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Soul of the Soil

“The magic of soil” and the “soul of organic

The title of this film, Soul of the Soil, combines these two phrases. They are not bits of marketing fluff. They are the lived truth of the Lazors and Butterworks Farm.” Read on below for Dave’s take on the documentary streaming now on Vermont Public Television and links to watch the 30 minute film that shouldn’t be missed.

 

An aerial shot of fall trees turning color in front of farm pasture. White lettering reads "Soul of the Soil"

Real Organic dairy farmer Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm in Vermont is celebrated in this short PBS documentary produced by Real Organic Project’s Jenny Prince. Watch it here.
Anne Lazor on the left wearing a red button up shirt. Jack Lazor is on her right with his arm around her, wearing a light red button up shirt. They stand inside a farm house.
Jack and Anne Lazor in 2020

 

Dear Friend,

This week a beautiful film was shown on VT PBS called Soul of the Soil.

It is a short glimpse into the lives of Jack and Anne Lazor, two organic dairy pioneers in Vermont. Jack died in 2020 after a ten-year relationship with cancer. Anne recently suffered a stroke, and is now back home at Butterworks Farm. Their daughter Christine and son-in-law Collin now run the farm.

I am sharing the film as an inspiration to all of us.

Some of the letters we send out are not easy to read. Some things are discouraging. It is good to remember that we are part of a powerful positive movement. We are not alone.

40 years ago Jack and Anne were city kids going back to the land, as so many of us did. Many of us homesteaded, and some became farmers making our living by growing food. To those and many who followed, the Lazors were guides, always generously sharing what they learned, often creating competitors in the marketplace through their teachings.

 

Andre Costantini stands in a barn filming Soul of the Soil dairy cows.
Soul Of The Soil Director Andre Costantini filming at Butterworks.

 

Jenny Prince smiles at the camera while standing in front of a dairy cow out on a lush pasture with blue skies and white clouds overhead.
Jenny Prince filming at Butterworks. She has spent years recording their farm for all of us.

 

The magic and lived truth of Jack and Anne Lazor.

I have always been inspired by Jack and Anne. I have been a dedicated customer of their yogurt since the beginning. They have literally sustained me. But their impact has gone far beyond their customers in ways that few will ever see.

A marketing maven for a huge so-called “Organic” hydroponic company testified at an NOSB meeting that when people talk about “the magic of soil” and the “soul of organic,” these are “just bits of marketing fluff.”  He would see it that way. This is how his world works. 

The title of this film, Soul of the Soil, combines these two words. They are not bits of marketing fluff. They are the lived truth of the Lazors.

 

The vast chasm between the world of that marketing guy and Butterworks Farm reveals the deep gulf between the USDA National Organic Program and Real Organic Project.

 

Jack Lazor sits smiling at the camera while outside with skies and hills behind him. Anne Lazor looks at him, smiling, wearing a Butterworks t-shirt

A barn and other out buildings with metal roofs as seen from above. They are surrounded by green pasture and a cattle pen is at the bottom center of the image of Jack and Anne Lazor's Butterworks Farm.

Soul of the Soil is a celebration of their lives and Butterworks farm but not all the struggle.

 

It leaves out some of the struggle, anger, and political organizing that was a part of their lives, but it shows the beautiful farm that they created and it describes their evolution from pasture-based farmers growing grain to 100% grass-fed farmers.

Like Bob Dylan’s evolution from acoustic to electric, their evolution from growing their own grain to rejecting the plow shows their constant questioning and shifting, despite the real economic costs that such ceaseless innovation can bring.

I watched their frustration as the “certified organic” market that they helped to create sometimes turned away from the high-quality yogurt that they offered, favoring national corporate brands that are very far from the real organic practices that they followed. The marketplace became very crowded, and in many stores that the Lazors previously sold to, just getting space on the shelves has become impossible.

Jack and Anne and The Real Organic Project

  • They were a pilot farm for the Real Organic Project.
  • And early members of the Vermont Organic Farmers.
  • Anne has just finished her term on the Real Organic Standards Board. She helped us recreate organic standards that reflect the beliefs that she and Jack have held for the last 40 years.

A final word: Watch the film

I bow to their achievements. These are lives lived. I will let the words of some of the farmers who have learned so much from them be the rest of this letter. To hear their own words, watch the short 30-minute film. You won’t regret it!

Dave

 

Watch Soul of the Soil on VT Public here.

 

Quotes from our Community About Jack Lazor & Butterworks Farm

Gary Hirshberg talks to the camera. His office and windows with trees behind them are in the background.
Gary Hirshberg in the 2022 Real Organic Symposium

Gary Hirshberg 2022 Symposium Excerpt

“As we tried to make the transition from non-profit advocacy to actual commerce (at Stoneyfield) and sort of pay the bills, we outgrew quickly our 19 cows… We realized we couldn’t do both (farm and process). We look at people like Jack and Anne Lazor at Butterworks who farmed AND processed with UTTER astonishment. Jack, who has unfortunately left us, Jack heard me say a thousand times that I just worship him because he did things we couldn’t do.”

 

Matt and Gary Choiniere stand talking to the camera with cows behind them in a stall.
Guy and Matt Choiniere in their Real Organic Symposium interview (their podcast is coming soon).

Guy Choiniere Interview Excerpt:

Dave: “Where did you get the information when you were starting in organic? You weren’t getting it from extension at that point.”

Guy: “No. Luckily enough, (we made) connections with some pioneers in the organic field like Jack Lazor and Lyle Edwards. These guys came to see me, because I was going to Horizon meetings, because Horizon was the first processor to reach out to me. After you reach out to the organic market, you sort of get pinpointed by the Co-ops. And Horizon did approach me first, so that’s all I knew. I was going to their meetings and expecting I was going to be a Horizon farmer. But Jack Lazor and Lyle Edwards caught wind of that, and they said, “No. You are not a Horizon farmer. You’re an Organic Valley farmer. You need to come to our meetings and make sure that, before you make a choice, you’re exposed to Organic Valley as well. You are definitely an Organic Valley farmer.”

Dave: “So what was the difference, in their mind, between being an Organic Valley farmer and a Horizon farmer?”

Guy: “It was something about the atmosphere in the meetings. These farmers were working so collectively, and working together. I could just tell that they were building off of each other. And really trying to reach the next level, but together.”

Paul Lacinski and Amy Klippinstein talk in front of a barn
Paul Lacinski and Amy Klippinstein in their Real Organic podcast.

Paul Lacinski and Amy Klippinstein Podcast Excerpt

Dave: “You told me earlier that Jack and Anne Lazor at Butterworks were a great help to you.”

Paul: “Yeah. Tremendously so. Well, one of the places that I first got to decide that I kind of liked being around cows was going up there to visit the Lazor’s. We had a mutual friend who said, ‘You’ve just got to go visit those guys.’

So we did, and we went back a bunch of times over the years. They treat their animals really well. Being in the barn in the winter (we always went in the winter) with those really calm, happy cows… Cows that are unhappy are completely infuriating because they’re LARGE. Cows that have everything that they need are very calm…”

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