For many Vermonters, farming is a family tradition. But that tradition is slowly dying. The state was once home to more than 11,000 dairy farms. Today there are less than a thousand.
And that's forced many to get creative.
Laura Olsen and Mari Omland are the girls behind the Green Mountain Girls Farm.
But it's far from a two-woman operation. They have a hand full of apprentices, students and willing workers known as WWOOFers.
They run a full vegetable, dairy and meat operation. They have multiple green houses in full bloom with of radishes, lettuce and cilantro. As well as crop fields, and lots of critters.
The goats are taking center stage behind the barn, but their work as living lawn mowers keeps them on rotating terrain. They are all curious climbers and are appropriately named after different mountain ranges. Every single animal on this farm has a name.
The sheep and pigs hang out in front of the farm. The piglets are just getting acclimated to their new home, while the sheep are ready to introduce the latest additions to the farm.
Laura and Mari are very comfortable in their Northfield niche, but a few years ago they were not spending their time in rolling hills of Washington County, but rather Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.
"We worked for conservations non-profits. We spent the first part of our careers in doing conservation work, land protection, trying to make the world a better place," Olsen says.
and it was that passion that led them to this property.
"We came mid career and made a big investment in this place. What we saw was the potential for it to serve really well," Omland says.
They have set up a farm stand in the basement of the big red barn, offering fresh greens, raw goat dairy, canned green tomatoes and homegrown bacon -- among many other options to their Farm Share shoppers.
But selling their goods wasn't turning enough profit to survive, so they diversified by turning to Agritourism.
"There are people who want to eat the food. Then there are people who want to come eat the food, and eat the view. Take in Vermont's vernacular architecture it's part of what we can sell," Omland says.
They have set up a small country inn-like residence for visitors in the upstairs barn, and a community space for dinners, concerts and get-togethers. They also encourage visitors to lend a hand and become part of the farm for the day.
"When people come to the farm to share the experience, roll up their sleeves and get involved and learn about something we all know is deeply meaningful to us," Omland says.
80 miles south in Manchester Center at the Earth Sky Time Farm, their feelings for farming are mutual. Oliver and Bonnie have been growing their farm and their family here for nearly three years, on Oliver's family farm.
The two found their way back to Manchester by way of Manhattan.
Oliver studied agriculture in college, but moved to New York to be with Bonnie.
"I worked as a super in an apartment building. I learned how to fix things a little bit," Oliver says.
They lived there while Bonnie finished her master's program in early childhood education. The Queens native is passionate about food, but admits she did not see a Vermont farm in her future. But shortly after Oliver proposed, that's exactly where they found themselves.
They farm on 12 acres of land, while also utilizing some community farmland elsewhere in town. They grow garlic along with traditional field greens and veggies.
"We grew into it," Bonnie says. "We started with 25 CSA members and one farmer's market. Now we are 69 CSA members and three farmer's markets."
But like the women at Green Mountain Girls Farm, that core business wasn't enough.
"Just doing markets and CSA shares for vegetables didn't actually provide enough income for our family and our goals for the business," Oliver says.
They too had to diversify. Farm volunteers helped them come up with Veggie Burgers, now called VT Goldburgers.
"They wanted to help us come up with the recipe," Oliver says. "They want through lots of different ones. The recipe we use now has evolved from the recipe they helped us come up with."
They make all of their burgers at home in their commercial kitchen. They started out testing them at farmer's markets but wanted to broaden their distribution.
"We improved the graphics in our label, we got nutrition facts done, and then we started bringing them as samples to different coops in Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts," Bonnie says.
Goldburgers are now sold at 16 different coops across New England. They say their leap into the field of prepared foods has made them sustainable and successful.
"We can turn funny-looking carrots into veggie burgers or carrot slaw and sell it at the farmer's market for more than you can sell funny-looking carrots," Bonnie says.
The Green Mountain Girls and Earth Sky Time farm have followed a different path to diversifying, but both say it was their only way to survive.
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