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Jaffrey woman recounts battle with COVID-19

The present Marjorie Croumie got for her 75th birthday last Dec. 23 is likely the best one she ever got. It was the day she was taken off the ventilator due to her battle with COVID-19.

It all started in early December when her son Dave came home not feeling quite right. Given the infection rates at the time, Croumie and her son went and got a COVID-19 test on Dec. 9 and then isolated at home, which she’d essentially been doing since the pandemic began nine months prior. While still awaiting her test results, Croumie too began to not feel herself. In the early morning hours of Dec. 12, she got up to use the bathroom and became dizzy and unable to get back to bed. That’s when Dave called the ambulance.

Her oxygen levels were low and upon arriving at Monadnock Community Hospital, she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and COVID pneumonia. She was sent to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon because as her daughter Deb Roy said “she was so ill, Dartmouth was where she needed to be.” Her memories from the ambulance ride and the first few days in the hospital are scattered. She remembers when her wedding rings were taken off because she hadn’t removed them in decades.

“I just know the ride to Dartmouth was the longest ride I’ve ever taken,” she said.

Roy, who couldn’t visit her mom in the hospital because of restrictions placed on guests due to COVID-19, said they tried using a breathing mask that Sunday to see if it would help improve her breathing.

By Tuesday, Dec. 15, Roy said doctors called and asked permission to place Croumie on a ventilator and in a coma. She agreed, but not without asking for a prognosis. The answer she got was hopeful.

“At that point, I’d take hopeful,” Roy said. “Because we were preparing for the worst.”

For eight days, Croumie was in a coma, as her children were kept abreast of how she was doing and making medical decisions on her behalf.

“I lost those days,” Croumie said. “I don’t remember a thing.”

Roy described it as scary mixed with a sense of helplessness. Even if she had been allowed to visit, Roy would have been unable to because of the need to quarantine as she was the one who gave her mom a ride for her initial COVID test. She was given daily updates, if not more frequently, and there were plenty of moments of uncertainty.

“Not being there and able to hold her hand was hard,” Roy said.

She said making medical decisions was not easy and worried she was making the right ones.

“But what am I going to say, no?” Roy said.

As a way to stay connected, Roy texted her mom’s phone every day to say she loved her — even though her mom wouldn’t see them.

“It was something that made me feel better,” she said.

During that week-plus, doctors had to revive her using a defibrillator due to an atrial fibrillation with her heart and she was paralyzed to keep her from trying to breathe over the ventilator.

“When I woke up I couldn’t use my hands or feet or feed myself,” she said. “It took me a couple days to get my strength back.”

For two days, Roy said they had to prone her mom, the act of flipping Croumie onto her stomach for eight hours a day. They slowly started to bring her out of the coma, but the doctors acknowledged they still weren’t out of the woods. If Croumie didn’t respond after the ventilator was removed, there was a real chance they would have to perform a tracheotomy.

“Thankfully she came out on her birthday and did well,” Roy said.

The family got together virtually to video chat every day and it certainly brought upon a new appreciation for life.

She spent a total of five weeks between her stay at Dartmouth and a rehab facility in Concord. She was in the hospital for Christmas and to ring in 2021. Her stay in rehab meant learning how to walk again.

“It was not the best Christmas ever,” Croumie said.

On Jan. 18, Croumie finally got to go home and it was a joyous reunion for Roy. In the months that have followed, Croumie has made steady progress in recovery but still has lingering issues that require visits with a pulmonary doctor and heart specialist. There’s been fluid build-up that has affected her heart and marks on her lungs that are concerning.

“The pulmonary doctor said I’m a miracle,” she said.

The doctor said “what she went through, a lot of people don’t come out of,” Roy said.

She still has to use a walker from time to time and always uses a cane to get around, something she didn’t need before. There’s swelling in her legs and difficulties breathing when she’s up moving around and talking for an extended period of time.

“I’m still recuperating in one way or another,” Croumie said. “It was a scary situation.”

Even though Croumie always intended to get the COVID-19 vaccine, when she got sick it was just starting to become available to front-line workers. Once she passed the 90 day waiting period after her illness, Croumie got her doses in March and April. The rest of her family has been fully vaccinated as well.

It’s difficult for Croumie to understand why some don’t want to be vaccinated.

“A lot of people don’t believe it’s as bad as it is,” she said. “Those that don’t believe it’s something, think about it — get that shot.”

Roy also intended to get the vaccine, but knowing what her mom went through brought about a new sense of urgency.

“Until you have someone close to you go through it, you have no idea,” Roy said. “It’s scary; it’s serious. I’ve seen it first hand.”

Despite her best efforts to stay home and away from others, Croumie still came down with COVID-19, which for her shows just how persistent the virus is. And even now fully vaccinated, she is still leery about the variant strains.

