In a little over a year, some Vermont Technical College agriculture students will begin living and working on a beautiful dairy farm in Norwich. The million dollar property, called Norwich Farms, was donated to the school to help expand its curriculum into real-world farming.
The historic complex is a cluster of classic red barns and a house on almost 350 acres of prime, rolling farmland only about two miles from town. It was donated by Andy Sigler, a longtime friend of Vermont Tech. The college is partnering with the Upper Valley Land Trust to fund a hands-on, 24-7 curriculum for about 12 students who will live and work on the dairy farm each term.
As a few cows mooed at a pastoral press conference, Vermont Tech President Dan Smith said he was thrilled to launch a program unlike any others in the state. “It’s a really, really exciting vision for dairy education, for the dairy industry in the state of Vermont and the working landscape,” Smith said, flanked by a half-dozen state and local officials.
Vermont Tech already has an applied agricultural education program for students interested in sustainable food systems and farm management. At Norwich Farms they will learn how to manage a herd, how to process milk, and how to make a sustainable living from the land.
Vermont State College System Chancellor Jeb Spaulding says the generous gift couldn’t have come at a better time for a system beset with financial challenges.
“There’s no question that Vermont Tech, like all of the colleges in the Northeast, are struggling to deal with a shrinking number of high school graduates and stagnant state appropriations,” Spaulding noted. “But it is with the support of the Siglers and others like them that provide us opportunities that are going to allow us to do exciting things to meet the challenging headwinds that we have, and this is certainly one of those opportunities.”
It’s also quite a graduation present for Erick Lafferty, the lucky VTC graduate who will get to live in the charming farmhouse and care for about 40 cows.
“I always had some dairy cows; my mom was a dairy farmer when I was little, but when she had all her kids she had to sell all her cows and do all that. And I realized that was what I wanted to do, when I started leaning more towards that, I just got real into it,” Lafferty said.
Vermont Tech hopes to have its new residential farm program fully up and running by the Fall of 2016.