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#Fridaysonthefarm: A Vermont Veteran Grows Greener Pastures with Conservation

FOF_VtVeteran_WebpageHeaderStory by Amy Overstreet, NRCS Vermont; Story map by Michelle Banks, NRCS National Communications Team; Photos by Amy Overstreet and courtesy of Plew Farm.

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.

Plew Farm images

This Friday, meet Kevin Plew. He protected the United States through service in the Coast Guard and the National Guard. Today Plew protects and improves the natural resources on his grass-based farm in Mount Holly, Vermont.

Throughout childhood, Kevin helped on his grandfather’s small farm. “I loved everything about it,” he reflects.

“It took me a long time to get here,” Kevin laughs as he recalls the events of his life that eventually led him to his own farm in Mount Holly, Vermont.

FOF_VtVeteran_WebpageHeader

Grass-fed beef on a Vermont pasture.

After high school, Kevin served four years in the Coast Guard in Puerto Rico, then returned to the U.S., working on several farms to gain experience and grow his dream of his own farm.

He made his way to Vermont to work at a large dairy operation and when that job ended, he switched gears to serve in the National Guard where he dedicated twenty-one years of service, including time in Kuwait. He says that during his military service, he learned many skills that make him successful as a farmer.

Diversification is the key

In 2011, Kevin began leasing land to farm. Five short years later, Kevin and his wife Patti purchased Plew Farm, a small diversified grass-based farm.

Photo of man with meat Today, Kevin and his wife of twenty-three years, Patti, are living their dream in Mount Holly, Vermont. They have five grown sons, ranging in ages from 29-36, and two young grandsons, Jackson and Dominic, who live nearby.

Today, the Plew’s raise chickens, beef and dairy cows, pigs, and run a roadside farm stand where they sell chicken, grass-fed beef, pork, eggs, and their own maple syrup (a seventh-generation family tradition started by Patti’s family).

“We love what we do – we don’t consider farming ‘work’ – it is simply our lifestyle," said Patti.

With 1,300 chickens, 100 turkeys, 30 pigs, two milking cows, 16 beef cows, 118 acres of forests, and 2,000 taps for their maple syrup operation, they haven’t put all their eggs in one basket.

Photo of man with meat

The Plew’s run a diversified farming operation.

The Plew’s philosophy appears on the front page of their website: “Simply put, healthy, happy animals provide better nutrition for your family.”

Conservation and animal health

Kevin's decision to raise his animals on grass is based on the principle that pasture-based animals roam freely in a natural environment where they have access to nutritious forages.

Cattle and hogs are fed grass and clover pasture and intensive rotational grazing is practiced — meaning they move the animals every day to lush pasture for the highest nutrition.

This grazing system prevents overgrazing, erosion, and depletion of nutrients. Cattle don't return to the same pasture again until the grass has had time to regenerate.

“If you could have seen what the cows were in before,” Kevin recalls. “They were in a lot of mud and there was little we could do, because in the winter, when it’s cold, and wet, we don’t have ideal land to run the animals on.”

Kevin worked with NRCS Soil Conservation Technician Sally Eugair to develop a conservation plan specific to his farm's needs.

Then, he applied for technical and financial assistance through the Environment Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to address the resource concerns.

The Plew's conservation plan includes nutrient management, implementation of a rotational grazing system, stream crossings for the animals, critical area planting, and a prescribed grazing plan.

After attending a workshop about the benefits of bedded packs, Kevin decided to construct a bedded pack system to improve the health and comfort of the animals and facilitate manure composting.

Kevin believes the bedded pack will make his animals healthier, reduce feed cost, and provide a better opportunity to ensure his animals are in good health.

As a veteran and a beginning farmer, Kevin is dedicated to conservation and committed to ensuring that his farming practices are beneficial to the environment, and to his animals.

Hometown heroes

The Plew’s learned about NRCS through the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Vermont.

“The coalition enables me to communicate with other veteran farmers who speak the same language,” says Kevin. “Because of our service, we share a common set of experiences, and that makes starting conversations easier.”

“There I saw a video about the assistance that NRCS could offer to improve the health of my pastures and protect soil and water quality. It was specific to military veterans and beginning farmers,” remembers Kevin.

Living the dream

While Kevin oversees the day-to-day animal operations, Patti’s manages the direct sales, marketing, and outreach. "Each day at Plew Farm is an adventure – an adventure we love,” she says.

Kevin jokingly says, “I don’t need to take a vacation. I’m living my dream right here!”

“With five grown sons, I wouldn’t be surprised if later in life one of them would gravitate back here,” Kevin said. But they will have to wait. “We joke about this because I don’t anticipate going anywhere anytime soon,” he laughs.

Learn more about NRCS assistance programs near you.