Nestled in the heart of the Champlain Valley, Bread and Butter Farm’s 143 acres straddle Shelburne and South Burlington. The farm is also connected to more than 1,000 conserved acres — managed with partners like the University of Vermont, the Vermont Land Trust, South Burlington and others.
Bread and Butter Farm got its start in 2009 after aspiring farmer Corie Pierce decided to chase her dreams.
Pierce — a first-generation farmer — caught the agriculture bug when she started working on a farm in New Hampshire at age 14.
“I fell in love with working hard outside, I fell in love with learning how to grow food. Everything clicked for me. It was like, ‘OK, this is how I can be in the world. This is what I’m supposed to be doing,’” she recalled.
The experience laid the groundwork for a lifelong love, and study of, the occupation.
Later, when Pierce had her first child, she felt compelled to have her daughter grow up on a farm.
With the support of her husband, Chris Dorman, and a business partner, she set to work on a plan for a vibrant agricultural business and made an offer on land that would become Bread and Butter.
“We all always sought a vision of a very dynamic and diverse community farm that did a lot of different things,” Pierce said.
Since its early days, the farm has grown to offer musical and educational programs for children, a farm store full of fresh produce and meats, a coffee shop, bakery, community burger nights and more.
Bread and Butter Farm is a place to unwind and take in Vermont’s agricultural lifestyle at its finest. With a bright red barn, walking trails, pigs sniffing about their territory and views of Shelburne Pond, the site is replete with natural splendor.
“We’re always welcoming people to come and enjoy some outdoor space and walk around a little bit and enjoy the farm and the vicinity of the farm store,” Pierce said. “You can sit on the grass here and enjoy a coffee, our pigs are within a short walk to go visit. When they’re nearby, we love showing people the cows and talking about the amazing, regenerative work that they’re doing on the land.”
Farming during a pandemic
When COVID-19 shut down most elements of everyday life, crops and animals still needed tending. And so it was that the staff of Bread and Butter Farm had a small bit of normalcy amidst all the chaos and change.
“Our lives actually feel pretty normal. We just get to work hard outside every day. We get to grow food and sell that to our community,” Pierce said. “We’re still doing what we do in a way that feels even more important right now. I just feel so incredibly grateful for that.”
And the farm has been well supported by its community.
Bread and Butter’s Community Supported-Agriculture program has “exploded” during the pandemic, according to Brandon Bless, a partner who manages land and animals on the farm. The farm’s fresh food offerings, at large, saw a significant uptick in sales this spring.
“Inventory that was supposed to last until August, we sold in March. It was a huge demand increase,” Bless said. “It was very rewarding.”
But the farm wasn’t spared from all pandemic challenges. Bread and Butter made the hard decision to halt Music for Sprouts, a music-education program instructed by Dorman. Summer camp had to be altered, community burger nights were cancelled, and public access to the farm store was restricted to curbside pickup.
But the farm keeps on.
Commons helps farm in goal of longevity
Farming isn’t for the faint of heart. The work is demanding, and the margins can be tight.“Farming is hard business, period. It’s very challenging because we have so many different forces and factors at play,” Bless said.
On top of everyday weather challenges and climate change, farmers must also be proactive and reactive. They must manage having their entire market in their hands, Bless said.
“The market aspect is challenging. Some of the challenges of pre-COVID were just around, ‘How do we grow our food market base?’” Bless recalled.
Many first-generation farmers face the challenge of expensive startup costs, like purchasing land.
“In Vermont, we are so lucky and so programmed to think that this is kind of like heaven for small farmers or new farmers,” Pierce said. “But the fact is it’s really hard for first-generation farmers to get going, even when they have relatively inexpensive land, because it’s still a mortgage.”
That’s part of the reason why Bread and Butter has signed on to be the first land sold to the Vermont Agrarian Commons. The business will be maintained by its current owners, but the land will be sold into the trust.
The move also gives land back to the community, doing away with private ownership, and the debt new farmers face when buying land.
“The goal is to try to break that cycle and try to acknowledge that we can think about land being held commonly again,” Pierce said. “That used to be a model a long time ago.”
In May, Vermont became the 10th state in the U.S. to start an Agrarian Commons.
Agrarian Commons helps by holding land in a community-centered trust and passing on 99-year, renewable, affordable leases to farmers.
Pierce said that with this agreement in place she will sell her land to the Commons, doing away with her expensive mortgage. In its place, she will pay a more modest lease to continue operating Bread and Butter Farm on the land.
“Every month it’s like, ‘Ok, I’ve got to pay my mortgage,’ just to know that that’s done, it’s taken care of, that this is held, that we can just focus on operating the business for future generations, that is like this breath of fresh air of hope that it can work,” she said.
“It’s so important to me that we’re not just a one generation farm. It has to be a farm that goes way beyond me and this current generation of farmers,” Pierce said. “We can’t just have farms come and go because we’re already losing too many of them.”