End of a 378-year era
Nation’s oldest running family farm put on market in N.H.
Globe Staff / July 27, 2010
DOVER, N.H. — Like generations of Tuttles before him, Will Tuttle has spent his life on the family farm, working its tree-lined acres from seed to harvest. He learned by the side of his father and grandfather and, like them, chose to make his living off the
But after years of toil and dwindling demand for the crops he produced, the thick-armed 63-year-old has decided the family legacy will end with him. His landmark property — passed from father to son since 1632 and billed as the country’s oldest continually operating family farm — is up for sale.
Yesterday, as he looked over a rolling field that could be in a brochure for local, sustainable agriculture, Tuttle said that like many small farms, his had probably seen its best days.
“This is a different business now,’’ he said. “Farming at any level is a labor of love, but now the future is so uncertain. Looking forward, I don’t see much opportunity for small farms to thrive. It’s a tough grind.’’
That reality is behind the disappearance of farms and farmland in New England and beyond.
According to the latest federal figures, more than 4 million acres of active farmland were developed between 2002 and 2007, an area roughly the size of Massachusetts. Since 1982, the nation has lost more than 41 million acres of rural land.
Massachusetts has lost 24 percent of its prime farmland since 1982, more than all but four states.
Lorraine Merrill, New Hampshire’s commissioner of agriculture and a Tuttle’s patron, said she was saddened to hear that the family had decided to sell. Along the coast, where land values have soared and suburban sprawl has intensified, the challenge to farming is especially acute.
“It’s the end of an era,’’ she said.
The 134-acre property, which is listed for $3.35 million, has been slowly surrounded by suburban homes and is bordered by a major street. It is protected by a conservation restriction that prohibits it from being developed after it is sold, and the Tuttles hold out hope that the new owners will maintain it as a working farm. But they are quick to acknowledge that, even with a new niche market for local produce, working a small farm these days can be a tough row to hoe.
“We’re not in a plaza,’’ said Michelle Tuttle, Will’s wife. “A lot of people won’t drive a few extra miles for fresh vegetables. They are going to Wal-Mart and Target and trying to save whatever they can, and we don’t have the buying power to compete.’’
The farm was turning a small profit until the recession, the Tuttles said. But in the past three years, as families looked for ways to pare spending, business has faltered