A farmstead in peril

In our tiny corner of the world, Vermonters are witnessing the continued erosion of the family farm, once a part of the bedrock of New England and beyond.

So who's helping our struggling family farmers and other rural residents? To their credit, some of our elected officials have shown concern; they have taken action, at least on the dairy front, but we never see these officials budge when it comes to taxes. For many rural dwellers in Vermont, the house of tax cards is soon to come crashing down.

One, little example of Vermont's rural woes can be seen in the case of the Hurlburt family's Meadowlark Farm. This 1,151-acre heritage farmstead straddles the Monkton-New Haven town line.

English immigrant Lebon Gates Hurlburt started this Addison County farm in 1801. Thomas Jefferson was president and Vermont was still a frontier state. Meadowlark is the oldest family held farmstead in our region. It has remained in the hands of the Hurlburt family since Lebon first plowed the land. But today-after first selling 130 milking cows in 1994 to pay the ever increasing property tax burden-patriarch Herrick Hulburt, age 78, is now facing the family's greatest crisis in 208 years: How will the Hurlburts pay the taxes before the property is seized?

Herrick's health has affected his day-to-day activities now; the last thing he wants to deal with are tax hungry state and local government officials. And the Hurlburts' tax bill has been increasing each year since they sold their herd.

In true Vermont farming tradition, Herrick's children and grandchildren live on the family land, too. Three sons, Michael, David and Rick, and their families, live in separate houses spread across the property. Their future on the land is clouded by the shadow of a growing tax obligation that is both unreasonable and impossible for them to pay based on their income-to-debt ratio.

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