Bread and Butter Farm feeds the community that invested in it
The Leduc family had been farming their land in South Burlington and Shelburne for three generations when Maurice Leduc, nearing retirement age, sold the cows in 2004. The five Leduc siblings, who owned the farm together, were faced with some tough choices about what to do with the land.
Sarah Dopp grew up in South Burlington's first suburban development when most of the city was farmland. Today, she lives in an old barn surrounded by the last cluster of working farms. In the early 1990s, Sarah attended a meeting of citizens discussing their vision for South Burlington's future. A few meetings later, she was leading the newly formed South Burlington Land Trust (SBLT).
Sarah's neighbors include the Leduc family. Around the time that SBLT started, the Leducs were thinking about the future of their land. Sarah began gently urging them to consider conserving it.
Many realtors were interested in developing the 144-acre property, but with their strong connection to the farm, the Leducs did not want to see their fields covered in houses. "This is a beautiful farm with lots of natural features," says Jeanne Leduc. "Once land is gone, it is gone." So, the Leducs began to seriously pursue conservation.
"It was a hard job to get everyone in the family on the same page, but everyone is happy with how it turned out," says Jeanne. Sarah and the South Burlington Land Trust lent their support in community outreach. "We knew we didn't need to reinvent the wheel; we decided we would partner with Vermont Land Trust and others who already had conservation expertise," says Sarah about conserving the land.
The Leducs conserved their land in 2009 through the sale of an easement to VLT, with significant financial backing from the City of South Burlington, the Town of Shelburne, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and SBLT. The conservation easement includes an affordability provision to keep the land in the hands of working farmers. Also included in the easement is a provision for a trail, which will connect to the South Burlington trail networks. When the trail is completed, people will be able to enjoy views of Shelburne Pond, miles of paths through woods and fields—all while seeing farm activities throughout the seasons.
VLT used its Farmland Access Program to find new farmers who would purchase the Leducs' land. Corie Pierce and Adam Wilson, classmates from a farming apprenticeship program in California, had talked for five years about joining forces and combining Corie's year-round vegetable production with Adam's bakery and small-scale dairy. The opportunity came suddenly, and they seized it.
When Adam heard about the Leduc Farm, he was milking Jersey cows on rented land in Essex and selling his bread at the Burlington Farmers' Market. Corie and her family had just arrived in Vermont. They submitted their application to VLT in August; by September they owned the land, and by December they had moved Adam's cows and were selling milk on-site.
Thanks to the easement, Corie and Adam were able to purchase the Leduc Farm at its agricultural value. Still, it was a substantial investment for young farmers who needed to build infrastructure to get their business up and running. "Several of my customers offered to help us," says Adam. "They came up with the idea to create a membership plan where they would pre-pay us in cash and then get a 10 percent return on their investment in the form of a 10 percent discount on food." This pay-it-forward approach allowed Adam and Corie to build the bakery and sell bread. Within a few months, their Bread and Butter Farm was up and running.
What kind of business can borrow money from its customers and pay them back in food? A "community farm," as Adam calls it. "We engage our customers in a discussion of a price system that reflects the cost of producing the food," he explains. "They can see where their dollars are going."
Adam and Corie appreciate that their "community farm" also includes the previous owners, the Leducs. "A highlight is that Maurice is excited to help us," says Adam. "He joined us for haying and he hopped on the tractor and showed us where all the exposed rocks are. He is sharing his lifetime of experience on this farm."
"He seems like he's going to be a sharp operator," says 76-year-old Maurice of 30-year-old Adam. "He knows his business; I think he'll do well. And they seem to be good neighbors."