by Katie Salvatore
The first word that comes to mind when I think of Muster Field Farm, an historical working farm museum in Sutton, is “magical.” It might be the little gnome door hinged in the gap of a tree’s roots, the fields bursting with wild flowers and crops, the peaceful lumbering cows, or that it simply feels like a completely different world there.
After a while, the sound of a car driving up becomes out of place, a ringing cell phone jarring, and it takes a moment to return to today. Whether you want the freshest produce, amazing scenery, or to be submerged in this area’s past, Muster Field Farm is the perfect place.
The history of the farm stretches back to 1772 when Matthew Harvey first settled here. The Homestead that is here today, and is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, is actually the second homestead built on the land.
The first one burned down in the middle of winter leaving the family homeless; the community rallied, though, to help create a one room home, complete with fire place, for the family in one day. That room was soon expanded into the building we have now.
The name “Muster Field Farm” comes from the activity of local militias gathering annually to drill, parade, and demonstrate; the first recorded muster here was in 1787. The Farm’s large, flat fields were perfect for this, as was the homestead’s dual-purpose as an inn and its ballroom for the social events, like banquets and dances, which came with the musters.
The two younger Harvey sons (there were seven children: two girls and five boys) were high ranking officers in the local 30th New Hampshire Regiment and featured prominently in the Muster. Remnants from these days- shoe buckles, bullets, coins, etc.- that have been found on the grounds are on display in the homestead.
The Harveys were also active members of the new town of Sutton: Matthew was church deacon, selectman, tavern keeper, and state representative. His two older sons, Mathew and Johnathan, would continue on his tradition of public service. Combined, their most notable achievements were: serving in the New Hampshire Congress as well as the United States Congress (where Johnathan sat near future President James Polk and Davey Crockett), being appointed US District Judge by President Andrew Jackson, and being elected Governor of New Hampshire.
The Harvey family continued to live at the Homestead for 150 years, after which the family of Robert Stannard Bristol bought it. He operated a chicken and dairy farm until the 1960’s and is the man we owe thanks to for today’s farm Museum.
The grounds are open daily year round from 10-6, and the buildings are open Sundays 1-4 from July until Harvest Day for tours of the Mathew Harvey Homestead and the farm buildings; admission is completely free. The 250 acres of land are also open for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing year round.
Annual events include: Ice Day on January 26th, June Jam in June (admission is $15 for those over 14), Farm Days in late August ($5 admission for non-members over 6 years old), and Fall Harvest Day in early October. The last two events include artisan and farming demonstrations, wonderful children activities, and a chance to get an in-depth look at the farm’s history through living it.
The farm stand, which is at home in a re-purposed chicken brooding house, is open daily with the freshest harvest when, of course, there is harvest. No one operates the farm stand, it is run on the honor system: a white board displays the prices of today’s produce, a scale is provided, and money is left in an old tin with George Washington’s honest façade.
Farmers are in and out of the stand frequently, though, to replenish the stock and help with whatever they can. They’ll even invite you to help pick something if they’ve run out of it, like a California couple I once saw excitedly going off to pick carrots for the first time.
Once when visiting the farm, I asked a farmer about a type of mint I had just bought at the farm stand; it was a certain kind that was used in iced tea when we went to my grandmother’s house, but I had no idea what type it was and had never been able to find it to grow.
After we talked, the farmer went to one of the many flower patches, found several mint plants (“They grow everywhere here–”, she explained), dug them out, and wrapped them in wet paper towel for me to take home. They have now taken hold in my garden and are extra special to me because of how they came to be there.
When we were younger, my siblings and I were invited one afternoon to climb up through the Harvey Barn (an original structure now used to house the herd of cows and the year’s hay) to see the sparrows who had taken over the loft dodging through the dusty haze.
Everyone is immensely helpful, knowledgeable, hardworking, and eager to help you enjoy the farm as much as they do. One never knows what surprise will be awaiting them when they visit, whether it simply be the astounding beauty, an incredible person, a special opportunity, or maybe finally seeing that gnome in the tree.