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For the love of berries: Hopkinton couple saves blueberry farm from development

  • Caresse Mailloux stands at the table selling blueberries at the Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Carmen Diamond picks two blueberries for taste testing at picking your own blueberries at Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Caresse Mailloux speaks with customers at the Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Caresse Mailloux inspects blueberries at the Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday. Maddie Vanderpool / Monitor staff

  • Caresse Mailloux organizes blueberries into pint containers at the Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Carmen Diamond picks blueberries at Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • At Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018, Rosie Bonenfant picks blueberries with her family. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Carmen Diamond reacts to eating a fresh pick blueberry at Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Carmen Diamond eats a blueberry straight from the bush as mom Michelle Diamond works to pick enough to take home at Groun Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Kathleen Jacobs and David Miller talk about why they bought Grounding Stone Farm, why it is they didn't want the land to be developed, and the organic status of the farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Rosie Bonenfant enjoys picking blueberries with her family at the Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Rosie Bonenfant picks blueberries at the Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Carmen Diamond stuffs two blueberries in her mouth at the Grounding Stone Farm in Contoocook on Friday, July 13, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor



Monitor staff
Monday, July 16, 2018

When David Miller and Kathleen Jacobs bought the house sitting on Peter Russell’s blueberry farm in Contoocook, it wasn’t their intention to purchase the 32-year-old berry growing operation as well.

“We learned very quickly that a developer was going to come and pull all the bushes up and turn it into a cluster development, and we were like, ‘No, we’re not going to let that happen,’ ” Miller said, looking out over more than 400 blueberry bushes neatly organized in two different plots.

Jacobs said Russell gave the two a first right to the property, and they ended up purchasing the entire 13 acres. Now, they’ve taken on the task of retaining an organic label for their berries.

Russell first planted bushes in 1986, and they are still going strong today. In 2000, Russell began the process of converting the farm to an organic operation by using only natural types of fertilizer, pesticides and soil requirements. Three years later, he achieved the coveted organic label.

Jacobs and Miller bought the property in 2017 and decided to change the name to Grounding Stone Farm.

Staying ‘grounded’

For Jacobs, there’s more to the farm than just the berries, and it’s in the name.

Between the two blueberry plots, a large rock sits flush with the height of the grass. Visitors might not notice it if they are picking on one field or the other. Yet when Miller and Jacobs bought the house, the rock became a focal point.

Jacobs commented to Russell how she could feel a happy energy in the house. Willing to explore a little more, Russell took her out to the stone.

“He marched me out to this stone and he says ‘Whenever you have any trouble, just come to this stone and things will work out.’ ” Jacobs said. “It’s ‘Grounding Stone’ because it does ground you to eat healthy and to be outdoors but also through art, you ground yourself.”

Jacobs is an artist, Miller a mechanical engineer. Both share a mutual passion for environmental protection and clean food. Jacobs runs art workshops both locally and abroad. In her eyes, the farm is a perfect spot for her workshops. The property features stone work done by Russell’s son, and the clean landscape leaves a picturesque image of a quiet small-town farm.

Miller said business has been “unbelievable.” The heat wave at the start of July lead to rapid growth of the bushes, and the farm was able to open a week ahead of the regular picking season. Miller said some regular customers live right down the road, others come from as far away as Boston.

“I think now that the season is officially open, we will see a much higher volume of people,” Miller said.

“It’s an event for the whole family,” Jacobs said.

Staying organic

Organic status is a difficult bar to achieve in the farming industry because of the strict rules to follow.

“It’s all things that the state of New Hampshire has to approve of, so they have a list of things and, what they do is they come out and look at all of our records of what we’ve purchased,” Jacobs said. “Every year they have to come, and they have to look at our care plan.”

The plan details how the farm will care for the plants while maintaining the organic status. The owners have to keep a log of what they’ve purchased for the plants, the receipts and the work they’ve done. The plants themselves are organic, without any genetic modification, which is another requirement, according to Miller.

Additionally, members of the UNH Cooperative Extension program visit the farm every week to take readings of the soil, which can help the farm alter its water or fertilizer usage to provide ideal growing conditions.

Like any farm, a fair amount of hand labor is required, as well.

“In the early spring, we clean it up, we rake up the whole area,” Miller said. Next comes laying the mulch. Miller said the soil needs to be acidic, so using the proper type of mulch, such as wood chips or sawdust, is required. The plants also need to be pruned down and weeds removed.

“The earth pretty much does all the work,” Miller said. “We pretty much just try to help it along a little bit.”

The rows of plants are all irrigated with hosing running down each line. This maintains a steady flow of water to the plants which Miller and Jacobs can adjust.

Miller and Jacobs employ one farm hand, Caresse Mailloux, who runs the farm stand, and a few pickers who come in the morning before opening and pick pints of berries to sell for customers who don’t want to pick for themselves.

Miller and Jacobs said in addition to their organic status, they hope visitors feel the farm is a family friendly place. Customers are welcome to just hang out, go for a hike on the trails at the back of the field or have a picnic.

“Aside from the sign, you’d think you’re driving into our house which we want you to,” Miller said. “We’re welcoming you to our home, you know, we’re not just a blueberry stand on the side of the road.”

Grounding Stone Farm is open seven days a week. Visit groundingstonefarm.com for more information.

(Jacob Dawson can be reached at 272-6414 ext. 8325, jdawson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @jaked156.)