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Returning farmers to Brattleboro

Wild Carrot Farm to share Fair Winds Farm

BRATTLEBORO—Jay and Janet Bailey hoped to find two young farmers to share the land at Fair Winds Farm on Upper Dummerston Road.

Instead, the four farmers of Wild Carrot Farm answered the call — along with Melba the Jersey cow, who brought Ashlyn Bristle, Caitlin Burlett, Ben Crockett, and Jesse Kayan together.

Wild Carrot Farm, entering its third year, is transitioning its farming operations from Brookline, where the four farmers worked other people’s land in exchange for vegetables and meat, to Fair Winds Farm.

The young farmers — Bristle and Crockett are 25; Burlett and Kayan, 28 — aim to create the area’s first “full diet” farm, offering veggies, dairy, eggs, and meat. They intend to run the operation as a CSA (community-supported agriculture).

The Baileys have farmed the 40-acre Fair Winds Farm using draft horses for 35 years. When the couple’s children decided to not take over farming at Fair Winds, the Baileys looked for young farmers to keep the land in agriculture.

They wanted to pass the stewardship of the land on to new farmers and didn’t want to witness the farm “go downhill” as the couple aged, Janet Bailey said.

“We needed new energy on the farm,” she said.

Brattleboro is losing its farmers, and Bailey welcomes more farmers to town.

The Baileys hold a 89-year lease from the Earth Bridge Community Land Trust, which owns the farmland. Wild Carrot has taken a sublease on half the land and will rent the 1830s-era farm house at the farm.

According to Kayan, the farmers — who will raise beef, milk cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, goats, vegetables, and flowers — have a two-year agreement with Fair Winds Farm, with an option to lease with the land trust directly.

“We are two young couples who have been farmers without our own land for years,” wrote the members of Wild Carrot Farm in an email. “Now, thanks to the Earth Bridge Community Land Trust and the Bailey family, we are in the process of purchasing the original 1830s farmhouse and signing a lifetime lease on the Fair Winds land.”

“In so doing, we will ensure that this prime land will continue to be farmed for another generation,” they wrote.

The Baileys will continue to live in a second house on the property, work the farm, sell eggs, and continue offering workshops and sleigh rides.

Land prices can prove a roadblock for many beginning farmers, said Kayan. The arrangement enables Wild Carrot Farm to expand without taking on large loans.

The young farmers agreed that the Baileys’ willingness to share their farm and provide mentorship made an out-of-reach dream a reality for the cash-strapped farmers.

According to Burlett, the collaboration organically and unexpectedly grew from the Wild Carrot Farm’s goals. The friends are in the process of building a business plan.

Burlett is taking a Whole Farm Planning Course for Beginning Women Farmers through the University of Vermont Extension. She and Kayan have also participated in the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program, where they worked with a mentor.

Bristle and Crockett have taken NOFA’s (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Vermont’s Journey Farmer Program.

“A lot of people [involved with the training programs] are really rooting hard for young farmers,” said Kayan.

Wild Carrot Farm CSA will offer 180 types of vegetables and flowers, and beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, and raw milk.

The CSA offers sliding scale pricing for farm shares (a fee that offers subscribers a portion of the harvest, which can rise or fall). It will offer reduced rates for customers with lower incomes.

A fence jumper

A cow brought the members of Wild Carrot Farm together.

Bristle had bought Melba, a Jersey cow with matchmaking skills, from Farm and Wilderness Camps in Plymouth. Melba jumped her fence not long after she and Crocket settled in Newfane.

Burlett said she spotted Melba wandering the road. The wayward Jersey led her on a chase for more than a mile.

When she caught Melba, Burlett fashioned her sweatshirt as a harness, intending to walk the cow home. The only problem, said Burlett, was that she had no idea where Melba belonged.

As luck would have it, Bristle arrived home as Burlett walked past with Melba in tow.

Kayan said the four farmers’ friendships grew. They shared pasture for grazing animals and found that their business goals intertwined.

