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'One Of Those Souls Who Left A Legacy For All Of Us': Remembering Dairy, Grain Pioneer Jack Lazor

Anne and Jack Lazor pose on Butterworks Farm in 2015.
Anna Ste. Marie
VPR File
Butterworks Farm co-owners Anne and Jack Lazor stand at the Westfield farm in 2015. Lazor died Saturday. He was 69.

A Westfield farmer at the forefront of local, sustainable agriculture has died. Jack Lazor, co-owner of Butterworks Farm with his wife Anne, died Saturday, according to the company's Facebook page. He was 69.Mich Wertlieb spoke with Vermont's Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts to learn about Lazor's contributions to Vermont agriculture, including his 2013 book The Organic Grain Growerand how he and his wife first came to milk a herd of Jerseys in the Northeast Kingdom, back in 1976.

Anson Tebbetts: Jack Lazor was a kind, gentle farmer who started a manufacturing facility right on the farm, making world-class yogurt. He lived up on a very windy hill in Orleans County, in Westfield. I had a chance to be there last year, in the fall, and Jack was just one of those guys who was always learning, listening.

I think probably his greatest legacy would be as a teacher. He mentored so many farmers about what it was like to own a herd of Jerseys and care for the land. He also worked not only in dairy, but ... in grains, and [on] trying to get Vermont to think about growing more of its grains to feed its people.

He was one of the early farmers that began going organic. And he was one of the first farmers that had an on-farm processing facility, right there at the farm, making yogurt. And that yogurt can be found statewide, and still today can be found.

I know that he loved living up on that hill and sharing his farm with anyone that would stop by. So I think he's one of those souls who left a legacy for all of us. And it's our duty to try to carry out that legacy, and keep learning and listening, and listening to the land, and the animals and the community.

Mitch Wertlieb: He's been credited too with helping start the so-called "locavore" movement. What was happening in Vermont, and on farms at the time, when a renewed emphasis on locally grown food became so important?

Well, in the '90s, you know, I think people had a reset at that point. They were thinking about, you know, [how] we really need to support our communities more. And value-added was also taking off. How can you take what's normally a commodity product and turn it into something that adds value to it? And that was the yogurt. But he would take that product and he would take it into co-ops and supermarkets, and just tell his story. And that's an important part that I think he's left as well.

Other farmers have taken his lead. They've made a wonderful world-class product. And then they tell their story, because the consumer wants to know how you treated your animals, how the product was made and how you cared for the land. So I think that was an important message. And it was all about the buy-local movement that began in the '90s and continues today.

And Jack Lazor made his mark, of course, in dairy, but also became known for growing grains for both human and animal consumption. He co-founded the Northern Grain Growers Association. How else did he contribute to this aspect of Vermont agriculture with grains?

With the grain part [of Lazor’s farming], particularly during this pandemic, I think it's really interesting. Right now, we could really use a wonderful local grain. And one has been started in the Northeast Kingdom, in Waterford, called Northeast Kingdom Grains. And part of that comes from all the research and talent that Jack left for us.

And, you know, with everyone baking right now and thinking about staying home because of the pandemic, a lot of people are looking to source a local grain. So I think we're in position now, if we get the infrastructure and we learn the lessons from Jack ... to grow more of our local grains and have a flour right here in Vermont.

Jack Lazor stands by a red tractor next to a barn
Credit Anna Ste. Marie / VPR File
VPR File
Jack Lazor stands by a Butterworks Farm tractor 2015.

Finally, Secretary Tebbetts, you mentioned that Jack Lazor was a really well-loved figure, a warm and gentle human being. Do we know what's going to happen with [Butterworks Farm] now? You know, he's leaving behind his wife, and I'm just curious about what happens next.

Well, they've been talking about the next steps with that, in passing the farm down to the next generation. And I think they've charted the course with that. Of course Anne, his wife, is there, and other members of his family are there, and of course, the employees of Butterworks. So I think it's in good hands. And I know that the future for them would be to have them remain on the land, and keep going and producing a wonderful product, and also keeping that valuable land in agriculture production, which is so important these days.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb

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A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station WBUR...as a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Originally from Delaware, Matt moved to Alaska in 2010 for his first job in radio. He spent five years working as a radio and television reporter, radio producer, talk show host, and news director. His reporting received awards from the Alaska Press Club and the Alaska Broadcasters Association. Relocating to southwest Florida, he was a producer for television news and NPR member station WGCU for their daily radio show, Gulf Coast Live. He joined Vermont Public in October 2017 as producer of Vermont Edition.
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