There’s no escaping the fact that farming is hard work day in and day out, but that doesn’t mean farmers don’t have fun, too. The family behind 10th generation Great Brook Farm in Walpole, New Hampshire is especially expert at creating fun on the farm from Friday night horseshoe tournaments, to pig roasts with live bands, to sledding followed by bonfires. “I think my parents figured if they couldn’t leave, they’d bring the party here,” recalls Cindy Westover with a chuckle.Farming = working 24/7. So that means you gotta bring the party to the farm Click To Tweet
Among several big annual gatherings, the family’s July 4 bash is the largest of them all with a potluck picnic, serious fireworks display and a crowd that probably reaches 500 some years, “although we’ve never actually counted,” admits Cindy. It all started over 50 years ago, she explains, because her parents had several friends with birthdays around the holiday. Then her brother, Peter Graves, who now owns the farm, was born on Independence Day. The Graves provide hot dogs for all, a group of friends buys and coordinates the fireworks and everyone brings salads, side dishes and desserts, often featuring strawberries since the season is at its peak. Cindy is known for her huge fruit salad presented in a carved out watermelon. “We have a family friend who counts on taking the ‘bowl’ home to make watermelon rind pickle,” she remarks. “One year I didn’t do it and she was kind of upset.”
A few falls ago, the Graves threw another noteworthy party to celebrate both Great Brook’s 250th year and the 60th wedding anniversary of Cindy and Peter’s parents, Peggy and Bob. At almost 87 years old, Bob still takes pride in keeping the farm lawns nice and tidy.
The family has long had a deep commitment to public and community service and hosted inner-city kids through New York City’s Fresh Air Program over many summers. “We always believed in making our own homemade fun,” says Peggy, who credits the farm with helping her kids and grandkids develop a strong work ethic as well as a solid sense of their heritage. “I think farm kind of adds to family and I think family is very important on a farm,” she says.
Independence Day this year will bring two days’ in a row worth of celebrating starting with a joint dance party for Peter’s 60th birthday along with the 50th of his longtime girlfriend, Karin Mallory. Peter manages the milking herd of about 75 these days with the help of his daughter Kathryn who has recently returned to see if the farming life is for her.
Other family members also pitch in: Karin recently renovated a cozy on-farm apartment for vacation rentals where guests can experience the rhythms of daily farm life. In addition to working in real estate, Cindy runs The Milkhouse store selling farm beef along with local dairy and other food products including Great Brook’s own maple from the sugaring operation managed by her son, Andy.
Like his parents, Peter rarely strays too far from the farm, and mostly he likes it that way. “I knew I was going to be a farmer when I was five years old. I always liked cows and I liked tractors. I like to do everything myself and I don’t mind working all the time,” he says. “It makes me nervous to go on vacation. Pretty much the only day we don’t work is Fourth of July.”
If you’re headed to a Fourth of July potluck like the one thrown at Great Brook Farm, here are a few of our favorite picnic side dishes:
And a couple strawberry-starring desserts that are good for a crowd:
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).