Adding Value, Gaining Strength: Kimball Brook Farm Gets a Hand
By Annette Higby, New England Farmers Union Policy Director
Added October 5, 2012
Cheryl and J.D. DeVos of Green Mountain Organic Creamery in North Ferrisburgh, VT, have been organic dairy producers since 2005, but their lineage as farmers goes back nearly three generations. At the beginning of the last century, just outside of Amsterdam, Holland, J.D. DeVos’s grandfather helped his father run a 20-cow dairy farm. Together the two milked all of their own cows and delivered their cream, milk and butter to nearby towns, keeping a close connection to the land and its people.
When the DeVos family established itself in upstate New York in 1948, they started a dairy business. They remained in the Empire State for nearly twenty years, increased their herd and their business. When they needed to expand, they looked northeast to Vermont, and in 1968, purchased a farmhouse in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont. That farm has become the nucleus of Kimball Brook Farm. It was here, under his father’s guidance, that J.D. DeVos learned the basics of farming.
J.D. and Cheryl DeVos bought Kimball Brook Farm from J.D.’s father in 1999, set about improving its facilities and expanding the herd. After Cheryl attended a Northeast Organic Farmers Association conference in 2000, she realized the immense positive impact organic farming could have on both their business and on the land. Shortly after, the couple embarked on a three-year-long journey toward transitioning their farm to organic.
Federal policy has not been kind to New England dairy producers, as you know all too well. Production costs in our region are high, yet prices are low when farmers sell milk to processors. Some producers have switched to organic as a way to add value to their milk products, and some have moved in the direction of processing as well. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program has been one of the bright spots for New England dairy farmers.
The program is administered through USDA’s Rural Development offices, and funds help farmers start value added businesses. In 2011, Cheryl and J.D. applied for a grant to support their processing operation, Green Mountain Organic Creamery, and in February of 2012 they received notice that they were recipients of $300,000. With those funds, Cheryl and J.D. covered some of the costs to pay for labor, leases, advertising and marketing, utilities, packaging, and ingredients for some of the products. USDA funds do not pay for the milk that is bottled, but pay for organic cane sugar and organic cocoa. Thanks to this program, the DeVos’s have established a processing facility near their farm, and are now bottling their organic milk under the farm name, Kimball Brook Farm. Margins are better since they can now retain profits that previously went to processors off the farm.
What will happen to the VAPG with this next farm bill? The 2012 farm bill is still in limbo in Congress, and this program is one of the many programs that are in limbo with it. I hope you have told your member of Congress to pass the 2012 farm bill before September 30. That’s the date when 37 programs like VAPG will expire -- thirty-seven programs that support farmers markets, value-added agriculture, beginning farmers, organic agriculture, renewable energy, and nutrition assistance -- the kinds of assistance that NODPA and NEFU members need to get better margins from their farm operations.
Cheryl and J.D. attended the National Farmers Union fly-in in April and told members of Congress about their farm and about the importance of government programs like VAPG. They believe both New England Farmers Union and NODPA help organic dairy farmers in the northeast articulate their issues to policy makers. Join them and contact your Congressional leaders today. Tell them they need to bring the 2012 farm bill to the House floor and pass it.
Today, Kimball Brook Farm is a thriving, all organic dairy farm with a herd of more than 200 cows. Cheryl and J.D. are feeling good about their operation, but are concerned about New England dairy farming. Less than 1,000 dairy farms are left in Vermont. Fuel costs are rising and dairy producers keep losing money. Young potential farmers are leaving the region. They started Green Mountain Organic Creamery to help with these problems. They hope to expand their business so that they can buy organic milk from other dairy producers nearby, and pay them a livable milk price for their product. With the opening of Green Mountain Organic Creamery, Kimball Brook Farm will become another source for healthful, Vermont organic milk and dairy products.
Annette Higby is Policy Director for New England Farmers Union, a membership based organization committed to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life of family farmers, foresters, nursery growers and consumers in all six New England states. Get involved by becoming a member today. For more informaation, go to