At ‘This Place in History’ we’re wrapping up Dairy History Month in beautiful Ryegate Corner with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins. 

“We’re at the Nelson family farm and I recently learned that ‘Nelson’ is a modern pronunciation of ‘Nielson’. A guy by the name of Nielson came over here from Scotland, as part of the Scotch American Farmers Association that purchased what is now the town of Ryegate. So they bought it from the president of Princeton University, who had probably never seen the space. They came over here, they mapped it, they sold it to their friends and family and built it into the beautiful metropolis that Ryegate is now. But this farm has been in continuous operation since before the American Revolution, which I think is really cool,” introduced Perkins.

Bill and Jenny Nelson operate Home Acres Farm. Bill is the seventh generation in the Nelson family to do so, and works with his sons, the eighth. 

“I believe that the first farm was really in 1774, but it was really located about a mile away and that was where the actual William H. Nielson settled. And then four farms that were all owned by his sons cropped up here in Ryegate Corner. So we’re on the farm that belonged to John, one of the sons,” began Jenny.

“I believe it reminded them a lot of Scotland. And they said it wasn’t too far from the Connecticut River,  where they could get merchandise back and forth on the river. And of course it wasn’t long before they had railroad tracks through Wells River and into East Ryegate, as well,” added Jenny. 

“For the very first farmers, of course, they had their milk in cans that was taken to local creameries. We have a local creamery that’s about a half of a mile north of here. And then they started putting the milk from milk cans into tankers, and taking it straight to Boston to the fluid market. That’s really how the dairy industry got established here in Vermont.  And of course, we make way more milk than we can drink here in Vermont,” explained Jenny.

With a little over 200 milkers and about the same number of young stock, Bill and his sons stay busy.

‘We have a mixed herd of cattle: Holsteins, a few Ayrshires and Jerseys, and then one Brown Swiss and two Guernseys. We crop about 350 acres of of land; corn, hay,” said Bill.

When asked what it means to dairy on a farm with such rich history, Bill admits the 24/7 commitment doesn’t leave much time to ruminate on the farm’s legacy.

“Well, I don’t know. You don’t think about that a lot on a day-to-day basis, really. I respect it and I like it, but I’m not really hung up on it a lot either. Some of the history that was so prominent in these rural areas of Vermont has gotten diluted a lot over the last 40 or 50 years because of the way people move around a lot now and the loss of some of your farms and rural infrastructures. It’s kind of shattered in some areas. And that’s kind of a big deal, too, really. But we like it here. Ryegate is a nice town, nice neighbors. A good place to live, really,” explained Bill.

When posed the same question about whether it makes her proud to play such an integral role in the history of dairy in Vermont, Jenny has a slightly different reaction.

“Sure it does! For the last 30 years, I’ve been raving about dairy farming. I even used to role out a sheet of paper that had all the businesses that we did business with, just so you could see that economic engine. And I’ve done my very best to get people to drink more milk,” concluded Jenny.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

To reserve your tickets for a free breakfast and tour of a Vermont dairy farm, click here.