NEW HAVEN — Susan Smiley has always been keenly interested in agricultural and food supply issues as a dedicated farmer and consumer.
Now the New Haven Democrat hopes to influence Vermont’s agricultural policies as a member of the House, representing the Addison-5 legislative district. As the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday, Smiley and incumbent Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, were the only confirmed candidates for the Addison-5 House seat. Candidates have until Thursday, June 12, to file their nomination papers for various legislative and county posts.
This will be Smiley’s first run for the House, though she has been involved in local and countywide volunteer efforts. She is a member of the New Haven Conservation Commission. She serves on the Addison County Relocalization Network’s Food Network Board and is president of a committee that supports the Union Church in New Haven Mills. Smiley is a past member of the Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association. She also volunteers at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
With her schedule a little more forgiving these days, Smiley agreed to run in Addison-5 after being asked by the Addison County Democratic Committee.
“I’m a recent widow, and in the last three years of (husband Jerry’s) life, I focused all my energies on helping him live as full a life as possible,” Smiley said of her late husband, who died in 2012. “As I begin this campaign … I want to refocus my energies in service to my community and my district.”
The Addison-5 district encompasses the communities of New Haven, Weybridge and Bridport.
“I’m a lifelong learner, and would relish the chance to look deeply into the issues that are currently before the Legislature, and contribute to the policy discussions — whether it’s education financing and governance, health care or water quality,” she said.
Smiley, 66, moved to New Haven with her family in 1975. They started out essentially as homesteaders on the 150-acre farm off River Road, growing their own food and earning money from the grass-fed Angus beef, dairy products and organic vegetables they raised.
In 1987, Smiley went to work for Earth’s Best Baby Foods as a buyer of organic ingredients. She was employed by Earth’s Best for 15 years, then became a U.S. representative for a Spanish company that manufactures non-GMO vitamin E products. Following that, she worked for QAI, a large, domestic organic certification company.
Smiley currently works part-time on special projects for Middlebury’s Vermont Coffee Co. The family sold its beef herd and stopped haying 15 years ago. They are currently leasing their cropland to another local farmer. They still have a big garden, and one of the Smiley daughters is hoping to launch a new agricultural venture with her mom in the near future.
The coming weeks will see Smiley solidify her position on the issues while doing a lot of door-to-door campaigning in her district.
She is not sold on the notion of school consolidation, a topic that has elicited increasing debate in the Statehouse in view of Vermont’s declining student population and rising education bills.
“I think that the real savings that come from consolidation have to be really documented and laid out for all of us, in specific terms,” she said. “And the effects of that consolidation in terms of community life and the quality of education in K-12 needs to be talked about.”
Smiley believes the Legislature needs to study the issue of consolidation some more, in concert with possible changes in the manner in which public education is financed.
“We need to measure the potential savings,” she said.
She suggested volunteer school board members have the energy to take on new responsibilities, rather than having their roles lessened through consolidation.
As a lifelong farmer, Smiley is keenly interested in agricultural issues. She sees a brighter future ahead for farmers.
“I’m encouraged, for lots of reasons, about farming in our county and in Vermont,” Smiley said. “The Natural Resources Conservation Commission is implementing a lot of new programs that enable farmers to support practices on their farms that will help build soil life and protect water quality.”
She noted milk prices have been on the rebound and farmers are diversifying their operations to include many value-added products. Smiley supports the state and federal lending programs that help farmers get started in new agricultural ventures.
If elected, Smiley would like to serve on the House Agriculture Committee.
Health care is another topic that Smiley would like to influence in the House. Smiley said she approves of the notion of a single-payer health care system as a “layperson,” but added she does not know enough about the system to support it as a matter of policy as a legislator.
“It’s an area I need to learn more about,” Smiley said.
Renewable energy is a topic that will gain increasing importance during the coming years, according to Smiley, who recently invested in 14 solar panels and a hybrid hot water heater.
“My acquisition of those facilities would not have been possible without the state and federal financial incentives that I think are great policy, because they aid in development of a decentralized form of alternative energy,” Smiley said. “I would certainly like to keep those programs in place.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.