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How A Stowe Dairy Famer Is Doing Nearly A Year After Losing Over 100 Cows In A Barn Fire

How A Stowe Dairy Famer Is Doing Nearly A Year After Losing Over 100 Cows In A Barn Fire

By Anna Van Dine

Last February, I heard a barn had burned in Stowe. And that’s not all.

“There was 130 Jersey cows in there, dry or milking, and they're all gone,” farmer Paul Percy told me on the phone after the fire.

“There actually was a few in there that hadn't calved yet, that we'd brought up from one of the other barns,” he said. “I think it was about a dozen that were all ready to calve in the next two weeks. But that isn't going to happen.”

We talked for about 15 minutes, then I thanked him for his time, and we hung up.

Listen to the original story from Vermont Public: Stowe dairy farmer reflects on losing more than 100 cows in fire

That was almost a year ago, long enough for the leaves to come out on the trees, fall, and be covered by snow again. I wondered about Paul Percy from time to time — had his insurance come through? Did he get more cows? Did he rebuild the barn?

His farm is one of about 500 dairy farms left in Vermont, down from thousands just 60 years before. Many of the farms that remain are in precarious positions — when disaster strikes, it can be hard to come back from.

So a few weeks ago, I went to Stowe to pay Paul Percy a visit, and see how things were going.

He greeted me at the door wearing jeans and a blue polo with the Agri-Mark logo. His eyes were bright behind a pair of wire-rimmed glasses.

He’s in his 80s, and has lived in this old farmhouse his entire life. We sat down in the living room, under a window that looks out on where the barn used to be.

“You’d hardly know there was a barn down there. We had that done about three weeks after the fire,” he said.

Percy has other property in town, including a barn where he keeps about 350 cows. He said they’ve concentrated on that, but still, they’ve lost money.

“There’s no question about it, income is down," he said. "Expenses are down some, too, because I’ve got one less employee and, you know, we’re not spending money taking care of [the cows], the light bill and all that, it’s down. But again, I miss it. But — I don’t talk about this because it bothers me a little bit — they started a GoFundMe. I don’t know whether you ever heard about this or not. But they started one for us. And I didn’t know anyone started it, I didn’t know what was happening, I didn’t know what was going on, I couldn’t believe it. But people donated a lot of money to make it all work.”

“How did that feel?” I asked.

“Well,” Percy said, “in a way it bothered me, because it’s like a — like a kind of charity thing, sort of. Somebody needs help. And, you know, to farm and build what we need to, we probably needed the help. But I had insurance on that barn — 'course never have enough — but I had insurance, had insurance on the cattle. We can build barns and fix things back up. It’s really — it’s really an interesting town to live in. I had no idea that people in this town wanted farmers here as much as I think they do today.”

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