Rochester's Liberty Hill Farm Has Embraced Guests as Family for Almost Four Decades
A visit to Liberty Hill Farm's bed-and-breakfast in Rochester feels like going to Grandma's — assuming your grandmother is an accomplished home cook who regularly welcomes an eclectic mix of global travelers to her cozy 200-year-old farmhouse in a picturesque, rural Vermont valley.
Since 1979, the Kennett family has raised dairy cows and prized breeding stock on a couple hundred acres just off Route 100 in central Vermont. Beth and Bob Kennett, now 67 and 72, respectively, started inviting guests into their rambling Greek Revival home in the winter of 1984. Their son, David, 44, who now runs the farming operation with Bob, was 6 years old.
Over the past four decades, Beth estimated, Liberty Hill Farm has easily hosted 40,000 people of all ages and backgrounds from every continent, including a research scientist from Antarctica. Farmers don't get to travel much, but "the world has come to us," Beth likes to say.
Liberty Hill farm stays also broaden the perspective of guests. Included in each overnight visit is a firsthand view of the daily rhythms of farm life: David's wife, Asia, 35, leads morning tours of everything from milking to bottle-feeding calves. The Kennetts value the opportunity to help people understand what it takes to make the key ingredient for their favorite cheese, ice cream and yogurt.
"It's really not about the bed, and it's not about the pancakes," Beth said. "It's about really connecting people not just to food but to the farming way of life, something that most people are really disconnected from."
Every morning, Beth rises early to bake favorites like her rhubarb custard clafouti. She whisks up pancakes or scrambled eggs, fries bacon, and cuts fresh fruit while Bob sits in a rocking chair cradling a mug of hot coffee after the morning milking. Beth is renowned for her hearty, home-cooked breakfasts and suppers; they feature many local ingredients and are served family-style around a big dining room table.
The home's seven guest bedrooms are simply and comfortably appointed with plaid curtains, quilts and chintz flowered wallpaper. Common areas offer board games, puzzles and books to be enjoyed in armchairs and nooks. The barns, fields, river and hills on and around the farm provide ample space for exploration in every season.
Beth is always ready to provide personalized recommendations for area excursions, as close as the Rochester Public Library's historic stained glass windows or farther afield, such as the Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton.
The farm's first paying guests were a New Jersey family of seven who spent the week skiing at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl. At the time, lodging was sparse for skiers who came to Killington and smaller local mountains. "The ski areas would get on the radio and beg people to take in skiers," Beth recalled. The early 1980s, she added, were also a "really volatile time for the dairy economy," and the Kennetts needed the money.
Nowadays, the big ski areas have slope-side resorts, but plenty of people still seek out accommodations with a more personal touch. The Kennetts are happy to provide their own approach to convivial, communal hospitality, bringing together up to 15 guests at a time for meals and conversation. (Guests also share the house's four bathrooms, a reminder that this is a real family home.)
Though born out of necessity, playing host has enriched the Kennetts' lives, Beth said: "It's just been a joy and privilege and honor to host people here from literally across the country and around the world that truly have become family of the heart."
The feeling seems to be mutual: Hundreds of guests have become repeat visitors. Jules Williams, now 18, has been coming from Redding, Conn., with her family since she was 7 years old. "It's sort of become a second home," Williams wrote by text. She loves that she knows every corner of the property, she said — and "also the food is really good."
Her mother, Ellen, said she worried before the first visit that the farm would be too remote, but she easily found a plethora of interesting daytrips, which have often involved a bookstore and café. Between visits, she re-creates a bit of Liberty Hill at home through Beth's recipes for savory cheddar bread pudding, chicken pot pie, corn pudding and chopped broccoli salad with dried cranberries.
Ann Carpenter of Groton, Mass., made her first trip to Liberty Hill Farm when her now-27-year-old daughter was 18 months old. They have returned several dozen times with friends and family in all seasons. "It is the place that always feels like home and [that] I want to share with the people I love," Carpenter wrote by email. "I think everyone who stays at the farm feels included, not just in farm life but in the extended family itself."
Among Carpenter's favorite wintertime activities are visiting Sandy's Books & Bakery in Rochester for a good read and a maple-sweetened coffee drink, cross-country skiing to the top of Liberty Hill, and walking the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail in Ripton.
Staying on a working farm, Carpenter noted, allows people to experience an "increasingly rare part of our agricultural heritage."
Beth vividly remembers a group of Boy Scouts from Staten Island who visited years ago. It was spring, and they helped picked rocks from the fields for about an hour after receiving a geology lesson from Bob about how the freeze-thaw cycle pushes new rocks to the surface every year that the farmers must remove before they can plant.
"One of those boys came back several years later with his wife to introduce her to 'his' farm," Beth said.
The Kennetts' daughter-in-law, Asia, "had never stepped foot on a farm until the day I met my husband," she said. "I learned it from the outside in." This perspective, Asia said, helps her guide the two-hour farm tours, which she not only offers as part of the overnight guest package but also markets to nonguests through Airbnb's Experiences platform.
"Some people come wanting the nitty-gritty of the industry, the environmental impact," Asia said. "Other people come and just want to take selfies with cows and snuggle with cows." Asia added that she's been shocked by how many people want to milk a cow. "One woman from Connecticut threw her teenagers in the car at 5 a.m. and drove straight up here because it was on her bucket list to milk a cow, and she wanted them to hold the camera," she said.
In March 2021, then-New England Patriots linebacker Chase Winovich came with a camera crew to Liberty Hill Farm, and Asia took him on a tour in which he tackled an udder with minimal success. The resulting YouTube video has received almost 7,500 views.
For many guests, though, a visit to Liberty Hill Farm is about escaping technology. Repeat guest Olesya Baker of Brookline, Mass., said by phone that it's the one place where her two sons, ages 6 and 11, don't beg for electronic diversion. The past few trips, she said, "they just run out in the morning after breakfast, and we don't hear from them until lunchtime." Her kids take pride in doing chores, including shoveling cow manure in the barn and laying down fresh sawdust. "They've milked a cow multiple times, seen calves be born, picked corn and vegetables," Baker said. "They can be free-range and safe."
The busy mom said she loves that someone else does the cooking. She also appreciates the peace and quiet and meeting interesting fellow guests.
"There is no phone pinging at you all the time," she said. "You can just sit on the porch, just be in the moment, and enjoy the beauty and simplicity of life."
Rochester's Liberty Hill Farm in winter; courtesy of Orah Moore
Youngsters enjoying hot cocoa; courtesy of Jessica Sipe
Owners Beth and Bob Kennett; courtesy of Jessica Sipe