After years of dairy farming in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Pat and Melanie Harrison couldn’t find an affordable farm of their own because of the intense competition for land there. They looked all over the northeast, before bringing their dairy herd to Addison in 2007. Now, they’ve worked with the Vermont Land Trust to permanently conserve the land for farming with a conservation easement that limits development and keeps the farmland affordable for future farmers.
Addison County appealed to the Harrisons because the dairy farming culture is alive and well. “Vermont is a great place to farm,” said Melanie. “The weather and soils are more challenging than Pennsylvania, but the neighbors are very welcoming and we instantly felt part of the community. We’re also very fortunate that Vermont has a strong farmland conservation program. It has helped us a lot.”
The farm they first bought, 72 acres on Route 22A, wasn’t big enough to support their herd of 200 cows. Over time they bought adjoining parcels when they came up for sale with help from Melanie’s parents, Richard and Gloria Kilby, a retired dairy farmer and a veterinarian respectively. In time, they expanded the farm to 432 acres.
“Conserving large blocks of good farmland, such as the Harrison’s farm, is important for the future of farming in Addison County,” said VLT’s Al Karnatz. “A strong farming community and a critical mass of farmland goes hand in hand. We’re thrilled that the Harrison’s decided to conserve their land and to make sure that it will be affordable to future farmers.”
To complement other conservation efforts, several streams that feed into Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area will not be farmed; natural vegetation along the streams will filter nutrients, prevent erosion, and provide wildlife habitat.
Funding for the purchase of the conservation easement came from both state and federal sources. The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board’s contribution was matched by the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program managed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.