The Farmer’s Voice in the Climate Crisis: How Climate Challenges Expose the Need for Regenerative Agriculture
By Kathleen Ernsting
It goes without saying that agriculture in the Northeast is being affected by climate change, and Massachusetts farmers are no exception. From more frequent and extreme storms to changing weather patterns and warmer winters, these events and their compounding effects combine to make it increasingly difficult to make a living as a farmer.
Seemingly, the farms most affected by changes in climate are those that are starting out with poor soil quality or those that are growing in a location that is susceptible to storm damage. Take Sawyer Farm, for example–a diverse horse-powered farm where Lincoln Fishman and a small team have found a niche growing specialized storage vegetables, like carrots and beets, while maintaining pasture and cutting hay for their horses.
Located in the hills in Hampshire County, Sawyer Farm’s land has been subject to some dramatic changes due to recent weather. In two of the past four seasons, late-season rains (the tail end of hurricanes) have turned the soil to mud starting in early September, leading to poor size-up and rot, which led to an estimated loss of 90% of root crops in 2021, and a 70% loss in 2019, valued at about $15,000 in potential sales. Because of the hilly location, heavy rain events caused visible topsoil and nutrient loss due to runoff and erosion, especially in areas of exposed soil. Knowing that over time this can lead to dramatically decreased soil fertility, Lincoln has almost entirely transitioned to no-till techniques to try to maintain the health of the soil. In a no-till system, soil is never bare and has a greater capacity to withstand storms and absorb rainwater.
By Jacqueline Sussman, Steward
Livestock roam and graze grasses on a rotating basis, thoroughly distributing their natural fertilizers across the vibrant, green pastures. The land is supporting an abundance of life, from the teeming microbe-rich communities deep in the soils to the pollinators frequenting the flowers above. Visitors regularly pass through to learn about the regenerative techniques used to remove and store atmospheric carbon as a holistic way to mitigate climate change. This is Studio Hill.
An intergenerational, regenerative sheep farm, Studio Hill is owned and run by Caroline and Jesse McDougall in Shaftsbury, Vermont. Caroline’s great-grandparents purchased the pastoral hilltop property in 1936. Like most people at the end of The Great Depression, they were looking for a way to ensure long-term food security for their family. After two generations in operation as a small dairy, Caroline’s aunt Edie converted the land to an equestrian center and hay farm. A real-life “superhero,” Edie’s repertoire included equestrian training, piloting planes, and running a thriving tack shop business out of the barn. Edie was a pillar of the community for 40 years, and in the summers Caroline would follow her around to learn the ins and outs of the hay operation.
In those days, there was one model to successfully manage land: heavy tillage to prepare the ground, synthetic fertilizers sprayed to fuel new growth, herbicides to snuff the weeds, and pesticides to kill any unwanted bugs. The farm ran a corn and hay rotation, using Roundup and other synthetic chemicals to remove all invasive species. This was the way of most hay production at the time, and it was prosperous. Then in 2011, Edie got sick with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
By Jen Miller
How many mature cows did you have as of January 1, 2020? Did you buy or sell any equipment in 2019? How much milk did you produce that year? How much did you spend on repairs and maintenance? Can I see your Schedule F tax return?
I pepper the farmer sitting opposite me (whether on Zoom or across the table) with these questions and so many more, inputting the answers into my spreadsheet. There are frequent pauses not only to shuffle through papers or click through QuickBooks categories but also to talk about how a new production technique is working or how their neighbors’ kids have started helping out on their farm.
Twenty-four organic dairy farmers scattered across Vermont experienced a similar visit in 2021. They had all agreed to participate in NOFA-VT’s Organic Dairy Cost of Production (COP) Project. In short, a farmer’s cost of production is how much it costs them to produce a hundredweight (cwt) of milk (1 cwt is approximately 11.6 gallons of milk). This includes not only expenses you would automatically think of, such as the cost of grain and labor, but also needs to take into account their family living allocations and debt payments. In an ideal world, all farmers would be selling their products for at least their full cost of production, plus a bit more for farm improvements and a rainy day fund.
By Stephen Leslie
VT HEALTHY SOIL PROTECTION & RESTORATION ACT
To meet the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets as established under the passage of the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act, we need to elevate healthy soil as an essential ingredient to solve the climate emergency. Simply reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) won’t be enough to halt climate change. We need to maximize the sequestration capacity of our farms and forests. More importantly, we need to focus on habitat restoration.
