The Man Behind the Memorial
Derick Vanderbilt Webb (1913-1984), the grandson of Seward and Lila Webb, became Farm Manager of Shelburne Farms in 1938, at the age of 25, and inherited the main portion of the agricultural estate in 1956.
Derick’s interests were always agricultural. After studies at Cornell Agricultural School, he worked tirelessly to enhance and diversify the farm by building up beef cattle, sheep, hog, dairy, and crop operations. He pioneered innovative agricultural technologies and practices, including developing self-propelled hay mowing equipment and producing grass silage. Most enduringly, in the early 1950s, he established the herd of Brown Swiss Cows that continues to this day, and that now produces the milk for our farmstead cheddar.
In 1972, Derick’s children founded Shelburne Farms Resources, a nonprofit organization with an environmental education mission. While quietly questioning the long-term pragmatism of his children’s endeavors, Derick was receptive and responsive to their educational vision. He allowed the organization to use the property for camps and programs, then donated the Farm Barn, Coach Barn, and Shelburne House (later the Inn at Shelburne Farms) to the nonprofit in 1976.
Meanwhile, despite Derick’s efforts to jump start farm operations, the scale of the estate became an increasing financial burden. In 1976, he sold 104 acres on the farm’s eastern edge to the Nature Conservancy, and gifted that organization an additional 103 acres just south of the first parcel. These lands now form the Town of Shelburne Bay Park and the Nature Conservancy’s LaPlatte River Nature Preserve.
When he died unexpectedly in 1984, Derick bequeathed the land and assets of Shelburne Farms not to his family, but to the educational nonprofit. It was an amazing and unexpected gift. The nonprofit had the big idea of using the Farm as an educational and community resource, but less than $6,500 cash to its name. In addition to significantly boosting regional land conservation efforts*, Derick’s bequest made so much possible: additional facilities for expanding programs, new opportunities to share this place, and new sources of support.
The gift was also an enormous responsibility that came with no endowment. The board and staff had the challenge of developing programs and stewarding 1,000 acres of working farmland and massive buildings benignly neglected for decades.
That’s where members like you stepped up – and continue to. Every single day. With every membership gift, you show the same trust in the vision of Shelburne Farms that Derick did. We are deeply grateful.
*In addition to Derick’s early collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, Shelburne Farms has had a long partnership with the Vermont Land Trust, which holds conservation easements on a significant portion of the Farm’s 1,400 acres. Today, 24,000 acres of farm and forest land are lost to development each year across New England, highlighting the value of Derick’s and the Farm’s foresight.