Farming in New Hampshire began in the mid-1600s when early settlers were rewarded with land grants from the King of England. By the mid-1700s, though the landscape was heavily wooded and the topsoil was thin, many of the more intrepid settlers turned to subsistence farming as a way to feed their families and earn a living. Because of the rocky soil conditions, most farmers raised sheep, produced dairy products and planted orchards. To clear the land, they relied heavily on oxen, and in subsequent years, draft horses.

By the 1830s, many farmers, encouraged by the newly built railroads, migrated to the Midwest in search of more arable land. The more dedicated farmers remained in New England creating a tradition that lives on today. As of the dawn of the 21st century, there are over 3,000 individual commercial farms in New Hampshire overseeing over 150,000 acres of crops. Another 250,000 acres is devoted to pastures, maple and Christmas trees, and land set aside for conservation.

Most New Hampshire farms average 30 to 40 acres, while some of the larger farms range from 150 to 300 acres. Greenhouses and nurseries account for the largest production, followed by dairy products, fruits and vegetables, the raising of hay and forage for livestock, and of course, not the least of what the state is known for: maple syrup and honey. Indeed, now even llama and buffalo farms dot the landscape.

The local Keene area is host to a number of thriving farms. Among them is Brookfield Farm, located in Walpole and devoted to raising organic, grass-fed beef and lamb without the use of pesticides, herbicides, synthetic hormones or antibiotics. This family farm, run by Christian and Holly Gowdy and their two children, also grows its own certified, organic hay for feed. If the harvest exceeds the farm’s own needs, it is offered for sale, as is excess garden compost.

Brookfield Farm is remaining open during these difficult times and continues to offer farm-raised products, which can be purchased in its retail store. For more information, visit brookfieldorganic.com.

For those who want to fill the dinner menu with organic vegetable products, Nye Hill Farm in Roxbury, owned by Anthony and Deb Kline, raises certified organic produce. You may already have sampled at some of our local restaurants, including at The Stage Restaurant & Café, 21 Bar and Grill, Fireworks Keene, and Country Life Vegetarian Restaurant. Nye Hill products can also be found at The Monadnock Food Coop, and the farm also supports the Keene Community Kitchen.

As part of its wholistic credo, Nye Hill offers sanctuary for unwanted or abused animals, it raises sheep for wool, hens for eggs, and taps its own maple trees for pure maple syrup and maple candy. The Klines even brew their own beer in single-barrel batches from locally sourced American ingredients and their own produce, under the watchful eye of brewmaster Sue Benik.

The sanctuary residents – including horses, goats, pigs, llamas, oxen, steer and one mule – return the favor by producing compost to enrich the soil. The farm also keeps bees for pollination, and its gardens are designed to support butterflies and hummingbirds. Their organic orchard yields apples, peaches and pears, and they grow grapes in their small vineyard as well.

Nye Hill Farm is preparing for the coming growing season and is hoping the COVID-19 conditions will have resolved enough for them to once again offer organic produce at their farm stand. According to the Klines, “As a certified organic farm, we are committed to providing the healthiest, highest quality produce while honoring our respect for the land we steward.” For more information about the farm and sanctuary, visit nyehillorganic.com.