Agrarian Trust

$575,000 Raised in Vermont to Preserve 169-acre Farm

by Mike Faher from the Brattleboro Reformer (VT).

Farm conservation continues to make news in Dummerston.

About six weeks after announcing new ownership for the Elysian Hills Tree Farm, Vermont Land Trust has finished a $575,000 fundraising effort to conserve the historic Bunker Farm.

The campaign’s completion means the Bunker Farm will have new owners later this month, when the O’Donnell Family Co. takes over.

“We look forward to joining together with the community to celebrate the conservation of the Bunker Farm,” said Joan Weir, the land trust’s Brattleboro-based southeast director.

When Weir became aware that the farm might be available for sale, Vermont Land Trust got involved and purchased the 169-acre property from Larry and Marilyn Cassidy last year. At the same time, the land trust sought proposals from anyone who might want to own and operate the farm.

From among 11 applications submitted after two open houses in May, the winners were Noah Hoskins, Helen O’Donnell, Mike Euphrat and Jen O’Donnell, who now comprise the O’Donnell Family Co. The O’Donnells are sisters.

The group has been working on the property under a lease agreement with the land trust. The company soon takes formal ownership 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 said.

To cover the conservation project’s cost, however, the land trust — which purchased the farm with bridge financing — had to raise $575,000. A big chunk of that came via a $396,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

That money was announced in October. Prior to that, Dummerston Selectboard had voted to contribute $18,000 to the project from the town’s Farmland Protection Fund.

A private fundraising campaign ensued, and it generated more than 130 gifts adding up to $110,000. In announcing the successful fundraising effort, Weir offered thanks to “the Cassidys; the town, through its Selectboard and Farmland Protection Committee; the committee that helped with the local fund-raising campaign; and local residents who contributed to the project.”

“Because of their shared desire to conserve this special place and agricultural resource, the Bunker Farm will forever contribute to the town’s conservation legacy,” she said.

The revamped Bunker Farm will feature “five mutually supporting lines of operation,” administrators said. They are pasture-raised meat and poultry; vegetables; specialty annual and perennial plants; maple sap and firewood; and educational and community programs.

There will be collaboration with farm stands, including Walker Farm Stand in Dummerston. Also, the Putney Co-op and restaurants in both Brattleboro and Putney are expected to purchase Bunker Farm products.

Farm activities are “well under way.” And, now that the local fundraiser is finished, the O’Donnell Family Co. can proceed with its plans.

“The community’s support means everything to us,” Hoskins said. “Right now, we are thrilled to have the chance to bring this historic property back into the local agricultural community and food economy.”

The Bunker Farm news follows a separate, successful effort to find a new owner for Elysian Hills Tree Farm, also in Dummerston. Having previously placed a protective conservation easement on their property, Elysian Hills owners Bill and Mark Lou Schmidt enlisted Vermont Land Trust to help locate someone to operate the Knapp Road farm, though they will continue to reside there.

In late February, the land trust announced that Jack and Karen Manix, who own Walker Farm in Dummerston, will take ownership of Elysian Hills this year. Jack Manix has said Elysian Hills’ popular Christmas tree business will continue, and he hopes to eventually obtain an organic certification for the property.

Mike Faher can be reached at [email protected] or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.