The Putnam Farm–November 2012

As many of you  remember, we purchased the Putnam Farm and Homestead in Cornish back in May. It isn’t an exercise in empire-building, we just needed the land to continue what we currently do. We currently beg, borrow and lease about 35% of the tillable acreage we currently farm, so to secure a land base we bought the farm–both literally and (somewhat) figuratively.  Lots of  folks ask us about it, and what our plans are for its future.  Perhaps this blog will address those questions.

First and foremost, the Putnam Farm will be an exercise in restoration, not just in the buildings but the fields and woodlot as well.

The house presents a special set of problems.  If done properly, it alone could be a separate project in terms of finance and time. Our goal was to stabilize it from decay, which we have pretty well done. First, some electrical work (in terms of new panels and wiring) had to be completed in order for our insurance company to view the house as insurable. That was completed early in the summer, at the same time the water from the dug well was restored. The plumbing was solid and presented no big surprises when we finally pressurized the system.  After we did an inspection of all the chimneys, we installed a wood stove in the kitchen to supplement the forced hot water system. Then, the ancient and fragile boiler, valves and circulators had to be replaced and antifreeze put in the lines.  Our good friend and chief tractor operator, George Cilley,  patiently took all the windows apart, scraped them, re-glazed all the panes and painted all the window sashes to tighten up the windows. In November we  had  our friends the Skovsteads  (who oversaw our farm stand renovation) help us to cap the attic so we hopefully can retain a little bit more heat in the winter.

The fields needed some attention. Steve Taylor, our local “ag” historian and friend, figured that the fields had not been turned over in over 40 years. That corroborated with the fact that the soil test showed a low pH and high organic matter, which would indicate that it has been in sod for a long time. So we amended the pH with wood ash and cover-cropped half of the land with a combination of buckwheat, soybean and hairy vetch and winter rye for the winter. The tree lines have been encroaching on the field for a couple of generations, so much brush work will be done this winter. Hopefully, we will additionally clear two acres of field that was let go to woods.  Clearing will generate a  lot of firewood. That is good, ’cause I am sure Ray’s wood stove will be eating a lot of it.  

A key part of this farm puzzle will be trying to get water up from the Connecticut River and under Route 12A to the fields that we want to crop. To that end we have engaged the services of ECI Construction in Burlington who will deal with the permitting process with the Railroad and execute the horizontal bore under the tracks, fields and and road.  The time frame is hopefully early winter, and if  it does come to pass,  we may start limited cropping there in 2013.

After much research and soul-searching, we decided to take the barn down. The  barn dimension is 120 x 34 and is actually two separate  40 x 34  English post and beam barns connected with timbers to make one barn.  It has historical connection and value to the property.  But it is in need of extensive foundation work, and one gable end that has been exposed to weather has suffered a great deal of rot in the framing timbers.  Because of a compromised foundation, the frame is shifting to the south.  We engaged former barn and Ag structures Specialist John Porter from UNH as well as local framing guru Leo Maslan to assess the needed work. Ultimately, it looked like a big money pit that really wouldn’t give us a serviceable structure that we could actually use or need.  If left without the needed immediate  reparation,  it will be sufficiently compromised and might come down under snow load in the near future. Additionally, it may  be viewed  in legal terms as an “attractive nuisance,” and as such presents us with a potential liability issue. So Ken Epworth and his crew at the The Barn People, LLC in Windsor, Vermont  are going to take it down and dismantle it, marrying parts of the two frames into one good frame, saving any additional materials that might be recycled to future job sites, burn the waste and remove all  cement and foundation rock. That will give us room  in the future to  put up some appropriate barn or storage structure that we can actually  use, and at the very least give us another 1/2 acre of land to crop.

This is a highly visible property, and we know that because we are frequently asked questions about what is going on and what our plans there are. If you have an interest or question about the property, please feel free to contact us  at  Happy Thanksgiving.