WRIGHT FAMILY FARM: CARRYING ON THE FAMILY TRADITION

Photo and Story by Ruthie Laroche

Donald and Ruth Wright are remembered by many in Enosburgh as a hard working couple who carried on the long tradition of Wright family farming. They have special significance in the month of June and on Dairy Day, especially. Ruth, together with her husband Donald, and a County Agent named Walter Rockwood, put the pieces together for the celebration of the first June Dairy Day in Enosburgh.

The first Dairy Day was a single day affair with all the activities centered on the industry that made up for a large portion of the townspeople’s income.

This year the festival will celebrate its 61st year, and there seemed to be no better way to celebrate the festival than to take some time to sit down with the folks who own and operate the home farm where Ruth and Donald lived, and that no doubt inspired them to create a festival dedicated to celebrating the life they enjoyed. “They started the festival to promote dairy,” Carroll Wright, Ruth and Donald’s son, said, “They called the area the Dairy Capitol of the World.”

“It didn’t always use to be a big festival,” said Darlene Wright, Carroll’s wife. She recalls that her mother-in-law, Ruth was very pleased with the dairy based activities that the festival promoted. Some of the events have changed over the years, but the milking contest and the Dairy Princess pageant remain staples of the festival.

Ruth brought the idea of the Dairy Pageant to the festival, including the tiara, sash, and the milk mustache. Darlene recalls how much Ruth loved the local community and how she was always looking for ways to support local businesses and local artisans. The festival was a direct expression of her desire to see the small-town life and values celebrated each year.

Today Carroll and Darlene Wright and their son Dean operate the Wright Farm, one of the five original farms in the Enosburg area. Carroll and his siblings come from a long line of Enosburgh farmers, the first being a man named Joseph Wright who arrived in the area and established the Wright farm in 1810. The Wright’s have not stopped working the land Joseph worked, and as of now, nine generations of the family have spent their lives on the homestead.

Carroll and Darlene have four children; daughters Sharyn, Brenda and Amy and son, Dean.

In the years since the original farm was settled, the Wrights have increased their farm with the purchase of other farms and land, including the farm originally owned by the Nichols family, another one of the five original farming families in Enosburgh.

Today, the Wrights still run the farm as a dairy farm, and Dean and his family and employees go about the daily chores, hay the fields, plant crops, and hope for a good harvest just as their predecessors have done for generations.

Currently, the Wright Farm consists of approximately 1650 acres, which is a big expansion from the 650 acres that Carroll and Darlene acquired when they took over the farm. The addition of land that has taken place over the last 30 years has allowed the family to increase operations and add new businesses to help support the farm. “Donald and Ruth were aggressive about growing,” said Dean of his grandparents.

They understood, as he does, that in order to survive in the dairy farming business, one must be willing to grow. ”You aren’t farming to get rich. It’s because you love to do it,” said Dean, and with milk prices remaining low for the farmers, they must find creative ways to sustain the business.

Carroll and Darlene’s son Dean, who has been working the farm since he came home from Vermont Technical College in 1988, took the farm over in 2009, forming a partnership with his parents.

Dean and his wife Angela wasted no time implementing ways to help make the farm more profitable. In the same year that they took over the Wright Farm, they also purchased the former Norman Jenne Farm and its 100 acres of land. The farm included the seven-bedroom farmhouse and a good sized barn.

After doing some research, the family listed the home on various vacation rental sites. Much to their delight, the house has rented out very well each year, with vacationers coming from all over the country and the world to enjoy a little slice of Vermont country life. “Farming is not always great, so you have to diversify,” said Angela, “The Jenne house is a very authentic old, Vermont farmstead.”

The diversifying intensified in 2010 and 2011 when the family decided to start sugaring again. Carroll and Darlene had done a good amount of sugaring in their years on the farm, specializing in commercial packaging and selling of the family syrup. Dean and Angela started the current operation with about 3,000 taps. Today the bush has grown to around 15,000 strong and provides a good source of income for the farm. “The main focus is the dairy, and that’s what foots the bills, but it’s nice to diversify,” said Dean.

The concept of diversifying may seem new, but in reality, farmers have been using the concept for years. The Wright Farm has had quite a few businesses on the property over the generations. The first gristmill in town was built there, and a sawmill also stood on the site. One of the large millstones sits in the front yard of the Wright farmhouse.

In the 1950’s Donald and Wilbur set up Wright’s Dairy in Enosburg Falls. Milk from three farms came to the dairy for bottling. Wrights was one of three dairies in the town at the time. The Old Creamery was located where Bates’ store is now, the second was on the site of the cheese plant, and Wright’s Dairy stood on Main Street near the train tracks.

Carroll can still remember the train coming through town past the dairy.  Family members helped run the business. “One summer I delivered milk all summer. That summer I can still remember…not so fondly,” Carroll recalled with a little chuckle. He remembers how the milk vans would be packed with ice to keep the milk cold as it was delivered through the town and the countryside.

