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#Fridaysonthefarm: Mother's Day, Every Day on a Vermont Dairy Farm

#Fridaysonthefarm: Mother's Day, Every Day Web HeaderStory and photos by Amy Overstreet, NRCS Vermont

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.

Kerry Gawalt doesn’t let on that she was recently selected as Vermont Farm Bureau’s Farm Woman of the Year. It’s her husband Stephen whose face lights up with the news. In this Mother's Day #Fridaysonthefarm, NRCS visits Cedar Mountain Farm in Hartland, Vermont, for a behind-the-scenes with Kerry -- wife and mother, conservationist, community member and 4-H leader who will celebrate Mother's Day with 10-year-old daughter Maeve. 

#Fridaysonthefarm: Mother's Day, Every Day Map


A Solid Foundation

Kerry, Stephen and Maeve live and farm in Hartland, Vermont, on land that is part of Cobb Hill Ecovillage, a sustainable housing community encompassing 270 acres and 23 families.

The community showcases green architectural design and sustainable living and farming. Kerry and Stephen were founding members of the community where they settled eighteen years ago to establish Cedar Mountain Farm.

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Their 60 Jersey cows thrive on lush green pastures and mixed grains. Each Jersey cow produces about 18,000 pounds of milk annually, enough to make cheese for the award winning Cobb Hill Cheese Company.

The family also manages a 5-acre market garden in which they grow a variety of produce for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and their expanding compost business feeds the soil.

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The family's strong commitment to conservation is clearly stated on their website: “Our farming methods emphasize the building up of healthy soils as the basis of sustainable agriculture. Composted manures from our horses and dairy cows, along with cover crops, feed the land.”

With the farm in conservation easement, the family's conservation ethic not only protects and improves the resources on the farm but also the Connecticut River Watershed.  

Growth and Sustainability

Kerry and Stephen worked with the NRCS to protect and improve the natural resources on their land, particularly the pastures, which are important forage sources for the cows.

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Kevin Kaija, a Vermont NRCS Grazing Specialist, assisted them with a prescribed grazing plan, and they implemented the conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). A voluntary program, EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices that improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related natural resources.

“The forage and soil health on this old dairy pasture system was seriously degraded,” Kaija says. “The EQIP prescribed grazing system improves soil health and sequesters carbon.”

Conservation practices included 35 acres of pasture with prescribed grazing, nearly 3,000 feet of pipeline, high tensile fencing, over 2,000 feet of animal trails and walkways, seven watering facilities and two stream crossings.

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They also developed a spring for a water source and improved three acres of their CSA vegetable crop with an irrigation system and a nutrient management plan. And they installed a covered manure storage system, roof runoff structure, compost facility and heavy-use area to not only improve herd health but also mitigate negative impacts to water quality.

With their own resources, the family constructed a bedded pack barn to complement the EQIP conservation practices. Within a year, the combined improvements doubled the volume of forage and improved the soil health in the pastures.

“All the practices implemented through our EQIP contract was work that we needed to do, and without the assistance, we would have spent a lifetime trying to do it all,” says Kerry.

 It Takes a Mother

With over 20 years of experience in breeding cattle, Kerry has an obvious respect for her animals and treats them with care and compassion. As she lovingly calls them by name, you might even say she is a mother to them.

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Her motherly nature comes through in her relationship with daughter Maeve. “It’s great raising a child on the farm,” she says. “I didn’t put her in daycare when she was a baby, because I could bring her to work with me.”

The farming life is obviously growing on Maeve, a competitive dancer, who also loves to show cattle.

“She bought a Holstein with her own money last year,” Kerry proudly says.

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Maeve shows livestock at three local fairs.

“I love working with the cows, because they are fun to be with, and it is fun to grow with them,” she says.

Maeve participates in the award-winning Hartland Cattle 4-H Club, and Kerry is the club leader.

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A mother to all, Kerry enthusiastically shares the joys and discipline of farming, including with local school groups who tour their farm throughout the year.

“When they visit, the kids do real chores," Kerry says. "Last week they moved waste feed and square bales and they were very happy to do it."

Vision for the Future

Kerry, a dedicated steward of the land, believes it’s important for farmers to work together. And she spreads that message in her different leadership roles, including Vice President of the Windsor County Farm Bureau, delegate for Genex Cooperative, and board member of the Vermont Jersey Breeders Association and board member of the University of Vermont Extension Farm Viability and Dairy Management Programs.

“Talking to farmers from all over," she says, "I realize that we share so many of the same challenges."

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Calling Kerry a great disciple of grazing, Kaija says that “she teaches and inspires others about the benefits of conservation.”

This Mother’s Day, NRCS salutes Kerry and others like her who work the land sustainably, protect our natural resources and pass that ethic along to the next generation.

Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter  and @USDA Facebook .

View the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature.