Norwich farm moves to new owners

  • Eli Hersh, of Norwich, Vt., talks with Jake Guest, of Thetford, Vt., about a propane heater in one of the farm's greenhouses on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, in Norwich, Vt. Hersh and his wife have purchased what was Killdeer Farm from Guest and his wife and renamed the farm Honey Field Farm. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Liz Guest, of Thetford, Vt., and Valerie Woodhouse, of Norwich, Vt. work on ordering flower plant starts in Norwich, on Dec. 5, 2019. Guest and her husband have recently sold Killdeer Farm to Woodhouse and her husband. The farm has been renamed Honey Field Farm. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former owners of Killdeer Farm, Liz and Jake Guest, of Ely, Vt., left, relay some of their stories on the farm with Valerie Woodhouse and Eli Hersh, the new owners of the farm on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, in Norwich, Vt. Woodhouse and Hersh now own the farm, renamed Honey Field Farm. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Honey Field Farm, formally Killdeer Farm in Norwich, Vt., will be producing canned products from the farm. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/10/2019 5:39:36 PM

When Jake Guest arrived at the old Norwich farmhouse where Valerie Woodhouse and Eli Hersh were planning their spring crops last Thursday morning, he did something that still feels a bit strange to him: He knocked on the door.

For nearly 40 years, Guest and his wife, Liz, lived in this house and ran Killdeer Farm, selling organic vegetables and bedding plants at their farm stand and directly from their greenhouses. Last summer, they sold the farm to Woodhouse and Hersh, who have renamed it Honey Field Farm. The young couple plan to continue their own wholesale vegetable business and take over where the Guests left off, while exploring new possibilities for the Butternut Road property.

Hersh and Woodhouse’s jackets now hang in the entryway, and their aging black lab, Molly, and orange tabby cat, Milo, snooze by the wood stove, but the Guests are regular visitors in their former home, serving in a consulting capacity for the young couple as they make the transition.

“We are extremely fortunate to be taking this land over. They’ve done a spectacular job,” said Hersh, sitting by a window looking out on some of the farm’s greenhouses. “Having their help and goodwill has been super useful.”

Woodhouse, 29, and her husband, Hersh, 32, ran Shadow Creek Farm, a small farm on leased land in Fairfax, Vt., for five years, selling wholesale org anic vegetables through a growers’ co-op. At the same time, they both worked at River Berry Farm in Fairfax. All the while, they saved money and searched for a farm where they could put down roots and expand their business.

Last winter, they found Killdeer Farm on Vermont Land Link, a website that connects farmers and farm seekers with property owners.

The Guests, who had sold their popular farm stand on Route 5 in Norwich in 2016 and were ready to move to another property they own in Thetford, were selling the farm without the help of a real estate agent. They were happy to find Hersh and Woodhouse after dealing with a flood of inquiries from would-be hemp farmers with little or no experience.

“I found myself telling a lot of people, ‘I don’t think this is what you’re looking for,’ ” said Jake Guest, who first purchased a few acres of land in 1980 and expanded the farm to 16 acres and 12 greenhouses over the years.

He and his wife, who are in their 70s, are part of a generation of farmers who got their start in the Upper Valley in the 1970s and ’80s and are now retiring or preparing for retirement.

“We’re really happy to have found Valerie and Eli,” Liz Guest said. “A lot of people are asking what’s going to happen to the farm.”

The outgoing and incoming farmers quickly developed a mutual respect for one another, rooted in their shared love of quality soil. Hersh was delighted with the sandy loam he discovered at Killdeer Farm, and the Guests were impressed with Hersh’s passion for it.

“There’s not that many people you show a soil test to, and they go, ‘Oh yeah,’ ” Jake Guest said.

The Guests, who will retain the Killdeer Farm name, aren’t certain what shape their business will take as they move to the Thetford property. They plan, at least, to continue growing organic corn on one of the parcels they lease near the Norwich property. They also hope to travel and spend more time with their children and grandchildren, who live in New York and Montana.

Meanwhile, Hersh and Woodhouse, who are buying the farm through a lease-to-own contract with the New York-based investment firm Dirt Capital Partners, will continue selling vegetables and bedding plants directly to the public: They plan to open a farm stand across the street from the farm in the spring. At the same time, they’ll maintain and expand their wholesale accounts, for which they grow, among other things, 11,000 pounds of hot peppers.

“We couldn’t keep up with the demand last year,” Hersh said.

A few of the hot peppers they grow this year will wind up back on the farm in the form of specialty pepper sauces, which they’ll sell at the farm stand and online.

But filling the fields and greenhouses with their hot peppers and other crops is just part of the couple’s vision. Over time, Hersh and Woodhouse hope to turn the farm into a community-centered destination: They want to add beehives, walking trails, picnic areas, a playground and perhaps a pick-your-own component. Woodhouse, who has a master’s degree in social work, dreams of one day providing nature-based therapy services on the farm as well.

“Our vision for this farm is to have a really fun, family-friendly, inviting place,” Woodhouse said. “The name Honey Field reminded us of the sweet abundance that we want people to find here.”

With a few months to go before they can begin farming in earnest, the couple has already received confirmation that they’ve landed in a special place. The neighborhood children brought them candy at Halloween and took them on in a snowball fight last week.

“It’s been like moving into a family,” Woodhouse said.

Hersh and Woodhouse hope to begin selling to the public in early May. Updates can be found on Facebook and Instagram (search for Honey Field Farm), and they hope to have a website up and running soon. They can be reached at 802-649-1500 or info@honeyfieldfarmvt.com.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.




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