For immediate release: April 1, 2011
A New Farm Operation Will Be a Source of Locally Produced Food
Athens -- After a year-long local campaign, Wild Shepherd Farm is now permanently protected and owned by David Hassan and Emily Amanna, the Vermont Land Trust announced today.
The rich soils along Bull Creek will support the couple's growing dairy, vegetable, and herb operation. The farm is located in Sleepy Valley on Route 35 just south of the Route 121/35 intersection in Athens.
The former Sleepy Valley Farm has a deep agricultural history. From 1920 until the mid-'60s, Alfred and Winifred Kelton operated the farm and had a famous herd of Brown Swiss cows. The family would bring their fresh milk by mule, and later by truck, to the Bellows Falls Cooperative Creamery. Alfred was a well-known showman, taking his prize cows to many state and local competitions. Later, the farm was owned by the Bills, the Knights, and most recently Stephen McAllister and Dorothy Compton, who leased the land for hay.
With the help of the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) and its Farmland Access Program, David and Emily were able to settle their expanding operation and revitalize the farm. VLT created the Farmland Access Program to provide enterprising farmers with access to high-quality, affordable farmland. This is done by matching farmers with farmland for sale and using conservation to offset the cost of the land. VLT also matches farmers with affordable lease opportunities and works with communities to make sure important farmland stays in production.
"David and Emily were one of the first farmland seekers to enroll in the Farmland Access Program," said Jon Ramsay, who directs the program. "Their search for farmland started nearly 10 years ago, and through dedication and perseverance, they have succeeded."
David and Emily have planted over 30,000 garlic bulbs and will graze their cows and sheep, add 65-75 ewes, and renovate the barn for cheese production. They will primarily produce sheep cheese, but will also blend sheep and cow's milk for different varieties. They grow other vegetables and meat seasonally, which they sell at their farmstand and at local farmers' markets.
"We're ecstatic to finally be putting down roots, and look forward to a lifetime dedicated to this land," said Emily Amanna. "It is the conservation of this farmland that has allowed this to become reality. This project has not only given Wild Shepherd Farm a chance to thrive, but has also secured the land as a working farm for generations to come. We are deeply grateful to the Vermont Land trust for the immense energy that was dedicated, for the generous contributions from our community members, and the endless support from family and friends."
The conservation of Sleepy Valley Farm will also establish a trail that crosses the valley from the Pinnacle ridgeline through the former Lake Trust property, connecting to old roads and trails that run throughout the 800-acre Grafton Improvement Association forest.
In addition, the conservation easement will establish a vegetative buffer along two-thirds of a mile of Bull Creek, a tributary of the Saxtons River. Areas will be fenced off to grazing animals and shrubs and trees will be planted to restore vegetation. The goal is to allow the stream to naturally stabilize, improve water quality and stream habitat, and reduce erosion hazards downstream.
Shannon Pytlick, River Scientist with the VT Agency of Natural Resources said, "This project has been a great opportunity to partner with VLT, the USDA, and a private landowner to meet multiple objectives. We used state funds to match federal dollars to conserve farmland, protect the stream ecosystem, and improve water quality."
A $303,803 grant was awarded by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to support this farm project and over $125,000 was raised locally from donors in Athens, Grafton, and neighboring towns, including a generous grant of $15,000 from the Windham Foundation.
This 172-acre farm conservation project was accomplished simultaneously with the acquisition of the Lake Trust land (a 203-acre woodland parcel) by the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association. Now, 375 acres of farm and woodlands are conserved and a recreational trail crosses Sleepy Valley from the Pinnacle ridgeline and connects with old roads and trails in Grafton.