By selling conservation easements on their farms, farmers can reinvest in their business, pay down debt, and negotiate changes in family ownership. Conserving land at the time of purchase also helps new farmers afford their first farm.
This year farmers worked with VLT to conserve 28 farms and farmland parcels. Sid Claflin was one of these farmers. Sid sold a conservation easement in order to breathe life into his family's farm in Ferrisburgh and Monkton.
While Sid had farmed the Claflin Farm alone, he owned the property with four sisters. He was forced to sell his dairy herd and take another job in 2006, but he did not want to give up farming. "I was uncomfortable putting my sisters' equity at risk," he says, so he contacted VLT's Allen Karnatz.
Sid wasn't the only one who wanted the property to remain agricultural; the town of Monkton, in which half the farm lies, provided assistance through its Agricultural and Natural Areas Fund.
In the end, Sid conserved two-thirds of the 500-acre farm. "VLT helped me to own the farm outright," he says.
Sid has since purchased a small dairy herd at a time when milk prices have improved somewhat. "Sid knows he's not doing it to get rich," says Allen. "He's doing it because this is what he wants to be doing."
Not all farmers have family farms; some start their own. This is not an easy thing in Vermont with today's land prices. Though, with some patience, hard work, and support from the community, David Hassan and Emily Amanna were able to buy their first farm this year through VLT's Farmland Access Program.
For David and Emily, the acquisition of the former Sleepy Valley Farm was the culmination of six years of trying to purchase farmland.
They have diverse agricultural backgrounds: David has worked on operations specializing in vegetables, berries, dairy, sheep cheese, and maple sugaring; and Emily,in addition to having farm experience, served as Agricultural Director at the Kindle Farm School in Newfane. With their combined experience, David and Emily felt they had everything they needed to operate a farm, everything except land.
Community involvement in the conservation of the Sleepy Valley Farm was essential to its success. The Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association (WHPA), an organization that has completed more than 10 conservation projects with VLT, also had its keen eye on Sleepy Valley Farm, along with an adjacent forested property formerly owned by Norm Lake.
By conserving both properties, WHPA saw an opportunity to connect the Pinnacle Trail with a network of trails in Grafton. "We realized we could work together with VLT," says WHPA President Camilla Roberts. "The two parcels together were more exciting than either one alone."
So with two organizations working together to raise the money for a project that spanned three towns (Athens, Rockingham, and Grafton), and two farmers eager to own their own land but struggling to do so, a sweeping and complex project ensued.
In the end, David and Emily were able to buy their farm (renamed Wild Shepherd Farm), 375 acres were conserved between the two properties, native brook trout habitat was protected, and public access to seven miles of trails was guaranteed.
David and Emily moved into their new home, with its red barn and silos across the road, and set about the real work, which for them includes growing 30,000 garlic bulbs; raising grass-fed beef, pork, and lamb; and cultivating a one-acre vegetable garden. "We don't get many breaks," says David, holding his three-year-old son.
Not much in agriculture comes easily, but farms like David and Emily's and Sid's provide locally grown food, contribute to our farm economy, and sustain a landscape that connects us with our state's heritage. Together with the ingenuity and hard work of farmers, farmland conservation supports the health of our communities, the strength of our economy, and the quality of our lives.