Walking along the sixty-acre vegetable farm, it’s easy to see the lifelong work and care that has gone into Crossroad Farm.
Tim and Janet Taylor, founders of Crossroad Farm in Fairlee VT, started farming on one acre of land in 1980. With help from their family and extended family, the farm grew and so did their farm crew. Loyal customers have seen the farm and farm stand grow and change since the early days.
Forty-two years ago, we started with one acre and no greenhouses,” shared Janet Taylor. “We’ve grown into a fifty-six acre vegetable farm. Little by little we increased the size of the property with land adjacent to us adding 18 greenhouses over time.”
From the very beginning, community support has been a large part of their success – like hiring local students for their farm crew, donating to local food shelves and schools, and sharing their years of knowledge and experience with new and beginning farmers by teaching classes through the University of Vermont (UVM) Extension.
In the off-season, Tim and Janet liked to spend their time learning and sharing as well with other farmers. In 2010, Tim attended the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association annual meeting where he met Mike Ghia, Land For Good’s Vermont Field Agent who also works with UVM Extension Farm Viability Program. Tim and Janet enrolled in the Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program, a program of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board with network partners that include UVM Extension and Land For Good among others.
Tim and Janet knew that rather than waiting until age or health forced the issue, they wanted to be more deliberate and pursue transferring the farm as a turnkey business. They were approaching their 60’s and knew a farm transfer could take years to plan and complete. They had a goal to reduce their involvement on the farm when they turned 65 and completely transfer the farm to a successor by the time they turned 70 years old.
Mike helped them evaluate the farm assets and connected them with other advisors including Vermont Land Trust. In 2013 they conserved the land with an eye towards making it more affordable for any potential successor. With the development rights sold, the land would become much more affordable for farmers looking to buy.
As a farm succession advisor, Mike helped facilitate conversations with Tim and Janet and their key employees to identify a potential successor. Phil Mason expressed interest. Phil had already been working on the farm for more than 10 years, when he started out picking strawberries and eventually worked his way up to farm crew manager.
Mike was terrific in getting us going on it and getting us focused and thinking about everything that needed to happen,” recalled Tim. “Having patience with us over the years. Mike checked back regularly with us and worked with us when we were ready.”
Addressing key issues with the group, Mike acknowledged there were reservations about moving too quickly and supported Tim and Janet and Phil’s long-term goals. Together they structured a farm transition with a plan for a gradual transfer. A successful transfer plan usually needs to be a living, flexible document.
Gradual transfers are often better than an all-at-once change in ownership” shared Mike, “so there’s room for adjustments to the plan and time for all parties to get to know their new roles and adapt to any changes in how the farm operates. And it gives the younger generation an opportunity to take on additional responsibility gradually while being mentored by the older farmers.”
After many seasons of planting, growing, harvesting, and planning, Phil took on more responsibility and was involved in more aspects of management of the business, marketing, and sales. Five years ago, Phil bought into the business as a major step and joined Tim and Janet in becoming a partner. Just as this partnership formed, Phil spear-headed the purchase of a thriving farm stand in Norwich. Working with other local farmers, the Norwich farm stand remains a hub for the Upper Valley and business bloomed for Crossroad.
Three years later in 2020 Janet retired, leading to Tim and Phil to become equal business partners.
Phil taking over the farm was easy for me,” shared Janet with a laugh. “Because he’d been working here for so long, we were lucky in that we knew what we were getting. We were confident in his abilities. He had been running the day-to-day operations. He was managing the farm for a long time already.”
Tim and Janet built a small retirement home on a lot adjacent to the farm and started to remove themselves from the farm’s central operations. But it was harder for Tim to let go.
For me, the idea that one day you can walk out on the farm, and this is no longer yours is difficult emotionally,” shared Tim. “You’re still interested, you’re still committed, and you want to see it succeed and be part of it.”
To look back on the gradual and intentional transition, Tim and Janet consider it an amazing success story and acknowledged the help from Land For Good and others. Phil also expressed gratitude for the support and guidance along the way, particularly that the long-term plan worked out the way that it did.
Reach out to resources that are available,” Phil encouraged other farmers. “Get the process started early. Communication is huge, have regular meetings, keep coming back to it, and remain sensitive and just understand that, as is often the case, the party that’s transitioning out of farming has just put their entire life into it.”
After 12 years of planning, the farm transfer was complete this summer (July 2022). Phil purchased the land along with the rest of the farm business. Tim continues to work on the farm, managing, planning, and bookkeeping. Janet works in the greenhouses in the off-season, but during the summer she enjoys her retirement – and her grandchildren.
That’s a testament to how complicated and precarious the dynamics can be,” shared Phil. “It’s a family business so there’s that component, and it can be very emotional. Someone has their life’s work involved in it. That’s unique to a farm transfer. And what’s really unique is I’ve been here for so long, that I know and love the farm. I know what’s here. And I know what’s involved.”
Finishing a captivating tour of the farm, and reflecting on their journey, Tim happily recounts:
I knew I wanted to reduce my time on the farm with a goal to fully transfer the farm by the time we were 70. And I just recently celebrated my birthday,” shared Tim with a smile. “Now when people ask me about my retirement, I tell them I only work 40 hours a week.”