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After Hundreds Of Years, N.H. Family Farm For Sale

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Tuttle Farm in Dover, N.H., is up for sale. It's believed to be nation's oldest continuously run family farm. Michele Norris talks to Lucy Tuttle about the decision.


It's the end of an era in New Hampshire. The Tuttle Farm, in Dover, is up for sale. And it's not just any family farm. It's believed to be the oldest, continuously run family farm in the country.

Englishman John Tuttle started it all in 1632, with a land grant from King Charles I. And 378 years later, Lucy Tuttle now runs the farm with her siblings, Will and Becky.

She's the 11th generation of Tuttles to work the land, and she joins me now to talk about the decision to sell the property.

Welcome to the program, Lucy Tuttle.

Ms. LUCY TUTTLE: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

NORRIS: Can you give us a quick description of the Tuttle Farm?

Ms. TUTTLE: Yes. It is located on the seacoast of New Hampshire, about - maybe 10 miles inland from Portsmouth. Corn, I would say, is our principle crop. We also grow peas and lettuce and tomatoes and radishes and strawberries, raspberries - black raspberries - blueberries.

NORRIS: You say on the website that there are many reasons for your decision, all having to do with exhaustion of resources, our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our imagination, our equipment, our machinery, our finances. It sounds like you've just pretty much run out of steam after 378 years.

Ms. TUTTLE: Well, I think so. And it's not - we aren't the first ones to have run out of steam. Our father was very seriously considering selling the barn back in about 1970. And there were several articles done about the farm at that time. One was called "Farewell to Farmer Tuttle." And the three of us children all came flocking back, with our 20-year-old energy and enthusiasm, and lots of new ideas. And so we have carried on for another 40 years.

NORRIS: How difficult was it to make this decision to close the farm after keeping it alive after so many had already pronounced it dead and dying?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUTTLE: Well, it's very difficult, I have to say. In many respects, the days of our type of farm are coming to an end. I know that there are a lot of small farms that are having great success now, with the local food movement and so on. But our farm is sort of medium-sized. It can't really be run by two people.

We have about - probably 35 to 40 employees, depending on the time of year. We have tractors that were purchased in the 1950s, and irrigation equipment that was purchased in the early '50s, and buildings that need repair and maintenance, and so on.

NORRIS: Lucy Tuttle, what's been the reaction from your customers who come by to pick up cheese or bread or that famous sweet corn?

Ms. TUTTLE: Tears. Some people are very happy for us. They realize that, you know, this was a difficult decision for us to make. And they congratulate us on being able to make it. And some people are very sad. Nobody has been angry. The land is in permanent conservation. It will never be made to grow houses or condos or strip malls or Wal-Marts, or anything like that. It will have to remain as farmland or as open space.

NORRIS: You know, when people drive by and see that red barn, there must be some comfort, I mean, a way of just looking at it and thinking back to a way of life, or a piece of history, that reached back more than 300 years. That must be part of the difficulty for your customers and for the local community - to say goodbye to all that.

Ms. TUTTLE: Well, yes. And it's difficult for us, too. We are old enough to have known the grandparents of many of our customers. And it's sort of an extended family for us. These are people whose family members have been shopping at the red barn for many years. And I think that when you have something as precious as this, you love it and you work it to the very best of your ability, for as long as you can. And when the time comes to let it go, that's what you do.

NORRIS: Lucy, what do you do now?

Ms. TUTTLE: Well, I haven't given that a great deal of thought. I'm, first of all, going to go outside at night and look up, and see if the stars are still in the sky. After that, I may have to take a little break.

I was - I had a conversation several years ago with a woman who said that she had just retired, sold her house, put all of her belongings in storage, and that she was leaving the next day. And I said, where to? And she said, I don't know. And that sounded wonderful to me.

NORRIS: All the best to you. Safe travels, and good luck with this next chapter.

Ms. TUTTLE: Thank you so much.

NORRIS: That's Lucy Tuttle. She helps run the Tuttle family farm in Dover, New Hampshire. It's considered to be the oldest family farm in the country.

Lucy, thanks so much.

Ms. TUTTLE: You're entirely welcome. Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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