Concord’s Lewis Farm to continue under new owners, with a twist of agritourism

  • Lewis Farm owner James Meinecke peels open an ear of corn to show the difficulty that dry, hot weather has added to his first year as a farmer. NICK REID / Monitor staff

  • Owner Becky McWilliams (left) tends to customers at the Lewis Farm stand, while her husband, James Meinecke, walks by carrying a crate. NICK REID / Monitor staff

  • Lewis Farm owner Becky McWilliams (left) speaks with Bob Cray of Laconia as he visits the farm stand Tuesday. McWilliams and her husband, James Meinecke, recently purchased the farm, which had been in the same family since the 1930s. NICK REID / Monitor staff

  • Meinecke (left) shows a greenhouse full of tomatoes off to Cray at Lewis Farm on Tuesday. NICK REID / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/17/2016 1:56:55 AM

One of Concord’s last remaining farms has been handed off to a new family to continue as it has for generations – with a twist of new-school agritourism.

A couple of architects from Massachusetts – Becky McWilliams and James Meinecke – bought Lewis Farm last week for $600,000 after a five-month apprenticeship under the retiring Harry Lewis, whose family worked the land on Silk Farm Road since the 1930s.

McWilliams, 33, and Meinecke, 38, said they were the only potential buyers who wanted to continue to farm the land, which was important to Lewis.

They said they want the community to feel welcome on the 130-acre property, and they’re hoping to achieve that by turning their design-oriented eyes on the place’s aesthetics and inviting locals in for events such as a farm-to-table dinner, a harvest festival, outdoor concerts and hikes.

McWilliams said that’ll help them diversify the business to supplement the produce, which she sees as important to offer but not necessarily profitable.

“My concern is if we just keep doing the produce model, we’re not going to grow and thrive as a farm, because it’s just dribs and drabs and small steps forward,” she said.

Those dribs and drabs aren’t enough to stave off the developers who have long sought to build on the property, with its easy access to the interstates. Lewis once sold bumper stickers and T-shirts that read: “Support A Local Farmer Or Watch Houses Grow.”

Meinecke said a significant portion of farmland in New Hampshire has been developed since the 1960s “because that’s the way people understand how to make a piece of property profitable.”

He added: “If all we do is produce vegetables, we’re always going to be fighting against that.”

So that’s why they’ll try to make Lewis Farm a destination for agritourism, selling the notion of local, sustainable agriculture and hopefully some tomatoes, too.

“You need to go back to the roots of farming,” Meinecke said. “You need to have a local community that has a vested interest in the farm existing and will think about going to the farm before they go to Wal-Mart for their vegetables.”

The non-farming attractions may help pay the cost of boosting their food offerings, McWilliams said. For instance, they’d like to offer more produce than they can grow on the farm throughout the year, but that’ll take an investment in refrigeration.

“If we have some concerts, we can buy some coolers,” she explained.

The couple met while studying at the architecture program at Roger Williams University and recently moved with their three small dogs from Quincy, Mass.

Meinecke said the last project he designed as an architect was foundation work for the $2 billion casino project being built in Everett, Mass. McWilliams went on to Suffolk Law School and started two small businesses, an architectural firm and a law firm. She said she hopes to continue working on home renovation projects.

Lewis Farm, which will remain as the name under its new owners, was a chance for them to get away from the city, get to know the community and slow down a bit, they said. Meinecke noted that in Quincy: “Everybody’s on top of each other, but at the same time, you’re all alone. People just don’t go visit their neighbors.”

McWilliams added that she saw the farm as “the anti-suburb.”

They’ll continue the community-supported agriculture program that Lewis started and are taking enrollments for the upcoming 10-week winter season.

The “couple’s share” is $22.50 a week, and the “family share,” designed for a family of four, is $35 a week. The season runs from October to January.

More information can be found at the farm’s website, lewisfarmconcord.com, or by visiting 192 Silk Farm Road, where the stand is open daily.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)




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