State and Federal Funds to Conserve Farmland, Natural Areas, and Recreational Land in 9 Towns and to Restore a Historic Community Property
Vermont Business Magazine At meetings in May and June, the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board committed $1,694,200 in state funding and $842,000 in federal funds to protect agricultural and recreational land, forestland, and natural areas and to restore a historic community building with a general store and three apartments.
Executive Director Gus Seelig said, “These funding awards will help farmers in Middlebury, Highgate, Chelsea, and Windsor expand and diversify operations, reduce debt and transition from renting to ownership while also adding water quality protections. Additions to important natural areas in North Pownal, Windham, and Hinesburg will improve and expand public access for recreation and conserve wildlife habitat. A general store in East Calais will be reopened, reestablishing an important meeting place in the village center. VHCB is proud to invest in these community assets that help support their local economies, provide jobs and, in the case of recreational lands, increase economic activity in small towns.”
Windsor – The Upper Valley Land Trust will conserve the Windsor Plateau, a 140-acre farm and forest property located in the heart of downtown Windsor with views of Mt. Ascutney, using $257,700 in VHCB funding. Conservation of the farmland will help to provide trail connections between the village and Mt. Ascutney State Park. The conserved farm will be sold to well-established local fruit and vegetable farmers, the Sprague family of Edgewater Farm.
Chelsea - With $102,500 in federal NRCS funding and $115,500 in VHCB funding, the Vermont Land Trust will conserve the Button Farm, a 124-acre, former dairy farm that has been in the Button family since the early 1930s and has been leased to local dairy farmers since the 1990s. The Vermont Land Trust will then buy the conserved farm and enter into a lease-to-purchase agreement with Amanda Helali of Opera House Farm in Vershire. The Button Farm's 71 acres of open land and extensive sugar maple potential will allow Opera House Farm to expand their small but growing diversified farm, breeding sheep and goats, making maple syrup, and selling hay, lamb and pork.
East Calais – A general store with three apartments on the upper floors will be restored, rehabilitated, and reopened by the East Calais Community Trust, a community group formed to acquire the property in 2020. The historic 1850s building served the town for many years before being closed in December 2019. VHCB funding of $187,500 will be used for the restoration and rehabilitation, creating three permanently affordable apartments in the $1.3 million project. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing structure to the Village’s historic district.
Highgate – The 495-acre Rice Farm, with 250 acres of open tillable land, has been farmed by the Rice family for more than one hundred years. The current owners, Terry and Juliette Rice, will conserve the farm, working with the Vermont Land Trust, using $273,500 in VHCB funds and $439,500 in federal funds from NRCS. Important archaeological resources and a rare natural community will be protected by easement provisions.
The Vermont Land Trust will acquire an Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value on 153 acres at the Laroche Dairy Farm with $145,000 in VHCB funding. The proceeds from the sale of the option facilitated transfer of the farm to Matt LaRoche, who has been leasing the farmland for 10 years. The Option increases affordability of the farm to future buyers by restricting the appraised value of the conserved land to agricultural use.
Middlebury - The Vermont Land Trust will use $208,000 in VHCB funding and $300,000 in federal NRCS funds to conserve 142 acres at the Dimuzio Farm. Hank Dimuzio and Rhonda Roberts raise fallow deer and sell venison in Vermont. A previous VHCB award was used to conserve 132 acres on the west side of Munger Street. The current award will conserve the fields and woods on the east side of the road. To protect water quality, the conservation easement will provide for a 50-foot riparian buffer along a stream and an ecological protection zone on 12 acres of wetlands. The Middlebury Select board has pledged $25,000 from their conservation fund to conserve the property.
North Pownal – With $32,000 in VHCB funding, The Nature Conservancy will acquire and conserve 37 acres linking together three properties that comprise the Quarry Hill Natural Area. The 142-acre preserve, with permanent public access, incorporates some of the most ecologically diverse land in Vermont, with more than 40 species of rare plants. At the northern end of the preserve is a house lot, sponsored by VHCB and The Nature Conservancy and owned by Bennington Area Habitat for Humanity, that will provide an affordable home.
Athens, Brookline, and Townshend – With up to $250,000 in VHCB funding, the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association will acquire 615 acres known as the Lily Pond Highlands. This is the largest acquisition undertaken by the organization to date. WPHA has acquired and conserved 2,700 acres across five towns in southeastern Vermont and created the 1,500-acre Pinnacle Ridge preserve. The 615-acre Lily Pond parcel contains two high elevation ponds and 6,590 feet of stream frontage and connects to the Pinnacle Ridge trails.
Hinesburg - The Vermont Land Trust and the Town of Hinesburg are working together to acquire a 291-acre addition to the existing 834-acre Hinesburg Town Forest, a popular recreation resource adjacent to the Fred Johnson Wildlife Management Area in the heart of Chittenden County. The project will permanently conserve the resulting 1,125-acre Hinesburg Town Forest, protecting more than 15 miles of multi-use trails and securing access to the Town Forest from the south. A VHCB grant of $225,000 will be leveraged with almost $195,000 in other funding for the project.
In addition to supporting land conservation, historic preservation and the creation and preservation of affordable housing, VHCB also operates the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program, Healthy and Lead-Safe Homes, and VHCB AmeriCorps Programs. To learn more, visit vhcb.org