Sometimes you have to leave home so that you can come home.
James Coe grew up doing chores on his family’s Agri-Mark-member dairy farm in West Glover before his parents dispersed the herd and operations were taken over by the farm next door. He left Vermont to attend a prestigious art and design school where he earned an architecture degree and met his wife Nella, also an architect. The couple practiced architecture on the west coast for about ten years before moving back home in 2009 with their two young children.
Things had changed since James left. A pair of brothers, Mateo and Andy Kehler, had started Jasper Hill Farm a few miles away in Greensboro. Their small 50-cow dairy and farmstead cheese operation had earned international recognition for its cheeses and also for a groundbreaking model of partnering with other regional cheesemakers to age their cheeses in its state-of-the-art cellars. A leading example is Cabot’s award-winning clothbound Cheddar and the Kehlers give Cabot credit for playing a critical role in their growth. Jasper Hill also partners in a similar way with two other Agri-Mark members who make cheese, Landaff Creamery in New Hampshire and Vermont’s Von Trapp Farmstead.
As his family settled back into his childhood home, James worked on some expansion projects for the steadily growing Jasper Hill and then became a project manager for them. He managed development of a Green Machine waste treatment facility that converts dairy and cheese production waste into compost and energy. James also worked on designing a second Jasper Hill creamery in Hardwick and on their cheese-aging caves. Although not necessarily the sort of architecture most art school graduates find themselves doing, James is very happy to be melding his farming background with his design and construction expertise. “It uses all my skills,” he says, “and it’s something I feel good about.”
Still, in the back of his mind, James says, “I had the dream to start up our farm again.” That dream came true when the next door farm, which had previously absorbed the family’s farmland, was ready for a new owner. A longtime Agri-Mark member, Andersonville Dairy had been providing milk to Jasper Hill since 2013 to help fill seasonal demand for some of their very popular cheeses. In partnership with Jasper Hill, James and Nella were able to buy the farm in late 2014.
Juggling management of Andersonville Farm’s registered Holstein milking herd of 170 plus young animals and 500 crop acres with his project work for Jasper Hill is rather a full plate, James admits. “Luckily, it’s next door,” he says happily. “It’s our life.”
His parents love that the farm is back in the family, James says: “They think it’s full circle.” There is also great joy, he adds, in raising his kids on the farm. “It’s wonderful to see them retracing my steps. It’s just easy. It feels right.”