Vegetable Ranch, Warner, NH

By Helen Brody (October 29, 2012)

On a sparkling fall day on the property of the prestigious and affluent St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, Vegetable Ranch owner Larry Pletcher kneels in freshly tilled soil planting spinach. In the next field over, the school is preparing an artificial turf lacrosse and soccer field for opening day. Lifestyle contrasts for sure. But fortunately for Larry, who needed the land to grow his certified organic vegetables, the school agreed to lease the neighboring field to him for what is now universally deemed a good cause.

Larry also owns land across from his 1700s farmhouse in Warner, NH where in 1910 he built a storage facility and farmstand. “We were selling every bit of what we grew during the growing season,” Larry recalls, “but were never able to grow and store enough crops to supply customers through the winter.”  From what he calls his “factory outlet for certified organic vegetables,” Larry now provides all his customers with year around produce.

During the summer, the greens, which must be picked more often than the other crops, are grown nearest to the storage facility where there is water for cleaning and refrigeration. “Customers,” he says, “ have been known to stop by to purchase a head of lettuce, and if we do not have exactly what they want, I tell them to go pick one they like in the field.”

Nearby are three hoop houses which allow Larry, like many New Hampshire farmers, to extend the growing season by eight weeks or so.   The most recent hoop house was funded by Concord (NH) Co-op to assure year around produce availability in their store. In 2010, another hoop house was built using the cost-share program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help farmers purchase hoop houses. The pilot program is part of a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative.”   Both of Larry’s hoop houses were manufactured locally at Ed Person’s Ledgewood Farm in Moultonborough, New Hampshire. The high tunnels offer an efficient use of the sun during the chillier months and prevent loss of soil nutrients in water run-off.

During the three or four bitterly cold months that New Hampshire can unleash, when even the high tunnels cannot provide enough warmth for growing, Larry’s storage facility becomes the essential cog in completing his goal for year around produce sales. He moves his storage crops (such as Chioggia beets,winter squash, daikon radish, carrots, fingerling potatoes, garlic, celeriac turnips and others) out of a cooler into the open space used for packing summer CSA shares. The open space remains at 40 degrees to preserve his precious storage crops while the walk-in refrigerator turns into a hot house for micro greens and bean shoots.

Prior to farming, Larry, while working as an attorney in the New Hampshire court system, wrote hiking books in his off hours, including one spotlighting New Hampshire, Hiking New Hampshire, to sooth his yearning for the outdoors. But there was always the itch to actually get his hands into the soil and to farm. Providing a variety of organic produce, even in the bitterest of New Hampshire winters, was his self-imposed mandate.

As with so many who risk the vagaries of new ventures, trial and error became Larry’s most profound lessons, but visits to Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, VT provided early incentive and additional education. Owner Pete Johnson had similar goals of year around production for local consumption.

Larry then had to consider where and how to market his goods. He found that the small quantities required by restaurants did not warrant putting in a special crop for each chef.  “But I came to realize that chefs are aware of what we normally plant,” he said, “and they call in their order and tell us  when they want it,” he says. Satisfying the demands of a large supermarket, like Hannaford, was an enticing possibility, but the large markets require GAP (U.S. Department of Agriculture Good Agricultural Practices) certification, which include requisites “which are  inconsistent with what sustainable agriculture is all about.  Hannaford did the best they could to help us,” Larry said, “but there are some regulations that we could not follow. For example, we do live in the country and cannot guarantee that a deer or, more likely in our case wild turkeys, will not wander into our fields.” He continues that “GAP discourages the use of domestic livestock as part of a sustainable system. Simply put, GAP’s demands present a challenge that pose a genuine dilemma for local farmers.”

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members, the Concord Co-op, Concord Farmer’s Market, his farmstand, and a few wholesale customers are Larry’s chief customers and their demands continue to grow. There is also the on-line“Bulk Order” section with a “shopping cart” giving customers the opportunity to pre-purchase vegetables and then pick them up at specific locations. With imagination and unbridled enthusiasm for what Larry  is undertaking,  there seems to be no end to the possibilities for the Vegetable Ranch.

Vegetable Ranch LLC
Larry Pletcher
443 Kearsage Mountain Rd.
Warner, NH 03278

Retail: (year around) direct to customer sales Farmstand Concord Farmer’s Market

Community Supported Agriculture Shares

Wholesale: (bulk sales to markets, restaurants, stores & schools) Markets: Concord Co-op

A Market

Restaurants:  * – certified local by

*The Republic, Manchester, NH
*Grappone Center, Concord, NH

Centennial Hotel, Concord, Concord NH
Concord Hospital, Concord, NH

On-Line: Bulk Order Link
Area Schools