Libby James loves to paint and her favorite subject matter has always been animals, particularly farm animals. She used to travel to fairs to find her subjects, but 18 years ago, she realized there was a way she could indulge in her passion while staying close to home. Since James’ Charlotte house had a barn, she decided she should put it to good use with animals and thus, Bryn Meadow Farm was born.
James concentrates her efforts on heritage breed animals, which she describes as old-time livestock that have gone out of vogue. The first residents of her farm were Shetland sheep, which are known for their extremely fine fleece and small size. James said Shetlands were almost extinct in the 1960s until a group formed to preserve the breed. The first Shetland didn’t reach the United States until 1987, and five years later, the breed arrived in Vermont.
After the sheep, James turned her eyes to fowl, collecting Bourbon Red, Slate, and Holland White turkeys, as well as Bantam Buff Cochin chickens and Blue Cochin bantams. Pigs were added to the mix during the summer. James said people wonder how someone who loves animals and works to preserve heirloom breeds can also eat those animals.
“There is a natural progression in life and nature,” is how she responds. “That’s my philosophy.”
The first floor of James’ house used to be reserved for her daughter, but when she got married and moved out, that space became vacant. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture had been receiving requests from people who wanted to vacation on farms, and they sent representatives to farm meetings, requesting rooms for those agri-tourists. By then, James had remarried and she and her husband, Christopher Cadmus, decided to open a bed and breakfast.
“The state really made it easy to do,” James said.
It helped that this was not James’ first foray into innkeeping. She is a retired physician’s assistant, but in college, she was the night manager of a hotel. When she and her first husband were living near Tanglewood, Mass., they discovered that the previous owner of their house used to rent out rooms, so they did the same. Now, guests visit the couple’s B&B from as far away as New Zealand, Holland, New Caledonia, and Singapore.
“I’m the housekeeper and my husband is the chef,” James said. “It works out well because I like to sleep in.” Bryn Meadow Farm has guests throughout the year, but they are generally booked almost continuously from May through mid-November.
One downside to being so busy is that James hasn’t had much time to paint. Before her farming days, her work was shown in galleries and one piece was purchased by Malcolm Forbes. She is partial to watercolors and pen drawings but also does some acrylics.
“I have a bunch of paintings in my head,” she said. “I’m a very fast painter so I’m hoping to find the time to get my ideas on paper.”
As she gets older, James finds that shearing is becoming more onerous so she is cutting back on the number of sheep at the farm. “Once I back off on animals that need to be sheared I might have some time to do some painting,” she said. “Maybe I’ll be Great-Grandma Moses.”