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Artisanal butter maker selected by VLT as farmer for Bragg Farm

Marisa Mauro, a 27-year-old native of Dorset, Vermont, will be the new farmer at the Bragg Farm in Fayston.

Mauro will be making about 5,000 pounds of artisanal butter per year. An experienced farmer and former owner of Ploughgate Creamery in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, Mauro will be starting with 10 cows.

The Vermont Land Trust selected Mauro from a field of farmer applicants to purchase the Bragg Farm. The land trust purchased the 48.6-acre property from Reggie and Dorothy Bragg last August for $760,000 and after creating a conservation easement on the land, is selling it to Mauro for $175,000.

The easement will ensure the long-term protection of the Bragg farmland and its affordability to future farmers. The land trust was able to purchase the property through bridge financing and is now raising funds to cover the cost of the project.

The Vermont Land Trust will sell the farm to Ploughgate Creamery after securing grant funds and working with the Mad River Valley community to complete a private campaign to raise $250,000 to conserve the farm.

Mauro will be the sole proprietor at her farm, raising cows and piglets. She will be milking the 10 cows herself, once a day, and processing the butter every few days. Some of the pigs will be raised to sucklings and some will be raised to slaughter weight, she said.

“I’ve been living in Waterbury and have been looking for a property that would work. I’ve lived in the north and in the south and the Mad River Valley/Central Vermont are a perfect fit for me,” she said.

Depending on logistics and fundraising, she should be able to start farming early next summer.

Mauro has been involved with dairying since she was 15. She has worked at dairies in Vermont and California and worked with the European dairy process.

Mauro is passionate about the Vermont dairy industry and has been since her first job on a sheep dairy in Weston called Woodcock Farm. Over the last 13 years she has worked at six dairies in Vermont and California. In 2008, Mauro established Ploughgate Creamery, producing award-winning cheese until a fire destroyed her leased facility in Albany, VT.

Mauro plans to renew Ploughgate Creamery’s operation at the Bragg Farm and establish a small-scale, grass-based dairy farm that produces artisanal butter. Several Central Vermont restaurants familiar with the quality of her work have already signed on to purchase her butter, which will also be available to local consumers. As part of her farm plan, the byproducts of the butter-making process, including buttermilk and skim milk-fed suckling pigs, will offer additional diversification of her business.

To be selected as the owner and steward of the Bragg Farm is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream,” said Mauro. “As a farmer and Vermonter, I am so proud to be part of the Mad River Valley community. With this opportunity, I can't wait to get to work at the Bragg Farm with my family, friends and neighbors and contribute to our working landscape.”

The Bragg Farm has a long history as a dairy farm. First purchased by the Bragg family in the 1850s, it was one of The Valley’s early “hill farms” which produced a variety of goods including milk, strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, apples and maple syrup. The farm’s historic barn, built by the Braggs in 1909, has been widely photographed and recognized for its contribution to The Valley’s rural character.

Acting with the support of the Mad River Watershed Conservation Partnership (a partnership of the Mad River Valley Planning District, the Friends of the Mad River and the Vermont Land Trust) and the Fayston Natural Resource Committee, VLT purchased the Bragg Farm in August 2012.

“These partners recognized the Bragg farm’s significance to the resiliency and vitality of farming in the Mad River Valley and the preservation of Fayston’s agricultural landscape,” explained spokesperson Liza Walker.

VLT purchased the Bragg Farm for $760,000, using bridge financing and VLT will resell the farm to Maura for $175,000, the appraised agricultural value of the land, barn and residence. Mauro was selected to be the next owner of the Bragg Farm after submitting an extensive proposal and business plan into a competitive process conducted by the Vermont Land Trust as part of their Farmland Access Program. This conservation program is an effort to assist experienced farmers in gaining access to productive, affordable farmland.

“Ploughgate Creamery’s varied, synergistic operations are well matched for the Bragg Farm’s soils, current infrastructure, and location,” Walker said.

“Marisa Mauro’s plan for her artisanal butter operation is very well adapted to the land base, farm infrastructure and the local markets,” said Jon Ramsay, VLT’s farmland access director. “In addition Marisa brings years of direct experience and training in agriculture, and is highly regarded for her work ethic and commitment to land stewardship.”

Mauro hopes to participate in local farmers’ markets and plans to engage the community through outreach including plans for on-farm events and educational programs.

The successful protection of the farm’s agricultural land, historic barn and scenic qualities requires approximately $500,000 in private, charitable donations. In support of this goal, a donor has created a $250,000 challenge grant to help inspire others to take part in the campaign for the Bragg Farm. The Vermont Land Trust and the Mad River Valley community must raise the matching $250,000 before the project is complete and the farm can be sold to Mauro. With some early gifts, VLT now has $207,500 left to raise.

“Critical to agriculture’s future is providing enterprising farmers such as Marisa with access to high-quality and affordable farmland,” said Gil Livingston, president of the Vermont Land Trust. “And because our farming future is dependent on public support, it is also important to connect community members with farmland and farmers. History has shown that the Mad River Valley is a very supportive agricultural community. We are excited about offering the opportunity for them to help establish another local, exciting agricultural initiative and protect an important part of the local landscape in perpetuity.”

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