Vermont Press Releases

Rural Vermont responds to Common Cause Request from Green Mountain College


Nov. 14, 2012

Andrea Stander
[email protected]

Board of Directors and Staff join in supporting GMC’s principled stand
for food sovereignty
(see attached Op Ed)

Montpelier – The Board of Directors and staff of Rural Vermont
distributed an Op Ed (attached) today in support of Green Mountain
College’s (GMC) efforts to maintain their commitment to sustainable
agriculture and food sovereignty. Rural Vermont took the action in
response to a request for “Common Cause” support by Philip
Ackerman-Leist, Director of the GMC Farm & Food Project, Director of
the Masters in Sustainable Food Systems (MSFS) and Associate Professor
of Environmental Studies.

The request for Common Cause support was directed to the Vermont
agricultural community in the face of the overwhelming impact of
threatening tactics used by extreme animal rights groups who have been
attacking the college for decisions made by the entire GMC community
regarding the school’s aging team of oxen.

Rural Vermont has been a long-standing advocate for sustainable
agricultural practices that support our vision:

A local food system in Vermont which is self-reliant and based on
reverence for the earth. This system builds living soils which nurture
animals and people with wholesome, natural products supporting
healthy, thriving farms and communities. These communities in turn
work to encourage and support current and future farmers, continuing
our Vermont heritage. This abundant and generous way of life
celebrates our diversity and interdependence.

Rural Vermont fervently supports Green Mountain College’s right and
responsibility to make decisions regarding its farm operations and
farm animals according to its community’s values and needs. This is
exactly what they tried to do. Rural Vermont will continue to speak up
on behalf of the farmers who will feed us all.


Dear Editor:

The recent controversy over the fate of Lou and Bill, an aged team of
working oxen at Poultney’s Green Mountain College, illustrates the
profound and dispiriting disconnect between contemporary American
society and the source of our food.

After announcing that Lou and Bill would be slaughtered for beef and
served in the school’s cafeteria, Green Mountain College became the
subject of rampant harassment, including a cyber-attack, on-line
bullying, and threats of physical violence. After weeks of bullying,
the college relented. Lou, who suffered from chronic injury, was
euthanized in cloak of night and under tight security; Bill will be
kept on at the college’s farm. Now the GMC students are left
questioning how to attain GMC’s stated goal to become the first
college or university in the United States with a major food service
provider to eliminate all animal products that are not humanely raised
and slaughtered, if they are not secure in making these decisions for

No matter what one thinks of the college’s choices regarding Lou and
Bill, this episode is emblematic of our culture’s tragic desire to
remain unaccountable to the ramifications of how we feed ourselves.
Let us be clear: Truly sustainable agriculture and food production is
dependent on animals, not only for the nourishment of their meat and
milk, but also for the fertility of their manure, essential to the
production of the fruits, vegetables, and cereal crops upon which all
of us depend. Indeed, to erase animals from the cycle of agriculture
is to ensure dependence on fossil fuel-based fertilizers. Sustainable?
Not exactly.

We have suffered through multiple generations of agricultural and food
production opacity. The time has come for full accountability and
utter transparency regarding the most crucial, intimate exchange we
all engage in: Food. The time has come to acknowledge that our very
survival is dependent on the taking of life and to hold ourselves
fully accountable to this truth, difficult as it may sometimes be.
Green Mountain College set a strong example for all of us by having an
open community forum for students to come to a shared decision about
the fate of Bill and Lou. This shared decision-making is the essence
of food sovereignty – the freedom for communities to choose how they
will access their food according to their shared values and needs.

To be sure, there is no excuse for the deplorable conditions at large
scale meat production facilities. In fact, there is no excuse for
anything short of reverence for the animals that serve us. Lou and
Bill and every other creature that provides our nourishment – either
directly or indirectly – should be treated with the utmost respect.
And when the time comes to end their lives, as it inevitably will,
they deserve our deepest gratitude and the most humane slaughter we
can provide.

Rural Vermont has long stood for a community-based food system that
honors all its participants, including farmers, consumers, animals,
and the environment. Rural Vermont also stands with Green Mountain
College and the thousands of other Vermont farmers who acknowledge the
sometimes difficult realities of creating and maintaining healthy food
systems and who provide for their animals in a manner that honors
their critical role in our nourishment.

Rural Vermont Board of Directors and Staff

John Pollard – Shrewsbury
Andrea Stander – Montpelier

Lisa McCrory – Randolph
Shelby Girard – Brookfield

Ben Hewitt – Cabot
Robb Kidd – Montpelier

Carl B. Russell – Randolph
Mollie Wills – Middlesex

Doug Flack – Enosburg Falls

Tamara Martin – South Wheelock

Randy & Lisa Robar – South Royalton

Dexter Randall – Newport Center

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  • The vast majority of the 50,000 people who signed the petition pleading for the lives of Bill and Lou to be spared made no threats of violence. GMC is overstating the case and using one or two threats that might have been made to gain sympathy and support.

