Another dairy farm is conserved

HINESBURG — Organic dairy farmers Joe and Emily Donegan are thrilled to now own farmland in Joe’s hometown of Hinesburg. They were able to buy the 258-acre property because the O’Neil family conserved the land with the Vermont Land Trust, which made it more affordable for Joe and Emily.
The O’Neil Farm, located on O’Neil Road, had been in the family for more than 100 years. Since the 1950s, four siblings — Maurice, Floyd, Marion and Arlene — ran the dairy and lived together in the farmhouse. None of the siblings had children, so when Arlene, the last surviving sibling, died in 2012, her nephew John Niles took over the estate.
“Although Arlene knew that ultimately the property would be sold, it was of utmost importance to her that the bulk of the farmland remain in its current state and that the land continue to be used for farming,” said John Niles.
Joe and Emily Donegan own an organic dairy in Charlotte. They milk around 30 cows and sell the milk through Organic Valley. Joe, whose brother and sister-in-law run Trillium Hill Farm in Hinesburg Village, expressed their excitement about the location of the new land.
“A big part of our original dream was farming in Hinesburg,” explains Joe. “At the family farm in the village, I learned to love farming by helping with sugaring in the spring and haying in the summer. Purchasing the O’Neil farm is a homecoming for us, even though we only live a quarter mile from the town line into Charlotte.”
The land is also good for their business. “The O’Neil farm has a productive and substantial land base from which we can grow hay and pasture for our cows,” says Joe. “This acquisition is the foundation for our future as dairy farmers.”
The conservation of the land will also be a long-term boon to water quality. Conservation easements protect the land for both farming and river health.
Nearly two miles of the LaPlatte River runs through the property. Under the conservation easements, the river will be allowed to meander naturally, and land with 50 feet of it will not be used for farming or forestry.
The Vermont Land Trust will have the responsibility for stewarding these easements.
Funding for the conservation of the farmland and protection of the river came from federal, state, and town sources.
“Conserving the O’Neil farm is a significant achievement,” said Andrea Morgante, member of the Hinesburg selectboard and board member of the Hinesburg Land Trust. “Use of the town’s Land Preservation Fund for the conservation of this parcel is an opportunity to support riparian buffers, an extensive floodplain, wildlife habitat, and young farmers continuing the agricultural traditions.” The Hinesburg Land Trust contributed toward the project as well.
Funding for the farmland conservation came from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and a matching grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources funded the water quality and river protection portion of the project.

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