Ella Armstrong grew up on a 129-acre farm in Calais, where her family ran a small dairy until 2015. When she inherited the property, she knew she wanted it to remain a farm, as did her neighbors. She decided to work with VLT’s Farmland Access Program to conserve the land and find a new farmer to buy it.
By selling a conservation easement that limits development, subdivision, and protects water quality, Ella was able to offer the farm at a reduced price to farmer Mike Betit.
“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.”
Mike has farmed for 17 years as part of Tamarack Hollow Farms, raising livestock and then organic vegetables. “[Farmers] need security and ownership,” stated Mike. “The Farmland Access Program is the perfect way to bridge the gap between what farms sell for on the open market and what a young farmer can reasonably afford to pay.”
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.
“Hoolie Flats Farm is my new business,” he explained. “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.”
The community was also interested in protecting wetland areas and public access to Pekin Brook for fishing and swimming. Public 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,” said Denise Wheeler, chair of the Calais Selectboard, which voted to contribute $30,000 from the town’s conservation fund as recommended by the conservation commission.
Funding provided by VHCB (with matching funds from USDA NRCS), the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, the Town of Calais, The Nature Conservancy under a grant from Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., and individual donors.
Photos of farm and brook by Paul E. Richardson