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Made Here

Granville hill farmer diaries highlight early 20th-century rural Vermont

A Hill Farmer's Story

A Hill Farmer's Story, this week's Made Here local documentary series premiere, tells the story of director Kathryn Youngdahl-Stauss' discovery of two early 20th-century diaries from Granville, Vermont. These diaries, from hill farmers living and working the land, open a window onto the past and provoke startling ideas about the present.

Filmmaker Kathryn Youngdahl-Stauss answered questions via email with Vermont Public's Eric Ford. This interview has been lightly copy edited.

Eric Ford: How did you first discover this story about your land and then decide to make a film about it?

Kathryn Youngdahl-Stauss: Two summers ago I got a phone call from a longtime resident of Rochester, the artist Sandy Pierce, who had diaries dating from the early 20th century from two Granville hill farmers. Because she knew I was involved with restoring a historic one-room schoolhouse in Granville, she thought I might be interested in them. When I saw the journals and some of Sandy's supporting information about Riley Bostwick and his mother Alma, I knew they deserved to be shared with a wider public. The more I dipped into the journals, the more I recognized the many echoes between Riley's world and my own despite the ensuing hundred years. This was the genesis of the film's form which maps my present onto Riley's past.

Kathryn Youngdahl-Stauss headshot
courtesy filmmaker
Vermont filmmaker Kathryn Youngdahl-Stauss

Eric Ford: What are some of the most interesting things you learned while making the film?

Kathryn Youngdahl-Stauss: One of the most interesting things that I've learned from my work on this film is just how vibrant and prolific the hill farming communities of both the Mad River and White River Valleys were. It's extraordinary how quickly they vanished from both our geography and memory, and yet the traces are still there — in cellar holes, stone walls, and charming photographs — of a self-sufficient if hardscrabble economy that has been replaced largely by tourism and breweries.

Eric Ford: How has your relationship to your home and land changed after making A Hill Farmer's Story?

Kathryn Youngdahl-Stauss: What I have found at in-person public screenings, is that Hill Farmer resonates broadly with my community and engenders fantastic storytelling about old times. Stories about rural spaces have fallen out of favor in our increasingly urban oriented society. The gratifying reception of Riley's tale shows that there is still a hunger for such narratives. On a very personal level, my view of my own land — which is closely proximate to Riley's family's final resting place — has shifted from a sense of ownership to one of stewardship.

Eric Ford: What are you up to now? Are you working on anything else?

Kathryn Youngdahl-Stauss: I am currently developing a film that elevates elders. Maybe it's because I've reached the age of 65, I grow weary of how old people are portrayed in the media. While making and screening Hill Farmer I encountered many incredible elderly folks. (Though they aren't currently included in this next project, Sandy Pierce and Bruce Flewelling, who appear in the film, are a good example. I worried about the rather rigorous bushwacking hike we had to make to Riley's old homestead; even though they're in their 80's, Sandy and Bruce hiked circles around me!) I want to push back on that image of "old and in the way" and show how vibrant, vital and essential our elders are. 

"A Hill Farmer's Story" premieres on Vermont Public's main TV channel at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 2 and is available now on demand.

As Director of Content Partnership, Eric works with individuals and organizations to make connections leading to more Vermont stories. As Producer of the Made Here series, Eric partners with filmmakers from New England and Quebec to broadcast and stream local films. Find more info here: