the western shores of Lake Champlain, an hour’s drive from the Canadian border,
is an isolated corner of New York State with a population of less than 50,000: Essex
County. The likelihood that such a place would support a thriving and
prosperous sustainable farming community might seem unfounded, but not every
rural place has agricultural pioneers like Mark and Kristin Kimball and dedicated families like the
Kimballs began Essex Farm in 2003 as a sustainable, diversified farm and now
offers a year-round, full diet, membership to 230 lucky individuals. Essex Farm
produces grass-fed beef, pastured pork, chicken, eggs, 50 kinds of vegetables,
milk, grains and flour, fruits, herbs, maple syrup and soap—an effort powered
by 15 solar panels, nine draft horses, three tractors and 10 full-time farmers.
Kimballs’ sustainable small-scale operation has attracted many new farmers
interested in learning from their success. Mark and Kristin have trained and
mentored more than 50 farmers who have started more than 10 new farms. In 2012,
Essex Farm Institute was formalized, with OSI acting as its fiscal sponsor
through the Citizen Action Program.
farmers face significant challenges. One is finding affordable farmland on
which to grow a business; many new farmers lack the credit history necessary to
secure financing. Farmers who lease land need assurance that they can work the
land long enough to warrant capital investments in fencing, barns, tractors and
for the Champlain Valley, the Klipper family had a vision to address this
concern as well as protect open space and forestland. OSI launched the
Champlain Valley land conservation program in December 2012 with a $1.2 million
gift from the Klipper Fund matched by $500,000 from OSI. “Fortunately for the Champlain Valley, the
Klipper family had a vision to address this concern as well as protect open
space and forestlands.
“There is a whole crop of farmers who are choosing to
work the land, who embrace a back-to-the-land ethic and are changing the way we
think about food. Whether it’s economically driven or a phenomenon all to
itself, the Champlain Valley is a perfect place to be doing this.” said Nat
Klipper, who established the Klipper Family Fund in 2012 with a $1.2 million
gift matched with $500,000 from OSI.
Champlain Valley land conservation program builds on OSI’s decades of
experience in structuring land transactions, with several twists. Through an innovative
lease-to-own model, a farmer leases land from OSI for five years—time enough to
launch a business and establish a credit history that will help qualify him or
her for borrowing. When OSI sells the land to the farmer, the proceeds return
to the program.
farmers able to acquire land independently, OSI can purchase the development
rights through a conservation easement, protecting the land in perpetuity and
providing vital capital for reinvestment in the farm business.
Essex Farm Institute has been an essential partner in the
Champlain Valley program. The Kimballs have created a farming community almost
out of thin air, and many of the “graduates” choose to stay in the area. “Farmers come to train with us from all over the country because of
our highly diversified draft horse–based model. Many of them have stayed in the
region because the Open Space Institute and the Klippers have made permanent
land tenure possible,” said Kristin Kimball.
such Essex Farm connection, Racey Bingham and Nathan Henderson began a
five-year lease from OSI in 2012 with the option to buy. Offering maple syrup, grass-fed
beef, and pastured chicken, Reber Rock Farm focuses on filling in the gaps in
the foodscape of Essex County and has found success in two years.
farmer in OSI’s lease-to-own program, Ashlee Kleinhammer, is running a small
dairy with a cheese plant, cheese cave and retail store called North Country
Creamery at Clover Mead Farm. In an unusual transaction, the former owner
taught Kleinhammer how to make his signature cheeses.
these kinds of success stories that drew OSI to Essex County in the first