A Calais Farm is Reborn
Mike Betit began farming in 2002 in what he described as a “homestead gone awry.” “We raised some pigs, hens, broilers, turkeys, lambs, ducks, and geese,” he said. These were sold to co-ops and at farmers’ markets. Three years later, Mike quit his day job, taking a leap of faith to farm full-time. “I spent twelve growing seasons selling predominantly retail to the people of New York City … zealous customers that consider the farmers and farmers’ market a lifeline,” Mike recalled.
Like many farmers, however, he faced challenges along the way, a major factor being not having enough quality land. Over the years, he farmed in Corinth, Wheelock, Burlington, and most recently in Plainfield, where he had good farmland but not enough of it.
Meanwhile, in nearby Calais, a 129-acre farm was in transition. Ella Armstrong had inherited the farm where her family had a small dairy. She wanted it to remain farmed, as did her neighbors, so she began working with VLT’s Farmland Access Program.
That’s where Ella and Mike’s stories intertwine. Ella conserved the land with VLT. And the land trust found an entrepreneurial farmer through a competitive process—in this case, Mike—to buy the land at an affordable price. The Calais community was thrilled with the project as well. Contributions came from the town conservation fund and nearly 100 people. Water quality along Pekin Brook and public access to the water were both incorporated into the conservation easement.
“The Farmland Access Program has been amazing at getting motivated, young farmers onto their own property where they can flourish,” explained Mike. “These folks need security and ownership and [the program] is the perfect way to bridge the gap between what farms sell for on the open market and what a young farmer can reasonably afford to pay.”
Mike has renamed the business Hoolie Flats, a nod to his children, who he lovingly calls “hoolies,” short for “hooligans.” On the farm, he’s growing wholesale storage vegetables—potatoes, carrots, beets, squash—plus specialty produce such as radicchio and romanesco.
“It’s a beautiful farm,” Mike says. “It has great soils, and I like the location a lot.”
Funded by VHCB (with matching funds from USDA NRCS), the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, the Town of Calais, The Nature Conservancy under a grant from Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., and individual donors.
This article appeared in our 2017-18 annual report. Story by Sky Barsch. Photos by Paul E. Richardson.