New England Preservation: Disappearing Dairy Farms

By Carla Charter

Big red barns and dairy cows grazing in green pastures, an iconic vista that comes to mind when many people think of Vermont.  “It’s our heritage, it’s where we came from. It’s a simple pure, self-sustaining life, everyone does everything on the farm. It’s a quiet life,” said Sandra Brockmeyer Button, show coordinator of an exhibit entitled,  Our Vanishing Landmarks, Chelsea and Beyond, currently on display at the Vermont History Museum.

This exhibit is a tribute to 19th and 20th century Vermont farms and will feature photos and drawings of farm life, including some of Button’s work, as well as wood carvings of a milk truck, oxen, pulling farm implements and horse drawn wagons. A quilt and writings on farm life will be on display as well.

The iconic family farm scene is changing in Chelsea and other areas of the state, Button said, “The family farms can’t make it anymore, they are being bought out by large dairies.” She continued the disappearance of family farms has also meant that cows no longer graze the fields. “Thus a huge army of invasive plants which have begun to take over those fields.”   The state is also facing an influx of summer homes and single family homes, Button continued.

Button, who now lives in Vermont, grew up in Kentucky on a 400 acre farm.  She discovered Vermont when she and a friend took a “shortcut” on a trip from Florida to Kentucky to visit the place where her friend grew up. “I loved the farmland and the mountains,” she said.

She first became interested in the changing landscape when her husband inherited a few acres in Chelsea, Vermont and the two would make the trip to Chelsea on the weekends to do sugaring on the land. “After 10 years we were seeing the abandoned barns deteriorating. They were 100-200 years old.” So she began to take pictures of these historic buildings.

Our Vanishing Landmarks, Chelsea and Beyond, a presentation of the Chelsea Historical Society, will be on display at the Vermont History Museum through July 28. The museum is located at 109 State Street, Montpelier, Vt. It is open Tues-Saturday from 10-4.  General Admission is $8, $5 for children and Seniors.  Members get in free.  All admission costs benefit the museum.