Tom and Janet Bellavance protected 91 acres of farmland, woods, and wetlands in Hardwick in fall 2023. They own and run Sunset Lake Farm based in Alburgh, Vermont.
“We both believe strongly in VLT’s mission, and are so happy that this project came to fruition,” said Janet. “I am comforted that these 91 acres will be forever conserved,” she added. Janet serves on the board of the South Burlington Land Trust.
The couple have owned the land for many decades and use it to support their dairy. They hay about 40 acres on the property and pasture many of the cows from Sunset Lake on an adjacent parcel over the summer.
In the future, they plan to also use the land to rotationally graze animals from Bellavance Beef. The grass-based beef operation is run by their son, Ethan, and daughter-in-law, Caitlin.
The conservation easement for the protected Hardwick land includes a special protection to keep it available to farmers in the future. There are also protections to support clean water and wildlife habitat.
Sunset Lake Farm, a Vermont dairy partnering with conservation
With 1,000 cows, the dairy sells milk through Dairy Farmers of America, a national co-operative of family dairy farms. Sunset Lake is adopting agricultural practices that are better for the environment, such as cover cropping, no-till planting, and establishing buffers along streams and crop rotations. They also grow much of their own grain (reducing reliance on imported grains) and produce some of their energy onsite through solar.
This is the Bellavances’s fourth conservation project with us. In total, they have protected 305 acres in South Hero, Alburgh, and Hardwick, and operate their dairy on 1,450 acres of conserved land.
“It was a true pleasure working with Tom and Janet on this project,” said VLT Conservation Director Britt Haselton. “Their love and appreciation for the land – and for Vermont’s agricultural heritage and future – were evident throughout the conservation process.”
A well-known name in Vermont agriculture, Tom Bellavance grew up farming in Hardwick. His father and grandfather were also dairy farmers. Under Tom’s ownership, the farm’s land base has expanded to over 1,700 acres.
In addition to running Sunset Lake Farm, Tom has worked as an agricultural lender and consultant to many Northeast dairy farms for over 40 years. He served on our Board of Trustees from 2000 to 2006. He was also a Co-op Director of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Dairy Farmers of America.
The Hardwick project was funded by the Freeman Foundation. The foundation has a long history of supporting the protection of farms and forestland in the region. The Bellavances also contributed by donating a portion of the conservation value.
To date, VLT has conserved 2,130 acres in Hardwick.