A handful of Antioch University New England (AUNE) Green MBA students and an Environmental Studies alumna are helping to preserve the historic Tuttle Farm in Dover, New Hampshire, one of the oldest operating family farms in the country.
Nearing retirement and with business declining, Bill Tuttle, the eleventh generation to own Tuttle Farm, decided last year to sell. He and his sister, Lucy, asked the New Hampshire Institute of Agriculture and Forestry (NHIAF) to find a way to keep the property going as a working farm.
David Boynton (’11 O&M), a consultant to the NHIAF and volunteer project director, and Sarah Sullivan (’11 O&M), Joel Moyer (’11 O&M) and Jessica Skinner (’10 ES) are working to transition Tuttle Farm. Boynton hopes that he and others can develop a workable business plan that will appeal to potential buyers.
The Strafford Rivers Conservancy had purchased a conservation easement, which requires the land to be used for agriculture, so a qualified purchaser is critical to preservation of the 134-acre farm. “We’re working to be able to offer investors something profitable, sustainable and good for farmers, consumers and the environment,” Boynton said.
As part of the effort and under the aegis of the NHIAF, Boynton, Moyer, Sullivan and Skinner helped to organize TuttleFest, a fund-raising event at the farm on March 19.
NHIAF director Suzanne Brown said that when she first met Boynton last year, he told her that he wanted to work on projects “where the rubber hits the road.” She added, “And the rubber doesn’t hit the road much harder than the Tuttle Farm project. New farms and more local food are desperately needed on the Seacoast. Barriers to new farmers in New Hampshire are highest thereâ€”land is so expensive, and there are a lot of graduates coming out of agriculture schools who need new farms.”
A Green MBA Practicum
Boynton is using his AUNE MBA in Sustainability (Green MBA) practicum to look at a new way of doing business collaboratively: a food hub and community center that would link local food businesses, suppliers and customers. “It’s a complex model, not competitive, but a truly cooperative model,” he said. “The food hub needs to be what the farmers and consumers need it to be, and my goal is to come up with a solution for how to do it.”
Increasing agricultural production on the Seacoast is a big part of it. “You can’t talk about success without talking about local supply,” Boynton said. “What do farmers need to increase efficiency and capacity without more work? What can we do for them? A nonprofit food hub can help make those connections for farmers, who don’t have time to do much outside of farming. So the first thing will be farmer engagement.”
Some possibilities under consideration for the food hub:
- An incubator for start-up agricultural businesses, which is the NHIAF’s core mission
- Facilities for canning and/or flash-freezing
- Bulk ordering of seeds and other inputs
- Equipment sharing
- Partnerships to connect restaurants with farmers
-Transitioning Tuttle’s Red Barn, the retail store on the farm, to an enterprise focused on selling local foods
- A community-supported brewery (CSB). With a partner, Boynton has been working for several years on 7th Settlement, a CSB he thinks would be a great addition to Tuttle Farm. People can purchase memberships that provide them with shares of locally brewed beer. Boynton wants to eventually obtain all the beer ingredients in the area.
It’s a tough challenge to help align the visions of everyone who has a stake in Tuttle Farm and in sustainable agriculture on New Hampshire’s Seacoast, Boynton said. “We need a leadership model, and that’s what we’re trying to set up right now.”
“It’s terrific to work with young people involved in a project pertinent to their studies that’s also an important economic driver to the state,” Brown said. “They bring a lot of youthful energy and no preconceived notions of what works and what doesn’t, because we’re breaking the mold here.”