By Jennifer Solis
---- — NEWBURY — Think globally, act locally — so the saying goes. But for one Newbury farmer it’s more than mere words — it’s a blueprint for how he runs his business and lives his life.
Compelled by a belief that saving local farmland for farming is good for the New England region, Matt Kozazcki, owner of Tendercrop Farm, Inc. on High Road, recently purchased one of the oldest family-owned farms in the country — the Tuttle Farm in Dover, N.H.
After 375 years of tilling the soil on Dover Point that lies between the Bellamy and Piscataqua rivers, the Tuttle family put their farm up for sale in July 2010. The asking price was $3.35 million.
In October Kozazcki paid $1.25 million for the 135-acre parcel, which includes a 10,000-square-foot farm stand built in 1987 adjoining the original New England-style red barn.
Although the land has been idle for a while, Kozazcki hopes to have the place ready for the public and operating under the name Tendercrop at the Red Barn by mid-December.
In September he also entered into a lease to purchase the 165 acres known as Pikul Farm in Rowley, which he eventually hopes to transform into Tendercrop Farm, Dairy and Beef.
Despite a spate of public debate over the past month regarding reports of cows in distress after separation from their calves at the former Sunshine Dairy Farm (where Kozazcki raises black Angus cattle) he emphasized that currently he runs strictly a beef — not a dairy — operation. The Pikul Farm, which has been a hay-only producing farm since 2010, was family-owned and operated as a dairy farm for more than 60 years.
“Some people may remember the Pikul Ice Cream stand where you could buy two milk shakes for 25 cents,” said Donna Pikul.
“When the decision was made to sell the farm, there were developers interested in the land, which would result in the tearing down of all buildings and barns,” including a 10-station milking parlor installed in the 1990s.
“We wanted the farm to remain a farm — and to have Tendercrop Farm so close was the perfect match. Just to see cows back at the farm means a lot to the entire family,” Pikul said.
Kozazcki said he’s looking forward to the day when he can provide the public with fresh milk and other local dairy products from his new Rowley location.
But first he wants to get the Dover site up and running again. In addition to offering the same types of fresh fruits and vegetables he does at the Newbury farm, Kozazcki plans to move production of pies and other baked goods up north into the Dover farm’s more expansive bakery. He also dreams of making his own cold cuts and offering home-cured ham and bacon.
Down the road he hopes to eventually have apple orchards and other attractions that draw people to visit the farm so — like the original Tendercrop Farm — it becomes a familiar and comfortable part of the community up north.
John Tuttle established the first 20 acres of the Tuttle Farm in 1613 with a land grant from King Charles II of England. The operation expanded over time and 11 generations of Tuttles have farmed it since 1638.
To help protect its status as farmland, in 2007, the Strafford Rivers Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on the farm from owner Will Tuttle for $2.79 million. The city of Dover chipped in $1.195 million, along with $1.34 million from New Hampshire Department of Transportation and $155,643 from the Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.
Praising the partnership between the Tuttles and city, state and federal agencies, Kozazcki plans to commemorate their contributions to the sustainability of local agriculture with a plaque at the Red Barn.
Although he acknowledges the dominance of corporate farming in America and can’t foresee a return to a time when independent farmers produce all the food consumed in the New England region, Kozazcki still believes it’s imperative for those who can, to do their part to preserve the functionality of local farmland.
Not all farms that are sold off are turned into residential subdivisions or strip malls. With the best of intentions, more and more local land is put under conservation protections that take it out of agricultural use. The land is being preserved for noble causes — like wildlife protection — but it could be used for increasing local food production, he said. He believes it is a question of finding the right balance.
For Kozazcki, 53, being a farmer is more than a chosen career — it’s a way of life. In 1986 he purchased the land on High Road with his sister, Heidi. Now the sole owner of Tendercrop Farm, Inc., he runs the popular farm stand on 8 acres, but farms an additional 700 acres locally to support it.
“I just love farming. That’s all I do,” he said, then playfully added, “You’ll know I’ve stopped farming when I’m in the cemetery.”