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Monadnock Profiles: The face of the Friendly Farm

  • Bruce Fox has spent the last 44 years running the Friendly Farm in Dublin, a business his father created to bring people and animals together for an up close experience. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bruce Fox has spent the last 44 years running the Friendly Farm in Dublin, a business his father created to bring people and animals together for an up close experience. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bruce Fox has spent the last 44 years running the Friendly Farm in Dublin, a business his father created to bring people and animals together for an up close experience. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bruce Fox has spent the last 44 years running the Friendly Farm in Dublin, a business his father created to bring people and animals together for an up close experience. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Bruce Fox has spent the last 44 years running the Friendly Farm in Dublin, a business his father created to bring people and animals together for an up close experience. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bruce Fox has spent the last 44 years running the Friendly Farm in Dublin, a business his father created to bring people and animals together for an up close experience. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bruce Fox has spent the last 44 years running the Friendly Farm in Dublin, a business his father created to bring people and animals together for an up close experience. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bruce Fox. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/13/2020 4:30:46 PM

Every day starts pretty much the same for Bruce Fox – at least this time of year. He gets up between 4 and 5 a.m., has a cup of coffee, catches up on the previous day’s news and heads out to the animal pens.

He lets the chickens and peacocks out and does the first round of feeding of the day for all the creatures that call the Friendly Farm home. It takes a while to serve breakfast to the close to 500 animals that roam the Dublin property, but after 44 years of owning the business, that’s just how it goes when the farm is in operation.

After that, Fox goes inside for his own breakfast before heading back out to the farm for whatever is on the project list for that day. There’s always something to do – whether it be building some new fencing, taking down some trees or attending to animals on the verge of giving birth. And then there’s the time visiting with the people who come back to the Friendly Farm every summer.

Fox has been at it so long, he has seen parents return years later with their grandkids and some of those young children he helped bottle feed one of the baby goats bring kids of their own. But that’s what makes the Friendly Farm such a special place to visit. It creates memories for families – and for Fox, too.

It was 1964 when his parents Allan and Mary Alice purchased the Dublin property to fulfill his father’s dreams of creating a place where people and animals could come together for an up close experience. Fox was just 13 at the time but admits he had doubts the concept would take hold.

“I really thought it would fail,” Fox said. “I didn’t believe he could make money off it. It was a wacky idea.”

But within a year or two of the Friendly Farm’s opening, he was sold on it.

“I wrote in my yearbook that I’d have a Friendly Farm of my own,” he said.

He loved working alongside his father on the five acre property, watching families wander around to see the animals and the joy it brought to young children from the region and beyond.

“We’d share stories and dreams about the farm,” Fox said of conversations with his father, who passed away in 2017.

After seeing the early success, Allan had the idea to franchise out the Friendly Farm, so others could use the model to create their own farm filled with friendly animals for people to feed and pet.

“He believed in the idea, the concept,” Fox said.

During his younger days, Fox thought Pennsylvania would be the spot for him, as it would provide a longer season for a similar operation. But even though he knew that his life would one day be consumed by running a farm, Fox wanted to experience life. He went off to Wesleyan University in Connecticut and then joined the Peace Corps.

“I wanted to save the world first,” Fox said.

He was accepted into the program because of his background in agriculture and was sent off to the Philippines to work with farmers in poverty-stricken conditions. His work centered around providing loans for farmers to raise pigs, starting with 20 Filipino farmers with five pigs each. He helped teach them how to properly build pens, care for the animals and mixed feeds in an effort to boost the industry in the small province of Cebu.

The program grew during Fox’s two-year Peace Corps commitment to around 200 farmers and 1,500 pigs.

“Everyone made good money,” Fox said. “Some of them had never seen that much money.”

At the end of his time in the Peace Corps, Fox was given an $1,800 readjustment allowance for his return to the states, but knowing that he was coming back to Dublin to work on the family farm, he decided to use it as an opportunity to see more of the world. He traveled to Thailand, Malaysia and India – and all over Europe by train.

He grew close with some of the farmers he worked with and in August 1975, he sent a letter to one by the name of Jose. But the man whose family he had gotten to know quite well, even visiting his wife in the charity ward when she was stricken with cancer, wasn’t all that confident in his ability to communicate in English – at least not using the written word. So he had his daughter Sylvia respond.

Fox knew Jose’s other children much better than Sylvia, who had left the family home as a teenager to work in the city. But the two began corresponding and Fox returned to the Philippines in November of 1977. The two were married in January of 1978.

“It was a quick courtship,” Fox said. “But I hardly knew her when I was in the Peace Corps.”

By that time, Fox had already purchased the Friendly Farm from his parents, and so Sylvia came to Dublin to begin their life together. His father wrote him a letter while in the Peace Corps telling Fox to return to the family farm after his commitment with the intent of working and eventually buying the Friendly Farm.

The sale happened in 1976 and soon the idea of franchising was abandoned and he put his efforts into making the Friendly Farm the best it could be. But even Fox knew he couldn’t simply work a handful of months out of the year. At one point in his life, Fox had the perfect plan: spend four months at the farm, another four months working at Disney and the other four living in the Phillipines.

“My goal was to work at Disney at some point,” he said.

At the age of 35, Fox’s aunt gave him a bit of advice: he should become a teacher. The school schedule only overlapped slightly with the farm’s, so in the late 1980s he got his master’s in education from Keene State College, and taught second and third grade at Francestown Elementary. Then the farm took off and with four boys at home, between the ages of 2 and 11, “something had to give.”

So he gave up teaching for 10 years. Then it was evident, with four kids – Nick, Jonathan (JB), Abe and Ben – all wanting to go to college, Fox needed more than just the farm to help pay. But Fox had another aspiration in the education field he wanted to achieve, so he went back to school to get a degree in counseling.

He spent 10 years at South Meadow School, teaching both fifth and eighth grade, and leading an alternative program for students who needed more support; he even helped build a chicken coop at the school.

In 2011, he officially retired from teaching and has spent the better part of the time since working with Sylvia on another family venture: Friendly Folks. The licensed home care service provider aims to keep seniors in their homes through personal care, companionship and help around the house.

“Whatever can keep them in their homes,” Fox said.

He served two terms as a Dublin selectman and two more terms on the cemetery trustees in town. After that “I told people that was it.” Then the political landscape changed in 2016 – both nationally and in New Hampshire – and he wanted to be part of a change two years later. By December of that year, Fox started thinking about running for State Senate in District 9 and announced his candidacy a month later, just after his father passed away.

He centered his campaign around building relationships, seeing a need for a change in the way things worked in Concord.

“That’s what I’ve been doing for 44 years on the farm,” he said.

He thought he had a good chance to win too. In the end though, the voters elected Jeanne Dietsch with Fox receiving 13 percent of the district votes.

“I just wanted a Democrat to win and I thought I had the best shot,” Fox said.

As a young man, Fox described himself as a conservative Republican, but the last time he voted for the party was when Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976. The following presidential election he voted for a third party candidate by the name of John Anderson and has been to the left ever since. Now he refers to himself as a “flaming liberal.”

As for another election run in his future?

“My political career is over,” Fox said. Instead he is using his energy to back candidates, like he did for Michael Bennett leading up to the New Hampshire Primary.

Fox said this year the farm has been busier than in the recent past with people looking for family fun in the age of social distancing.

While all four of his boys worked at the farm, none have shown the kind of interest he did in one day taking it over. But Fox isn’t worried about that just yet because at 69 years old, he isn’t ready to hang up his straw hat just yet.

“Years ago I said I can it till 75,” Fox said. “But as long as I have good help to do the physical work, I can do this forever.”


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