The Donegan family farming legacy is connecting with Hinesburg’s farming past: Joe and Emily Donegan, who already own an organic dairy farm in Charlotte, have purchased the old O’Neil farm in Hinesburg.
With the help of the Vermont Land Trust, the Hinesburg Land Trust, and the Hinesburg Conservation Commission, the Donegans bought 259 acres on the Charlotte-Hinesburg line, bordering the LaPlatte River and Leavensworth Road in Hinesburg.
Donations totaling $10,000 last year to the Hinesburg Land Trust enabled the Donegans to purchase the property, which is now permanently protected as conservation land. The Hinesburg Land Trust explains on its web site: “The total cost of permanently conserving the property is $473,000. Earlier this spring the VT Housing and Conservation Board awarded the project a $453,000 grant. The town of Hinesburg has agreed to donate $10,000 from its Land Conservation Fund.”
The Donegans have farmed in Charlotte for more than eight years, raising dairy cows on their 80-acre parcel and leasing land nearby when they need to. The new property will include 135 acres of crops as well as conserved land that covers over 30 acres of the LaPlatte River corridor and a riparian easement to protect the waterway. Though the land is not contiguous to the Donegan’s current farm, Joe said it does border other land they currently lease, and “is only a skip down the road from our farm in Charlotte. We have been and will continue to use the O’Neil farm to graze our cows and harvest hay.”
For decades, the four O’Neil siblings, Maurice, Floyd, Mario, and Arlene, lived in the farmhouse on the property together and rain a dairy farm. The last sibling to die was Arlene, in 2013. Since then, the farm has remained in use by local farmers but hasn’t been owned as a proper farm for over 25 years. The current VAST snowmobile trails that are on the property will remain in use, according to the Hinesburg Land Trust.
The process to purchase the land from the O’Neil family began four years ago, and negotiations with Arlene’s nephew, who inherited the property, as well as logistics with the Vermont Land Trust, took from 2016 to 2018 to complete. The Donegan’s Jersey cows will not have trouble adjusting to their new grazing area; the farmers have been leasing the O’Neil land for the last two years while the acquisition process was completed.
Joe said his dream has always been to farm in Hinesburg. He said he learned to love farming there and is glad to bring the enterprise back to his hometown. “This acquisition is the foundation for our future as dairy farmers,” he said.