Lepine sisters preserve family farm

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(Host) Gert and Jeanette Lepine can scarcely go anywhere without being recognized.

It started when they were featured in Peter Miller’s book Vermont People.

Then they drew national attention when they sold their dairy herd eleven years ago.

Now the two farmers from the Mud City area of Morristown are again making their mark.

VPR’s Amy Noyes has our story:

(Gert) “Even now we go somewhere, of course together – you know we’re sort of odd looking people. They all say, You must be the Lepine girls.”

(She laughs)

(Noyes) That’s Gert Lepine. She and her sister Jeanette dedicated their lives to farming and to their beloved Jerseys. It’s still a big soft spot for them.

Jeanette remembers the last time she milked “Veronica” before the cow was sold at auction.

(Jeanette) “I started milking her and I was putting the machines on her and all of a sudden, I couldn’t stop it. I was pouring out tears like you’ve never seen. I didn’t think I was so full of liquid in my body. And I said, “My God, Lepine, catch on.” This is too much. This is the last time I’ll ever milk you.”

(Noyes) The cow was soon on her way to Utah, and the Lepine sisters were done with farming. But even before the cows were sold, Gert worried about what would become of her 700 acre farm. She turned to the Vermont Land Trust, as a way to preserve the land and keep it in farming.

The Land Trust valued the development rights at $400,000. Gert told them she didn’t want that much money, and asked for $150,000 to settle her bills. Her property became the first farm conserved in Lamoille County.

Sisters Jeanette and Therese followed suit, conserving their Mud City properties. Together, the sisters have conserved eleven-hundred acres. And they’ve convinced many neighbors to do the same.

A conservation easement ensures the land will never be developed; the landowner can still sell the property or pass it on to family.

Essentially, the land trust purchases development rights to a property, and places restrictions on use of the land.

After a lifetime of farming, Gert says that keeping her land has made it easier to live without her cows.

(Gert) “Even now, people will – when I see somebody I haven’t seen, they’ll say, Don’t you miss your cows? And I’ll say, Sure I miss them, but I’ve still got my land.”

(Noyes) In addition to conserving her land, Gert’s making sure her property remains active farmland. She leases her farm to two local brothers who produce organic milk.
She hopes they’ll choose to buy the farm some day.

(Gert) “It’s going to be a family farm when they eventually own it. So I’m very happy about the way things turned out.”

(Noyes) As a founding member of the Morristown Conservation Commission, Gert worries about future development in her town. But she doesn’t worry about her own neighborhood.

(Gert) “Maybe there’s some parts of Morristown that are at risk – a lot of parts. But Mud City has got it made.”

(Noyes) For VPR news, I’m Amy Noyes in Mud City.

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