We are Growing - Land Conservation in South Burlington

The farmers and families at Bread & Butter Farm are thrilled to be part of the exciting project to conserve the Auclair Farm and to create a community resource that includes organically managed farm land and pastures, public trails and access, and protected open space, waterways and natural areas!  This project is the work of a partnership now a year in the making that includes the City of South Burlington, the Vermont Land Trust, Dirt Capital Partners, and the South Burlington Land Trust.

We are thankful to the Auclair Family for their patience, trust, and willingness in allowing us to forge a path of creative collaboration to help keep their multi-generation family farm as a farm and working landscape forever, and as a community resource that will secure the legacy of the Auclair Family as land stewards. The Auclair Family has faced the same question that many area landowners, including the Leduc Family did nine years ago: what to do with their collective family asset, legacy, and history – their land. Even given the Auclair's desire to conserve the land, they ultimately also need to sell it at it's fair market value, and there are developers ready to buy. Thus, our budding team of partners has acted quickly to create a conservation plan that works for everyone.

For us, this project has been an enormous undertaking; a more than full-time job we have stuffed into the cracks between our ‘real work’ as farmers. Now, so close to stepping foot and hoof onto this land, we want to share our perspective of and involvement in this project so far.

Project Background

One year ago, when we saw the “For Sale” sign posted on the Auclair Farm, we immediately acted to find a way to protect its place as an open landscape and working farm in our community.  We approached the City and received an overwhelmingly positive response to pursue a conservation path for this land. Conservation would enable the City to connect walking trails giving residents greater access to recreational trails and natural areas while minimizing stress on City municipal services including water, sewer lines, police, fire, road crews and schools that the addition of a 200+ unit housing development in the SEQ might impose.

Support from the City Council members, City committee members and employees gave us the wind in our sails to pursue conservation partnerships with Vermont Land Trust and Dirt Capital Partners. All three organizations were also thrilled with the potential for what could be created by coming together. Hearing that the many City leaders were interested gave those partners reason to engage more deeply on a conservation plan that can achieve the collective goals that will have the best impact on SB and local communities.

These goals include: (1) to conserve as much of the land as possible with a conservation easement that brings the land to its agricultural value and makes it permanently affordable for future farmers; (2) to manage the land organically with no chemicals, build soil, sequester carbon, improve the health of the forests, waterways, and meadows; (3) allow for opportunities for affordable housing giving farmers access to affordable places to live nearby their work (an important part of farm viability and livelihood for farmers and farmworkers who generally make well below the area median income); and (4) to maintain an open landscape that has public access, views, and natural areas for the residents of SB and our local communities. 

With so many partners right from the outset, these are realizable goals.  To be clear, there will be a multi-year path to achieve these goals.  The initial plan is for BBF to lease the open farmland while working with the City, the South Burlington Land Trust, the Vermont Land Trust, and Dirt Capital Partners to pay down the conservation easement.  Once we have achieved this goal (which could take up to 5 years), Bread & Butter Farm will have the chance to buy the land or a portion of the land at agricultural value. For more information about the City's involvement in the partnership, please read their statement here.

Farm Conservation Easements Protect Our Working Landscapes

A farm conservation easement is a legal agreement that permanently limits development on conserved farmlands.  The easement is valued as the difference between the appraised/development value of the property, as determined by the open market, and the agricultural value of that property. Because the development value of property is much higher than its agricultural value (and because farming is a hard business) there is a strong incentive for landowners to sell it at its development value rather than to manage land as a farm or sell it to another farmer. Often, this financial pressure is so great that there isn’t much of a choice, and the result is our shrinking and disappearing open and working landscape. Conservation easements help to change this financial reality. They allow farmers to purchase land for the price of the agricultural value of that land (a fraction of its development value), and moreover, require that conserved land never be developed beyond agricultural use. The conservation process helps make farms like ours an economic possibility, though certainly not a guarantee.

It is because of this conservation process that Bread & Butter Farm, along with many other farms in Vermont and beyond, exists at all.  Bread & Butter Farm has been here in SB and Shelburne for 9 years now.  The conservation of this farm, formerly the Leduc Farm, was a result of the Leduc Family seeing the value in keeping the land open and farmed.  The Leduc Family worked with the Vermont Land Trust who connected conservation funding partners to pay the Leduc's the fair market value for their land and subsequently conserve it. One of those partners was the City of SB who contributed approximately $500,000 towards conservation, a portion of the total easement value needed to assure the land would stay open forever.  After all conservation easement funds were in place, VLT in collaboration with the Leduc Family conducted a request for proposals from prospective farmers to buy the land at its agricultural value.  Bread & Butter Farm was extraordinarily fortunate to be chosen to purchase the property at the appraised agricultural value and join this community.

To purchase the land we received a loan from the Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation; a mortgage that we still carry and will for 21 more years.  The farm land did not come with a house and because our ability to build homes on our own land is restricted by the conservation agreement, housing has been and continues to be an issue and challenge for our farm as our farm team and community grows. Currently we house our farm families in a small house (600 sq ft!) we were able to build on the Shelburne side of our land, and we rent a single-family house in South Burlington across the road from our farm. In other words, like many SB residents, we carry significant debt to own the Leduc land and we pay a lot to work here and live here.

Also like many South Burlington residents, we understand the need for measured and thoughtful development.  We also see the opportunities for open space to remain open and accessible, and we hear the need for grassland, woodland, and wetland habitats to be protected, stewarded and integrated within our working landscape.  

For a little more background, have a look at the “Cost of Community Services” studies conducted over the last 30 years show working lands generate more public revenues than they receive back in public services and that conserving working landscapes is an important tool for cities and towns to manage costs.

 Farming In Community

Farming is truly a labor of love.  We did not get in to farming to make a lot of money.  We are doing it because we are passionate about community and building community through food and music and engaging folks of all ages and backgrounds on the farm and on the land; land that is shared by all of us.  Our vision is that the land under Bread & Butter Farm, soon to be inclusive of the Auclair land, will be a working farm and open landscape forever.  It is our challenging task to figure out how to do this: how to pass along a viable farm operating on permanently affordable farmland first to the next generation, and then to those that follow.

We hope that as this project moves forward it can be representative of many, that it can serve many, and that it can provide a place for creative collaboration. We are so thankful to our many partners who have worked tirelessly along side us, and to the Auclair Family for their willingness to imagine a future for their family land that creates such a gift to our town.

 Yours truly,

 Bread & Butter Farmers and Families