VERMONT AGRARIAN COMMONS
Local Agrarian Commons Board
Leasehold Farmers and Representatives:
Corie Pierce, Bread & Butter Farm
Brandon Bless, Bread & Butter Farm
Jason Van Driesche, Front Porch Forum
Joyce Cellars, CPG Enterprises, Inc.
Fran Miller, Attorney, Vermont Law School
The Vermont Agrarian Commons is organized and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of holding title to property, collecting income therefrom, and turning the entire amount, less expenses to the AGRARIAN LAND TRUST within the meaning of Section 501(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). Agrarian Land Trust, the parent corporation of Vermont Agrarian Commons, is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(a) and described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.
The Vermont Agrarian Commons is working with local farmers to preserve the agrarian landscape while making organic and regenerative farming a viable profession for the next generation of young, diverse farmers. Through holding and preserving land, and collaborating with farmers on equitable access and secure tenure to whole farms through affordable 99-year leases, we can collectively help ensure equitable tenure and support for next generation farmers focused on regenerative diversified food production and sustaining community-centered farms.
The founding farm of the region’s Commons is Bread & Butter Farm, which currently manages over 600 acres of land in the Muddy Brook Watershed of South Burlington and Shelburne, Vermont. The Commons is coming about with support, donation, investment, and engagement from agricultural non-profits, donors, and the local community.
Vermont has approximately 1,193,437 acres of farmland and 6,808 farms. Farmland makes up approximately 20 percent of the state, and as of 2019 approximately 173,000 acres of this farmland was conserved. In total 21.6 percent of the farmland in Vermont is conserved, and agriculture today is central to the identity and economy of the state. The dairy industry is specifically significant in the state given Vermont’s climate, geology and soils that can reliably grow high quality grassland and forages and provide consistent water availability for animals. As written in the 2018 Exploration of the Future of Vermont Agriculture, “Dairy farms still contribute close to 70 percent of Vermont’s farm sales (~$1.3 billion annually), and manage over 80 percent of Vermont’s open land, making Vermont the top state in the U.S. in its dependency on a single commodity.”
As with other New England states, Vermont has a long and varied history of agricultural production, that began over 1,000 years ago with the Indigenous Abenaki people. The Abenaki cultivated agricultural crops including corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, ground cherries, Jerusalem artichokes, plums, grapes, and a wide variety of nut trees using complex agricultural systems, and continue this legacy today. Given the harsh climates of the region and the abundance of wild food sources, the Abenaki were more primarily engaged in hunting, fishing and foraging for their food supply in a way that was well connected to natural systems and worked in reciprocal relationship with the land. After a devastating genocide of the Indigenous people, the landscape of the state began to change dramatically with new systems of agriculture rooted in a radically different economy and paradigm that was introduced during colonization. The resilience of the Abenaki people, however, is demonstrated by the robust community of Abenaki that continue to thrive today in Vermont. There are four bands of the Abenaki in Vermont, all of which are now recognized by the state after a long and significant struggle.
Throughout history, Vermont has continually paved the way for new agricultural industries and then gotten pushed out of markets due to competition from larger, western states and other countries. This began with a burgeoning sheep and wool trade that dominated the economy in the state during the early 1800s, and slowly transitioned to a dairy marketplace around 1850 when butter production became one of the foremost markets in the state. This too was eventually outcompeted by larger states, and the agricultural landscape in Vermont transitioned to fluid milk, which over recent years is following similar trends of decline due to competition from larger states and larger farms. Vermont has lost more than 357 dairy operations in the past 10 years, a reduction that accounts for over 30%, most of which have impacted small and medium-sized operations.
In addition to low milk prices, other factors responsible for the demise of Vermont’s dairy industry include exploitation of the deepest richest soils of the midwest US and Canada, increasing farm production and processing scales nationwide, federal subsidy programs built for the largest producers/processors, and lack of geographical access to highly subsidized grain and animal feeds produced on midwest soils. It is also worth noting that while dairy has been the focus of Vermont’s agricultural history since colonization, and remained the focus through present day, there have been many other significant crops in the region at various points in time including wheat, barley, and oats, potatoes, hemp, hops, apples, other fruits and vegetables, and tobacco.
