Longway Farm, Conserved 1995
When faced with the state of the dairy industry, Dick Longway reflects on his humble origins. His father and grandfather spent their lives working on farms they didn’t own. “I started from nothing,” he says about buying the home farm in 1979. “I had $300 in my checking account and was milking 45 cows.” It’s a memory that keeps Dick smiling through the tough times. “At least I know I’ll get out better than I got in.”
Dick and his sons, Travis and Adam, now milk about 400 cows and are raising 300 heifers and calves. And they are showing no signs of giving up. The growth of Dick’s dairy operation can be traced back to the conservation of their land in 1995. “Business-wise, conservation was a great decision,” says Dick. The Longways were able to invest the proceeds from selling the development rights to their farm into buying a neighboring farm, which had also been conserved through VLT.
For the Longways, conservation has also meant protecting water quality. They’ve put in fences to keep cows out of sensitive areas and have set aside 25 feet of protective buffer along streams. “My grandkids are going to be down in those brooks playing and catching frogs,”says Dick, who serves on the board of the Franklin and Grand Isle Farmer’s Watershed Alliance.
The Graf Farm, Conserved 1990
For Jeremy Russo, his grandfather’s act to conserve the family farm almost 20 years ago is exactly what made farming possible today. Jeremy grew up just down the road from the Mettowee Valley land his family had farmed since the turn of the 19th century. Jeremy spent a lot of time on the farm as a kid—it’s where he and his brothers would go to get out of their parents’ hair.
None of Jeremy’s grandfather’s three daughters wanted to take over the farm, so he was forced to sell his cows in 1986. The land was conserved with VLT in 1990. “My grandfather told me, ‘I could have sold it for development and retired in Florida’,” Jeremy remembers. “I was a teenager and I knew what was happening but I didn’t really understand it. Looking back now, I see conservation kept it in the family.”
Jeremy went to college and ended up working for Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords in Washington. In 2000, when his grandfather passed away, Jeremy returned to Vermont. “It was sort of a now or never moment,” says Jeremy. “I knew at some point I’d like to have my own herd. By the following September I had cows.”
Jeremy now has over 100 milking cows and close to 100 young cattle. After initially renting from his grandmother, Jeremy and his wife ended up purchasing the farm in 2007. “The fact that it’s conserved meant we could actually come to the table,” remarks Jeremy, noting real estate prices near Manchester. “If it weren’t conserved, the value would have been so high that we wouldn’t have even been in the room.”
Moulton Farm, Conserved 2009
Blair Moulton has also observed increasing real estate prices around his farm in the Northeast Kingdom. Blair and his brother Jay are the third generation to farm along Echo Lake. Over the past 30 years, they’ve watched their quiet farming community transform into a tourist destination.
As owners of the last lakefront farm, you might think the Moultons would consider cashing in on the desirable property under their cows’ hooves. “Subdivision was never an issue,” says Blair. “Development was never an option for us. We wanted to keep the land open.”
Last December, the Moultons conserved their 168-acre dairy farm with VLT. Blair recognizes that every farmer is in a slightly different situation, but for him, Jay, and their mother, Geraldine, conservation just made sense. “We sold the development rights and paid off our debt,” explains Blair. “And that’s what allowed us to keep operating.” At a time when farmers are digging into savings to keep afloat, the Moultons were able to purchase 104 acres that they had been renting from an uncle for haying and pasturing their 150 cows.
The Moultons’ neighbors in the Echo and Seymour Lakes community didn’t want to see Echo Lake Farm developed either. The community rallied together to raise over $92,000 for the conservation effort, a gift that helped protect this piece of Vermont’s working landscape for future generations.
For the Moultons, Longways, and Russos, conservation was an important tool to stay in business and transition from one generation to the next. Despite the ups and downs of the dairy industry, conservation is one piece of the financial puzzle that will help keep Vermont’s dairy farms alive.