Ella Armstrong conserved a scenic and productive farm in Calais with the Vermont Land Trust and sold to the land to farmer Mike Betit, who is moved his organic vegetable business to the property.
Ella grew up on the 129-acre farm, located at the intersection of Pekin Brook, Peck Hill and George Roads. Her family ran a small dairy there until 2015. When Ella inherited the property, she knew she wanted it to remain a farm, as did her neighbors. She decided to work with the Vermont Land Trust to conserve the land and find a new farmer to buy it.
Jon Ramsay of the Vermont Land Trust felt that Ella’s farm was a good candidate for the land trust’s Farmland Access Program, which helps farmers buy their first land and start or expand businesses.
“Land is expensive in Vermont and difficult to buy on a farming income,” said Jon. “Yet, it’s these farms that make Vermont what it is.”
“This was the only way I could do it,” said Ella as she passed the ownership deed over to Mike. “Our family put so much into the land—the hard work we did—I’m glad to see it will remain a farm.”
By selling a conservation easement on the land that limits development, subdivision, and protects water quality, Ella was able to sell the farm at a reduced price to Mike.
Mike has farmed for 17 years as part of Tamarack Hollow Farms, raising livestock and then organic vegetables. He was selected to buy the land after a competitive business proposal process. The opportunity to own significant acreage meant he could expand his business.
“Hoolie Flats Farm is my new business,” explained Mike. “The foundation is growing bulk storage crops for a few large buyers in New York City…I’m looking at perennial production that makes use of the acreage that won’t work for annuals, and I’m hoping to build in a livestock component as well.”
Ella leased her farm to Mike while the conservation and fundraising process happened. In this time, he made improvements to the farmhouse and barns, and built hoophouses.
The farm wasn’t just loved by Ella, it was also very important to the community.
“The Town of Calais was very pleased to support VLT’s efforts to conserve the Armstrong Farm and bring it back to life as a working farm,” said Denise Wheeler, chair of the Calais Selectboard, which voted to contribute $30,000 from the town’s conservation fund at a recommendation of the conservation commission. “We were thrilled to see vegetables growing in the fields last summer.”
The community was also interested in protecting wetland areas and public access to Pekin Brook for fishing and swimming. Recreational access to the brook and water quality were both incorporated into the farm’s conservation protections.
“The inclusion of a river corridor easement to protect the water quality of the Pekin Brook that runs through the farm added to the value of this project to for the Town,” added Denise.
In addition to town funding, the project was made possible through funding provided by the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and The Nature Conservancy under a grant from Keurig Green Mountain, Inc.
In a strong show of support, community members closed the final fundraising gap by contributing $50,000 toward the project.
“So many people wanted this land protected,” said Jon. “We are grateful to the community and to the organizations, agencies, and businesses that made this project possible.”
Photo by Paul E. Richardson