Fifty-six years ago in October 1965, Donna and I bought our farm on Putnam Road in East Montpelier. The 207-acre property included the house, barn, a full line of haying and milking equipment, two tractors, and other miscellaneous tools. There were also thirty-two milking cows, eight bred heifers, and six calves. We paid Nelson and Edith Baldwin just over fifty thousand for all of the above. Both parties at the time felt it was a fair price. However, some thought that those young Halls were crazy to have paid such an amount.
At the time there were forty-five dairy farms in town that shipped milk. In the mid-sixties, East Montpelier was a vibrant agricultural community with an infrastructure supporting the farms that included cattle and equipment dealers, large animal veterinarians, and four feed dealers. Our neighbors were nearly all farmers doing the same thing: milking cows twice a day, raising crops, and caring for their cattle.
Donna and I worked the farm as partners. We came to town with three children and a fourth on the way. Amazingly, that first year we made ends meet, incurring no new debt. The first five years on the farm passed quickly. I served on the school board and later as selectman for six years, after which I was appointed to the planning commission.
By that time, due to an enduring low milk price, dairy farming had lost its appeal—many of the forty-five farms sold their cows and left the dairy business. Available land was developed, rented, or purchased by larger farms. Jerome Rappaport of Boston also showed a keen interest in owning farms in East Montpelier. He purchased four and wanted the fifth, the Mcknight Farm on Snow Hill, but lost out in a bid for ownership. In short order, Rappaport became the largest owner of developable agriculture land in town, raising the potential for East Montpelier to become an urban bedroom community.
It so happened at that time the planning commission was faced with the task of renewing our town plan. However, we didn’t have a clue as to what folks wanted for their town. We made the effort to find out, writing a questionnaire and sending it to each person on the grand list.
While many different desires for the future were expressed, one wish prevailed: that our town should remain rural and agricultural. With the results of the questionnaire, a plan of action meeting was held on February 4, 1988.
This meeting established what was to become the future character of East Montpelier. Various working committees were formed, most notably The Conservation Fund Advisory Committee, the trails committee, and the communication committee resulting in the publication two years later of the Sign Post.
Statewide, this period also brought about the Vermont Land Trust and The Housing and Conservation Board, providing funds for the ability to purchase development rights.
Conservation efforts through town funds to leverage various projects have protected a large portion of our working East Montpelier lands—nearly 3000 acres as well as permanent trails have been established.
Although there are presently only three farms in town shipping milk, we know that in the future our conserved lands will be agriculturally active. Of course, no one knows what type of farming will continue in town. We expect East Montpelier’s rich soils will see a variety of uses. Of course, my family and I hope it will include growing crops for dairy farming.