In this time of societal reckoning, farming is fundamental reparation. Not only does the dominant society need to address the historical and contemporary wrongs committed against BIPOC communities, we also need to repair and restore the natural world. Land managers need to be trained and supported to do this work. We must decouple organic-regenerative farming from the capitalist system, or at least provide sufficient safety nets to guarantee a living wage for all farmers and farm workers engaged in organic regenerative land management.
Irreversible abrupt climate change is the symptom of the fundamental rupture from settlement and colonialist culture. We can’t expect farmers to focus on ecological services while they have to compete to survive in the industrial global food market. We need many more young people to work in regenerative organic land management. We must provide training and a viable career path for this fundamentally vital work of healing land and feeding local communities.
By Nikki Kolb
A cow is crossing the road. It’s mostly white with rusty spots and curvy horns, head high, at once regal and nervous as it spans the pavement surrounded by a group of farmers who’ve stopped traffic, which is just two cars — us, on our way to pick apples at an orchard in town, and an oncoming driver. Century-old farmhouses looking seasoned and storied are perched on either side of the street. To the left, a field overlooks mountains in the distance. To our right, woods fan around the house. I point out the cow to my son. He’s two and a half and watching with excitement out the back passenger window as the animal reaches grass and disappears behind the old house. We wave goodbye to the farmers, who smile, and continue to the orchard, passing trees ablaze with autumn leaves. My son calls out the colors he sees while my six-month-old coos from her car seat, catching glimpses at the kaleidoscope world whizzing past the windows.
At the farm, we park on the edge of a field. I strap my infant to my chest and herd my toddler past picnic tables toward two pens with sheep and goats. He mimics the bigger kids he sees, feeding long strands of grass through the fence to whoever will eat them. Then we stop in the farm store to pay for the bag we intend to fill with our bounty and snack on fresh-baked donuts, holding hands as we enter a sea of ripening apple trees. We wander and pick and eat until our bellies and hearts are full and our bag is overflowing. Delighted with our haul, we manage to make it home in time for everyone’s mid-afternoon nap, passing farm stands and homesteads all along the way.
The next weekend I take the kids to a NOFA event on organic maple sugaring at a farm down the street from our house. It’s my day off, so I get to enjoy the tour as a spectator. The highlight for my son, of course, is sampling the syrups and maple butter at the end of our visit. I buy a pint to take back with us, excited about the hyper-locality of my purchase, how the syrup we’ll drizzle on our pancakes is made by our neighbors from trees practically in our own backyard. Before we part, I get a chance to introduce my children to an old friend and housemate who has recently started a farm a few towns over, and whose influence I credit with my interest in agriculture, leading to my career at NOFA today. I feel a sense of things coming full circle.
By Charles Geisler
I live on land in upstate New York awarded to Revolutionary War veteran, Izaac Doty, for his military service. I also live on traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hónǫ’ (the Cayuga Nation), a member of the Iroquois Confederacy that predated the Revolution. I purchased my land with income from Cornell University, a Land Grant institution. I tend to think I own this parcel free and clear, yet it is laden with equity issues and moral contingencies that require further truth-telling.
Not infrequently, our land belongs to us because our ancestors claimed territories belonging to its Indigenous inhabitants. In pursuit of profit, power, and dominion, Europeans annexed what they found. In dispossessing others they thought uncivilized, most of our settler forebearers believed that they were doing the right thing. But were they?
In this piece, I’ll comb through the deeply vexing side of land ownership as we practice it. Not many generations ago, Indigenous people partook in a robust spiritual tenure with all quarters of this continent and strong possessory ties of their own making. A lifequake occurred when European culture met theirs. We gradually took their territories and used law, religion, military brawn, and sustained conceit to turn justice into a juggernaut. I will summarize, all too briefly, the settler occupation that unfolded piecemeal across the United States. This will include recent reporting about Cornell University and its sister Land Grant Universities, accused of complicity in a government land grab extending to almost eleven million acres of Indigenous homelands.
