This post was written for Cabot by Erica Houskeeper, blogger at HappyVermont.com. We are so lucky that she was able to spend some time at Open Farm Sunday with some Cabot farmers!
Tucked away in the rolling hills of Hartland is Richardson Farm, a 450-acre dairy farm with Jersey cows, a maple sugarhouse, and a deeply rooted Vermont family that values spending time together.
The Richardson Farm has been in the Richardson family for five generations, starting in 1907 when James Richardson purchased the property in this small Windsor County town. These days, the farm’s day-to-day operations are very much a family affair. Gordon Richardson and his sons, Scott and Reid, manage the 130-head dairy that sells milk to Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
Scott’s wife, Amy, does the evening milking, and the couple’s three sons—Ezra, Emory, and Elliott—help out with farm chores.
Scott and Amy, who met while attending the University of Vermont and married in 1994, have been farming together as a couple for more than 20 years.
“Farming is hard work and essential work, too. Farming as a family is a wonderful way to raise children, and we’ve chosen to farm together as a couple, which is wonderful and challenging as well,” Amy says. “Working outside year-round with animals, seasons, natural resources, and family are all very satisfying. We have chosen to be self-employed as farmers, and we’re appreciative of the flexibilities this model offers to us as a family.”
Most of all of the farm work is shared among family members. Amy and Reid share milking duties, and the family works together to feed the animals and complete cleaning chores in the evenings. Scott manages the breeding and sales of cows, as well as the farm’s registered cattle health programs.
Some jobs are only done once a day, while others—like sugaring and haying— are done seasonally. The family has turned their maple syrup operation into a year-round business with retail and wholesale sales. Reid manages the maple sugaring operation, and Amy oversees the farm’s social media, including its popular Instagram account. Any major decisions, such as purchasing equipment, are decided together as a team.
The family took steps to conserve the farm for future generations. Still, Amy and Scott try to keep expectations about the sons’ future in check. “We would be very happy to have any or all of our sons return to the farm to live and work here as adults” Amy says. “It’s important to be realistic in our expectations of them though. Our farm is conserved now so that it will always be used for agriculture, and we are willing to consider new and different business ideas our kids might bring home sometime in the future.”
The farm was recognized in 2009 by the University of Vermont and the Vermont Dairy Industry as the Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year to honor the family’s outstanding dairy management practices. Their milk quality scores put the farm in the top one percent of the dairy operations in Vermont.
Their commitment to excellence means spending most of their time working at the farm and making sacrifices.
“Scott and I both love the land, animals, and the work, but it’s easily all-consuming of our time and energy. We made the choice as a family to stay together here since our sons were small, work together, and accept the limitations this life provides in terms of social schedule, free time, and spending money,” Amy says. “We’re challenged to leave our work when we go home, but also know that doing a good job in farming requires a true investment of personal energy and work ethic.”
But if Amy had to make the decision all over again, she would choose farming in a heartbeat.
“Now that I have lived and worked as a farmer for more than 20 years, I can look at our life and lifestyle with a bit of distance and perspective,” she says. “Farming is a very personal choice. Many young folks don’t have the opportunity handed to them as I did by marrying a farmer! It is a great life, and I wouldn’t trade it for another.”