Meet Our Members | May 2021
Name and Occupation: Steve Haendler, Farmer/Owner
Business: Mildred's Drumlin Farm
Steve Haendler’s parents bought an old farm in Lee, NH when he was three years old. His mother, Mildred, had grown up during the depression on a working dairy farm in Methuen MA and was a farmer at heart. She was also an avid gardener and passed on that passion to him.
Steve enjoyed growing things and planted his first plot of potatoes when he was just 19 years old. He laughs as he recalls that he sold them wholesale for eight cents a pound. That plot, called the Family Garden, has been producing food for 50 years.
He married, had three children and still lives on the same farm 66 years later.
Steve started a welding business out of a shop on the farm that grew into a large operation in Dover in the 1980s. He continued gardening as a hobby until 2008, when the recession forced him to downsize his welding business back to the farm. At that point, Steve made the decision to try farming full time.
“Most of our land is on a wooded drumlin,” Steve explains. “I sold the timber and got just enough to buy some equipment and start farming. We called it Mildred’s Drumlin Farm as an homage to my mother.”
“We started with vegetables and small fruits,” he continues. “Then we added blueberries, strawberries, fall raspberries and honeyberries. My wife, Deborah, raises flowers. We sold at farmers’ markets and wholesale to few local restaurants”.
“We’ve also done CSA since the beginning. We started with just two members and built it to 50. We also do two or three “pop-up” sales a year that we promote to our members on social media when we have extra produce.”
When he started looking toward retirement, Steve approached his son, Tucker, about taking over the farm. Tucker has worked on the farm seasonally for the last eight years. A musician who writes and records his own music, Tucker liked the idea of being self-employed and pursuing his music career in the offseason. They worked out an arrangement where Steve leases the land to Tucker and works with him during the transition.
“It’s a great time for young people to get into farming, but acquiring land in this area is a huge challenge,” Steve says. “The demand for residential land has pushed prices beyond the reach of most young farmers, and many towns have very challenging zoning bylaws. Passing on the farm to Tucker will allow him to get his feet on the ground.”
Tucker plans to open the remaining tillable acreage and add some peach trees. He is also working with NCRS to build a high tunnel on the farm to extend the season.
“I’m very grateful to have access to this land and continue in sustainable farming,” Tucker declares. “My goals for the farm are to expand upon the practices my family developed over the years in soil health, observe our natural environment, and provide access to affordable healthy food for our community.”
“We have always been environmentalists,” Steve adds. “We believe we’re entrusted with the land. It’s important to keep the ground covered as much as we can and till the soil as little as we can. Most importantly, we try our best to leave our land better than we find it each and every year.”
—Interview and Article by Karl Johnson, Board President
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