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Henniker Christmas tree farm sees a new use as political forum venue

  • Steve Forster points toward the trees at Forster’s Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker on Wednesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ photos / Monitor staff

  • Steve Forster stands inside the shop at Forster's Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

  • Steve Forster at Forster's Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

  • Forster's Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

  • Ornaments are seen for sale inside the shop at Forster's Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

  • Steve Forster at Forster's Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

  • Ornaments are seen for sale inside the shop at Forster's Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff

  • Steve Forster at Forster's Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

For more than 40 years, people have navigated the winding roads of Henniker to cut trees and buy ornaments Steve Forster’s Christmas tree farm.

In recent years, visitors would come in the summer and fall for weddings, until local and state zoning laws shut that down. Now, the farm’s summer nights are mostly quiet, no cars filling the lower parking lot. The gravel path leading to a grassy platform is overgrown by weeds. Gone are the wedding benches made of sawed logs, their indentations still visible in the soil.

Wednesday evening, the farm’s slopes overlooking the Merrimack Valley saw a different kind of traffic – Republican candidates in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District race. They came to chat and mingle with constituents, a low-key alternative to the more flashy and fiery nature of the debate scheduled for Thursday night in Concord.

Forster said he’d like to have more events like this, no matter the political stripes. Republican, Libertarian, Democrat, he doesn’t care.

He just wants people to enjoy his farm. “Why not?” he said. “It’s a viable business. I think they (the candidates) should come here, see what they have to protect.”

While a little out of the way, Forster’s farm isn’t out of the blue for political events, said Scott Maltzie, chairman of the Merrimack County Republican Committee.

“We love doing events at small businesses,” Maltzie said, although restaurants and spots like The Draft in Concord or the Baker Free Library in Bow are the more usual fare. “We want to highlight and support these places.”

And a low-key night is just the introduction the western part of Merrimack County needs to GOP candidates, Maltzie said, noting his organization hasn’t gotten out that way often. “It’s a good way to reintroduce ourselves in the county,” he said.

The 2nd Congressional District race has been relatively overshadowed by the horse race going on in the 1st District; having citizens be able to have a laid-back summer evening on a porch makes a more personal connection than Thursday’s event, Maltzie said.

To Forster, his spot is no different than an American Legion hall. He’s got space and chairs, even a hot dog steamer stored in the barn. For $5, visitors got a hot dog, chips and a drink, money that Forster is calling “donations” to his farm.

But because his deck overlooks a commercial Christmas tree farm, those donations are the only money Forster said he is allowed to make off the event. An agritourism bill that
originally aimed to make commercial ventures, like weddings, legal on farms, ended up falling short, Forster said, events like “eating a meal, making overnight stays, enjoyment of the farm environment, education about farm operations” – can’t generate more money than his farming operations.

Senate Bill 412 made it so that municipalities couldn’t make up their own agritourism definitions or policies and made the Department of Agriculture commissioner the arbiter of any agritourism disputes.

Forster insisted Wednesday night wasn’t about his struggles to broaden his income stream, and unless a candidate asks him a question about it, he didn’t plan to bring it up.

Instead, he said he simply wanted people to enjoy his land, to see the work he’s put in for over 40 years. In addition to his porch, he also opened his Christmas shop to visitors – and of course they were welcome to stroll among the trees.

Still, it’s hard to not see the potential for other events, he said, looking out over the field. And it’s hard to think about what might befall his farm, Forster said, if he can’t support it with other means. He’s been trying to sell it for several years, but figures only someone with a strong income could handle the farm’s high taxes.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “They charge me a view tax, but won’t let me charge people to look at it.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, can drews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)