Farm on Maple Hill Road secures land to expand production
Elise Magnant and Kagen Dewey run Blackbird Organics and produce organic-certified vegetables. After five years of farming on leased land, they became first-time farm owners this fall. But it all began about ten years ago when the two met.
They met, appropriately enough, while working on an organic vegetable farm – Foote Brook Farm in Johnson, Vermont. Elise had grown up in Essex, Vermont and Kagen in New York state but working at Foote Brook was the first hands-on farming experience for them both.
A couple of years later they were still together, and now shared a long-term dream of owning and farming a piece of land. In 2018 they moved to Plainfield and started Blackbird Organics on leased land. They started selling their organic veggies to food co-ops in the area, and then directly at the Capital City Farmers Market in Montpelier.
Finding a farm of their own
They had been looking for a farm of their own when our Farmland Access Director, Maggie Donin, connected them to Dorigen Keeney in 2022.
Dorigen was looking to sell land on Maple Hill Road that she and her late mother, Elinor Randall, originally conserved with us in 2007. Formerly a working farm, the open land on the property had been used for hay by an area farmer for many decades.
The trio hit it off. Elise and Kagen first visited the Marshfield farm in June 2022, and once they had an agreement with Dorigen, began working the land — ploughing fields and putting up a greenhouse for 2023 production.
The new farm was just two miles from the land that they were leasing, so they worked on both sites. In the 2023 season, they grew a third of their product on the new land and piloted a CSA (community supported agriculture) program with pick-up at the Maple Hill farm.
In fall 2023, they bought the 78-acre parcel of open and wooded land from Dorigen. They finally had a farm of their own.
“Thanks to VLT, we were lucky to find a property that worked for our business,” said Elise, “without having to pivot to new markets or a new community – which was really great.”
The challenge of buying a farm
Dorigen worked closely with them to establish vegetable production on the farmland, and to support their land purchase.
“In this competitive real estate market, it’s incredibly challenging for farmers to buy land,” said Maggie Donin, our Farmland Access Director. “In partnership with landowners like Dorigen, we can help farmers navigate this landscape and access land more affordably.”
To make the purchase more affordable for Elise and Kagen, Dorigen strengthened the conservation easement that protects the farmland. The easement now ensures that the farmland will always remain available, and more affordable, to working farmers. She then sold the land to the farmers this fall.
“It is truly a privilege to be able to ensure that the Maple Hill farm will become a working farm once again and grow food for the community in perpetuity, thanks to the Vermont Land Trust,” said Dorigen. “It is so exciting to see the new owners, Kagen and Elise, sustainably improve the soils with organic practices and grow some very impressive vegetables.”
“Without the land trust and especially the [added protection to keep farmland available for farmers], financially speaking, land like this is not accessible to young farmers,” said Kagen. “That’s very much a reality.”
“And because the land trust is going to be around forever,” he added, “it guarantees that when it comes our turn to retire, we’re going to do the same thing – and this land will be financially accessible to the next generation of farmers after us.”
Elise and Kagen also credited Becky Madden of UVM Extension and Nikki Lennart, who is a Farm Business Specialist at the Intervale, with providing valuable support as they establish operations on Maple Hill and plan for the future.
In 2024, Blackbird Organics plans to grow more at their Marshfield farm and continue to sell to the Hunger Mountain and Plainfield food co-ops, and directly at the Montpelier farmers’ market. They also plan to grow their CSA program.