Tuttle's Family Farm | House for Sale
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.”
Lucy wonders what the farm would look like today if she or Becky had been given the chance to run it. She doubts they’d be waiting for a suitor to make good on an offer. Neither of them would want to part with the farm, despite the hard work and minimal profits. There are ways to make the farm more successful, Lucy thinks: tapping into the local and organic food movement, for example. With enough dedicated farmhands, they could take it in a new direction. But it’s too late for that now.
On this April morning, it’s been more than a year since the family put the farm up for sale; they shuttered the store in October. The original asking price was $3.35 million for the proptery’s remaining 134 acres (which are under a conservation easement) and the farmhouse; it’s now $1.875 million, excluding the house. There’s been a lot of interest, including a few tentative offers to purchase the land where Lucy is sitting, absentmindedly plucking clumps of clover from the grass: “Many suitors, no ring, still being courted,” Lucy quips. A breeze ripples her short, strawberry-blonde hair, making the tendrils wave like wheat.
Today, as she surveys the land, she allows herself a hard-won sense of peace. She takes in the gentle slope of the fields, cascading down from the east to the road that bisects them–once part of New Hampshire’s main north-south throughway–then jumping the asphalt to continue their rolling descent west before ending in a border of tall pines. Whenever she returns from a trip, whether as far away as Paris or as close as the hardware store, her heart jumps a little at the crest in the road where the fields come into view. “I’m home!” she always thinks. But today she tries to picture this as a place. A farm. A business. Not a home. “Sell this goddamn place!” she lets herself think. “If I don’t like who buys it, I can move away.”
Saying goodbye to the farm has been a long, painful process. Lucy’s son Evan was among those tortured by the decision. In the end, Hugh didn’t mind that Evan had a different last name; he hoped to hand his legacy livelihood over to his grandson. And Evan, 24 years old and wracked with grief as 81-year-old Hugh lay dying in the farmhouse 10 years ago, promised that he would carry the business end of the farm for another generation. Now Evan works a desk job in Chicago while he pursues his true passion–creative writing–in his free time. His heart wasn’t in farming. Lucy didn’t push; it was more important to her that Evan find fulfillment than that he keep up the family tradition out of sheer obligation. In the end, she thinks, the farm is just a farm.
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