Farmer for a Day: A Family’s Special Weekend on an Organic Valley Dairy Farm
“I remember the ad showed this picture of a big table with people sitting down to eat together, and I thought, that looks fun,” shared Liz Vader, a retiree and winner of the Organic Valley sweepstakes trip to Stony Pond Farm in Vermont. “And then we did it! It was an awesome prize.”
This summer, Liz, her partner Ben, and her two children, Kevin (21) and Kassandra (18), won what she describes as “a trip of a lifetime” traveling from their home in Summerfield, Florida, to spend two days on a ridgetop farm in Fairfield, Vermont.
While there, they learned about seasonal grazing herds, met many of the farm’s Jersey cow residents, experienced moving the herd, collected fresh eggs from the chickens, spent time in the garden, and learned how to make farmer’s cheese. And of course, they enjoyed a farm fresh dinner of fajitas with skirt steak, sautéed onions and peppers, fresh salad, and Organic Valley cheese, all lovingly prepared around a big barnwood table built by their hosts.
Stony Pond Farm is owned and operated by Melanie and Tyler Webb. They run a certified organic, seasonal, 100% grass-fed dairy farm. The farm runs on 40% to 50% wind energy and also includes a solar powered hot water system for cleaning their facilities.
Seventeen years ago, Tyler started Stony Pond with 30 acres and some beef steers. Now, he manages 300 acres that he and Melanie, their two children, Wyatt (8) and Willow (6), over 100 cows, a few pigs, some chickens, and most recently several goats all call home.
About four years ago, they renovated an old farmhouse and a small cabin on the property into a gorgeous three-bedroom cabin and a cozy one-bedroom cottage that they use for Airbnb, allowing them to cultivate an experience where guests learn about seasonal dairy farming, see where their food comes from, take a dip in the nearby swimming pond, or even help milk the cows if they want to.
“I was really surprised how clean and beautiful it all was,” recalls Liz. “You know, you expect a farm to have a ‘farm smell,’ and there wasn’t. Everything was beautiful.”
In fact, staying on the farm did wonders for Liz, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, resulting in a heavy cough that improved during her stay on the farm. “It was just so peaceful, the scenery and the mountains, the air is clean. Where we live in Summerfield, the air isn’t as clean, there’s not as much peace and quiet.”
Clean air and easier breathing weren’t the only positives the Vader family experienced while staying at Stony Pond.
Liz and Ben are both foodies, with backgrounds cooking in restaurants. Liz was already purchasing organic foods after her daughter, Kassandra, experienced severe allergic reactions to processed items. “It was almost daily we had to eliminate things from her diet, but when we incorporated organic, we found she could handle them again.” The whole family switched to an organic-based diet, and Liz and Ben found better results on their blood work since then, too.
Her admiration for organic foods grew after spending time with Melanie and Tyler on their dairy farm. “I was surprised how hard they work. I had no idea about a farmer’s life. They don’t stop. It’s all day into evening. It’s not a life for everybody, but they’re happy and very knowledgeable. They made sure everyone was comfortable. It was just such a pleasant experience. They’re wonderful people and really made us feel like family. None of us will ever forget this experience.”
Melanie worked as a photographer in New York before joining Tyler on the farm. “There’s a lot of that same creative energy when making pictures,” she shared. “There’s no guidebook or rule book on farming. We’re learning as first generation farmers. It’s been awesome to watch the landscape improve as we do things for the environment. I always learn more. I’ll walk by something a thousand times, and yet I’ll walk by again and see something new, like watching our apple trees, pruning them, making tasting notes with the kids.”
Despite their differences in geography and backgrounds, the families quickly connected over their love of food and the hands-on activities Tyler and Melanie prepared. Shortly after arriving, Liz and family got to meet the dairy cows, whose names include word games to note lineage, like Anchorage is the daughter of Alaska. Kevin and Kassandra both helped milk for the day, and being around the animals and learning about how the Webbs keep their cows happy and healthy was definitely a highlight for them.
“It wasn’t a classroom,” said Liz, “but they learned a lot while petting animals and walking in the garden.” Liz also shared that Kassandra was debating between studying physical therapy or veterinary work in college, and after this trip, is leaning toward veterinarian.
Ben and the kids helped Tyler move a group of heifers into a new pasture. “Seasonal grazing mirrors the role of nature,” said Melanie. “We have everything timed so that the cows are at peak production while their grass is at peak production. It’s great to see them outside in the sunshine eating the grass.”
“The cows took quite a liking to Ben,” said Liz with a laugh. “They followed him around like he was their leader. The way the Webbs farm responsibly, how they treat the animals and the land, none of us will ever forget. I think of their cows every time I see that ‘happy cows’ commercial.”
Melanie and Tyler felt a strong connection with the Vader family, too. “Ben and Liz were really nice. It was fun to see our son play soccer with Kevin. Kassandra seemed to be learning a lot and taking everything in. It was cool to see these different age groups and different backgrounds come together. It was clear they had a passion for food, and seeing the work we’re doing here makes a trip to the store more meaningful. When they pick up an Organic Valley product, they can now picture the farmer and the place it comes from.”
Follow @OrganicValley on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for a chance to enter future Farmer for a Day sweepstakes! Maybe you’ll be the next family to enjoy a weekend with our organic cows out in the fresh air and sunshine. In the meantime, find an Organic Valley farmer near you with our Farmer Finder and read their stories!