Vermont couple brings East Montpelier farm back to life
“Is this barn not gorgeous?” beams Olivia Campbell Anderson, 39, gesturing around her at walls of aged, hewn wood and dusky cattle stalls as though taking in the grandest of ballrooms. “People keep saying to me, ‘Oh, you bought a new house,’ and I’m like, ‘I bought some gorgeous land and there’s also an incredible barn.’”
For Olivia, husband Eric, 40, and daughter Eleanor, 9, the sprawling property they bought in October and christened Anderbell Acres is more than a dormant cattle barn set on 35 acres of land in East Montpelier; it represents the couple’s dreams of year-round farming adventures and a place to grow old among fields of wild peonies. But bringing the centuries-old farm back to life will take more than a little work—and of course, money.
“I recently created a GoFundMe website to raise seed money for our farm, and to purchase a tractor, to start planting once the snow melts this spring,” said Eric, office manager for Maclay Architects in Waitsfield. “We cannot work the fields without a tractor.”
Farming equipment currently owned by the family consists of a single lawnmower, Eric said.
“We’re looking into a variety of resources to start the farm, from grants to loans, but are hoping to start with as little debt as possible,” Eric, who studied plant science at Cornell University, explained.
The couple also hopes to raise money to renovate the top level of the three-story barn as a venue for weddings and other events. The lower levels will be used as a growing space and farm stand, Eric said.
A faded, handwritten milking chart left pinned to a wall by an empty row of cattle stalls suggests the farm was last active in 1960.
“This barn hasn’t been used in 60 years,” Eric said. “They just left everything right where it was.” Including a now-antique calf cradle languishing in the center of an abandoned stall.
The couple fell in love with Vermont in 2003 when Olivia, now the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, attended Vermont Law School, Eric said. They decided to return from Maryland in 2016, in part to ensure a better quality of life for their child.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What kind of life do we want?’ And especially, ‘What kind of community do we want Eleanor to have?’” Olivia said. “And we just kind of envisioned ourselves here.”
After renting for four years, the couple decided it was time to “find our forever home,” Eric said. They looked at several local properties, but none inspired them to make an offer. And then they saw Anderbell Acres.
“When we walked the land at sunset, we were like, ‘This is it,’” Olivia said. “It was just a love of the land and the farm and picturing all that it once was and could perhaps be again.”
The couple was further enchanted by the East Montpelier community, which Olivia described as “kind and so very beautiful.” After bringing Eleanor to see the farm, there was no turning back.
“She was just so happy, frolicking in the fields,” Olivia said. “She climbed up this big maple tree, all the way up to the top, which stressed out the realtor.”
“It’s awesome up there,” Eleanor said of the backyard tree.
After purchasing the farm, the couple began researching ways to make it active again. They had no interest in owning a cattle farm, Eric said, but a “pick-your-own” for fruits and berries appealed to them.
“There aren’t many pick-your-owns around here,” Eric said. “We’re looking to create a pick-your-own pumpkins this fall and strawberries next spring.”
The couple also intends to plant “a variety of vegetables” this year to “see what grows and what the market will bear,” Eric said.
“There’s already some raspberry bushes, and a bunch of blueberry bushes and strawberries (on the property),” Olivia said. “And we’d love to have fields of flowers so people could pick their own flowers for events. We’ve done a bunch of research about growing peonies.”
While the couple is committed to transforming Anderbell Acres into the family’s main source of income, they admit reaching that goal could be years away.
“We both have full-time jobs, and it will be that way until we can get established with the farm and everything else,” Eric said. “Hopefully in two or three years, the farm will become my regular job. That’s my hope.”
“We’re part of that generation where we have pretty significant student loans, and sometimes we need to help out our family,” Olivia said. “So, we pretty much used all of our savings to be able to buy this property.”
The couple is hopeful that with a little bit of luck—and community support—they can make their vision of Anderbell Acres a reality.
“We’re energized after recently attending the NOFA-VT conference and learning from other Vermont farmers and other experts,” Eric said. “Our heart, faith, and community lead us to focus on what’s possible with hard work and love.”
For more information or to donate to Anderbell Acres, visit anderbellacres.com