By Solveig Hanson
This started as an article about beets. During my doctoral research in plant breeding and genetics, over the course of five years, I led a participatory breeding project, during which I co-selected five flavor-identified beet cultivars with farmers, chefs, and consumers in the Madison, Wisconsin area. The project started with questions about geosmin, the substance that confers earthy aroma to beets, and it ended (satisfyingly) with some answers and a new set of more complex questions. Two of the beet varieties – and the questions embodied therein – are now being offered by Fruition Seeds, in Naples, NY.
Stories are inherently shaped by authors, even as authors are shaped by the events that compose their stories. So I’m going to start with the conditions under which beets and I found one another, and then describe the way we shaped one another. Beets helped me sharpen my questions, pay closer attention, measure in meaningful ways, and also relax into the complexity of growth. Beets were with me as I learned to take up space; simultaneously, I helped these particular beets to find a space in seed packets, gardens, kitchens, and mouths.
So, going back in time for a bit: Beets were my companion as soon as I started graduate school in 2015. I’d come to the University of Wisconsin from a product management position in the seed industry, before which I’d been a vegetable grower in Iowa. As a farmer, seed seemed wondrous; I was smitten with the hope and classification schemes of seed catalogs, and I loved that on my farm, seed varieties had both personalities and jobs. On my farm and later, as part of the seed industry, seed was something I’d experienced as supplied by seed companies, then bought, observed, and transformed into food on farms. Even as a product manager evaluating the performance of varieties, I didn’t know much about the transformations that had brought about the seed itself. I came to grad school to find out, and hopefully to share what I learned.
By Kyle Semmel
Life in Refugee Camps
Although Abdullah “Abdi” Sundi’s family had farmed in Somalia for years, Abdi never learned how. In 1991, when he was just a boy, a bloody civil war broke out in his homeland. As a member of the Somali Bantu people, an ethnic group descended from Bantu tribes in Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania who were enslaved and brought to Somalia, Abdi and his family were considered second-class citizens. During the war, Somali Bantus were systematically stripped of their land and forced to make a dangerous trek across the border to Kenya to live in crowded refugee camps. What followed was an exodus of people tramping the barren, dusty landscape in the scorching heat, some for hundreds of miles; many succumbed en route, compelling mothers and fathers, sons and daughters to leave their loved ones behind. It’s the kind of life event that leaves lasting and irreparable scars.
In the camps, instead of practicing the traditional farming methods that had sustained them for generations, Abdi and his family had to rely on donations of food from the United Nations World Food Programme. The camps offered no opportunity to grow the types of delicious staple crops they were accustomed to, such as African maize, a nutrient-rich variety of corn that is hardier than its American cousin.
Abdi and his family lived at Dadaab Refugee Camp on the flat, windswept border of Somalia and Kenya. Their stay at Dadaab was supposed to be temporary, but it turned out to last more than a decade, when they were moved to another refugee camp—Kakuma in northern Kenya. While living in leaky, makeshift huts with iron sheets for roofs, he discovered how difficult life in camps can be with minimal medical aid, little water, no electricity, and no firewood to cook the all-too meager supply of food supplied by the United Nations Refugee Agency. To this day, the UN’s World Food Programme warns that more than 400,000 refugees still living in Kenya’s refugee camps face chronic food shortages.
By Kayla Devault
In mid-March of 2017, New Zealand officially recognized the Whanganui River as a living entity with rights. The river, which the Maori consider their ancestor, is now offered protection through the New Zealand legal system against any human or human-led project that threatens its well-being. It is a critical precedent for acknowledging the Rights of Nature in legal systems around the world.
The communities seeking protection for their natural entities through this approach are operating from a non-Western, often indigenous paradigm that holds a spiritual reverence to homelands and natural systems and an urgency to protect their natural resources. These values are not held in the laws of colonial governments like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, or the United States. But that does not mean they cease to exist, and, in fact, we are seeing a revival.
In response to the Standing Rock Sioux battle against the Dakota Access pipeline, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin amended its constitution to include the Rights of Nature. This is the first time a North American tribe has used a Western legal framework to adopt such laws. Some American municipalities have protected their watersheds against fracking by invoking Rights of Nature.
By Doug Hertzler
Access to land has become the number one issue for aspiring young farmers in the United States, who come from many different backgrounds. Secure relationship to land is a matter of sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples and social justice for local communities, particularly Black and Brown communities that have experienced displacement and land dispossession. During the next 15-20 years approximately 40-70% of US farmland will change hands. Unless something is done, much of this land will end up in the hands of an ever-smaller number of wealthy people, destroying opportunities for rural livelihoods and access to locally produced foods, while deepening environmental and land injustice.