Over the years, the resilience of Vermont farmers has been demonstrated by a noticeable ability to adapt and take advantage of the Vermont brand and local markets. Vermont has reflected the national trends in changes to what farms look like and who farms these lands including an increase in small, diversified farms, and an increase in first-generation farmers. With a wealth of resources from funding to advocacy to technical assistance and business planning services, Vermont has a lot to offer for its farmers. Vermont is home to about 70 farmers’ markets, and a host of farm stands, food hubs, CSAs and other direct-to-consumer markets.
Today, 27 percent of the state’s farms sell directly to consumers. The average direct market sales in Vermont, per farm, is $15,541, ranking eighth in the nation. It’s also notable that about half of the milk consumed in New England is produced on Vermont farms. Other primary industries include maple syrup, hay and haylage.
Vermont Farm Partners
Bread & Butter Farm began in 2009 on 143 acres of the former 4th generation Leduc dairy farm conserved with assistance from the Vermont Land Trust. It operates under a vision and plan for a highly diverse community farm that works in harmony with the land, plants, soil, animals, farmers, and neighbors. The farm raises 100 percent grass-fed beef, organically-fed pork, and organic no-till vegetables, selling 90 percent of their products directly to customers in their on-farm store, CSA program, on-farm events, and on-farm independent business Blank Page Café. Bread & Butter Farm markets 10 percent of its products wholesale to local grocery stores and restaurants within 10 miles of the farm.
Year-round education for all ages and stages of life plays a central role in the farm operations as the team is passionate about engaging the community with learning opportunities. Children from birth to 5 years old along with their families engage in music and movement classes offered by the independent on-farm business of Music for Sprouts. Then from age 5 through their teens, children and young adults enjoy summers at Camp Bread & Butter learning about the natural rhythm and magic of farm life both as Campers, Leaders in Training, and Junior Counselors. Bread & Butter Farm’s year-round Village School and Southwind programs offer a one-day a week alternative for kids age 7-13 to public, private, or homeschool with a full immersion in farm and forest life caring for the plants and animals, fire making and cooking, and skill building all in the context of community and leadership development. Future farmers ages 10-15 take part in the farm’s Young Apprentice program, while adult learners can train and learn at Bread & Butter through their partnership with UVM's Farmer Training Program and agroecology courses.
Bread & Butter Farm is more than food production and education. It is a growing constellation of interdependent businesses working in concert to build community and profitable livelihoods founded on a regenerative lifeway. The two established auxiliary independent businesses of Blank Page Café and Music for Sprouts were joined in 2020 by Skylow Herbs and FarmFit.
Bread & Butter Farm currently manages over 600 acres of owned (143 acres) and leased land in South Burlington and Shelburne Vermont made financially affordable through work and conservation done by the Vermont Land Trust and the South Burlington Land Trust along with funding partners the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Castanea Foundation, and South Burlington and Shelburne municipalities.
Now in their 10th year of community-based business and regenerative land management, Bread & Butter Farm produces organic year-round no-till vegetables, beef, and pork. They serve on-farm dinners, host community events, educate learners from birth through adults in an interdependent collection of in-house and collaborative businesses and education programs. Bread & Butter Farm currently employs four full-time farmers/educators with additional seasonal and enterprise-specific farm staff averaging 30 team members annually. The collaborative businesses Blank Page Cafe and Music for Sprouts generate an additional two full-time salaries and four team members.
Corie Pierce, owner/operator and team leader of the farm, has a background in organic vegetable production, business management, and education. She has built a strong team of collaborators, business owners and entrepreneurs, and management-level farmers to work and grow at Bread & Butter Farm. Brandon Bless, land and animal manager, has 15 years of experience and undergraduate and graduate degrees in regenerative agriculture, agroforestry, ecological forestry, sustainable building and design, agroecology, teaching, and holistic planned grazing and animal management. With over 35 years of collective management level farming expertise among the team, as well as over 20 years of teaching aspiring farmers, the Bread & Butter Farm team continues to succeed in helping to grow a healthy local food system as well as train the next generation of farmers.
