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An excavator works at the site of a 30-foot barn roof collapse at Taylor Farm.

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Putting a roof on it, with the help of friends

Taylor Farm is on its way to rebuilding a barn roof, thanks to a community’s rapid and generous response to a rare appeal from a farmer who usually does the giving

For more about Taylor Farm, located on Route 11, visit taylorfarmvt.com, call 802-824-5690, or email taylorcheese@comcast.net.

LONDONDERRY—Farmer Jon Wright is not accustomed to asking for help. In fact, he’s more likely the one offering it.

But after an abundantly snowy winter and big rain on Feb. 16 caused a partial collapse of Wright’s barn roof at Taylor Farm, he has reluctantly decided to ask for a little help from his 180-year-old farm’s friends.

And they are eagerly stepping up.

“There have been times at Taylor Farm when ‘raising the roof’ meant stomping your feet at a summer barn dance,” Wright says in his request. “Unfortunately, this isn’t the case right now. After the heavy snow and then rain [...] we had a partial barn collapse here.

“After much contemplation, I am humbly asking for financial support to make necessary repairs and improvements to this and the adjoining barn, which provide shelter to our animals and give cover to farm equipment and materials.

“Time and time again I hear people say, ‘This place is magical.’ Unfortunately, as magical as it may be, we still struggle to make ends meet, and when we have a catastrophe such as a barn collapse, we have to appeal to friends and neighbors for help.”

In just a few days, the community has raised more than half of the requested $40,000 on the farm’s GoFundMe page — more than $8,000 on the first day alone — and donors are penning glowing comments and encouraging words about the working farm that was, until not long ago, the state’s only producer of handcrafted, raw-milk Gouda cheese.

Now dozens of families visit to experience farm life, giant vistas, and good hearts.

Donations have ranged from $10 to $1,000 and more.

“We wish you the best [...] you are an integral part of our community,” write Nancy Daneshgar and Marc Benowitz.

“Special farm, special people, special place, special memories!” says Jonathan Currier.

“We love Taylor Farm! Vermonters help Vermonters. Farmers are integral to our communities. Thank you, Jon Wright, for being a teacher and friend!” says Marianne Bouchard.

Wright calls the response “wonderful.”

“I’m very grateful and humbled,” he says. “It speaks to people’s love of the farm and their generosity.”

“We’ve never asked for help like this before,” says Jon’s sister Mimi. “It’s humbling, but this is such a stumbling block. It’s hard to move forward. He’s always run this place on a shoestring.”

Carrying on a farming legacy

Wright arrived to work at Taylor Farm, which dates to the 1840s, as a teenager in 1975. In the 1980s, he was able to buy part of the farm and continue it as a viable dairy. The original farm’s remaining 600-some acres are preserved in perpetuity by the Vermont Land Trust.

“Sometimes people are confused because my name is ‘Wright,” but the Taylors were wonderful to me when I came here and we carried on that name,” he says.

“Even in those days, farming was a challenging business, but I chose this occupation not for the money, but for my family, [for] the love of the land, my animals, and for the benefit of my community,” explains Wright in his GoFundMe request.

“We have milked cows here, made cheese, given farm tours [and] sleigh rides, grown gardens, and even experimented with growing hemp. Over the years, literally thousands of people have visited the farm and learned from our experiences here. Many people have even stayed on for internships or full-time employment. We have welcomed everyone — providing food, music, education, housing and, above all, love.”

The past 20 years have been difficult for every small farmer and Wright is no exception, but he never gave up and isn’t giving up now.

As the farm and farming’s complexion have changed over the years, the Wrights have adapted. When they ultimately had to reduce their dairy herd and thus stop making Gouda, they continued to offer Vermont-centric products in the farm store.

They also initiated a successful sleigh ride gig. Sleighs hold up to 12 adults. Rides last 45 minutes and include a stop to toast marshmallows and enjoy hot cider. Mimi Wright predicts that the sleigh ride season will hold out for another two weeks; reservations are recommended.

Molly, Wright’s middle daughter, is experimenting with hemp production, and the farm hosts weekend wood-fired pizza nights with music.

The hard-working family closes its farm home to the public just one day each year, on Dec. 25.

Molly, Wright says, is “most active in day-to-day operation of the farm.”

“I’m happy to see her try whatever she likes,” says her dad.

“It’s been always a juggle trying to keep things going,” says Mimi Wright. “He hays the fields and we have some crops and about an acre of hemp, which his daughter has grown, and she’s doing really well with her CBD products.

Today, the farm is home to two draft horses, one riding horse, cows (“just one milking one, maybe two very soon,” says Mimi), goats, chickens, “a couple of free-range rabbits who pop around, and a wild turkey who chooses to live here.”

The problem and road ahead

Wright is most grateful that no people or animals were hurt in the collapse of about 30 feet of the 280-by-60-foot structure at the end of the barn used only for hay storage.

“We purposely keep the animals under the most structurally sound portion of the building, but we do need to rebuild, repair, and fortify the entire structure as it is all essential to our work on the farm,” he says.

Wright built the barn in 2006 to all standards of “a modern dairy barn.” However, its roof has had problems twice since then, although not in more than a decade since repairing it the last time.

“This barn has been my nemesis,” says Wright with a rueful laugh. “Unfortunately, we just have a lot more snow in this area. The design has quite a shallow pitch, and snow doesn’t shed as easily as it should. Prefabricated truss rafters with metal roofing are very typical modern barn design [...] the pitch of the roof is the big element.

“The positive element is that the entire barn did not collapse, and that is because of the structural improvements we made. This end had a big, open doorway with a laminated truss spanning about 20 feet, and it was that truss that failed, which we couldn’t really have foreseen.”

Asked what he will do differently to repair the roof now with the GoFundMe influx to make a difference, Wright is clear.

“This time, we’re going to put a steel I-beam across that doorway,” he says firmly. “We need that doorway for access, but it has to be secured properly.”

In his deliberation about whether to ask for help at all, Wright also came up against the fact that during the COVID-19 pandemic, building material costs have skyrocketed.

“Just a truss rafter is about $15,000,” he says. “COVID building material costs have increased so much. It’s nearly double what it would have been five years ago.”

“I thought about asking for $20,000 — and, of course, we don’t know how much will come — but that would have been cutting it close,” he says. “Any additional money that comes in over the cost will go to shore up other barn beams to ensure that this never happens again.”

For Mimi Wright, the community reciprocity has meant a lot.

“The farm has always been a very open place and helpful to people in need,” she says. “Jon is a really helpful soul. He has always taken in people who needed help or guidance and given them purpose.

“I always say this place is a book. It’s amazing what goes on here.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #602 (Wednesday, March 3, 2021). This story appeared on page A1.

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