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America's oldest family farm for sale

By Meghan Rafferty, CNN
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America's oldest famliy farm for sale
  • The oldest family farm in U.S. -- the Tuttle farm in New Hampshire -- is up for sale
  • After working for up to 17 hours a day, Will Tuttle says he has health problems
  • His grown sons aren't interested in farming and he won't pressure 2 younger sons
  • Conservancy will ensure farm would be worked and viable for generations to come.

Dover, New Hampshire (CNN) -- The Tuttle farming legacy may come to an end soon.

Since 1635, the Tuttle farm has been passed from father to son and after years of thought, Will Tuttle has put what's known as the country's longest family-run farm up for sale.

As the 11th generation Tuttle man to farm this now 134-acre plot of land in New Hampshire, Will Tuttle says he has no regrets. "I'm not a museum curator, I'm a farmer," Tuttle says.

He's tall, lean and tanned from head to toe, apart from his red cheeks and white beard. Shaking his head underneath the beating sun, he adds, "I wasn't the first one. I may be the last one. You can't live anybody else's dream, and 57 years is enough."

Tuttle, now 63, left the farm to attend Tufts University in the 1970s. But after graduation, he grew tired of his job as a salesman and says he was drawn by the feeling of "self-reliance, satisfaction at the end of the day" that farming gave him.

"The variety of our lives here, as on every farm, is incredible," Tuttle says.

"Being out in the fresh air, being tired when I get home, that's all good stuff," he says, sighing, and adding that those also are the worst parts about farming.

Tasking work

Tuttle wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and says he works anywhere from 12 to 17 hours a day. He says he's learned to "survive on less sleep" but admits he longs to spend more time with his children.

As he trudges along rows of tall, ripe corn, Tuttle recalls what his grandfather once told him.

"He said be careful where you set foot on this farm because that footprint is going to be there for the rest of time, you're gonna leave your mark on this farm," he says.

But in the end, Tuttle admits he "had to take the weight of our ancestors off the decision, they're not here to advise us. I think probably most of them died with their boots on."

Tuttle says his health has been compromised by decades of farm work; he ruptured his Achilles tendon a couple of years ago and he says he suffers from neck and back problems.

Standing next to her big brother Will, Lucy Tuttle confesses she has mixed feelings about selling the family's land and says it will be a tough adjustment.

"I feel a great sense of continuity here with the family," she says, "To be standing there hoeing or weeding and to think about my father doing that or my grandfather doing that ... is just an incredible feeling."

But Will Tuttle says his two grown sons were not interested in running the family business and he couldn't make the decision for his two younger sons to carry on the tradition.

"I believe it would be unfair of me to say ... one of my kids is going to run it. I can't decide for them," he said.

Customers and condolences

On a tour of Tuttle's Red Barn store, youngest sister Becky Tuttle, 58, points to a heap of fresh radishes, proudly noting "everything that says 'our own' on the sign was grown here."

The air-conditioned shop resembles a modern grocery store, but with freshly picked vegetables of all sizes and colors as the main attraction. Abundant varieties of squash and lettuce are lined up on shelves near a mound of the Tuttles' "famous" sweet corn. Fresh cucumbers are added as soon as they are scrubbed clean.

Many regulars recognize Becky Tuttle and they ask about her family. They also offer their condolences.

Kathleen McShera, a lifelong customer who shops at the store at least once a week, says the thought of the Tuttles selling their farm brings tears to her eyes. "I've got goosebumps. It's really sad. It's a tradition. It's been here forever," she says.

In 1956, when the Tuttles' parents started the farm stand store, Becky Tuttle says, "This place became a destination for people, where they could come and know they were getting fresh, homegrown, quality vegetables."

Since then, she says, "Supermarkets have caught up to speed" on offering fresh vegetables and gourmet products and they have competitive prices that are hard to match.

"Places like Walmart and even the supermarkets with their buying power, to buy the products we sell, they are able to buy them cheaper at wholesale than we can," she says. That results in retail prices that are often cheaper than the Tuttles' wholesale prices.

Fresh ideas, fresh backs

Although the Tuttles will not be working on the farm once it's sold, the three older Tuttle siblings remain hopeful about the land's future.

As a first step of the selling process, the family went through a conservancy to ensure the farm would be worked and viable for generations to come.

"I believe it's not psychologically possible for the three of us to sell this farm for residential or commercial development," Will Tuttle says. "The fact that it's going to remain open in someone's gentle care, in some form or another is very comforting to me."

Though they've booked showings already, Tuttle says the farm's sale is not imminent.

"This is not going to sell in one day," he says. "Its may take a long time to sell it. We're prepared to battle it out until that time and spend what's left of our energy, so I can keep this place as vital as it can be."

Becky Tuttle adds that for now, "The business still will remain open, and the corn is still as fresh and sweet as ever."

What's needed to make the farm thrive for years to come?

Tuttle says the farm needs a "fresh approach, fresh ideas and fresh legs and backs to do that."