THE CLIFFORD FAMILY IS A FIXTURE IN THE TOWN OF STARKSBORO. The Cliffords have been active participants in the community since 1790, the year their first ancestors arrived from Scotland.
Clifford Dairy began operating in 1807, making last year its 200th year in operation. The current farmers, Eric and Jane, are the 8th generation to run the farm. The farm sits in the valley just five miles north of the village center along Route 116. Eric took over the operation from his parents in the early 1970s after graduating from college. Eric’s parents, Art and Suzie, are both over 80 years old and recently retired. But that hasn’t slowed them down. The live comfortably two hundred yards up the road from Eric and Jane and are two of the most active 80-year-olds one might ever hope to meet.
Art and Suzie spend their free time enjoying the outdoors, traversing through the hills of their land on fit and on ski. During the winters the two manage to ski every Thursday. Art explains, “We ski in the winter. That’s the thing we’ve always done, because we figured out that we could go to Mad River between milkings.” Their sense of adventure has kept Art and Suzie motivated over the years. “This has been our life, and we’ve done pretty well…but if you don’t love it and work it, it’ll kill you. This is a 24/7 and if you don’t have it in you, you better not even get near it, because it’s a tough way of life.”
Suzie is no stranger to the pressures farmers in Vermont face. Her own family farm in Williston, was rezoned years ago and is now Walmart. Shoppers, not farmers, roam her family’s land. Suzie fondly remembers her husband’s imagination and innovation as her children were growing up. One wintry day during maple sugaring season, “Arthur went up in the attic and got a couple pairs of snow shoes. I’d never had a pair of snowshoes on in my life. And he fit one pair to me and one pair to the hired man, and I don’t know to this day how I did that. I went up there and gathered sap with snowshoes.”
Sleep is a sacrifice a farmer must make in order to have a successful operation. Therefore, each morning at 2:56 am Eric awakes to about 80 cows ready for milking. “What I like about dairy...is that everyday there’s a different task.” Eric says.
The couple identifies deeply with the working landscape, yet they are hesitant to romanticize farm life. Eric clearly states that he views his farm as a business, not a family farm. “One of the things we tell people is that if we had our way there would be no family farm in Vermont, there would be family owned dairy businesses Vermont.” Eric explains.
While the Clifford farm remains a successful dairy operation, its future is still uncertain. Eric and Jane have one daughter, currently working in Boston, whom has no intention of running the farm, thus limiting the family’s options. However, there is no doubt, that Art, Suzie, Eric, and Jane, will remain connected to their roots in Starksboro. They each value the sense of community and the feeling of belonging that life in Starksboro provides.
From farming, to sugaring, to planting trees, the Cliffords have left their mark on the land and the community, remaining forever a part of the town memory.
This narrative was written by Middlebury College Students Max Kanter, Aylie Baker and Lindsay Patterson. To hear more about the Cliffords and see their farm, watch the video in Farming in Starksboro: A Digital Story on the Cliffords