Renovations Have Begun!

It's been more than a century since Leverette and Myrtle Conant built the big red barn here at Riverside Farms, and last week we began the important work of ensuring the barn remains intact for the next 100 years. 

This big, old barn is frankly quite impractical, compared to the new, modern barns being built today, but it means so much to our family and the community and we are determined to preserve it for future generations. The first step in what will certainly be a very long process is to remove and restore the cupolas, which are in disrepair and need immediate attention. We are very grateful to have received a $15,000 grant from the State of Vermont Department of Historic Preservation to subsidize the cupola project, which we will match and supplement with our own funding. We are fortunate to have Eliot Lothrop and his team at Building Heritage managing this project - they are craftsman and experts and care deeply about the heritage and history of these old buildings. Here is a time lapse video Building Heritage made, documenting the cupola removal.

I have to admit it looks a little barren up there with the cupolas on top of the barn. The will be restored and returned to their rightful place, keeping watch over the valley, this fall.

It was very nice for WCAX to come out and cover the big event. Dave did a  heartfelt and emotional video, describing the project.  You can watch the interview here 

Restoring this old barn to its original glory will surely take many years and extensive resources. We are glad to have this first phase of the project underway

Happy Birthday, U.S.A.!

It was great fun to be in the Richmond parade this year! Family members of all ages pitched in to build our float. The theme this year was "America the Beautiful" so we named our float "Barn in the U.S.A." We loved handing out Cabot cheese to our neighbors along the parade route. The Richmond community did an outstanding job putting together a day that was fun for all! Possibly the best parade yet! Great floats this year, and a huge crowd to watch and cheer. What a sweet little town we've got!

Letter to the Editor

In March, our farm was featured in Preservation Magazine, which is published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. You can read the article here

It was lovely for them to take an interest in our family and farm, but I felt I needed to clear up a few misconceptions. Here is my response to the editor.

Dear Editor:
My name is Alison and my family's barn is featured in your article, "How Artisanal Cheese Is Helping Save Vermont's Historic Landscape."

It was nice to be featured and we appreciate the writer's interest in our family farm, but feel he missed a very important point. Our farm was compared to two artisan cheese businesses in the state. The thesis seems to be that farms like ours are not viable, and thus our barn is at greater risk than their's. We are glad to see those businesses are thriving (in fact, since publication, Vermont Creamery was purchased by Land o'Lakes - a great achievement), but our business is growing, too. The author seems to suggest that we are struggling, and that our barn is in jeopardy. That's just not true.

There are a lot of new and exciting things happening in Vermont agriculture. Jasper Hill was founded in 1998, I believe. Vermont Creamery was founded in 1987. We have been here since 1854 - for seven generations. As the article notes, our barn is 100 years old and was built by my husband's great, great-grandfather. It is part of our family's history. What keeps these big, old, impractical barns standing through the generations are families who care about them. Not cheese, not alpacas, not hemp. People. 

I am glad these new farms are here, and succeeding. I appreciate all they are doing to revitalize rural Vermont communities. But don't count us out. We're not going anywhere, and neither is our barn.

Sincerely,
Alison Kosakowski Conant

 

Postcards from Richmond, 1915

From the Conant Family Album

Postmarked: Aug. 4 3PM 1915

To: Mr. W.S. Conant, 259 Drury Ave. Athol, Mass

"What in the hell are you people doing? Haven't heard a word for a long time. This is the way the barn looked a few weeks ago. Since then it has been boarded the roof on and the new are clap boarding. The hay is nearly cut and will be in the barn but it will be some time before it is done. Myrtle and I have had our share to do alright - too tired to write but will later. Lovingly, L.M.C."

Restoring the Cupolas

Our barn is now 102 years old, and the time has come to begin the long process of restoring it for future generations to enjoy. Like any giant task, the best bet is to approach things piece by piece, so this summer we take to the task of restoring the cupolas. We will remove them from the roof, shore them up, and then return them to their rightful place upon high. More updates to come! Stay tuned. 

