When Clara Ayer first had the idea of running summer camps out of her family’s dairy farm, she thought it would be fun way to spread appreciation and understanding of farming and animals. Heading into its third summer, Fairmont Farm Camp has far exceeded her expectations, quickly filling two weeks of 25 camper slots each. It builds on the family’s longtime 4-H club leadership, Clara recounts, noting happily that several club members from non-farm backgrounds have gone on to study agriculture. The same dynamic is at work during camp, explains Clara’s grandmother, Donna Hall, who helps out there: “I love seeing the kids take an interest, especially because many aren’t from farms. Now they’ll have an understanding of what happens on farms.”
The family’s deep commitment to sharing their farm through open houses, tours and camps will reach another level this summer when they host a Vermont Breakfast on the Farm on Saturday, June 17. The statewide program is supported by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets along with a long roster of farming and food organizations. Up to 1,000 visitors can register for a free breakfast and self-guided farm tour with activity stations designed for all ages.
Attendees will be able to visit the new calves, see how the farm’s computerized systems work, watch a simulation of how cropping practices protect the watershed and even churn their own yogurt smoothies on a smoothie bike. “We were excited to do this,” Clara explains. “For us, it’s a great opportunity to get a large number of people to the farm and to share how proud we are of our farm, of how we manage our animals, of the care we take of them and of the land. We’re so glad to do this not only for us, but for dairy in Vermont.”
Clara, her brother Ricky, and their first cousin, Tucker Purchase, represent the third generation at Fairmont Farm. Tucker co-owns the operation with Clara and Ricky’s parents, Richard and Bonnie Hall, who took over the reins from Richard’s parents, John and Donna. To support multiple generations, Fairmont has grown to include three locations in East Montpelier and Craftsbury across which they milk 1,400 registered Holsteins, crop 3,600 acres and run a successful breeding program.
Each of the younger family members spent time working off the farm in different aspects and scales of agriculture before they came home. “Deep down I always dreamed that maybe I’d end up here, but I didn’t know how much room there’d be,” says Clara. “It’s just really nice to be able to work with family. I love the animals, love being outside. You really feel you’ve accomplished something at the end of the day.” It all has even more meaning now that she and her husband are raising their own son on the farm. At eight months old, Carson already loves the animals and “he perks right up when he hears the tractors start up,” his mom says. “I’m just really happy he can spend as much time with me and with family and that he’ll grow up in an environment where he can know and appreciate where his food comes from.”
Fairmont Farm is hosting Vermont Breakfast on the Farm on Saturday, June 17 at their original East Montpelier farm. Tickets, which include breakfast and self-guided tours with activity stations, are free but you must register for one of four time slots (from 8:30 to 11:30 am start times).
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).