The Future of NH Farming is Female! Meet Edie and Forest Barker

Barker's Farm is a large property growing a wide variety of produce.
Edie and Forrest Barker of Barker’s Farm in Stratham, New Hampshire

The Future of NH Farming is Female! Meet Edie and Forest Barker

Written by Kristen Flanagan

The scent of fertile earth permeates the air, as fields and forests eagerly greet the northern New England spring. Birds return, rejoicing sweetly; creatures great and small begin to wake from their long winter’s slumber and the land, itself, sloughs off the last of winter’s icy grip, welcoming the ever-warming sun. Life begins anew.

Imagine, waking each day content in the knowledge that you are living the life you’ve always wanted, and loving the life you live. For many folks, that notion is simply a pipe-dream. Yet, for Edie and Forest Barker, it’s the simple truth.

One of the oldest working farms in New Hampshire, Barker’s Farm is a well-known establishment in the Stratham area. For over a hundred years, the Barker family has prospered on the 36-acre parcel of land, which now resides in the competent hands of this tenacious mother and daughter team. 

The Beginning – Edie and Gordon

Born in Colorado, then moving to New York with her family, Edie Barker decided to go to University of New Hampshire and pursue landscape design. “I was always certain of two things,” she says, “that I would own my own business, someday, and that that business would revolve around my love of nature and the outdoors.” 

While attending UNH in the early 80’s, Edie met Gordon Barker, who had recently taken over the farm that had been in his family for generations. Originally a simple spread planted to feed the family directly, the farm grew and morphed into a “truck farm”, supplying produce to small local grocers in the Portsmouth and Greenland area; then later added a small farm stand to augment their income. Now, it’s a full-fledged market, offering far more to local patrons than just fresh veggies.

 “Gordon and I built the existing ‘farm stand’ with our own hands in 1985, and it’s amazing to see how it’s grown.”

Partnering with other local farmers, growers, and artisan chefs, the market at Barker’s Farm presents patrons a true “one-stop shopping” experience, by selling things like meats, milk, eggs, dairy products, and baked goods, alongside their fresh produce.

Barker’s Farm is a large property growing a wide variety of produce.

“The funny thing is,” explains Edie, “it’s become more than just a farm stand or market…over the years it’s turned into a community center of sorts, where people come in to shop and end up stopping for short chats or long conversations with their neighbors, or even make new friends…it brings people together, and I love it.”

In fact, Edie said that it was exactly that sense of “coming together” that helped her through the worst of times. Upon Gordon’s tragic passing, nearly ten years ago, Edie Barker found herself suddenly lost for direction. With the multiple obligations as a mother, a business-owner, and the unending aspects of running any size farm, Edie explains that she was entirely unsure as to whether she should carry on with the farm and the business of running it.

“I didn’t know if I should. I didn’t know if I could…,” she states. But the overwhelming show of support, that outpouring of love, encouragement and comfort from the community, and from the folks who work at Barker’s farm, made Edie realize that she was exactly where she belongs.

“It was inspirational. It’s what got me through, and helped me make the decision to carry on. And I think that’s what I love best about all this: the people around me, that strong sense of community and neighbors, and especially the people who’ve worked with us and for us over the years. They’re here because they love it as much as we do.”

Forest Barker concurs. “In a sense we are honoring my father, and carrying on a long family tradition. But everyone here is here because they want to be…not because they feel obligated.”



Forrest Barker Opens Up About Working on the Farm

Just 14 when her father passed, she admits that she didn’t always appreciate the labors and unending chores that come with living on a farm. “I was afraid I’d be picking strawberries, forever,” she laughs.

However, an experience as a junior in high school, changed her perspective, entirely. Forest was accepted into a selective program at The Mountain School (of Milton Academy), in Vershire, Vermont, a semester-long academic opportunity that offers students the opportunity to immerse themselves in an environment in which they assume responsibility for nurturing and maintaining their temporary home and surroundings; offering a unique and personal “Engagement with the farm and forest [that] sparks an appreciation for their food, their fuel and their labor.”

Now 23 and holding a degree in Agricultural Sciences with a concentration in sustainability from renowned Cornell University, Forest hails her experience at The Mountain School, and cites it as the event that was the catalyst in helping her decide which path she wanted to take in life…the path that would take her directly home. 

“It made me miss my own farm…suddenly I realized that my work ethic, my love of being outside, walking the woods and trails around the farm…that’s where it all came from, and I decided I really wanted to be a part of it. Now, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

The Struggle

Beautifully human, even in the face of hardship and adversity, they work side-by-side, happily, tirelessly, loving each new day and the promise held within. Edie feels profoundly fortunate that her daughter has chosen to take a place in a long line of family endeavors; Forest feels fortunate to have had such a fine long line of examples to follow. 

The Future

Combining new knowledge and technology with tried-and-true traditions, the Barker women work together to evolve, always changing, trying new methods or produce, grateful for the connections they have made through the years, into which they can tap to find solutions to whatever problems they face. Yet, simultaneously, in each struggle comes a positive reinforcement that the practices of the past have strong roots.

Illustrating the sentiment, Edie reveals a revelation that came in the midst of the worst drought she can remember, several years ago, “We were struggling so hard, we didn’t know if anything would survive. We actually emptied the two irrigation ponds on the property (dug in the 70’s with the sole purpose of watering crops when the weather won’t cooperate). But, in the midst of all that we realized something extraordinary…that the soil had been so well tended, was so full of nutrients deep underground that the plants managed to thrive. It just validated a hundred year’s worth of commitment and love for what we do. I can’t help but see the positive side to a bad situation,” 

While both women carry a cornucopia of competency to the table, Forest is emphatic regarding her own mission. “I don’t believe that fresh produce, fresh food, should be a luxury, available only to those who can afford exorbitant expense, but should rightfully be available to everybody.” She uses her experience and education to maintain a healthy competition with local, large-chain grocers, in pricing their products.

Both are committed, however to the aspects of owning a farm this size; proud of the fact that the labors they devote their life to are healthy for the environment, the community, and the people they employ. Both enjoy the same sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in knowing that the fruits of their labors not only propagate the past, but bring a verdant, fertile future to bear. Yet, in providing healthy, fresh fuel for the body…they also inadvertently provide nourishment for human hearts, minds and spirits, as well. 

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