Gathering in Ripton celebrates 100 new farms, farm entrepreneurs

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RIPTON — Vermont Land Trust members, farmers, and conservation supporters gathered at the historic Bread Loaf campus outside Middlebury to celebrate innovations in Vermont’s farm economy and community.

Over the past 10 years, VLT’s Farmland Access Program has helped beginning farmers grow 100 farm businesses across the state.

The full-day Annual Celebration included a panel discussion among farm entrepreneurs, featuring Shannon Varley of Stafford Village Farm, Stephen Park of Full Belly Farm in Monkton, and Paul Lisai of Sweet Rowen Farmstead in East Albany.

All emphasized the importance of programs that support farmers.

“Today we celebrate our 100th successful farm transfer and the people who made those possible,” said Nick Richardson, VLT’s President, and CEO. “Together, we’re helping entrepreneurial farmers gain access to affordable land and helping retiring farmers plan for their futures. It’s one way that the land trust and our partners are supporting the viability of Vermont’s farm economy.”

Each year, the VLT recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to conservation in Vermont.

This year’s conservation awards were presented to Kristen Underwood, Mike Schoenfeld, and Jon Ramsay.

Additionally, Corie Pierce of Bread & Butter Farm received the inaugural Eric Rozendaal Memorial Award for her dedication to land stewardship, community engagement, and entrepreneurialism.

Kristen Underwood was the recipient of the Richard W. Carbin Community Conservation Award.

Named after the land trust’s founder, this award recognizes those who demonstrate a commitment to conservation in their communities.

Underwood has worked for years to further conservation in the Bristol area.

She was instrumental in the local fundraising campaign that led to the conservation of 600 acres of farm and forest land in Bristol.

She has also been a member of the Bristol Conservation Commission.

Mike Schoenfeld was the recipient of the Francisca King Thomas Award, which recognizes someone who has made a profound contribution to VLT.

As a VLT Trustee from 1998 to 2004, Schoenfeld helped plan and complete a major capital campaign and launch an impressive planned giving program, one of the first among the country’s land conservation organizations.

Schoenfeld also played a pivotal role in the 2014 conservation of the Bread Loaf campus.

“More than any other individual, Mike had the vision and pulled together the people, expertise, resources, and the will to bring the conservation of this land to fruition,” said VLT’s Bob Heiser.

Jon Ramsay received the John Bailey Dunne Conservation Award, which recognizes a member of the conservation community who has made a profound impact on the state.

Ramsay has been a tireless champion of Vermont’s working landscape through his work in conservation, stewardship, and farming.

For the past 20 years, he has worked with the Vermont Land Trust, serving as the director of the Farmland Access Program for the past decade.

He is now Executive Director of the Hardwick-based Center for an Agricultural Economy.

“Jon’s deep understanding of Vermont’s farm economy and the changing conditions that farmers face has made him a unique and powerful voice for new and beginning farmers,” said VLT’s Nick Richardson.

Corie Pierce, owner of Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne and South Burlington, received the Eric Rozendaal Memorial Award.

This new $5,000 award honors the legacy of farmer Eric Rozendaal, who valued stewardship, giving back, and entrepreneurship; he passed away in 2018.

Pierce’s work to support ecosystem health on her 143-acre property, her partnerships and community engagement initiatives, and her entrepreneurial approach impressed the members of the selection committee.