John Palmer never wanted to go into dairy farming–too demanding, he says. “You’ve got to milk those cows at least twice a day, mostly at the same time.” Instead, he became Vermont’s largest poultry producer. His family-owned and operated Misty Knoll Farm in New Haven produces 300,000 chickens, 20,000 turkeys … and feeding time is free-choice.
He might not have envisioned such a large business when he was a student at Vermont Tech. When John graduated with an Associate Degree in Electronics in 1969, his student deferment had run out. “I was at the top of the list” for military service, he said. After serving in the National Guard, he spent 23 years at IBM—but memories of growing up on a poultry farm were never far from his mind.
“I wanted to be doing something in agriculture because it was in my blood,” he said. “I couldn’t get rid of it. My idea of a vacation was an afternoon in the hayfield.”
John found his opportunity when his daughter raised six turkeys, fed on local grain, in the family’s basement for a 4-H project. The turkeys were so popular that John saw the potential for a larger operation. Today, Misty Knoll Farm poultry is found in health food stores and high end restaurants throughout New England and New York. They’re naturally raised, fed whole grain free of antibiotics, and they command a premium price.
“We can’t compete on price with the commodities, so that’s one of the reasons we went all-natural,” John said. Another motivation was the family’s desire to treat the land and the farm as an irreplaceable resource.
In addition to practicing sustainable farming, Misty Knoll Farm contributes generously to its community. The company donates chickens for the New Haven Fire Department’s barbecues, turkeys for the New Haven Congregational Church turkey dinner, and poultry to “about 100 other organizations across the state,” John said humbly.
He says his engineering degree comes in handy on the farm every day. “We do all of our electrical work,” he said. “Our barns have computer-controlled temperature, air flow monitors, and alarm systems.” He continues to contribute to the Vermont Tech community by serving on the Alumni Steering Committee. “Everybody wants to stay connected to their past, a little bit,” he said.
When he’s not on the farm, he’s an unofficial ambassador for the college. “It has a good reputation, a great history, great placement rates,” he said. “I encourage any of the high school students I run across to check it out.”