Written by Nadine Berrini
In 2006, Lisa MacDougall and a business partner started Mighty Food Farm on five leased acres in Pownal with a 1953 Ford Golden Jubilee and an old Troy-Bilt rototiller. She now has 200+ members in her year-round CSA and 10 employees.
Lisa spent six years searching for good, affordable farmland—not an easy thing to do in Vermont. “Land is expensive,” explained Lisa. “Most farmers are financially strapped and owning enough acreage to produce food to make a living is a balance.”
After working with the Vermont Land Trust Farmland Access Program, Lisa now owns her own land—154 conserved acres in Shaftsbury. The program often helps farmers move from leasing to owning. The sale of a conservation easement, which restricts the land to agricultural use, can help offset the price of the land.
“The Vermont Land Trust takes down the barriers by preserving farmland and making it a fiscal reality for farmers,” explained Lisa. “Owning land means we will be able to invest into our farm and take care of our soil for future generations. Soil is essential to grow food on and ensuring there will be farms for our future is priceless and necessary.”
The Farmland Access Program helps land to stay in agricultural use. This supports Vermont’s Farm to Plate food system plan goal to keep farmland in active agricultural production. Protecting good farmland for today and the future is imperative to meet other Farm to Plate goals such as increasing local food production and availability. Helping farmers buy their own land improves the viability of the farm business and furthers Farm to Plate’s goal of improving farm viability and profitability by allowing farmers like Lisa to invest in long-term soil and infrastructure improvements.
Mighty Food Farm retails produce through a year-round CSA and through farmers’ markets in Bennington and Dorset. The farm also sells to office cafeterias near New York City and local co-ops and restaurants. Lisa and her employees re-assembled their seven greenhouses on the new land. Lisa will have access to four fields of tillable soil, totaling 40 acres.
“Lisa MacDougall is one of Vermont's best young vegetable farmers,” said Vern Grubinger, a vegetable and berry specialist at University of Vermont Extension. “She demonstrates excellence in production, marketing, and stewardship of the land, while striving for continuous improvement. I have watched her farm enterprise grow in recent years and I'm thrilled that she now has the opportunity to own the kind of farmland that will sustain her business into the future.”
The Vermont Land Trust purchased the Shaftsbury farm in 2015 from Owen and Kathy Beauchesne with the intent of conserving it through the Farmland Access Program. After a competitive proposal process, Lisa was chosen to buy the farm.
“The Beauchesne’s had been thinking about conserving their farm for almost a decade,” said Vermont Land Trust’s Donald Campbell. “They had taken immaculate care of the place and were very helpful in the transition to a new farmer. It pleased them to know that all the care they had taken with their land would benefit Lisa and future farmers to come.”
Funded by VHCB (with matching funds from USDA NRCS) and individual contributions. Lisa secured financing to buy her farm from the USDA Farm Service Agency. (January 2017)
Learn more about the Vermont Land Trust and its programs and services for farmers at www.vlt.org.