Grateful Morning Farm Growing Strong

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cmadigan@benningtonbanner.com

SHAFTSBURY — For Shaun and Lauren Riordan, farming provides the perfect balance of hard work and a happy home.

The first generation farmers purchased what is now Grateful Morning Farm, formerly the goat dairy Polymeadows Farm, in October 2014. Though both had successful careers, Shaun in Special Education and Lauren as a midwife, they felt the need to make a change in their lives.

"We worked on a farm down in Maryland and kind of fell into it,"said Shaun. "I was getting my masters degree in special-ed down in Maryland when we rented a house on a dairy farm, and we had always wanted to have agriculture in our life."

Finding the perfect property however, was not easy.

"We started looking around, we looked everywhere from Maine to Tennessee and every chance I got I'd drive somewhere else to check out the area and the farms that were for sale," said Shaun. "Lauren's sister Katie, who was working at another farm in Vermont, came and looked at the property and thought it was a beautiful area, though it would be a lot of work."

Considering the farm's extensive acreage, and suitability for organic certification, Shaftsbury seemed to be the right fit for the Riordan's.

"We started talking to the Lawrence's [the farms prior owners] and went back and forth with them for quite a while until we could finally come to terms," said Shaun. "Then we just went for it."

Once the farm had been bought, the challenge of modernizing and updating the facilities began.

"The milking parlor was still being put in on the first day we began milking, we could only use about half of it," said Lauren. "We didn't even really have adequate fencing yet, so we had a couple of late nights chasing cows around the forest."

"The guy we bought our herd from had to get rid of the cows quickly, so we had five days to get the parlor finished," said Shaun. "Because I wasn't going to hand milk forty cows."

Despite setbacks and difficulties, the Riordan's were able begin milking in August of 2015.

"We just did one thing at a time, and we were fortunate to have a lot of support from both of our families and friends and the people that came by to help us," said Shaun.

Grateful Morning Farm is part of the CROPP Cooperative through Organic Valley, and the majority of their milk is sold to Stonyfield which buys approximately 90% of their milk from small organic farmers like the Riordan's.

"We entertained the thought of doing value added, and we still think about it because we would love to be more involved in the community, but financially it just didn't make sense at the time," said Shaun. "We decided to just take it slow."

Though not without its challenges, farming has allowed the Riordan's to make their family the top priority.

"I used to work jobs where I was gone all of the time, so I wasn't around when my boys were little because I commuted so much for my job which was tough," said Shaun. "I would leave before they woke up and come home just as they were going to bed. Having a chance to be here every day is really a blessing."

With four children, and a fifth on the way, family seems to be at the heart of Grateful Morning Farm. The Riordan's homeschool all of their children, allowing for nearly limitless family moments.

"We're here all of the time, so it's a group effort," said Shaun.

Beyond the family focus, the Riordan's have an authentic love for agriculture and nature.

"It's pretty amazing to work with such large animals every day," said Lauren. "You sort of form relationships with each of them, and get to learn their personalities."

"I like being outside, and I'm kind of an oddball because I really enjoy cold weather,c so it's great to work outside in the winter," said Shaun. "I really like figuring out problems and fixing things, plus I enjoy working with cows."

While the demands of getting Grateful Morning Farm up and running have limited the Riordan's opportunities for community involvement, they hope to engage more in the future.

"We're trying to brainstorm different ways to be involved in the community," said Shaun. "It was always one of our goals to figure out a way to do that, and we always welcome people here - we like visitors"

"We've toyed around with doing open house days or dinners, and teaming up with other farms," said Lauren. "Now we have Studio Hill, Mighty Food Farm, and Clearbrook Farm all in Shaftsbury. It's great that there's a lot of young farmers here."

Though they're just beginning to get their boots muddy, the Riordan's hope that Grateful Morning Farm will be a lasting institution in the Shaftsbury community.

"We've got no plans to leave," said Shaun. "We'll be here for a while."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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