Meet Our Members | September 2023
Name: Bill Wardwell
Business: Applecroft Farm
Bill Wardwell hasn’t always been a farmer. He spent much of his professional career in Azerbaijan as General Manager for a US-owned company.
Bill grew up in Bristol, Rhode Island. His mother was a master gardener, and his parents grew both vegetables and fruit. Upon returning to the United States, Bill decided to try tree farming. He has now been at it for four years.
“I have always grown some of my own food,” Bill relates. “I started experimenting with growing unusual fruits twenty years ago. After experiencing some amazing fruits and nuts overseas, I realized I already had the experience needed to start growing trees.”
“I bought six acres of former orchard land in Dunbarton – part of a farm started in the 1700s. I don’t know why it was named Applecroft, but the name is on the barn so we kept it.”
“After years of planning and looking for land, we started planting in 2019. It takes about five years to start getting tree fruit, so we’re just beginning to get some now. Fruit bushes, however, produce fruit as soon as one year, so we’ve had berries since 2021. We’re starting to produce over sixty kinds of fruit and twelve kinds of nuts in Dunbarton, as well as eggs, vegetables, mushrooms and herbs; but our focus is on fruits and nuts.”
Bill next bought a 42-acre hay farm in Winterport, Maine, where he’s planting nut groves and fruit orchards.
“Our Maine farm was hayed by the same cattle-farm family for more than 50 years,” Bill continues. “We began converting it to nut groves last year. We will soon have planted several thousand of the finest native fruit and nut trees, as well as some rare and unusual fruits from around the world. We haven’t yet named that farm.”
Bill admits it has been a real challenge learning how to grow so many types of fruit and nuts with their different requirements for sun, water and wind protection.
“It has taken many years of planning, experimenting and plant failures to get where we are today, and every year we find some aspect of growing that we improve. Now that we’ve started our nursery, we’re growing the trees for our Maine farm that will be in production in ten years. I’m ultimately hoping to incorporate a rice-growing operation and graze sheep once the trees are more mature.”
Bill has chosen types of fruit and nuts that are not just unusual but hard to find like goumi, honeyberry, pawpaw, mulberry, kiwi, seaberry, persimmon, chestnut and others. He has selected trees and bushes for hardiness and their ability to grow naturally without sprays or assistance other than annual organic fertilizer. Working in concert with nature and respecting the opportunity to be a steward of the land is very important to him.
“We follow a food forest concept in Dunbarton, so some form of bushwacking is often needed to get to the fruit,” Bill explains. “We allow local weeds and vegetation to grow naturally, providing habitat and food for all the songbirds, insects and other animals we count on. We then ‘chop and drop’ portions of the property as needed to prevent overgrowth.“
“I want the food I eat and provide for my family and friends to be as healthy and nutrient-packed as possible. I also know that to do as little work as possible and still get as much produce as possible, I need local insects doing the pollination along with birds and bats taking care of the insects and rodents to create a healthy ecosystem on the farm. The amount of wildlife and vegetation on this small piece of land amazes me every day.”
Bill foresees a far greater dependence on local farms and community-based organic businesses as weather crises continue to impact harvests and food supplies around the world.
“Organic farmers’ greatest current challenge is access to buyers and consumers,” he says. “We need funding for food hubs and promotion of farmers’ markets to increase awareness and give consumers easier access to food from local farms. The ability to successfully produce a harvest will become increasingly more challenging as extreme weather conditions impact our ability to grow annual crops.”
“I believe small organic farmers working together at the community level to develop and participate in local farmers’ markets and food hubs will help drive demand and increase access to markets.”
Bill not only serves on NOFA-NH’s Board, he’s also an active committee member. He believes that supporting organic organizations like NOFA-NH is very important.
“Organic farmers have been contributing to positive environmental change on many levels simply by following organic practices. We must all now join together, volunteer, contribute, and support outreach efforts to educate and inform the public about the benefits of organic.”
“Despite being a farmer, one of my greatest fears is food security and the outcomes of large-scale crop failures. I want to see more people growing their own food and becoming self-reliant.”
“I love grafting trees, but getting to walk around the farm and sample so many types of fruit all summer and fall is really satisfying. My favorite farm memory is eating mulberries from the first tree we planted on our farm.”
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