November 15, 2018, Calais – Sam Ehrenfeld and Brooke Remmers are the proud new owners of a 137-acre farm in Calais that was conserved with the Vermont Land Trust. They worked with the land trust’s Farmland Access Program to establish a diversified livestock business, Schoolhouse Farm.
Like a lot of farmers looking to start their own business, Brooke and Sam worked a variety of farm and farm-related jobs in Vermont and New York to gain the experience they needed: growing vegetables, raising livestock, marketing farm products, and processing meat. They settled on livestock farming but finding the right farm—that fit their production needs and was affordable—was a major challenge.
Four years ago, Sam and Brooke reached out to the Farmland Access Program to help them with their land search. The program helps entrepreneurial farmers find affordable farmland. In many cases, the program has helped farmers buy their first farm after years of leasing land.
Fortunately for Brooke and Sam, a Calais farm was heading towards transition. With frontage along East Hill Road and expansive views of the Worcester Range, the property has 108 open acres with very productive soils. George Peterson had owned the farm for nearly 40 years and a dairy farmer in the area had used it. When George realized it was time to sell, he called the land trust, hoping they could help him protect the land for the future and find a buyer.
Jon Ramsay, who leads the land trust’s Farmland Access Program, reached out to Sam and Brooke to gauge their interest. They’d bought a house in Calais in 2016, with the hope of also finding a farm there, so it seemed like it could be a good fit.
“We drove through the area and really loved it,” recalled Sam. The land and location of the new property turned out to be an ideal match for their farm business plans—it’s five minutes away from their home.
“It is a lot of work, and can take a long time, to find the right property,” said Jon Ramsay of the land trust. “Sam and Brooke worked at this for years, and it’s great to see such a perfect match for this Calais farm.”
The land trust helped arrange a solution that worked well for everyone: George generously donated the conservation easement and simultaneously sold the land to Sam and Brooke. George was assured the land was conserved, and Brooke and Sam were able to purchase a farm with financing from Yankee Farm Credit.
This is the second new farm business that has come to Calais in the past year through the work of the land trust’s Farmland Access Program. The other is Hoolie Flats Farm run by Mike Betit and located on Pekin Brook Rd. There are now five VLT-conserved farms in Calais.
“It’s a beautiful spot and we’re very excited about it,” said Sam. After the closing, Sam and Brooke walked the property together with their girls, aged four and two, and were thrilled. “We’re excited to get the ball rolling,” said Brooke. “After several years of hunting we were about to call it a day, but this came along and feels like it was meant to be.”
Brooke and Sam are gearing up for the 2019 farming season. They plan to have 1,500 laying hens in the spring and 3,000 next year, when they also hope to add on 3,000 meat birds. The house and farm buildings need significant repairs, so the chickens will be in hoop houses for the winter and in mobile hen houses for the summer.
“What’s exciting is seeing the investment they’re going to put into the farm so that it becomes, again, a fully functional farm operation,” said Jon. Eventually, Sam and Brooke will also raise pigs and beef cows. It will all take time, but they finally have stable land tenure on an affordable farm.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for organic eggs from Schoolhouse Farm. “Eggs seem to fly off the shelves here in central Vermont, so this seems like a good need to fill!” said Brooke.
Photo credit: Kyle Gray