Saturday Six Pack: Amy Bassett, Gould Hill Farm
Amy and Tim Bassett own and operate Gould Hill Farm, an old and venerable apple orchard in Contoocook. There has been a working farm on the property since 1764. Prompted by property taxes and the children's lack of interest in farming, in 2006, former owner Erick Leadbeater and his family put the farm on the market, hoping to find a buyer who would preserve it. The Bassetts were interested but could not make it work. The extremely valuable land comes with one of the best views in the region, if not the state. The Leadbeaters could have sold it all to developers and retired millionaires, but they refused. In 2009 the Leadbeaters approached the Bassetts. Both families wanted to keep Gould Hill a working farm, and they soon struck a workable arrangement. Since then, the Bassetts have kept this working piece of New Hampshire heritage operating while both holding other jobs. This week, Amy Bassett (who also works full time as public information officer for the state Department of Resources and Economic Development) talks about what it's like to make a farm work in New Hampshire these days.
1. In 2009, the Gould Hill Farm looked like it would become just another development when the Leadbeaters couldn't find a buyer interested in keeping it a working orchard. What prompted you and your husband to step into this very risky venture?
Tim grew up on a dairy farm and I think he was looking for a way to get back into farming. He knew that he didn't want to get into dairy farming because it really tied you to the farm, and with a young family we didn't want that. When the orchard was on the market a couple of years before, he inquired about the property but realized it was way out of our reach. Then in 2009 they reapproached Tim, asking him about us leasing the property. We decided to dive in head first and go for it.
At the time, I don't think we realized how big of a risk it was. After year one, we were hooked and decided that we wanted to purchase it. What really hooked us was working the land and seeing how our hard work pays off, not to mention the beautiful location. Also, the community and the visitors to the farm. The first year we operated it, we had so many people thanking us for keeping it running as a farm.
2. What are the biggest challenges you face as owner and operator of not just an apple orchard, but one that dates back to 1764?
Our challenges are typical for running a business: having enough income to make improvements/repairs and to cover all the expenses. But our biggest challenge is truly mother nature. For a perfect season, we need near-perfect weather from pollination to picking apples. We are also challenged with having other jobs. I work full-time and my husband part-time, and the farm is really a second full-time job, as well as raising a family. We are committed to making sure that we can continue to keep the tradition of the farm alive for many years to come.
3. In 2006, Erick Leadbeater said he was paying $200 a day in property taxes, in part because of the farm's fabulous view. What is the impact of property taxes on the farm now?
I am uncertain of the tax situation then, but our taxes are not even close to that. We have a lot of our land in current use, and taxes really aren't the biggest of our financial concerns.
You've put a lot of work into upgrading the shop, expanding the farm's offerings and improving the marketing. What lessons have you learned in trying to make this farm a profitable operation?
That there was never have enough time to do all we want to do, but that also we might not need to do. We realized that we need to continue to make changes in small steps instead of leaps and bounds. We have so many ideas, but it might take a while to make them a reality. Our feeling when we bought the place was that we wanted people to visit and have a fun experience. We want them to leave saying, "I can't wait to come back."
5. Aside from the apple pies and cider doughnuts, what has been the most rewarding part of your experience with Gould Hill Farm so far?
Seeing people have a good time, hearing their experiences and knowing that you/your property helped make that happen. We are reminded by the community, friends and family that they are happy we took the chance to keep the farm a farm. That is very rewarding.
6. You have a pretty famous neighbor. What's it like living next door to Gov. Lynch?
The Lynches are great neighbors!