Chet and Sandy Walker stand in front of their farmstand that proudly holds their Farm of Distinction Award from earlier this winter. (Ashley Finethy) (click for larger version)
March 21, 2012BRISTOL—The well-known Walker Farm in Bristol has recently been chosen as a New Hampshire Department of Agriculture (NHDA) Farm of Distinction.
"You get nominated by someone, and it goes to the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, and they vote based on how your farm appears to the public, and what you're doing," said one of the farm's owners, Chet Walker.
The NHDA has a set of criteria to judge the farm on. According to their criteria, the farm must be commercial, and it must have signage. Also, the farm must be pleasant in appearance, meaning that all buildings and fences are in good repair and painted appropriately. Hedge rows must be trimmed, fields and orchards must be mowed and maintained, animals must be clean and healthy, and equipment must be stored and parked neatly, meaning no junk. Lastly, the farm must be inviting and attractive to the public.
"People love coming here," said Chet's wife, Sandy Walker. "In the summer, it's beautiful, with the fields, the vegetables, the flowers and the mountains. This place is a zoo. There will usually be anywhere between 10 to 12 cars in the driveway at all times."
Walker Farm has been in the family since 1923, and for the past hundred-plus years, the Walkers have been working to keep it a family run operation and somewhere where families could come.
"This is definitely a family farm," said Chet. "I have three sons and a daughter, and they're all involved."
The farm's diversity gets the entire Walker Family involved, and also draws other families to spend time at the farm.
"We are pretty well diversified," said Chet. "We milk cows because the dairy farm has been in our family for a long time. We grow vegetables and sell them at our farmstand. We do tomatoes, corn and everything else in between."
In the summer, their daughter Jill scoops ice cream at the farmstand that comes from the farm's milk.
"We have a relationship with the Sandwich Creamery," said Sandy. "They come and get our milk, take it over to Sandwich and make cheese and ice cream, and then we sell the products here. It's all made from our milk."
In the spring, the family does maple sugaring in their sugar shack, which produces more than 173 gallons of syrup in the spring.
"One year, the kids came up with a sugar shack, and so we started one," said Sandy in 2008. "They joined the Maple Sugar Producers Association, and now take part in Maple Sugar weekend in March. It worked out really well."
Maple Sugar Weekend allows families to go around to sugar shacks and watch production and sample syrup and syrup based products. The Walkers also have other activities on the farm that families can do together.
"We started doing wagon rides for pumpkins in the fall a few years ago," said Sandy. "My son built a wagon, and we pull it behind the tractor, and we take everyone to the pumpkin patch. We have pumpkins already picked, and they can walk through and find the one they want. It's a family outing."
Also for the kids coming to visit the farm, the Walkers bring out some baby animals for kids to pet and feed during the summer.
"We have a corral where we keep two goats we borrow from a gentleman for the summer, and we take care of them until Halloween, and we bring down one of our calves and we keep the three of them here for kids to feed," said Sandy. "It's amazing how kids enjoy something as simple as that."
While kids feed the animals, parents can shop at the farmstand, which sells vegetables ranging from the big selling sweet corn and tomatoes to summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, a variety of herbs, spinach, beans, peas, radishes and seasonal items like pumpkins and different types of squash.
"We are trying to diversify, and in this area, people seem to want to get stuff locally," said Sandy.
Aside from their wide variety of vegetables, the Walkers also sell baked goods such as pies, homemade jams, firewood, wreaths around Christmas time, and flowers in hanging baskets, cut your own or a small selection of pre cut arrangements.
You would think after more than 100 years, the Walkers would have been exhausted by farming but the constant change and the variety they get on the farm, and the changing seasons keep them busy and always doing something different.
"Things are always changing, and that's what makes it kind of interesting, because you've got to keep up with the different varieties of things," said Chet. "It takes a lot of studying to keep up with that and not let it fall by the wayside. You need to see what works best for you and what people want."
Walker Farm is open daily from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Walker Road, off of Route 104 at the Bristol / Alexandria town line.