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'Vermont Farm Women'

03/13/03 12:00AM By Tom Slayton
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Vermont Farm Women, a book recently published by Silver Point Press, profiles 39 women who make their living from the land. But Vermont FarmWomen isn't just about women. As the book's author and photographer PeterMiller notes, it's really about sustainable agriculture and the virtue of staying small.

This book documents how Vermont farming is changing - the women in it are struggling and encountering obstacles, but also overcoming them and moving toward what may be the shape of a new Vermont agriculture. "My goal is a sustainable farm," says Mary Beth Fischer of West Springfield, "a small farm that feeds my family, a few neighbors, and pays for itself. I'm almost there," she adds. Like other women farmers in this book, Fischer is strong and self-reliant and likes physical, outdoor work.

Gardener Carrie Chalmers of Weston sees building soil as a major part of her vocation. She doesn't use pesticides or herbicides in her large market garden. "I grew up with the idea that you feed the soil," she says. "My Dad taught me that."

At the Von Trapp dairy farm in Waitsfield, Kelly von Trapp says she didn't know quite what she was getting into when she became a dairy farmer. She feels that farmers don't get enough credit for the work they do, keeping land open and productive, creating the Vermont landscape as they continue to build the Vermont work ethic. But Kelly likes animals, likes hard work, and feels that running the family farm with her husband, Martin, is what she was meant to do.

There is heartbreak and struggle in Vermont Farm Women. Illness, disaster, and just plain bad luck strike regularly. But the women in this book don't give up easily. Sheep farmer Bambi Freeman of Morrisville has overcome serious illness to rebuild her herd and her farm and recommends her rigorous life for other women: "Women are perfect to be on the land," she says. Proving the point, Freeman was voted Farmer of the Year in 2000 by her regional conservation district, the first time a non-cow person and a woman had been chosen.

The optimism and grit of Janet Bailey are part of her vision of a better world. She and her husband Jay run an organic, horse-powered farm on 42 acres in Brattleboro. "There's a quiet undercurrent going on in Vermont and elsewhere that is different from building big houses on hills," she says in the book. "Sustainability - living the way we do - is a social and spiritual belief. If we believe in peace we have to stop causing violence." Not all Vermont farm women are as idealistic as Bailey, not all are taking a less-traveled road. But they are all remarkable, and, collectively, they have a fascinating story to tell, one that is vital to the future of Vermont. It's a story that is beautifully told and photographed by Peter Miller in Vermont Farm Women.
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