Anyone who has driven east out of St. Johnsbury on Route 2 has likely noticed the century-old barn bearing the words “Locust Grove Farm” on its weathered siding. The farm is situated between Route 2 and the Moose River and is home to a new and growing business: Roots Too Farm.
The future of the farm wasn’t so certain after long-time owner Edith Patenaude passed away in 2013. Edith and her husband, Wayne, ran a dairy there from 1963 into the 1990s. The couple’s six children admired their parents’ deep connection to farming and to the land, and wanted to honor that connection when they inherited the property.
“We put it on the market with hopes someone would consider keeping it as a farm and not break it up,” said Deb Chase, Edith and Wayne’s daughter. “But traditional real estate doesn’t lend itself well to those options.”
Deb learned about conservation through a friend, and in 2014, she contacted VLT. It was the beginning of fruitful relationship that resulted in their parents’ farm being permanently protected. “The land trust became interested in not only the conservation piece but also in putting the farm through the Farmland Access Program,” Deb recalled. “That really impressed me, that there would be an outcome more in keeping with what we were hoping for.”
As part of the Farmland Access Program—which helps farmers with new and growing businesses find affordable land—VLT used its revolving loan fund to buy the 35-acre property while looking for farmers who would revitalize the land. The plan was to lease the land to the selected farmers while the money was raised for conservation. Then, the farmers could buy the land at its affordable, agricultural value. After a public proposal process, VLT chose a couple with a strong business plan.
Susan Monahan and Hisa Kominami met while studying plant and soil science at UVM. When they applied to the Farmland Access Program, they were employed in agricultural services, she with the Extension Service in St. Albans, and he with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Newport.
Susan and Hisa proposed cultivating vegetables, strawberries, flowers, and blueberries, and raising beef cattle. They had done their homework. “We visited the farm and considered what makes sense for the land and for the community,” said Susan. “We made contact with local farmers’ markets and co-ops to see if there would be room for new farmers.”
In March 2015, Susan and Hisa began leasing the farm. They planted strawberries and many vegetables and flowers. In their first year they sold products at the Littleton, NH farmers’ market while planning for a CSA. This February, they were able to purchase the farm outright with financing from the USDA Farm Service Agency. Now, in their second year, they can also be found at the St. Johnsbury farmers’ market.
The CSA has a small but enthusiastic following. People also stop by to pick up vegetables at an honor-system farm store that Susan and Hisa built in the old milk room. They have a guest book there, in which people have expressed their happiness that the old farm is vibrant once again. Passers-by will now see several yearling Belted Galloways grazing the fields, as the couple has branched out into pastured beef. ”We plan to improve the soil fertility through intensively managing grazing animals plus implementing long-term rotations of field crops, which will give the soils time to rest and re-build,” explained Susan.
In addition to conserving land for farming, water quality and habitat for aquatic species were also protected. The farm has nearly a mile of frontage on the Moose River, and historically it had been farmed to the water’s edge. Now there is a 50-foot-wide buffer of natural vegetation between the farmed land and the river. A total of five acres were taken out of production and 1,800 trees were planted in the buffer zone. Several agencies and nonprofits are involved in a four-year program to eradicate invasive Japanese knotweed to allow for a more effective buffer.
While Susan had worked on a number of farms, neither she nor Hisa had ever owned land. The experience has been daunting and wonderful at the same time. Their neighbor Art Patenaude, Edith and Wayne’s son, has been a big help as they’ve adjusted to the property, even lending a hand to fix their tractor. “We’ve totally loved working with VLT and the Patenaude family,” said Susan. “We are excited to create a diverse farm, produce local food, have animals, and create a way for the community to experience the farm.”
This story appeared in our 2015-16 Annual Report. Photography by Caleb Kenna.