Sunday's Stroll Tour features conserved farm
DUMMERSTON -- Toward the end of last summer, the members of the O'Donnell Family Co. moved into the historic Bunker Farm in Dummerston.
It's a bit of an understatement to say they've been busy ever since.
While managing other jobs and business interests, they've taken over a year-round agricultural enterprise with a community-education component and a new conservation easement thanks to the work of the Vermont Land Trust.
This Sunday, the folks running Bunker Farm -- Noah Hoskins, Helen O'Donnell, Mike Euphrat and Jen O'Donnell -- will have a chance to show off their work as part of the Strolling of the Heifers farm tour.
"It's a big project, but it's also a project worth doing," Hoskins said of the progress at Bunker Farm. "It's a beautiful farm and a wonderful part of Dummerston. It really does feel fulfilling in a lot of ways to get out and work and see things happening."
Sunday's Stroll Weekend Farm Tour features five local farms -- Bunker Farm in East Dummerston, Robb Family Farm in West Brattleboro, Franklin Farm in Guilford, Cortland Hill Orchard in West Brattleboro and Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford.
More information, including descriptions, directions, maps and guided-tour times are available at www.strollingoftheheifers.com/farmtour. There also is a link for registration, though organizer Judy Fink said an RSVP is not mandatory.
She recommends that those interested in participating abide by the guided-tour times on the website and also allow time for driving between farms.
Last year during the Stroll weekend, there were approximately 30 farms open for the day, Fink said. This year, organizers wanted to formalize and focus the farm tours by featuring several "farms that would highlight specific areas of agriculture in southern Vermont," she said.
"It's a really great group of farmers and farms ... and they're also very interested to have people come and visit," Fink said. "This is an experiment to see how it works this year."
The Bunker Farm also is a kind of experiment. Last year, Vermont Land Trust purchased the 169-acre property from Larry and Marilyn Cassidy, who had been looking to sell.
The land trust solicited proposals for owning and operating the farm and, from among 11 applications, settled on a plan submitted by the O'Donnell sisters, Hoskins and Euphrat. They took formal ownership this month subject to a conservation easement that "will ensure the long-term protection of the Bunker Farm and its affordability to future farmers," land trust administrators have said.
The trust recently announced completion of a $575,000 fundraising effort to support the conservation process. And the O'Donnell Family Co. has been hard at work on the land, where the four members also share the farmhouse.
After moving into the house under a lease agreement around Labor Day 2013, "we were able to make hay at the end of last season," Hoskins said. "And then we were doing firewood and got the sugarbush up and running last winter."
This spring brought the opportunity for greenhouse work.
"We've been pretty flat-out right through," Hoskins said. "We're building a lot of systems right now, which is good, but it has kept us very busy."
The Bunker Farm plan is for "five diverse lines of operation" -- pasture-raised meat and poultry; vegetables; specialty annual and perennial plants; maple sap and firewood; and educational and community programs.
The farm's products are available at T.J. Buckley's in Brattleboro, The Gleanery in Putney and Walker Farm in Dummerston. A meat CSA is in development, Hoskins said.
The farm has a facebook page and a Web presence at www.thebunkerfarm.com.
None of the Bunker Farm owners are full-time farmers: Hoskins and Jen O'Donnell are teachers, while Helen O'Donnell runs a landscaping and gardening business and Euphrat has worked at Walker Farm and at Fraser Cooper-Ellis during sugaring season.
But Hoskins said the arrangement is working.
"This is not work that's easy to do as an individual or even as a couple. It's important to have that help," he said. "When something needs to happen, to have another couple and family to share the workload with means we're able to get everything done. When unexpected things come up, or our outside jobs have certain pressures on certain days, it allows us a flexibility that is really instrumental."
On May 31, there was a gathering at the farm to celebrate its conservation and purchase. For Sunday's Stroll tour, "we're very excited to get some more folks out here to see what we're doing," Hoskins said.
It's also an opportunity to spread a message.
"It's very important that we are conscious and thoughtful with our food-buying power," Hoskins said. "The way we spend our dollars is extremely important, and it's extremely important to maintain the agricultural integrity of this state."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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