Granite State of Mind, #115: Stuart Farm, Stratham
I've made mention of New Hampshire's family farm tradition before, and I have fond memories of many of them - the Saltbox Farm, the Scamman empire, Applecrest - but my earliest memories come from another Stratham enterprise. In 1961 the Stuarts moved their farm from Littleton, MA to the banks of Great Bay with their ten-year old daughter, Lorraine, and started milking cows on the 270-acre parcel. Lorraine and her husband John Merrill eventually took over the farm, which is now in the hands of the third generation with their eldest son Nathan. Lorraine, by the way, is now the Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of New Hampshire.
I started visiting the farm because Nathan's younger brother, Justin, was among my best friends as a kid. The Merrill and Pace boys were the same ages, and throughout elementary school there were trips back and forth from one Stratham house to the other. My first milking experience happened on that farm, and years later when I was involved with raising money for UNH's organic dairy program, I was reminded of those early days.
The Stuarts and Merrills have always been ahead of the curve - in 1981 they were among the first farms in the state to adopt a permanent agricultural conservation easement for the farm, and in 2003 were awarded Steward of the Land designation, the American Farmland Trust's highest honor. But Lorraine and Nathan and the rest, in true Yankee fashion, would shun any suggestion that they're exceptional among New Hampshire's family farmers. In some ways, they would be right - Granite State farmers have a long record of conservation and progressive agriculture. I suspect when you farm your own land, and consider your cows members of your family, you behave with a different set of priorities than some huge multi-state milk conglomerate. But in a lot of ways, they would be wrong, too. They're exceptional folk, the Merrills. Maybe I say that because I know them, but I also say it because it's true.