We are witnessing a takeover of farmland by financial speculators that has some unexpected leaders. The largest manager of farmland in the world is the Teacher’s Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA), a trillion-dollar for-profit firm managing retirement funds for employees of colleges and universities, as well as a large number of hospitals and non-profits. TIAA owns over 2 million acres of farmland and about 1 million acres of timberland. TIAA’s largest assets in farmland are in the United States, while its most numerous acres of forests are in Brazil, and it also owns land in seven other countries.
TIAA is also the industry leader in publishing documents and brochures to make farmland speculation and unsustainable agribusiness seem respectable. The company has convinced many public pension funds to contribute to its pots of money for buying farmland. Public pension funds that have partnered with TIAA to buy land come from Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom, along with public funds from New Mexico, New York, Texas, Vermont and Washington.
By Elizabeth Henderson
In the US, the ideal for most farmers is to have their own farm and to hold it as private property. With farmland prices rising beyond what the sales of farm products can possibly cover and the financialization of farmland as a favored investment opportunity grasped eagerly by the likes of Bill Gates and TIAA, it is time to reexamine this ideal. Farmers of Color have led the way – from New Communities, the very first community land trust in the 1960s founded by Charles and Shirley Sherrod, to the recent formation of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust (NEFOC). The whole concept of private property was foreign to Native peoples. US law, however, limits alternative ways of holding land. So let’s look at what is possible and start talking about the advantages and disadvantages of escaping private ownership of farmland.
For a farm to be sustainable, secure tenure is necessary. Building healthy topsoil, nurturing diverse annual and perennial plantings, developing a team that works well together and establishing reliable markets with supportive community relations all require long-term investments. Over the past twenty years in the US, a few organic farmers have sought alternatives – long-term, inheritable leases on land owned by non-profit land trusts or conservation easements held by land trusts. Under US law, these arrangements are as close as you can come to turning private property into community property. The farms function as private businesses, but the broader society has the opportunity to invest in the farmland, reducing the financial burden on farmers while guaranteeing the preservation of this essential resource.
The high cost of land in densely populated areas in the US has made it difficult for farmers to acquire adequate amounts of quality farmland. Many small-scale farmers lease land from non-farming owners who benefit from the reduced rate of taxation on land used for agriculture. Often these leases are short-term and when the owner decides to sell, the farmer is left with no choice but to leave. Partnering with Conservation and Community Land Trusts can make farmland affordable for the long term. Holding Ground: A Guide to Northeast Farmland Tenure and Stewardship documents some of these experiments and provides case studies, sample leases, and checklists. Land for Good, a not-for-profit based in New Hampshire, offers resources, advice and workshops on farmland access, tenure and transfer issues.
By Mike Rechlin, Ph.D
Harvesting sap to produce maple syrup is a historic farming activity in many areas of the Northeast and Appalachia. Originally a Native American craft, “sugaring” was quickly brought into the subsistence livelihood of European colonists and then into the market economy of our growing nation. Syrup making is an easy process, involving evaporation through boiling of sap collected from trees. The primary sap-producing trees are maple trees. But what if you don’t have any maple trees, or at least don’t have enough maple trees, or if you were in a position where you could expand your business and make more syrup if you had more trees?
This issue of land access, or more specifically tree access, is as problematic for many maple farmers as it is in other agricultural pursuits. In this article we are going to explore common sap harvesting agreements and look at the economics of a specific example; how West Virginia maple syrup producer Mark Bowers, owner of Bowers Maple Farm works with a neighboring forestland owner, Randy Kimble, to the mutual benefit of both.
Sap Harvesting Agreements
Just like leasing pasture to support a growing herd of cows, maple producers lease trees to support their increased production of maple syrup. This allows syrup producers to expand production beyond the forest resource they have available on their own lands. It has become particularly important as Reverse Osmosis (RO) technology has been introduced to sugar making. With an RO, a syrup producer can concentrate the sugars in their sap from the natural average of approximately 2% to over 12% before it gets to the evaporator. Boiling concentrated sap allows an operation to make more syrup in a given amount of time, thus using less fuel. Depending on the demand for trees to lease, a landowner can expect from $0.50 to $1.00 per tree. A good sugarbush can have 70 taps per acre, realizing an annual income to the landowner of between $35 to $70/acre. For many landowners, this comes with the added benefit of the tapped area being eligible for agricultural tax benefits. Leasing trees for tapping requires a long-term tenure relationship between the forest landowner and the maple syrup producer. The producer will have to invest in installing a sap collection system. In all but the smallest operations, this means purchasing and installing a tubing system that will have a lifespan of about 15 years. It only makes sense for the syrup producer to make that investment if they have a commitment from the landowner to allow tapping for that period of time.
