Peterborough

New Hampshire’s oldest organic farm turns 40

Rosaly’s Garden and Farmstand founder reflects on the past four decades

  • Rosaly Bass, Peterborough<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass, Peterborough<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass, Peterborough<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass, Peterborough<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass, Peterborough<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass, Peterborough<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass, Peterborough<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass, Peterborough<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass, Peterborough<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass checks on petunias growing in one of her greenhouses at Rosaly's Garden in Peterborough on Friday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Rosaly Bass looks at bedding plants in one of her greenhouses at Rosaly's Garden in Peterborough.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Forty years ago, Rosaly Bass started a small organic garden on less than half an acre behind the Bass family homestead off Elm Hill Road. She didn’t expect it to become a large-scale operation. “

“It was a nice little place for a garden,” Bass recalled on Thursday. “It was supposed to be just a family garden. I thought I was going to write. But I kept getting rejection slips, so I kept making the garden bigger.”

Bass had married former Republican Congressman Perkins Bass, who was a Peterborough selectman at the time, in the fall of 1973, about the same time she started the garden. She had previously lived in Francestown with her first husband, Bill Riley, then spent five years teaching in a Harlem elementary school in New York City from 1967 to 1973 before returning to New Hampshire.

As her garden grew in Peterborough, Bass started selling some of the produce to the owners of the Folkway restaurant and Roy’s Market in downtown Peterborough. And as she started to develop other local customers, including Latacarta restaurant in Peterborough, her husband decided she needed some help with the bookkeeping.

“We didn’t have a name,” Bass said. “I kept coming back home with invoices I’d made up on odd slips of paper. One day, Perkins went out and had 3,000 invoice slips made up, with the name ‘Rosaly’s Garden.’ It was quite a surprise.”

Since those early days, Rosaly’s Garden has grown to cover about 20 acres on land now owned by the five children of Perkins Bass.

“We are there at their pleasure,” Bass said. “They really like having the land farmed.”

One of those children is former Congressman Charlie Bass, who now lives in the brick homestead that overlooks Rosaly Bass’s fields.

“When I first started, the Bass children played a lot of tricks on me,” she said. “Charlie and Billy must have been in their late teens, maybe 20s. I still remember how they bought some asparagus, cut it up and stuck it in the dirt where I was getting ready to plant.”

Bass said much of the land had been rented to a tenant farmer, Clarence Jones.

“After he stopped farming, I began to encroach on the land more and more,” she said. “There is a turf runway out there that Charlie was using for his airplane. We just wrapped around it.”

The Folkway is gone now, but Bass still sells produce to many of her earliest customers, including Roy’s Market, Maggie’s Market Place, High Mowing School in Wilton and Blueberry Fields in Keene. About 90 percent of her business, though, is through her farmstand at the garden itself.

“Tomatoes are our biggest crop by a long shot,” Bass said. “Bedding plants may be second. We sell them both by order and at the farm stand. After that come salad mix, lettuce, squashes, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins.”

Bass said the farmstand was opened in 1990, after she’d been selling wholesale to her local customers for many years.

“Judy Achille had her farm stand on Route 202,” she said. “I didn’t want to compete with her. When she decided to stop, I started up.”

Bass said there was some opposition when she went to expand the size of the small shed on the property. “I spent a lot of time that summer in Planning Board meetings,” she recalled. But she eventually got all the approvals required, and now has a steady stream of customers from June through October. In addition to vegetables and bedding plants, the stand sells berries, herbs and flowers.

Bass grew up in Stockbridge, Mass., where her mother was an avid gardener.

“She was into organic way before it became the popular thing to do,” said Bass, who has been following organic farming practices since she started gardening. Rosaly’s Garden is the oldest certified organic garden in the state.

Bass said her farm manager Matt Gifford, who is also co-owner of the business, and greenhouse manager Betsy Marshall are keys to the operation.

“They’ve started doing some winter farming in greenhouses, with some success,” she said. “Outside, we’ve started using floating row covers. It’s a gauze-like material where the sun and rain can get through, but insects can’t.”

She said the row covers help reduce the need for spraying, although they still spray a bit, using products approved by the Northeast Organic Farmers Association.

Three years ago, a late blight fungus killed more than 1,000 of her tomato plants.

“We didn’t totally lose the crop, but it was quite devastating,” she said. Since then, workers have sprayed with an organic product on a weekly basis.

On Friday, Bass, Gifford, Marshall and Katherine Michaud were busy with the first picking of salad mix in one of the farm’s six greenhouses.

“That’s pretty good for April 12,” Bass said, as she looked over the long green rows and stooped to remove weeds.

Bass plans to open the farmstand on May 17, and she’s starting to think about how to celebrate 40 years of farming.

“We’re talking about having a big party and inviting all our most loyal customers,” she said.

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