Jonathan Wright worked at the Taylor Farm when he was a teenager in the 1970s. When he came back to Vermont in the late 1980s, the farm needed so much work that the Taylor family let him live there just to keep the place going. “Everything was obsolete,” he said. “And after a while I just decided to go with that. Now I’m proudly obsolete.”
In 1996, an investor bought the 500-acre farm from the Taylor family. Instead of making a housing development out of it, the investor sold an easement to the Vermont Land Trust on the pastures and woodlot and sold the remaining 22 acres, including the house and barns, to Wright. “I had had some success with making cheese, and they saw that the farm could work economically,” he said. “The Land Trust also saw that this is the kind of place where people are encouraged to walk around and look at things, and it gives them a good feeling about Vermont agriculture. It is the kind of farm landscape they want to protect.”
Taylor Farm grazes 50 cows on 60 acres of pasture. It is a “farmstead cheese” operation, which means that Wright will not take in milk from other farms to make his cheese, even though it would make him a lot more money. “There are a lot of advantages to staying small,” he says. “For example, when we bring the cows in, all we have to do is wash their udders with a disinfectant. At corporate farms the cows are fed high-protein feed, so they have loose stools and lots more chances to get infected, so you have to bring in all kinds of measures to control that. We don’t have to go there.”
Taylor Farm was one of the Vermont Land Trust’s first forays into agricultural easements, which have since become a major focus of the organization. Over 97% of respondents to a survey completed by the Council on the Future of Vermont said that they value the state’s working landscape and heritage—more respondents agreed on this than any other statement in the survey. When asked about the challenges facing Vermont, over 92% of respondents said that they were concerned about the health and viability of Vermont farms and the agricultural sector—making this the second highest concern of respondents overall.
Wright spends a lot of time on boards and government groups promoting Vermont agriculture, and he has seven full time employees and more who work part time. The farm turns out about 100,000 pounds of cheese a year and is famous for its smoked gouda. “I don’t have to advertise at all,” he said. “And I think we’ll get through the recession pretty well. You might not build a house during a recession, but you can always spend $10 on a wedge of cheese and feel better about yourself.”