Weathering the Storm


On August 28, 2011 Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont causing widespread, catastrophic damage.

At VFC we struggled with how to respond to the storm beyond just doing the work of cultural documentation - could we employ our skills in a way that might actually help people in the present?

Though our discussions, VFC fellow, Aylie Baker and Greg developed and refined the idea of Story Circles - structured, community storytelling gatherings where people embroiled in the experience of storm recovery could come together and share.

We sponsored Story Circles in Mendon, Stockbridge, and Rochester, Vermont. In partnership with Starting Over Strong Vermont we worked with residents of Athens, Brattleboro, Ludlow, Plymouth, Waterbury and Wilmington.

To mark the first anniversary of the storm, Aylie drew from those Story Circles to create the audio documentary, Weathering the Storm.


El viaje más caro / The Most Costly Journey

El viaje más caro / The Most Costly Journey is an ethnographic cartooning project that pairs Vermont cartoonists with Latin American migrant farm workers on Vermont dairy farms. The goal of the project is to create comics drawn from the workers' personal experiences that serve as mental health outreach tools for local health care providers.

VFC is a partner in the project along with the Open Door Clinic, UVM Extension Bridges to Health, UVM Anthropology, and Marek Bennett's Comics Workshop.

Learn more about El viaje más caro / The Most Costly Journey and read the comics in Spanish and English.

Cycles of Change: Farming in Norwich

Vermont Folklife Center researchers collaborated with the Norwich Historical Society’s Cycles of Change: Farming in Norwich exhibition project - conducting oral history interviews with Norwich-area farmers, during spring 2014.  Interviewees were selected by the Norwich Historical Society and the interviews explored topics identified by the Norwich Historical Society as areas of particular interest.

Audio interview excerpts were produced by the Vermont Folklife Center and combined with other media and storytelling content on farming in the area, including: research and writings by Charlotte Barrett,  Alan Berolzheimer, Seth Goodwin; photographs by Chad Fine; and video by Ben Silberfarb. 

Cycles of Change: Farming in Norwich

Meet the Farmers Photos by Chad Finer

Excerpted from A story of our rich agricultural heritage written by the Norwich Historical Society.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 2007 and 2012, the number of farms in Vermont increased for the first time in 150 years. Despite the financial risks and physical demands, more people in this small state are choosing to become farmers.
Vermont has become a national model for small-scale, sustainable agriculture. The state’s commitment to strengthening its food system, evident in innovative legislation such as the Farm to Plate Investment Program (2009), sends a clear pledge of support to farmers. Statewide organizations like the Northeast Organic Farming Association and the Vermont Land Trust, along with countless local programs, work with farmers and food-related entrepreneurs to find the resources they need to be successful. The result: more land in agricultural production, more women and minority farmers, and a 15% increase in the market value of Vermont products. Developing the farm and food sector creates a robust economy and puts healthy food on our tables.
The eight farms featured in this exhibit represent the diversity of agricultural enterprise in Norwich. Whether raising meat animals, growing organic vegetables, cutting hay, or making compost, these farmers share a commitment to high quality, nutritious food. They are creative in the face of an ever-fickle economy and resilient in the face of unpredictable weather. They are conservationists without the title, preserving open space, soil quality, and wildlife habitat. And they are agents of community—trading advice with each other, inviting us to invest in their farms through Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs), and giving us a reason to step out of busy lives to mingle with neighbors at farmer’s markets.
Click here to visit the online exhibition at the Norwich Historical Society.

Artists' Medium Series

In 2013 and 2014, Vermont Folklife Center ethnographer and film-maker, Ned Castle, partnered with Edgewater Gallery to produce short film vignettes to take viewers behind-the-scenes of Vermont artists that were showcased at the gallery during that time.

Artist Vignettes

Daisy Turner

In 1983 Jane Beck, the founder of the Vermont Folklife Center, first met Daisy Turner, who then was 100 years old, born in Grafton, Vermont, the daughter of slaves. Beck was astounded by the scope of her family story and Daisy’s ability to communicate it. She visited her frequently until she died in 1988 at 104, recording over sixty hours of her reminiscences and family narrative. Daisy’s captivating account covers slavery, plantation life, escape, the Civil War, moving north, battling racism, buying land and settling on a hilltop in Vermont that became a family center. In addition to the epic arc of this narrative, Daisy’s own life story is one of discrimination, resilience and strength—a powerful and rare account of the African American experience in New England.

