Route 5 Farm Stand Changes Hands

  • Liz and Jake Guest of Killdeer Farm prepare to move out of their farm stand on Route 5 on Dec. 1, 2016 in Norwich, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tim Taylor,of Crossroad Farm in Post Mills, Vt. works in one of the farm's greenhouses on Dec. 1, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Farm manager (and soon-to-be partner) Philip Mason of Crossroad Farm, left, and former manager Scott Woolsey, of Killdeer Farm, talk about the workings of the Route 5 farm stand in Norwich, Vt., on Dec. 1, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Norwich — The owners of Crossroad Farm, along with a younger colleague, are taking over the popular Route 5 farm stand Killdeer Farm has operated for nearly three decades.

In a transaction scheduled to take place this morning, Tim and Janet Taylor, owners of Crossroad Farm in Post Mills, and their farm manager, Phil Mason, will take on ownership of the stand from Killdeer Farm’s owners, Jake and Liz Guest, for an undisclosed sale price.

The building, constructed in 1990 and located between King Arthur Flour and the grounds of the Norwich Farmers’ Market, is valued at $24,800, according to Norwich’s online property records.

At the same time, Crossroad Farm will also take on a three-year lease of the Route 5 property — owned by Sally Bower, of Norwich — on which the farm stand sits.

Attempts to reach Bower by phone before deadline were unsuccessful.

The change paves the way for the Guests, both in their early 70s, to work less than the 10 hours a day, seven days a week that has been typical for them during the growing season.

“I don’t want to keep doing that, but I’m not going to stop altogether,” Jake Guest said in an interview on Monday.

The Guests, who live on Butternut Road in Norwich, have two grandchildren, 1 and 4, in Montana and they’d like to have more time to visit them, he said.

The sale was also spurred by the departure of Killdeer Farm Stand’s longtime manager Scott Woolsey at the end of this year’s growing season.

Woolsey, who also taught classes at King Arthur Flour and is president of the Vermont Fresh Network, is moving to Utah where his wife, Lucy, is attending graduate school.

Killdeer’s farm stand, which was open five days a week from May to Thanksgiving, served more than 400 community-supported agriculture customers as well as day-to-day shoppers.

In addition to the stand itself, the deal includes transferring ownership of its contents: Coolers, benches, lighting and the cash register, Guest said. Tim Taylor described it as “turnkey.”

The Route 5 shop, now Crossroad Farm Stand, will allow the Taylors to expand the retail portion of their business. While the Taylors run a busy farm stand in Post Mills and have had a long-standing presence at the Norwich Farmers’ Market, much of their revenue has been derived from wholesale accounts with restaurants, stores, summer camps and distributors, Black River Produce and Upper Valley Produce.

In contrast to Killdeer’s model of leasing much of its farmland, the Taylors’ Crossroad Farm includes 56 acres, a sufficient land base to grow a diversified assortment of vegetables.

Expanding the retail side of the business by operating the farm stand much the way Killdeer has, as a way to sell their own crops, as well as those of other area growers, cheesemakers and meat producers, will allow Crossroad to take on one to two additional full-time employees, Tim Taylor said. Having the additional hands on board will help the Taylors advance their retirement plans, said Taylor, who will turn 65 this year.

“If we have a reputation for something, it’s for planning,” said Taylor, who sits on Thetford’s Development Review Board and the state’s District 3 Environmental Commission.

In time, the plan is for Mason, perhaps with another partner, to buy them out. One step toward that end was accomplished in 2013, when the Taylors sold the development rights on their farm to the Vermont Land Trust, ensuring that the land would remain available for agricultural use in perpetuity.

The conservation agreement means the land will be sold at its agricultural value, which makes it more affordable for Mason.

Though Mason, at 30, is the young one of the bunch, he is not new to farming nor to Crossroad Farm. A Thetford native who now lives in Norwich, Mason began working for the Taylors as a 14-year-old the summer before his freshman year at Thetford Academy.

Mason’s work ethic was apparent early on and he was eager to learn and earn money to buy his first car, Taylor said.

