Farming in New Hampshire
1971 - 1994
In the summer of 1971 we moved from New Orleans to a farm in Milton, New Hampshire. Located on the "Branch River", just about a mile south of the village of Union, New Hampshire, the farm was all that remained, about 70 acres, of about 1,000 acres owned by one of the Plummer families (Lewis Plummer) and used to raise and train oxen for their logging operations. At the end of their tenure, it was the home of one of three daughters of Lewis' son Charles Plummer, Agnes Plummer, who never married, and was operated as a dairy farm. One of the men who ran the farm for Miss Plummer was Louis Tibbetts, who has written a grand History of Union. See http://www.uisgebeatha.org/unionhistory.html
Louis operated the farm until he moved to Union and ran the general store there. It was a real country store, known for the quality of meats he sold and for the "New York Washed Curd Tasty Cheese" he kept on the counter. Still the best cheese in our memory.
Agnes Plummer sold the farm to Charles and Louise Barrett, who ran it as a dairy into the 1960s. Charles was a lumberman by trade, and had operated the New England Box Company sawmill just to the south of the farm until it has succumbed to the declining demand for hardwood for the furniture factories in Massachusetts. The Barretts sold the farm to a man who set about subdividing it and selling off the better land piecemeal. We bought as much as we could from the developer and put together the 70 acres the hard way.
Fortunately, Charles and Louise had built a home nearby and for years helped us learn to farm. We started with a dozen sheep and big plans for an orchard. We learned to hay, putting it up loose by hand in the barn with the big grapple hooks hoisting it up to the third level to be forked over into the lofts. We learned a great deal and ate well. We are still grateful for all that Charles and Louise taught us, and speak of them often as we enjoy some favorite recipe or work in our garden. In time the sheep led to selling yarn. First we traded wool with the Bartlett mill in Maine and sold yarn from our kitchen. In a few years, we had remodeled the south side of the barn into a full-fledged yarn shop, specializing in weaving supplies and exotic yarns. Ellen ran the shop and raised the children and in between watched the apple stand. As the orchards expanded, we began a small nursery and propagated apple trees for sale. Summer and fall were busy, and winter was a time to slow down and catch up on other things.
In 1985 we took the opportunity to work abroad, in Saudi Arabia, and hired a couple to run the farm in our absence, which stretched out to over two years. When we returned, we decided to conclude the farming operation for many reasons. Mostly, the reasons were economic. Although we had been producing enough income to cover running costs, there was not enough to cover the costs of capital - the costs of replacing equipment and the costs of paying the mortgage and taxes. Equipment that had cost $2,000 in 1971 was costing $20,000 by 1987. We realized that we were spending the money that would be needed for the children's' college education to sustain a way of life we loved, but they did not. Plus, we just got tired of the cold and the dark winter. Two years in the sun of the "desert kingdom" and living in an urban metropolis had given us a glimpse of another way of life.
Gene went back to school for his MBA and Ellen worked full time as a high school librarian. We remodeled and improved the farmhouse, and had fun with antique jeeps and crafts. Then, in 1994, we left for Oklahoma, to live and work in a small city and try the urban life in a warmer climate. We could not sell the farm until 1999 and then sold it at a great loss. The life lessons we learned there, however, are without price.
|Picture from around 1900. It may be Lewis Plummer (who died in about 1906) or his son Charles, posing with a yoke of oxen at the farm. The wagon shed in the background was across the drive from the barn. In 1972, it was sold to Betty Wisdom and moved to its present position closer to the road.|
|The farm in late 1800's. "Doc" Barrett estimated it as between 1870 and 1880, based on the size of the maple in the front of the house, and the absence of the large elms seen in the photos from around 1970|
|The farm as we found it. Photos of the farm in about 1970, shortly before we bought it. A diamond in the rough.|
|The front of the farmhouse, facing the road, old NH 16, one winter in the early 1970s|
View from the south, across the fields in late 1970s, fall (left) and the house in the mid 1970s (right). There is a 1963 Toyota Land Cruiser (FJ40) and a 1972 Toyota Land Cruiser Station wagon in the drive.
These are the things we saw each day, pictures that stay with us.
(left) A small sugar maple just outside the kitchen window, fall.
(right) Inside the barn. Looking up at the roof timbers and the catwalk to the third level
|Bottle lambs. We brought them in to warm up over the heat register and fed them with lamb milk replacer. Later we got smarter and built a "neonatal ICU" in the barn, with heatlamps and warming pens so the lambs could stay with their mothers. And we got more sleep.|
Charles "Doc" Barrett, a true friend, mentor and neighbor, who taught us to farm and to love the land with open eyes and a practical hand.
He and Louise gave us more than we can ever tell. They were truly remarkable and wise people.
|Firewood. We harvested 10 to 12 cords per year to heat the house and shops. To the right is the wood stacked in the barnyard to dry for the second season.|
|And here the wood is stacked in the woodshed next to the kitchen, to the ceiling, under cover. The woodshed held about 12 cords, and was empty by spring.|
|Looking south from the kitchen window across the drive to Betty's house in the winter (left) and fall (right)|
|The road to the bridge in winter. The tracks are jeep tracks. On the right, a view of the farmhouse in the winter of 1993, when we were deciding to move to a warmer place. Nature's way of giving you a nudge.|
Branch river as it trends through the farm. Well behaved in summer.
On the right, the river in winter.
|The river in flood, passing over the bridge to the other side of our property. Normally the bridge was six feet above the water. The bridge in more normal times on the right.|
|Tom going for a boat ride in the irrigation pond. Later, Rob fished it.|
|Haying in the 1970s, when we put the hay up loose in the barn, using the huge grapple hooks and traveler along the ridge pole to hoist hay to the third level and fork it into the lofts.|
|In the 1980s we used a baler. One always has a love-hate relationship with a baler. But on the days when things worked right, and the hay was just the correct moisture content, and the knotters worked smoothly - well, there is nothing like it. The right hand picture shows the 1971 Toyota hauling the hay wagon. Those Land Cruisers worked like mules.|
|Dixie came with us from New Orleans,where we had adopted her as a stray. She was a good dog, but could not adjust to the change when Tom was born. Dixie was a border collie, we think, and had the personality of that breed. We still miss her.|
|Artie and Merce Silverman were close friends in New Orleans and came to visit us after Tom was born. We had great days with them. 1978|
|The living room - a Franklin Stove in the 1970s, then a Jotul for 15 years - odd looking, but capable of heating a house. then we build a fireplace and reconstructed the wall with pine paneling in the 1990s. By then, we no longer heated that part of the house with wood.|
|We first made the dining room into a library, then later added the fireplace and re-did the walls and wainscotting.|
|The farm as we left it. Cedar siding and new roofing, fully insulated, new wiring and plumbing, new windows, heating plant, and a perpetually renewing woodlot for supplemental heat.|