Just behind the sugarhouse at Doton Farm, a brook flows downhill carrying clear, fresh water over mossy stones. In the winter and early spring, the cold water is used to efficiently cool the reverse osmosis system that jumpstarts the process of boiling maple sap down into sweet syrup. Bryan Doton, the fourth generation to farm in the family, also has fond summertime memories of playing in the cool, woods-shaded waters of Richmond Brook when he was a kid.
The Dotons are deeply rooted in Barnard. They have been farming the same land since the 1920s with a brief break when the farm was sold to someone else until the family managed to buy it back. “My grandfather is buried over there,” says Paul, Bryan’s father, nodding across a field. Paul himself was “ten minutes from becoming a state police officer,” he explains, “but then I was working one day with my father putting up a fence and he said, ‘Do you want to take over?’ and I said, ‘Yes, that’s what I’ve always wanted.’”
Paul’s wife, Sherry, also had farming in her family. She earned a teaching degree and started working for Paul’s mom on the Dotons’ extensive vegetable gardens during her summers off. She married her boss’s son and now she takes care of the calves and runs a home daycare; her job is nurturing little ones of all species, she says with a smile. The Dotons have two grown kids of their own: “a city girl” who works in Washington D.C. and their “country boy,” Bryan, who has wanted to be a farmer since he was in kindergarten, his mom says.
The family takes their responsibility to the community and the environment very seriously and has made a deep commitment to protecting the watershed, including the Richmond Brook. Paul was a founding member of the Connecticut River Watershed Farmers Alliance, for which he currently serves as board chair. The group has more than 30 member farms across diverse agricultural sectors in both Vermont and New Hampshire. “Our goal is to educate ourselves to make sure farmers are doing our part to maintain or enhance the quality of the water,” Paul explains. “We network and help each other with resources and share our experiences and ideas.
At Doton Farm, sustainable practices include funneling milkhouse waste into three septic tanks that disperse into a leach field. They power all their hot water with a wood-fired boiler fueled by their own wood and some additional bought from the area. Cover crops help build the soil so that it holds water better and minimizes run-off into the watershed. Cover-cropping is not a new practice, though, Paul notes: “That goes all the way back to the 40s or 50s. What’s old is new again.”
Like many dairy farmers in the Northeast, the Dotons juggle a variety of projects around their core milk business. In addition to snowplowing for neighbors in winter and sugaring, they raise laying hens, vegetables and sweet corn for sale. A steady customer is chef-owner Will Dodson of The Barnard Inn Restaurant and Max’s Tavern. During the growing season, his house salad always features Doton Farm greens and their maple syrup in his signature maple-balsamic vinaigrette. Will graciously shared the recipe. He serves the vinaigrette over spicy greens mix like arugula and mustard greens with house-candied walnuts and crumbled blue cheese. We also think it works well over greens with some simple toasted walnuts and shredded extra-sharp cheddar.
Barnard Inn Restaurant and Max’s Tavern Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette:
- ¼ cup Dijon mustard
- 1 pinch garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 dashes Tabasco
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup, preferably dark
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt, plus more to taste
Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming, and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).