That iconic road sign image of a silhouetted farmer sitting atop a tractor needs updating. Today’s farmer most likely has a smart phone in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, and is juggling multiple tasks: managing payroll, taking pictures for a blog, organizing events, not to mention tending the crops and livestock.
Contemporary family farmers are minding what can only be called super farms. These energetic enterprises grow produce while growing a sense of community, raise livestock while raising environmental awareness, and nurture progress while nurturing minds and hearts about the simple pleasures of connecting with the land. They also expand the scope of a traditional farm with elements rooted in relationships, like a bistro, a kid’s camp, or classes in food and nutrition.Roll up your sleeves and explore four of the Seacoast’s super farms.
133 Exeter Road
Hampton Falls, N.H.
A history lesson: In 1913, city dwellers boarded the Boston & Maine Railroad “apple train” on its weekly route from downtown Boston to Applecrest Farm to enjoy orchard views and fresh apples. Three generations later—with a fourth in the works—the Wagner family still welcomes visitors to the farm, New Hampshire’s oldest and largest apple orchard and America’s oldest continuously operated orchard. Applecrest Farm now grows over 40 varieties of apples, along with summer veggies, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and pumpkins on its 150 rolling acres. Their sustainable approach to farming includes hand-weeding to reduce use of herbicides, companion planting to aid in pest prevention, and energy-saving technologies to minimize fossil fuel consumption.
The farm has two prominent barns; the newer is a 10,000-square-foot mixed post-and-beam structure with internal concrete-formed walls. “Wherever possible, we utilized reclaimed materials in the building, including old apple bins, barn boards, and metal roofing from a collapsed cider mill on the property,” says third-gen farmer, Todd Wagner. “The barn was constructed just a stone’s throw from its sister barn, a hand-hewn post-and-beam beauty that just had its 200th birthday and represents the heart of our farm.
”The old barn houses the Creamery, which dishes up batch-made ice cream—often incorporating grown-on-the-farm fruits—crafted nearby with milk from pasture-fed cows. The new barn houses the Farm Market, and Bakery.
CIDER HILL FARM
45 Fern Avenue
“The first thing Glenn and I did when we purchased Cider Hill Farm was kneel down in the open field,” says Karen Cook, who began working the farm with her husband after their honeymoon 34 years ago. “We prayed that God would enable us to be good caretakers and stewards and that all the people who would come onto the farm would feel His presence and love, and we’re bearing the fruit of that today.
”With more than 9,000 fruit trees on 145 acres, Cider Hill Farm grows 59 unique varieties of apples along with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, and nectarines. As each different fruit ripens, people can pick their own or choose from a ready-to-go selection in the Farm Store, housed in a restored 150-year-old “pegged” dairy barn. In addition to homegrown produce, the store sells freshly baked fruit pies, tea breads, muffins, breads, and pastries, along with Cider Hill Brand jams, honey from their own beehives, apple cider donuts, and apple cider.
With a name like Cider Hill Farm, guests expect the cider to be great—and they’re not disappointed. “Our cider has become a niche with people that don’t want preservatives or pasteurized cider,” says Karen. “It’s the very best cider around—we retired reigning champs for our state cider competition. We love when someone tries our cider for the first time and we witness their expressions of splendor!” Cider Hill Farm uses high-quality apples, usually tree-picked, to make their cider, and doesn’t let the apples warm up during the cider-making process. Though their blends change from week to week as the apple varieties change, they strive to achieve their desired combination of sweet, tart, and aromatic notes. It’s this level of dedication and attention to detail that defines the farm as a whole, and the farmers themselves.
“Cider Hill Farm is the culmination of a life’s work to bring good, safe food to our community, to provide a place where families and friends come together to experience simple pleasures of life, a place where we bring an international team of agricultural university students to study and live at our farm in a challenging and educational experience of a lifetime,” says Glenn, whose parents Ed and Eleanor Cook started the farm in 1978. Karen adds, “We’ve been incredibly blessed to work together, raising two sons on the farm. It’s about cultivating, nurturing, and growing relationships, giving back to community, leaving a small footprint on the earth by having our small wind turbines and solar arrays. It’s all our passion. We spread the Cider Hill love around the globe and will continue to educate others on the importance of the family farm. It’s a tremendous value.
”All their hard work and dedication has translated into numerous awards as well as visits by guests too many to count, from locals to Spain’s Minister of Agriculture to Ted, the fictional talking teddy bear who throws Cider Hill Farm apples in a scene in the movie, Ted II. “After really difficult years of building this farm up from scratch, we are now looking ahead with a gleam in our eyes as our son Chadd is stepping up to the plate,” says Glenn. “He would like to keep the team in place and add a new business venture named Cider Hill Cellars, using our apples to make special hard cider blends. We’ve already planted special varieties of apples with the intention to make the best ciders possible.”
388 Broadturn Road
“I always wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder,” says Stacy Brenner, with a laugh. After studying agriculture in college—where she was especially interested in how to feed people and how to feed herself—Brenner came as close as possible to realizing her Little House wish when she and life-partner John Bliss planted the seeds for Broadturn Farm.
