For immediate release: June 22, 2012
Weathersfield--With nearly forty different kinds of organic vegetables available for purchase, 80 enthusiastic CSA members, and six drop-off sites in towns ranging from Ascutney to Putney, new customers would never suspect Deep Meadow Farm just moved to its new location in Weathersfield this past April.
But that is precisely when farmer Jon Cohen and his partner, Ruth Nangeroni, bought the 59-acre property on the banks of the Connecticut River with the help of the Vermont Land Trust's Farmland Access Program.
When asked when the couple would have been able to purchase a large farm like the one they now own, Cohen gave a frank one word answer: "never." Although he and Nangeroni had run a successful farm and CSA on leased land in Westminster for eight years, they would have been unable to afford such a large property without the Vermont Land Trust's (VLT) support.
They are not alone. One of the biggest obstacles most farmers face when they start out or want to expand their agricultural business is purchasing or leasing affordable farmland.
In 2004, the VLT established the Farmland Access Program to help farmers overcome this hurdle. There are currently 140 farmers on their list who are looking for farms. By providing opportunities for farmers to purchase or lease affordable farmland, the program supports local communities and local food production.
With just under a half-mile of Connecticut River frontage and acres of high-quality, level agricultural soil, VLT deemed Deep Meadow Farm's new location a priority to protect for agricultural use. Formerly the Kelley Farm, a well-known landmark in the Town of Weathersfield, the parcel had not been farmed for years. The farm was protected with the sale of a conservation easement—a legal tool that limits future development.
State, federal, and private funding made it possible for the VLT to conserve the farm and make it affordable for purchase by a farmer. Grants were received form a private foundation and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), matched by the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and managed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Over the years, financial assistance from VHCB and NRCS have helped VLT permanently protect some of the state's highest quality agricultural resources.
Once it had acquired the property, the VLT issued a public request for proposal that asked farmers interested in purchasing the land to submit a viable business plan. Cohen and Nangeroni were selected from a highly competitive group of applicants, according to the Farmland Access Program's Director Jon Ramsay, based on the strength of their business plan and their track record successfully managing another operation.
The couple purchased the farm for roughly half the price the land trust acquired it for. The resale price reflected the farm's agricultural value as a result of a permanent conservation easement. The Town of Weathersfield's Planning Commission and Selectboard were unanimously in favor of the property becoming a working farm again.
Thanks to the VLT's efforts, some of the Upper Valley's most fertile farmland is being cultivated once more. In addition to creating new jobs, Deep Meadow Farm is putting more fresh, local produce on Vermonters' tables. The farm has three greenhouses and a three-season hoop house that will extend the farm's growing season.
Deep Meadow also has facilities for processing vegetables and a cold-storage facility that will enable it to offer root vegetables in the winter. The farm has seven employees and plans to double its staff's size during the next few years.
Cohen and Nangeroni are excited about helping to strengthen the local economy and food system. With more space, they can now raise animals and offer a much wider variety of crops. Patrons can find their diverse assortment of vegetables, fresh flowers, herbs, eggs and pork at their farm stand and at the Ascutney, Bellows Falls, Chester, and West River Farmer's Markets. The farm supplies produce to many local retailers, including the Springfield, Brattleboro and Putney Co-ops. Food establishments on its growing client list span from Burdick's Restaurant in Walpole, New Hampshire to the Heritage Bakery in Chester, Vermont. Clients also can order Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys from the farm. Next year, Deep Meadow will offer soft fruits, including strawberries and blueberries.