Five years might not seem like a long time to many, but to the farmers at Long Winter Farm in Stowe, it almost seems like a lifetime. “These last five years have flown by. But at the same time, we’ve learned and grown so much since then, it feels like we’ve been here forever,” explains Annie Paradee, now co-owner of Long Winter Farm.
Want to farm. Can’t find land.
Annie and Andrew Paradee purchased their 49-acre farm in 2016, thanks to an innovative farm-access program.
“When we were looking for farmland, Stowe wasn’t even on our radar. We just assumed land here would be too expensive,” says Annie. “We loved living in Nebraska Valley, but were sure we’d have to look elsewhere to find a property we could afford.”
Working together with Vermont Land Trust (whose Farmland Access Program has become a national model for making farmland affordable), Stowe Land Trust brought together community members and local businesses to donate funds to purchase an agricultural conservation easement on the property. The agreement ensures the farm’s productive soils will continue to be put toward agricultural use—and will remain affordable for future generations. Like other farmland protection projects, the land remains on the tax rolls and is managed by the landowner.
Yet with every farmland access project, there are at least two families involved.
In this case, it was Christine Kaiser whose family had owned and cared for the farm for over seventy years. Christine wanted to see her family farm passed on to someone who would continue to work and care for the land. But finding a suitable buyer—someone committed to working the land, with experience farming, and able to afford Stowe’s high property values—was a challenge.
Farmland conservation offers a solution to both problems
“We looked around for a long time. There is absolutely no way we would be farming in Stowe without having had the opportunity to purchase conserved farmland,” says Annie. “But thanks to the land being priced at its conserved agricultural value we were able to create a business plan that supports our family and allows us to operate the farm sustainably.”
The past five years have been busy, yet thanks to their innovation and hard work, the results at Long Winter Farm are clearly evident. This year, their Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) program continued to expand, serving approximately 70 households this summer.
Their flexible CSA model allows people to spend their credit at a self-service farm store, as well accommodating non-member shoppers. Andrew Paradee, Annie’s husband, notes that the CSA structure is important for small and mid-sized growers. “For us, it’s a way to work with our community, grow the food they want to eat, and have the necessary funding in the spring to grow and plant the crops and make the improvements needed."
Along with visits by the general public to their farm store, the Paradees estimate they now serve around 100 families a week.
Growing the connections to local food
Over the last five years as part of their commitment to the local community, the farm has expanded to include four high tunnel greenhouses, a refrigerated farm store, a diversified vegetable operation, and organically fed chickens, pigs, and cows.
In addition to retail operations, Long Winter wholesales their produce to local markets.
This past spring, the farm began regularly supplying produce to Mountain Village School after they worked with school staff to apply for a Vermont Department of Agriculture CSA grant. The private school, located in Stowe Village, offers natured-based early childhood education and after school programs for students six weeks of age through fifth grade.
Thanks to the grant award, Mountain Village School’s Chef Ryan now turns the farm’s excess harvest into healthy, delicious meals for school students, including Oliver—the Paradee’s oldest child.
“Working with Mountain Village School has been great. Having the farm be a part of the kids’ lives is pretty special,” says Andrew. “We love the amazing connections the farm has made possible over the last five years.”
Farming is undergoing a major generational shift
Vermont, as is true for much of the country, faces the reality that over 30% of farmers are over the age of 65. Many, like Christine Kaiser, are looking to retire, with the hope that other farmers will take over their land rather than see it be sold for development.
Yet, as was the case with Long Winter Farm, the barrier to access is significant.
This coming year, with increasing support from the Stowe community, as well as partnerships with the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont and U.S. Departments of Agriculture, we will continue to explore opportunities to conserve additional farms.
“There are many younger entrepreneurs in Vermont who are interested in starting or expanding sustainable agricultural enterprises,” says Annie. “We are so fortunate to be farming in Stowe, and want the same opportunity for other farmers hoping to enrich their communities.”
Looking forward, Annie and Andrew don’t take anything for granted, yet they also see a future worth investing in. “We became a part of the community in ways we didn’t fully expect when we started,” says Annie. “Stowe has really embraced us. And knowing that what we’re doing is part of people’s lives, that we’re feeding our friends and neighbors, is incredibly rewarding.”