Town, land trust seek to conserve open space at two Middlebury farms

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Land Trust (VLT) is seeking to raise a combined total of around $814,000 to permanently conserve substantial acreage on two of Middlebury’s dwindling number of dairy farms.
The money would protect from development 148 acres of the Butler Farm off Munger Street, and 210 acres of the Quarry Road Farm owned by Shirley Pominville and her son Joel.
The VLT got a big assist in its efforts last week when the Middlebury selectboard voted unanimously to contribute a combined $55,000 from the town’s conservation fund to the Butler and Quarry Road Farm deals.
Allen Karnatz, the VLT’s Champlain Valley Farm Director, said the Middlebury contribution will help both farms’ causes as their funding applications get reviewed by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. It is through the VHCB that the deals will have to receive the bulk of their financing. That panel will meet June 14 to consider around 15 projects, of which around a dozen will likely get approved, according to Karnatz.
“The town’s support is important,” Karnatz said. “Not many projects I work on get a contribution of any kind (from their community).”
Butler Farm
Doug Butler’s grandfather purchased the family’s 340-acre farm off Munger Street back in 1926. The Butlers rent an additional 600 acres. They have 680 head of cattle — 300 of which are cows, the other 380 young stock.
“(The Butler) farm is the last active dairy farm on Munger Street,” reads a project narrative provided by the VLT. “Not long ago, there were five farms shipping milk and he’s seen the young people move off the farms.”
But Doug’s son Casey is an exception to that trend.
He made a commitment to the farm right after high school, and wants to keep it in agriculture for at least another generation.
“He’s ‘old school’ like that,” Doug Butler said of his son.
Doug is 60 and he’s setting the stage to eventually transfer the farm to Casey, Karnatz noted. To ease their substantial debt, the family would like to conserve some of their best land — 148 acres, of which 80 percent is agricultural soil. The parcel  also includes 40 acres of rare clayplain forest. That area will be protected by a wetland protection zone that restricts logging and prohibits conversion to agricultural use.
“I’d like it conserved to protect myself from myself,” Butler told the VLT. “Once it’s conserved I won’t be tempted to sell it to a developer. Believe me, our family has had plenty of offers.”
Conserving the property in perpetuity will provide some additional resources for the Butlers to help keep the farm sustainable, and it will also ensure its panoramic views will endure. On the Tuesday morning of his phone conversation with the Independent, Butler was enjoying a brief respite from the day’s chores. The splendid views of the Adirondacks to the west and the Green Mountains to the east helped restore his spirit and energy.
Hardly a cyclist can pass by the farm without dismounting and clicking a photo of the majestic scenery and grazing cattle.
“We are here for only a short time; let’s keep these views and use this land to feed people,” Butler said.
Long-term stability of the Butler Farm means it will continue to give young folks a first-hand look at a local family agricultural operation. Butler regularly welcomes small groups of Middlebury College students who helped out with chores, such as feeding calves.
“The kids are a lot of fun, and the future looks great with the next generation coming,” Butler said.
The VLT and the Butlers have agreed on a price of $475,000 for the conservation deal. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) is being asked to contribute $445,000 of that sum. The Middlebury selectboard last week unanimously agreed to contribute $30,000 from the town’s conservation fund.
Quarry Road Farm
The Pominvilles have owned their farm off Quarry Road since 1953. It became certified organic in 2003 and is now a sprawling enterprise on four parcels with a total of 565 acres. Joel Pominville also rents another 500 acres.
At this point, the Pominvilles are only seeking to conserve a 210-acre parcel they purchased in 1974 from John and Margaret Parke. The property includes 115 tillable acres, and 50 acres are wooded. The remaining 40 acres is pasture/riparian area, according to the VLT.
According to a VLT’s project narrative, conservation of the Parke parcel would allow Joel to become a controlling shareholder in the corporation. He already makes all the day-to-day management decisions, and conservation funding will ease the long transition process, according to Karnatz.
If “phase one” goes according to plan, the Pominvilles are open to conserving additional acreage, according to Karnatz.
Quarry Road Farm has one of the larger organic herds in the area, with 200 cows and 150 young stock. It’s also one of the few properties in the state that grows organic corn, according to the VLT.
The Muddy Branch River flows through the middle of the property.
Typical Addison County clay soil is found throughout the Quarry Road Farm. There’s one house on the parcel and it is excluded on three acres.
Vermont Land Trust and the Pominvilles have agreed on a development rights acquisition price of $338,900, with $313,900 coming through the VHCB and $25,000 through the town of Middlebury’s conservation fund.
Like Butler, Pominville is keen on seeing his land remain open and in agriculture. He believes houses shouldn’t be plopped down in the middle of the countryside unless the people who reside there work around where they live.
“It’s just wrong,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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