At Mighty Food Farm, the term “community-supported agriculture” applies to far more than the weekly food share program many have become familiar with.
Community support has come in many ways, most notably when the farm’s owner, Lisa MacDougall, wanted to buy land of her own. She had been farming on leased land in Pownal for more than a decade as she built her popular business. But, buying property on a farming income was proving difficult.
“I stopped looking, and then this farm came up,” Lisa said, referring to a horse, beef, and maple farm in Shaftsbury, previously owned by Owen and Kathy Beauchesne. The scenic and fertile farm was being offered though VLT’s Farmland Access program. “I decided to come check it out and put in my proposal. I was all in; it’s just a really good fit for me.”
Community members and loyal customers chipped in to help VLT purchase a conservation easement, which restricts the land to agricultural use and reduced its sale price. This made it possible for Lisa to buy the farm.
“I wholeheartedly believe what the Vermont Land Trust does is awesome, and it changed my life,” Lisa said. “I have a renewed sense of my business.”
Now, she’s making plans for the future, as she transitions the property into a certified organic vegetable farm. Growing tomatoes, lettuce, onions, potatoes, winter squash, and more, Lisa is supplying her year-round CSA, farmers’ markets, and wholesale accounts in and out of state.
“People were incredibly excited when we contacted them about this project,” said VLT’s Donald Campbell, who worked with Lisa and the Beauchesnes. “The community’s support for Lisa and her business was tremendous.”
The Beauchesnes, who had first approached VLT years before they decided to relocate, wanted their farm to stay in agricultural use. Through partial owner financing, they gave VLT time to find the right farmer and fundraise for the conservation easement.
“Owen and Kathy were happy to know that all the care they had taken with their land would benefit Lisa and future farmers to come,” added Donald.
Lisa’s drive and skill are what led husband-and-wife Syd and Mundi Smithers of Pownal to donate to the project. “Lisa MacDougall impressed us from the get-go, with her energy and devotion to what is, in essence, a very hard job,” said Syd.
The Smithers not only donated cash for the purchase, they also let Lisa use their truck and trailer after they found out she planned to move by towing a trailer with her tractor. They’re happy to support the farm, which contributes to their quality of life.
“If you like good, fresh food it’s very important,” Syd said. “It’s also really important because it keeps land open, puts land into productive use, gives youngsters a job in a way that they earn some money and learn about being a farmer, and, maybe they’ll take it on themselves.”
Lisa’s business has grown to have seven full-time employees. She keeps an eye on trends and market demands, which change all the time. “I couldn’t pick enough kale a few years ago, and now they don’t want as much.” As for what’s trending? Lisa joked she wished she could grow avocados. “Radishes seem to be super hot right now,” she added. “Spinach is always a winner.”
“I try to serve customers as best I can and get as much feedback as I can to make sure economically, I’m viable, but also that they’re getting what they need,” Lisa said. “We have a great local following here: people making those personal choices to keep those dollars in the community.”
That community also made a choice to have Mighty Food Farm call Shaftsbury home. “All across the state we see people rally for farms that are important to their communities,” said Donald. “It’s critical to make sure the land that supports farms like Lisa’s is both available and affordable. Owning land helps farmers take the long view and roots them to the communities they serve.”
See Lisa and her new farm in this video from the fundraising campaign:
This article originally appeared in the Vermont Land Trust’s 2016-17 Annual Report. Story written by Sky Barsch. Photo of Lisa by David Middleton. Aerial photo by Lisa Cueman.