In the late 1980s Michael Kidder happened to be driving through Keene, New Hampshire on vacation. He spotted Chase Farm (to be named Stonewall Farm) on the outskirts of the city and was smitten on the instant, in spite of the fact that, at the time, it was an excellent example of a rundown New England dairy farm. Everything was held together with duct tape and string.
It was never Kidder’s intention to turn the farm into a self-supporting dairy operation. As a former high school teacher, he had something more educational in mind. By 1994, he had turned the farm into a non-profit and begun to put the place back together. He aimed to keep people connected to the land and to the role of agriculture in their lives.
Today, Michael Kidder has moved on to other projects, and Stonewall Farm is managed as a non-profit by a team of both farm and non-farm staff. Glenn Yardley manages the farm overall, and Wendy French manages the farm’s herd of 30 Holstein cows, as well as approximately 30 young stock.
Josh Cline is the director of the business end of things, supported by a staff of 12. Together, they are responsible for coordinating the many educational programs hosted on farm, as well as interns who come there to do research and learn how to farm, or teach about farming. They are also responsible for the critical task of raising money for these programs, much of which comes in the form of individual donors and grants. But Keene is also very supportive of “their” farm, because it is the only dairy left in the community, and the farm is a mere three miles from downtown.
Community members support the farm by writing checks every year to contribute to the care of farm animals and the garden. Another great program that keeps the farm connected to the community is the farm’s year-round garden. The CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) has an average of 35 members a year who pay to pick up boxes of fresh, organic veggies weekly. There is a farm stand, as well, where folks can buy veggies, maple syrup, organic hamburger and some Organic Valley products.
Many college students do their internships at Stonewall Farm—the farm’s director, Josh Cline, did an internship there 15 years ago—so there’s a lot of cross-pollination between the farm and the community. Interns from Antioch College and Keene State College conduct various research projects, such as developing a compost recipe incorporating the typical manure content and possibly some of the food waste from KSC. The compost sells like crazy locally and helps generate income for the farm.
Binding community ties are inherent in the types of granting institutions that support the farm. Because New Hampshire has a very high rate of childhood obesity, the farm tries to reach out to people who would not normally have that kind of contact. “We have a community kitchen in Keene that provides food baskets to families who don’t have the money to buy organic veggies,” Josh says.
Often farmers feel like they have to make the most money from their product they possibly can, which means that they sell product to those who can afford it, who already know how important it is to eat well and can afford to do so. “But we don’t want to preach only to the converted,” Josh says. “As a non-profit, our mission is to serve the public. Some grant money allows us to send two of the farm’s CSA shares to the Community Kitchen so they’ll have some good organic food to cook up for folks. We follow up on that with posters and brochures for our CSA that let folks know that it’s no more expensive than buying it at the store, and they can pay off their shares on a payment plan. We want people to know that there are other ways to spend their food dollars.”
A grant also sponsors free weekend programming that is advertised through social service organizations in the Monadnock region. “We’re going to try to do a dairy tour every Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Visitors can see the cows get milked. Afterward, they can try some cheese from the farm stand.”
Two full-time education staff members oversee that aspect of the farm. There is additional staff on tap in the summer because of all the seasonal programs. “We have farm day-camp, where kids come to the farm five days a week. My four-year-old daughter will be one of those campers this summer,” Josh says. “In the winter there is a horse drawn sap gathering contest with as many as 15 teams from around the region.. We harvest about two hundred gallons a year of maple syrup that is sold right here from the farm stand.”
While Stonewall Farm had been operated conventionally, it transitioned to organic six years ago. “I think getting on the truck with Organic Valley was a big step for us,” Josh says. “Having that certified organic label and being affiliated with a nationally recognized organic cooperative gives us credibility.”