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Bathing beauty

Myrtle Martin Conant was born in 1883, so this photo was likely taken around the turn of the century -  clearly, in summertime! Photos of Myrtle in the family album depict a confident, playful, adventurous, and happy woman who was devoted to both her family, and the farm. Of course, there were tough times, but Myrtle was creative. Throughout the Depression, she hosted vacationers at the farm to make ends meet - an early iteration of the now trendy "farm stays."

Jack-o'-lanterns galore!

It was a wonderful year for pumpkins - we had our nicest crop ever. So we gathered a crew of family and friends and set out to make a fun display for all to enjoy this Halloween! How many pumpkins do you think are in the photo below? By our count, there are 93. But, it is easy to lose track, after all that carving. Happy Halloween!

 

A busload of tiny people...

A busload of tiny people descended upon the farm today, full of energy and questions about dairy farming! It is always fun to see the farm through the eyes of children. This group of 1st and 2nd graders, teachers, and parents from Brewster Pierce school was no exception! The trip was organized by our own Emily, and the students were classmates of her oldest little guy, Zell. 

We toured the barns and the milking parlor, got an up close look at the tractors, saw a cow giving birth, visited the pumpkin stand, and ate lunch in the machine shop. Of course lunch included chocolate milk and Cabot cheese. A fun day for all!

Sunflowers!

This year we planted a half mile of sunflowers along the flats. So many people have asked "why?"  Well, they feed the pollinators and make people smile! We have been so glad to hear from all the neighbors who have told us the sunflowers brought them some happiness during their daily commute. And the bees seemed to truly enjoy this beautiful buffet.

This Saturday, 10/10: Dog Sled Rides at Riverside Farms!

Pumpkin season is always a fun time of year, and this year we have a very special treat for you! 

On Satuday, Oct. 10th from 10-12:30, our friends and expert mushers, Heather D'Arcy and Ingrid Bower, will be offering dog sled rides at the farm!

Together, Heather and Ingrid have over 48 years of experience running dogs!

Rides are $15 per adult, $10 per child (under 10 yrs) for a 10 minute ride.

 This is the field sled which is pulled by a team of 8-10 dogs

This is the field sled which is pulled by a team of 8-10 dogs

A team of 8-10 dogs will pull you on a sled across the fields for a scenic view of Riverside Farms.

All children under 10 years of age must be accompanied by an adult.

We hope you can join us for this fun event!

Happy Birthday, Big Red Barn

On August 1st, our big red dairy barn celebrated its 100th anniversary. The well-known landmark, which was completed on August 1, 1915, has a little-known story.

On April 22, 1915, farmer and proprietor, Leverette Cutler Conant, was building a fence in the pasture along Kenyon Road when the unthinkable happened. Smoke began to rise from his dairy barn across the road. As the story goes, children of some of the farmworkers were experimenting with matches in the barn when some hay caught fire. Flames quickly engulfed the structure, and the barn burned completely to the ground. No one was hurt, but the loss was substantial.

Leverette and his wife, Myrtle Martin Conant, were determined to rebuild. A local builder named C.E. Miller was hired, along with a team of more than 30 local men. The lumber was hauled out of the woods by oxen, and milled on-site, thanks to a portable saw mill. The team worked tirelessly throughout the hot summer days. Together, Myrtle and her niece, Minnie Cutler, managed the daunting task of feeding the hungry work crew each day.

In just three months, the team had erected a brand new, bigger barn, and on August 1st 1915, Leverette began filling it with hay. The speed and precision of the team surprised many. The barn still stands tall today. This time of year, it is bustling with sweet corn customers!

1972: Reflections on Farm Life

In 1972,  Gloria Conant shared the following reflections on farm life in a speech while campaigning for a role on the Farm Credit Board of Directors. She won.

