By Robin Alberti
IRA—Milky Way Farm, on Route 133 in Ira, is one of Vermont’s quintessential dairy farms — it has the pictureque vistas, barns and animals that postcards and calendars are made of.
Robert Clark, Sr. purchased the land for the Milky Way Farm in 1984, and it is the last dairy farm currently operating in Ira. A true family-run business, Robbie Clark, Jr. began working the farm with his father when he turned 18. His mother, Mary Saceric-Clark, does the bookkeeping. Robbie now single-handedly milks about 60 cows from his herd of approximately 100. The milk from the farm is turned into signature Vermont brand Cabot cheese.
But the conventional market for liquid milk can be precarious, and often will dip below the cost of production for long stretches of time. It is very difficult for a small dairy farm to survive primarily on wholesale milk sales. Like many others, the farm fell behind on its loan payments to creditors, including the USDA Farm Service Agency, People’s United Bank and the Vermont Agricultural Credit Corp. These creditors pitched the idea of filing Chapter 12 bankruptcy to the family, telling Saceric-Clark that it was made for situations just like the one they were in: a small farm dealing with uncertain conditions year to year, from weather to those wholesale milk prices. Although not thrilled with the idea, they eventually agreed. The farm emerged with a reorganization plan, which included restructuring loans and paying off a debt to the FSA of $287,040 over five years, with monthly payments averaging $4,784. That debt covered the cows, the machinery and the equipment.
As the company bookkeeper, Mary Saceric-Clark was responsible for making payments and filing monthly reports with the bankruptcy court on the progress of the farm.
A short time after filing for Chapter 12, however, Robert Clark Sr. was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. Mary’s focus shifted to taking care of her husband, and they fell behind on payments, again. She missed filing some of the monthly reports, too. In January 2016, at age 69, he lost his battle with cancer. Because of the missed benchmarks for filing that were part of the restructuring plan, last month a judge dismissed the farmer’s Chapter 12 bankruptcy case, doing away with any protection the Clarks had against a creditor selling off the cows and the farm’s machinery and equipment to the highest bidders. Any day now an auction could be set to liquidate the assets of the farm. Included in there “assets” are all of these beautiful “brown-eyed girls.” The family cherishes these animals, and wants to make sure they go to good homes if it comes down to it. Each cow has a name. However, they are still hoping to save the farm. This past Saturday, May 6, a “Save Our Farm” event was held at Milky Way. It included farm tours, hayrides, raffles, great food and music.
For more information. visit gofundme.com/milkywayfarmvt.
Photo by Robin Alberti
Jimmy Kalb on the fiddle (left) with George Nostrand on the guitar (right) entertain visitors to Milky Way Farm, Saturday, May 6, during the “Save our Farm” event.