Protecting Family Farms and Local Food
Farm businesses on conserved land produce over 500 products.
Some well-known items include yogurt, cheese, apples, preserves, honey, meats, and some of the finest milk around. See how some of these numbers add up here.
Conserved farms also support many Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) enterprises and farmstands. Visit our farmstands page for listings, products, and locations.
And, conserved farms contribute to retail and wholesale markets, selling milk and other foods both in and out of state. Farm and farm-related sectors are responsible for 17 percent of Vermont’s gross state product and generate 11 percent of jobs in the state; these jobs account for nearly $60 million in the local economy.
The Long-term Viability of Agriculture
We believe that conserving farmland ensures the long-term viability of agriculture for Vermont’s future.
Protecting family farms from development and disuse was an important driver in the creation of the Vermont Land Trust over thirty years ago. At the time, Vermont's traditional dairies were rapidly closing under pressure from out-of-state, industrial-scale farming and rising land prices as Vermont became a more desirable place to live or to have a second home.
While pressures on family farms—in particular, conventional dairies—are still adversely affecting the number of operating Vermont farms, of the more than 900 farm and farmland parcels that have been conserved, nearly all of them are still in productive use.
By selling conservation easements on their land, farmers receive the development value of their property and often use this money to invest in the farm, pay down debts, or finance generational transfers of the land.
Since conserved farmland cannot be developed, the land remains open and available for farming.
To further support continued agricultural use of conserved farmland, we have added provisions to our farmland conservation easements that give us either the right of first refusal should a conserved farm come up for sale, and more recently, the option to buy a conserved farm that is on market for its agricultural value.
While we don't often exercise these rights, when we do, we will sell the farm to a qualified farmer with a good business plan at an affordable price as a component of our Farmland Access Program.
How we Decide Which Farms to Conserve
Financial support for farmland conservation has come from our members, the Freeman Foundation, and most often, from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), which receives state funds and matching federal money from the Farm Bill. Over 20 years ago, Vermont made land conservation—especially farm conservation—through VHCB a priority: the results of this are evident in the hundreds of farms still in productive use.
There is, of course, not enough money to conserve every farm. Decisions about how to allocate these funds must be made. Regardless of the type of farm, the most important question we ask is, “How likely is this farmland to stay in production into the future?” The answer to this question of long-term viability depends on four criteria:
- The land itself. Substantial acreage with high-quality agricultural soils (classified as prime or statewide-significant soils by NRCS) along with a farm’s topography and field access, are critical to its viability. Strong potential for diverse agricultural uses, such as vegetable, meat, or cheese production, increases this viability.
- Location. Farms situated in a farming community are key. If the farm is under significant threat of conversion to non-farm use, and if that conversion would be detrimental to other farms in the area, the farm will be given special consideration.
- Farm infrastructure. Buildings and equipment that are in good condition and are suitable to the existing or proposed farm operation are valued.
- Management. Sound resource management practices appropriate to the farm should be in place. These include practices that build the long-term productivity of the farm’s natural resources.
How Much Farmland Is Conserved?
There is still much work to be done to protect our most productive agricultural soils from development.
Only 10 percent of Vermont’s highest-rated agricultural soils have been conserved. Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, Orleans, Rutland, and Windsor counties are each home to over 100,000 acres of soils rated as prime and statewide-significant; yet, in each county, less than 20 percent of this soil is protected. The numbers vary for other counties, in some as little as four percent of the best soil has been conserved.
These precious and highly productive soils are the lifeblood of Vermont’s agricultural economy. Conserving this land is crucial to maintaining Vermont’s food security, rural landscape, and farming heritage. If this land is developed, or used for purposes other than agriculture, the productive value of these soils will be lost forever. Only through conservation can we ensure that the best soils are available for Vermont’s farmers.