Organic produce, dairy now the focus at 254-year-old Shirley Farm … –

Posted: July 2, 2017 at 2:43 pm

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GOFFSTOWN --A herd of Jersey cows is grazing on a hilltop on Shirley Hill Road with the Uncanoonuc Mountains in the background.

Jim Shirley's family has farmed these 500 fertile acres - on Shirley Hill and Wallace roads - for nine generations, dating to 1763, 13 years before the founding of the United States of America. Over the years, they have grown vegetables, apples and hops, produced milk and harvested timber and hay.

Shirley, an attorney and shareholder in the Manchester firm of Sheehan, Phinney, Bass & Green in Manchester, jokes that his role on the farm today is to provide "cheap labor."

For 15 years, Jim's wife, Sara, also an attorney, operated a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in which people buy shares for the certified organic vegetables grown on the farm. The CSA is no more but organic vegetables are still grown by nine families, including the Shirleys, who share in the cost, work and bounty.

Four years ago, they found Max and Melissa Blindow to manage the farm for them.

Melissa was born in Michigan and grew up in Peterborough. She studied ecology, math and philosophy, and worked on farms in America and in Germany - where she met Max, who was born in Munster. Max apprenticed and managed farm operations in New Zealand, Germany and America.

Melissa co-founded a green building cooperative, helped convert a hot lunch program to organic local food and taught after-school cooking and gardening classes. She worked as Land For Good's New Hampshire field agent for three years before turning to farming full time.

They met while working on a biodynamic farm in Velbert, Germany, and moved to New Hampshire shortly after to start Benedikt Dairy in Bedford.

At the time they were brought on board at Shirley Farm, they had their own CSA for Benedikt Dairy, which was operating out of the educational Joppa Hill Farm in Bedford. In 2013, Joppa Hill ran into problems with the town because the barn had become dilapidated and was found to have asbestos in it.

Sara Shirley said an individual who was a member of both her and the Blindows' CSAs called her up and asked if she would be interested in the dairy cows.

"In February of 2013 we were introduced to the Shirleys and moved our original four cows to Shirley Farm when the barn at the educational farm at Joppa Hill in Bedford was closed for remediation and we outgrew the space there," said Melissa Blindow.

Today, the Blindows have about 45 cows, 600 chickens and 20 pigs. A milking herd of about two dozen graze at Shirley Farm, and heifers and steers, raised for their meat, are housed on another organic farm.

All the cattle have names.

"We generally name them with names that start with the first letter of their mothers' name. Copper is the daughter of Casey, and Claire and Carlie are Copper's daughters," Melissa wrote in an email. "Birte is Bianca's daughter, Elfrida is the daughter of Echo, etc.

"The bull calves are named by various themes. We had a series of philosophers: Rauls, Copernicus, Camus and Socrates among others, then historical dictators like Bashar, Benito, and Slobo. But caring for dictators felt dubious after a while, so we moved on to Vikings, and now world politicians."

Among the milking herd are three young calves; five more are expected to be born in the next month.

They have continued their Benedikt Dairy CSA, with organic ice cream, one of the most popular products. Everything they sell is certified organic.

"Anyone can sign up for the CSA," she said. "Our ice cream CSA is almost at capacity with just a couple shares left currently. Raw milk, cream, egg, and yogurt shares are still available for Monday, Thursday or Saturday pick ups. Other days are currently at capacity."

The CSA is flexible with all items offered a la carte so plans can be tailored to each household's weekly needs, she said.

Melissa said she and her husband feel fortunate to be "helping to manage and maintain this farm and its natural resources. Careful consideration is given to the history and beauty of Shirley Farm, and our goal is to produce foods that taste delicious and pure. Food that comes not only from our labor but from the labor of those before us."

Jim and Sara Shirley intend to keep the land as a working farm while caring for its historic buildings. The Shirleys live across the street from the dairy operation in a farmhouse built circa 1840. The original building, Jim Shirley said, burned down.

In 2008, they gave a conservation easement of 75 acres of the farm to the town and, with the assistance of the U.S. Farmland Protection Policy Act, the town bought a conservation easement on a neighboring farm on Shirley Hill.

As a result, more than 270 acres on the top of the hill are protected farmland.

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Organic produce, dairy now the focus at 254-year-old Shirley Farm ... -

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July 2nd, 2017 at 2:43 pm

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