From its inception, Bread & Butter Farm’s business and community success has been founded on creative local marketing and soil regeneration. They have created a diversity of markets in which to distribute all of the farm products locally including: direct retail sales in their on-farm store, weekly summer on-farm Burger Night farm experiences and community events featuring farm products and serving over 400 people per event, CSA shares distributed weekly and seasonally to community members, wholesale accounts with local natural foods stores and coops, and farm-to-table restaurants.
In the first 9 years of vegetable production, grazing practices, and land management Bread & Butter Farm has dramatically increased plant productivity and are yielding sustainable returns per acre. For example, vegetable production practices increased soil organic matter from 1 percent to over 11 percent, helping heavy clay soils better regulate moisture and improve microorganism habitat, thus making soil nutrients readily available to plants and increase crop quality and yields. Similarly, adaptive mob grazing practices grew pasture productivity and carrying capacity by up to 400 percent with continued marked annual increases. The farmers continue to innovate profitable agroecological systems as they expand into no-till/no-dig outdoor vegetables, and grow tree crops integrated with multi-species animal management using agroforestry practices like alley cropping and silvopasture.
Bread & Butter Farm and its conservation partners have worked quickly to bring together collaborative partners to secure 420 acres of land to be conserved and held as an open space community farmland project. This land sits adjacent to the Bread & Butter home farm land, and is in the same ecological corridor that extends south into the sensitive Shelburne Pond natural area and within the Muddy Brook Watershed. Upon successful conservation, the total conservation block surrounding this corridor and natural area will exceed 1500 acres. The success of the farm conservation project prevents the likely alternative land use and fragmentation from intensive development of more than 200 houses.
The land vision of Bread & Butter Farm and their partners is to a) replace the intensive development of 200+ mid- to up-scale houses with a handful of affordable house sites for the farm community in this beautiful, ecologically important watershed and land area in the conservation district of the Southeast Quadrant of South Burlington and source waters of Shelburne Pond and Muddy Brook watershed; b) to ecologically and profitably manage the agroecosystem with agroforestry and regenerative agricultural systems that increase the health and diversity of both the land and our community-centered farm businesses; and c) to develop complementary creative uses for the community to enjoy and appreciate the land together.
Bread & Butter Farm is excited to continue its mission of training and employing more regenerative organic farmers and feeding the local community with the addition of 420 acres to manage. Using this land they can significantly expand their farm business and land management practices while employing more farmers and creating opportunities for affordable farmer housing. This expansion will help make Bread & Butter Farm financially, socially, and ecologically sustainable now and for the next generation.
The Bread & Butter Farm team feels a sense of urgency about the state of agriculture and ecological health and wants to play a positive role in protecting and farming the land. They want their community to raise families for generations to come within healthy ecosystems and profitable working lands. They are committed to creating a farm that transcends the family farm model as we have known it into a model that is suitable for many enterprises, businesses, and communities to grow into the future using regenerative agriculture practices.
SNAPSHOT OF VERMONT AGRICULTURE
Vermont is home to nearly two million acres of farmland, which makes up about 20 percent of the total land in the state. As of a 2018 Report, 21.6 percent of farmland in the state had been conserved and many of those acres using an Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value (OPAV) in an effort to keep farms viable and farmland affordable for future generations. While the majority of the agricultural economy relies on dairy, the agricultural landscape includes a wide range of agricultural production including small and mid-sized diversified farms, vegetable farms, orchards, nurseries, as well as chicken, beef, pork and other meat production.
Given the majority of the state’s farmland being tied to dairy production and falling dairy prices over the last five years, a great deal of farmland is and will be in transition in the coming years as farms transition out of dairy and land is repurposed. In 2008, Vermont had approximately 1,100 dairy farms. By 2018, this number had dropped to 705. Although the percentage of agricultural land in Vermont has remained relatively steady over the past ten years, the loss of dairy farms suggests that a significant land transition is underway.
Land Acknowledgement & Commitment
The Agrarian Commons acknowledges that it is located on the ancestral, occupied, and, in many cases, unceded land of Indigenous people. In acknowledging this legacy of genocide and theft, we are in turn committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty.
