Mnookin: Collaborative Farming

Jul 5, 2017

Janet and Jay Bailey, of Fair Winds Farm in Brattleboro, have operated a diversified horse-powered family farm for more than 40 years. The farm’s previous owner had donated the land to Earthbridge Community Land Trust, who later leased the land to the Baileys. In 2011, looking toward aging but wanting to ensure this land continue to be farmed, they formed an untraditional partnership.

After a trial run, the Baileys transferred their lease to Jesse Kayan and Caitlin Burlett, who then sub-leased half of that land back to Janet and Jay for the rest of their lives.

Jesse and Caitlin, then in their late-twenties, were farmers deeply committed to the same guiding principles of building the soil, growing food for local families, and leaving the land in even better shape than they’d found it. This unique partnership made farmland affordable to the next generation of farmers, and enabled older farmers to stay on their land and share their skills.

Jesse and Caitlin have named their new venture Wild Carrot Farm, which they tend with their three-year-old daughter by their side. They follow a diversified approach, using organic principles to grow vegetables, pork, chicken, and turkey. Their food is for sale at their farm-stand and through summer and winter CSA shares. And in an effort to make their food accessible to everyone, they offer scholarships through the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

Under the Bailey’s tutelage, they’ve also learned how to power their farm with draft horses - in fact, horses do nearly 90% of the field work, including haying, cultivating, plowing, harrowing, and harvesting. This practice reduces their dependence on fossil fuels and complements their efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, a solution to climate change that’s gaining traction in Vermont.

Jesse and Caitlin also rent housing space to Jonah Mossberg, another example of the changing face of Vermont agriculture. Jonah, who’s 31, moved to Vermont to farm because he wanted to be in a place with affordable land prices that also had radical, queer, and farming communities. Until he can buy farmland, he keeps bees and teaches youth at a nearby educational farm.

My own young family loves to visit this joint farm. From picking strawberries to enjoying a sleigh ride, this intergenerational collaboration feels to us like a link both to the past and future of Vermont farming.