By Lisa Loomis
Waitsfield residents Aaron Locker and Susanne Slomin will begin growing crops at the Kingsbury Farm next spring.
Locker and Slomin were chosen by the Vermont Foodbank from a field of qualified candidates last month.
David Thurlow of the Vermont Foodbank said that the couple was selected from a dozen responses to requests for proposals to farm the property. Three finalists were interviewed, he said, and Locker and Slomin were chosen.
"They are very experienced farmers who ran a major vegetable farm in New York prior to moving to Vermont. They are starting their own pear orchard on their property in Waitsfield and they came highly recommended," Thurlow said.
PREPARING THE SOIL
Locker has been working on the property since it was purchased, first by the Vermont Land Trust and then by the Vermont Foodbank last year. He has been preparing the soil for cultivation after many years of it lying fallow.
"All three of the finalists were great and had different plans for the land. We got all kinds of great ideas from the interview process," Thurlow added.
Locker, 35, is from Connecticut and Slomin, 38, is from Long Island. The couple met while living in western Massachusetts.
They will begin cultivation of the land next spring, focusing on high-yield vegetable production. Thurlow said that the farmers will be leasing the land, making payments in vegetables. Forty to fifty percent of what the land yields will go to the Vermont Foodbank to be distributed through the local food shelves. The balance the farmers will sell themselves. The Vermont Foodbank also has an option to purchase additional produce at wholesale prices, Thurlow said.
Locker has been working in agriculture since he graduated from high school, with a side of construction work thrown in throughout the years.
"It's always what I've done. It was my first job out of high school and, although I have worked in construction, I've always kept coming back to farming," Locker said.
FARM WILL BE ORGANIC
Slomin is also a baker and operated a bakery at the farm the couple ran in New York before moving here. She will continue to pursue baking as well.
The crops grown at the farm will be organic, Locker said, and the first year will feature mostly storage crops such as carrots, beets, potatoes, onions and winter squash.
Since the foodbank took over ownership of the 22-acre parcel that is just south of the iron bridge on Route 100 at the Warren/Waitsfield town lines, the foodbank, through fund raising and grants, has created an irrigation system and a greenhouse, rebuilt a garage into a produce washing-and-processing facility and is undertaking improvements to the rest of the property.
Locker and Slomin won't live on the farm. That housing will be available for farm workers or interns or other local agencies.
The barn on the property will be used for dry storage and workers recently completed pigeon proofing it -- after moving a couple hundred pounds of pigeon guano, Thurlow said.
Other projects undertaken include the installation of two photovoltaic panels that are solar trackers. Those panels, according to Thurlow, will keep energy costs down and will be installed by the end of the year.
The farm has been enrolled in a USDA conservation program which will provide funding to do considerable planting of native species along the river and do some invasives eradication as well. The 22-acre farm has considerable frontage along the Mad River.
Thurlow said he will be applying for a state grant for the construction of a bridge over the small Mad River tributary. This will accommodate foot traffic as well as the farm tractor.
The farm now has a website: www.vtfoodbank.org/about_us/kingsbury_farm.