Farm Families: Part Three, The Life That Comes With the Land

11/19/08 7:50AM By Charlotte Albright
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Herb Swanson

Listen to Part Three of Farm Families

Host: This week in our Farm Family series, we've been hearing that many older farmers in northeastern Vermont want their children to have what they had-not just the land that's been in the family for a century or more, but the way of life that comes with it.

How are the traditions and values passed along by the last generation ? Does it mean finding extra income? Finding a new purpose for the real estate?

Today, VPR's Charlotte Albright talks with farm family number five-a close knit clan trying to find new ways of making their living off the land--as we continue our stories about some of the oldest farms in Caledonia County.

"Can I get a coffee shake?"
"Anything else?"
"$3.75 please."

(Albright) Even on a chilly fall afternoon in Lyndonville, the ice cream window at the Freighthouse Restaurant is open for business.

Sound of conversation inside restaurant

(Albright) Indoors, at dinner hour, all the booths, salvaged from old railway dining cars, are full.

(Bonnie Paris) "Hi, my name's Bonnie and I'll be your server today. I'll just tell you our special. It's a sirloin steak dinner, it's our own certified organic grass fed beef, it comes with potatoes, vegetable, which is organic yellow wax beans, and a roll."

(Albright) When Bonnie Paris says "our own," organic grass fed beef, she really means it. Her parents own this restaurant as well as the farm where the beef, potatoes, and beans come from. Her brother works there full time, and her grandparents across the road still help with the chores. Bonnie is a recent Lyndon State graduate, but she says she can't tear herself away from either the family farm or the restaurant, so she juggles them with her part-time graphic arts job.

(Bonnie Paris) "I like to help my family and I feel that our business is also helping to educate people about why they should support local farms and why they should support organic producers."

(Albright) Bonnie takes after her high-energy mother. Cathy Paris wakes up each day around five am, muscles through her farm chores, and heads to the restaurant with fresh milk and veggies to open up and handle the books. By late afternoon she's back on the farm to feed the chickens and turkeys and maybe help with the milking and weeding. Then back to the restaurant to supervise dinner, and close up. By the time she gets home to check on the cows one last time, she's tired-but, she insists, happy, because she loves the way they depend on her.

(Cathy Paris) "I have many eyes looking at me that need care, and they're silent. They're silent friends, and they need me. So it feels balanced because they need us. It's home, it is, it's coming home, and our home is a lot of welcomed friends. "

(Albright) The multi-tasking Paris family may seem like the wave of the future, but Cathy's husband, 45-year old Eric, says his barn boots are also firmly planted in the past.

Every important thing he knows about farming he learned either from his dad, or from other older farmers who lived near-by.

(Sounds of cows mooing as they come into the barn)

(Eric Paris) "Actually, organic farming is new but it's not. Back in the late eighteen-hundreds, nineteen hundreds, everyone farmed organically. Only they didn't think of it as such then."

(Albright) Around six on a rainy evening, cows straggle into the barn to munch on hay and get hooked up to an octopus -like milking system that drains their udders directly into big tanks. Eric's mother, now in her eighties, helps. Her son says he learned from his parents how to work hard-but also how to make the most of every spare minute.

(Eric Paris) "My earliest memories of growing up on this farm are fond, fond memories. It's my mom taking my three older sisters and I into the cow pasture for a picnic lunch, you know, we weren't more than 200 feet form the house but you know we'd go over into the cow pasture and have a picnic lunch while my dad was out tending the farm, whether he was raking hay or cutting firewood or whatever. And then taking my bicycle and driving down across the fields the hills, over the hills and the hummocks and everything.

Cow riding, my sisters and I would always find an old cow, she was probably so lame she couldn't move fast anyway but we'd heist each other up on her back and you know we'd go after the cows and ride one home and we'd get close to the barn and we'd get home and yell for our parents to come out and look at us. And I just have wonderful, wonderful memories of growing up on the farm as my sisters do, so I in turn built the house here on the farm and I raised my two children here."

(Albright) And Paris is convinced his kids can hold onto their heritage-not despite the steady trickle of newcomers and tourists into Vermont's rustic Northeast Kingdom, but because of them.

(Eric Paris) "In my eyes it's a matter of looking at whether the glass is half full or half empty. Well, as more people come into an area it doesn't mean that the farms have to disappear. I think it's opportunity to diversify your farm and raise more and you have more of a market with more people in an area."

(Albright) Steve Taylor, former commissioner of agriculture for New Hampshire, agrees that in-migrants can pump new cash into a local economy, and some can even buy up farms that would otherwise go under. But Taylor also sees a trend that can sap a community of its identity.

(Taylor) "I'm troubled about what's happening in a lot of rural Vermont, however, with what I call a hollowing out of communities by, let's call it, NewYork money where people come and say "aah, we want to have a Vermont farm", and that means to them a place to go and spend a week or two a year. They have the means to afford and fix the place up so it looks lovely and hire a local person to maintain the lawn and plow the snow for it in the winter but those people are total non-residents. I mean, they are non participants in community life and that accounts I think in many of these smaller communities in southern and central Vermont for sharply declining school populations and it's sort of a repeat of what happened in Vermont after the Civil War. "

(Albright) Taylor thinks, though, that the Northeast Kingdom is far enough off the beaten path to slow down that trend-but only if its farmers can survive it.

(Host): Tomorrow we'll meet a farmer who came to the Northeast Kingdom from suburban Connecticut and hear about the impact of in-migration. You can find our entire Farm Family series, a behind-the-scenes slideshow, and a place to share your own story ... online at

Top Photo: Bonnie Paris at the Freighthouse Restaurant in Lyndonville, VT.

Middle Photo: Eric Paris in the barn at Tamarlane Farm in Lyndonville, VT.

Photo Copyright Herb Swanson ©2008 

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Farm Families Homepage View the Farm Families audio slide show
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