    By and large, the animal rights community is a peaceful, nonviolent group of gentle, caring, compassionate people. We aim to STOP violence and suffering, not perpetuate it by killing and eating others. Any threats that were made came from those in the minority who feared the worst for Bill and Lou. Who can blame them when our pleas for compassion were ignored? While I don’t condone threats of violence, I understand the frustration that comes of being ignored. Green Mountain College officials ignored our polite letters and heartfelt emails begging that they show mercy. I wrote three letters myself and received NO reply, but I never threatened anyone. My heart breaks for Lou. He was someone, not something. As for Bill, I fear the worst. As soon as they can sneak him off to slaughter, they will.

    Animal flesh and animal products will NOT feed the hungry–not in any sustainable way. Meat is for the privileged few who can afford such unsustainable luxury.

    Those of us who fight for animal justice do so with a vision and higher goal of obtaining justice for ALL beings who suffer, human and nonhuman alike. Those millions of starving people, those suffering from disease and living in poverty, are interconnected with those billions of animals living in “gulags of despair,” also known as factory farms. In our greed and demand for animal products, we, in the wealthiest nations, take food from the very hands of the poor to feed to billions of animals so we can eat the animals, yes even in these so-called “sustainable” models. Animal agriculture is unsustainable in any shape or form–from factory farms to your happy little farms in Vermont. The bottom line is we MUST change our eating habits to exclude animal products if the world’s poor and hungry have any hope of survival. Green Mountain College is out of step with reality.

    If I am incorrect about the unsustainability of animal agriculture, then so too must be Worldwatch Institute, an independent research institute devoted to global environmental concerns, AND Albert Einstein, among many others.

    “Albert Einstein, who was better known for his physics and math than for his interest in the living world, once said:
    ‘Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.’ We don’t think he was just talking about nutrition. Notice that in this article we haven’t said much at all about the role of meat in nutrition, even though there’s a lot more to talk about than heart disease. Nor have we gone into the ethics of vegetarianism, or of animal rights. The purpose of those omissions is not to brush off those concerns, but to point out that on ecological and economic grounds alone, meat-eating is now a looming problem for humankind. You don’t have to have any conscience at all to know that the age of heavy meat-eating will soon be over as surely as will the age of oil.”

  • Dawn Powell

    This issue at Green Mountain College had nothing to do with food sovereignty. What actually happened was that the farm staff and administration announced that they were going to slaughter both oxen due to Lou’s injury, and serve ’em up, the students, alumni and surrounding community were outraged. Bill and Lou went to community events. The students loved them. So a farm sanctuary offered to take them. The 3 men refused. They wanted to kill them. So people offered a lot of money to buy them and send them to sanctury. They offered treatment for Lou’s foot. The 3 men didn’t respond to most of those offers at all. They would not talk to anyone, escalated the cyber activity by ignoring everyone, and kept saying that it was their right to kill them. Scholars in the animal ethics field (a course that they present at GMC) offered to sit down with everyone for discussion, debate, what ever, for community understanding, open exchange, defusing. The 3 men refused.
    For them, it has only been about the killing.

  • Judith Romeo

    This article mentions “utter transparency”. I couldn’t agree more. Let’s stop hiding slaughter behind closed doors. Let the public see where their sirloin and lamb chops are really coming from. They had a face. Let’s see it!

  • Michael Colby

    Thank you to Rural Vermont for standing up and speaking out on this issue.

  • Grace Gershuny

    Thank you, Rural Vermont. I am proud to be a member and former Board member.

  • Eric Rosenbloom

    The issue of animals in agriculture has nothing to do with the public outrage over GMC’s determination to kill their well known and loved oxen. Rural Vermont (the organization) seems to share Ackerman-Leist’s paranoia that any criticism is essentially a terrorist attack on a whole way of life.

    Yet it is precisely the college’s inhumane refusal to consider retirement for their oxen — despite offers of sanctuary and even money — that shines a bad light on animal agriculture.

  • Eric Rosenbloom

    Also, it is utter nonsense that animals are essential to food production. Obviously they are essential to meat and milk production, but those are not essential. And their manure mostly supports the grain used to feed them, not humans. Crop rotation, cover crops, combination planting, etc. — farming without animal products AND without chemicals has been practiced for centuries.

  • The only violence committed was by the college. They refused peaceful sanctuary offers.

  • Eric Rosenbloom is correct. For instance, European explorers were impressed with the productivity of the Indian’s farms. They did not use domesticated animals. Even if we did need more animal manure, we don’t need to kill them to get that.

    The college seems to be tripping over itself inventing one lie after another, rather than admitting that killing animals for food has become unjustifiable on ethical, fiscal, and sustainability grounds in modern society. (I would bet the entire board buys factory farm products, too.)

