Six years ago, Karin Bellemare and Jon Wagner started an organic vegetable farm from scratch on a farm in South Barre. The farm hadn’t been active for many years, the land wasn’t tilled, and there were no greenhouses or crop storage facilities. Now Bear Roots Farm is a thriving place, with productive fields, greenhouses, and other essential infrastructure. Karin and Jon have become mainstays at the Montpelier farmers’ market and providers of organic produce to restaurants and co-ops.
They were able to buy their farm by working with VLT’s Farmland Access Program. As the business grew, they plowed and prepared more of their land. However, they realized that in order to maintain healthy soils, eliminate pest problems, and retain employees year-round they needed yet more land.
Several miles away in Williamstown, retired dairy farmers Gary and Susan Storrs were thinking of selling a farm they conserved with VLT back in 1995. They enlisted the Farmland Access Program to help them find a farmer to buy their land. Karin and Jon were chosen through a competitive business-proposal process. The new land will allow them to have longer crop rotations, which will help with pest issues, while also allowing them to expand production. Their full-time farm manager will be able to live in the farmhouse located on the new farmland.
To make the new farm more affordable for Karin and Jon, VLT worked with the Storrs on additional conservation restrictions. By including what is known as an ‘option to purchase at agricultural value’ (OPAV) in their conservation easement, the Storrs ensured that the land would remain available to farmers. The OPAV gives VLT the right to buy the land at its agricultural value if an owner tries to sell the land to someone without farming experience or a farm-business plan.
Karin and Jon have gotten off to a good start by using 10 acres for crops this year, while they cover crop and prepare another 30 to 40 acres. Overall the farm has about 100 acres of cropland, all of which they will eventually use for field rotations.
Funded by VHCB. Karin and Jon secured a portion of their financing through the USDA Farm Service Agency. (June 2018)
Photo by Paul E. Richardson