Meet Your Local Farm: Coppal House Farm’s John Hutton
The co-founder of this Lee farm talks about farming with his wife and farm family
The snow is long gone, the birds are chirping, and the trees are blooming, which means that spring is finally here. To help celebrate this season of extended daylight, rising temperatures, and delicious local produce, meat and flowers, we’re starting a series of “Meet Your Local Farm” profiles to introduce you to some of the farms around New Hampshire and the men and women behind them.
For our latest profile, meet John Hutton, the co-owner of Coppal House Farm in Lee. John, his wife and everyone at Coppal House are committed to maintaining its historical integrity with modern functionality. Read on to learn all about the farm and their pumpkin harvest, corn maze and more.
Tell us about the history of your farm.
John: “Our farm got its start in 31 years ago in Stratham as Coppal House Station, a small family farm run by my wife and me. We decided to make the move to a 78-acre piece of farmland in Lee that was once a dairy farm, with just six sheep, two Belgian draft horses, three cats and a border collie in 2005.
We started preparations for a corn maze only months after moving to Lee. With only a folding table and an umbrella for a booth, the first Coppal House Farm corn maze opened in the fall of 2005. What used to exist only as an idea has flourished into a highly diversified, self-sustaining farm. Coppal House is now home to a flock of 75 Dorper Katahdin breeding ewes, a ram named Robyn, 250 heritage breed laying hens and rooster named Randy, 15 hogs, four draft horses, two cats and two Great Pyrenees sheep-guarding dogs. Aside from the livestock, we also boast a six-acre corn maze, the first on the Seacoast, and a yearly Sunflower Festival, the first in New Hampshire which has carried the farm name into the surrounding states.
Sheep are rotationally grazed on the pastural fields. Hogs are raised on grains grown on the property. Laying hens free range around the farm. Belgian Draft horses plow and work the fields. A variety of crops are rotated around the farm from row crops to small grains, corn and oilseed. The public is encouraged to purchase farm fresh products from the farm stand and partake in the seasonal activities of the sunflower festival, corn maze, pumpkin harvest and sleigh rides as well.”
What makes your farm special or different?
John: “When we decide to take on a new crop or project at the farm, it needs to fill a hole in the local food community and work into the sustainability of the farm. For example, when we decided to plant oilseed sunflowers, we knew it would provide a local culinary oil source that was not readily available in our community. This area is made up of lots of small farms and it makes more sense to try something no one else is doing than to add more of the same products to an already competitive market.
When oilseed crops are processed into culinary oil, they also provide a byproduct that is high in protein and valuable as a livestock feed source. All of the crops that we grow can be fed in some way to at least only of the livestock breeds on our farm. This reduces the amount of bagged grain that we have shipped into the farm from surrounding states, therefore lowering our carbon footprint.
Not only do sunflowers make delicious oil, but they are also beautiful to look at, and everyone loves to have their picture taken in front of a field of sunflowers. We are no strangers to agritourism having run a successful corn maze for 16 years, so we started our Sunflower Festival in 2015 as an event to bring the community onto the farm. We also partnered with Make-A-Wish NH to donate 10% of profits through the event to give back.
This one crop provides food for our local community, a food source for our livestock, an event to reach customers and educate them about farming, and helps fulfill 1-2 New Hampshire children’s wishes through Make-A-Wish NH.”
What’s the story behind the name of your farm?
John: “When the farm moved, the name changed from ‘station’ to ‘farm’ because of the unfamiliarity of the word ‘station,’ a name for a large sheep farm in New Zealand. Knowing we would always use draft horses in our farming, the name ‘Coppal,’ meaning ‘horse’ in Gaelic, was chosen with the help of an Irish friend.”
What are you best known for?
John: “We used to be known for our delicious lamb, but now I would say people most know us as the sunflower farm. We are a farm that has a family tradition for every season.
In the summer, we have our very popular Sunflower Festival that runs from the last weekend of July into the first weekend of August. Once our large culinary sunflower fields have past bloom, we have a one-acre Variety Garden that is available for guests.
In the fall, you can check out our professionally designed and cut Corn Maze. Every year, our corn maze theme encompasses something that you would see in your own backyard, be it animal, plant, reptile, amphibian or avian. As you move through the 8-10 foot corn, you will come across trivia questions that help you find your way through or help you get lost.
Once we hit winter, our fields are covered in snow and we offer sleigh rides for couples and families. You can book a private sleigh or reserve seats on our public sleigh rides. We also partner with Flag Hill Distillery and Winery down the road and offer a special Sleigh & Spirits event.
When the snow has melted and we enter mud season we host Open Farm Day (traditionally in April). On this day, we offer guests to come explore what the farm has to offer and help provide education on our animals, oil and events.”
Tell us about the most memorable day you have had working on the farm.
John: “This is a hard question. Any day that I get to work with my horses is a memorable day. My wife and I were also overjoyed to win the Good Foods Award for our culinary sunflower oil. I was even asked to be the keynote speaker at the award ceremony in San Francisco, California. This is a shared moment that shows that the fruits of all of our labor paid off!”
Tell us about what you have been up to this season. Do you have any new milestones, products, events, or anything exciting planned?
John: “Spring is our planning and planting season. This year we will be adding some new events during our Sunflower Festival and Corn Maze. These are still being finalized, but we can share that on one day during the Sunflower Festival a unicorn will be making an appearance.
This year we have also planned to have our Variety Garden in bloom throughout the month of August so people can continue to enjoy beautiful sunflowers right up to the opening of our Corn Maze.
Other exciting things are that we will be getting pork back in May, that our Corn Maze theme is a Red Fox and we have been upgrading our USDA oil processing facility and moving towards selling our sunflower oil to third party sellers.”
What keeps you passionate about doing what you do?
John: “I have always gone with the theory that you only live once so do what you love rather than what will make you rich. When we have a new idea we are working on, we have always figured out how to make it happen. We don’t shy away from a challenge.”
What can people expect to find at your farmstand or farm store this year?
John: “Our farmstand is open year round with lamb, pork, free range chicken eggs, culinary sunflower oil and greens.”
We expand our farmstand at the end of July through the first weekend of November. We continue to offer our Coppal House Farm products, but also include local goods such as maple syrup, honey, jam, popcorn, and New Hampshire made sodas. We also have a variety of Coppal House Farm and sunflower merchandise.”
Will people be able to find you at any farmers markets this year? If so, which one/ones?
John: “Yes. Coppal House Farm is a member of Seacoast Growers Association and will be attending the Portsmouth and Exeter Farmers Markets. Make sure to check out our website for dates we will be attending. Additionally, we will be attending the Salem Farmers Market on Sundays.”
How can people best support you right now?
John: “Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and sign-up for our newsletter. Attend one of our events and tag us in any photos and posts.”