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Orwell farm home for first-gen dairy farmer and first-time farm owner

  • 5 Min Read
  • March 26, 2024

Conservation helps Lucas Dairy Farm purchase leased land

Jon Lucas fulfilled a dream he’s had for decades. The first-generation dairy farmer finally bought his own farm in Orwell, Vermont after six years of leasing farmland. 

Jon grew up in New Hampshire where he helped out on his family’s small beef and hay operation, before joining Vermont Technical College to study dairy. He worked as a first-generation dairy farmer for eight years in New Hampshire before moving to Vermont.

Today he runs Lucas Dairy Farm with about 250 milkers and another 200 young stock, and sells milk to the Cabot Creamery.  


Young male farmer with work-dirtied brown t-shirt and jeans in farmyard. Orwell Vermont

We caught up with Jon on a hot day after chores at his Orwell farm!

In December 2023, Jon bought the Orwell farm and in March 2024 he conserved 390 acres of farmland, wetland, streams and woods. He uses the property to grow feed.  

“Conserving the farm made my purchase of the farm possible,” he said. “It was a critical piece of the whole deal. Without the conservation funding, my loan payments would be too great. It’s also comforting to know that this scenic and historic farm will stay a farm and not be developed.”  

Jon has been a member of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition since 2012 and was named “Conservation Farmer of the Year” of 2018 by the Otter Creek Natural Resources Conservation District.   

“Farming today is dynamic and challenging. VLT is thrilled to be able to support first-generation farmers like Jon establish their land base and thrive,” said VLT’s Al Karnatz. “Just as important is helping farmers looking to retire or phase out their land ownership, all while protecting the natural resources and encouraging good ecological stewardship.”  

Historic Champlain Valley farm permanently protected for farming

The Orwell farm was long owned by brothers Mike and Tom Audet, who used it for their dairy and sugaring operation, Ledge Haven Farm. When it came time to look for new owners, the brothers turned to VLT. VLT connected them to Jon, who was looking for new land after starting his dairy on leased land in Starksboro.   

Tom and Mike Audet said: “We always liked the concept of preserving the heritage of farming in this part of town. So conserving and selling the main farm to Jon meets our goals. It was an excellent outcome for both sides.”    

The conservation easement on the Orwell farm includes a special protection to keep the farm available to farmers in the future. 

farmstead with three blue silos, barn to the left, and farm sign reading 'Ledge Haven Farm' in foreground. Orwell Vermont

Wetlands and headwater streams of Lake Champlain conserved

Located less than half a mile from Lake Champlain, Lucas Dairy Farm’s land lies on both sides of Mt. Independence Road and is virtually surrounded by protected parcels. There are over a mile of tributaries to East Creek and Lake Champlain.  

Several ravines on the north side of the property host headwaters of East Creek and remnants of the clayplain forest that was once widespread across the Champlain Valley. The ravines drain north to the 500+ acre East Creek Natural Area owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. These areas were once used as pasture but are now enrolled in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program that partners with farmers to plant native species in environmentally sensitive land and remove it from production. 

The conservation easement identifies about 45 acres of wetlands on the newly conserved property as having special protections, along with nearly nine acres of clayplain forest, a forest type that is now rare in Vermont.  


The project was funded by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), with matching funds from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.  

“Mike Audet served on VHCB’s inaugural farmland protection advisory board. His insight was foundational to developing a program that has now protected over 175,000 acres of farmland across Vermont,” said VHCB Executive Director, Gus Seelig. “We are delighted that Tom and Mike have been able to work with Lucas in arranging an affordable transfer to this first-generation Vermont farmer. We expect Jon will continue the Audet legacy of great stewardship of the land and we thank VLT for shepherding this effort and their continued commitment to helping young farmers access land.”  

Together, we're protecting Vermont from the ground up!

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