When planning the construction of his new milking barn, Ross Thurber, 33, made sure to include a light in the windowed cupola. He imagined himself in the barn on sunless winter mornings, up before everyone else, milking the farm's 50 Holsteins and Brown Swiss. "When I switch on the light on those cold, dark winter mornings," says Ross, "I like to think that my parents up on the hill, or my sisters across the street, or my kids and Amanda getting up for school, will see the light when they look out at the new day."
Ross, a third-generation dairy farmer, sees himself as steward and innovator, father and son, teacher and student. He and his wife Amanda (35) and their three children are inheritors and custodians of a family tradition of farming, as well as the change makers who have ushered in a new organic era.
Ross can trace his New England ancestry back to the time of the Revolutionary War. His great-grandparents worked land in the region, and in 1937, they helped his grandfather Stuart, purchase 600 acres of lush Southern Vermont farmland. He named the parcel Lilac Ridge Farm after the fragrant flowering bushes that bloomed there in the springtime.
Stuart had become smitten with a New Jersey girl he met at a social gathering in Massachusetts. With some artful persuasion, he convinced her to pull up her urban roots, put down rural ones and marry him. The newlyweds went to work right away, caring for a small herd of dairy cows, tending to raspberries bushes and strawberries, and raising a family. "The place was overgrown;" says Ross. "There were even dishes in the sink from the previous owners when my grandparents first arrived at the farm." He relays the story just as it was told to him by his grandmother, Marjorie, who stayed on the family farm until she passed away four years ago.
When Ross's father (also Stuart) took over the farm, it flourished under his care. Ross and his two sisters spent their childhoods roaming the propertyŚlistening to crickets on summer evenings, contemplating the blazing colors of the New England fall foliage and watching the dairy herd graze on verdant pastures every spring.
Ross felt no pressure to take up farming, and entered college feeling that his career options were wide open. While studying at the University of Vermont, however, he gravitated towards sustainable agriculture, and created his own degree in the area. After he met Amanda, who was majoring in plant and soil science, the two traveled to Great Britain to expand their understanding of sustainable practices. When Amanda graduated, she began helping Ross' parents at the Lilac Ridge Farm.