Six generations of Conants have farmed the fertile valley along the Winooski River in Richmond, Vermont. The farm was founded in 1854 by Samuel Conant, who chose the spot for its prime soil and sweeping mountain views. Today, Conant's Riverside Farms is run by Dave Conant and his son, Ransom, who carry on the family tradition of dairy farming.
The Conants milk about 400 Holsteins. Over the years, with the acquisition of new land, the farm has grown to encompass 930 acres. Dave and Ransom work as a team. Dave specializes in crop production, while Ransom's main focus is animal health. They lead a staff of dedicated employees, who help work the land, maintain the equipment, and milk and care for the cows. Dave's wife, Deb, oversees the farm finances and runs the farm's produce business. Ransom's wife, Alison, works in agricultural policy, and helps out on the farm on the weekends.
"I still like what I do, everyday. It's very rewarding," Dave says. "It's knowing the barn is full of comfortable cows. It's looking out over those first 100 acres of newly seeded fields in the spring. It's the satisfaction of having a bunker packed full of high-quality feed, at the end of a harvest, heading in to the winter."
The farm has weathered many challenges through the years, from historic flooding in 1927 and again in 2009 (due to Tropical Storm Irene), to a fire that burned their barn to the ground in 1915.
But as Dave reflects on the farm history, he feels the most pivotal, and vulnerable, moment the farm faced was the sudden death of his father, in 1969. Dave was just 17 at the time, and his father was 45.
"That's when everything changed. My mother had six kids --the youngest was only 11 --and this big farm on her shoulders," Dave says. "It didn't take long for the offers to start rolling in from people looking to buy the farm, thinking Mom couldn't manage it. But they were wrong."
Dave's mother, Gloria, refused to sell the farm. With the help of his younger brothers and some dedicated farm employees, Dave and Gloria kept the farm running during the tumultuous years following his father's death.
Today, Dave is proud to farm alongside Ransom, who is named after Dave's father. Dave and Deb also raised three daughters on the farm, who live close by with their husbands and children. The farm is always bustling with family, friends, and neighbors, especially during the summer and fall months, when Deb grows and sells sweet corn, squash, and pumpkins. Her sweet corn is renowned as the best in northern Vermont.
"This farm has held us together, as a family, for generations," Dave says. "It allows us all to be close, and to spend time together."
"Everyone has a role, everyone helps out," says Ransom. "My uncles, cousins, and brothers-in-law are always here to help during the harvest. My sisters and my wife help my mother with her produce business. We all pitch in, so it's always here for all of us to enjoy."
"The farm is our family's hub," says Dave. "That's what keeps us going."
Listen to Alison talk about her incredible journey to Vermont on 'The Story' with Dick Gordon.
Visit Us: Conant's Riverside Farms