse, fire fighters, emergency workers and others made their way through over three feet of newly fallen snow to do what they could to help rescue the cows.

Fifteen were saved, one is recovering and the five who died were buried this week when the debris was removed with heavy equipment. Community organizers, led by the Mad River Valley Localvores, local churches and private individuals have rallied to help the Turners rebuild the barn so their cows (currently boarded in Middlebury and Cabot) can come home.


The collapse of the barn meant more than the loss of a structure to this local dairy farm - which has almost completed the process of converting from conventional to organic dairy farming. The Turners were devastated by the loss of their cows.

"It's not a whole lot different than it is for people with their dogs and cats. We see them and feed them and care for them every day. And unlike cats and dogs, we work with the same families for many generations because they are registered purebreds. We're responsible for all changes in their bloodline. You become quite attached to the animals from whom you make your living," Doug Turner said.

Two bloodlines died out at the Turner farm last weekend when the barn collapsed. Those two 'families' have been around, at the Turner farm, for over 50 years.

"And that makes it harder. It's a catastrophe to come upon your animals crushed and crying out for help and you can't do anything to save them.  We're very fortunate that so many were saved. We lost five. But it's hard," he said.

Early on February 15, Turner called 911 who contacted local emergency services personnel. A state snow plow was rerouted, Viens Excavating was called, vet Roy Hadden arrived and people began moving debris, working with chainsaws and freeing the animals.

"It's amazing, really surprising how many animals came out of there. We really were fortunate and we have a lot of things to be thankful for. I owe Roy a thanks; he pitched right in and worked with the animals that made it and the ones that had to be put down. I owe the whole community thanks. It's an extremely humbling experience. To see the community rally around us this way is unbelievable. We really appreciate it," he said.

Doug and Joe Turner stopped what they were doing on Monday when they heard a radio plea on WDEV, requesting help shoveling the roofs of the two 200-foot dairy barns at the Scribner farm in Moretown.

"Joe and I went and shoveled snow for about an hour. That did us a world of good to be helping save some cows rather than dealing with the aftermath here. There was nothing we could do here but pick up the mess, but there, we could do something to help. We slept better after that," he said.

The Scribner barns were shoveled off in time and the threat of collapse is over for that family. That volunteer shoveling effort brought people from every corner of Vermont who volunteered to climb on the barn and take a turn at moving the snow, which the wind had piled up to 7 feet high on one side of the barn.

In the days since the storm, the Turners have learned that their insurance will not cover the estimated $50,000 to $60,000 cost of rebuilding the barn, nor will it cover vet bills for the recovering animals. They will be compensated for the animals they lost (at the conventional versus organic rate) as well as vet bills for those animals that died.

Earlier in the week there was talk that the Vermont legislature was going to earmark and make some portion of a $1.2 million farm aid bill available immediately to farmers, but that has not materialized.

"Those promises of help from the legislature were public grandstanding on the part of some politicians," Turner said.

While the Turners and other Vermont farmers impacted by the storm wait for the wheels of state bureaucracy to turn, volunteers are moving ahead with efforts to rebuild the barn. Local businesses have volunteered work crews and select board member Charlie Hosford is heading up the rebuilding effort. Another select board member, Paul Hartshorn, is milling lumber for the barn this week. Local businesses have donated electrical services and another donated the cost of materials for the electrician.


An organizational meeting takes place tonight, February 22, at 7 p.m. at the Three Mountain Cafe. This meeting will enable volunteers to coordinate efforts and make sure that everyone who wants to help can participate. Contact Robin McDermott 496-3567

General Fund Donations: St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church has established a general fund that will be given directly to the Turner family to help with any expenses they incur as a result of this loss. Send checks to St. Dunstan's Church (make checks payable to St. Dunstan's Church), P.O. Box 1133, Waitsfield, VT  05673. Mark checks "Turner Fund." This donation will be tax deductible. Contact Ron Hawk at 496-8803 for information.

Barn Rebuilding Fund: The Center for Whole Communities has set up an escrow account and Charlie Hosford will be managing these funds. Please send checks to The Center for Whole Communities (make checks payable to The Center for Whole Communities - Turner Barn), 700 Bragg Hill Road, Fayston, VT  05673.  Mark checks "Turner Barn Fund." Contact Ray Mikulak at 496-3567 for information.

Calf Replacement Fund: The United Church of Christ of Waitsfield and the Warren United Church are collecting donations for calf replacement. You can send donation checks to the Warren United Church (make checks payable to the Warren United Church) at 339 Main Street, Warren, VT 05674 or the United Church of Christ of Waitsfield (make checks payable to the United Church of Christ of Waitsfield) c/o Diana Gauthier, 44 Maple Lane, Waitsfield, VT  05673. Mark checks "Turner Calf Replacement Fund." This donation will be tax deductible. Contact Vince Gauthier at 496-4646 if you have questions.

Donation jars are being placed throughout The Valley and beyond. Donation cans are located at Three Mountain Cafe, Mehuron's, Shaw's, and Appearances Salon along with other locations in the Valley and at the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier. Donation cans are being coordinated by Julie Pease/St. Dunstan's church. Contact Julie at 496-9686 on how to get the money to the St. Dunstan's donation fund.  

Troy Kingsbury at the Village Grocery in Waitsfield is donating 50 cent per every gallon of milk sold to the Turners and he challenges other businesses to do the same.


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