Agriculture in Vermont

Words to Know  

- agriculture

- self-sufficient

- prime farmland

- diversification

- instrumental

Summer View
Mile Square Farm


            Farming has always played a major part in the lives of Vermonters.  In the late 1700's, most Vermonters lived on self-sufficient farms, which meant they consumed most of the food they produced.  Sheep were introduced to Vermont in 1811 and soon they became a major source of income for farmers.  The rough hillsides and climate of the state were especially suited for sheep raising.  By the 1840's competition from other areas and economic conditions led to a decrease in sheep farming.


            In the years before the Civil War, Vermont began to move towards dairy farming.  Just after the late 1840's, before there was refrigeration, the milk was made into cheese and butter and shipped by railroad to out of state markets.  After the refrigerated railroad car was invented in 1910, fluid milk was shipped in large quantities to cities like Boston and New York.


            In 1983 79% of the money made on farms was from dairy products and in 1995 it was 69.9%, but as it has in the past, farming in Vermont is changing.  There are fewer farms and less of the land in the state is used for agriculture.  Only the prime farmland remains in agriculture.  21.5% of Vermont land was used for the purpose of farming in 1997.  One reason for this is an increase in population and the resulting demand for good land.  Land is expensive and may sometimes bring large amounts of money when it is sold for housing instead of being used for farming.  Large farms may sometimes have a tax burden that is too difficult for the farmer to pay.  Much of our food is now shipped in from the west and south where it can be produced more cheaply.  Also there is an increase in the percentage of farmers who work at jobs off the farm to help supply themselves.  This means an increase in the number of part-time farms.


 Gross State Product (millions of current dollars) for Farming in Vermont
 from the US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis











Gross State Product











    Today Vermonters are trying to find ways to preserve open farmland and some of the rural characteristics of the state.  This is hard when there are increasing demands for land by other areas of the economy such as the housing industry.  As farmers have done in the past, they are trying to become more diversified.  Diversification means producing many different kinds of goods to sell, instead of relying on one product only, such as milk.  In addition to dairying, some other leading agricultural products now include beef cattle and calves, pigs and hogs, turkeys, eggs, apples, honey, and maple syrup.  According to the 2000 US Census Vermont leads New England in farming.

Get more Census Data on Farming Here!

Find tons of useful data on farming in Vermont here!   (This is a PDF file if you need to download the Adobe Acrobat® Reader,  You can do that by clicking here.)


Vermont Dairy Cows



Sheep Farming in Vermont


            The era of sheep farming is an interesting part of Vermont's agricultural history.  William Jarvis of Weathersfield was instrumental in starting the sheep boom in Vermont.  He was the United States Consul in Lisbon, Portugal.  Jarvis saw the Merino sheep there and decided they would do well in Vermont's climate.  He brought several hundred over to his farm and was able to convince neighbors that the thick wooled Merino was a worthy investment.

Sheep Farm

Mile Square Farm's Sheep Farm

    The price of wool was high during the War of 1812 and Vermonters earned good profits from their sheep.  The price dropped after the war, but soon increased until the peak of sheep farming in Vermont during the 1840's.  By 1840 Addison County was the leading wool producing area of the United States.  All this wool production led to the construction of many woolen mills to produce cloth.  Many of the mills are closed today and wool is not as important in Vermont.  During the second half of the 19th century, sheep farming began to decline and was gradually eclipsed by the dairy industry.  Raising sheep and lambs for wool and for food is coming back on some Vermont farms today.


Other Agriculture Sectors of Vermont


    Vermont leads the United States in the production of  four important goods; monument granite, marble, talc, and maple syrup.  Due to Vermont's rugged, rocky terrain extensive agricultural farming is discouraged, but this terrain is great for raising fruit trees, and for dairy and sheep farming.  There are two main reasons that Vermont leads the nation in the production of maple syrup; the climate and the abundance of a certain type of tree.  Vermont's cold winters allow for ideal production of the syrup, mostly made in the north of the state.  The Sugar Maple (aka Hard Maple), scientifically known as the acer saccarum, is the best provider of high quality sap for producing maple syrup. The tree flourishes in Vermont’s ideal climate and soils.  Talc, which is currently mined in the Ludlow area of the state is the state mineral.  Vermont's complex geology has led to the development of a diverse and economically healthy minerals industry which began in Vermont over 200 years ago.  The world's largest underground quarry is located in Danby, the marble quarry here covers twenty acres. Vermont marble ranges in color from pure white to black. Vermont's marble has bee used in building many famous structures such as Radio City Music Hall, the National Art Gallery, the Jefferson Memorial and the Vermont State Capitol.

Sugar Shack on Mile Square Farm



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