The Corse Farm: Forever conserved

Monday April 22, 2013

WHITINGHAM -- Leon Corse now feels like he's more than just a caretaker in a long line of caretakers for the farm that has been in his family for 145 years.

In March, the Corse Farm was conserved in a way that will guarantee the land will be permanently used for farming.

"It was a way of ensuring it would go on, even if it was not in the Corse family at some point," said Leon. "And we were much more comfortable doing it certified organic because it is more likely it'd be sustainable going forward."

The land was sold as a conservation easement to the Vermont Land Trust. According to a press release, a conservation easement is "a legal tool that limits development on productive farmland and forestland." When this happens, the owners continue to own, manage and pay taxes for the property. They also have the ability to sell their land. But the conservation easement will always remain on the property.

"The conservation easement also ensures that the land will always be affordable to future farmers, should the Corse family ever sell their farm," the press release said.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, with matching funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, funded the purchase of the easement.

In 1982, the Corse Farm was transferred from Leon's father to Leon and his brother Roy. On the property, there was dairy farming to look after as well as maple syrup operations.

The brothers divided up the land about four years ago. Leon said that it had been a natural progression. Each brother took control of the land that best suited their business.

"Roy decided he wasn't interested in being in the dairy business for the rest of his life and I hadn't been too active in the maple syrup business because I have more than a full time job here at the dairy farm," said Leon.

Currently, Leon owns 290 acres, while Roy owns 162 acres of the land. In the conservation easement process, Leon acquired 32 extra acres that weren't part of the farm before.

Since Leon and Roy both owned half of the farm, the conservation easement will assist Leon with some of the costs related to paying his brother for the extra land.

"We thought about it for a long time," said Leon. "In order to divide the property the way we needed it to be for Roy and us to get what we really needed for our respected businesses, we owe him quite a bit of money. We partly created this to get a cash infusion."

The farm also plays a big part in other families' lives as well.

"Another consideration for keeping this farm is the role it plays in the community," said Leon. "We have 26 landlords, so there's 26 pieces of land that belong to other people that we maintain in one way or another as farm land. I think it'd be fair to say that we're pretty important to 26 people."

Next month, the Corse family will celebrate a five year anniversary of having a certified organic farm.

In 2005, Leon attended an Organic Valley Producers' Solicitation Meeting in Keene, N.H. He went out of sheer curiosity and told the Reformer that he wasn't seriously considering changing his dairy farm to be completely organic.

"Before I even got home, I changed my mind," Leon said. "It made sense for this farm because we were almost all organic anyway."

One of the biggest factors had been financial security, he said.

The price of milk before the farm went organic had been a yearly average of $19.10 per pound. The organic premium adds $14.30 to the top of that average.

"The organic mentality came along fast when we saw how much better it was," said Leon. "In hindsight, it's been a terrific decision. I question that we'd still be a dairy farm if we didn't go organic."

The Corse Farm started the transition to organic in May 2005. By May 2008, the farm was certified organic.

When the farm was certified organic, it was on the one-year anniversary of when a barn burned down on the property. It was also the 140th anniversary of Leon's great, great grandfather purchasing the farm.

"That was purely coincidental," said Leon.

He added that his diet is still not 100 percent organic, but it is a lot closer than it used to be.

Leon's daughter Abbie and his wife Linda are also very involved in maintaining the dairy farm. Both of the women milk cows from time to time. Linda does most of the caretaking for the non-milking animals, while Abbie does field work.

"I'm old enough to be thinking about how to transition it to the next generation," said Leon.

Abbie has a two-and-half-year-old son named Eli.

"If he likes cows half as much at 20 as he does at 2, there's no question what he'll want to do," said Leon.

As of April 18, the Corses are milking 57 cows. They own about 100 cows and have a cat named Star.

"Believe it or not, the cat is black and white," said Leon. "It's marked very similarly to these cows."

Leon said there's a lot of other animals on the property too, but that those animals live out in the woods.

Leon started working on the farm before he can remember. Between the ages of 8 and 10, he started having regular chores.

He's lived at the farm all his life except during four years of college at the University of Vermont and then a year in which he worked at a large farm in Middlesex.

During his time at Middlesex, Leon figured out he didn't want to work with a large number of cows. There were 180 cows to milk at that farm. At that time, he also decided he did not want to be an employee.

Leon and Linda are looking forward to moving into the farm house, which hasn't been occupied for five years now. They plan to move in next fall.

"My family had lived here for 140 years, so we feel we should live there," said Leon.

Over the next 20 years, there is a forestation plan in place that calls for clearing 20 acres for pastures that would make room for the non-milking animals on the property.

"We would love to have enough pasture to keep them all here on this property," said Leon.

Leon is also involved in town. He's the Whitingham Town Moderator and has held other positions in town over the years.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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