By Kate Lampton, Charlotte Land Trust

 

The story has been told more and more often as the years go by: dairy farms are closing across the state at a rapid rate, and Charlotte dairy farms are no exception. There are still almost three dozen farms in town, and though most aren’t dairy-focused any longer, farming is still a vital part of the town’s character and economy. The Charlotte Land Trust (CLT) is working with the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies to conduct a Charlotte Farm Study in order to understand the current state of farming in town and to look through a conservation lens to identify challenges and opportunities in the future.

Charlotte has long been defined in large part by its farms and farmland. However, consistent with national and statewide trends, Charlotte dairy farms, for many years the predominant form of agriculture in town, are declining. A preliminary list of the estimated 34 farms now in Charlotte shows that agriculture in town is diversifying and becoming more innovative, but there is no recent study to confirm and describe those changes.

Support for land conservation has been strong in Charlotte for many years. Since 1992, the town’s Conservation Fund has provided grants for purchase of conservation easements, and through that conservation has also played a major role in promoting the local and regional agriculture economy. The Charlotte Farm Study will provide useful information to quantify the impact of the fund on farming in Charlotte.

The Charlotte Land Trust was founded in 1986 and has worked to conserve the best of Charlotte’s agricultural, natural and scenic resources. From our earliest years, farmland has been a focus. As the nature of farming has changed, our farm conservation projects have become more varied. CLT recognizes that a more thorough understanding of Charlotte’s farms, as well as the associated regional market and support network, will help to inform CLT conservation priorities and efforts going forward and to promote the viability of local farm operations into the future.

In the first phase of the study, the Center for Rural Studies (CRS) conducted background research on Charlotte and regional agriculture. The second phase, collecting farm operations data, will consist of a survey, focus groups and individual interviews. CRS has just distributed the survey to farms for which we have contact information. We are also encouraging farmers in Charlotte who have not received a survey to go to the CLT website and click on the survey link to access it.

This winter CRS will conduct focus group discussions and interviews with individual farmers to delve deeper into topics such as community connections, collaborations with other farms, farm viability and the strengths and opportunities for agriculture in Charlotte. The focus groups, interviews and survey will provide a thorough look at the state of farming in Charlotte.

The Charlotte Farm Study will conclude in Spring 2021. If possible, CLT will host a presentation of the results at a meeting open to the public.