By Sara Cavin
Thanks to an outpouring of support for land conservation, productive local agriculture, and our region’s rural aesthetic, the Upper Valley Land Trust has permanently conserved a 22-acre field in North Pomfret. This project is only the second in Vermont to be completed under the 2014 Farm Bill’s “Agricultural Conservation Easement Program” with funding support from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.
Elaine and Lysle Chase signed documents to permanently conserve this important agricultural resource that has been in their family for decades. They knew the importance of the field and kept the land open and in production even as pressures mounted for more development in the region. Because the property’s value was far higher for development than for farming, the Chases sought assistance from the Upper Valley Land Trust to conserve the land when the time came for an ownership transition. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board awarded UVLT a grant for approximately 80% of the cost of buying a conservation easement on the land – this funding combined state and federal dollars (from the Natural Resources Conservation Service) for farmland protection. The remaining 20% of the project costs were raised locally within the community, with gifts from over 60 generous individuals, in a campaign headed by Pomfret residents and town Planning Commissioners in the waning days of 2014.
Immediately after the Chases signed their conservation easement deed, with their daughter Jeanna Hamblet at their side, they turned and signed a deed to sell the now-conserved property to the owners of North Pomfret’s Thistle Hill Farm. John and Janine Putnam of Thistle Hill Farm bought the land for its full value as an agricultural property, and with the conservation easement in place, any future sale by them will now reflect the value of the land for farming, rather than residential development.
For the past 20 years, the property has been an integral part of Thistle Hill Farm and has been certified organic and managed sustainably by the Putnams. The fertile ground of the Chase Field supports their Jersey dairy cows and helps give the unique local touch to their award-winning Tarentaise cheese, made just up the road at the Putnams’ home farm. A true “Farmstead” cheese, the Putnams explain that “an important aspect of the taste of Tarentaise is that our cows eat from our pastures and hay grown, and harvested, by us on the farm. ‘One place, one cheese’ is a phrase we have heard again and again.” Maintaining the health of their land and herd, and getting high quality milk in return, the Putnams then use cultures and techniques developed over the years in the Alps for this type of alpine cheese to produce an organic Tarentaise that is special to their Vermont hill farm.
Not only is the Chase Field important to the local agricultural economy and to the farmers whose efforts keep it fruitful, but the views across the field embody the rural values of the community itself. Members of Pomfret’s Planning Commission, Orson St. John, John Moore, and Bill Emmons, were instrumental in a fundraising campaign that achieved the match for the VHCB grant and allowed this project to reach its successful completion. They highlighted the setting of the field, on a well-traveled road at the heart of their small town, as a beautiful place that serves as a constant reminder of their community’s farming way of life and the need to preserve such places and keep that way of life alive and well.