The only job that may have been worse than the delivery was the chore of washing bottles. It was a three step process to wash, rinse, and sanitize the glass bottles. “You can spend a long time washing bottles,” said Carroll, recalling that the milk was sold in a quart, two quart, and pint sizes, all of which had to be meticulously cleaned. Wilbur and Donald sold the Dairy in 1961, and the new owner, Carroll Lawson ran the Dairy under the Wright name.

While researching for this article, an auction was found on eBay for an original Wright’s Dairy bottle cap. The old glass bottles can also be viewed at the Enosburgh Historical Society on Depot Street and at antique shops around the state. A family friend presented Dean and Angela with one of the two-quart glass bottles they had found for sale for $25.

As much as the Wrights spoke of their own farm, they were also eager to speak of the wonderful reputation that Vermont products have throughout the country. They are hopeful that Vermont farmers, craftsman, and artisans can find support in their own state as well as in the nation as a whole. “Our local shops and artisans are such a valuable resource. It’s nice to buy their products and support their living,” said Angela. Their daughter Kathryn chimed in about the popularity of Cabot cheese in the state of Virginia where she attends college.

Angela is part of an organization called the Enosburg Initiative Group. Their goal is to encourage foot traffic in the Village of Enosburg where shops sell locally grown products. “We are local farmers, and we are trying to encourage folks to shop locally and support local farms and artisans,” said Angela, pointing out that the more money that can be kept in state, the better off everyone in Vermont will be.

The interview for this article took place at the Wright Farm homestead. The current farm house was built in the mid-1800’s. The original Wright farmhouse stood on the opposite side of the road from the current house.

Much to the delight of this author, Carroll and Darlene, Dean and Angela, and Kathryn and Ellis (Dean’s daughters) were all present.

Sitting around the large kitchen table, the sounds of the farm outside and the warm, friendly faces within, it’s easy to see why the family has stayed together as long as they have. For Dean and Angela’s daughters, the farm is much more than a business; it’s a way of life. Milk prices may come and go, but the farm is truly a part of the heart and soul of the family, and the two girls made sure to express that.

“It’s nice to come back and be here—to see the old back roads and the green grass that’s not ‘perfect’. It’s nice to have this land to lose yourself in,” said Ellis, Dean and Angela’s oldest daughter and a biology and nutrition major at UVM.

She recalls her years on the farm with great fondness, talking at length about the opportunities that farming brought to her as a child and a young adult. “The dairy industry has definitely given me a lot of opportunities that otherwise would not have come to me,” she said.

Ellis recounted her year as the Maple Ambassador, traveling around Vermont and the eastern part of the country to promote maple products. She and her younger sister Kathryn spoke of the years they spent showing cows and participating in 4-H activities. Here the girls gained confidence in public speaking, learned lessons of responsibility, and built up confidence as they spent time working with many different people.

Kathryn attends Virginia Tech where she is studying for a degree in Dairy Science. She is a member of the Dairy Club at her college as well as two dairy sororities. She will be spending her summer in Virginia where she will help coach the Virginia Tech Collegiate Dairy Judging Team.

She will also be doing an internship with Farm Credit of Virginia, an organization similar to Yankee Farm Credit that specializes in lending to farmers and seeks to keep rural America alive and strong.

The girls’ love for their family farm started early, and both of them enjoyed working with the animals on the farm. Ellis remembers asking for a cow for her birthday. When the birthday cow arrived, Kathryn was eager to have a cow of her own, and a short time later her wish was granted.

‘Old El’ as she is affectionately called, will celebrate her 13th birthday this year, and the aged Brown Swiss, who joined the group for the outdoor portion of the interview, looks like she has years of life ahead of her. It’s clear that the sweet grass and good air of the Wright Farm is just as good for the animals as it is for the people.

“All the grandkids love to come to Grandma and Papa’s house,” said Dean, getting a chorus of general agreement from the kitchen table. “It’s a great life on the farm,” Darlene said with a gentle smile.

The Wright family has stood the test of time in Enosburg. The future is never certain for anyone, but this family comes from an industrious and intelligent line of hard working farmers. They have a marvelous farming history behind them, and with a bit of ‘Yankee Ingenuity,” it looks like they will be able to see the Wright Farm enjoy more generations of successful farmers.

As the Dairy Days commence this Thursday, the town will welcome about 15,000 people. The visitors may not all understand the dedication, determination, and drive that it takes for those in the dairy business to keep their lives and farms moving in a prosperous direction, and they may not be aware of the diversification that takes place daily to keep Vermont’s farms alive, but it is hoped that they will get to enjoy the local products and the celebration of all things dairy.

Donald and Ruth have left an excellent legacy behind them in the festival that they helped create and the family that is working daily to keep the farm alive.

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