Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman chats with elementary school students
BENNINGTON — Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman spent several hours on Monday taking questions from local students about his years in the legislature, healthy eating, and his family farm.
Zuckerman visited with three grades at Molly Stark Elementary and two third grade classes at Bennington Elementary. While he explained to the students briefly about what the lieutenant governor does, most of his time was spent talking about his other love: farming. He owns and operates Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg with his spouse, Rachel Nevitt, and raises chickens, pigs, and angora rabbits, along with over 20 acres of crops.
"You get to be outside all day, which is one of the things I like most about farming," he told students at Molly Stark. "As lieutenant governor, I have to be inside a lot... I love to breathe the fresh air and be in touch with the Earth."
However, when students asked him which job he liked better, he couldn't decide. "To be lieutenant governor is really an incredible honor," he said, adding that the students' parents had put a lot of faith in him when they elected him. "People work really hard for their money, so we need to make sure that we're using it responsibly, to take care of roads, to keep water clean, and to make sure our schools stay open."
Zuckerman said in between groups of students that one of his favorite parts of being lieutenant governor was traveling around the state and hearing people's ideas. Children, he said, were one of the most enjoyable groups to talk with because of their natural curiosity. "I think we tend to lose our curiosity and our willingness to explore new ideas as we get older," he said.
However, that isn't to say that all the children went easy on him. One student from Bennington Elementary asked Zuckerman about his favorite animal. Zuckerman, either because he didn't want to offend any of the animals that weren't his favorite or simply because he didn't properly hear the question, instead talked for a few minutes about all of the animals on his farm.
The student was not fooled, and held the lieutenant governor accountable for his attempted evasion. "Excuse me," she said, raising her hand. "You didn't answer my question. I asked who your favorite animal was." Zuckerman was forced to admit that his favorite was one of his pigs, a 600-pound sow named Ruby.
Zuckerman, however, refused to pick a favorite when asked whether he enjoyed farming or politics more, just as he had with the students at Molly Stark. He said that he wouldn't exhaust himself doing what are essentially two full-time jobs if he didn't love them both.
"I like both of them a lot," he said. "I like being lieutenant governor because I get to hear so many peoples' different thoughts. Some people express those thoughts nicely, while some are a little more mean." With farming, he said, he has more time to be alone with his thoughts, enjoying the outdoors.
While Zuckerman, a member of the Vermont Progressive Party who won the Democratic Primary election for the lieutenant governor's race last year, didn't get too far into the weeds of political discussion with the students, but did answer when one of the Molly Stark students asked him why he ran for lieutenant governor. He said that his primary motivations had been to fight for environmental causes and against economic injustice.
When another student asked if he knew Sen. Bernie Sanders, Zuckerman said that he had met Sanders many times. In fact, Sanders was his inspiration for getting into politics, and his first political activity had been volunteering for then-Representative Sanders' campaign in 1992. He was first elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 1996, a position that he served in until 2011. He served in the Vermont Senate from 2013 to 2017.
True to his reputation, Zuckerman, who has been know to hand out carrots at parade appearances rather than candy, brought carrots from his farm to share with all the students at Molly Stark. Before handing them out, he explained why some of the vegetables looked different than maybe the students would have expected.
"The food that you see in the store is only some of the food that farmers grow," he said, holding up one relatively normal looking carrot and one that had several offshoots sprouting off its main body. He said that grocery stores want all their produce to look the same, so a large amount, as much as 20 to 30 percent, ends up wasted, or used in products such as baby food. "We don't waste as much as we used to, but we still waste a lot of food because it doesn't look right, even though it tastes great."
"The part I like about growing food is the not-so-regular ones," he said. "That's what makes it fun. Which one of you in this room is completely regular? The irregular ones deserve to get eaten too."
Molly Stark third grade teacher Andrew Labarge said he reached out to Zuckerman's office about a possible visit after Gov. Phil Scott visited Bennington in January and toured the independent Village School of North Bennington, but did not visit any public elementary schools, said Labarge.
Zuckerman took the time during his trip to Bennington to have lunch with Molly Stark staff. Later in the day, he visited the offices of Shires Housing and attended Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services' Open House.
As he was leaving Bennington Elementary, a teacher stopped Zuckerman to thank him for taking the time to speak with the students. He replied, "This is what I enjoy doing the most."
Derek Carson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.
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