Return to Content

The Hardest Working Couple in Vermont | The Throwbacks

The Hardest Working Couple in Vermont | The Throwbacks
13 votes, 4.92 avg. rating (97% score)

Jimmy and Sara Ackermann just may be the hardest-working couple in Vermont. They’re trying to do what many feel is nearly impossible in the 21st century: begin a new life working off the land.

When James “Jimmy” Ackermann was 19, in the fall after his graduation from Cabot High School, in Cabot, Vermont, he drove 45 minutes due west from the town in which he’d grown up. His destination was Johnson State College, where it was assumed that Jimmy would lead the Johnson State Badgers basketball team to glory on the court. It wasn’t a flawed assumption: In high school, Jimmy had been one of the Cabot Huskies’ star players, racking up more than 1,000 points, once scoring 35 points in a single game. He wasn’t tall, but he was tough and strong, and despite his muscular frame, exceptionally nimble. Obviously, he could score. Yeah, he was good.

“I wanted to play ball something bad,” he told me. We were driving in his big GMC pickup, floating down a rural Vermont road on a halcyon September morning. The truck’s radio was tuned to Froggy 100.9; a male singer was drawlin’ about fast trucks and slow women. Or maybe it was slow trucks and fast women. Jimmy was dressed in a gray T-shirt tucked into shorts of a heavy canvas weave. He wore a pair of tattered work boots on his feet. His dirty-blond hair protruded from his head in an unruly fashion that looked as though perhaps he’d stuck his head out the open window of a moving vehicle.

But Jimmy didn’t play much ball in college because, as it turned out, Jimmy didn’t much like college. Oh, sure, he’d drunk his first beer at JSC, and that was kind of fun. And there were pretty girls everywhere, and that was pretty cool. But when it came right down to it, Jimmy had to admit that college was, well, a little too slow for him. “The thing I didn’t like about college was that it wasn’t busy enough,” he told me. “I’d wake up at 6:00 and I didn’t have class until 10:00, and everyone’s walking around in sweatpants hanging off their ass. I mean, what the hell was I supposed to do?” He offered a little sideways grin, as if to acknowledge the absurdity of the whole situation.

So what he decided to do, after two of the most physically lazy and interminable weeks of his young life—weeks that he largely spent gazing jealously through classroom windows at the men atop shiny John Deere machinery mowing the college’s expansive grounds—was to leave school to the ass-hanging sweatpants wearers. And get to work.

Earlier that day, after morning milking on the dairy farm he runs with his wife, Sara, an unpretentiously pretty woman of 24 whom he’d married less than three months before, I’d helped Jimmy load the bed of his truck with literally hundreds of gallons of the sundry liquids used by dairy farmers: teat dips, acid cleaners, laundry detergents. The Ackermanns distribute the products to other farmers throughout the region; it’s a fairly recent undertaking, and their nascent system for managing inventory was being tested.

“Give me an iodine five,” Jimmy called to Sara, using verbal shorthand for a five-gallon pail of iodine teat dip. Sara looked up from the stack of orders she was flipping through and scanned the “warehouse,” a cramped room just off the milking parlor. Barrels were stacked atop barrels, and a trio of kittens flitted about underfoot. Just outside, a sign advertising pure Vermont maple syrup swung gently in the breeze. Across the road, about 50 cows grazed tufts of rich late-summer grass.

“We don’t have it,” she called back.

“Damn,” replied Jimmy. And then, to a kitten upon whose tail he’d just trod: “Oops. Sorry, little guy.” He picked up a 15-gallon barrel of cleaner with one arm and carried it across the floor toward the truck. As he lifted it into the bed, I caught a glimpse of the label, where the weight was printed: 149 pounds. “Got a load,” said Jimmy, eyeing the rows of 149-pound barrels he’d one-armed onto his truck, a shiny white GMC he’d bought only a few weeks prior. He looked happy. “Yeah! Load this thing!”

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Ben Hewitt


Ben Hewitt


The Hewitt family runs Lazy Mill Living Arts, a school for practical skills of land and hand. Ben's most recent book is The Nourishing Homestead, published by Chelsea Green.

Bring New England Home

Get a Free Trial Issue when you subscribe to Yankee Magazine

In this issue: 

  • 65 Best Summer Events
  • The Elusive Promise of the Maine Tides
  • The Easiest Clambake You'll Ever Make

Subscribe Today

3 Responses to The Hardest Working Couple in Vermont | The Throwbacks

  1. George F. Scollin March 30, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    I absolutely loved reading the story about the Ackermanns from Vermont by Ben Hewitt.

    I happen to be a college professor in Nashua, NH and I had just commented to my wife about one of my students sitting in front of me in sweat pants and a sweatshirt; and she was wearing slippers! I asked her if her feet were cold and she said the slippers had fleece lining so she was OK. It was 11* when I left home to go teach the class (8AM). and then I saw the story by Ben…”…everyone’s walking around in sweatpants hanging off their ass”…
    I wondered what Jimmy would say if he walked onto my campus.

    It was a pleasure to read about 2 young people (roughly the same age as my students) who are so hard working. Very Inspirational story Ben!

    P.S. I must add some of my students do not dress in sweatpants; so I have faith they (may) be as successful as the Ackermanns.

    Thanks for the story.

    from a longtime Yankee subscriber…

    George F. Scollin

  2. Meg McG April 2, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    I absolutely loved this story. I picked the issue off the newsstand for an article about gardening but when I read this story it made me a subscriber. The grit and charm of these two people exemplify everything I love about being a New Englander. I wish them heavy pockets, light hearts and many long years.

  3. Eric Van Renterghem August 28, 2014 at 7:20 am #

    Love it, love it and love it. In a disposable, tear down and McMansion society this couple is what America was built on;hard work, determination and team work. Couples today seem so much in their own worlds and cannot relate to each other. I truly hope the Ackermans remain vigilant and full of resolve as they recreate early society.

Leave a Reply

We reserve the right to remove or edit comments that are offensive or disrespectful to our readers and/or writers, cannot be verified, lack clarity, or contain profanity. Your comments may be republished by Yankee Magazine across multiple platforms.

Register Sign In

©2015, Yankee Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Yankee Publishing Inc., | P.O. Box 520, Dublin, NH 03444 | (603) 563-8111