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Tuttle's Family Farm | House for Sale

But this thought brought another stinging realization: Evan, who has his own father’s last name, Hourihan, wouldn’t have a future on the farm, according to the current rules of inheritance. He wasn’t a Tuttle; he had no claim to the family legacy.

“It’s a Tuttle farm, and that’s the way it’s been,” Lucy explained. “He would always be in a sense a second-class citizen. He’s not the son of a son.”

She thought again about the value of the legacy, and why the family farm would come with such strict rules of inheritance. Perhaps, she thought, that strictness could be the reason the farm had prospered as long as it had. “Maybe the Tuttles knew all along,” she said, “that the only way this farm could survive was to keep it from being dispersed.”

It’s the fall of 2011, a drizzly September afternoon, just a little more than a month before the farm stand will close for good. Lucy stands behind an antique desk under a plastic awning outside Tuttle’s Red Barn. The store itself closed in August. Lucy is selling the produce of the farm’s final season on the outside patio. It’s a pared-down return to an earlier version of the Tuttle farm stand, before the Red Barn went up, with its refrigerated cases and six checkout lanes.

A few regulars sort through bins of peppers and beans, tomatoes and corn. Will is in the process of hauling 2,000 pumpkins from the field to the farm stand. Here where the field meets asphalt, at the edge of the farm stand’s parking lot, the pumpkins form a blazing orange border against gray skies.

This season hasn’t been kind to the pumpkins–“too wet,” Will says, when he stops in at the farm stand with a load from the fields–and they’re smaller than normal, slightly lumpy. One by one, Will lifts the gourds, slick from rain, off the flatbed behind his blue tractor and sets them down in the wet grass. It’s cool this afternoon, but he works in shorts and a T-shirt. A baseball cap keeps the rain off his ruddy face. At 64, his hair and beard have grown white, but he still handles his share of the farm work. Lucy and Becky share the work of manning the stand.

Today Lucy is working the register alone. She is, in large part, the face of the farm. She seems as much a part of this landscape as the pumpkins. She banters easily with the customers, who all know her well.

Two elderly women with short, permed hair are rifling through a basket of corn. “I have some corn already husked, and it’s the same price,” Lucy tells them, emerging from her spot behind the wooden desk. Even behind a desk, she can never sit still. “The others are wormy at the tip; they haven’t been sprayed. You’ll have to cut the tips off.”

This is the first season in Lucy’s lifetime–and the last, as it turns out–that the Tuttle crops have been raised without pesticides. She’s excited about the change, even though it means waging a war on worms among the cornstalks. This is one change she herself has instigated: She convinced Will to work with a nonprofit farming group this season, letting a few young farmhands grow organic crops and share the profits with the Tuttles. It’s the kind of revolutionary approach to farming of which Lucy would have wanted to do more, if the farm had been in her hands.

The women amble over to the beans. One spots a display of purple string beans–a new and exotic addition to the farm’s inventory for this final season. “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” she says.

“When you cook it, the purple goes away,” Lucy explains. “It’s heat-sensitive.” The women choose the green beans instead, and the prehusked corn. They ask Lucy if the farm has found a buyer yet. “We have a lot of suitors, but no ring,” Lucy says. She’s been repeating the line a lot lately.

The decision to sell hasn’t been popular with Lucy’s neighbors and customers. The Tuttle Farm is a focal point in Dover, where Hugh Tuttle was once mayor. It’s an emblem of the community’s agrarian roots that it’s also geographically central: It lies just southeast of the center of town, past a row of car dealerships and the cemetery.

Being the oldest farm in America puts this place in the spotlight, the glare and heat of which most farmers will never feel. If the Tuttles had decided to sell out and become blacksmiths in the 1800s, Lucy points out, no one would have batted an eye. But wait two more centuries to get out, and suddenly everyone who’s ever bought a tomato is urging you to keep farming: “They say, ‘You can’t do that! You’re a historic place. You’re not allowed!’

“Well, of course we can do it. It’s our farm; it’s our bodies. So I’ve suggested to the people who most adamantly say, ‘But you can’t, you can’t': ‘Well, okay, you do it.’ ‘Oh no, I couldn’t do it.’ Well, I can’t do it either. We’re too old. We can still bend over and pick things; we just can’t get up again.”

Updated Tuesday, October 9th, 2012
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