Where are they now? Silas Doyle-Burr comes full circle
MONKTON — It took a productive, but challenging, two years in the Asian business world for 2005 Mount Abraham Union High School graduate Silas Doyle-Burr to find his true calling — running the Monkton organic farm he grew up on.
Along the way, Doyle-Burr, a member of the 2004 Eagle boys’ soccer Division II championship team, found that sports and the lessons they offered helped him along his path.
“There are so many similarities between farming and sports, because failure is pervasive in farming as well. There are so many things out of your control,” said Doyle-Burr, now 33.
“You get lucky sometimes, and then you get unlucky sometimes. And what are some things you can rely on? You can consistently work hard, and you can learn to depend on and trust the other people on your team, and trust that eventually, as long as you have a common mission, you will be successful.”
Doyle-Burr, his twin brother Caleb, and sister Nora all first came to what became the Last Resort Farm in Monkton when the brothers were 6.
Their college-educated parents, Sam Burr and Eugenie Doyle, had met on a Vermont goat farm owned by one of Silas Doyle-Burr’s aunts. Doyle and Burr went on to run a dairy farm in Brookfield before buying the 269-acre spread in Monkton.
After the move Burr went to law school and worked as an attorney for the state for a decade and a half, and Doyle transformed the Last Resort Farm into an organic operation offering strawberries and vegetables. The kids worked on the farm.
Now Doyle-Burr lives in Winooski and commutes to the farm he operates on a lease-to-own agreement. His parents still live there, and roles have reversed: According to Doyle-Burr, they “are both helping out quite a bit.”
Even before the family moved to Monkton and long before a soccer career and a pivotal trip to Asia, Doyle-Burr and his brother had started playing sports. Doyle-Burr’s earliest athletic memories are playing hoop at a relative’s home in Connecticut at age four.
“I can remember my mother’s brother teaching us to stay low,” he said.
He and Caleb also often covered each other while their father tossed a football.
“There were constant battles with my brother. My dad loves being all-time quarterback. We said it was two-hand touch, but it became more tackle,” Doyle-Burr recalled.
Their high school varsity soccer coach, Mike Corey, said the brothers’ competition honed their skills and athleticism.
“These guys were each other’s fiercest competitor, which I also think figured significantly to their development as soccer players,” Corey said.
Although Doyle-Burr kept playing basketball, his years at Monkton Central School and then attending Corey’s annual summer soccer camps cemented his love of soccer.
He enjoyed that almost all his peers could join in soccer at school, and that youth soccer enjoyed community support.
“So many of my friends’ parents and adults put so much effort into cultivating that fun. I’m so appreciative of that,” he said.
Corey’s summer camps were competitive and instructive, but also fun, Doyle-Burr said.
“I have such good memories of those camps, Mike’s long-winded, but very poignant, stories he would tell, and the techniques he taught,” he said.
Doyle-Burr talked about the “the culture of family” during his four years at Mount Abe.
“We would get really competitive at times, but I think there was so much of a focus on fun,” he said. “Only one team wins a championship. So keeping that fun with the sport is so important.”
Team dinners before games, including screenings of professional soccer and Mike Corey’s wife Diane’s popular dessert offerings, were fond memories.
“There were Diane’s famous gut bombers. Which reflecting on it now I think were a really funny choice for a meal before a soccer game, but they were these brownies with marshmallows and M&Ms on top. It was the camaraderie. One of Mike’s favorite words was synergy, and he would talk a lot about the synergy we had as a team,” Doyle-Burr said.
Corey believes the bonds among teammates were what most of his players take away from their time together.
“The team gatherings in our basement with the big screen watching games and eating gut bombers, that’s the stuff that comes to mind immediately if you talk to any of these guys. It’s not, ‘Do you remember that Rice game?’” Corey said.
Corey was asked why that was the first Eagle boys’ soccer team — on which Silas Doyle-Burr was the center back and brother Caleb the center forward — to win a D-II title.
It turns out the Doyle-Burrs, then seniors, had a lot to do with it.
“There was a synergy about that team,” Corey said. “How they went about playing the game, how they conducted themselves in training was the perfect model … Their ability to just steady the board whenever things got a little shaky, they just kind of brought things down, and in particular in Silas’s case he … instilled so much confidence in our defense.”
The Eagles, a No. 5 seed, topped No. 1 Peoples in a semifinal, 3-1, then played No. 3 Montpelier in the final, which went to three overtimes. Back then, after two overtimes, teams switched to eight-on-eight play.
Doyle-Burr said the rule worked in the Eagles’ favor.
“It made the space a lot bigger,” he said. “It was kind of a nightmare for them to deal with my brother in large spaces.”
