Great Brook Farm in Walpole, N.H.(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Great Brook Farm in Walpole, N.H. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Wednesday November 21, 2012

WALPOLE, N.H. -- Great Brook Farm has been owned by the Graves family since 1761.

And the descendants of those early dairy farmers have gone to great lengths to ensure part of that land will be protected forever.

More than 250 years after Peter Graves' ancestors first purchased the property, a portion of the local landmark will now be safeguarded for future generations that want to use it thanks to a conservation easement purchase by the Monadnock Conservancy.

Graves is the ninth-generation family member to earn on living on the farm and he wanted to preserve some of it for family members years from now.

Graves is the owner and primary operator of the farm while his parents, Bob and May Graves, and his sister, Cindy Graves Westover, are all heavily involved in the business as well. Westover runs the Milkhouse -- the family's farmhouse that was started three years ago -- and her son (the 10th generation) runs the sugaring operation on the farm during the spring.

"It's kind of a relief," Westover said. "I'm just glad we were able to do it."

She said Graves was paid money by the Monadnock Conservancy, which released a statement saying the protected land is a blend of woods, pastures and crop fields -- which is pretty typical of the New Hampshire countryside in the Connecticut River Valley.

Peter Graves could not be reached for comment.

Katrina Farmer, communications manager for the conservancy, said in a statement that Great Brook flows through the heart of the property and it has a popular snowmobile trail. The statement said the conservation easement guarantees the public will have access to it during snowmobiling season.

The easement, according to the Conservancy, covers 34.6 acres of the farm and is the first phase of a multi-year effort to conserve Great Brook Farm. Westover said the Conservancy also acquired an option to purchase an additional conservation easement on another 60 acres if sufficient funds are raised by 2015.

According to Farmer, an adjacent landowner whose fields are used by Great Brook Farm for growing corn and hay has also pledged to donate a conservation easement in the near future. The project has the potential to protect nearly 170 acres of contiguous farmland within three years.

The communications manager added that Great Brook Farm is primarily a dairy operation, but it's significant acreage is also needed to grow the corn and hay to feed the cows as well as to have space to perform all the other operations associated with more traditional farming practices.

Walpole funded the project's transaction costs through its conservation commission.

"It's important just for the atmosphere of the town," said Tom Beaudry, chairman of the conservation commission. "It's a rural town and we don't want to see it all get developed. ... I'd like to see more (agricultural) land protected."

He added that the Graves family is well known in town.

Funding for the easement purchase came from the 1772 Foundation -- an organization dedicated to preserving land and buildings with significant American history -- and from many individuals, local businesses and other private donors.

Founded in 1989, The Monadnock Conservancy is an accredited land trust and the only one dedicated exclusively to the 35 towns in the Monadnock region of southwestern New Hampshire. Its mission is to work with communities and landowners to conserve the region's natural resources, wild and working lands, rural character and scenic beauty.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.