Seven days a week, visitors pass a shopping center and several fields before parking in the car-dotted lot off of Route 130 in Hollis. They emerge beneath some massive willow trees before entering a bustling, bursting-at-the-seams food market.
Before even getting in the door, shoppers weave between boxes of 70 different heirloom tomato varieties. Inside, rows of produce lead to the bakery, cheese counter, cut flower display and shelves of local value-added products – all the fruits of “Farmer Dave” Orde’s labor.
“We’ve diversified,” he said.
That’s an understatement, given that when Orde took over the old apple orchard in 1980, his first job was to cut the hedgerows. He grew up on his family’s dairy farm across the street, pursued a degree in plant science at the University of New Hampshire, and then at age 25, began injecting life back into Grace Lull’s farm.
Lull’s husband had passed away several years prior. Brookford Farm – a Canterbury farm previously located in Rollinsford – tended to the orchards until Orde arrived. Beginning in 1980 and continuing through 1995, when he took full ownership of Lull Farm, Orde bought more land for more crops.
In the meantime, Grace Lull lived out the rest of her life on her family farm until her passing in 2000.
“We spent 20 years together,” Orde said.
Now going on 36 years as “Farmer Dave,” Orde employs about 50 local, “New American” and Jamaican workers. They help him tend to over 250 acres of hay, corn, vegetables, flower fields, pick-your-own apples, blueberries and strawberries, cows, chickens, turkeys and pigs, plus his two farm stand stores in Hollis and Milford.
“We just had an opportunity and we kept diversifying,” Orde said. “We try to grow everything we possibly can.”
And though Lull Farm appears to be booming – there was a constant stream of customers going in and out of the Hollis store on a recent summer weekday – Orde said he’s losing money to the bigger supermarket chains. He added that the summer of 2016, partially due to the drought, has been the worst he’s ever had.
“The whole business has changed drastically,” he said and indicated that now more than ever, he’s shipping items like apples and wholesale produce. To draw more people into his stores, he also has put more value-added products on his shelves and goes to the Boston markets two or three times a week for fresh produce. “People are not going to come anywhere (just) to buy beans and squash,” he said. And though supermarkets are increasingly working with local farms, Orde said he preferred not to go that route.
“I started this orchard on a card table 35 years ago,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere, but it’s been a challenging year.”
Orde has a clear love for his farm. Though his speech quickens when he talks figures, business outcomes and farm practices, he slows down a bit when walking through his farm store. Wearing converse sneakers, a fanny pack and an inconspicuous t-shirt and shorts outfit, Orde’s voice softens as he chats surrounded by his boxes of heirloom tomatoes.
“It’s exciting what we do,” he said. “It’s the fact that I have so much agriculture out back. I think we stay on top of the business as best we can.”
Orde plans on passing that excitement, agriculture and business onto his 27-year-old son, Andrew.
“I have a son who is interested in taking it over,” Orde said.
In the meantime, Orde’s efforts continue on. His colorful flower fields wave in a summer breeze behind his childhood family farm, his employees chat with customers scanning over the bakery menu or the store’s 11 types of eggplant, and outside, a tractor sits between two apple trees.
Route 130/65 Broad Street
Hollis, New Hampshire 03049
615 Route 13 South
Milford, New Hampshire 03055
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LullFarmLLC
Retail: Open in both locations 7 days a week 7 a.m.-7 p.m., year-round in Hollis, April-January in Milford
Wholesale: Through other local farms, no major retailers.
Elodie Reed is a staff writer and photographer for the Concord Monitor. She graduated from Amherst College in 2013 after studying English and environmental studies there, and she has been working for New Hampshire and Vermont newspapers ever since. She has a special interest in food systems reporting and spending afternoons in cow fields.