Hillside Homestead Dairy - A CAE COVID-19 Micro-grant Recipient
Renee and Chet Baker bought their Hillside Homestead dairy farm in Albany on December 4, 2019. It was a dream come true for the couple who had each grown up with agriculture and had operated rented farms for the past five years. They have 55 milkers and are working on plans for a farm stand to sell theirs and some neighbors’ products. The Route 14 location makes it ideal not only for the farm stand, but to be sure their milk will always be easily accessible for pick up by their cooperative.
Being hit with a pandemic in the first year of their own operation created lots of issues -- all of which the Bakers are navigating through. They have received a Tier 1 permit for selling raw milk. That means extra work to show the milk’s quality and safety, more inspections, and regular milk samples every two weeks going to the state. It also means they can sell the milk at other locations besides directly from their own farm, and it generates more profit than milk that goes through the cooperative.
Renee and Chet met while working at Conant’s Riverside Farms in Richmond, Vermont. Renee had done a lot of showing with 4-H, has judged cattle as well, and she wanted to build up a herd of Holsteins with high quality breeding. That way, selling calves can make a difference to the bottom line. She had decided to leave her job -- until the employers made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Two calves a month if she would stay for a year. So she stayed for a year and had the beginnings of her prize herd.
Chet grew up the son of a distributor of farm products, who drove around to farms from Underhill to Middlebury.
“There was farming always around, and I was always a part of it,” he said. “Once you get to be a part of it, it’s just kind of in your blood.”
One factor that helped the Bakers to get a good start - the farm they were purchasing was already part of the Vermont Land Trust and had a conservation easement to keep it in farming, which made the price more affordable.
Also, they have come to rely on the services of Silene DeCiucies, a business advisor for the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) based in Hardwick.
“Silene has helped us through all of the programs available through the pandemic,” said Renee. “Trying to do it all by yourself is difficult.” The Bakers received a CAE mini grant of $1,000 which has helped them set up the raw milk sales.
The Tier 1 permit means they can sell up to 350 gallons a week. Their raw milk is currently available at their own farm, at Chandler Pond Farm in Lyndonville, the Morrisville Food Co-op, and the Farmyard Store in Derby.