By Tara Kelly
When I think of Weston I think of the quaint village center with the original Vermont Country Store and great theater and art offerings. When I hear “Morgan Hill” I think of the famed Morgan horses bred in Vermont. So I was curious when Liz Ruffa of East Dorset invited me to join her and some folks from Montpelier on a visit to a diversified livestock and vegetable farm in Weston called Morgan Hill Farm.
I traveled from home that morning crossing through Tinmouth and East Wallingford, across Mount Holly and then through the stretch of trees that is part of the Green Mountain National Forest. This is one of my favorite autumn paths – and at this height of summer it is beautiful. Continuing on Route 100 just past the village of Weston I almost buzzed by the farm stand at the curve in the road – but luckily the sugar house and farm stand building caught my eye at the last minute and I made a quick semi-u-turn to get into their driveway. Soon enough, word-of-mouth will get people looking for this gem along Route 100. But an extra sign sure would help prevent crazy u-turns on this well-traveled road!
Owner Peter Sharp and farm manager Levi Gordon are the individuals behind this new farm enterprise. Peter moved to VT in 2000 and thought it would be interesting to have a couple of cows. Those cows were the “gateway animals” leading to a phenomenon Peter describes as “give a mouse a cookie and look what happens”. He invested heavily in the time, labor and expense of reclaiming a whole hillside from brush to re-establish the pastureland needed for his growing beef herd. And, along the way, he and Levi Gordon found each other.
Levi was born in Vermont and brought up on a dairy farm in Northern NY. He moved away for a while, but never shook his roots and strong attachment to the area. He returned knowing he wanted to farm – but something different than dairy. Levi is a great example of a younger generation farmer who inherited a love for the land around him. It is clearly something that runs deep for him. He has a knack for ingenuity and brings a fresh approach grounded in practicality and a commitment to hard work – all of the ingredients needed to get this new farm business off the ground. He and Peter are the perfect team.
Morgan Hill Farm now has a full-blown operation with beef cattle, heritage pork from a blended herd including uncommon breeds such as Mangalitsa and Mulefoot hogs, three plus acres of vegetables including sweet corn and pumpkins, and a small commercial kitchen that allows them to make specialty food products. As Peter and Levi took us around their properties explaining the current operations and plans for the future, it is clear they share a can-do attitude. They love what they do. They take pride in the care and attention they give to their animals and the way in which they are bringing the land back into productivity by turning the land they work, including a former gravel pit, into a diversified farm.
Products from Morgan Hill Farm are already available in a number of places. Garden Arts Fresh Market in Manchester Center carries some of their meats, The Reluctant Panther and Bryant House feature their meat on their menus, and they have a great on-site farm store that carries a selection of their own meats, veggies, cheese and a variety of jarred products there farm creates “with love”. And, this is just the beginning for them.
Liz Ruffa, who organized the tour, is heading up a new initiative called Northshire Grows. RAFFL is working with Liz this fall to document the local farm and food enterprises throughout the Northshire in anticipation of adding of a ‘Manchester and the Mountains’ section to our 2014 Locally Grown Guide. Because when it comes to the local farm economy, Rutland County is strongly tied to Northern Bennington County and vice versa. It is a natural fit – perhaps as good a match as Levi and Peter at Morgan Hill Farm.
For more information about Morgan Hill Farm visit their website at www.morganhillfarmvt.com or call them at 824-6462.
For more information about the 2014 Locally Grown Guide expansion, call Tara at 417-7331 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tara Kelly is Executive Director of the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL). Don’t miss our annual fundraiser on Sunday, September 15th. More info at www.rutlandfarmandfood.org and on FaceBook.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.