BURLINGTON, VT – Did someone say cheese? Whether you arrive in Vermont sporting a cowboy hat or a ball cap, cheese of the dairy or the photography kind are part of any tour to the pastures of the Green Mountain State. And it’s better if it ain’t raining!

Farmers, educators, service providers and Vermont host farms spent three days together earlier this autumn with the National Grazing Lands Coalition (NatGLC) on a “Grazing Through the Green Mountains” bus tour visiting operations with a Northeast context. The time also facilitated a NatGLC board planning meeting and provided a backdrop of networking possibilities for guests from around the country.

Billed as a tour “where farms grow food and community,” the group first stopped at Shelburne Farm’s sprawling grassland estate along Lake Champlain. They were treated to historic building architecture, cheese tasting and the many farming practices and educational initiatives that complement the iconic dairy farm and ancillary programs.

Dairy and Forage Manager Sam Dixon provided an “ask anything” session where he talked about dairy grazing, grassland bird monitoring, changes in the landscape, silvopasture and the future of programming for the farm in the face of a changing climate.

Guests were also treated to a first-class local steak dinner and music. NatGLC Chair Rob Cook took the opportunity to recognize Director of Operations Monti Golla with the inaugural Monti Golla Distinguished Service Award for her 25 years of service to America’s grasslands and farmers.

Day two featured the Choiniere Family Organic Dairy Farm in Highgate where Guy and Matt showed guests around their 2021 New England Leopold Conservation award-winning operation and the many changes they’ve invested in to reduce cow stress and improve milk production. From bedding pack barns to hardened laneways, a custom-built milking parlor, an on-farm store and experimenting with “rip sowing” cover crops in pastures, the Choinieres’ demonstrated how they are positioning themselves for a resilient future.

National grazing tour rolls through the Green Mountains

Farmers and ranchers enjoy a walk through organic dairy pastures with Guy and Matt Choiniere. Photo by Troy Bishopp

The bus then rolled into the small town of Charlotte to visit the diverse Philo Ridge Farm where attendees were guided through the vegetable, composting, grazing and whole animal butchery operations and on-farm kitchen and market. The intensive farm practices rotational livestock grazing, uses cover crops as part of their crop rotation, applies compost annually, plants native perennials and is continually exploring more regenerative practices to foster the health of the land. They’ve also partnered with the University of Vermont to establish research and evaluation protocols that can be used by other farms around the state to produce healthy soils.

The final day was a literal cornucopia of excitement where farmers enjoyed a multifaceted tour (and burgers) at Bread & Butter Farm in South Burlington. Co-owner Corie Pierce showcased how the farm got off the ground with the community “burger night” and has since morphed into livestock grazing, vegetable production, educational programming and on-farm cafe.

Pierce led a discussion of business planning and direct marketing while Land and Animal Manager Brandon Bless led guests out to the pasture to move the herd of Red Devons and show how he managed through this year’s incredible wet weather.

Bruce Hennessey and Beth Whiting of Maple Wind Farm in Richmond welcomed the group to their on-farm USDA-approved air-chilled poultry processing plant and to hear about the logistics of serving online and home delivery throughout New England with their meat and eggs. The tour featured a walk through the pastures and seeing how their thousands of broiler and layer chickens are moved through the grass in portable pens and using portable electric netting.

“The pasture diet makes a big difference in flavor and texture that customers appreciate,” said Hennessey.

NatGLC Executive Director Ashley McDonald said the bus tour was to bring producers together. “It’s great to learn the regional differences of grazing lands and share knowledge among practitioners and service providers. We continue to be the network that works with farmers and ranchers to put resilient grazing practices on the ground,” she said. “Thank you to the Green Mountain State for helping NatGLC grow and carry out its mission to provide graziers with the support they need to deliver the myriad of benefits to the environment and society.”

To see a snapshot of the tour visit NatGLC’s YouTube channel at tinyurl.com/3ha3bckd.

by Troy Bishopp