The Forest Society is fortunate to be working again with the Morrill Family of Penacook to conserve the land base that supports their fourth-generation farm. In 2021, the Forest Society acquired a conservation easement over the family’s 124 acres of farm fields in Boscawen—a spectacular site with views of Kearsarge.
Now we have the opportunity to conserve the “home farm” of the Morrill Dairy Farm, located along the main stem of the Merrimack River just north of Sewall’s Falls and the Concord-Penacook border. Started by Rob Morrill’s grandfather in 1925, the Morrill Dairy Farm is approaching its centennial and has provided milk to the Hood plant on North Main Street in Concord for its entire history. The family continues to breed award-winning red and black Holsteins, while also diversifying their farm business. In recent years, they have added more grain to their crop rotation, producing wheat, barley, and corn, some of which becomes local stonemilled flour, and some that supplies New Hampshire-based distillers and brewers.
While cows, milk, hay, and beef remain the heart of the farm’s business, the 208-acre home farm also offers abundant natural benefits. The Morrills’ property follows a winding oxbow of the Merrimack River’s main stem for 1.2 miles, along with an additional 1.3 miles of frontage on what is known as Oxbow Pond. This placid stretch of river just north of Concord is easily accessed from public boat launches, where an afternoon kayak or canoe trip can take a paddler on a journey surrounded by silver maple forests and rolling fields that feel far from the Capital City.
The Morrill family has worked with agricultural conservation programs to buffer the riverfront with plantings and fencing to reduce impact by cattle to both riparian habitat and water quality. According to the NH Natural Heritage Bureau, at least 13 species, with a classification ranging from rare to threated to species of concern, rely on the habitat provided by the Morrill Dairy Farm. And along its course, the Merrimack supplies drinking water to more than 700,000 people.
The Forest Society is deeply committed to conserving land along the Merrimack and throughout its upper watershed. The Morrill Dairy Farm conservation easement could be our 14th conservation parcel with direct frontage on the Merrimack in the stretch between Franklin and Concord, amounting to 2,000 acres and miles of riverfront. In 2024, the Forest Society will seek to acquire a conservation easement over the 208-acre farm, which will protect the land from subdivision and development while allowing for agricultural uses and recreation, including fishing, hunting, and paddling. The Morrills will continue to own and farm the land, while the Forest Society will ensure it is protected in perpetuity.
To complete this project, we must raise a total of $263,000. The NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program has already committed funding, and we are pursuing other sources of grant funding, but private donations will be essential to match those funds and secure this land in perpetuity. Gifts to this project before March 1, 2024, will help us demonstrate to funders a broad base of support for protecting these lands for farming, water quality, and recreation.