Riverledge Farm and Foundation
By Katherine P. Cox
Photographs by Medora Hebert and Lynn Barrett
“This is probably the most documented property in Southern Vermont,” mused Sidney Craven, founder and president of the Riverledge Foundation in Grafton. He was referring toRiverledge Farm, which has carefully been brought back as a working Vermont farm and is an outstanding representation of the Foundation’s mission. Established in 2009, the Foundation promotes historic preservation, conservation, forest and wildlife management and careful stewardship of those natural resources that reflect the character of Windham County and Southern Vermont. Perhaps more importantly, the Foundation works to connect people and non-profit organizations who share the same objectives to more effectively leverage the work they all do.
Among the Foundation’s partners are Vermont Land Trust, Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Vermont Woodlands Association, Vermont Coverts, Preservation Trust of Vermont and others.
The farm and Foundation provide “a southern hub for these organizations to do research and network and still maintain the farm,” Craven said. The farm had been purchased in 2005 by the owners, who were exploring area towns to settle in and were quite taken by the property. “It had a hillside, trees, open meadows and a barn,” Craven said. The barn, built around 1820, had not been a working barn for 30 years, and while it was in fair condition, the owners did a complete renovation, maintaining its historic integrity and bringing it back to life. It was a major undertaking that included moving the structure off the original foundation, building a new foundation, opening up the inside of the massive space, and installing lighting, flooring, a kitchen and bathrooms. The work was all locally sourced, and some of the interior touches — the beautiful copper chandelier, the stunning Adirondack guide boat, two large trestle tables made from wood on the land — were crafted by artists in Southern Vermont. The Foundation and the other non-profit organizations host meetings and events there.
The magnificent barn is the focal point of Riverledge Farm, which dates back to 1808, and is scrupulously maintained as an example of a typical working farm from that time. With over 300 acres of land, the property includes the main house and guest cabins, has miles of stone walls, some of which have been rebuilt, an apple orchard, a sugar house, nature trails and woodlands. Horse and sheep graze in the meadows and activities such as maple sugaring, beekeeping and haying continue the traditions of a typical farm of the 1800s. “We wanted to replicate the farm as it had been 200 years ago,” Craven said. “We don’t have cows or chickens, but as many activities as we can replicate, we will do so.”
Even the apple orchard is historically correct. “As I learned about farms and learned more about apples, I learned that apples were an important part of a Vermont farm.” In the fall of 2010, 31 Macoun, Delicious and Macintosh trees were planted. In the spring of 2011, Craven contacted Zeke Goodband of Scott’s Farm in Dummerston to see about adding new varieties. “What would have been growing in Grafton in the 1800s?” he asked him. The result: 11 new heirloom varieties were grafted onto Delicious and Macintosh stock, including Northern Spy, Hubbardston, Baldwin, Maidens Blush, Sheeps Nose and others. “It may take three years to see fruit,” Craven said.
Most of the land is forested, and an extensive forest management plan is in place based on the recommendations of four different foresters. Historians have researched the property, an ecological inventory was taken, Vermont Audubon conducted a survey of the birds, and other studies have been done to provide a complete view of a rural, Southern Vermont farm. “It’s rare to find rural properties with that level of documentation,” Craven said. “It’s telling a story that is typical of many farms in Vermont.”
The farm’s story is painstakingly detailed on the website, riverledgefarm.com, with photos collected over the years from former owners; sections on the animals, agriculture, and buildings past and present; survey maps; and even webcams.
But the Riverledge Foundation is more than the farm, and it continues its outreach through various levels of support for other non-profits and has recently launched a Neighborhood Newsletter, which shares information on such things as Current Use legislation, upcoming events at the farm, timber management, the latest on the Emerald Ash Borer and what to do if you see it, and other useful material for landowners and farmers. Sharing resources — and getting its partners to work together and share resources — is fundamental to the Foundation’s mission. “Our job is to help move the ball down the field,” Craven said, “to take the knowledge we have learned through our partners and spread it around.”
The Foundation is currently working with the University of New Hampshire, for example, documenting the forest products industry in Southern Vermont and New Hampshire. The building industry, logging, sawmills, manufacturing and retail will all be surveyed to get a clear idea of how forest products are used and contribute to the economy.
“It all revolves around stewardship and cultural resources,” said Susan Hindinger, executive
director of the Riverledge Foundation, of some of the projects the Foundation supports. Pointing
to projects such as the Working Landscape
project in Vermont, she said, “the fact that it is about working landscape is critical to us. We feel that the essence of what Vermont is and always has been revolves around people and their relationship with the land.”
The preservation of Riverledge Farm ensures that the essence of at least one parcel of Vermont will be perpetuated for future generations. As Sidney Craven says, “It’s a way to honor the work that people did
on a farm for 200 years.”