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Featured Stories in Our Latest Annual Report

backcountry skiersRecreation for All: Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry

1,144 acres of ski terrain and  forestland conserved and added to the Mt. Mansfield State Forest. Read more.

 

Chuda DhauraliA Return to Farming: Pine Island Farm

Colchester farm is new home for refugee farmers raising goats and growing rice and vegetables.  Read more.

 

Connecting Habitat and Neighbors: Cold Hollow to Canada

Landowners conserve wildlife habitat and prevent forest fragmentation in the northern Greens.  Read more.

 

Reunion with the Land: Nulheganaki Tribal Forest

Nulhegan Abenaki acquire tribal forest and sugarbush in Barton. Read more.

 

Balancing Timber and Habitat: Foresters for the Birds

Landowners and VLT work with Audubon to implement improvements in bird habitat on managed forestland. Read more.

Cheese and Community: Blue Ledge Farm

Family standing in a field with their goats

A Young Couple Gives New—and Different—Life to an Old Farm

Greg Bernhardt and Hannah Sessions are a married couple milking goats and making cheese for local and regional sale. The first week they lived on the small, former dairy farm they’d purchased in Leicester, however, Hannah jokes that they thought they’d bought a state park by accident.

“Everybody came around,” she said. There were neighboring farmers and families, kids playing in the yard, grownups bringing food. Everyone, it turned out, was happy to see the farm come back to life.

And it has, in a somewhat different way. On the newly conserved 105-acre parcel that the couple calls Blue Ledge Farm, their home-built milking parlor is a fraction the size of a parlor for cows. Through the inner doors, the farm’s 40 goats mill around in just the back half of the old stanchion barn. Their milk goes into a little, 250-gallon bulk tank that the new couple salvaged before another farm’s barn was demolished. And the cheesehouse, where each week Greg crafts up to 300 pounds of fresh, semi-aged, and aged goat cheese, is a truly tiny room fitted into one front corner of the barn.

Bernhardt would like to expand that part a bit — but overall, he and Sessions plan to keep the operation small. The couple likes that area people have come to know and appreciate their cheeses. They say they’re making a good living, and they want to stay connected to their customers.

“Local, artisan cheese definitely has a strong market,” Greg said. “People in this state seem to think about local foods first.”
For the Vermont Land Trust, supporting land conservation that benefits diversified farms—farms producing other commercial products than conventional dairy—has emerged as a priority.

“An agricultural economy that has diversity is a stronger economy,” said Alex Wylie, VLT’s agricultural projects director. “So we’re doing a proactive outreach to diversified farms.”

 

“Proud of What We Have Around Us”

goats in fieldAfter the couple bought the farm four years ago and began making their cheese, Hannah Sessions visited restaurants, co-ops, and food markets all around the state.

“It was a good year and a half of peddling our product,” she said. “Now the ball is rolling. People are calling us.

”The couple’s fresh chevre, semi-aged “Crottina,” and aged “La Luna” varieties are available throughout Vermont — from the Killdeer Farmstead, in Norwich, to the Brattleboro Food Co-op, the Middlebury Natural Food Co-op, and City Market, in Burlington. It’s also used by a number of restaurants in the Vermont Fresh Network, which connects local farmers and restaurants.

Just a few minutes from the farm, a colorful new French bistro in Brandon, Café Provence, features Blue Ledge cheese on its menu. When he was preparing to open, said chef/owner Robert Barral, "I went immediately to Greg and Hannah, and asked if we could use their cheese.

“It is good — very smooth,” described the French-born chef. “It’s from your area, and it’s good for you. We have to take advantage of what we have locally, to be proud of what we have around us. It’s one more reason for people to come to Brandon.”

At Blue Ledge Farm, conserving their land this year enabled Greg and Hannah to buy a new pasteurizer and lower their mortgage payments. Conservation was always part of their plan. “We feel that’s just one more aspect of being stewards of the land,” said Greg.

The couple raises chickens, pigs, and lamb for their own use, and they bake bread to sell with their cheeses at the Middlebury and Rutland farmers’ markets. Hannah’s nearby family helps out at the markets and with milking once a week; neighboring dairy farmers Steve, Kevin, Cheryl, and Evelyn Morrison have been “unbelievable,” Greg said.

“They’ll spend hours trying to solve any of our problems. They were so welcoming! I think they were excited to see this be a farm again.”

“Good neighbors, good family,” Hannah mused. “That’s how it works.”

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