Set on 434 acres, the farm is smack-dab in the middle of the suburbs, just 25 minutes from Portland. In 2004, the Scarborough Land Trust purchased and forever preserved what was then known as Meserve Farm. Two years later, Brenner and Bliss became tenants at the farm, which they renamed Broadturn Farm. In 2010, the Scarborough Land Trust signed a unique 30-year lease with Brenner and Bliss, kicking off a grand experiment in farmland preservation and the development of a viable farm business.
Today, Broadturn Farm has 12 acres dedicated to organic crops, growing 100 different vegetables and 300 varieties of flowers. Their self-serve farm stand sells everything they produce, and their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes are available for those who like to be surprised each week with their share of what’s ready to eat or put in a vase. All are welcome to walk the farm’s trails, explore the fields, and visit with the animals, from fuzzy chicks to a grass-grazing cow. “It’s a working farm with an open-door policy,” says Brenner. “We expose folks to where their food comes from.
”Bringing people back to the land—and bringing people together—is a big part of the farm’s mission and passion. “The farm only exists if we develop relationships,” says Brenner. Beyond providing food, they offer a Farm-Based Education initiative, run by a dynamic team, that offers an April Vacation Camp, Preschool Program, field trips for school groups, and a Summer Farm Camp program for children ages 4 to 14. “The kids are so enthusiastic about everything,” says Brenner. “They raise the joy factor and remind us why we do it.” In addition, their nonprofit, the Long Barn Educational Initiative, helps fund scholarships for farm-based education at Broadturn Farm and around the region, for children and adults.
During the growing season, any experience at the farm includes the intoxicating scent of fresh flowers and an eyeful of artful floral arrangements. What started out as a hobby has exploded, and Broadturn Farm’s year-round flower business includes preparing arrangements for events like parties, baby showers, and weddings—and their wedding design work can be found from Deer Isle, Maine, to Boston.
Of course, their favorite wedding venue is the farm itself. “Hosting weddings is a wonderful way to offer a full-circle, farm-to-table experience with food and flowers from the farm,” says Brenner. “Much like the first meal we had as a family with all farm-produced food, the first big wedding we did made our hearts sing. We are truly honored to put food on people’s tables and flowers in their arms.”
THE FARM AT EASTMAN’S CORNER
267 South Road
More than a century ago, people gathered to talk, dance, argue, and make amends at a crossroads tavern that sat along the stagecoach route in Kensington. After the tavern was torn down, a few businesses tried unsuccessfully to open on the same spot; the land eventually sat vacant until Alan Lewis and his wife Harriet came along with a vision for a community-governed year-round farm and marketplace. In 2012, The Farm at Eastman’s Corner opened, and it’s still a place where points intersect, and where people connect.
Easy to identify by the eye-catching horse sculpture out front
created by South Dakota artist, John Lopez, out of pieces of reclaimed metal, like forks and chains), The Farm partners with 90 or so local farmers, food producers, and artisans—many within 10 miles of the store—to sell fresh produce, meats, eggs, dairy, groceries, baked goods, and more in the sustainably constructed Farm Store. “We’re a retail location for local farmers,” says Eric Cimon, Director of Marketing and Events. “We’re a place for them to sell year-round, so they can focus on what they do best: farming.”
They also grow greens, ginger, garlic, and tomatoes, even in winter, in six state-of-the-art greenhouses. In addition, the in-house cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from Contoocook Eggs and Cabot Sharp Cheddar on an English Muffin to the Turkey Bacon Wrap, made with bread from Exeter’s St. Anthony’s Bakery and greens from the farm’s greenhouses; there’s also a don’t-miss selection of Lebanese cuisine from Karimah’s Kitchen. The Farm emphasizes community with free events, classes (on topics like cooking, agriculture, health, and wellness), workshops, and community meetings held upstairs at the Farm Store. For younger visitors, there’s a Goat Barn, Children’s Gardens, internships, and other special events and programs designed to develop respect and appreciation for the planet. Across the street, their sustainably restored historic barn, The Kensington Food Barn—with its large main hall, cathedral ceilings, and natural light—hosts farm-to-table dinners, tastings, and demonstrations. Near the main hall, two commercial kitchens are fully equipped for preserving and processing excess produce, providing functional working space that’s available to rent by local farmers and food producers.
“I wish there was one word to describe what we do,” says Cimon. “We’re a remarkable place, with lots of layers. Basically, we showcase and highlight local products; everything here is responsibly produced and farmed.” In addition to local farmers, food producers, and artisans, shopping at The Farm at Eastman’s Corner also supports Sawyer Park, a 30-plus acre facility in Kensington. Built in 2008 by the Lewis family, Sawyer Park has three lit athletic fields, a basketball court, playground, skateboard park, bandstand, and more. The Farm at Eastman’s Corner gives 100 percent of their profit and 5 percent of their sales to support this unique Seacoast park.