While she’s still dealing with lingering side effects, Croumie knows it could have been a lot worse.

“I’m thankful I came out of it because (my son) would have never forgiven himself,” she said. “And I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to come home with oxygen. At my age, a lot of people don’t come off it.”

Now, she has a different outlook on life.

“It’s been a long haul and I really don’t wish it upon anyone,” Croumie said. “So don’t take life for granted because you don’t know how long it’s going to be here.”

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Walpole competitive lumberjack bound for national semifinals in Arkansas
  • Updated

WALPOLE — Trevor Beaudry made the cut. And the chop. And the saw. And now, the 31-year-old Walpole native said, the stressful part of the Stihl Timbersports lumberjack competition is behind him. Late Friday, he found out he finished fourth in his pool of 10 competitors in the national quarterfinals last month, qualifying him for the semifinals July 23 in Little Rock, Ark.

“So for me, it’s kind of goofy because the first round’s almost more stressful because there’s that expectation that you make it through,” Beaudry said Monday. “… In the semifinals, you’re more just going out and trying to go as fast as you can. You’re not so much trying to not make mistakes.”

Beaudry, who grew up on a dairy farm on Wentworth Road and now lives on North River Road (where he trains in an adjacent barn), said he “had a decent day” at the quarterfinals the weekend of June 19 in Cherry Valley, N.Y. But his results were better than mediocre.

He took first place in two out of the six events in his pool: the underhand chop, in which a competitor stands on a secured wooden log and swings at it with an ax until it breaks in half, and the hot saw, where competitors use a souped-up chainsaw (Beaudry’s is about 55 pounds and has a 340cc snowmobile engine) to cut through an 18-inch-thick log.

In a typical year, Beaudry would have competed against his entire quarterfinal pool at the same time, in the same place. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, the first round was held in four locations across the country over the last few weeks of June. Forty competitors qualify for the quarterfinals, based on their performance in other competitions throughout the year, Beaudry said.

And though Beaudry didn’t get official quarterfinal results until the end of last week, he had a pretty good idea he would advance, and has continued to train as if he was in the semifinals.

“We got our individual times the day we did it, and I knew based on the times and based on who was in my pool, that I was moving on — not positive, but very, very strong likelihood that I was moving on,” he said. “So I approached it as if I was.”

For Beaudry, a Fall Mountain Regional High School graduate who got serious about competitive lumberjacking while he was at the University of New Hampshire, training takes up about two hours a day during the peak of his competition season, which runs roughly from March to October. At the semifinals, he’ll compete in another pool of 10 men, the top six of whom will move on to the finals July 24.

The winner of the U.S. competition will go up against the world’s top lumberjacks — national champions from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S., along with the eight best European national champions — in Munich on Oct. 2.

The Stihl competition, started in 1985 by the power tool manufacturer, began with 40 men and 28 women from across the United States participating this year. Female finalists do not go to the Stihl international competition, spokesman Stefen Lovelace told The Sentinel previously, but do compete in other international events.

Beaudry, who works as a safety manager at Hubbard LLC in Walpole, is no stranger to the Stihl competition’s national semifinals. He’s reached this stage three times before, from 2017 to 2019, each time falling one point shy of the finals. Due to a change in how the semifinals are scored this year — using an elimination-style system in which the number of points up for grabs increases each round — Beaudry said he may stand a better chance this time.

“Well, the last couple of times I was sixth, a point shy of fifth, because they only took 10 to the finals,” he said. “So maybe since they take six [from each pool] to the finals, I just have to do the same thing.”

Plus, Beaudry added, two of his previous shortcomings could be attributed to bad luck — once the handle of his saw broke; another time the entire piece of wood that was attached to the wall he was sawing fell off, rather than just the slice he was cutting, which ate up his time.

“So, essentially I just need to not screw up,” he said with a laugh. “I just need to have a good day, and I’ll have a shot [at the finals].”

The U.S. Championship on July 24 will be livestreamed on the Stihl Timbersports Facebook and YouTube pages. The entire competition, including the quarterfinals, will be shown on CBS Sports in the fall.

Sentinel staff writer Olivia Belanger contributed to this report.

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U.S. House bill would fund rail-trail projects in Keene, Swanzey
  • Updated

A bill moving through Congress would provide funding to improve infrastructure across the country, including projects in Swanzey and Keene.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Invest in America Act, which is meant to fund local infrastructure projects as well as minimize the impact of climate change, according to a news release from the office of Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H. If passed by the Senate, the act would provide funding to improve the Ashuelot and Cheshire rail trails in Swanzey, as well as to create a safe access route to the Cheshire Rail Trail and rehabilitate the George Street Bridge in Keene.

Local infrastructure projects

According to Kuster’s office, the act would grant about $1.2 million to Swanzey, $681,123 to build the access route in Keene and $729,191 for the George Street Bridge in Keene.

