John and Lorraine Merrill
Farming on the Edge
John and Lorraine Merrill are dairy farmers with a family-owned operation of 200 cows, as well as 270 acres of alfalfa, clover, grass and corn for feed. Their milk is sold through the Agri-Mark/Cabot Cooperative. They are "farming on the edge," as the Stuart Farm is located in a rapidly growing community just one hour away from Boston. John and Lorraine's son, Nathan, who has a degree in Agricultural Economics and Business Management from Cornell, is also involved with state and local farmland protection efforts. He joined the partnership in 1999, along with his wife, Judy, a University of New Hampshire Dairy Science graduate. Their two girls, Hannah, 6, and Samantha, 3, are already great advocates of farm life, as they love daily walks around the farm and tend their small flock of laying hens.
Leaders in Farmland Protection
In the early 1980s, Lorraine's parents and aunt became one of the first farm families in New Hampshire to permanently protect their land from nonagricultural development through a conservation easement with the New Hampshire Agricultural Land Protection Program. This made it possible for the succeeding generations to continue the farm business. For the last 20 years, the Merrills have given talks about their experience with conservation easements to farmers, community groups and policymakers at local, state and national levels. John and Lorraine are well-known leaders, speaking out about farmland preservation and sprawl, innovative approaches to agricultural environmental stewardship and family farm business issues.
In addition to her role as chief financial officer for the Stuart Farm, Lorraine is a freelance journalist specializing in agriculture, business and the environment. Through her writing, she educates farmers and non-farmers across the country about issues that threaten farm viability, programs/practices that improve it, and the environmental and economic contributions of working agriculture. She regularly contributes to Hoard's Dairyman and Farming: The Journal of Northeast Agriculture. Her articles, essays and photographs have appeared in many other publications, including Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe, NH Business Review and Farm Journal. She has received awards for agricultural journalism and was reappointed in 2001 by the governor to the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees.
John Merrill handles the day-to-day operation of the dairy farm. John has been active on town land-use boards and master plan committees, and led efforts to have lot sizes for development determined by soil type rather than size. His work also led to a shoreland protection ordinance and cluster development regulations that protect open space. These innovations have been copied in other communities throughout New Hampshire. John also served many years as a supervisor of Rockingham County Conservation District and was appointed to the N.H. State Conservation Committee. The family's multi-generational commitment to conservation and agriculture continues as Nathan and Judy take on more responsibility on the farm and in the community.
Environmental Stewardship and Policy Activism
The Stuart Farm is located in an environmentally sensitive estuarine ecosystem on the tidal Squamscott River, near Great Bay. The Merrills work to prevent adverse environmental impacts by utilizing innovative rotational grazing and other conservation practices. They are involved in several projects to treat run-off, including constructing freshwater wetlands and reducing phosphorous levels in manure. They have significantly reduced pesticide use on forage crops. They frequently give talks about sustainable agriculture and environmentally sound farming practices to audiences at state, regional and national levels. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized John and Lorraine for their work to conserve and restore wildlife on their farm. John received a Visionary Award from the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment for working on state and local conservation commissions and leading other landowners to secure 800 acres of easements to establish the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve System, which has led to the protection of over 4,000 acres of land under easements.
Both John and Lorraine have been involved in farm viability issues through their service on a number of national, state and regional policy-making boards, including USDA/Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program national and northeast region committees, Farm Service Agency, NRCS State Technical Committee and Farmland Protection Program Committee, Agri-Mark dairy cooperative, NH Farm Bureau, the New England Dairy and Food Council, New England Dairy Promotion Board, and the NH Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture. The Merrills have brought a practical perspective on the complex issues faced by farmers today to discussions of public policy, agricultural research and education, and professional development. John and Lorraine Merrill and their family are deeply committed to working with others to advance the causes of farmland and natural resources conservation and to promote the values and opportunities of family farms.
For more information, visit Hoard's Dairyman, Cabot and Agri-Mark.