When the opportunity arose to lease land at Fair Winds Farm, the quartet decided that what was too big a task for individuals would work for a group.

It’s also easier to share morning and evening chores, said Burlett.

The four still work off the farm — Burlett and Kayan, part-time, and Bristle and Crockett, full-time.

Bristle, who spent her childhood in rural North Carolina, said that growing food was always part of her family’s life. She turned to farming as a profession after graduating from college with a teaching degree.

Teaching jobs were being “cut by the hundreds” when she graduated, so Bristle took a job at a farm.

She fell in love with caring for animals, which she said “are cuter than carrots.”

“My love of goats knows no bounds,” she joked.

“Her [Bristle’s] first mistake was saying it’s okay to buy a cow,” said Crockett about how he came to raising animals.

Access to capital for raising animals can be tough, said Crockett, though CSAs can provide a revenue stream for small farms to use for purchasing animals and feeding them.

Stabilizing cash flow is another reason Wild Carrot Farm has continued to diversity, he said.

Different enterprises, like dairy or vegetables, have different business cycles over a year’s time, added Burlett.

The politics of farming

“I came to farming out of activism,” said Kayan.

“And I came to activism out of farming,” said Bristle, who recently joined the board of the advocacy organization Rural Vermont.

Regulations around raising and slaughtering animals or selling raw milk can be “super-complicated,” said Crockett, who traveled to Montpelier recently to testify about legislation that proposes to permit the sale of raw milk at farmers’ markets. (The bill has passed the Senate and has moved to the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee.)

Bristle worked on a dairy in North Carolina which sold illegal raw milk.

“It was very illegal and a political [act] for them,” she said, asserting that people have the right to nutritious, local food.

As farmers, “we don’t want to make anyone sick,” said Crockett. But many of the rules and regulations dealing with health and safety issues are designed to address problems of large farms.

Better on-farm slaughter would help small-scale farms like Wild Carrot and their animals, said the farmers.

Shipping animals off the farm for slaughter increases out-of-pocket expenses for the farmers and anxiety for the animals, said Crockett.

Still, Bristle said, working with animals is rewarding.

When customers support local farms, they make a statement, Bristle added.

“Customers are our best regulatory overseers,” said Kayan.

Last year, Wild Carrot Farm struggled with bugs. The farmers asked their customers if they wanted them to eradicate the pests with organic pesticides. The customers overwhelmingly said “no,” opting for nibbled-on veggies.

Caring for the soil and encroaching civilization

Wild Carrot farmers intend to keep their CSA modest this year. The farmers want to concentrate on building their fundamental skills and the farm’s soil, said Kayan.

“You can’t start out without paying attention to the soil first,” said Kayan.

The “fragile” soil is sandy, he said. It loses nutrients easily, and the farmers have to remain vigilant on grazing the animals.

Wild Carrot Farm practices intense crop and animal rotation on its fields.

After a crop has been on a field and harvested, chickens are sent out to clean up the field, said Kayan — an example of animals’ capacity to do a lot of the work of farm equipment from aerating to fertilizing the soil efficiently.

“You’ve got to use what you’ve got, and we’ve got poop,” said Burlett about using farm resources efficiently.

“Plus, we’re lazy, so [the animals have] got to do all the work,” Crockett said, laughing.

Mentoring the next generation

Fair Winds Farm, bordered by residential houses, sits across from the Brattleboro Country Club, said Janet Bailey. While caring for their land, the farmers must also consider their non-farmer neighbors.

“It will be different this year when the cows get out,” said Bristle.

During a lesson working with the draft horses with Jay Bailey, Kayan said that Wild Carrot Farm will also use horses as the primary engines on the farm.

The farm also has two small 1950s tractors and a small walk-behind tractor.

Bailey and Kayan said horses are more reliable than tractors. Over the winter, the farmers use a team of horses to pull the tractors through the snow.

When asked what lessons the young farmers had learned since starting Wild Carrot Farm, Kayan answered, “Where to begin?”

The end goal? “Grow better food,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #199 (Wednesday, April 17, 2013).

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