Milestones, Obituaries

KAREN SHAW

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HARDWICK – Dairy farmer and populist rebel Karen Shaw died on May 28, in the loving company of Forrest Foster, her partner of 43 years.

Karen, an only child, was born in Carmel, N.Y., on October 6, 1946. Her mother died when she was 11, and she moved in with her maternal grandmother. Karen never molded herself to the expectations of others, and by the age of 16 was racing Saab 99s on weekends, probably the only woman race car driver in Putnam County and far beyond.

In 1972 she met and married David Taylor, a DuPont executive. Karen had moved on from race cars and was now more interested in horses. She did stable work to learn how to handle them, eventually driving horse-drawn carriages in New York and later driving horse carts for Lester Welch in Randolph. In 1974, Karen enrolled in a work-horse class at Indian Summer Farm in Cabot, where one of the teachers was Forrest Foster.

Karen and her husband hired Forrest as a farm hand when they bought the Rosaire Renaud farm on Bridgman Hill in 1979. Karen eagerly jumped into their horse- and human-powered farm life, but her husband didn’t care for it and the two divorced in 1980. Forrest stayed on, and he and Karen not only became a couple, they farmed together at Windy Ledges, the new name for the farm on Bridgman Hill, for the rest of Karen’s life. In 1981, Karen and Forrest’s son, Tykie, was born.

Karen was unafraid of speaking her mind, and she spoke out often about the plight of farmers, the environment, and rural ways of life. She worked for Rural Vermont for about a year and a half, but quit because she didn’t find the organization “forceful” enough.

In the early 1990s, the Agrimark corporation bought the Cabot Creamery, where she and Forrest sold their milk. As one of Cabot cooperative’s farmer-owners, Karen wanted to know how the co-op’s money was spent. When she was told, “it’s none of your business,” Karen and Forrest sued. They won the case in Vermont, and prevailed again when Agrimark appealed to the Second Circuit Court of New York. Agrimark appealed a second time in Delaware, where the company is incorporated, and this time Karen and Forrest’s victory was reversed. Nonetheless, they had made it abundantly clear that Cabot Creamery is farmer-owned in name only.

The Cabot case radicalized Karen. As Forrest says, “it put fire in her,” and she got involved in other farm-related causes in Vermont. Her philosophy was apparent in her 1996 testimony to the Vermont Senate Agriculture Committee, where she opposed the Vermont Agriculture Commissioner’s reappointment:

“Senators, if your vision of our agricultural future is one of corporate agribusinesses with no family farms, you must vote to give the commissioner another term in office. If on the other hand you envision a community of productive rural people and the beauty of place which is its natural offshoot, you cannot in good conscience confirm him. You need to urge the governor to appoint someone with a basic concept of sustainability, who values the local economy, and who will encourage us to enrich the land rather than the corporations.”

On May 30, Karen was buried at Windy Ledges Farm, in the presence of Forrest, Tykie, friends and family, and the land she loved so much.

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