A Vermont farm has been named one of three finalists for the Leopold Conservation Award.

The award, named for conservationist Aldo Leopold, focuses on initiatives dedicated to soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat on private working land. Sponsored by the Sand County Foundation, a private land conservation organization, and American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting environmentally sound farming practices, the Leopold Conservation Award honors private landowners in 23 states.

In New England, the award is presented by the New England Forestry Foundation and Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands & Communities. The winner receives a $10,000 prize.

Bread and Butter Farm was founded by Corie Pierce in 2009. Located in the Town of Shelburne, VT, the farm operates on 600 acres. The operation is home to a herd of over 100 cattle, mostly Rotokawa Devons, between 30 and 40 pigs and a flock of turkeys. (Learn more about the Devon breed at rotokawa.com.) These are the source of Bread and Butter’s grass-fed beef and woodland pork meat share program. Pierce also started up her Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program shortly after the farm’s founding. The program became a year-round operation in 2014 and today boasts over 225 subscribers. Goods are also sold through their farm store.

Pierce explained that the farm is very involved with the local community, including with schoolchildren. “Over the course of the year, we work with about 350 students of all ages,” she said. “About 275 children take part in our summer camp programs, with another 75 taking part in our various other educational programs throughout the school year.”

Bread and Butter began partnering with the University of Vermont in 2011, allowing its students to gain firsthand experience in agroforestry work. Students from Sterling College and Middlebury College have also taken part in subsequent years. “We also have between 15 and 20 students between 15 and 18 years old who are here working in their very first jobs,” Pierce said.

Caring for the land is their bread and butter

Corie Pierce, founder, owner and operator of Bread and Butter Farm, with her herd of Rotokawa Devon cattle. Photo courtesy of Corie Pierce

The community spirit extends even further. In addition to the farm, there are currently two other businesses that operate from the land: Music for Sprouts (which “strives to nourish our children, families and communities by exploring and expressing our connection to nature and to each other through music and movement,” according to its website) and Blank Page Café (which has been serving gluten- and grain-free treats, coffee and performance drinks, breakfast taco Fridays, meals-to-go and catering since 2016). There are several enterprises within each of these businesses (such as Burger Night, a family-style from-the-land meal with live music, interactive tours and art projects) that support the experiential, educational and habitat regeneration goals that the farm family shares.

Bread and Butter also partners with several off-farm organizations, including hosting an artist in residence, Wild Faith Herb Farm (herbalism classes), the Schoolhouse Learning Center (a Farm Food Forest program), 100 Years of Sun (a tree nursery), Vermont Farm Tours (hosting cheesemaking classes), Vermont PBS and others throughout the seasons.

As for the farm being recognized as a finalist for the Leopold Conservation Award, Pierce said that she and her staff have been working very hard to become better stewards of the land, improving both soil health and approaching the operation of a farm in a more holistic way.

“We’re working on rebuilding the soil for the overall ecosystem. We’re undoing the harm done by soil compaction, undoing the harm done by a monoculture. We’re working toward a collaborative approach, a collective ownership model,” she explained.

For example, Pierce explained they select for animals whose shapes and sizes do well on their clay soils (“think less pounds per square inch of hoof pressure to alleviate compaction”) that are able to forage their dietary needs from the pasture and medicinal hedgerows. Cattle are moved according to adaptive mob-grazing practices that mimic their natural grazing and migration patterns, moving anywhere from one to eight times a day from May through December.

According to Pierce, over eight years of intense grazing practices the farm has experienced a 400% improvement (which is still increasing) in plant productivity.

Bread and Butter has also been singled out as an excellent example for eco-farmers to follow for its no-till practices, use of raised beds in its gardens and pond-fed gravity irrigation systems.

The winner of the New England Leopold Conservation Award will be announced Nov. 17. For more information visit breadandbutterfarm.com and sandcountyfoundation.org.

by Enrico Villamaino