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Hollis’ rich agricultural past

Friday, January 17, 2014

For the town of Hollis, farming has not only been a means of creating revenue, but also a way of life. Founded in 1746, this historic town still remains heavily agricultural, despite its proximity to today’s centers of commerce. As they have done for decades, fields of strawberries, apples, pumpkins and corn still line the roads, and throughout the year, tourists come from far and wide to get a taste of the local fruits and vegetables.

Going back to the 1800s, each section of Hollis had a leading farmer, owned by families such as Woods, Halls and Glovers – names that still can be found throughout Hollis as surviving generations followed their parents into agriculture. Neighborhood boys would learn the basics of agriculture by working with these farmers, and during the strawberry picking season, younger kids could earn spending money by picking berries for a few pennies per quart. Strawberries remain a large part of Hollis’ farming culture, as evidenced by the annual Strawberry Festival held every June.

Although it’s mostly fruits and vegetables that remain today, dairy played a large role in Hollis’ agricultural past. Cows were brought over from Europe, and kept by families primarily for their own needs. With the invention of steam and gas engines in the early 1900s, farmers were able to specialize and start providing milk to close towns, such as Nashua and Boston. Eventually, cows were such a significant presence in the community that two-day drives were required to move all the cattle to summer pastures in Wilton and Hillsboro. Farms like Bell Farm off Dow Road, owned by the Halls, specialized in Ayrshire cows and even had their own dairy and bottling plant.

Poultry farming was also a significant part of Hollis agriculture in times past. Every home was known to have their own coop, providing eggs and poultry meat for local families. Henry Wilson is remembered in Hollis for helping turn family poultry farming into a business, creating chicken coops capable of holding 600 hens. Many of these chicken coops still survive in Hollis today. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment was the eradication of diseases in chickens, which allowed commercial farmers to buy chicks in bulk without fear of losing these valuable commodities to illness.

Today, Hollis is probably best known for its prized orchards. Placed with good soil and elevation, parts of Hollis contain the perfect grounds to grow deliciously sweet apples. Apple trees started off as something to line the border of fields for farmers, but soon became a very important part of the town’s agricultural industry. By the late 1800s, much of the land around the center of Hollis was devoted to growing apples. It wasn’t long before apples were shipped to Boston, and then, as far away as England.

Gone are the days when local orchards grew mostly Baldwin and Delicious apples on large, ball-shaped trees. Now, you will find a wide range of apple varieties, including Macintosh, Cortland, Jonamac, Zester, Macoun, Mutsu, Fuji and Spies, plus new favorites like Gala and Honeycrisp. Many of these are now grown on trellised dwarf and semi-dwarf trees that produce more apples and better color. And rather than neighborhood boys (who are now attending school), most of these are now self-picked or harvested by migratory labor.

Despite these changes, Hollis’ rich farming history continues to grow. As a case in point, one of its own, Trevor Hardy, was recently named the winner of the Young Farmer Achievement award by the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation. Hardy is the sixth generation of the Hardy family to operate Brookdale Fruit Farm, the largest wholesale grower in New Hampshire. The award recognizes young farmers in the state, age 18-35, who have excelled in their farming operation and exhibit superior leadership abilities, based upon a combination of their agricultural operation’s growth, Farm Bureau and community leadership. Hardy will represent New Hampshire at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, in this month.

Of the people who visit Hollis farm stands for locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, many may not be aware of its rich agricultural history. Readers who want to learn more may want to visit the Always Ready Engine House, or the Wheeler House. Both are maintained by the Hollis Historical Society to help record the town’s history, and keep its agricultural past alive for generations to come.

This article was written by Lauria Patz, of the Hollis Agricultural Commission. To learn more about the commission, visit www.hollisag.org.

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