Young farmers, land trust hope to conserve 687 acres in Bristol

BRISTOL — Trent and Abby Roleau always knew they wanted to have their own farm, a dream that few people can achieve in their early 20s.
Then, early this year, an email from the Vermont Land Trust landed in their inboxes. VLT was notifying its email list that it was seeking applications for a conservation project that would protect 687 acres of woodland and farmland on Route 116 north of Bristol village, land currently owned by the Farr and Fuller families. The Roleaus decided to throw their hat in the ring and drew up a business plan.
“It allows us to live the lifestyle we’ve always wanted,” said Trent Roleau, 23, who grew up on his parents’ Isham Brook Farm in Lincoln. Abby, 21, was raised on her parents’ Scholten Family Farm in Weybridge.
The VLT selected the Roleaus’ business plan among around a dozen applications. The Roleaus plan to make use of their many skills to start a diversified farm operation. They will expand the sugar bush currently operating on the Fuller farm further into the woodland, establish a farm stand to make use of the high-traffic road, and launch a beef and pork operation. Trent Roleau, a carpenter by trade, plans to refurbish the old farmhouse on the property, which is currently uninhabitable.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Roleau said. “It’ll get busy, especially as our family grows. But it’s worth it.”
VLT has launched a fundraising campaign for the project. Over 85 percent of the $550,000 required to fund the project — for development rights to both farms and an “affordability option” that guarantees the price of the farm will be kept low in the future, even if it changes owners — has already been raised, with major awards from the Vermont Housing and Conservation board, among other sources including $48,000 from Bristol area residents and organizations, and a $10,000 pledge from the Bristol conservation commission.
At the time the conservation project goes into effect, the Roleaus will purchase the Farr farm — a historic business that has run a dairy operation for generations. The Fullers will keep the land in the family; the Farr farm is at a very reduced price due to VLT’s purchase of the development rights.
In addition to adding to the working landscape, the conservation project also protects a crucial farm and woods area. The parcel narrows dramatically into farm fields on both sides of Route 116 and quickly transitions into steep forested hills. The two properties have more than 500 acres of woodland that border the farm fields. On the western side is Hogback Ridge, which tops out at Deer Leap Cliff, an important peregrine falcon nesting area. Lincoln’s Colby Hill Town Forest, the Bristol Cliffs Wilderness Area and the Green Mountain National Forest are also nearby, which has created an important wildlife corridor for bear, fox and many other species of mammals and birds.
But there is still some fundraising work to be done before the October 2013 deadline. Members of the public will have a chance to ask questions and donate at a booth that a local committee will run at the Fourth of July parade in Bristol. A benefit will be held at Mary’s Restaurant at the Inn at Baldwin Creek from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Aug. 4. The inn is located at the intersection of Routes 116 and 17, just down the road from the Roleaus’ future farm. A raffle will be held and local authors, including Lincoln’s John Elder, will host a reading.

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