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The last of the last of Noda Farm’s blueberries

  • Dylan LaClair, 8, of Claremont, eats blueberries while picking with his mother and grandfather at Noda Farm in Meriden, N.H., Friday, August 23, 2019. Laura Salas, Dylan's mom, said her father was visiting from Costa Rica: "He loves blueberries." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • "Even I retired," said Maurice LeBlanc while picking the season's last blueberries at the Noda Farm in Meriden, N.H., Friday, August 23, 2019. "So I guess they have a right to as well," he said of Kesaya Noda, and Chris Dye, of Meriden, who are closing the pick-your-own blueberry patch planted in the 1980s by Noda's parents, Lafayette and Mayme Noda. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kesaya Noda holds photographs of her parents, Mayme Noda, left, and Lafayette Noda, right, Friday, August 23, 2019, taken as they planted blueberries on their farm in Meriden, N.H., in the mid-1980s. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Maurice LeBlanc, left, said he and his wife Connie, right, of Lebanon, N.H., pick about 20 pounds of blueberries a year, and the Noda Farm in Meriden, N.H., is their favorite place to go, Friday, August 23, 2019. "They're so good, and you can use them in so many different ways," he said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kesaya E. Noda, left, and her husband, Chris Dye, of Meriden, N.H., are retiring from managing the pick-your-own blueberry farm planted by Noda's parents in the mid-1980s after this season. They are talking with Edgewater Farm about managing the berry patch next year. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 27, 2019

With grasshoppers zigzagging among the bushes and a light wind sifting through the pine trees, the last of the pickers prowled for blueberries — enough for a pie, maybe, or a batch of muffins — at Noda Farm in Meriden last week. The berries, tiny and sweet or fat and juicy, hidden beneath leaves or clustered on tips of hard-to-reach branches, were not just the last of the blueberries but the last of the last of the blueberries.

After nearly 40 years, the pick-your-own farm is closing this month.

For the family who has tended the farm for decades, as well as the visitors who’ve returned year after year to fill buckets and baskets with berries destined for pancakes and cobblers and jams, saying goodbye won’t be easy.

“I’m not really a major farmer, but I’m emotionally so grateful for those blueberries,” said Kesaya E. Noda, who runs the farm with her husband, Christopher Dye. “They give such joy to everybody.”

Testament to that is a notebook Noda recently placed near the pay station at the farm, for visitors to share parting words and memories. Filling more than 40 pages, the notes range from the straightforward to the sentimental: “I have been coming here since my kids were little — the oldest is now 24. Thanks for the memories,” says one, punctuated with a drawing of a heart. “Thanks for the opportunity to teach our children how nature provides, with a little help. Thanks for the everlasting taste of summer,” reads another.

Noda and Dye, who plan to continue operating the cut-your-own Christmas tree operation portion of the business until the four acres of trees are gone, have heard similar expressions from visitors as they direct them to the field or tally up their purchases. Last week, a woman fought back tears as she told them, “This is my happy place,” Noda said.

Before it was a “happy place” for many people, Noda Farm was a practical venture. As Noda’s father, Lafayette Noda, a biochemist at Dartmouth Medical School, neared retirement, his wife, Mayme, encouraged him to find a new passion.

“My mom said, ‘You’ll go berserk if you don’t have something to do,’ ” recalled Noda, 68.

In the early ’70s, with the help of Noda and her brother, David, the couple planted a few rows of blueberry bushes and a few rows of Christmas tree seedlings. Over the years, the farm grew to encompass 4 acres of trees and 2 acres of blueberry bushes and became a beloved destination for area families.

The Noda siblings marvel now at the generosity of spirit and neighborly bonds that allowed the farm to flourish.

Both children of Japanese immigrants in California, Lafayette and Mayme both spent time in Japanese internment camps during World War II. Kesaya Noda recalls how her mother would call ahead to get prices in California before visiting stores to ensure shop owners didn’t raise the price when they saw her face. When the Nodas arrived in New Hampshire with their children in 1959, they faced various forms of prejudice. When Mayme brought Kesaya and David to school for the first time, she had to ask if the teacher would teach Japanese children.

“I think we were the first Asians our classmates had ever seen, including on television,” Noda recalled.

Those tense beginnings didn’t stop the couple from putting down deep roots in the community. “When I think of the way they lived their lives after that ...” said Noda, trailing off.

“I think we kind of grew up in an extended family. There was always room at the table,” said David Noda, 66, who was visiting last week from New York City, with his wife, Kay, and who hopes to relocate to the farm in the coming months.

As the farm began to take shape, that extended family was often tapped for chores. “My mom and dad always felt free to ask for help because they helped so many people,” Noda said.

And with the growth of the farm, the “family” continued to grow.

“I think what’s different about this place and why people love it, is my parents did it in a spirit of hospitality,” said Noda, who returned to the farm in 2003 and now lives in an apartment her parents built above the barn. “I think it’s kind of an Eden out there.”

The farm also allowed the family to connect with other Japanese-Americans from around New England, who every year would come to help plant Christmas trees and then linger around the dinner table, sharing stories and laughing.

Mayme Noda, who was known for the treats she whipped up with fresh blueberries, her involvement in all sorts of social justice causes and her candid way of asking questions, died in 2006. Lafayette, a deep thinker whose mind and body were always in motion and who continued running the farm until he was 92, died in 2013 at the age of 98.

Noda, a writer, and Dye, a retired lawyer, have been running the farm since 2008. Giving it up has been a difficult decision, they said, but the workload has become too much for them. They are currently talking with Edgewater Farm about taking over the 1,400 plants.

Last Friday, pickings were slim and Noda was turning people away, but a few visitors persisted in scavenging berries, including some people finding the farm for the first time.

“The setting could not be more beautiful,” said McKenna Johansen, of Lebanon, who was picking with her friend, Tracy Masterson, also of Lebanon, and their young children. “I’m sad it’s their last year.”

Johansen and her 3-year-old son, Jack, had found enough berries to fill a small pail, and Johansen was hoping to make blueberry muffins or pancakes. But she was uncertain that plan would come to fruition. Looking at Jack, she said, “They’ll probably be half gone by the time we get home.”

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

Correction: The late Mayme Noda, who lived in Meriden, experienced racial discrimination from shop owners while she was living in California. An earlier version of this story was incorrect about where that discrimination occurred.