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Bunten Farm and Farmhouse Kitchen, Orford, NH

By Helen Brody (January 30, 2011)

“Harry is our valet, meeter and greeter,” says Chris Balch, when a guest enters the family’s farm house kitchen. Harryis a Burmese dog, weighing in at about 85 pounds pounds.  “We even had a customer who made a red vest and bow-tie for him.”  Chris and her husband Bruce moved into the Chris’s family homestead when her father, Forrest Bunten became ill and then, after he died, bought it from the family estate in 2005.

In 1956, her dad had learnedof  the farm while reading the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture’s “Weekly Market Bulletin”; without missing a beat, he drove immediately from Concord to meet a realtor, looked around the outside of the farmhouse, anddecided it was big enough for the family. Then he walked the fields and that was it. “I’ll buy it,” he said and he moved his wife Evelyn and their six children to Orford. Tod193 acre parcel of farmland, managed woodland and deer wintering yard is protected by the Conservation Land Stewardship Program of New Hampshire.

After his death in 2005, Chris and Bruce acquired the land from her  father’s estate and  began moving ahead on their visions for improving the beautiful colonial style brick farmhouse and working the rich river bottom soil along Rte 10.  The farm, named a “Farm of Distinction” by New Hampshire’s Department of Agriculture, Markets, & Food, continued with the family’s  5.7 acre pumpkin patch and the colorful Fall  display along Route 10 because, Chris says “as with my father, pumpkins are our ‘cash crop’ “.

Raising the ruby red colored Devon cattle became theBalch’s first new venture. Bruce had always been interested in the breed because of its history and versatility. Known for high butterfat milk (as in Devonshire cream) and lean beef, the Red Devon, were the only dairy cows in the country between 1623 and 1723. Devon oxen were the draft animals of choice on the Oregon Trial. But because the cows are not large milk producers, dairy farmers over the years switched to Guernseys and Holsteins.

Today, with over 50 cows milking twice a day, the couple owns one of the largest Devon herds in New England. Bruce had hoped to make ice cream for wholesale with his cows’ rich and flavorful milk, but since hehas had difficulty meeting his exacting standards with large quantities, he continues to make that delicious ice cream in small quantities for the farm’s restaurant.

With the milk that remained, Chris began making cheese. The “cave” she uses to store her Mozzarella, a Gouda, and a blue cheese is  her stone cellar. The blue cheese, called “Justa Farmer Blue,” is named after her father who would respond to travelers along Route 10 what he was doing in the field “just a farma.”

Bruce, a graduate of Hyde Park’s Culinary Institute of America, and Chris met while both worked a number of years ago at the Lyme Inn in Lyme, NH. He was the chef and she was a waitress. It was a heady education for Chris as Brucetaught her all facets of the business–from dishwasher to chef.

Along with the Devon for milk and steers for beef, the couple began raising pigs, chickens, and for a finishing touch, established a vegetable, herb, and flower gardens.

In the beginning years the Chris cooked the farm’s bounty as a hobby and often gave it away to neighbors and friends – gesture no doubt that was appreciated by all.   The logical next step was to put their restaurant backgrounds to profitable use by building the Bunten Farmhouse Kitchen restaurant, featuring their own vegetables, milk, and meat. “I was cooking and gardening constantly anyway,” says Chris so it seemed logical to use our harvest on a menu in a restaurant, a “country style restaurant”.

Because her parents Forrest and E velyn Bunten  put the land in conservation in the 1980s, Chris and Bruce could not add a new building for the restaurant. They solved that problem by reworkingan 1835 barn to house a professional kitchen and 24 seat restaurant, the largest they were allowed given the space. In 2008 they opened the kitchen with Chris  the chef of the Bunten Farmhouse Kitchen with food prepared “the old-fashioned way.”

In 2011, Chris realized that running a restaurant and a farm and making cheese and bread was too much for one person to do well.  So in the fall or 2011 she befriended  Chef Martin Murphy. Martin became the Executive Chef of what is today Ariana’s Restaurant with a menu that

For those who might question how in the world a couple could tackle the rigors of a serious farm and run a restaurant, they have not met Christine and Bruce Balch, a couple who are not in the least afraid of a challenge. And if a visitor should happen to pay a visit to their country style restaurant, they will be well received by Harry, their Burmese dog maître d.

Christine and Bruce Balch
The Bunten Farm and Farmhouse Kitchen
1322 NH Rte 10
Orford, NH 03777-4136
603-353-9252 – check their website for dining  hours
Retail:  at the farm
Wholesale: Local restaurants
Photos: Leslie Tuttle (©2010

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