November 13, 2018, West Haven – A farm business has found a new home in West Haven. Tanya Tolchin and Scott Hertzberg have started Otter Point Farm on 48 acres of exceptional farmland. The couple found the land by working with the Vermont Land Trust’s Farmland Access Program, which connects entrepreneurial farmers with land they can afford. The property was permanently conserved with the land trust at the time of the sale.
For several years, the farm’s previous owners, Rick and Ali Wilson, grew vegetables on the land located on Hackadam Road. When they decided it was time to sell, they reached out to the Vermont Land Trust because they wanted to make sure the farm would remain in production and that it would be protected from development.
The Vermont Land Trust maintains a list of hundreds of people looking for farmland. It contacted those on the list and advertised the opportunity as well.
Tanya and Scott, who had been farming in Maryland, were chosen to buy the farm through a competitive business proposal process. The land trust gave them a temporary loan to buy the land, while funding for conserving the land was secured through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The sale of a conservation easement—which ensures the land will not be developed and will remain available to farmers—ultimately reduced the purchase price of the farm.
“We’re both first-generation farmers,” explained Tanya. “We were looking for years for a farm. I’m originally from Connecticut and wanted to be back in New England. When we learned about the Vermont Land Trust, we started looking in Vermont. The land trust really had the farm affordability piece thought through. You can’t just protect a property, you need to make sure that farmers will be able to farm it.”
“Scott and Tanya were chosen to buy the farm because they had a lot of farming experience that seemed to be a good fit for the land, along with a lot of marketing knowledge,” explained Donald Campbell of the Vermont Land Trust.
For fifteen years Scott and Tanya operated Jug Bay Market Garden in Maryland. They grew organic vegetables and flowers and ran a 100-share CSA. More than half of their land was leased, and the couple farmed by driving between three separate locations belonging to others. The logistics and inefficiency of moving equipment around multiple locations began to take a toll. Building soil health, installing irrigation systems, and constructing farm buildings were hard, because they didn’t know if they would soon lose control of the land they used.
“We hear from many farmers who want, and need, the permanence that comes from owning the land that is your business,” explained Donald. “Ownership allows them to make long-term investments that improve both the farm and the business.”
Tanya and Scott’s new operation in Vermont has made rapid progress. They moved to the farm in January and were selling their first crops at farmers’ markets by July 4. “The land is so productive, even in this dry summer we had much more production per acre than we had anticipated,” said Scott. The previous owners had done much to improve the land, including adding wells and hoophouses, planting regenerative cover crops, clearing field edges, and maintaining the buildings.
Tanya and Scott are planning to add three new unheated hoophouses, which will be enough space to grow more tomatoes and to rotate crops. There will also be more space for winter greens like spinach. “We want to farm organically and pay attention to soil health. We hope to produce enough to sell food affordably and move into farm-to-school sales. We really care about healthy nutritious food for all,” said Tanya.
“By making farms affordable and keeping them that way through permanent conservation, we were able to help both families make sure that some of the nicest land in Rutland County will remain productive forever,” added Donald Campbell of the Vermont Land Trust.
“Helping new farmers access land and successfully establish new operations are key goals of VHCB’s Farmland Conservation and Farm & Forest Viability programs,” said Gus Seelig, Vermont Housing & Conservation Board Executive Director. “Our conservation funding made the farm’s purchase price affordable for Tanya and Scott, and business planning assistance from the Intervale Center, through VHCB’s Viability program, will provide technical support as they grow their operation.”
The financial assistance from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service have helped make it possible for Vermont to permanently protect its highest quality agricultural resources.