May 14, 2018

Waitsfield—As owner of the Kingsbury Market Garden, Aaron Locker has become skilled at growing a lot of food on a small amount of land. This month, Aaron more than doubled his tillable land by purchasing and conserving 19 acres of farmland along the Mad River with the Vermont Land Trust. Conservation ensures the land will always be available to future farmers and improves water quality and flood resilience in the Mad River watershed.

For nine years, Aaron has grown produce for Muddy Boots, his popular multi-farm CSA, on seven tillable acres along Route 100.  Due to high demand for his regularly sold-out CSA and his newest endeavor as co-founder of the Vermont Herb Growers Cooperative, Aaron had been renting various parcels, while seeking the security and convenience of land ownership.

Aaron bought his new land from the nonprofit Mad River Valley Community Fund, which had originally received the property as a donation. The sale of the land will help MRVCF support those in need of housing, heat, or other essentials. In addition to the 19 acres of farmland conserved by VLT, the property includes 49 acres of woodland that are not conserved.

For Locker, the purchase of the land provides the chance to grow and diversify his business, which has expanded since he purchased the conserved Kingsbury Farm from the Vermont Foodbank in 2015. When Aaron learned of the new parcel, he approached the Vermont Land Trust about conserving the farmland. As the owner of the conserved Kingsbury Farm, he was familiar with the land trust. Selling a conservation easement on the land made the purchase more affordable.

“I’m thrilled to be able to buy this additional land,” said Aaron. “It’s close enough to move equipment between the two sites, which really helps with efficiency of my operation.” He plans to pursue organic certification for the Butternut Hill property by seeding the property in hay over the next three years, after which he will transition to produce and herbs.  

The Vermont Land Trust purchased the conservation easement with funding from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, which was matched by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation also provided funding for restrictions that will promote water quality.  

The project will contribute to the health of the Mad River by allowing it to change course without interference from dredging or manmade structures. Providing this capacity for movement will reduce erosion and flooding damage to other properties in the community. Additionally, a 50’ wide buffer of vegetation along the property’s quarter mile of river frontage will increase the stability of the bank and reduce sediments entering the river. The riverbank’s existing vegetation was improved with a tree planting recently carried out by Vermont Land Trust staff and volunteer service members from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s ECO AmeriCorps program. Funding and technical assistance for the planting was provided by the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.  

“So often a real estate sale results in the loss of farmland,” said Liza Walker of the Vermont Land Trust. “This time, thanks to the patience of the Mad River Valley Community Fund and Aaron’s willingness to sell the development rights at a significant discount, we can celebrate a fantastic outcome. This land is now farmer-owned, and this stretch along the Mad River will benefit the whole community—with greater flood resilience, water quality and the scenic beauty of our open landscape.”