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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #17: Saltbox Farm, Stratham


My first paid gig was the summer I was 12 or 13, in 1987 or 88. I would walk or ride my bike the tenth of a mile around the corner to the Saltbox Farm, and for five bucks an hour I would weed the vegetable gardens, lay plastic between the rows of strawberries, or generally do whatever I was told. The proprietor was Irma Goodrich, and never has there been a more perfect congruence between name and character. Mrs. Goodrich was (is, I should say - she's still there, when last I heard) central-casting New England farmwife, wiry and tireless and utterly impatient with any nonsense. She always reminded me of Hepburn in On Golden Pond, with a reservoir of withering distaste for foolishness and the ability to reduce boys and men alike to mumbling compliance with her piercing, flinty stare. I've worked for many women, at universities and banks and beyond, many of whom I've respected and even admired, but the only one who ever terrified me was Irma Goodrich. To this day, I'm vaguely thankful I didn't end up as the secret ingredient in the homemade jams and jellies she sold alongside the farm's other wares at the roadside shop.

New Hampshire is full of places like Saltbox, and full of families like the Goodriches, and the Merrills, and the Scammans, inheritors of a family-farm tradition older than the state itself. Conditions in 17th-century NH were challenging, with heavy forests and thin, rocky topsoil, and farming was a subsistence proposition. Dairy, wool, and fruit orchards were the ticket for commercial enterprises, and large-scale cultivation moved west with the railroads to the more promising landscapes of the midwest. Still, farming has always been a key component of the New Hampshire economy and identity - our own flagship state university began in 1866 as the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts under the auspices of Dartmouth College before moving to Durham in 1893. The Thompson School of Applied Science at UNH continues to educate and partner with the state agricultural community to this day.

And the family farms have endured, plots of 30-40 acres raising apples and corn and pumpkins and strawberries. More than three thousand such farms remain in operation today in New Hampshire, flying into the teeth of the modern global economy with a focus on heirloom fruit varieties, cultural events, and embracing the organic and local food movements. It's tough work, in a tough market, and the people who do it have to be tougher still. But I know what Irma Goodrich would say to all of that. "If you grow it right, folks will buy it. Now quit yakking and weed the cabbages."

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