Just to the west of the once glacial waters of Lake Willoughby, its shores quietly bounded by the twins Pisgah and Hor, sits the Farm at Wheeler Mountain. Since 2008, the property's Northeast Kingdom acreage has been home to Adam and Joanna Lidback, young farmers working to transform their pastoral dream into a reality.
“In a way, we’ve been training to become farmers ever since we were quite young,” says Joanna. “My father was a minister, so as you can imagine we moved frequently when I was a child, from town to town in New England, rarely staying more than a couple of years in any one place. Generally, we lived in fairly rural areas and I was always involved in the local 4-H program, where I developed a deep love for animals and agriculture. Adam, though his parents aren’t farmers, comes from a large farming family and grew up working on the farm. After high school, he worked on the farm, drove relief milk truck and took a job with a company building barns throughout New England. The opportunity to manage his own dairy farm came to fruition in 2008 when his uncle and aunt, David and Juliette Stevens, decided to leave transition their dairy business.”
That year, Adam moved back to the Northeast Kingdom, and began renting what was to become The Farm at Wheeler Mountain – hitherto known as Stevens Dairy Farm – from his aunt and uncle. He purchased 18 Holsteins, some from his uncle’s stock, and his dairy business was officially underway. It was shortly thereafter that he and Joanna began dating, who was now living in Connecticut, and before long, her small herd of Jersey cattle – leftover from a 4-H project begun with her family nearly 30 years prior – had joined his. By 2010 they were married, and in 2011, their son Thomas was born.
As is often the case with small, family dairy operations, Adam and Joanna knew that to thrive they would need to diversify their business. In addition to producing high quality milk for Agri-Mark, the Lidbacks work with Adam’s aunt and uncle custom raising heifers, growing and selling surplus feed, and recently began producing their own pasture-raised, grass-fed Jersey beef. Their beef, available at local farmers’ markets, at the farm, and online, comes from carefully bred Jersey cattle, which ensures the utmost quality.
“Jersey beef is actually ranked consistently with Angus and Waygu cattle in terms of tenderness and taste. It yields leaner cuts, and is higher in monounsaturated fats and beta carotene than other beef, making it a more healthful beef option,” offers Joanna. “The meat has beautiful marbling, and is a top choice for many chefs. Currently, we offer various cuts and eventually would like to produce other products such as our own jerky and summer sausages.”
The Lidbacks are always working to improve and grow their operation. With the property abutting Willoughby State Forest, they witness the direct positive environmental impact good land stewardship can have on the local wildlife population. They utilize a managed grazing system, there is a forest management plan on the property, incorporate best management practices into daily routines and someday would like to pursue alternative energy options.
Adam and Joanna see themselves here for the long haul, with a dream of potential ownership in the future. “The land is so beautiful,” continues Joanna. “It is a part of the family; Adam’s great grandfather built the original barn, and his mother grew up here. Luckily, the property has been placed in conservation by David and Juliette as a tribute to the generations that came before them. This ensures there will always be a farm on the property. We just hope to be the ones who will be able to pass it on to the generation that comes after us.”
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