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Vermont Farmer Profiles

Lila Bennett and David Robb, Tangletown Farm


Lila Bennett, Tangletown Farm
Lila Bennett, David Robb and their three children, Samuel, Governor, and Willa, own their house on 2 acres in Middlesex. Not enough, at first glance, to run a full-time, diversified pasture-based livestock operation? Tangletown Farm actually extends far beyond the homestead.

Two miles in one direction are 100 acres of leased land, and 5 miles in the other direction the farm leases another 30 acres. Tangletown Farm is not only a model for how savvy beginning farmers can make productive use of land they do not own, but also a story of how land leasing can be of benefit to land owners and other community members involved. The farm now supplies hundreds of pounds of wholesome, free-range, and ethically raised beef, duck, rabbit, eggs and poultry to the greater Montpelier area. Food from the farm is treasured in local elementary school lunches and cherished by CSA members and retail customers alike. And the farm is only in its 2nd year of establishing!

The tale of how Tangletown Farm first gained access to land beyond their 2-acre homestead started when Lila was a teacher in a local elementary school and David worked as a carpenter. David approached a land owner at one of his jobs about the possibility to pasture some horses. The landowner agreed, knowing that grazing animals would help improve the land and keep it manageable. The first year, the Tangletown Farm family started out grazing horses. Things went well.


Bennett, Robb, and family - Tangletown Farm
Two years later Bennett approached the land owner about the possibility of also pasturing pigs and chickens on the land. He responded, “Incidentally, I really like bacon…” From there the operation took off. Land access was key, but Lila and David stress the fact that their relationship with the land owner was built upon trust and mutual respect. Tangletown Farm pastured pigs, horses, beef and poultry while respecting the land owners privacy and desire for good land stewardship. The landowner was happy the land was being used and even happier when the partnership yielded fresh and delicious meats! Lila and David were glad to give the land owner fresh and healthy meats, from time to time. To date, the lease agreement has been strictly verbal. “It’s a complete win-win situation,” explains David. Tangletown Farm continues to grow its operations on the 100 leased acres, which continue to improve.

Tangletown has since approached another land owner of 30 acres with a similar barter arrangement: this time the farm supplies the land owner with a free CSA share. The overall situation does, however, bring challenges. The 30 acre plot is 5 miles away from home in the other direction from the 100 acres. Lila explains, “Two miles away or five miles away from home might not sound like a lot, but it’s been tough at times to gather three small kids and make the trips.” Lila and David remember one time when animals got loose at the same time at each separate location. “We’re definitely spread thin sometimes,” adds David. While the couple agrees, overall, that their experiences with leasing land have been positive, they are still looking for opportunities to purchase land to expand, and perhaps have operations more centralized.

Still, Lila and David feel that leasing land has brought unique opportunities. Mainly, the arrangements have helped raise Tangletown Farm’s visibility within the community. The simple fact that the farm is spread out in several locations makes Tangletown a well-known community entity. Making trips to the various plots is an opportunity for the farm family to interact with people who have a “steak” in their operation.


Bennett, Robb, and children at the farmstand, Tangletown Farm
This, in turn, has helped community members become more exposed to local agriculture. It won’t be difficult for the farm to find more land to lease if they need it; they are visible and well-known enough to have received many offers from non-farming community land owners hoping to transition their land into production. Making trips to their animals has also helped tie the Tangletown Farm family together. “Farming for us has been a whole-family endeavor,” Lila affirms. Samuel, Governor, and Willa have found an added bonus when they visit one of the leased plots: the landowner happens to have kids of similar ages who always welcome the time to play. “Having opportunities to get our kids out, enjoying farming and other kids, is a hugely positive result of leasing land,” Bennett adds.

Whether it leases land or owns it, Tangletown Farm has become a valuable addition to the Central Vermont community. The Farm raises 100% free-range, pasture-fed, and ethically raised meats, and Lila and David often welcome community members to see how their animals are given the happiest lifestyle possible. David exclaims, “It can’t be that bad for the chickens [on our farm] when they are free, for the most part, to just walk away!” Tangletown Farm is a strong supporter of local agriculture; by July 2010, 95% of their animals diets will be supplemented with Vermont-grown 100% certified organic grain, grown and processed right in Addison, Vermont. Local schools have benefited from Tangletown Farm’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and nutritious foods. Tangletown Farm supplies meats and eggs to two local elementary schools at significantly reduced prices. The farm works with schools on food related education. Lila and David also feel strongly that local food should be made available to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. They regard these principles as important parts of their business, even if it means diversifying production and marketing to keep operations economically viable. Full-time farming has been a long-time dream for Bennett and Robb. They believe that “it isn’t always easy to find land, so making positive arrangements that display the obvious benefits to the landowners may help prospective farmers be more successful.” Tangletown Farm runs a 40 member CSA and is expanding to include new members. For more information about the farm, please visit www.tangletownfarm.com, or email ttownfarm.com or call (802) 229-4776.

Last modified March 25 2011 01:57 PM