Tom Mitchell

Tom Mitchell -- Ledge Top Farm

Tom Mitchell in greenhouseWhen Tom Mitchell moved his family from Long Island to Lyndeborough Center Road in Wilton in 1975, he did not have farming in mind. “I was looking for a place that wasn’t Long Island,” he said, and to also be closer to family. He accepted a position as a biology teacher at Milford High School, which he held until 2008.

“I started growing things out of curiosity,” he said. A friend also wanted a garden, “so we made one we could both use.” The three-acre lot was almost all trees, he said, and they began clearing, a process which continued until 2014.

“By 1978, we were producing enough food for us, and Tim O’Connell suggested we start a farmers’ market.” That market began behind what is now Milford Lumber on Mont Vernon Street, but was then Milford Ford and the parking lot was used by the American Stage Festival. The market moved several times, he said, to behind what is now TD Bank on South Street, “That wasn’t a very large space,” then to the parking lot in front of Tractor Supply in about 2015, finally to the present location at 300 Elm Street, across from the Antique Coop. Mitchell said he does 90 percent of his business at farmers’ markets, in Milford, Peterborough and Francestown.

Greenhouse“In the beginning it was just fun,” he said. “Then I asked (myself) how much can I grow and have some extra?” He gradually expanded, he said, trying different products. “I started with pick-your-own raspberries. That lasted until 1987 “when the porcupines got in and ruined them.  “I decided that was wasting land, not producing income.” In 1983, neighbor Bill Holt disc-harrowed a space for him to expand the vegetables. In 1993, he built his first greenhouse.

“I applied for organic certification,” he said. “That was a new thing, and some people didn’t get it. Some still don’t.” He dropped the certification because of administrative costs, “but I’m sticking to the procedures they follow. If I can’t grow it organically, I don’t grow it.”

Ledge Top FarmOver the years, he tried many different things – meat chickens for a while, then turkeys and pigs. “We only have a few chickens now, some old ladies, for eggs for us.”

The last experiment was aquaponics in 2014 with a friend interested in the process. “We had it growing by 2016.” Aquaponics is a circulating system where fish (tilapia) and plants sustain each other. Fish waste provides the nutrients for the plants which grow in cups suspended in the water.

“People weren’t interested,” Mitchell said. “We tried for three years. It is very expensive in the winter, providing heat and light. We drained out the water and put in soil and compost.”

In 2008, he installed solar panels which supply the farm with electricity, plus a little more. The farm now includes a barn, packing house and a walk-in cooler. It is too much for one person, so he hires summer help, usually college or high school students.

Mitchell said he is a “no till” advocate. “I just spread compost and plant on it. I don’t upset the biology of the soil. There is a network of organisms that breaks down the nutrients for the plants. Tilling disrupts that.” Spreading the compost also kills the weeds.

Tom Mitchell with tomatoesHe now cultivates about a half-acre and grows some 50 different vegetables and berries, including several kinds of tomatoes, beans, squash, potatoes, a variety of peppers, garlic, and all kinds of greens, like lettuce and collards, and root crops.

“I enjoy growing things,” Mitchell said.

Stop in and visit, check his website at www.ledgetopfarm.com, or call 603-620-7302.

 

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