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165 Hunkins Pond Road Sanbornton, NH 03269
Spring Hill Farm, Sanbornton, NH
“Health, Heritage, Harmony” – words written boldly on the sign for Spring Hill Farm, an 85 acre farm in the small town of Sanbornton, New Hampshire. And for owners Eric and Julie Sawyer, those words are not idle ones.
When asked to elaborate, Eric said, “For ‘health,’ the Hippocrates quote, ‘let food be thy medicine’ sums it up.” For “heritage,” he’s talking about his passion for preserving the land, the animal breeds he’s raising, and their 1800s house. As for “harmony,” a visitor can see such concord in the use of livestock, compost, and minerals to restore the soil in order to grow the most nutritious and robust fruits and vegetables.
But as with farms the world over, a farmer cannot make a living on vision alone. The biggest challenge for the couple is turning a profit by providing a continuous supply and variety of crops to keep his customers coming all year-round, a challenge he meets by succession planting. “A home gardener plants in the spring,” said Eric, “harvests when it’s ready, and finishes before winter. As farmers, we plant crops every three weeks from early spring into late fall. Then, through winter we must have stored product available for sale and fresh greens from one of our high tunnels.”
Knowing full well that an informed customers are happy customers and ultimately return customers, the Sawyers publish a weekly newsletter informing them of upcoming crops, providing recipes for some current offerings, and “keeping them in the loop” with events of note on the farm. Recently customers learned about the hatching of new layer chickens and the surplus of sauce tomatoes available for pickup. In addition, they like to introduce the “WWOOFers” from Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoofusa.org ). Young women from all over the country who stay on the farm for 2 weeks or more to learn about sustainable food production.
Eric has erected plastic high tunnels, and uses row cover that allow him to grow his vegetables during all four seasons. He also has a wash tunnel where the produce for his CSA customers is organized and washed to be put in boxes for pickup.
In line with his beliefs on traditional and organic farming, Eric focuses on raising heritage breeds of animals and poultry. Restaurants especially appreciate such products because it gives them the opportunity to publicize a unique type of product and chefs believe the meat is more tender and flavorful than the commonly raised breeds such as the Yorkshire. It is only small farms, like Spring Hill, that take the time to raise heritage animals who are free to roam and eat as they wish in the fields and woods and by so doing develop the singular qualities that restaurateurs and customers relish.
In the case of their Berkshire pigs, the couple is fortunate because while roaming, the animals dig up and fertilize the soil for planting crops. Eric laughingly dubs this method of cultivating, “pig power.”
Besides the pigs, the couple raise chickens, Katahdin sheep and Muscovy ducks, and continue to keep their bee hives that they moved to Sanbornton from their previous home in New Castle NH. Their raw honey is always available among their products for sale.
There are two new ventures the Sawyers have recently taken on. Noting the interest in mushrooms among his customers at farmers markets, the farm now features a shiitake mushroom bed. In the spring, Eric inserted mushroom spawn into holes drilled in oak, beech and sugar maple logs and sealed them with wax and expect the mushrooms to burst through the wax by June 2015. A small orchard of fruit trees and berry bushes is the second new venture. Wanting to plant on a South facing hill, part of the orchard sits on a steep slope that allows heavy rain to wash away vital top soil. Eric is taking a page out of past centuries, using an old method practiced in Eastern Europe, called Hügelkultur, and today employed primarily by permaculturists. By building what amounts to raised beds made of logs, sticks, leaves and other matter that will decay, Eric is providing a future of rich and fertile soil for the trees while preventing rain from washing down the slope. Hügelkultur represents one of Eric’s efforts to work harmoniously with nature.
Not to be forgotten is Julie and her choice of farming venture. When not working in Concord as a nurse, she pursues her interest in herbs and health. Finding rare medicinal herbs while walking the property before purchasing it, was reason enough for her to own the farm. She and Eric turned the site of an old barn into a varied and fragrant herb garden from which they envision holding classes to promote good health.
“But, in the end,” says Julie, “for Eric with his gardening, landscaping, and IT background, the farm is his dream.” Then adds jokingly, “It’s his midlife crisis” And she might very well have added that “Health” is the first of those words on the Spring Hill Farm Sign.
Eric and Julie Sawyer
165 Hunkins Pond Road
Sanbornton, NH 03269
Direct to Customer Sales:
Farmstand located in barn on the farm, CSA (spring, summer and fall), Canterbury Farmers’ Market, Tilton Farmers’ Market
Farm Profile Sponsor:
New Hampshire Farms Network gratefully recognizes and thanks Osborne’s Agway Winnisquam in Belmont, NH for sponsoring Spring Hill Farm’s profile.
304 Daniel Webster Highway
Belmont, NH 03220
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