Brewster Uplands: Uniting beauty and public good
By Rachel Mullis
It’s summer in Jeffersonville, and the woodlands along the Brewster River are buzzing with cicadas. Children splash in the gorge below Vermont’s historic Grist Mill Covered Bridge. Visitors flock to the trails beyond, seeking shade and the chance to socialize, from a distance.
They can roam over seven miles of public trails on the 1,300-acre Brewster Uplands Conservation Trust property. VLT established the Trust in 2006 after the land was donated by the Bryan family, who spent years building the trail network. Hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers follow the river or venture into the woodlands for mountain views.
The property also has two working farms that offer a different kind of public benefit.
Robtoy Farm teaches the next generation of farmers
Several visitors frequent an egg shack, which operates on the honor system, at the base of Robtoy Road. The laying hens are residents of Robtoy Farm, a stunning patch of productive land amid the hardwood forest.
The chickens share the farm with six goats, nearly a dozen beef cattle, and instructor Sam Rowley. Sam oversees the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program for Green Mountain Technology & Career Center, which leases the land.
“When I got here five years ago, those fields were all brush,” said Sam, waving his arm at the vibrant green hill behind him, where Black Angus and Belted Galloways now graze.
Sam designed a fencing and irrigation system that allowed the cows to clear the brush through intensive grazing, which reduces the animals’ impact on the land. He teaches these and other sustainable practices to youth from northwest Vermont. His high-school students learn soil science, plant science, animal care, and entrepreneurship, and educate visiting elementary classes. They harvest lunches from the garden and sell surplus produce to the community.
“I want to expose students to agricultural methods that are positive in the long term ,” said Sam. “And get them to think about how production interacts with the food system.”
The West Farm responds to community need
Sam’s neighbor Angus Baldwin spends a great deal of time interacting with the food system. As a Trust employee operating the property’s nonprofit West Farm, Angus grows vegetables and herbs for Deep Root Organic Co-Op and local institutions such as schools, hospitals, and retailers. New in 2020, he’s added a CSA membership.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge of taking over the farm and making it work on different levels: financially, socially, personally,” said Angus. Since 2017 he’s added two acres of farmland each year to the original seven.
In response to the coronavirus crisis, he is working with the Abbey Group, Healthy Roots, Salvation Farms, and others in Franklin and Lamoille Counties through the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program to meet growing demand at local food shelves. Each week he coordinates with other Vermont farmers to procure 4,500 pounds of produce for families in need (see this story).
Angus is also managing a retrofit of the old dairy barn. A new refrigerated storage system will help ease COVID-related bottlenecks in local food supply chains.
Angus and Sam are united by a passion for building and sharing resilient agricultural practices with the community. They appreciate that others can take pleasure in this unique property, whether through its public trails, the education it provides, or the food it produces.
“I like that people come out here and value the landscape, that they take part in it in some way,” said Angus. “It’s a beautiful spot.”
Visit our recreation map for info on Brewster Uplands in Jeffersonville and other great recreation spots.