Mason attended Colby College in Maine and earned a bachelor’s degree in government and international relations in 2008, but each summer he returned to the farm to work. Over the years, he’s gradually taken on managing the 30 or so wholesale accounts and the farm’s employees, Taylor said.

For Mason’s part, the decision to work on the farm was relatively easy.

As his college friends took jobs in such cities as Boston and Washington, he wasn’t envious of their lengthy commutes or time spent at desks.

“I very quickly realized that I really loved the diversity of the work that farming is,” Mason said in a phone interview this week. He said he feels fortunate to have found meaningful work in the Upper Valley.

“I love the area where I grew up,” he said.

What’s in a Label?

While the Killdeer Farm Stand is changing hands from one local farm to another, there is at least one difference that some shoppers might notice.

Killdeer Farm is certified organic, meaning the Guests avoid synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and follow management practices set by the National Organic Program of the USDA and monitored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

Crossroad Farm is not certified organic, but Tim Taylor said they are very conscientious about the way their management practices impact the environment and consumers.

“Certification is just a little too dogmatic; to have someone else tell me what I can and can’t do,” said Taylor, who has a degree from Vermont Law School. “It’s a little too narrow.”

Instead, Taylor said he opts for practices that yield produce he is comfortable feeding his grandchildren. “That’s how at Crossroads we grow … Grandchild-certified,” he said.

Given the large corporations which have adopted the organic label in recent years, Guest said he has doubts about its significance.

“Organic standards are being diluted,” Guest said.

He predicted Upper Valley consumers would adapt to Crossroad’s management of the farm stand.

“I think it’s going to be OK,” he said. “They do such a good job.”

Growing a Local Food Movement

The Guests and the Taylors are certainly not strangers. Tim Taylor remembered attending Jake Guest’s 40th birthday, more than 30 years ago.

Over the years, their efforts have combined to help build local food systems in the Upper Valley.

Both Killdeer and Crossroad were early vendors at the Norwich Farmers’ Market. And in the early years, the farms were members of a cooperative that shared a truck to deliver locally grown produce to area restaurants.

They also helped to set an example for other farmers, said Nancy LaRowe, the coordinator of Valley Food and Farm, a program of Vital Communities.

“Those two stand out as being remarkably good at business,” said LaRowe, who also runs Hogwash Farm, a pasture-based livestock operation in Norwich.

By selling locally grown produce to retailers and restaurants in the region, the two farms helped to open up markets for other growers, LaRowe said.

“They did a lot to increase how much local food is available everywhere,” she said.

For the short term, the Guests, who have been farming for more than three decades, will continue to grow and sell some crops — likely carrots, spinach and sweet corn — to Crossroad Farm for the stand and to area stores. They will also retail flowering bedding plants, hanging baskets, perennials, and vegetable and herb starts from greenhouses near their home on Butternut Road in Norwich.

The longer-term future of the Guests’ two Butternut Road properties totaling 16 acres has yet to be determined.

They may sell their land and greenhouses together as a farm, one of their children may be interested in it, or they could subdivide and sell it as a couple of house lots, Guest said.

The Guests are in the process of building a home on 24 acres of land they own in the village of Ely in Thetford, Guest said. They plan to move there in 2017.

More than three decades ago, when they got their start in farming, the Guests made the decision to locate their farm near the heart of the Upper Valley, close to the Hanover and Upper Valley co-ops, restaurants and other markets for their organic vegetables and fruit.

The prime location meant they weren’t able to own as much land as they would have been able to afford elsewhere in the valley, Guest said. Instead, they have cultivated an assortment of leased plots over the years. While the arrangement has worked for them and helped make the business a success, it may make it a little more difficult to cash out for retirement, he said.

The sale of the farm stand to Crossroad Farm is one step toward that goal.

“This was nice,” Guest said. “It was really good for everybody.”

More information about Killdeer Farm can be found online at killdeerfarm.com and more information about Crossroad Farm is at crossroadfarm.com.

Valley News Staff Writer Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.