George Kempton appears restless as he sits in a wooden chair in the dinning room of his Peacham home. At 80 years old, he still looks rather spry—tipping his chair back on its rear legs from time to time, fidgeting restlessly. It seems he would almost rather be outside, from the way his eyes keep moving to the windows to watch his sons working on the farm.
The chair drops down and George stands up quickly. His arms and legs spring to life as he mimes dragging something heavy behind him.
“Ever heard of a bull rake?” he asks. “It was a rake, but it was wide, real wide. The sides of it came to a common point to form the handle, and you’d drag it like this, see.”
He takes a couple steps across the worn floorboards, demonstrating how he used to haul a bull rake on his father’s farm in Windham when he was just 12 years old. It’s one of his earliest memories of farm life—hauling the rake around the freshly cut field, picking up the stray clusters of hay while his father collected the bales.
Though his father worked many different jobs, and was only a farmer for a short time, George has been a farmer most of his life. Somewhere along the line it just got into his blood.
George Kempton is a slender man with a pleasant amble and a bushy chin-curtain beard that adds a touch of charm to his easy-going disposition. He loves his farm, and his dog, Bear, but he seems to love his family the most, never missing an opportunity to talk about his children and grandchildren.
“I’m blessed,” he says, “blessed with a whole bunch of great grandkids. I’ve got thirteen grandkids, and one great-grandkid. I love having them around!”
George is one of those Vermonters who knows Vermont like the back of his hand, not because he studied it in school, but because he’s lived and breathed it for 80 years.
He met his wife, Patricia, a former nurse—who affectionately calls him “Georgie”— through a mutual friend in 1955. After knowing each other for only four days they decided to get married and tied the knot four months later. They have five children: Sam, Jennifer, Matt, David, and Annie.
George and Patty first moved their children to Peacham in 1962 and bought the farm next to the Peacham Congregational Church. They still own it, but today it is run by their grandson, William.
George bought his farm on Greenbay Loop—where he lives now—in 1975. His son Matt became a partner in the family farm in 1985 and bought the farm just up the road about five years later. Today Matt oversees the operation of both farms. His sons, William and Dylan, work the farm as well, which makes for three generations of Kemptons working side-by-side in Peacham. Furthermore, Matt’s wife, Dawn, does the payroll, taxes, and bookkeeping.
The Kempton farm milks about 300 Holsteins. The milk produced there is a key component in the creation of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, an award-winning, natural-rind cheddar that requires the Kempton’s high quality milk.
There are about five full-time workers on the farm, mostly family, and a few part time helpers. The farm isn’t big as far as farms go, George says, but it’s a pretty good size for a hill farm, taking up close to 400 acres. He loves the farm life because he enjoys working with animals and because there’s lots of opportunity to do different things.
George says if there is anything unique about his farm, it’s that he has successfully handed over the management of the farm to his son, Matthew. During an age when many farms all across the country are dying out, that is rare indeed.
The Kempton Farm produces maple syrup, too, about 300 gallons annually, according to George. Unlike many other maple sugar farmers who use plastic tubing to collect sap, George still uses buckets—about 1,300 of them, he estimates. He says he looked into buying tubing, but decided it wasn’t the best method to implement on his hilly acreage.
Like most maple sugar farmers, George is feeling the hurt of the unseasonably warm winter weather. He says he’s made about as much syrup as he usually does for this time of year, but isn’t sure how much more he’ll be able to make if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Maple sugaring is big business in Vermont. In fact, Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States and generates about 5.5 percent of the global supply, according to The Maple Syrup Book. The season usually begins in late February and lasts four to six weeks. In order to have a good season, a maple sugar farmer needs the nighttime temperatures to drop below freezing and the daytime temperatures to rise to about 40 degrees. Without this cycle, the sap from the maple tree doesn’t flow as easily.
Last year, Vermont produced a record setting 1.1 million gallons of maple syrup, according to the Associated Press, but reports for 2012 look to be completely the opposite. What this means for syrup prices is yet to be determined because Canada—the world’s biggest syrup producer—is right on track with its syrup producton, according to WBZ-TV out of Boston, Mass.
One benefit to having spring in March, George says, is that farmers have been given the go-ahead from state agriculture officials to begin spreading manure in their fields. That usually is not allowed before April 1—part of an effort to stop spring runoff from carrying pollutants into water supplies. George doesn’t think the early warm weather will lend any major benefits to the growing season, but he says it is nice to get some of the spring workload out of the way, even if he would prefer to see some sap flowing.
George is the kind of Vermont neighbor we’d all like to have: a hardworking farmer who enjoys giving back to his community. George has served as a Peacham selectman, zoning administrator, and school board member. He was involved in bringing Peacham’s elementary school to life, and his son, Matt, was involved in its expansion about 20 years later. George has also served as a director of Agri-Mark, a dairy farmer cooperative that seeks to market its members’ products.
Peacham could use more families like the Kemptons. So could Vermont. As for George, he says he’s grateful for the life he and his family have found in Peacham.
“We certainly love it,” he says, “and I think it’s a great place to live.”