When this area was first settled agriculture was all-encompassing. From crops to creatures our forbears raised whatever worked best for the conditions. Apples and cider were big in the early days as witnessed by all the old, overgrown orchards found deep in the woods to this day. Sheep farming was big in Vermont and New Hampshire, and there were many fulling mills throughout the area. As we all know, the growing season is short and the rocky topography made farming a tough road unless you were in the Connecticut or Champlain Valleys. When the mid-west opened up, our area nearly emptied as folks moved on to find greener pastures. We still had large metropolitan markets nearby that could use what we grew, so the die hards stayed on, but things had changed forever.
Dairy farming took over until there just wasn’t enough money in it to keep holding on. This is what we are most familiar with here, a dying form of agriculture due to more efficient competition and lessening demand for the product. With each passing year there are fewer and fewer dairy operations, and as the herds are sold, land often gets sold as well. Thanks to our image as a quality agriculture production area, the groundwork for an agricultural comeback was laid, and now we are seeing the results.
Looking across the river to my son-in-law’s family farming operation, I see the remnants of the old transforming into the new at an ever accelerating rate. Their farm(s) (there are two adjacent to each other) were all dairy for many decades.
The old milk house area was transformed into a farm store and comfortable quarters for summer interns. A couple of years later a huge walk-in freezer was built with Foard panels in the main part of the barn. There are still several thousands of square feet available for future expansions and more equipment storage. The stanchions remain except for the area occupied by the freezer. A part of the smaller farmhouse was converted into a longer term living space for guests and has been occupied by artists, writers, and people seeking the solace of the countryside for weeks or months at a time.
The biggest transformation of the two farms is in the use of the land. Beef cattle rotate from field to field, followed by a large chicken population. Pigs occupy a combination of pasture and forest land where they forage unimpeded. Sheep have their area, turkeys another, and so on. My son-in-law feels that they are grass farmers more than anything else. If the quality of the grass that they grow is consumed by cattle and then the land is given over to chickens, a circle of life is generated that sustains itself in the way that the grassland is nurtured. This careful use of the land produces meat chickens and beef cattle of superior quality and nutrition. Even the eggs laid by the hens taste better than any I’ve had before. The inherent quality in these products has created demand, and has generated funds that are reinvested into the overall operation. The entire family works amazing hours each day to make the farms work, and they welcome folks from the community and from all over the world to participate. In recent years it has become a small community within the community that draws its strength and inspiration from many sources. We’re seeing more and more of this kind of agriculture in this area, and it is heartening to witness. Agriculture has certainly changed, and its all good.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.