Embracing Both City and Country Life
By Erica Houskeeper
Becoming a cheese farmer was the furthest thing from Angela Miller’s mind when she purchased 300 acres in West Pawlet in 2001.
While searching for a second home in the Green Mountains, the New York literary agent and her husband, Russell “Rust” Glover, fell in love with a former dairy farm on Route 153 in a quiet corner of Rutland County.
It was a far cry from the vacation home they had recently sold on Long Island’s Shelter Island, which had grown increasingly crowded and exclusive over the years. The unglamorous West Pawlet, by contrast, had few people and an abundance of open land.
The couple presumed the farm would be a peaceful escape from the hectic pace of life in Manhattan. Little did they know they would eventually be spending their time in West Pawlet producing award-winning Consider Bardwell Farm cheese.
From the West Side to West Pawlet
Miller, who represents some of the biggest names in food publishing, including former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman and world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, is the first to admit that sitting back and taking it easy is not exactly her style.
Her mother was also an inspiration for starting Consider Bardwell Farm. Miller’s mother died of ovarian cancer in her 50s just as she was finding her passion for horticulture, something she had put off while staying home to raise Miller and her siblings.
“My mom was a good lesson for me,” Miller says. “Don’t wait for something. You need to take what you want and do it.”
Shortly before buying the farm, Miller and Glover learned about the property’s history: In 1864, a man named Consider Stebbins Bardwell established Vermont’s first cheese-making co-op. The farm remained a cheese-making operation until 1932, and a dairy farm until 1994.
It wasn’t long before a lightbulb went off in Miller’s head about resurrecting the farm and manufacturing handcrafted cheese.
In her 2010 memoir, Hay Fever: How Chasing a Dream on a Vermont Farm Changed My Life, Miller wrote: “Even though I really enjoyed the farm as a retreat, it was this thought that stuck with me and at last galvanized me, like a magnet drawing together metal shards; all of the disparate forces in my life seemed to align. It didn’t take much to talk myself into believing that cheese was part of my karma. When I was a child, my mother often called me ‘Mouse’ because I liked cheese so much.”
The couple set out to educate themselves about farming and cheese-making by spending the next two years attending conferences and workshops, and hiring a team to help run the farm.
Nearly a dozen years later, the couple’s former weekend retreat now produces about 100,000 pounds of cheese annually.
Miller typically spends a major part of the week at her agency, Miller Bowers Literary Management, on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan and returns to Vermont on weekends. The farm employs about 14 people plus some part-time workers—many more than she employs at her Manhattan agency.
Being a book agent is a breeze compared to farming, she says, adding that running a farm means being part veterinarian, biologist, small business owner, animal husbandry expert, and farm tour guide. The farm milks 150 Oberhaslis, French alpine, and Nubian goats, and in addition the farm collects Jersey cows from two neighboring, partner farms. There’s no room—or time—for being ambiguous or long-winded with employees and co-workers.
“Farming has taught me a lot about publishing,” she says. “When I’m back in New York and I hear editors tip-toeing around an author, being too polite, or not getting to the point about something, I look at them and say, ‘Why don’t you just be direct?’”
Sustainability at Consider Bardwell Farm
Over the past five years, the farm’s business has doubled its growth. Glover, an architect and engineer, built six cheese caves in the barn to age and store the farm’s cheese, and also completed all of the new plumbing and electrical work at the farm.
The farm is also committed to sustainable practices and was named the Vermont Sustainable Agriculture Council’s Farm of the Year in 2013. Consider Bardwell Farm has implemented rotational grazing on pesticide-free and fertilizer-free pastures, and cheeses are made by hand in small batches from whole, fresh milk that is antibiotic and hormone free. And, at a significant financial cost, they are transitioning to certified non-GMO status.
Meanwhile, the farm’s staff are key players in making the cheese-making operation a success. Leslie Goff, who started working at the farm 12 years ago as a teenager, is now in charge of the creamery. Jeff DiMeo was hired last year as the farm’s general manager to handle day-to-day business operations.
Miller, who also helps run the business end of the farm, will continue to keep her job in New York for the foreseeable future as her work in publishing helps to support her family and allows Miller and her husband to not take money out of the business.
“We’ve put our savings into this place. We have no loans, no investors, and what you see here is sweat equity,” she says. “Back when we started in 2004, there were 30 cheesemakers on the Vermont Cheese Trail, and now there are 50. We had a real solid head start back then, and we’ve enjoyed a lot of growth. We’ll see what the next five years bring.”
**If You Go: Consider Bardwell Farm is located at 1333 Route 153 in West Pawlet. The farm includes a small self-serve farm store that is open year round and includes cheeses, maple syrup, veal, pork, and goat meat. You can also find a list of retailers, restaurants, and farmers’ markets that carry Consider Bardwell Farm cheese on the farm’s website, www.considerbardwellfarm.com.
This post written by Erica Houskeeper and originally appearing on her blog Happy Vermont.