I am a farmer by choice. I chose to stay on the farm after my husband died to raise our family because I felt that it was important to hold on to the family traditions and heritage for them. So few people seem to value these things today, probably because many haven’t known them. Some seem all too anxious to throw them away. The chicken pie suppers, Christmas bazaars, and weddings are very important to people in our community. But, we too are waiting in line to see “The Godfather,” dress up for the summer production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and were as shocked as you were at the near assignation of George Wallace. It seemed to me that in the valley where our farm is situated that I could find the best of both farm and city culture to offer our children.

I was born in the city and grew up there. I think I was actually brought up by my husband to understand the value of a sense of responsibility. Farmers are dedicated not only to the soil and the production of quality food, but to the upbringing of responsible children. My first experience in learning this came as a very new bride. I was instructed in the art of raking hay and turned loose in a beautiful piece of clover. For the rest of the afternoon, I raked in the wrong direction. I was scolded…a wonder I wasn’t spanked! I cried a lot and angrily headed for the house only to be turned around and told to do the job over again the right way or head down the road…it lead in the same direction that had brought me there. Have you ever seen the moon glow on a terrific sunburn, on an empty stomach, at that? From there we proceeded to raise a family and I am quite sure my husband knew that he had a partner.

Farmers are accused of overworking and underpaying their children. This is not true. Farm children, at a very young age, are given chores to do and grow up accepting this as a normal responsibility. Being given a job to do and the responsibility of it, and then the pride and satisfaction of knowing it is well done, is very important training for young people.

We live on a 750 acre modern dairy farm that has been in the Conant family for 5 generations. It is situation in a valley between Lake Champlain and Mt. Mansfield in a friendly community along the Winooski River. The town is called Richmond and it is 12 miles from Burlington, which is the largest city in the state. Our rural regional schools are modern…our tax dollars are being used to provide the kind of quality education we need to keep pace with 20th century society. Our living standards are the same on the farm for our employees as they are for us, and for our city neighbors. Because we use modern technology, our working hours are almost half of what they used to be and the work is no longer back-breaking. We ski in the winter with the famous Cochran family and have a camp on a nearby lake that we enjoy in the summer time. The children have been exposed to politics at a very young age through town meetings and back porch discussions. We have always taken an active part in local affairs. They learn that farmers are true ecologists and that everything produced on the farm is recycled. They have also learned how to get along with people through working with employees…respect is key to a good employee-farm family working relationship.

There is no problem with sex education! That comes naturally to farm children and it is always a thing of wonder and beauty. Which reminds me of a morning recently when I was entertaining a few League of Women Voters at coffee. The herdsman had taken on extra jobs that day and he came rushing to the door. Surprised at finding so many women around, he said, “Gloria, I have three cows to breeds, and I need a bar of soap!” The expression on the ladies’ faces were priceless.

 Gloria's manuscript

Gloria's manuscript

I have a son who claims he has “political aspirations” – in those words! Right now it is taking all of the diplomacy he can muster to get thru his freshman year in high school. The youngest boy doesn’t like to do barn chores…brushing off cows, things like that…but will go to the neighbor’s and clean off 50 horses and brag about all he had done that day! Not much different than kids you know, are they? If I don’t seem too disturbed it’s because they are normal and healthy, thank God, and just have to have time to be boys.

There are wonderful people in our community and they all contribute something to the joy of living there…besides drinking our milk! Bill Gillette is a neighbor to the Cochran family. He used to have a donkey named Julio who would pull Bill around town in a little red wagon. Bill liked to drink beer and would occasionally drink too much. Julio would always see that Bill got home. But one night Bill had a little more than usual and traded Julio for a case of beer to a stranger. Bill has never been the same since and neither has the town. Do you know we are still looking for that donkey? We suspect the fellow skipped town with Julio, realizing what might happen if he stuck around. That donkey has special qualities that a shiny new Cadillac couldn’t replace.

If you even have a chance to visit Richmond, and we hope that you will, don’t plan on staying too long.

We are still looking for Julio, and are suspicious of strangers!