Hardwick, News

Old Yellow Barn’s Renovation Ushers in a New Era

photo by Kelly Bogel Stokes Yellow Barn renovations facing the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail include loading docks and a new porch. The barn, on Route 15 at the eastern gateway to Hardwick’s downtown, will be home to a Cabot Creamery retail space showcasing its signature cheeses and local foods made by the region’s artisans.

HARDWICK – In 1947 there were 11,206 mostly small-scale, family-owned dairy farms operating in Vermont.

The high cost of bulk tanks, competition from sprawling mega-farms in places like Iowa and California, collapsing milk prices, more stringent environmental regulations and more recently, warmer temperatures, have all taken their toll on family-owned dairy farms.

By 2003 there were fewer than 1,500 dairy farms in the state; in 2006 there were 1,138; in 2019 just 658 remained.

While there are half as many cows in Vermont as there were two generations ago, milk production has almost doubled.

Of even greater importance is what has become a new emerging agricultural economy, fueled in no small part by Hardwick’s Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) and its Vermont Food Venture Center (VFVC).

Locally owned, and now world famous, Jasper Hill Cheese, an anchor tenant of the VFVC, has provided the stability needed to keep the lights on and helped to nurture other embryonic food businesses.

In return, the VFVC has provided Jasper Hill with a dedicated cheese plant where its pasteurized soft cheeses, Willoughby, Moses Sleeper, Little Hosmer, Eligo and Harbison are produced, earning the World Cheese Awards’ Best American Cheese of 2023.

There is perhaps no better symbol of the emerging agricultural economy than the transformation of Hardwick’s big Yellow Barn.

photo by Kelly Bogel Stokes A new 25,000 square foot building next to Hardwick’s old yellow barn will be home to anchor tenants Jasper Hill Farm and the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE). Other tenants will be CAE’s innovative Farm Connex freight service and farm-to-institution Just Cut program, along with a community conference room.

Once an empty, seemingly abandoned vestige of another era, the Yellow Barn’s renovation will support a resurgence of new agricultural enterprises and products.

The “Yellow Barn Project” is a joint venture between the Town of Hardwick and local partners. Under the roof that once sheltered dozens of dairy cows, Cabot Creamery will open a retail outlet showcasing their cheeses and craft foods of other local artisans and entrepreneurs.

An entirely new building has emerged next to the Yellow Barn. It will house both Jasper Hill Cheese and the CAE, providing a new home for Farm Connex, CAE’s innovative freight service that aggregates and distribute locally produced foods from over one hundred producers.

The project will enable Jasper Hill to bring its cheese inventory, now spread between Williston, Brattleboro, Windsor and Morrisville, under one roof.

While high-profile producers like Jasper Hill Cheese, Hill Farmstead Brewery and Pete’s Greens stand out as being at the vanguard of this area’s reborn agricultural economy, there are dozens of other entrepreneurs bringing new products onto the market.

Evidence of this revolution was on full display when Greensboro’s Highland Center for the Arts hosted this year’s Winter Market, where locally produced wines, cheeses, meats, jams, jellies, hard ciders and countless other food products were available to holiday shoppers.

Mateo Kehler, Jasper Hill’s co-founder (along with his brother Andy) and head cheese maker, says the Yellow Barn project’s benefits to the Northeast Kingdom’s evolving food and agriculture businesses is multi-faceted. Not only will it provide more room to grow and promote newer area businesses, but it will reduce Jasper Hill’s trucking needs by 40,000 miles annually and provide a home for the company’s mail order business.

The old Yellow Barn has been a classic architectural piece of the Northeast Kingdom’s landscape for over a century.

Built in 1913, the “ground stable barn” had been part of a prosperous farm owned by a family named Gallagher in the early part of the Twentieth Century.

Gambrel roofed ground stable barns, found in many places across the United States, were mostly constructed after 1910 when government health regulations associated with the dairy industry were altered, forcing changes in barn design.

The new barns had washable concrete  floors with cattle housed in steel pipe stanchions. The gambrel roof created plenty of room for the hay loft above.

Small milk houses were attached to the main barn building and rooftop ventilators provided fresh air.

The Yellow Barn went into foreclosure during the Great Depression, then found new life in the 1950s and ’60s as an auction barn for cattle.

Later it was the home to the Hardwick Motors’ auto dealership.

Greensboro Garage purchased the barn property in 1988 to create a second location for its automobile repair, sales and rental business, where it operated for many years.

The barn then sat fallow for a number of years.

All of that has changed now. While the number of dairy farms is shrinking, vegetable farms are proliferating.

The century-old barn’s new life and the new building next to it will cultivate opportunities for many farms across the region.

The impacts on our area’s economy and the new, often young entrepreneurs giving rise to it are making significant contributions.

The space in the new building will offer greater market access for more than 100 farms.

5,000 square feet of affordable cold, frozen and root crop storage there will increase aggregation and distribution capacity.

The project will support increased access to healthy, locally sourced fruits and vegetables for schools, colleges, and hospitals.

Once home to dozens of dairy cows, the Yellow Barn now heralds the emergence of new partnerships and infrastructure supporting a re-emergent agricultural economy and the land that continues to sustain the region’s population.

This is the first in a four-part series about how Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is witnessing a new emerging agricultural economy and undergoing a quiet economic revolution. David Kelley is a community journalist living in Greensboro.

Comments are closed.