For generations, healers have relied upon garlic’s medicinal properties to cure infections, repel parasites, and enhance immunity. Similarly, goat’s milk has long been revered for its nutritious properties and easy digestibility.

“They’re two of the most powerful natural foods in the world,” farmer Steve Fortmann observed, recalling why he and his wife, Kathy, mindfully paired them on their Hardwick farm. Their plan is to grow NOFA-certified garlic, feed some to their goats, sell the surplus, and ferment the goats’ milk to create Fortmann’s Original Farm Dog Formula pet supplement.

“One of the problems with goats is parasite management, and garlic provides natural protection,” Steve explained. “Goats and garlic are also seasonal and peak at different times. Our farm concept is to have these two things complement each other ecologically and also to spread out labor through the seasons.”

The power of partnership also figured prominently when the Fortmanns and VLT united to conserve 134 acres of farmland and forest on Bridgman Hill Road. The collaboration provided necessary capital to strengthen their business.

“Vermont’s family-scale dairy farms are vanishing right before our eyes,” Steve observed. “The family farms from the Quebec migration generation were the backbone of many good things about Hardwick and Vermont—neighbors helping neighbors, haying and sugaring, kids working hard to help their parents, animals putting nutrients on the land.”

“Hardwick needs conserved farms so that a new generation of farmers has a chance to discover viable ways to continue these traditions,” he added.

Fortmann family around picnic table
The venture is, in every sense, a long way from their home in Hawaii, where Kathy and Steve rounded out their Navy careers. Kathy grew up in Kaneohe, on Oahu’s eastern shore, where Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Hawaiian cultures converge, and food can be grown year round.

A Massachusetts native, Steve’s experience of Vermont began early: “I had family friends in Hardwick and started helping out with their dairy farm. I was looking for a place for our family to farm when I finished my time in the military and in 2007 the piece of land on Bridgman Hill became available.”

Kathy started studying agriculture as part of a program called GoFarm Hawaii, which was trying to encourage small farms to improve food security on the islands and preserve land that was coming out of sugar and pineapple production. She brought that perspective to her agricultural studies at Sterling College and to the couple’s business plan. Partnering with VLT on a conservation easement provided them with dual benefits—seed money for their business and perpetual protection of a portion of their fields and forests. Though the land’s ownership may one day change, the easement is permanent.

“Growing up, it really bothered me when a farm field would give way to development, in Vermont and all over New England,” Steve said. “I learned about the Vermont Land Trust at an early age and always wanted to support their mission. While living overseas in Germany, I witnessed how, even with a high population density, agricultural land could be carefully preserved. When we needed capital to create a new farm in Hardwick, we sought out the Vermont Land Trust.”

Funded by the Freeman Foundation. (June 2018) 

Story written by Lynn Adamo. Photos by Caleb Kenna.