Most of those who were enslaved found it too painful to look back, but Daisy Turner’s father, Alexander Turner, (1845-1923) born a slave on the Jack Gouldin plantation alongside the Rappahannock River near Port Royal Virginia, wanted his family to know their roots. Every night after dinner he told them stories of their heritage so they would understand their legacy. This was the Turner family story, told for the Turners by the Turners. Daisy drank in these anecdotes and in many cases learned them word for word. What emerges from this account is a multigenerational saga spanning two centuries, covering what W.E.B. DuBois has called “the most magnificent drama in the last thousand years of human history.” Daisy’s narrative is an intimate look at the human dimension of this drama through the eyes of an African American family.

See we didn’t come from nowhere. We have a background, and that background can be traced right down to the roots.

The Vermont Folklife Center Archive is home to the Turner Family Collection consisting of audio recordings, video recordings, photographs and text that detail the life of Daisy Turner and the experiences of her extended family. The Turner Family Collection is open by appointment to qualified researchers. To schedule an appointment please contact the Vermont Folklife Center Archivist.

This thing is in me. If I just had read it, it would be a different story. But I’ve lived it.

An African American Family Saga – by Jane C. Beck

About the book

A daughter of freed African American slaves, Daisy Turner became a living repository of history. The family narrative entrusted to her began among the Yoruba in West Africa and continued with her own century and more of life.

In 1983, folklorist Jane Beck began a series of interviews with Turner, then one hundred years old and still relating four generations of oral history. Beck uses Turner's storytelling to build the Turner family saga, using at its foundation the oft-repeated touchstone stories at the heart of their experiences: the abduction into slavery of Turner's African ancestors; Daisy's father Alec Turner learning to read; his return as a soldier to his former plantation to kill his former overseer; and Daisy's childhood stand against racism. Other stories re-create enslavement and her father's life in Vermont--in short, the range of life events large and small, transmitted by means so alive as to include voice inflections. Beck, at the same time, weaves in historical research and offers a folklorist's perspective on oral history and the hazards--and uses--of memory.

Publisher’s Weekly called the book a “marvel of scholarly storytelling” and “an engrossing American tale.”

About the Author

Jane is Vermont’s first and longest serving folklorist.  A Middlebury graduate, she is Executive Director Emeritus and Founder of the Vermont Folklife Center. Among her many awards are the Governor’s Extraordinary Vermonter Award; The American Folklore Society’s Benjamin Botkin Award; the Vermont Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Center for Vermont Research at the University of Vermont; and, just this summer, the Hildene Award.

Catherine M. Beattie

Catherine M. Beattie (Mrs. Harold) Representative of Danville, Democrat, was born at Danville on April 5, 1921. Occupation: Farming. She was educated at Danville elementary and High School. She is married and has three sons and seven daughters. Member of the following organizations: Order of Eastern Star; Danville Woman’s Club; Pythian Sisters; Danville Parent-Teachers Group; Caledonia County Farm Bureau. Member of the House of 1965.

Franklin Swift Billings, Jr.

Franklin Swift Billings, Jr., Representative of Woodstock, Republican, was born on June 5, 1922. Occupation: attorney-at-law. He was educated in the public schools in Woodstock; Milton Academy; Harvard College (S.B., 1943) University of Virginia (L.L.B., 1947). He is married to the former Pauline R. Gillingham and they have two sons and one daughter. He is a member of the Grange; Masons; Shrine; American, Vermont, and Windsor County Bar Associations. He has been village trustee, town agent, selectman, planning commission, school director and library trustee. He was Assistant Secretary of the Senate in 1949, 1951, and 1953, executive Clerk, 1955; Secretary of the Senate in 1957 and 1959; Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs, 1959 and 1960; Judge of the Hartford Municipal Court, 1955-1962; clerk of the Woodstock Union High School District, 1958-1962; and a member of the Woodstock Planning commission, 1958-62.

He served with the British 8th Army in the 6th Armored division, 1943 to 1946. In 1966 he was appointed to the Superiour Court and he served until 1975 when he was appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court. He was Chief Justice from 1982-84. In 1984 he was appointed a U.S. District Judge of Vermont, serving as Chief Judge from 1989-97 when he took Senior Status and remains as a Senior District Judge today. Member of the House of 1961, and member and Speaker of the House of 1963 and 1965.