Resources and Information from Vermont’s Indigenous Communities
- Elnu Tribe of the Abenaki
- Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation
- Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi
- Koasek Traditional Band of the Koos Abenaki Nation
Food Security & Hunger
1 in 4 Vermonters struggle with food insecurity, according to a 2014 study conducted by Vermont Foodbank and Hunger in America. Hunger Free Vermont reports that 27 percent of Vermont residents have incomes that qualify them for Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs.
Vermont Farmland Facts
Amount of Farmland: 1,193,437 acres (20 percent of total land area)
Acres Farmed Organically: 134,000 acres
Average Size of Farm: 157 acres
Total Number of Farms: 6,808
Number of Farm Operators/Producers: 12,309
- Average Age: 57
- Beginning farmers: 3,754
- Farmers of color: 285
- White farmers: 12,148
- American Indian or Alaska Native farmers: 23
- Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin farmers: 124
- Black farmers: 17
- Asian farmers: 14
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander farmers: 6
- Migrant farmworkers: 1,500
- Female farmers: 5,120
- Male farmers: 7,189
Selection of Vermont Statistics Compared to National Statistics
Farmland Loss: 58,276 acres (2012 to 2017), 4.6% decrease
Average Farm Real Estate Value: $3,360/acre
Farm Income: 20 percent of Vermont farms earn less than $50,000/year in sales, and 58 percent of Vermont Farms earn less than $10,000/year in sales (2017, NASS)
Top Agricultural Products by Sales: Cow’s milk, other crops and hay, cattle and calves, nursery and greenhouse products, flowers, sod, vegetables, melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes
Resources on Vermont Agriculture
- American Farmland Trust, Farmland Info Center, Vermont
- Vermont Agency of Agriculture
- American Farmland Trust - Vermont
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS - Vermont
- USDA NASS - VT
- Vermont Land Trust
- U.S. Census of Agriculture: Vermont State Profile
- Vermont Housing and Conservation Board - Farmland Conservation
- National Young Farmers Coalition - Vermont Chapter
- USDA Economic Research Center: State Factsheets
- Rural Vermont
- Vermont Farm to Plate
- Center for and Agricultural Economy
- UVM Extension
- UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
- UVM Agroecology and Livelihoods Collective
- VT Grass Farmers
- Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agricultural and Food Systems
- Regeneration Vermont
- Migrant Justice
Farm and Food Reports on Vermont
Promoting Low-Income Food Access in Bennington, Vermont (1 county, 2017). Crossroads Resource Center. Partners: Bennington County Regional Commission, Northshire Grown. Report.
Great Falls region (New Hampshire & Vermont) (4 counties, 2010). Crossroads Resource Center. Partner: Great Falls Food Hub. Data Summary.
Rutland County (1 county, 2019). Partner: Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC). Crossroads Resource Center. Contact VFFC for report.
State of Vermont Reports
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics from U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the Census of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, and Economic Research Service.
FOUNDING FARMS, RANCHES & AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS
Bread & Butter Farm
Year Established: 2009
Farm Size: 600+ acres
Employees: 3 full-time farmers, 30 part-time and seasonal employees
Farm Practices: Organic, Non-GMO
Products: Vegetables, beef, pork, poultry, eggs, raw milk, and fruit
Deleted: Website: Bread & Butter Farm, https://breadandbutterfarm.com/
Local Agrarian Commons Documents
- Articles of Incorporation
- Lease Template
PARTNERS & ALLIES
Schoolhouse Learning Center, Farm Food Forest Program
University of Vermont Farmer Training Program
The Vermont Land Trust
Dirt Capital Partners
The City of South Burlington
Vermont Housing & Conservation Board
University of Vermont: Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative
The Town of Shelburne
EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES
- Vermont Agrarian Commons – A New Model of Community Land Partnership for Regenerative Farms
- Seven Days: In Suburban South Burlington, a Holdout Farmer Plans to Expand
- Vermont Farm to Plate: Complex Dough: How Bread & Butter Farm worked with a patchwork
- Edible Green Mountains: Bread and Butter Farm
- Vermont Agency of Agriculture: Spotlight on Bread and Butter Farm