Lewis Farm, Concord, NH
In 1992, early in Harry Lewis’s farming career, he decided to raise flowers. “I had 650 hanging baskets that year,” he says, “but it was such a cold, wet spring and summer, no one was buying flowers. I sold only one!” The heartbreak he felt way back then still carries in his voice. “I couldn’t compete with big box stores that sold flowers for half the price. After that, I began raising vegetables. People have to eat.”
Several years ago, as Harry faced old age alone, he had to make a change. He enjoyed farming but needed help, and his daughters lived far away. In 2011, he entered into a partnership with David Ayers, an energetic young man who loved farming enough to work at it full time.
“I raised the tomatoes and flowers, he raised the other vegetables, and we split the profits,” Harry said. The arrangement worked well, but at the end of the 2015 season, David decided to move on to a more lucrative career. Harry will have help from his nephews in 2016.
The Lewis farm grows over 15 different vegetables, much of which they sell at the farm stand next to the house. They offer a CSA (community supported agriculture) where families pick up a weekly share of vegetables, and they participate in the Concord Farmers Market.
With only a small portion of his 130 acres in production, Harry has land to spare. Seven women and one man from the Congo and Berundi have access to Lewis Farm land, water, and tools in exchange for two hours of labor each week. They are working under the umbrella of ORIS (Organization for Refugees & Immigrant Status) agriculture program designed to help refugees and immigrants start food and farm based businesses in southern New Hampshire.
“The women are the ones who do the gardening. When we dig potatoes, they help pick them up,” Harry says. “I tell them to leave the heavy containers in the field for the truck, but they lift them onto their heads and carry them out of the field.” He shakes his head. “I don’t see how they can do that without hurting their necks.” Several other people barter with Harry, exchanging a few hours of work each week for vegetables.
Compost production is an important part of Harry’s work. As he picks butternut squashes he says, “We put six inches of compost on this row and got ten times as many squashes as the next row.”
The city of Concord provides leaves collected in the fall. “I mix in a layer of wood chips from power line work and a small amount of horse and chicken manure. Once the rain hits it, it begins to decompose.” Harry points to a many-bladed tractor attachment. “When the temperature inside the pile reaches 150 degrees, I turn it with that.”
He turns the long piles 13 or14 times, and after one year, the compost is ready to use. Of the hundreds of cubic yards of finished compost, Harry sells about 40 percent. The rest he uses in his gardens and 12 greenhouses.
“I have 16 inches of compost in one greenhouse of tomatoes, and those plants are 14 feet tall and loaded with tomatoes weighing one to one-and-a-half pounds each,” he says. “I think greenhouses are the way to go. You can control the environment a little bit more.”
At the end of the season, Harry harvests the remaining tomatoes and ripens them in his house. He donates them to the Carmelite Monastery and the Salvation Army. “Tomatoes ripen best slowly at about 50 degrees, and the best place to ripen them is in a cool bedroom under your bed. If you have a bad one, you’ll smell it,” he says with a chuckle. During the winter, Harry sterilizes some compost by steaming it on his woodstove. This, he says is good for starting plants in the spring.
A real estate sign hangs at the entrance of the Lewis Farm, but Harry says he really doesn’t want to sell it. “I’m doing that to appease my daughters. I have such a high price on it, anyone would have to have more money than brains to pay that much.” He grew up in the large farmhouse on the property and attended the Thompson School of Agriculture at UNH. “The house was built in 1880, and I bought it from my mother’s estate back in 1990. My daughters grew up here. They saw how hard I worked, and they figured there must be an easier way to earn a living.”
Harry smiles as he heads back to the squash field. It’s clear he really does love his work, and he’ll probably continue farming as long as he is able.
192 Silk Farm Road
Concord, NH 03301
603-724-8561 cell, 603-228-6230 home
Farmstand at the farm: Seasonal vegetables
Farmers’ market: Concord
Barbara Mills Lassonde is an author, journalist, publicist, freelance writer and maple producer. As publicist for the NH Maple Producers Association, her press releases brought NH Maple Weekend from its inception to one of the top ten events in the state. Hundreds of her articles and press releases have appeared in publications across North America, including Smithsonian Magazine, Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids, Boston Globe and USA TODAY. She can be reached at www.granitepublicity.com
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