Full Belly Farm, Monkton

Stephen and Sarah Park Stephen & Sarah Park purchased the conserved Norris Berry Farm in Monkton

Full Belly Farm, owned by Sarah & Stephen Park, is a diversified berry farm nestled in one of Monkton, Vermont’s narrow North-South valleys. Until the 1980s, the Norris family operated a dairy farm there, and until 2017, they grew berries under the name Norris Berry Farm. When Norma Norris decided it was time to retire from farming, she arranged to sell the farm to the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), which conserved the property using a mix of funds that included Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) funding. Through its Farmland Access Program, VLT sought requests to purchase the newly conserved farm from interested farmers.

The Parks had both worked on vegetable and berry farms, most recently at Lewis Creek Farm in Starksboro. When their initial proposal to purchase the farm was accepted, they reached out to Sam Smith, a VHCB Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program business planner at the Intervale Center, for assistance honing their business plan for the new farm. According to Sarah and Stephen, Sam helped them look at the assumptions they made in their original business plan. Having outside validation of their assumptions and advice on where updates were needed gave them confidence to move forward with their plans.

Sam also helped the couple identify that one of their key infrastructure bottle necks early on would be cold storage. With this in mind, the Parks applied to the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB) for grant funds to purchase a walk-in cooler. The $5,869 WLEB grant they were awarded help Full Belly Farm purchase a walk-in cooler, and they immediately found it to be a key piece of equipment as their first watermelon crop came in.

Beyond the specifics of business plan development and decision-making, Sarah and Stephen found it very helpful to work with a business adviser to help them navigate the process during the extended period of their land transaction. Sam has worked with several farmers acquiring land through VLT’s Farmland Access Program. Despite the good intentions of the previous owners, lenders, and even the land trust, Stephen was grateful “to have someone in our corner” throughout the ownership transition process.