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Cafe/farm's success brings concerns in Wilton

Union Leader Correspondent

December 15. 2013 6:36PM
Barista Derek Fimbel doesn't mind that the Hilltop Caf in Wilton has become a busy place, but some neighbors are worried the caf is becoming too busy for their neighborhood. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER PHOTO)

WILTON — In many towns across the Granite State, there's concern that housing developments are threatening local farms, but on Abbott Hill some folks are worried that the local farm is threatening their way of life.

In 1986, the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, the first community supported agriculture (CSA) farm in New Hampshire, was established at the top of Abbott Hill by Anthony Graham, Lincoln Geiger and Trauger Groh. The idea behind the CSA was to have the people who enjoyed the fruits of the farmers' labor help subsidize that labor by buying memberships that would entitle them to shares of the crops come harvest time. The idea took off in Wilton, and the farm has remained a constant presence on the hill ever since.

In recent years, there have been a few changes at the farm. There's now a small retail space in one of the barns where milk, vegetables and other products are sold, and the old farmhouse has been turned into a café. The amount of agricultural land available for use by the farm has also grown due to local conservation efforts by local residents and preservation groups.

"The nature of farming is changing," said farmer Andrew Kennedy, who was brought on board by Geiger and Graham. Groh has retired.

"In the old days, we used to produce commodities and ship them off," said Kennedy. "Today we have to be creative, and that's where the farm store and the café come in."

But neighbors Mark Hastings and Sandy Fisher said the changes at the farm are making them nervous about the future.

Water usage complaints

Hastings' said that as the amount of land available for agriculture by the farm has increased, so has the use of water for irrigation on top of the hill. Some people in the area are experiencing reduced water pressure or dry wells, and they believe the farm is the culprit.

"I can't prove that the water issues are related to the farm, but it seems strange that the sudden decrease in the water levels would coincide with the increase in irrigation at the farm," said Hastings.

But Kennedy said that according to other neighbors, water levels on the hill have often been erratic and that town wells could be drawing down the water supply. Kennedy also said that the state Department of Environmental Services studied the farm's water usage and determined that it was so low that many of the state's regulations for irrigation didn't apply.

Keith Badger, who lives next door to the farm, said that instead of pointing fingers at the farmers for their dry wells, neighbors should be looking down the hill at Monadnock Mountain Spring Water as a possible cause for dry wells and low water pressure.

"I'm mystified as to why that question hasn't been asked," Badger said.

But it's not just the water that has some folks worried, said Fisher. It's the expansion of the café from 14 to 24 seats through a variance granted by the zoning board last week, an extension of weekend hours, and the traffic that may accompany that expansion.

"The café has become too successful," said Fisher, who has lived on Abbott Hill for 15 years.

A center of commerce

Fisher said she and her husband moved to the area because it was a peaceful, rural setting that gave them an escape from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. But as the café grows, and the farm expands, Fisher said she's worried that her haven on the hill is becoming a center of commerce. She also said there was a concert held at the farm over the summer and more than 90 cars were parked on the side of the road.

"We're inviting in traffic that doesn't belong in a rural neighborhood," she said. "Why can't they bring the café downtown where all the residents can share in the experience?"

Kennedy said the traffic concerns were misdirected. There are two private schools on Abbott Hill Road, including High Mowing and Pine Hill Waldorf that create some traffic, but paving of dirt roads in the area have created shortcuts through the neighborhood for people on their way to and from work.

"The farm shouldn't be getting the rap for people speeding to other places," he said.

Badger said he loves having the café right next door and loves that local food is available within walking distance.

"It's nice to have these little places in the community where people can meet and talk to each other," he said.

Hastings, however, fears that if the farm's commercial operations are allowed to grow unrestricted, while the use of water for irrigation continues, he will no longer live in the rural neighborhood he desired when he moved to Abbott Hill.

"It's been a gradual takeover of this whole section of Wilton," he said.

Hastings would like to see a traffic study conducted to monitor traffic on Abbott Hill and would like to see the farm use more efficient irrigation methods.

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