Agricultural History, Great Food, Stunning Views Norwich Barns and Farms Tour Connects Farms And Their StoriesAug 24, 2023 01:24PM ● By Mark Aiken Photography By Lars Blackmore
farm stand at Sweetland Farm in Norwich, Vermont, features a food
selection that includes meats and seasonal vegetables grown and raised
on-site and hundreds of products from other
local producers. On an ordinary visit, while you would see the wonderful food selection, you might never know that Norah Lake purchased the farm through the Vermont Land Trust’s Farmland Access program from Charlotte Metcalf and Nancy LaRowe, who purchased it from the original dairy farming Clark family.
If you visit on October 14, however, the food will be there, but there will be more: the history of Sweetland Farm—and other historic barns and farm stands—take center stage on October 14 (rain date October 15) as part of the Norwich Barns and Farms Tour, cosponsored by the Norwich Historical Society and Norwich Historic Preservation Commission.
The tour features 18th, 19th, and 20th century barns, some in use and some not (but all amazing and beautiful structures), several local farm stands, and incredible views along the way that can be enjoyed from a bicycle, e-bike, motorcycle, or car. At each stop, visitors can enjoy illustrated histories of the location that will be on display.
“The story of agriculture in Norwich is told through these old barns,” says Sarah Rooker, director of the Norwich Historical Society. And the farm stands represent agriculture in modern-day Norwich.
Old Event, New Name
Norwich Barns and Farms Tour is a new name for an event that began in 2021 following a survey of local historic barns by the Norwich Historic Preservation Commission. Formerly known as Feast from the Farms, the event was originally envisioned as a loop for bicyclists. “Because it was a loop,” says Sarah, “it left out some of the most historic barns.”
Enter the new name and concept, which includes motor vehicles as well as bikes and doesn’t follow a loop—which frees up organizers to include more historic barn sites. And it is more accessible to participants who might not be as excited to participate in the whole tour on just two wheels. “We’ve seen Dartmouth students, families, out-of-town visitors, bikers, and e-bikers,” says Sarah of previous events.
In addition to barns that range in architectural styles from English barns and Yankee barns to more modern ground-level stable barns, participating farms stands will include Sweetland Farm, Honey Field Farm, Hogwash Farm, and the Norwich Farm Creamery.
Connecting with Local History
To participate in the self-guided tour, foodies and history buffs (or simply those who love beautiful rural views) can buy tickets for the event online (norwichhistory.org) or in person from the Norwich Historical Society at 277 Main Street in Norwich where they get an event map. Then they head for the hills—and barns and farm stands. “Our mission is to provide a sense of place in this community,” says Sarah. Toward this end, the Historical Society regularly provides exhibits, a podcast driving tour, and walking tours. “Barns are incredibly technical buildings and are incredible tools in and of themselves,” Sarah says. “I love thinking about how the barns and these farms made a family’s livelihood and fed them.” In many cases, they still do.
On a regular visit to a local farm stand, you are connecting with and participating in the agricultural history of a place. “Agriculture has been a part of the landscape in Vermont for centuries,” says Norah Lake, owner of Sweetland Farm, which will have a food truck by her farm stand for the Norwich Barns and Farm Tour event. “It has shaped how the land looks, who the people are, and our relationship to food. As the importance of local food grows, it’s important to understand that farms are a part of our culture, tradition, and heritage, as well as our environmental and economic sustainability.” It is for these reasons that Vermont Land Trust has a Farmland Access program to connect farmers like Norah, who graduated from Dartmouth in 2006 in Environmental Studies, and who with her husband Chris purchased the farm in 2012. Without promising new farmers, states like Vermont and New Hampshire would lose this agricultural piece and, with it, their rural and agricultural identities.
love being part of this farm tour,” says Norah, who takes great pride
in being part of the current generation of Vermont farmers. “It is
wonderful to have the history of our farm displayed out front. It’s been
a fun way to link ourselves with other farms on the route and to bring
new people out to see what we are growing.” Norah is also humbled and
proud to be part of Vermont’s agricultural history. “The agricultural
history of New England reaches back through generations of people,
methods, and equipment,” she says on her farm’s website. “When I plant
seeds, feed the animals, serve a plate of fresh sweet corn, or tinker on
our ‘reliable’ old 1950s tractor, I feel
I’ve added myself to a long line of agrarians.”
Those who support local farms are also connected to that history. In Vermont and New Hampshire, without local family-owned farms, life and the landscape we love would be much different. Supporting local farms directly contributes to preserving the landscape of northern New England.
Speaking of supporting farms, 2023 has been a year in which many farms were devastated by disastrous summer flooding. Therefore, Sarah says, there is another way to support Vermont and New Hampshire farms: on the Norwich Barns and Farms Tour page on the website there will be an additional tab inviting people to contribute to a farmer emergency fund supporting farms who were impacted by the flooding. “The tour is a fundraiser for the Norwich Historical Society,” says Sarah. “But we try to think about how we can support other nonprofits at the same time.”
For Sarah and many Upper Valley residents, eating a locally grown carrot from a farm stand—that is, from a place where they know it was grown (versus a more anonymous carrot that was shipped from faraway places to a supermarket) by a neighboring farmer—makes all the difference. “We love our area and our landscape,” says Sarah. “Therefore we want to share our stories. And when you know your area’s stories, you’ll love it even more.”
Norwich Historical Society
277 Main Street