Saving the Family Farm, and a whole lot more...
As you may have read in our winter card, Crescent Bay Farm was one of the first conservation projects completed by South Hero Land Trust. This spring, we sat down with Julie Lane, and her son Nick, to talk more about this third generation family farm.
In 1998, Fred and Gladys Lane were ready to retire, and like many farmers in Vermont, their land was their savings. They loved their farm on Crescent Bay, with acres of rich soils rolling down to the shores of Lake Champlain, and beautiful views of the mountains beyond. They had bought the farm in 1961 and run a dairy there for over 30 years. They raised their three children on the farm, and were deeply committed to the South Hero community. They wanted their son Dave and his wife Julie, who had been working alongside them, to continue working the family farm.
As Julie says, “Dave’s parents were great mentors for us. We were very excited about farming and wanted to buy the farm right away and start on our own, but they slowed us down and really made sure we knew enough to be ready, to be successful.” By 1998, Fred and Gladys knew that Dave and Julie were ready to take on the farm, but they didn’t know how to transfer ownership to them. The younger couple had two growing sons and they weren't sure what the next plan for the farm should be. The price of land made the farm seem out of reach, and it could have been lost forever.
So Dave and Julie called South Hero Land Trust, which had been founded just the year before. With help from the Vermont Land Trust and our community, we were able to buy a conservation easement on the property, allowing Dave and Julie to purchase the land from Fred and Gladys, and start planning their future at Crescent Bay Farm. “That was a crazy time” says Julie, “The house needed a lot of work, we wanted Dave’s parents to be proud of us, and we just had to put in the hard work, and take it one day at a time.” And they were lucky to have Fred and Gladys right next door. “It was great raising kids here because they got to be with their parents and grandparents, who were like a second set of parents! It really helped us establish our farm to have us all together.”
That was eighteen years ago. Now their sons, Nick and Alex, are grown. Alex and his wife Melissa built a house at the farm, and Nick's fiancé Cara spends time there too. The farmhouse where they live is a cozy bed & breakfast. They built up a thriving maple sugar business. And in 2012 they purchased the neighboring Snow Farm Winery- reuniting two parcels that had once been one, and expanding the family farm. Nick reflects on growing up on the farm. “I wouldn’t have traded it for a million dollars. Lots of freedom in the woods, catching snakes, playing in the hay barn, swimming in the lake, biking with friends everywhere, helping with farm chores, farmers’ markets… our parents and grandparents were around, and we worked and learned off the farm and then brought back what we learned.” Alex and his wife Melissa
The whole family works on the farm now. Dave and Nick continue to work off farm jobs, but spend many winter days in the sugar bush and summer days at the winery. Alex began working in the vineyard during high school, and he continues to work there now, caring for the grape vines. Julie manages the tasting room and bed and breakfast. The whole family is around in the spring for maple sugaring. They sell their wine and maple syrup at the Snow Farm tasting room, Champlain Islands Farmers’ Market, and Burlington Farmers’ Market, as well as at regional stores and restaurants. What was once a traditional Vermont dairy farm has been transformed into a diverse family business that welcomes the community year-round.
Julie was an elementary school teacher for many years, and remains committed to making connections between education and farming. They host field trips for students from Folsom School, walks with South Hero Land Trust, and invite the community to stop by in the evenings during the sugaring season. Julie says, “People need to understand place, and that takes visiting a place again and again, learning more each time.” She and Nick are always happy to pause during their day and talk about what they do, and the importance of family farms in Vermont.
Land conservation helped the Lane family transform their farm in a way that has impacted many people beyond themselves. Dave, Julie, Nick, and Alex have remained committed to South Hero, and demonstrate this commitment through their careful stewardship of the land; by welcoming community members into the sugarhouse, vineyard, and trails up Fox Hill; and through their eager participation in civic life. Their farm has become a community gathering place, where we can celebrate farms, families, and our special Island life.