Conserved Thetford Farmland Brings Community Together

Summer fields and farm worker in Thetford where the Lyons conserved farmland with VLT

It all started with berries

When the blueberries are ripe at Thetford’s Cedar Circle Farm, word spreads and visitors start arriving. Grandparents with grandchildren, locals bringing visiting friends, families large and small, and spontaneous drop-bys, all drawn in by the heady promise of juicy fruit and the distinct summer pleasure of moving from bush to bush and the steady “plonk” of berries filling up re-purposed yogurt containers – and at least a few bugs. They drive past the main farm to a berry patch with an interesting story. 

A dream of farming

The bushes there were planted decades ago, by Jack and Terry Lyons. “Jack and I were both interested in farming, and when he retired from surgery, we dreamed of being farmers,” says Terry. “We both grew up near farms and around farms and we were used to doing backyard gardening.”   
They bought a farmhouse and 18 acres in Thetford—rich farmland that ran along the Connecticut River. They named it Sunny Fields Berry Farm and Jack raised PYO raspberries and blueberries. “He loved getting up on a foggy morning and going out on his tractor to work the berry fields,” Terry adds. 
Sign for Sunny Fields Berry Farm, and cabin, on farmland conserved by the Lyons in Thetford

The berry patch where it all began — Jack Lyons raised PYO raspberries and blueberries at Sunny Fields Berry Farm for years.

Some years later, Jack went back to Dartmouth to teach medicine and leased some land to Cedar Circle Farm next door, which was conserved by the Stone family 10 years earlier. 
Cedar Circle Farm and Education Center and began growing organic vegetables for sale at their farmstand and through CSA shares. They continued the lease on Jack and Terry’s land, offering PYO berries to their customers. 

Food for those in need 

A few years later the Lyons approached Cedar Circle about using part of the leased land to grow food for those in need. Volunteers from Willing Hands, a nonprofit Jack helped found, began to grow vegetables and fruits there, with help from Cedar Circle staff. The nonprofit supplies the food they grow, and produce gleaned from other farms, to churches, senior centers, and food shelves.  

Protecting the land for future generations

When it came time to sell the farmland, Jack and Terry donated a conservation easement to the Vermont Land Trust and sold the farmland to Cedar Circle. 
Elderly farmer standing beside field in Thetford where the Lyons conserved farmland with VLT

“We have always wanted to conserve the land so that we could protect it from development; the farming land was just too valuable,” explains Jack.

“We have always wanted to conserve the land so that we could protect it from development; the farming land was just too valuable,” explained Jack. “When we decided to sell, we were delighted to sense that Cedar Circle was up for buying it because we liked their organic approach.”

Cedar Circle Farm: bringing community together

“We’re really excited about acquiring this land,” says Eric Tadlock, executive director at Cedar Circle Farm, “and we’re grateful to the Lyons for what they’ve done to make this happen.” 
Farm building with porch and outdoor seating in Thetford

Cedar Circle is a thriving organic farm with an education center, farmstand, and café, as well as programs to engage young people in farming.

Eric says they will continue to grow food there. “We want to continue to work with Jack, and honor his commitment to Willing Hands,” he adds. About two acres will remain dedicated to produce for Willing Hands, and the berry patch will still be called Sunny Fields Berry Farm. 
The Thetford farm offers veggies, a flower CSA, greenhouses full of plants, and educational programs for children and adults. Educational outreach includes programs for toddlers, middle and home schoolers, and adults. This year’s middle school group plans to participate in the Vermont Iron Chef in March. 
“Our goal is to increase our contributions to the community,” says Eric. Their mission, he says, is to offer people a place where they can be closer to the land, closer to farming. Not so long ago, children grew up familiar with farm life—on a farm or with farmers in the family. Kids got to learn about agriculture from early on and had direct experience of growing food and working the land; that’s been lost. 
“At Cedar Circle, people can get involved and learn about food and the values of agrarian life,” says Eric. “The Lyons land can help us expand our programs, especially education. We’re grateful to VLT for working so closely with us to develop a conservation plan that suits our mission and goals.”
Farmland along the Connecticut River where the Lyons conserved land with VLT

Cedar Circle’s fertile land runs along the Connecticut River. Their central location helps them serve a large area of the Upper Valley.

Wood cabin and large tree at the end of a snowy field along the Connnecticut River where the Lyons conserved farmland with VLT

The peace of winter.

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