Preserving a Post Mills Farm
Heidi Johnson of South Strafford, Vt., picks beans with other workers mid-morning at Crossroads Farm in Post Mills, Vt., on July 30, 2013. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Janet Taylor, who owns Crossroads Farm with her husband Tim, holds her grandson, Zaphoro Hess, 15 months, on the porch of her home in Post Milles, Vt., on July 30, 2013. Janet and Tim have lived on the property for 35 years, and have been farming for 33. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Crossroads Farm owner Tim Taylor bags up a customer's purchase in Post Mills, Vt., in September 2011. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Leo Charuhas, 16, of Newbury, Vt., loads a box of fresh herbs and produce into a delivery truck destined for the Woodstock Farmers Market while at Crossroads Farm in Post Mills, Vt., on July 30, 2013. The Vermont Land Trust is raising funds to conserve the 56 acres of land belonging to Tim and Janet Taylor, ensuring that the farm would be passed on to another generation of farmers. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Handmade signs label freshly picked vegetables at the Crossroads Farm Stand in Post Mills, Vt., on July 30, 2013. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Sarah Roberts, 19, of Thetford, Vt., bags vegetables and blueberries for Marya Hurzeler of Tunbridge, Vt., at Crossroads Farm Stand in Post Mills, Vt., on July 30, 2013. Hurzeler, who bought several bags of groceries from the stand, said, "I eat a lot of vegetables, and I don't have very good luck with my own garden, so I come here." (Valley News — Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Post Mills — Standing among their thriving veggies sprouting from rich soil, it’s not difficult to imagine why Tim and Janet Taylor want to conserve Crossroad Farm’s 56 acres.
“It’d almost be self explanatory once you come out here,” Tim Taylor said as he walked with his wife, both owners and growers at Crossroad Farm, between their fields Tuesday afternoon.
Thirty-four years of tender loving care has gone into plowing and planting the greenhouses and coveted farmland that begins at the edge of their modest white farmhouse on West Fairlee Road and seems to flow between patches of trees and into the surrounding mountains and hills.
There isn’t a developer currently threatening to plant cookie-cutter homes atop their pumpkin patches, they said, nor are the Taylors looking to sell the farm anytime soon.
They just want to ensure that when they are ready to retire, Crossroad Farm won’t become a subdivision. So a year and a half ago, they started weighing their options. They knew they wanted to conserve the land and were attracted to the Vermont Land Trust’s Farmland Access Program, which began in 2009 and strives to provide farmers access to affordable land. Since the program’s inception, the trust has supported 28 projects in Vermont, Vice President for Community Relations Elise Annes said.
In the trust’s more than 30 year history, Annes said, the organization has preserved a total of 730 farmland parcels throughout the state.
The married couple of nearly 40 years is selling the land’s development rights — what makes the property so valuable — to the trust for a little less than the appraised value of $280,000. The Taylors will still own the farm and pay taxes on the land, but if or when they decide to sell, the trust will screen potential buyers and approve them only if they plan to cultivate the land for crops. Without the development rights included in the selling price, the land becomes much more affordable for farmers looking to buy.
“By using the Vermont Land Trust as the vehicle to conserve our land, we know the farm will remain as it is,” Tim Taylor said.
The Taylors, in their early sixties, still get their hands dirty every day, putting in long hours from early spring to late fall. They often travel during the winter months, but said eventually they’d like to step away from the daily grind of the farm operation and garden as a hobby rather than a career.
“Part of farming is planning,” Janet Taylor said with a laugh, and her husband added that “Tim and Janet will still be farming next year and for the foreseeable future.”
The money they receive from the sale will go toward their retirement, Tim Taylor said. But the total bill to conserve the property exceeds the $280,000 appraised development rights. The full cost is $312,000, Annes said. The trust has applied for a grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which will be matched by the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program managed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Bob Linck, the trust’scentral Vermont director, said it has received preliminary approval for the highly competitive grant but won’t receive final approval until late September.
