KILLINGTON — Will you keep running the saw mill at your dairy farm after your parents retire, or focus on the cows? Should you keep growing vegetables on the land where you were raised, or do you and your husband go elsewhere? Was leaving California for Vermont insane or was it the right decision?
These are all some of the questions a group of Vermont farmers have grappled with. They shared their stories and answered questions at the Farm to Plate annual network gathering held at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel on Thursday.
“I grew up in South Royalton, Vermont, born and raised there on a first-generation diversified vegetable and livestock farm,” said Shona Sanford-Long, of Luna Bleu Farm in South Royalton. “I didn’t ever think I was going to go back to farming after college. It was something I’d grown up with, always loved — maybe not always loved, but loved many aspects of.”
Through studying biology in college, she realized much of what interested her in life could be found in farming. She worked on livestock farms around the country, “and then decided under two years ago to move back to my family’s farm in Vermont with my husband, thinking about potentially taking over the farm.”
She said farming leaves one with a deep connection to the land, and got emotional when telling the audience of a few hundred that her life will be undergoing another change.
“I actually have since decided because of my husband’s work, we’re going to be leaving our farm soon,” she said. “I’m trying to think about farming in another area, but in thinking about this past week, a lot of the things I notice are things related to what I’m leaving behind.”
Taylor Mendell, of Footprint Farm in Starksboro, said it was hard getting into the Vermont farming scene, having little experience and not knowing anyone local.
“I came here in 2013. My husband and I met on a farm in California, and he said, hey, my parents have land in Vermont. I said great, because California is on fire every year, so we came here and started a super-tiny farm. The land his parents had is very sloped, right next to a wetland that’s not great for agriculture, but it’s what we had,” she said.
She said growing vegetables on her small farm has been tough but enjoyable.
“Everybody is so self-sufficient in Vermont, they won’t buy our vegetables in the summertime because everybody grows their own,” she said. “So doing the winter CSA has been really fun.”
Chuda Dhaurali said he’s from Bhutan, and lived in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to Vermont in 2009. He works Pine Island Farm, a goat farm in Colchester, with his family. He said he’s come to view the United States as a land of opportunity.
Other speakers on the panel were Paul Doton, of Doton Farm in Woodstock, and Matt Angell, of White Rock Farm in Randolph.
“Less than 2% of the population of the United States is in agriculture, we need to be able to develop trust between those who are not in agriculture and those who are in agriculture,” said Doton, responding to a question about agriculture’s future.
Angell and Doton said milk prices are a problem for Vermont dairy farmers, who find themselves competing against much larger farms out west. One solution, they said, might involve adding value to Vermont dairy products, possibly through marketing or other means.