East Thetford Farmer Uses Green Thumb for Green Farm

Sunday, January 19, 2014
East Thetford — When Dave Chapman became an organic farmer in the early 1980s, his first operation consisted of a couple of acres of land along with oxen to help with plowing and tilling.

Today, he still works a couple of acres of land at Long Wind Farm in East Thetford. B ut all of that arable land is enclosed within two commercial glass greenhouses and Chapman is more likely to be found programming algorithms to control the working of energy curtains, which help control heating costs, than mucking stalls for his livestock.

“It was a big deal when I bought a rototiller,” Chapman said.

Chapman employs more than 20 people to tend, package and deliver a single crop — tomatoes — and he figures those tomatoes feed anywhere from 10,000-12,000 families throughout the Upper Valley and New England.

On a dreary January day when the air outside was frigid, the interior of the greenhouses was warm, dry and quiet.

The only sounds heard were the occasional rolling of a cart on metal tracks as plant workers moved up and down rows of newly planted tomatoes and the gentle whirring of an energy curtain on the ceiling, which opened to let in a little cool air.

“The reason we built this house was to try to reduce our carbon footprint. So we took it as far as we could to be energy saving” Chapman said.

In addition to the energy curtains, the greenhouses are also equipped with air-to-air heat exchangers.

On a warm day, “It’s like the Amazon in here,” Chapman said. “But (tomato plants) don’t want to be in the Amazon. They’re not a plant that likes that much humidity. So the heat exchangers suck out the humid air and bring in the dry air.”

This high-tech farming has taken Chapman seemingly light years away from what he called his first “little, little (green)house,” a structure that measured a mere 20-by-50 feet. The newest greenhouse at Long Wind Farm measures 189-by-273 feet and the ceiling soars 21 feet overhead.

“It’s a different world even from 10 years ago,” Chapman said. But he wasn’t talking about farming. He was commenting on how his greenhouse workers listen to books on tape and music with a variety of electronic devices, using earbuds to maintain the Zen-like stillness of the workplace.

Standing inside a greenhouse that might make first-time visitors feel like they just entered a science fiction movie set, the farmer in Chapman can’t quite concede that the industrial-sized dimension of his operation qualifies as a radically different approach to farming.

“It is and it isn’t. We don’t have 200 acres,” Chapman said.

He bent over a row of tomato plants and came up with a handful of moist, fragrant dirt.

“It’s a very small thing,” he said. “The soil is just beautiful.”

Editor’s Note: Long Wind Farm is located on Lyme Road, East Thetford. For additional information, visit www.longwindfarm.com or call 802-795-4642.

Diane Taylor can be reached at 603-737-3221 or dtaylor@vnews.com.

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