Adams Farm is a model of agri-tourism

09/03/02 12:00AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) Facing economic numbers that don't add up, many Vermont farms are finding new ways to market retail products. In some cases that means marketing farming itself.

The Adams Farm in Wilmington is a prime example, as VPR's Susan Keese reports.


(Sounds of tea time.)

(Keese) It's tea time at the Adams Farm. In a three-sided barn facing a hillside pasture, urban and suburban guests sit at elegantly set tables. Conversation mingles with the clink of china.

(Jill Adams Mancivalano) "The first tea that we'll be bringing out is called the Adams Summer Breeze, and it's a nice fruity tea."

(Keese) Jill Adams Mancivalano is the fifth generation of her family to piece together a living on this farm. Three afternoons a week, from July through October, she and her husband Carl host afternoon tea here. The guests wear vintage hats Carl has passed out to set the mood.

The food served with the tea is a smorgasboard of Vermont farm delicacies. Many are made right here: there's homemade pumpkin butter, Jill's mom's famous fudge and maple cream from the family sugarhouse.

(Mancivalano) "The little round sandwiches are our very own lamb sausage, paired with one of my favorite Vermont cheeses, which is produced up in Woodstock at the sugarbush farm, a maple hickory smoked cheddar cheese."

(Keese) Mancivalano has many anecdotes to share about tea and its rituals and history, but talk returns repeatedly to the farm. An herbed goat cheese from Guilford launches a conversation about the movement of small farms towards gourmet specialties:

(Mancivalano) "Instead of selling their milk to the wholesale market, they're taking it all the way to the finished product, and that's why you're seeing a lot of these farmstead cheeses popping up around Vermont."

(Keese) The Adams farm is among those that have turned from Holsteins to goats and sheep. Most of their milk goes into goats milk soap. It's sold at the farm store, along with hand-knit sweaters and socks from the farm's blended wool.

The tea guests seem charmed when Carl tells them that the barn they're in is a real barn.

(Carl Mancivalano) "We had about 70 lambs and kid goats born here, right about where you're sitting. But here in Vermont, you have to have more than one use for everything or you're probably end up losing it one day or another. So we have tea in here in the summer."

(Keese) Almost everything that happens at the Adams farm is shared with the public. There are hayrides and sleigh rides. Families bring their children to feed the ducks and goats and donkeys.

(Boy watching the animals, ducks quacking) "Look at that one! He's pretty huh?"

(Keese) Mancivalano sometimes worries about presenting an idealized view of farming. Not all farm animals are as cute or clean as the ones at the Adams Farm. But certain standards of appearance have to be kept up when you're having company every day.

Agri-tourism is not a new idea here. More than a century ago Mancivalano's forbears were taking in summer guests from the city to supplement their farm income.

(Mancivalano) "The Adams Farm was first purchased by my great-great-grandfather Henry Adams in 1865, and he and his wife Sarah during the 1880s opened the farm up as a B & B."

(Keese) After the ski resorts opened the farm began taking in winter visitors too. It wasn't till the dairy boom of the 1960's that Mancivalano's parents gave up tourism and turned to full-time dairy farming. In 1986, when falling prices and pressure to expand put the squeeze on small farms, they sold their cows in a one-time government buy-out program.

The new farm strategy, the Mancivalanos say, is tailor-made for the information age:

(Mancivalano) "People really seem to enjoy learning about why people are farmers and what we're doing. And the more people come to the farm, the more we can grow agriculturally, because they're buying our lamb meat, they're buying our wool, they're buying our goats milk soap."

(Keese) As the guests head for the parking lot, Carl Mancivalano heads for the barn to finish bringing the hay in.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Susan Keese in Wilmington.

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