TAMWORTH -- On a 150-acre farm, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Heather and Hank Letarte have turned the concept of farm-to-table from a way of eating to an entire way of living. And, with help from a crowd-sourcing campaign, they plan to expand their offerings.
The Letartes bought the large tract of land in 1982 and spent three years building their house while raising their children. They also began trimming back the forest that dominated the landscape in order to reveal the panoramic views of the mountains.
"Little by little, we started making more room for doing things," said Heather. "We weren't sure what we were going to do, but Hank always wanted a farm."
The Letartes' foray into farming began as a project undertaken by their kids, who wanted to try growing pumpkins. The kids then sold their pumpkins, along with lemonade, popcorn and cookies. Earning $200 for their efforts, the kids immediately found farming a rewarding proposition.
The family opened a small farm stand, selling produce raised in their small garden, and when their oldest son, Tucker, attended the Fryeburg Fair and fell in love with the idea of raising the French cows he discovered there, the next step was inevitable. "He told us he wanted cows, so we told him he had to do some research, and he jumped right on it," Hank said. In 2002, they traveled to Quebec and purchased three cows, which Tucker bought with the money he'd saved, and the herd was established. To grow the farm, the family enlisted the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Services to help produce a sustainable management plan and to plot out the farm, test the soils, and design the appropriate fencing. Seven years ago, White Gates Farm became one of the first vendors at the nascent Tamworth Farmers' Market, and the business has been expanding ever since.
Recently, the family began inviting kids to the farm in the summer through "Edible Education" day camps, where they can do real farm work, pick their own food and make their own lunches with what they find on the farm. Heather, who has a background in education, said the camp teaches kids where food comes from and lets them learn about nutrition from the ground up. There are also family camps, where kids and their parents can learn together. And last summer, the Letartes began offering farm dinner tours, which have caught on quickly. Before dinner, guests are ushered around the farm by Hank, who explains the details of the farm, from the biodiesel plant to the heating system for the greenhouse that is fueled solely by the heat from decaying compost. While that's take place, guest chefs from local restaurants go "shopping" on the farm to pick out the ingredients for dinner, including fresh produce, beef, chicken and pork - all raised by the Letartes. Then the chefs take those ingredients and create unique meals."One chef made fried squash blossoms," Hank Letarte said. "I didn't even know you could eat those."
In an effort aimed at expanding the farm's camps, dinners and cooking classes, the Letartes have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $65,000, the estimated cost of building a large classroom/meeting room with a commercial kitchen. The campaign encourages donors to contribute small or large amounts of money to help the farmers teach the public about local food, the challenges and benefits of farming in New Hampshire, and making a connection between health and diet, said Heather Letarte.
"We've had chefs come forward and help with the kitchen design," she said, "and other people have helped us plan the space."
Now all the family needs is the money to make it happen. Listed among the "food" category on Kickstarter, the campaign page for White Gates Farm can be found by searching for "Edible Education" or "White Gates Farm" in the search box at www.kickstarter.com.