Five generations of Vermont farmers
Throughout its two centuries in agricultural production, many changes have come to the historic farm at the intersection of Mt. Philo and Hinesburg roads, in Charlotte, Vermont. A new wave of stewardship and preservation underscore its recent past and current story, but productivity has been at heart of the farm for many generations.
In 1878, the Foote family purchased a large parcel of land in Charlotte, which was to become their family farm for the next five generations. The iconic “Old Black Barn” sits on the edge of Mt. Philo Road and housed cows when Murray Foote was a child. Born in 1917, Foote remembered working in the historic barn, an English-style barn built in the early 1800s.
As a young man, Foote left Charlotte to attend college and returned to find the farm in tough shape. “I figured I either had to fish or cut bait…so I bought some calves, had a dairy of 15 cows, and we milked them,” Foote told the Vermont Land Trust in 2004. Even while working as a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Vermont, Foote continued operating the dairy with his wife, Geneva and son and daughter-in-law, Jonathan and Linda.
In 1990, the Foote family placed a conservation easement on their property, and opted to donate the development rights instead of selling them. “It has always been in our interest to preserve land,” Foote said. The Vermont Land Trust, Preservation Trust and the Freeman Foundation came together at that time to help preserve the iconic “Old Black Barn.”
In 2012, Jonathan and Linda Foote, the 5th generation of Foote farmers, made the difficult decision to sell the farm. Area farmers gathered on a cloudy spring day for an auction, where the tools, equipment, and livestock were sold to breathe new life into nearby farms.
The farm was purchased by neighbors, Diana McCargo and Peter Swift, with the hopes of continuing the agricultural legacy of the property. Michael Haulenbeek and Vera Simon-Nobes moved onto the property in 2012 with a flock of sheep and a livestock guardian puppy in tow. In 2015, the many features of the historic dairy farm coalesced under the name Philo Ridge Farm.
We did extensive repairs and restoration over many years to the existing barn structures to bring this old farm back to life. Wherever we could, we used existing materials instead of bringing in new and wanted to highlight the incredible architecture of the region. Working very closely with us, the Weather Hill Company headed the design and restoration of many of our original farm buildings, giving new life to old structures.
Today, our practices are founded in regenerative agriculture to aid in soil recovery to strengthen our ecosystem. We aim to innovate based on current research and aesthetic sensitivity. We hope to pass on improved land that is a healthy and beautiful legacy, as well as a viable business model, to future generations.