Vermont’s image as a bucolic agricultural state is very much a part of its brand and very much a part of its reality.

The news this week that a local dairy farm has sold its dairy cows is sad, but the news that that same farm is transitioning to a model of sustainability and local food production far outweighs the bad news.

The Neill dairy farm has been operating in Waitsfield since the 1950s, operated by Elwin Neill Jr. and his late father Elwin Sr. Two years ago, Neill decided to try his hand at raising beef and found a ready market for his beef.

He added pork and found another ready market. He added laying hens and found people and businesses with an appetite for his eggs. With his son Forrest helping him with marketing, he is growing the demand for his products and will be moving more beef and more pork as the months roll by.

This model works and it works for a variety of reasons. First, there is increasing awareness of how much it matters that the food we eat is not full of chemicals, hormones and worse. Secondly, our carbon footprints are greatly reduced if we eat food that is from here versus food that is not.

And, very importantly, when those who are stewards of our prime agricultural land can keep that land in agricultural use, Vermont’s bucolic countryside remains open.

The future of farming in Vermont may not be with its historic dairy farms – those farms are already transitioning. Smaller, specialty farmers are embracing niche markets while diversifying in terms of what they offer.

Food hubs, like the Mad River Food Hub are making it possible for farmers to preserve their summer crops for winter consumption and making it possible for people who couldn’t get into the business to do so.

So while it is sad to see the dairy cows go, it is fabulous to see the beef cows grazing. We need to be able to find our food closer to home, and we need farmers willing to grow and raise it for us. Good luck to the Neill family as they make this transition.