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Miller Farm to celebrate 100 years with an open house July 17

The whole Miller farm family

Sunday, July 17 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Miller family has been dairy farming for 100 years at the crossroads of Fort Bridgman Road (Route 142), Governor Hunt Road and the New England Central Railroad.

And on July 17, they’re celebrating with an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to which all residents and interested people are invited.

The celebration features hayride tours and guided walking tours of the farm, a display by Stonyfield Yogurt, and refreshments including anniversary cake, milk, cheese and cookies. There a small petting zoo with heifers and goats, and visitors can “touch a tractor,” play farm games, and of course meet the farmers.

At about 1 p.m. that day, there will be some formalities to mark the occasion, including speeches by John Meyers, president of the Holstein Association USA (the world’s largest cattle breed organization, which is based in Brattleboro) and Ryan Mclaren of Congressman Peter Welch’s staff.

What is now the Miller Farm was originally part of the extensive estate of Jonathan Hunt, Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor from 1794 to 1796. The land remained in the Hunt family until 1871, when it was sold to E. L. Norton, the Navy Agent in Boston. It then passed through various hands before being purchased from Harold Akley in 1916 by Arthur Lyman Miller (1877-1961), great-grandfather of the current generation of Millers running the farm.

Arthur, Ethel, Maynard and Ellwyn Miller

Arthur was one of the eight sons and two daughters Joseph Arms Miller and Sarah Maria (Read) Miller, of Dummerston.  Because of the large family, Arthur purchased a farm on Bonnyvale Road, Brattleboro to begin his farming career.  When his younger brother, Irving, needed a farm, Arthur transferred the Bonnyvale property to him and purchased the Vernon farm.  He and Ethel (Maynard) Miller (1881-1976) transferred their three children, J. Maynard, Ellwyn E., and Katherine to the Vernon schools. 

The following year, Arthur suffered life threatening injuries when a train hit his tractor on the railroad crossing, and spent many months recuperating in Boston. While he was there, nine-year-old Katherine died.  Because of Arthur’s fragile condition, Ethel  chose to spare him the sad news until he recovered adequately. 

Arthur’s rough start continued in 1920 when much of the herd was lost because of a tuberculosis infection, but he managed to carry on. He thoroughly enjoyed his registered Holstein cows which he bred to show in various fairs bringing home many winning ribbons.  The 1939 World’s Fair in New York was one such event where he showed his stock. 

Arthur sold a variety of animals in addition to Holstein cows.  Sometimes it was fox hounds, baby pigs, or eggs.  A couple of times a week, he took a cream can (about half the size of the milk cans) to the railroad station just south of the farm, which went to Holyoke Candy Co. 

Arthur and Ethel sold the farm to J.Maynard (1905-1998) and Marjorie (Hammerberg) Miller (1910-1997) in 1948. Maynard had a passion for the preservation of the black gum swamps in the southwest corner of Vermont, so when the town purchased the property (to prevent it from being turned into a commune in the 1960s, the story goes), they honored Maynard by naming it the J. Maynard Miller Town Forest.

Maynard took greater interest in the crops than the cows most of his farming years after his graduation from the University of Illinois.  Maynard served the town of Vernon in several elected posts such as select board member.  He was the first president of the Vernon Seniors. 

The farm ownership went to Paul and Mary Miller in 1969.  Each generation added to the original buildings. Paul and Mary now live next door to the farm, and Paul is still active in daily chores.

In 1998, Arthur Miller (and his wife Judy), Peter Miller (and his wife Angela) and Keith Franklin (and his wife Tina) added enough cows to support more families and formed “Miller Farm, Inc.” and built the current milking parlor which milks twelve on a side. In addition to farming, Art also serves as pastor of the Mountain View Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vernon.

Milking begins about 4:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to milk the 170 cow milking herd.

The farm became certified organic in 2009.  For many years the milk was sold to Agri-Mark, a milk cooperative, which owns Cabot cheese.  Beginning this summer, the organic milk from Miller Farm will be going directly to Stonyfield Organic which began over thirty years ago as an organic farming school and is now a leading producer of organic yogurt. 

One of the “crops” each generation has grown at the Miller Farm included their own children as well as neighboring children and friends who either worked or visited on the farm.   Many farmers value the family lifestyle opportunities a farm provides while making a living.

Among the historic structures on the farm are several tobacco-drying barns dating back to the early 1800s when tobacco was grown this far north along the Connecticut River. It is still a major crop in the Massachusetts and Connecticut portions of the valley.

Today, the Millers are farming some 600 acres in Vernon, including many acres owned by other parties. One reason for the open house, according to Paul, is the gratitude that Miller’s feel to the town of Vernon for their support of our business.

The open house is free and open to the public. Signs will direct visitors to the parking area at the farm.