For Melissa Kosmaczewski and John Hirsch, farming was always present, always familiar. They both grew up in Pennsylvania. As a child, John said, he “watched everyone around us working on their large corn and bean farms.” Melissa, too, grew up surrounded by agriculture: “My Dad’s good friend owned a large dairy right down the road.”
The couple farmed for two years in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley on the farm owned by John’s parents. His parents’ decision to sell that land prompted John and Melissia’s move to Vermont, with the dream of farming here. Through VLT’s Farmland Access Program, they heard about the Bagley Farm in Granville.
Dairy farmer Gene Bagley conserved his farm with VLT in 1990, in the early days of farm conservation in the state. Gene had bought the farm in 1950 and lived out the rest of his life there, leaving it to his dear friends, Gordon and Charlene Waite. Knowing Gene would have liked to see the farm remain active, the Waites reached out to VLT to get help finding new farmers to take it over.
In 2015, VLT purchased the property and invited business proposals from people looking for farmland.
“We came to the open house,” Melissa says, recalling it was the first farm that checked all the boxes—from price to acreage, a house, barns, and more. They later submitted the business proposal. “We toiled over [it] for weeks, perfecting every detail.”
John and Melissa’s proposal was chosen, and VLT leased the 56-acre farm to them while they built infrastructure, cultivated land, and developed markets for their products. This summer, VLT sold the land to Melissa and John, and added further restrictions to the conservation easement that will help make sure the land is always available and affordable to future farmers.
The Farmland Access Program “saved us a lot of money, which is essential for young farmers,” Melissa says.
Melissa and John named their new business Clearfield Farm and grow vegetables, herbs, flowers, and cover crops on 10 acres. They sell some produce wholesale, deliver to local chefs, and have an on-site farmstand. Spring through fall, they’re regulars at farmers’ markets in Rochester and Waitsfield.
Fortunately, they say, Vermonters recognize farming’s challenges. “There is a community in Vermont that understands and values the exhaustive labor that it is to run a farm,” Melissa says. “In a climate where we are losing farm families daily, we do see a true effort … from so many members of our local community to support us.”
Funded by VHCB. Melissa Kosmaczewski and John Hirsch got a portion of their financing from the USDA Farm Service Agency and Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation.
Story by Lynn Adamo. Photos courtesy of Clearfield Farm.