By Helen Brody (January 30, 2011)
The Comtois family lives in the historic tradition of the self-sufficient New Hampshire farm. Guy initiated that approach by building the family home for his wife, Barbara, and their two sons, whom Barbara home schools. Pausing for breath after he had provided shelter for his family, Guy built two green houses for his produce business, and then the farmstand from which the family sells their vegetables. In quick order, up went shelters and run-ins for the animals, including portable cages for the rabbits. There are Belted Galways for beef because they are a sturdy breed that prefers the cold New Hampshire winters atop their windy hill and, as with the rabbits, they provide the lean high protein meat that is in growing demand by local chefs. Finally, there are two Belgian draft horses used not only for plowing but for driving their sleigh and hay wagon carrying delighted families at fairs and events around town.
In the bleak, cold off-season Guy, who has made himself an accomplished rock cutter, not only for rocks bordering suburban yards but for making sculptures. “I work in the woods behind my house where no one can bother me,” he says, and then adds, “My rock sculptures are all one of a kind items.” Tour his show room and one sees fountains, coasters, candleholders, trivets. As a testament to his artistic eye and deft touch, his rocks and rock sculptures can be found in houses and resorts throughout Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The family even has a mail order business for Guy’s sculptures, and to which Barbara’s contributes with exquisite scented candles.
But, by far, the family’s most ambitious venture is growing vegetables hydroponically and selling hydroponic equipment. Hydroponic growing, the method of growing vegetables using mineral rich solutions in water and without soil, occupies five acres of their 93 acre farm. They equate the output of that acreage with 20 acres of conventionally grown produce. Their future hopes are to expand to 10-20 acres of land which will provide “tons of food.”
Guy started with the more common vertical system of hydroponics, which he continues to use, but soon discovered that the cost of shipping the equipment often made the price of their vegetables out of reach at farmers’ markets. Never one to be stymied by a conventional problem, Guy ingeniously developed a horizontal system of hydroponics using four inch PVC pipes, each running in four foot lengths and built on stands that can hold 30, 60 or 120 plants. The growing medium is Indonesian fiber from Sri Lanka. And the advantages of these devices? There are no weeds to contend with, a phenomena that tends to send delightful shivers down any grower’s neck. Oh, and the life of the pipes is about five years. Sprayer stakes and drip emitters supply water from four 250 gallon tanks.
Aside from saving the shipping cost, Guy and Barbara discovered that they could bring sections of the pipe to farmers’ markets to provide “pick your own lettuce” which attracts customers to their booth who then also buy their conventionally grown vegetables. Lettuces, eggplants, squash, peppers and onions are their chief hydroponic crops; corn, they discovered, grows too tall for the piping and fall over. The farm continues to grow raspberries, garlic, and asparagus conventionally. They also are experimenting with fruit trees.
The Comtois bought their farm in 1998 and being newcomers to growing things for profit, they naively began by planting 200 Christmas trees. What they didn’t realize was the competition for that Yule- time crop was brutal, so they concluded there had to be a better way to survive. Hydroponics, they found, was the answer. And indeed it is. As Guy noted, and with justifiable pride, “Here, now, we are a full fledged hydroponic farm.”
Guy and Barbara Comtois Sticks & Stones Farm 107 White Oak Road Center Barnstead, NH 03225 603-776-8989
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Photos: Leslie Tuttle (www.leslietuttle.com)© 2010