Vershire—Sabra Ewing and Sebastian Lousada of Flag Hill Farm worked with the Vermont Land Trust to permanently protect 239 acres of farmland and forest from development and subdivision. As part of the project, the couple also ensured public access to the westernmost section of the Cross Vermont Trail, which leads up to Flag Pole Hill.

The couple became interested in conserving their land through the Taylor Valley Conservation Project, a community-led initiative to conserve land within a 17,800-acre region. This area is important to protect because of large tracts of working forests, many hunting and recreation opportunities, and rare and valuable ecosystems.

“This region of Vermont is a focus for conservation,” said Bob Linck of the Vermont Land Trust, which helps to protect working farms and forestland. “Over 4,000 acres of land have been permanently conserved as a result of this work, and we would love to help other landowners consider conservation options for their own land.”

Sabra and Sebastian learned about the Taylor Valley Conservation Project during a meeting at The Mountain School in Vershire, which Sabra had attended in her youth. She vividly remembers the times she spent on the Cross Rivendell Trail and Flag Pole Hill, where a flag still flies and there are views of the surrounding valleys. “We always skied to the top of the hill, once to see the lunar eclipse,” Sabra recalled. “Twice a year we’d have meetings at the top of the hill.”

When the owners of the property and its surrounding land decided to sell, Sabra and Sebastian bought the land, built their home, and started their farm business. They planted fruit and nut trees over the years, and now have more than 80 varieties of apples for hard cider and wine.

In 1984, Sabra and Sebastian established an organic cidery, Vermont Hard Cyder; later, they added a distillery. Their award-winning products are sold at the farm and at restaurants and stores across Vermont. People can visit the farm by appointment to enjoy tastings, tours, and events that Sabra and Sebastian host with other farmers.

Sabra’s experience at The Mountain School inspired her conservation ethic and sense of community. “When I was a teen and we’d ski or walk twice a week, the experience of living in a place that isn’t completely private and chopped up was amazing,” she said.

Conservation, to the couple and the Vermont Land Trust, is about protecting the lands that make our state special: working forestland, wildlife habitat, productive farmland, and waterways.