Local farmers plan to continue the legacy of environmental conservation left by Christine Kaiser in Stowe, Vermont.
by Brenna Toman
Conservation Success Begins Locally
Cradled by the looming curves of the Green Mountains to the west and the rocky spine of the Worcester Range to the east, Stowe is a thriving community patchwork of small farms, forestland, rural residences, and mountain recreation destinations. As land use changes over time and population increases, however, degradation to vital natural resources can be misunderstood or overlooked. Innovations in land protection and responsible stewardship by farmers can help change this.
For over 70 years, the Kaiser family has owned and operated an iconic farm, nestled into the scenic Nebraska Valley in Stowe. Christine Kaiser has been producing eggs, pork, chicken, and milk here for decades. Christine is ready to retire as new owners, Andrew and Annie Paradee, start a new farm tradition on the land.
Christine and the Paradees had help from Vermont Land Trust and Stowe Land Trust, who raised over $372,000 to purchase a conservation easement and facilitated the sale of the farm at its lower agricultural value. The new operation will offer vegetables, pork, and eggs available for on-farm purchase by community members and improve the woods for sugaring.
“It was important for Christine to know who was buying the farm,” Annie Paradee pointed out. “It was a hard process and she persevered to make sure it got preserved.” Stowe Land Trust discovered that Christine wanted to sell her farm through a post on Front Porch Forum and opened a conversation with her about conserving the land. Meanwhile, Christine approached the Paradees, a local couple interested in starting a farm of their own. She wanted to make sure the land would be passed down to local farmers with a vigorous conservation plan and existing ties within the community. After many months of legal talks and fundraising for the conservation easement, the farm was officially sold on April 29th.
A Legacy of Sustainable Farming
“It is still hard to believe that the farm is really ours now,” said Andrew, watching their dog, Waffles, run and roll excitedly in the field. The Paradees’ work on the farm has already begun. A quarter of an acre has been tilled for vegetables, and they plan on planting up to half an acre. The Paradees want to rotationally graze all of their animals, so they have started to construct a mobile chicken coop on an old hay wagon. The new farmers also plan to continue Christine’s legacy of environmental conservation.
“We want to focus on maintaining and improving rather than using the land,” said Annie. “We have a big responsibility to take care of it.” Four solar panels stand tall, visible from the road before the farm is. The Paradees plan to use this renewable energy to power greenhouses to extend the growing season, as well as to light their home and other buildings. They plan to use a composted bedded pack to minimize nutrient runoff and create fertile soil for their hay and pasture lands. Their blend of conventional and heritage breed animals will be pastured and fed organic feed only.
Explaining the choice to support more heritage breed livestock and crops, Annie quoted Barbara Kingsolver, “You can’t save the whales by eating whales, but paradoxically, you can help save rare, domesticated foods by eating them. They’re kept alive by gardeners who have a taste for them, and farmers who know they’ll be able to sell them.”
Innovative Water Quality Management
With community members concerned about sediment and nutrient loads from local farms, roadways, and other development draining into Stowe’s waterways and Lake Champlain, a focus on river conservation was imperative for this farm conservation project. This property contains 12 acres and 3200 feet of frontage on the Miller Brook, an especially important inlet to the Little River and consequently, Lake Champlain. The new farm plan for the property maps out how this stream will be conserved forever.
Riverside property has long been sought after for businesses and homeowners alike. As waterfront investments increased, towns and landowners built barriers, berms, and armor that protect the surrounding development from flooding and erosion. Over time, however, this method has created massive flooding and erosion events downstream.
Rivers are wiggly, meandering creatures at heart. Water moves at different speeds on either side of the river, and curves tend to become curvier as sediment is picked up on the inside curve and deposited on the outside curve. When left alone, the river will eventually form many ‘C’ shapes. The energy of the water can dissipate around this curve, and it can access the broader floodplain in a high water event. Once the ‘C’ gets closer to an ‘O’ shape, it is easier for the water to run in a straight line again, cutting through the top and bottom of the curve. This cycle keeps the balance between land and river in equilibrium.
When the natural curving of the river is restricted, the energy has nowhere to dissipate. The stream surges on, maintaining its energy until it eventually causes destruction somewhere downstream. This also reduces the possibility of soil creation, as fast moving water carries sediment away and into large basins like Lake Champlain instead of settling out in fertile floodplains.
The conservation easement, secured by Stowe Land Trust and Vermont Land Trust, will ensure that at least 50 feet on either side of the Miller Brook will remain forested and the river channel will be allowed to meander within its natural corridor without interference. Luckily, Christine’s past participation in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program has already allowed a forested river corridor to generate. The Paradees are excited to keep up the buffer.
“We can’t change the natural stabilizers of the river,” explains Annie Paradee, “it has to go where it has to go.” The continued forestation of the river’s ‘meander belt’ will do far more than allow the stream to curve. Wildlife is drawn to native vegetation and the vertical diversity of a land gone wild. Roots will soak up water, nitrogen, and phosphorus, filtering the runoff water from the surrounding farm and watershed, while reducing the risk of soil erosion in events of high water. Continuing to protect watersheds, streams, and rivers will allow many rivers that are currently unstable to settle into equilibrium.
Stowe Land Trust is a small, member-supported, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the conservation of scenic, recreational, and productive farm and forest lands for the benefit of the greater Stowe community. https://www.stowelandtrust.org/
The conservation of the Long Winter Farm is a significant step forward for Stowe towards working with-not armoring against- the river that runs through it. The Paradees will continue to use responsible and sustainable practices to leave the land even better than they found it.
Brenna Toman is the Stewardship & Outreach Coordinator at Stowe Land Trust and a VHCB AmeriCorps Member. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (802)253-7221.