Randolph—Miles Hooper, farm manager and co-owner of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy in Randolph, is the new owner of 150 acres of scenic farmland near the Exit 4 interchange of I-89. Miles was able to buy the land—once the subject of a large development proposal—at its agricultural value by selling a conservation easement to the Vermont Land Trust. He will use the land to grow crops for the dairy, located just a few miles down Route 12. The conservation easement will ensure that the land will not be developed and will always be available for farming.

map showing property boundaries

Miles had been looking for additional farmland for some time. He was concerned that good farmland would be lost through the development proposal, so reached out to owner Sam Sammis about buying the property with the thought of conserving the best farmland. When Sam and his wife, Jinny, decided to withdraw the development application in 2016, they agreed to sell it to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy as part of a conservation effort.

The Castanea Foundation, a non-profit foundation established to help protect agriculturally productive land in Vermont and New York, served as an interim owner while conservation planning and financing could be arranged. “The protection of the Exit 4 land is part of a larger strategy to support agriculture in Vermont,” said Tim Storrow, executive director of Castanea Foundation. “It is the perfect marriage of conservation and economic development, and the protection of the Exit 4 land will allow Ayers Brook Goat Dairy to raise most of their own feed and continue to foster the development of a goat dairy industry in Vermont.”

Sam also worked with the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Preservation Trust of Vermont, which agreed to buy a separate 22-acre parcel.

Ayers Brook Goat Dairy is registered as a low-profit, limited-liability company, or L3C, with a mission to build a sustainable goat industry in Vermont. The farm currently milks more than 500 goats and sells milk to Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield and Vermont Creamery in Websterville. “This land allows us to have an inventory of high quality land that gives us security in terms of feed quantity and quality,” explained Miles. “The conservation of the Exit 4 farmland protects a critical mass of quality farmland that sustains dairies.”

Miles began leasing the land from the Castanea Foundation in 2016. “We wanted to build the soil up,” explained Miles. “It had been in corn for many years, so we planted clover and then winter rye.” The clover was used by a beekeeping friend, and the rye seed is being sold to dairy farmers for cover crops. The remaining straw will be used by Miles’s goats. Now that the soil is stabilized and improved, Miles will be transitioning the land to hay.

“Conserving the Exit 4 farmlands is a great outcome for Randolph’s vibrant farm community,” said VLT’s Britt Haselton. “Miles’s commitment to the Randolph was evident throughout the conservation process, as was his commitment to the future of Vermont’s agricultural economy.” 

Funding for the farmland conservation came from a variety of public and private sources, including  Vermont Housing & Conservation Board,  USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Castanea Foundation, John Merck Fund, and other private funders. “VHCB provided the largest single grant of Vermont’s federal farmland conservation funds to support this acquisition,” explained Gus Seelig, executive director of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board. “This funding from Natural Resources Conservation Service will contribute to maintaining our working landscape for generations to come. In addition to bolstering the farm’s land base, the sight of open farm fields along our interstate is an important element of Vermont’s appeal, both for residents and visitors to our state.

The land is part of a scenic gateway to Randolph along Route 66. In addition to protecting an open wetland and several forested streams, the easement creates an opportunity for a public recreational trail to be built in the future.