Adams Farm to close
The combination of uncooperative weather and the poor economy has hit the farm's profits hard over the past few years, said Jill Adams Mancivalano.
For 14 years, Mancivalano has been working toward her dream of buying the farm from her parents, but was never able to reach her goal. Now, she said, it's time to sell the farm to another buyer, allowing her parents to retire.
Because she doesn't own the farm, Mancivalano said, she isn't able to procure the equity needed to expand her operations and make the farm financially viable.
The farm, which relied heavily on "agritourism," will reduce its events calendar to include only regular sleigh rides in the winter and motor coach tours in the summer.
Mancivalano, who can often be found walking one of her three border collies across the property, is heavily involved in the family-run farm along with her siblings, cousins and parents, Bill and Sharon Adams. She returned to Wilmington in 1991 after studying art in New York and California. Originally she wanted to focus on her own business of making hand-painted tiles.
When she had her two children, she decided to put the painting aside, and four years after returning home, she chose to devote herself to her children and the farm.
She strove to give the children of visiting families the hands-on, upclose encounters with animals that she had every day growing up.
"I always try to make it an interactive experience," she said. "I want them to do what I did on the farm - run through the green grass, bottlefeed the baby animals, play in the hay and experience the unique characteristics that each species of animal has."
Business had its ups and downs, but the farm was generally doing well, and in 2007 Mancivalano felt that she could possibly afford to take out a mortgage, though she decided to wait it out for a couple of years, anticipating an economic downturn.
Then 2008's profits showed that her dream of one day purchasing the farm was in serious jeopardy. "2008 was horrible, and this year was even more dreadful," she said.
Last February, Mancivalano hosted a meeting with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., the local chamber of commerce, Vermont Small Business Development Center, SCORE (Counselors to America's Small Business) and the owners of Mount Snow and several other business leaders in the community.
The meeting sparking a collaborative effort to come up with a solution to the farm's financial woes.
It was suggested that Mancivalano apply for the low-interest loans for family farms that are provided by the Vermont Economic Development Authority and Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation.
Mancivalano threw herself into the arduous task of filling out the necessary paperwork, only to be told a month after the forms were submitted that in the eyes of the state, the Adams Farm did not qualify as a working farm and therefore did not meet the criteria. She was crushed.
"Tell my dad he's not a working farmer when he's outside in the freezing cold in the winter," Mancivalano said. "Tell my farm manager this isn't a working farm when he's up every night delivering lambs. Tell me I'm not a working farmer, just because 52 percent of my income is agritourism instead of commercial product."
Angry and hurt, she contacted Sens. Patrick Leahy's and Bernard Sanders' offices and state government agencies. Within 30 hours, the decision was reversed and the farm was classified as "working," but by then it was too late.
Nothing substantial was accomplished by late July, Mancivalano said, and without the working capitol necessary to run the farm through next spring, she couldn't continue.
"I'm not going to risk going into more debt," she said. "The goal of buying the farm is getting farther and farther away instead of closer."
Mancivalano said she hopes to sell the farm to people who will continue to use the property for its original purpose. She said she will work as hard as she can to find buyers who will take over the farm rather than developing the scenic, 100-acre property.
Many of the animals that have drawn in visitors over the years will be sold, though for the time being, Mancivalano said she will keep her Morgan horses and some of her sheep and other animals.
She has already received calls from local residents who are interested in purchasing some of the livestock.
"They won't go to auction," she said. "They will definitely go to good homes."
Mancivalano said that agritourism can be a sustainable business in Vermont and that it was only her own special circumstances that prevented her from keeping her head above water in these challenging financial times.
She said that while agritourism is a relatively new term, the practice has been a part of her family's farm for generations.
The Adams family started the farm in 1865. In the beginning it was a very typical Vermont farm, she said - very diversified.
"My great-great grandfather chose the land for its ability to grow short-term lumber," she said. They built liquid tanks for sap-gathering and raised Durham cattle for milk and oxen for working farm animals.
In the 1880s, it became trendy for wealthy people from New York City to visit the country, Mancivalano said, and the farm was opened up to boarders who wanted to escape city life and enjoy the beautiful scenery and fresh food.
In 1970, Mancivalano's parents purchased the farm and decided to close it to the public in order to focus on the dairy business. They began hosting sleigh rides in 1979 when dairy prices began to drop, taking skiers for rides through the woods on snowy evenings when they returned from the slopes.
The idea was a success, and in three years, the family bought two additional teams of Belgian draft horses to accommodate the growing number of visitors.
"We've been doing that ever since," Mancivalano said. Her father, now 69, still does the sleigh rides though it's becoming difficult for him.
"It's painful for him to be out in the cold in the winter," Mancivalano said. Mancivalano said its time for her parents to sell the farm and retire; they shouldn't pay for the work that the farm needs in order to expand, she said, nor would she want them to.
"Why should I put them at financial risk for my future?" she said. "For my dream?"
She said she hopes that stories like hers will prompt state agencies to act more quickly.
"There are a lot of farms in crisis," she said, "and not enough employees there to meet their needs and get them met fast enough."
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