Stowe farmer, Ken Ricketson, is partnering with Stowe Land Trust and the Vermont Land Trust to protect 210 acres of the farm on Route 100 that has been in his family for three generations. A community-wide fundraising effort is underway to help cover the $2.5 million cost of conserving the farm.
When Ken’s grandparents bought the dairy farm in 1916, there were close to 200 farms in Stowe. Today, the Ricketson Farm is one of the few that remain. And its future is uncertain.
After selling his milking herd last May and starting to think about retirement, Ken knew he needed to make a plan for the future. He did not want that plan to include his farm being subdivided and developed. By working with the land trusts, he hopes the land can stay together and in farming.
“We truly appreciate Ken’s commitment to keeping his family’s land open and available for a next generation of farmers” said Kristen Sharpless, executive director of Stowe Land Trust. “The farm is an amazing agricultural resource and a unique landmark. If it disappeared, it would be a huge loss to the Stowe area community.”
As Stowe’s most prominent remaining farm, the Ricketson Farm defines the northern scenic gateway to Stowe. Including a distinctive farmstead, 115 acres of excellent agricultural soils, and surrounded by conserved farmland, it greets you as you drive into town from Morrisville along Route 100 and bids you farewell when you head north out of town. Many know it as the place where traffic often stops to let the cows cross the road from the barn to the pasture along Moss Glenn Brook.
“The Ricketson Farm is part of the fabric of Stowe,” according to Rita Ricketson, Ken’s sister, who also grew up on the farm and now lives nearby in Middlesex. “I’m grateful that my brother, the land trusts, and the community are making it possible for the land to remain in agricultural use, even though the farm may change.”
The Ricketsons also have a special attachment to the forested part of the farm that contains a rare peat bog. Their mother, Lillian, was an amateur botanist and took the family on outings there to explore and learn the native plants.
The bog is part of a regionally-important wetland complex that extends into Morristown and includes Joes Pond and Valcour Bog which are conserved with Stowe Land Trust. This collection of wetlands provides vital habitat for a diversity of plants and wildlife and ecosystem services like carbon storage, water quality protection and flood reduction. The section of Moss Glenn Brook that runs through the farm along Route 100 will also be restored and protected with a separate river corridor easement, leveraging the project’s investment in clean water, healthy habitats, and flood control.
“The Ricketson Farm is among the top conservation priorities for the Stowe community and Stowe Land Trust.” According to Dave Wilkens, chairman of the board of Stowe Land Trust. “Conserving this unique property means protecting Stowe’s farming heritage and future, our land-based tourism economy, our local quality of life, and our community’s strategic wellbeing.
“Vermont’s best farmland is a precious resource that is under constant threat from development,” Al Karnatz from Vermont Land Trust commented. “I commend Ken for choosing to conserve his excellent farmland and for protecting water quality along Moss Glenn Brook.”
Conserving the farm will cost $2.5 million. Ken Ricketson has already generously committed to donating $425,000 in value to the effort. The land trusts need to raise the remaining $2.1 million to cover the bargain sale purchase of the development rights, project costs, and stewardship endowment contributions.
Earlier this year, the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board granted $1,063,000 in state and federal funds to support the project. The grant is one of the largest made by the board for farmland conservation in Vermont since it was established in 1987.
Stowe Land Trust is tasked with securing the remaining $1,047,000 needed before March 2022 when the conservation deal is scheduled to close. A local fundraising effort is currently underway. “The initial generosity we’ve already seen from people who want to help is fantastic,” said Sharpless. “For those who are passionate about Stowe’s rural character, local food and the future of farming in our community, this is a great opportunity to make a direct positive impact.”
After the farm is conserved, Ken Ricketson will continue to own the property subject to a permanent conservation easement held by Vermont Land Trust. Stowe Land Trust will maintain a back-up conservation easement. For the near term and while he works out a transition plan, Ken will likely continue to keep some heifers and lease all or a portion of his fields to other local farmers in need of additional land.
“Over the long-term, the land could support many different types of farming operations and enterprises, such as hay, grains, dairy, beef, goats, vegetables, berries or vineyards and more,” said Sharpless. “There are no guarantees for what exactly will happen on the farm, but it is exciting to think about what could be possible.”
For more information about conserving the Ricketson Farm, visit https://www.stowelandtrust.org/projects/ricketson-farm or contact Stowe Land Trust at (802) 253-7221 or firstname.lastname@example.org