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help bring back a vermont family farm

Posted: January 10 2011

from scratch!  here's a note from the landowner to all you greenhorns out there.
I writing this on behalf of my mother, but also myself. She inherited a piece of land (approx 100 acres) in Tunbridge, VT almost 40-some years ago (for folks who know Tunbridge, it's on Monarch Hill Rd., across from Ware Drive). I made a basic GoogleMap of the property but I can't verify the property lines - I did this from memory, and I'm working on getting the "legal" property lines so we can be legit. To date, the only use the property gets is the dairy farmer across the street who grazes his stock there and occasionally has a stand of feed corn. The buildings that were there have long sense reverted to the soil - although you can still see (and access?) the original foundation stones from the house. There's no water (a seasonal spring along the north-east border), no sewer, and no electricity.
The intention has always been for the property to be farmed. To date, it has been in terms of providing grazing. But there have been absolutely no upgrades or significant upkeep to the property. The cows graze along the same paths they've been walking along for as long as I can remember (30 years?). As someone who has spent a lot of time over the past few years reading almost everything I can get my hands on related to organic, sustainable, permaculture, etc., I will say I think things are way out of balance. The fly population is insane. Goldenrod have taken over good chunks of the available space. And things could potentially go more "wild" as the farmer currently using the property is selling a good chunk of his herd in the spring (so Act Now and you might get a good deal on some dairy cows!). That said, there's a good stand of evergreens (something in the pine family I don't know enough to identify) that's been talked about using to build a cabin. Or something. The slope is East-Southeast. There are stone fences already throughout (that have been there for probably 100 years), so there are already chunks of the property that could be put into production without too much effort.
The long and short is that I'm looking for someone (or someones) who might be up for the challenge of raising this land back up to its former glory. This is not a challenge for the faint of heart. One non-negotiable (at least for now) is that the dairy farmer across the street continues to get access - although how much and for what remains unclear as he's retiring). And any changes to the land, buildings, etc., would need to be negotiated through the owner (my mother). Mom currently lives in Minnesota, I live in Maryland, so in many ways we're already the classic absentee landowners. And are thus challenged by distance. But, I will say we'd really like to do the right thing here: keep the land in the family, but ensure that it's being used to the benefit of the local economy and ecosystem. I'd really like to see this place shine. I don't have the energy, stamina, or knowledge to farm this place myself. But I'm open to doing it in partnership with others. And my mom would be as well.
There's no guarantees here. But there is the possibility that with the right mix of people, resources, and commitment, we can bring back a small family farm in Vermont. We're willing to consider pretty much any rent, lease, loan, etc. arrangement short of purchase. This is the closest thing to ancestral land I have. One option has always been to let it go completely wild. But I also know there are folks out there who want land. And I'd like ours to be productive.
Please contact me with any questions, comments, or ideas.
Mark Johnson-Lewis
[email protected]

tunbridge, VT