The Evolution of a New Hampshire Farm
By Kate Donald
Kate Donald owns Stout Oak Farm with her husband Jeff in Brentwood. Their land was purchased in 2011 after being conserved by a conservation easement held by SELT. For more information about the farm, visit www.stoutoakfarm.com
Winston Lyford told us that when he was a boy growing up on the farm in the 1940s and 1950s, his mother grew peas and corn out behind the house. He remembers melons growing in the field across the street, and apple trees on the south-facing slope. They raised sheep, and tapped the maple trees.
His father milked cows, and made butter in a creamery right here on the farm. Winston, his brother Lawrence, and their siblings were the ninth generation of their family to grow up on this Brentwood land that we are now lucky to call home.
The first dairy herd grazed the pastures here in the early 1800s. Farming was a common profession in those days, when working farms made up much of the rural landscape. We find ourselves wondering what life was like on the farm in those early years, before conveniences like electricity or tractors. Did they work with horses or oxen? Where did they sell the milk and butter they produced? What did their root cellar look like? What varieties of apples were they growing? What was it like to be a farm kid, growing up on a New Hampshire dairy farm in 1810? 1900? 1940?
No matter the year, spring was surely an exciting time on the Lyfords’ dairy farm, with the grass greening up, and the cows heading back out to pasture. Our first spring here in 2012, I remember walking the fields, eyeing out the flattest, least rocky sections that might have potential as future vegetable fields. The land had long been managed as grazing pastures and hayfields. Now we were going to try to cultivate the soil, dig out the rocks, and grow vegetables. Oh, the rocks.
That was the spring this place became a working farm again. We hung up our “Stout Oak Farm” sign, put up our greenhouse, and renovated part of the dairy barn to create a space for our Farm Store. We planted four acres of organic vegetables and put our first flock of chickens out on pasture. Our neighbors welcomed us warmly, many stopping by to wish us luck, and say how pleased they were to see the land being farmed again.
Four years later, Stout Oak Farm continues to grow and thrive. After a 50-year hiatus, this land is back in production, once more growing food for the community. Quiet hayfields have given way to a busy organic vegetable farm. The landscape is now dotted with chickens, tractors, long rows of vegetable crops – and people constantly moving around the farm, doing the work of growing the food.
Our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program is popular with many local families who are motivated to eat healthy, eat with the seasons, and feel good about making a commitment to a local farm. Each week starting in June, our Farm Store opens up. Customers can choose to set up a “store credit”, a more flexible spin on the traditional CSA model.
Our customers find us at the Exeter Farmers’ Market in the summer and the Seacoast Eat Local Winter Farmers’ Market during the winter. In 2014, we teamed up with Heron Pond Farm and Meadow’s Mirth to create a new local food distribution cooperative called Three River Farmers’ Alliance. Our three farms, along with Tuckaway Farm and Kellie Brook Farm now supply over 45 restaurants, hospitals, schools, and stores in the greater Seacoast area.
While farming in 2016 is certainly a lot different than in the 1800s or even the 1940s, we think Lawrence and his ancestors would be happy too that this land is once again thriving, growing food for people.