By Caroline Fanning
Twenty years ago, when my husband and I were apprentices in the Hudson Valley, the world of small-scale farms could be divided into two general camps. One camp included the old family farms struggling to keep the land both in production and in the family. The other included the new, nonprofit farms working leased land. The latter were usually fledgling operations subsidized by off-farm revenue and governed by a board of directors.
Dan and I came up through the nonprofit ranks—we are first-generation farmers from Long Island—but as we grew more hopeful of a future in farming, that route began to feel like a dead end. Being employees offered a steady paycheck, but not the freedom to spread our wings. As we got older, we craved the independence that comes from owning your own land. With nothing affordable on Long Island, however, and lacking the confidence to consider land far away, we kept searching for local opportunities that would provide both land and independence. As it happened, we got lucky.
In 2007, Nassau County issued a Request for Proposals for an organic farm at a park near us. We submitted a bid and won. We were thrilled, but also skeptical of the 3-year Use and Occupancy permit being offered (a U&O grants access to land but no protection from being kicked off). We wanted a lease, but the county wouldn’t consider it. Ultimately, we managed to stretch the U&O term from three years to six. Some people advised against it, but we were desperate to farm, and we still believed it was a horse worth betting on. The park—the Old Bethpage Village Restoration—is a 209-acre living history museum featuring 18th and 19th-century buildings; its fields had been cultivated in the not-too-distant past. An organic farm seemed like a natural fit for the site, and we didn’t fear the possibility of a developer edging us out at the end of our term.
By Elizabeth Gabriel
We know well that finding land is one of the biggest challenges for new farmers, and even more so for young farmers or farmers of color. Unless you’re getting into farming later in life, after having a six-figure career for a few decades – which is not the case for most new farmers – purchasing land listed publicly on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is nearly impossible. While levels vary throughout the country, nationally, agricultural land prices today are the highest they have been in nearly a decade, experiencing a 7% increase just in the last year. The highest prices are found on land that’s within a reasonable distance to an urban market – where any new farmer wants to be – with all of New England having some of the most expensive land in the country. Farmers have had to get creative about how to buy land or secure long-term land tenure. This issue and upcoming TNF issues will highlight different land access models, from lease arrangements to Incubator Farm programs and crowdsourcing campaigns to community land trusts and cooperative land arrangements. This story of how Shelterbelt Farm got their land is unique and combines intergenerational relationships, neighbor relationships and the beginnings of grappling with white privilege and access.
By Kristina Villa
The Agrarian Trust exists to raise awareness and address the crisis of exceedingly high land prices that puts land access out of reach for many farmers, the abuse of farmland that is depleting the life of our planet, and the agricultural land which is lost to development at a rate of 2,000 acres per day. Our work is focused on providing secure and equitable long-term land tenure to farmers wanting to feed their communities using regenerative, organic, and biodynamic practices that heal the Earth and sustain communities.
With over 400 million acres of land changing hands over the next two decades, the way this land transitions is crucial to the future of people, food, and the climate. Agrarian Trust is focusing on this moment of land transition to ensure that farmland is transitioned not only from one farmer to the next but also from private property ownership into a community-held commons.
The Agrarian Commons, an initiative of the Agrarian Trust, is a bold and innovative approach to land ownership, access, and tenure that is developing in communities across the country through diverse and rich relationships. Each Agrarian Commons has a board made up of one-third local community members, one-third the farmer(s) leasing and stewarding the land it holds, and one-third national Agrarian Trust representation. The board makes the decisions about the land and the priorities of that Commons, including deciding how much the farmer should pay for tenure on the land. Farmers generally receive a 99-year lease to the land (lease length is dictated by state law and therefore varies some state-to-state), providing long-term, affordable and secure access to land to build a farming business that strengthens the local food system. In the Agrarian Commons model, the farmer is able to build equity through payments made into their affordable, below market value lease, through infrastructure improvements, and even by building soil health.