Larry Anutok, a member of Swanzey’s Rail Trail Advisory Committee, said Swanzey’s funding would primarily go toward improving the Cheshire Rail Trail. He described some parts of the trail as soggy and sandy, and said the money would allow the town to replace the trail’s surface with crushed stone.

The news release said the funds would improve almost seven miles of trail, and Anutok said there’s plenty to be done in just that span.

“There’s quite a bit of work to do besides just improving the trails,” he said. The funding would also be used for signage along the trail, additional parking near the route and potentially creating a connection between the Ashuelot Rail Trail and the Cheshire Rail Trail so cyclists could complete a loop.

In 2019, Swanzey was awarded a grant through the Transportation Alternatives Program to improve the trails. Anutok said that the $1.2 million from the Invest in America Act would not be in addition to the $740,000 TAP grant, but would be an expansion of that initial amount.

The trails are what’s left from a network of railroads that once crossed the county. The tracks have been removed, leaving long corridors for pedestrians and cyclists. The 22-mile Ashuelot Rail Trail begins in Keene and follows the like-named river to end in Hinsdale. The Cheshire Rail Trail begins in Walpole and runs 33 miles diagonally across the county to terminate in Fitzwilliam.

Chuck Redfern, a director of Pathways for Keene, a nonprofit that promotes alternative transportation in the city, said the federal funding would allow for a paved access trail connecting Marlboro Street to the Cheshire Rail Trail. This would provide a safer route to get on the trail than biking along the narrow sidewalks of Eastern Avenue, he said.

The access trail would begin near Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services on Marlboro Street and wrap around the public works parking lot before linking up with the Cheshire Rail Trail, according to Redfern.

The third local project would be to rehabilitate the George Street Bridge, which passes over Beaver Brook in Keene. According to City Engineer Don Lussier, the bridge is one of 10 in Keene on the state’s “red list,” meaning it is structurally deficient. The city had previously received state funding to improve the bridge with construction to begin in 2023, but funds from the Invest in America act would allow the work to begin sooner, Lussier said.

Farmers lament:
Interest in local food doesn’t always mean more sales for farmers

Pooh Sprague had a record year on his Plainfield farm last year. The community supported agriculture program, often called a CSA, grew from 250 to 300 boxes. There was so much interest that the family farm had to start turning away customers.

That was a complete reversal from the previous year, when Sprague thought the CSA model was headed down the toilet, as he puts it.

But Sprague isn’t counting on the boom to last, and he’s not the only farmer who is approaching the future with caution.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who feels it’s the new normal,” he said. “Our feeling is we don’t know what our future looks like so let’s approach each year with a little bit of conservatism.”

Sprague has been farming for the better part of 50 years, and in that time he’s seen some pretty significant changes in the way people buy local food.

When he got his start in the 1970s, farming was a different animal, Sprague said. With his wife, they started a pick-your-own strawberry operation.

“Back then, if you weren’t milking cows, you were just some hippie growing vegetables,” he said. Their operation gained legitimacy when the couple started selling what they were growing. By 1981, they were full-time, full-fledged farmers at Edgewater Farms, where they’ve been farming ever since.

But the people who come to the farm now for pick-your-own are different.

“Fifty years ago, people picked to freeze, they picked to process, they picked for diabetic friends,” Sprague said. “The pick-your-owners were much more serious and focused.”

That translated into sales, too. Sprague said the average purchase then was twice what it is today. Today’s pickers come for what Sprague calls “agri-tainment.” They amble through the fields, with strollers and gaggles of kids in tow.

And the way people consume local food has changed as well.

Karl Johnson, the president of the board of directors of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire, remembers growing up in Nashua at a time when people got their food from a lot of different sources — as opposed to the one-stop shopping big-box stores offer consumers today.

“We used to have a fish man, and we used to have a bread man that would come to our house,” Johnson said. “There was a meat market not far from our house and my parents used to buy meat there.”

Now, local food producers have to compete with the convenience of grocery stores that gather all of those products under one roof.

“There’s a convenience that we can’t beat about buying your toilet paper and lettuce at the same place,” Sprague said.

So as great as last year was for Edgewater Farm, Sprague is moving into the next growing seasons with caution.

This stance is supported in part because, beyond anecdotes, there is surprisingly little information available to farmers or anyone in agriculture about the local food economy in New Hampshire.

That’s something Jess Carson and Analena Bruce are trying to change.

What we don’t know

Carson and Bruce are researchers at the University of New Hampshire. Carson is a sociologist and research professor, and Bruce’s work focuses on agriculture and food systems. She also heads up the Food Systems Lab at UNH.

The questions Carson and Bruce are interested in answering have to do with how people engage with local food: what barriers prevent people from buying it and what opportunities exist to strengthen the food system.

