From adversity to prosperity: North Meadow Farm grew from bucket list item to dream come true
MANCHESTER — A goat, sitting squarely on a boulder, was in the front pasture of North Meadow Farm the Friday I arrived. I love goats more than my children, so after parking my car, I doubled back to meet it. Curious, the goat wandered to meet me, accepting the praise I bestowed while posing for a photo like the rockstar it is. Indeed, all animals are treasured at North Meadow Farm, but I'll get into that in a moment.
Walking back toward the jolly red farm store, I met up with Lysa Connors Cross, self-proclaimed "top farmhand," which is code for a woman who does it all. She has been farming here in Manchester since 2017.
Farming is not for the faint of heart, and before Lysa even began to actualize her farm life, she was tested in feats of fortitude. She lost her husband to liver cancer in 2014, and she was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after his passing. But good fortune has a way of entering lives, too. Presently, Lysa has a clean bill of health and a robust farm, both for which she is grateful. She is quick to point out how luck lit her way when North Meadow Farm first came to be.
"On my bucket list, created when I was 13," she said, "was 'work on a farm for a week.'"
Reeling from the blows life sent her, she wanted to focus on something positive, and referred to that old list. She had no prior farming experience.
As it turns out, a very Vermont-like transaction is what led North Meadow Farm to what it is now: a fully operational farm and cheese making facility.
"Nine wild heifers," Lysa explains: Nine wild heifers received when payment for hay was not.
It all began on the property three years ago, when her present-day partner, David Johnson (with whom she had started to live out her bucket list dream), had not been reimbursed for hay he provided to a buyer. David leases pastures to grow hay, then cuts and sells it. When this particular transaction did not work out, he acquired those heifers as restitution. Each heifer came equipped with a mouth in need of feeding.
What to do? Make cheese to sell seemed an obvious enough answer, though at that moment, neither David nor Lysa knew how.
In due time, the farm was properly acquired and renovated, and a new state of the art creamery and cheese-aging cave was built on site. The heifers were situated, and Lysa's skills as a cheesemaker rapidly grew. She became more comfortable in the craft, working alongside other cheesemakers who knew the process.
Now, as head cheesemaker, her creations are favored among customers. The farm sells fresh cheese curds in a variety of styles and farmstead spreads in flavors such as wildflower honey, horseradish, and seasonal fruits. Depending on the day, visitors will find several aged cheeses, such as Farm Parm and Wensleydale. Raw milk, seasonal produce, local honey, maple syrup and Wilcox ice cream are also available for purchase.
As the farm's popularity grew, so did its population. People began contacting Lysa about animal rescues. Bunnies arrived. Goats and sheep. It was hard to say no, so she, David, and their extended farm family followed their hearts and said yes. They began to seek out further rescues to bring back to the comfort and safety of North Meadow Farm. A Hereford calf. Seventy rescued factory chickens.
Lysa said she drives long distances for rescues.
"And even when many won't survive, we celebrate those who make it — like Butter, Spot, Mariah, Bella and Sage," she said, pointing to a pen of happy pigs.
We moved to the working chicken pen where the flock — all rescues or hatched out — sauntered safely among the pigweed.
"A lot of kids don't know where their food comes from," Lysa said, tossing the chicken their feed. "Many have never been to a working farm. We want to change that; we want to give back by educating and entertaining our community."
To that end, the farm offers petting zoo tours on most days of the week. Donations help resolve the cost of finding and keeping rescues, while knowledgeable, friendly staff steer the farm toward its goal of connecting with the community.
I met Dan and Duke the Percheron draft horses: farm famed sleigh and wagon pullers. I met Marky Mark, his lady love Harley Quinn and the assorted Funky Bunch of ducks. Marky Mark proved, as promised, to be one sweet duck; allowing me to stroke his pebble-smooth beak as he snuggled into Lysa's embrace.
Each farm animal is beloved. Each animal has a story to tell, and while its opening paragraph may be heart-wrenching, the full tale is a work of art, of resiliency.
It is impossible to list all that the farm has to offer within the framework of this column. You simply must visit. Bring money for a donation, and of course, for cheese. And bring a tissue or two, just in case.
Southern Vermont Landscapes correspondent Tina Weikert writes from Bondville.
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