They won, 2-1, when Caleb Doyle-Burr beat a defender and served to open junior Todd Badger, another Monkton resident, for the winning header.
“All these guys we had played with since elementary school, and that just made this championship all that more special,” Doyle-Burr said.
The team had struggled with injuries, but were at full strength for the postseason, and Doyle-Burr said the veteran Eagles believed they would win.
“We all had faith and trust in each other, and I think that was what enabled us to get over the hump in times of extreme pressure,” he said.
Doyle-Burr then started as a defender at Skidmore College for four years. The team’s best year was his second, when they lost in overtime to St. Lawrence in the Liberty League final. Doyle-Burr said he worked on both his skills and his strength, and he “got much better” his second year and afterward. He also has played top-tier Vermont summer league soccer since.
He graduated from Skidmore in 2009 as an Economics major with an Asian Studies minor. That’s when Doyle-Burr looked to China for work. He had taken Mandarin at Skidmore and had gone on a trip with the soccer team to Shanghai, and prepared for the move by studying the language for a summer at Middlebury College.
“(China) was transitioning to a market economy, and things were growing at such a rapid pace, and it seemed like a good pairing,” he said.
He moved to China, taught English and worked at the Shanghai Expo, and then found work in Beijing with a company called Asian Agribusiness Consulting.
“We were helping these large agribusiness firms enter into the Asian market,” he said.
His first assignment was John Deere, and he eventually led the company’s market research team.
After two years in China, a little more than a year at that job, Doyle-Burr reconsidered his path.
He didn’t like the polluted air in Beijing, some of the companies he was aiding marketed products he didn’t believe in, and he didn’t think the skills he was learning were applicable elsewhere.
And there was another factor: “I felt like I wasn’t getting my hands dirty. Growing up on the farm I was so directly involved in production, and this was a cubicle job.”
He left with no regrets after seeing much of Asia, and a plan in place.
“My next step was to come back home,” Doyle-Burr said.
ON THE FARM
Doyle-Burr said a difficulty entering agriculture is that it’s “so capital-intensive.” That meant the Last Resort Farm was an opportunity because his parents already had a successful operation.
But, he said, “They were facing a lot of challenges and could use some sort of modernization and quantification to maximize efficiency,” and he knew he could help.
For example, he used spreadsheets to track the best way to manage weeds. On an organic farm, Doyle-Burr said natural herbicides are permissible, but have only limited usefulness, while cultivating with tractors and manual weeding is more costly, but also more effective.
“I was able to set up ways of tracking those rates (of efficacy) and at the end of the season review ‘how are things going?’ and then going forward what’s going to be the most sustainable way,” he said. “And in the bigger picture, ‘How are we doing? How much are we getting paid per hour?’”
And for someone looking to make a long-term living on the farm, those and similar questions are critical.
“What I was able to bring was the tracking, the implementation of systems, to allow it to be more efficient, and therefore more sustainable,” Doyle-Burr said.
He worked for his parents until the roles reversed in 2017, when he signed the 15-year lease-to-own agreement that allows him to run and eventually buy Last Resort Farm.
The farm cultivates 27 crops on 20 acres, including pick-your-own strawberries, root and leafy vegetables, and herbs, and hays another 80-plus acres.
The farm sells its products at farmers’ markets and its farmstand, and to restaurants and a growing number of wholesale outlets, notably in Chittenden County. Doyle-Burr is working on penetrating the Boston and New York markets.
The diversity and balance has helped during the past 10 months.
“We’ve dealt with the pandemic OK,” Doyle-Burr said. “We’ve had our struggles, and everything is not fun. But I think we’re so diverse we’ve been able to pivot pretty quickly.”
Plans call for Doyle-Burr to eventually move into the main farmhouse and his parents to build a smaller, easier-to-maintain home elsewhere on the property.
He said working with his parents has gone well, especially once early role-reversal kinks were ironed out. Doyle-Burr said he tries to make it as collaborative an effort as possible while establishing his own vision.
“There’s certainly been bumps in the road, but each year, and I think for the farm in general, too, things get better,” said Doyle-Burr. “I phrase things in terms of what I would like to do, but it gives them flexibility, some control. It was a big challenge originally, but it was just developing trust in the system.”
Doyle-Burr also had a few last thoughts about what sports has meant to him and its larger role in society.
“I just feel so tremendously grateful for sports in general in my life. That was my main motivator in high school. I didn’t really hit my academic stride until college. It’s such an effective binding agent for the community at large, and during the pandemic I think it’s something we’ve come to miss,” he said.
“And I want to express gratitude to all the contributing community members who helped make all those fun, life-lasting experiences possible.”