“We don’t have a lot of high-quality representative data that can answer those questions for us,” Carson said.

So the researchers pulled together a few questions about local food consumption to tack onto a UNH poll, with the goal of using the information they gleaned to apply for a federal grant. If awarded, that grant would allow them to study in greater depth how to strengthen the local food system.

What we do know

The poll — whose results were published at the end of June — shows that most Granite Staters do buy local food occasionally: About 50 percent of residents report buying local food a few times a month. And 80 percent have bought local farm food in the past year. Carson and Bruce co-authored the brief along with Isaac Leslie.

“That level of participation is not enough to really support a strong market, a sufficient and reliable market for New Hampshire farmers,” Bruce said.

“Granite Staters enjoy (local food) occasionally, but it’s not a part of people’s regular food shopping routine,” she said.

More farmers are needed to increase food production, but that won’t happen if farmers aren’t confident in having a reliable market — which Bruce says is currently a limitation that’s preventing new farmers from getting their start.

Farmers are already up against a lot of uncertainty. “There’s a lot of variables in terms of where the stuff is sold,” Sprague said. On top of that, “We’re in the middle of a goddamn drought here.”

“There’s no guarantee we’ll have a potato crop. That’s six acres of potatoes that could go away because we just can’t take care of everything when it gets really bad.”

Sprague said climate change is a challenge. He’s noticed winters getting more moderate, and so far this year there haven’t been any real rain events. And there are none in the forecast, either.

Money isn’t everything

The poll also revealed that engagement in the local food system varies greatly from county to county. Some of those results came as a surprise, even to experts who have been working in local agriculture for decades.

“I was frankly surprised,” said Johnson, of the Organic Food Association. “I would have thought that it might be Hillsborough and Merrimack that would be the top counties, and maybe Rockingham because they’re the most upscale counties in New Hampshire.”

Johnson isn’t alone in thinking that way. The researchers themselves acknowledge that cost can be a barrier, especially for low-income residents who can have a hard time affording the often higher price you pay for a local product. Low-income residents may also have a harder time accessing the food because of issues like the transportation to get to a farmers market or a farm stand.

But the poll shows that just having the means to purchase local food isn’t a guarantee that people will buy it.

“In Rockingham, their income is high, and their engagement was the lowest of everybody,” Carson said. Thirty percent of Rockingham County residents reported never buying local farm foods.

This may be, in part, because buying local foods is also about values.

“Not everyone shares the same values,” said Bruce, whose work focuses on what she calls value space food supply chains or alternative food networks. Buying local food can be a way of expressing a commitment to environmental concerns, for example.

“Local is one of many values,” she said. And it overlaps with many other values like environmental sustainability, equity in the food system, and economic and community development in rural communities.

The secret sauce?

The poll found that the highest engagement with local food came along the border with Vermont.

Carson said she’s curious to follow whatever is happening along the Vermont border that’s driving engagement.

“It seems to be some kind of unique combo,” she said. “What’s the secret sauce in Vermont?”

Johnson said Cheshire, Sullivan, and Grafton counties are also probably the biggest farming counties. So there’s an abundance of local food being produced and available for purchase in those counties.

Still, across the state and region, researchers and local food advocates say there’s room for improvement.

“One of the positive aspects I guess of the COVID crisis is that I think that it sparked a lot more interest in local foods,” Johnson said.

Certain foods weren’t available during the pandemic, and some people were more cautious about where they were getting their food and who was handling it. Johnson said the pandemic made people think more about both food safety and sustainability.

“What we’d like to do is keep that momentum going,” Johnson said.

New England produces only 12 percent of the food it consumes, Bruce said. The researchers are interested in better understanding how to increase that percentage. And based on the poll, they see a lot of opportunity to do that.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to support farmers in supplying more of the foods that we need through increasing public participation in local food systems,” Bruce said.

But part of acting on that opportunity is understanding the barriers that are preventing people from buying local.

Beyond price, other barriers include choice and ease of access. Those barriers are largely logistical, but the researchers also pointed to cultural differences that can affect who buys local food and how often.

“People’s food choices are really shaped by the identity that they share with their cultural group,” Bruce said.

And Carson pointed to Vermont’s food culture and the “spillover effect” it was having along the border between the two states.

“It’s the local food culture, the opportunities, the word of mouth,” Carson said. “That context is more available on the Vermont side.”

Plus, there are certain demographics of the population — like white, female, high-educated shoppers — that are more likely to visit farmers markets, according to Carson.

And that’s an area where the federal grant proposal could help the researchers increase their sample size to be representative of Black, Hispanic, and low-income consumers to get a better sense of what’s working for them and what isn’t.

“This was really a small set of pilot questions to set the stage for the larger study that we’re developing,” Bruce said. “So, absolutely, this is just the beginning.