Written by Shawn Menard
Deepening Our Roots
This season’s update from Shawn Menard, Seacoast Eat Local’s Executive Director, shares some exciting news: we’ve moved into a new office space at Tuckaway Farm!
Seacoast Eat Local is currently a team of three full-time and three part-time staff members. For our entire history (going back to our first seasonal employees over 10 years ago) we have primarily been a remote working organization. We did have an office in the Dover Mills, but it was small and only comfortable enough for one person at a time.
When I was hired in 2019, SEL felt on the verge of needing something more. A place to park the SAMM van, to store food and supplies, and to meet in-person as a team and with food system partners. I had an idea of “the kind of place SEL should be” but I wasn’t sure how to find it.
Strangely, it was the pandemic when we all doubled down on working remotely that catalyzed the process for moving to working in-person.
Early in the pandemic we had begun purchasing food in bulk from farmers who lost sales outlets (such as restaurants and schools) that then was donated to area food pantries. It became clear very quickly that operating at this scale out of our own houses was not going to work.
We became connected to the Cox Family at Tuckaway Farm in Lee, NH who were quick to offer space at the farm for us to receive, store, and sort fresh food before sending it out to pantries. Then, during the winter of 2020-21, I learned that the family had long held a vision of their farm and land. They envisioned being part of an ever expanding food hub network across the state and region, including a farm store, commercial kitchen, grain mill, food handling and storage area, and (perhaps most importantly) a place where food and agricultural organizations could come to do their work and work together.
To begin the process, the family was planning to convert a 1750’s farmhouse on the property to mixed commercial use (previously solely residential) to rent as office space.
The lightbulb went on in my head.
I did my homework and looked around at other commercial office spaces to get an idea of what was available. But most of what I found were uninspiring and sterile suites that didn’t seem able to accommodate the vast richness of the work we do in the local food system. By fall of 2021, I formally expressed our interest in renting the second floor of the farmhouse.
It was a win-win. We would get the space we needed to grow, and the Cox’s would see their vision of supporting the greater food system in action.
The majority of 2022 was spent planning renovations, meeting with the zoning board, fire department, and several other town and state officials necessary for a conversion project like this to take place. It was a joy to see the building take new form during 2022, and I’ll be the first to tell you that Chuck and Dorn Cox (father and son) are excellent carpenters so a lot of the finesse it took to get the building literally into shape came from their hands.
By September of 2022 we signed a lease to become the first tenant in the building and in October we officially moved in!
The new office is roughly 900 square feet of space so there is plenty of room for all six of us to have room to work at the same time. The house itself has more character than I can put into words. Exposed beams in a room shared among multiple staff members give a feel of being at home while at the office. Then there are the remnants of walls painted with psychedelic teenage angst from the 1970’s. Those have since been covered but I know they’re still deep in the layers of the walls. Looking out the window at the ducks in the pond and across the street at DeMeritt Hill Farm make us feel so much closer to agriculture and the land. I especially enjoy having a place to invite guests for meetings.
In addition, the ground floor of the house contains a large meeting room and kitchen which can be used by SEL or other groups through shared calendar reservations. It’s a nice space for groups of 5-35 or possibly more to come together for collaboration and networking.
Aside from the character of the building itself, there is much to admire about the surrounding property. Now that SEL has moved in, work on the adjacent building continues where the Cox’s are building a farm store, food aggregation and storage space, commercial kitchen, root cellar, and milling room. In addition, there are event fields, parking for 100+ cars, and 300 acres of conservation land in active community agriculture which make this a place where we are truly excited to be.
The potential for workshops, classes, retreats, and meetings alone were enough for us to decide “this is the one” when it came to our search for a new office.
The added bonus of seeing volunteers of Gather gleaning in the fields and deliveries to the farm store from Three River Farmers Alliance make us realize how lucky we are to now be working in the heart of the food system. The entire system is happening around us when we’re busy planning our work up in the second floor office.
We’re still new to the space but have enjoyed getting settled in. It’s been so nice to have regular team meetings and other opportunities throughout the week to ask each other questions while sitting at neighboring desks. It’s going to take some time for us, and the Cox Family, to fully utilize the potential of shared use at Tuckaway Farm but I’m glad we’re part of the process from day one. I look forward to sharing ways that we’ll use the property in the future and will surely be sure to highlight opportunities you have to benefit from events and workshops we hold as they become more clear.
The “kind of place SEL should be” that I pictured in my head during my first few weeks at the job is now exactly where we are.
PS — If you are a food system organization or group interested in using the ground floor of the house for workshops or meetings, please contact Sarah Cox at [email protected].