Its a good season for the beloved sweet corn on the 379-year-old Tuttle Farm. It also looks good for the crops that werent there a year ago, produced by a group of visiting young farmers eggplant, peppers, pumpkins and sunflowers.
The New Hampshire farm, one of the oldest continuously operated family farms in America, raised a lot of interest and emotion a year ago when members of the 11th generation of Tuttles announced they were putting it up for sale. Faced with debt and their own mortality, they said the 12th generation is either too young or too entrenched in other careers. A bit of history and tradition was drawing to a close.
Today, the 135-acre farm still is on the market, even though the asking price has been dropped $800,000, from $3.35 million to $2.55 million.
While the Tuttles wait for a buyer amid an uncertain economy, a new group of farmers unrelated to the family is helping to keep the operation going, trying a variety of crops, livestock and organic farming practices, and may even stay on after its sold. They receive coaching and equipment from a nonprofit group that acts as a business incubator for farmers.
The enterprise is a first for New Hampshire but is a type of organization that has caught on throughout the country in recent years, from North Carolina to California. New Hampshires was inspired in part by the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vt., which leases equipment, land, greenhouses and storage areas to small, independent farms.
We need to grow some more farmers here, said Suzanne Brown, founder of the 2-year-old New Hampshire Institute of Agriculture and Forestry, who used to live on a small farm in Chester. The average age is 56, and two-thirds of our farmers lose money.
She said the Tuttles story is a familiar one farmers getting to a place where they want to retire, they cant, they just cant keep up pace with whats happening with the markets. They would want to transition over to family members, but theres nobody there.
The small group of resident farmers, apprentices and interns started a campaign this year to Grow Tuttles Farm.
Jameson Small and Patrick Gale of Rollinsford, both 23, worked for the Tuttles last year, weeding and harvesting and following orders. This year, they are resident farmers, so they have more autonomy.
Im not learning to farm; I am farming, Small said. Thats really the big thing that hit us wow, were farmers now. ... If something goes bad, its our mistake. If something goes great, its our glory.
One of their highlights is a big patch of sunflowers. They plan to produce sunflower oil for cooking, which Small thinks hed like to specialize in, eventually. Its not commonly produced in New England.
The Tuttles siblings Becky, Will and Lucy range in age from 59 to 66. They are happy to see the young farmers.
With the exception of a cousin, Becky said, she never knew a young farmer while growing up. Today, shes seeing more of them at farmers markets. Its just such a great, great trend because I really did used to wonder, Whos going to grow the food? There isnt anybody learning how to grow food in the next generation.
Its such a wonderful solution, Lucy Tuttle said. Where the farm has always been kind of a losing proposition on the retail side of the business, a nonprofit can absorb that.