  • Rebecca Stucki

    “To be sure, there is no excuse for the deplorable conditions at large scale meat production facilities. In fact, there is no excuse for anything short of reverence for the animals that serve us. Lou and Bill and every other creature that provides our nourishment…should be treated with the utmost respect.”

    No excuse, except for the ones we keep getting that humans MUST eat animal products to survive, and the fact that any commodification of animals on any scale will result in commodification on a large scale in order to satisfy the world’s appetite for flesh. And if by “utmost respect,” you mean it seems morally acceptable to kill and eat two animals who have (probably against their will) helped you for 10 years attain your sustainable vision, PLEASE do not have the same sort of “utmost respect” for me.

  • Christy Slate

    Thank you Rural Vermont Board of Directors and Staff for publicly standing with Green Mountain College.

  • peter harvey

    I have never before been the victim of such a vicious militant assault as has happened over the last several weeks. Call it what it is. If I treated my cows, pigs, and chickens the way these militants are treating farmers I would be shunned by my neighbors. Instead I am feeding my neighbors. In response, either I shrink to submit to the force of their anger or be brave enough to stand my ground against them. I choose to make my own decisions within the recognized conventions of our society. In my end, I do hope to be treated as well as I have treated my animals, both in life and death.

    Thank you Green Mountain College and Rural Vermont and all who wrote civilly for standing up for the rights of us all, including reverence of animals and the roles they play in our lives throughout the whole cycle of life and death.

    I am also a proud member of Rural Vermont.

  • Ana Stolof

    I am very saddened to see you stand up and support GMC in this — it has all been appalling, their refusal to look at any other way but their own. Their methods are NOT sustainable, they are NOT models for the WORLD….they are just a small college in Vermont who knew they could get support to kill their draft animals if they went this route. I am appalled that they would not let Bill and Lou go retire to a sanctuary and would not let Lou get top medical. He was viewed as meat instead and so did not receive the care that he needed. There has been nothing right about this whole ordeal. Why should a college have the right to kill animals, any way? How awful to see a student holding a killed chicken. Why don’t you care about that? Meat production is NOT the way to go, and I am no Vegan either! But as far as sustainability goes, it certainly is not at all efficient or productive, every one KNOWS that. Bill and Lou were not started at GMC for being meat animals, furthermore. Who cares if it was a “democratic vote”? In reality, not ALL students even voted. I am very disappointed in Rural Vermont for supporting any slaughter of any of the GMC farm’s animals. Pres. Fonteyn, Ken Mulder and Prof. Ackerman Leist all had lofty, if not arrogant, ideals that really are not practical or grounded in facts and they took it to the extreme and here it is, the conclusion — the request for Common Cause….I am very, very disappointed in all of your board for supporting GMC. Now they will ride on that and say they have the right to do just about anything, just as getting the Ag person’s statement helped them feel emboldened and empowered. That is NOT right!!

  • pat white

    GMC sent out a form letter? We all need to remember that a GMC student contacted GMAD that in turn contacted VINE.

    GMC admits that Lou was in ‘obvious pain’, so why did they keep him alive from summer to the fall? Meat animals are not legally able to be drugged does this include pain medication? What is the withdrawel time frame? Although the CAFOs seem to be able to use arsenic and antibiotics, excuse me growth regulators. GMC is no better then the CAFOs that we attempt to avoid, that use cattle prods to force an animal to be ambulatory to walk to the kill line.

    but Lou injured his leg this past summer and is no longer able to work or even to walk
    any significant distance without experiencing obvious pain. Therefore, in an open community forum this
    fall, about eighty students decided to send the much admired pair to slaughter and processing, with the meat
    to be used in the college dining hall, as we have done with sheep, poultry, swine, and cattle in the past

    We teach animal rights perspectives in our classes,
    as we believe that these philosophical ideas can help to illuminate the path toward more humane and
    sustainable livestock agriculture

    GMC is talking but not following through on what they say they teach. Don’t keep an animal in pain for your philosophical ideas.

  • Catie Hanks

    Green Mountain College is a disgrace and so are you Rural Vermont.

  • Michele Poling

    Rural Vermont really, open up your minds…when I first started reading about this I thought that college was horrible…I have read the newsletters, and checked out all the information including financial status. They seem to treat their animals with love and I truly enjoyed reading their animal updates. The college gave Bill and Lou personality, and I loved seeing them hug on the kids at the school, they just seemed like very special oxen, and I hate that they were going to be slaughtered..special circumstances could have been deemed, I personally don’t believe from the press statement that the college released that they won’t slaughter him…I would even donate money for his care, they would be seen as compassionate rather than cruel and cold hearted in MY opinion, even though I am an outsider….we do live in America and we have the right to voice our concerns, Right?