Much of the pasture and cropland across the Champlain Valley today supports one of Vermont’s most important agricultural activities: dairy farming. As rail transport to Boston and New York became made it easier for Vermont farmers to transport perishable dairy products in the late 19th century, Vermont became a major producer of milk, butter, and cheese. Vermont produced more butter than any other state by the turn of the century with production estimated at 22 million pounds annually, and St. Albans “was home to the world’s largest creamery.” 1 Over the course of the twentieth century, dairy production in the state declined, with Midwestern states out-competing Vermont’s dairy industry. Before Vermont became a dairy-producing state, however, the state’s agricultural scene was dominated by sheep. After Merino sheep—prized for their soft wool—were introduced to the U.S. in the early nineteenth century, favorable tariff policies and local climate and soil conditions encouraged Vermont farmers to “focus more and more attention on raising sheep,” especially here in Addison County. 2 Addison County had 373 sheep per square mile around 1840, and produced more wool than any other county in the nation.
Today, many old pastures and farmland across Vermont have given way to the re-growth of forests since the heyday of sheep and dairy farming. But dairy farming is still an important part of Vermont’s economy and identity. To learn more about the challenges that dairy farmers here in Addison County face today, listen to the CowTalk podcast episodes below—produced by the students of Middlebury’s Environmental Studies Senior Seminar in Fall 2016—to hear directly from local dairy farmers about their perspectives: