EXETER — Much loved by the Stratham community, the 100+ year Barker’s Farm is now protected forever! Thanks to an outpouring of community support and a long list of local, state, and federal grants, SELT (Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire) and the Barker family recently completed conservation easements to keep the land open and available for farming forever.
Forrest Barker shared, “With this easement, we’re opening a new chapter – a new milestone – in the history of the land. From subsistence farming to filling the shelves at the local grocer, the roadside stand and market. Now, the protections of the easement mean the farm can continue to exist without the pressures of development.”
“This project demonstrates how a community can come together to conserve one of its most precious resources – a productive farm in operation for more than 100 years, with miles of trails used by thousands of people,” says Jeremy Lougee, project manager at SELT. “Edie and Forrest [Barker] are some of the hardest working people I know. Their love and care for this land is inspiring.”
Back in 2017, residents of Stratham supported the project at Town Meeting, voting unanimously to contribute $400,000 to conserve the land. Since then, more than 250 community members offered additional donations to help complete the project.
“From the Conservation Commission to the Select Board to Town Meeting, there was no hesitation about conserving the land,” says Selectwoman Allison Knab. “Stratham is extremely proud of its agricultural heritage, and Barker’s Farm is really a showcase for that. From spring through fall, the farm stand is a gathering spot in town, while residents use the trail system year-round. We are so grateful to the Barkers for ensuring their farm will be a part of our town for generations to come.”
A matching grant of $535,000 was secured from the US Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. State Conservationist Rick Ellsmore explains, “NRCS is proud to help conserve this family farm as part of a larger effort to protect the viability of the nation’s food supply”.
According to Edie Barker, “The outpouring of community support has been and continues to be overwhelming. Realizing how important the farm and land is to the community is hard to put into words.”
Barker’s Farm is firmly rooted as a mainstay in the local food scene, but the property provides much more than just food. It also provides access to open space, clean drinking water, steady employment, economic activity and a sense of belonging. Melody Gray, Stratham resident and farm customer, remembered her first job picking strawberries and beans at Barker’s Farm, “I would ride my bike from Depot Road. We would ride in the back of the truck with Gordy. We called his dad Smiley because he was always smiling. It was a really fun place to be.”
Cathy Lindsay, a local school teacher and farm stand staff member, added “I love it here; it’s a family atmosphere. We see neighbors and people we know throughout the day. It’s nice to chat and catch up on the community. I also feel really good knowing that I’m part of this farm that provides healthy food for nourishment and flowers for joy.”
Farming is hard work, but the Barker’s are in it for the long haul. Edie said, “It’s this cycle of caring that keeps us farming. We work hard to grow fresh produce to provide physical nourishment, but the relationships we build through the farm nourishes us all in return.”
Barker’s Farm will continue to be privately owned and managed by the Barker Family. The conservation easement is held by SELT and protects the farmland; drinking water for two community wellheads, including one that serves the Stratham Memorial Elementary School; and access to miles of trails that connect with the Gordon Barker Town Forest and Stratham Hill Park. Hikers, mountain bikers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers have likely crisscrossed Barker’s Farm without realizing it.
“I didn’t realize that I would be so emotional with this transition. I’ve been thinking a lot of the past people who’ve been here and can’t witness it,” said Edie wiping away tears with a soft smile. “It’s a huge relief to know it’s done and will be conserved forever.”
The easement was made possible by the Barker family’s generous bargain sale of the easement and additional funding from the Town of Stratham, Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Land Easement Program, NH Land & Community Heritage Investment Program, The 1772 Foundation, and more than 250 generous community members.