By Sarah Bundy (November 9, 2015)
The winding roads of Madbury hold a special gem, Old Orchard Farm, named for a small overgrown orchard that was discovered in the woods. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Gray & Kitty Cornwell care a great deal about the farmland of which they are the stewards. As they state in their 2015 turkey brochure, “We treat our farm as a precious, irreplaceable resource and follow sustainable farming practices to ensure our crop land will be productive for future generations.”
The Cornwells make their home in an updated Greek revival style 1828 house on 126 acres of land. The house had been home to a dairy farmer prior to their purchase in 1991. “There was a hole in the kitchen floor and no heat on the second story,” commented Kitty. Gray was quick to follow with, “I walked the property and told Kitty we could fix whatever was wrong with the house; it was just the land we were looking for.” Today, the house has been beautifully updated and the land productive.
In 2000, after teaching science, conservation, and forensics for several years and raising pheasants, Gray decided it was time to farm full time. “The land is my therapy,” he says. To supplement their income, Kitty works part-time as the Tax Collector/Town Clerk for Madbury and Gray installs fencing.
From April through mid-November, 12 acres of pasture is home to 150 turkeys. On a recent visit, Gray and Kitty led the way to visit the turkeys with Riley, a bird dog and the farm’s self-appointed welcoming committee, who delights in herding the flock. Katahdin breeding ewes and two rams watch from nearby. “They see me and think, ‘dinner time!’” Gray remarks. “Not yet!” he calls out. Two horses spot Kitty and investigate as well. Gray’s affection for the animals and his land is evident as he offers information about conservation efforts and the history of the farm while walking the fields.
Two-thirds of the Cornwells’ turkey flock is made up of Broad-Breasted Bronze turkeys. The feather coloring on this fast growing breed closely resembles that of a wild turkey. The rest of the flock consists of heritage breed turkeys. Heritage breed have a slower growing rate and are slaughtered at eight months rather than four months for the faster growing Broad-Breasted Bronze. The heritage birds possess many of the same traits as their wild counterparts – including the ability to go airborne. Most evenings you will likely see about 15 birds roosting in a tree adjacent to the pasture. All the Cornwells’ turkeys are free range with open access to the water and grain which contributes to their rich flavor and all will be sold by Thanksgiving.
Like most farms in New Hampshire, Old Orchard Farm does not rely solely on one commodity. Four contented pigs root in the dirt, while snacking on droppings from a nearby apple tree, join the sheep and turkeys on the farm. The Cornwells’ large 1828 barn is used to house several boarded horses. The stalls, originally cattle stanchions, open into small paddock areas, giving the horses 24-hour access to the outdoors.
A small sugarhouse is the couple’s newest building. Constructed with the help of friends and neighbors in 2014, the post and beam structure is built from timber harvested from their’ property. Five hundred taps from a neighboring maple orchard yielded about 150 gallons of maple syrup in 2015.
As a part of Old Orchard Farm property is under a conservation easement, conservation and sustainable farming are at the forefront of the couple’s decisions. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) assisted in an important manure management system for the land bound by the Oyster and Bellamy rivers. In addition, a forest management plan is in place to continue conservation of their 80 wooded acres. Six acres have been successfully reclaimed as a habitat for the New England cottontail rabbit, whose numbers have dwindled dramatically in the last fifty years due to land development and loss of habitat. After many years of pruning and reclaiming the orchard that was the inspiration for the farm’s name, it too has become a great food source for wildlife.
Old Orchard Farm
Gray & Kitty Cornwell
42 Nute Road Madbury, NH 03882
Website & Facebook, and by calling farm
Sarah Bundy grew up on a New Hampshire farm, the ninth generation in her family. She has traveled to every corner of the United States and several countries, and every time returning home with a greater appreciation for New Hampshire, especially the farm she calls home.