Sam Ehrenfeld and Brooke Remmers were looking to buy farmland for many years. It took so long that they were on the verge of abandoning their dreams and going back to school for other careers. “We were about to call it a day,” recalled Brooke.
Like many farmers looking to start their own business, Brooke and Sam worked a variety of jobs to get experience: growing vegetables, raising livestock, marketing farm products, and processing meat. Sam started farming right after college and developed an interest in butchery and charcuterie. Brooke worked at a sheep farm, processing milk and cheeses, and later on farms with pigs, beef cows, and chickens.
Sam and Brooke settled on livestock farming but finding the right farm at an affordable price was a challenge. Four years ago, they reached out to VLT’s Farmland Access Program to help them find land. The program has helped dozens of farmers buy their first farm.
In the meantime, with the arrival of their first child, they decided to buy a house in Calais. “We drove through the area and really loved it,” said Sam. Their choice would prove to be fortunate as a nearby farm was soon headed towards transition.
With frontage along East Hill Road and expansive views of the Worcester Range, the 137-acre farm has large open fields with fertile soils. For nearly 40 years, the land had been owned by George Peterson and used by a local dairy farmer. When George decided to sell, he called VLT, hoping we could help him protect the land and find a buyer.
Jon Ramsay, who leads the Farmland Access Program, reached out to Sam and Brooke. Located just five minutes from their home, the land was ideal. “It can take a long time, to find the right property,” said Jon. “Sam and Brooke worked at this for years, and it’s great to see such a perfect match for this farm.”
VLT helped arrange a solution that worked well for everyone: George conserved the land and sold it to Sam and Brooke. George was assured the land would be permanently protected from development, and, with financing from Yankee Farm Credit, Brooke and Sam finally got the farm of their dreams. “The conservation process made the farm affordable for us,” said Brooke. “If it had been sold at market value, there’s no way we could possibly make it work with the income that we would generate off the farm.”
They’ve named their new farm Schoolhouse Farm after the old schoolhouse they live in. They plan to have 1,500 laying hens in the spring and 3,000 next year, when they also hope to add meat birds, and later pigs and beef cows. The buildings need repairs, so they will have the chickens in hoop houses for the winter and in mobile hen houses for the summer.
This is the second new farm business that has recently come to Calais through the Farmland Access Program. The other is Hoolie Flats Farm on Pekin Brook Rd. There are now five VLT-conserved farms in Calais. “The land trust has made farms affordable to such a wide variety of people, and those people run a wide variety of businesses,” Sam said.
“There’s such a wealth of experience in the farming community here in Vermont,” Brooke added, “that we very feel very lucky to be a part of it, and hope to take full advantage of the great farmers all around us, and the advice and help they have to offer.”
Photos by Kyle Gray.