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Jim Kenyon: Farmers Come to Ainsworth’s Aid

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

With this being the start of planting season and all, Royalton farmer Dave Ainsworth has acres of cornfields to plow and harrow before he can even think about putting seeds in the ground.

But just getting on his tractor this spring is a chore because of ill health. It takes his wife, Peggy, steadying a stepladder for Ainsworth to make it onto the John Deere’s seat.

Last Sunday, Ainsworth managed to get in four hours of field work. Fortunately, he had plenty of company.

A dozen or so members of the Central Vermont Tractor Club showed up with their vintage tractors and plows. They turned over about 25 acres that soon will be planted with sweet and field corn.

They came without the Ainsworths having to ask, which was probably the only way it was going to happen.

“Farmers are independent types,” said Tim Angell, a member of the club from Tunbridge. “They don’t like asking for help.”

Angell put together the work bee, after Royalton Selectboard Chairman Larry Trottier, whose family has a tractor dealership in town, updated him on Ainsworth’s health woes. Ainsworth, 63, underwent a kidney transplant in early 2016. His recovery went so well that he not only got back to farming, but politics, as well. In the fall of 2016, Ainsworth, a Republican, ran for the Vermont House seat that he had held for two terms before losing to Democrat Sarah Buxton by one vote in 2010.

This time around, as fate would have it, Ainsworth defeated Buxton by a single vote, 1,004 to 1,003.

Ainsworth’s health, however, turned for the worse last year. He was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. The disease — CIDP for short — causes, among other things, weakness of the arms and legs, along with general fatigue.

“I haven’t been able to milk for about year,” said Ainsworth, who has leaned on his longtime farmhand, Jim Kinnarney, to do even more than usual. Peggy Ainsworth also is picking up more of the chores at a time when free time is in short supply. Along with farming, the Ainsworths are raising their two school-age granddaughters.

The CIDP, which doctors treated with heavy-duty steroids, seemed to be under control when Ainsworth developed a staph infection in December that had him in and out of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and rehabilitation centers for three months.

“I kept getting weaker and weaker,” he said. “It got to where I could barely feed myself.”

In the last couple of years, his weight has dropped from 260 pounds to 190.

“It’s less than I weighed in college,” said Ainsworth, who graduated from the University of Vermont in 1977.

It’s only been in the last couple of weeks that he’s felt well enough to make the 48-mile daily drive to the Statehouse.

On Wednesday morning, Ainsworth was seated at his desk in the House chambers an hour before the day’s round of voting was scheduled to begin at 10. His walker rested against the desk on his aisle seat.

“It’s good to be able to move around,” he told me. “Having to sit around the house is as much a problem as anything medical.”

The farm — marked by its giant yellow barn with rounded roof — on Route 14 has been in Ainsworth’s family for five generations. The Ainsworths milk 40 to 50 Holsteins and have about 125 acres suitable for growing crops. “I can grow all the hay we need and still have a little extra to sell,” Ainsworth said.

Across Route 14, a large field that runs up against the bank of the White River offers prime soil for growing corn. Along with field corn to feed their cows, the Ainsworths plant a half dozen or so acres of sweet corn that they sell mostly from the vegetable stand at the front of their driveway.

With the window for planting opening and shutting quickly, Upper Valley farmers race against the clock each springtime. Ainsworth told me that he was a bit worried a few weeks ago about getting everything done in time.

Last spring, he was late planting corn, which led to a less than banner crop. But it would have been worse if a number of area farmers — too many to name in this space — hadn’t volunteered to lend a hand with summertime haying. Some returned this spring to spread manure.

“When people need help, you give them a hand,” said Tunbridge farmer Ted Hoyt, who was among those pitching in with the mowing and manure spreading. “That’s who true Vermonters are, at least in my opinion.”

During our chat in the near-empty House chambers on Wednesday morning, I asked Ainsworth what it meant to have so many farmers and tractor club members — some of whom he didn’t know — step forward.

“They’ve all done an excellent job,” he said. “It’s a big relief.”

Then his voice softened. “It’s pretty humbling,” he said.

I noticed his eyes had welled up. Ainsworth blamed the medications he’s taking. “The steroids kick in every now and then,” he said.

 Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.