WEST HAVEN — In a big, yellow house at the end of Hackadam Road in West Haven, a former Baltimore family of four is putting down roots and picking up fruits at the one-year-old Otter Point Farm.
“The Vermont land trust has a program called the ‘Farm Land Access Program,’” said Donald Campbell, regional director of the Southwest Vermont Land Trust. “It connects seekers with land ... as an organization, we really feel strongly about owner-operated farms.”
Formerly the Purple Burdock Farm, Campbell said the previous owners, Ali and Rick Wilson, contacted the Vermont Land Trust when they knew they were going to leave the land to be closer to family in Shrewsbury, but wanted the farm to remain a farm.
“They put a lot of sweat equity into it,” Campbell said. “They asked us to help them find another groovy farmer who would take care of it. ... Conservation drastically cuts the price down and holds it down.”
So the Land Trust came in and facilitated the transaction, allowing the Wilsons to get the full-market value for their home and enabling the new family, the Hertzbergs, to sell the development rights and reduce the out-of-pocket cost for the land, Campbell said.
“It’s called ‘conservation easement,’” Campbell said. “You’re giving or selling the right to develop the land. ... There’s a list of things you can’t do that will keep the land and the forest together.”
When an owner puts land into conservation easement, they relinquish the ability to further subdivide it, the right to put residential or commercial development on it, the right to extraction, and all forest management has to be done on a plan, Campbell said.
“We started thinking about this 10 years ago,” Scott Hertzberg said. “It’s just nicer up here.”
After Scott and Tanya met at Hampshire College, Scott said they spent much of their time in the 1990s traveling, farming and eating in Israel, where they said they fell in love with agriculture.
The family settled in Baltimore where, for over 20 years, the couple operated Jug Bay Market Garden on three sites right next to Chesapeake Bay, growing vegetables, cut flowers, berries and fruit for CSAs and markets, Scott said.
But, he said, the couple has always felt close to the Northeast, largely due to the family vacations they took at the family’s cabin on Lake George, and when 48 acres near the lake came up for sale, the family dream became a potential reality.
“We researched selling in New York,” Tanya said. “There’s less (farming) competition there.”
“Suburban DC is just growing and growing,” Scott added. “You have to grow so much.”
Tanya started looking at the land up in New Haven nine months prior to the sale and found it is a glacial kame terrace and geologic sand deposit, a rare find in this part of the country, Campbell said.
So, when the Trust put out an RFP for the land and four-bedroom home to a pool of land-seeking farmers, the Hertzbergs threw their hat in the ring.
And Campbell said they were the family that fit the bill.
“We got quite a few proposals on the farm,” Campbell said. “Scott and Tanya’s was by far the best. They have a long history of lifetime agriculture ... they’re innovative thinkers, they’re hard working, and they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the long-term health of the soil.”
So, in January, the couple sprang for the sale and hauled their tractor, most of their equipment and their two children Ezra, 11, and Shira, 9, to West Haven, Vermont, where they immediately set to action seeding and preparing for the oncoming season at their new home.
“The agricultural infrastructure is more intact up here,” Scott said. “We grew way too much this year. ... Everything grows faster than in the mid-Atlantic.”
They decided to hit the agricultural market from a predominantly wholesale perspective, selling at the Bolton Landing Farmer’s Market on Fridays; to the Kinder Way Café and Market in Fair Haven; The Huddle Kitchen and Bar in Bolton Landing; and to the Abby Group, which provides food services to the Slate Valley Unified Union School District, Tanya said.
Though only 15 of the 48 acres they bought are farmable, the Hertzbergs plan to install two more high tunnels measuring 72 by 30 feet, and one clearing 30 by 96 feet, and hope to employ mainly high school and college students.
Going forward, the Hertzbergs said they want to grow more brightly colored foods — as more color generally corresponds to a higher nutritional value — more greens, and more shelf-stable varieties of vegetables to suit the needs of their community.
In addition to growing rainbows of vegetables, the Hertzbergs have been importing and distributing olive oils for almost 10 years from the Makura Farm in the Carmel region of Israel, which produces 50,000 liters of oil per year.
“When you own your own land, you take good care of it,” Campbell said. “You invest in its long-term health ... The Hertzbergs are creative, innovative, exceeded our expectations in so many ways.”