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Orford Landowners Propose Subdividing Farm

Christine and Bruce Balch pose with two of their Narragansett turkeys at Bunten Farm in Orford, N.H., on April 20, 2014. The couple is looking to subdivide their nearly 200-acre farm to create two smaller housing lots along Grimes Hill Road. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Christine and Bruce Balch pose with two of their Narragansett turkeys at Bunten Farm in Orford, N.H., on April 20, 2014. The couple is looking to subdivide their nearly 200-acre farm to create two smaller housing lots along Grimes Hill Road. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

Orford — Chris and Bruce Balch have applied to subdivide the Bunten Farm, a highly visible 185 -acre farm on Route 10, just south of Grimes Hill Road.

The Orford Planning Board will consider the couple’s request to subdivide the parcel at its meeting tonight.

One lot would include the house, barn, an eatery called Ariana’s Restaurant and five acres; another along Grimes Hill Road would include two and a half acres and a second Grimes Hill Road parcel would include almost six acres. The fourth lot would contain the remaining farmland.

Ahead of tonight’s meeting, however, Chris Balch said the application to the Planning Board had been filed incorrectly.

“What you’re seeing isn’t right,” she said.

The Balchs actually intend to create two lots on Grimes Hill Road, leaving the bulk of the farmland attached to the farmhouse and barn property, said Chris Balch. The Balchs’ goal is in line with that of Chris Balch’s father, Forrest Bunten, when he protected the property through an easement with the New Hampshire Land Conservation Investment Program in 1989, ensuring it would remain farmland in perpetuity, she said.

Chris Balch said the easement would allow the farmhouse and barn to be subdivided from the farmland, but the lot with the buildings would contain just 1.08 acres.

Such a subdivision, without some access to the surrounding land, wouldn’t make much sense because the septic tank and well for the house and restaurant (Arianna’s) are located outside that “postage stamp,” she said.

The line the Balchs had their surveyor draw on the map they submitted to the Planning Board was intended as a lease line to show where the potential new owners of the buildings might rent additional space from the potential new landowners, said Balch.

She also said that their intent is not to separate the land from the house and that they would prefer to sell the farm and buildings together as a package, she said.

The farm buildings and 185 acres — including approximately 50 tillable acres and 135 wooded — are listed with Farms & Barns of New Boston for $1 million.

The farm has been on the market for more than a year and a half, said Balch.

“We’re getting old and cranky,” she said. Both Balchs are in their 60s.

“My son doesn’t care to do this kind of work,” Chris Balch said.

Bruce Balch said they would like to find a young couple with energy and a vision to work the land.

Forrest Bunten purchased the property and moved his family of seven there in 1956, when Chris was four-years-old. Bunten milked cows and grew pumpkins. He came to be known as Pumpkin Man, according to previous Valley News stories.

After spending her youth on the farm, Chris, a graduate of Hanover High School, went on to work as a waitress, chef and diner owner in places as varied as Hawaii, Florida and Lincoln, N.H.

When her father died in 2005, she returned to Bunten Farm to work the land with her husband, fellow chef and diner owner Bruce Balch.

The Balchs make cheese in a state-certified cheese house and raise beef from Devon cattle, a rare, historic breed. In addition to cows, the Balchs’ barnyard is noisy with gobbles and clucks from their Narragansett turkeys and chickens, kept for their eggs.

The Balchs hay some of their cropland to feed the Devons and they rent their cornfields to Walter Gladstone of Newmont Farm in Fairlee, which is visible across the Connecticut River from the Balchs’ farmhouse. The Balchs rotate their 30-head of cattle through the pasture land.

They have continued to grow pumpkins, as Bunten did. This year will mark the farm’s 54th of vending the popular cucurbit, said Bruce Balch.

“Whoever (we) sell to has to keep the pumpkins,” said Balch.

During their ownership, the Balchs transformed an old carriage house into a restaurant space, which has been leased by Chef Martin Murphy for Ariana’s Restaurant, a 24-seat farm to table eatery, since 2011.

Murphy, who also lives in Orford, raises vegetables in a garden to the south of the restaurant and manages a staff of eight.

Should the farm sell, Ariana’s will continue to operate in the restaurant space under its long term lease, said Balch.

Murphy may even expand to use the first floor of the adjoining 1830s-era brick farmhouse for additional seating and a waiting area.

He is, however, wary of growing too much or too fast.

His goal is to “maintain what we’ve created; that is key,” he said.

If the property sells as the Balchs hope it will, they would each like to keep a Grimes Hill Road lot, said Bruce Balch.

The two lots are not protected by the conservation easement, said Chris Balch. In similar fashion, the Balchs previously subdivided and sold an adjacent parcel to a friend who built a house there.

Ann Green, chairwoman of the Planning Board, said she did not foresee a problem with the Balchs’ proposal to subdivide the two house lots.

“But you never know I’m just one of the board,” she said.

The Planning Board is scheduled to hear public comment on the Balchs’ subdivision request at 7 p.m. tonight in the Niles Room at the town office.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.