“Based on past experience and the truly amazing character of this farmland, it’s not in the bag but we are encouraged it will be supported,” Linck said.
The grant would cover $247,000 of the total project cost, and the Taylors have donated $5,000 to the conservation effort, leaving another $60,000 to be raised by community members and donors by October 31. The trust is working with local organizations, including the Thetford Conservation Commission, to raise the additional funds. Pending approval from the selectboard, the Thetford Conservation Commission has pledged $2,500 to the cause from the town’s conservation fund.
Additionally, each member of the Thetford commission have made personal donations to the fundraising effort, though Annes wasn’t able to provide how much they donated individually.
Tax-deductible donations can be made out to the Vermont Land Trust and mailed by October 31, 2013 to its headquarters at 8 Bailey Avenue, Montpelier, VT 05602, according to a news release from the trust.
Li Shen, chairwoman of the Thetford Conservation Commission, said it only makes sense for members to make personal contributions since Crossroad Farm is such an integral part of the Thetford community.
“People love that farm stand,” Shen said. “A lot of people have been faithful customers of the Taylors for decades.”
She said it’s important to preserve farmlands like the Taylors, which are prime agricultural soils because they are formed by geological deposits. “We can’t make more of those,” Shen said.
She added that there are a lot of young Vermonters who have grown up amid this “buy local” movement and have a desire to farm, but can’t afford the land.
“There’s a big agricultural renaissance going on in Vermont,” Shen said. “This would help sustain this movement and keep it going.”
In recent years, the trust has conserved a handful of farms in the Upper Valley, including recent projects in Norwich and Weathersfield, Annes said.
“It is a very thoughtful, generous, meaningful decision to protect their land,” Annes said of the Taylors.
Conserving the land is about much more than the money, Tim Taylor said. Afterall, they could sell their valuable land to developers if they wanted to make money.
“We want to conserve Crossroad Farm because the farm has been our life’s work and we’d like to see it continue on as a farm,” Tim Taylor said in the release. “We know every little pebble on the farm and we can tell you the best spot to plant potatoes, and where not to plant lettuce. We love this land. It is some of the best soil in Vermont and it can continue to feed thousands every year. We hope to help make that possible.”
The Taylors’ history with Crossroad Farm is an interesting tale, one they share often and have written about on the farm’s website.
The couple both grew up in the suburbs of New York City and met while getting their undergraduate degrees at Hobart and William Smith College in upstate New York. They graduated in 1973 and married the same year. The Taylors spent time studying art history in Germany before returning to Vermont in 1975 so Tim could study law at Vermont Law School in South Royalton. He graduated in 1978 and the young couple found a “fixer upper” in Post Mills, which came with 12 acres of agricultural land. After a two year clerkship in Norwich, Tim decided he’d rather work outdoors than in an office. The couple welcomed their first child in 1980 and Janet stopped teaching preschool at the Norwich Day Care Center.
“We always wanted to get our hands dirty,” Tim Taylor said.
So the couple started farming the land.
After three decades of business, their 12 acres have expanded to more than 50 and their farm crew has grown to about 20 staffers, including high school and college students. Crossroad Farm sells produce to many local businesses and wholesale customers, including The Prince and Pauper Restaurant, Simon Pearce, The Woodstock Farmers’ Market and the Aloha Camps, according to the farm’s website.
Although their two kids grew up at Crossroad Farm, Tim Taylor said it isn’t likely either one, now adults, will return to take it over. Their son lives in Massachusetts and their daughter spends part of the year in Panama. But there are a couple young farmhands who have been with the Taylors for many years and could potentially buy Crossroad Farm once the current owners are ready to sell.
“They have staff there who might be great candidates and I think would be great candidates,” Linck said.
Vermont Land Trust invites any community members interested in the conservation effort to attend a fundraising event on August 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Crossroad Farm for a catered afternoon of “light food and friendly conversation.”
Katie Mettler can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3234.