By Mary-Howell and Klaas Martens
American agriculture has a serious problem. The average American grain farmer is in their 60’s, often lacking a ‘next generation’ willing to carry forward their parents’ dreams, hard-earned success, and, perhaps most importantly, their parents’ debt. Generational transfer, especially when there are both farming and non-farming heirs, is a serious challenge when the family property is held in not easily negotiable land, equipment and animals. This can make distributing inheritance equitably amongst all the heirs fraught and perceivably unfair.
Often, this challenge is solved by selling the farm. The entry of massive amounts of corporate/foreign private equity and venture capital money into rural America has resulted in many small independent farms being consolidated into large, absentee-held acreage, with hired farm managers and migrant workers replacing farm families. As small towns empty, the local schools, stores, churches and community services are gutted, leaving behind insidious rural poverty without the support of young families and active tax revenue. It is nearly impossible for us to believe in a future of regained local land ownership and vibrant functional communities once outside investment money buys our farmland.
The absentee landlord-owned farming system has a strong incentive to generate maximum annual income with little to no maintenance or improving the health of the soil. The Midwest is losing on average 2 pounds of topsoil for every pound of corn produced and several times that much soil for every pound of soybeans. Over the past 50 years, nearly every attempt to require basic soil conservation as a precondition for subsidy payments has failed. The biggest crop production subsidies now are buried in the crop insurance system and even there, where good soil conservation clearly reduces long-term risk, the system penalizes many good practices and rewards those who seek short-term gains.
By Kathy Ruhf and Jim Habana Hafner
Many farmers are exploring ways to farm together. The idea of being and sharing with other farmers is not only appealing but innately human. The impulse to cooperate is as old as agriculture itself when sustaining one’s self and family was a group effort, and individual sustenance was only possible in community. Today this is sometimes referred to as “collaborative farming,” “cooperative farming,” or “collective farming.” When farming as a group, farmers may share resources, assets, knowledge and skills. A group of farmers could share equipment, inputs, marketing and/or labor.
Farmers could also share land
This article focuses on how farmers access land as a group. The focus is on farmers with commercial aims, although the motivations for, and benefits of “group farmland access” extend beyond economic considerations. It is worth noting that an increasing number of private and public landowners are interested in providing group farming opportunities on their land.
Like many visions about farming, “group farmland access” can mean different things. In this article, group farmland access means two or more farmers using a specific property for farming. A group might also consist of farmers and non-farmers on land together. Group farmland access implies some amount of purposeful interaction among the farmers in the group, on a piece of land. So farmers who rent land from the same landlord but do not interact with each other in meaningful ways would not be considered “group farming.” They would just be independent tenants.
By Grace Gershuny
Land ownership is often considered to be integral to achieving the “American dream.” At the founding of this country, only white male landowners could vote. The expansion of European settlements in North America was predicated on theft of land from Indigenous peoples who did not share the settlers’ concept of land ownership, believing that the land and the earth, in general, belonged to all of humanity as the source of life. The converging crises confronting humanity now require a complete rethinking of all our social and political relationships. Fundamental to this transformation is a shift in how we relate to land and its care. Land stewardship must return to the control of the community, for the common good. One way to begin is by creating community land trusts that hold ownership of the land while offering secure tenure to resident land stewards through long-term inheritable leases. This is my story of how I came to become a landowner, and why I am working on such an arrangement for my own homeland that can be replicated elsewhere.
My land ownership saga
I became a landowner for the first time in 1973. I had just moved to Vermont to be with my first husband, and we had to move out of the rented house he had been sharing with some friends. We found an old farmhouse that we could afford with a few acres of mostly wet land along the Clyde River in West Charleston, VT. That summer we had the only tillable half-acre tilled and harrowed, and I had my first gardening experience. I was totally hooked on growing food and knew that we would need more land to really be able to farm.
In a few years, we found about 100 acres nearby that we were able to purchase along with three other families. The property was located about a mile up a fourth-class road that was not maintained in the winter, but power lines were already there. I envisioned developing a cooperative farming venture of some kind, but there was no cohesive plan of that sort by the group. After a couple of marriage breakups (including my own) and other life changes in the group, the land was divided up and everyone just maintained their own homestead.