Physiocrats Explore Islandia at Tuckaway Farm in Lee, NH
CHUCK Cox stands inside the open door of a large wooden building, one of seven he’s constructed since he and Laurel Cox bought their 100 acre homestead in 1973. Matching his white hair, a well-grown beard reaches from his lean, seasoned face toward the collars of two plaid shirts. His clear hazel eyes look out across a rain-soaked field abutting a diverse tree line. More fields and tree lines lie beyond—now 260 acres’ worth since a 2004 conservancy easement protected Tuckaway’s place in Lee, New Hampshire’s ‘greenbelt’. Because how else does one test utopia without protecting the chance to try?
SARAH Cox waves to me from the top of the curving dirt road leading to this tucked away farm. I’ve parked by the goose pond, greeting its raucous birds before sighting Sarah as well. A former affordable housing advocate and specialty bookbinder, she has rich-earth hair atop a slender athletic frame. Reaching her by the main house where she, Dorn Cox, and their two boys homestead alongside Dorn’s parents, I happily agree to her suggested tour. She goes to grab a jacket. Through the scene, Chuck quietly leads a lolling draft horse, grandchild astride. He turns them into an adjacent field where he lets off his grandchild and harnesses the horse with a tine weeder before following behind through umber-colored soil.
DORN steps from the homestead house in a muted yellow rain slicker and faded newsboy hat, taking a moment before farm work to help me understand his soil research: “Once restorative agriculture improves the soil, regenerative agriculture produces food, making the soil more biologically productive and an ideal carbon capturer.” Days after we meet, he’ll fly to a conference in Paris— Sequestering Carbon in Soil—to present on FarmOS, a web-based farm management application he cofounded. These collaborations stem as much from his doctoral expertise as from boyhood visions of helping farmers systemize and share their trials and errors, which is why he also cofounded Farm Hack—a web forum where active management solutions and low-cost equipment designs flow between farmers without copyright bureaucracy, using the creative commons.
Dorn attributes Farm Hack to the physiocrats, the French Enlightenment’s first land-based economists: “They believed that the wealth of nations came from soil productivity. Everything else was a transformation of that value. They advocated open knowledge exchange to increase that central wealth point, creating what we might call one of the first crowd sourcing efforts, the first encyclopedia, with experts of all kinds coming together.” Before setting off to monitor drizzly seeding conditions, he offers this: “We have to be collaborative to focus on farming’s biggest cultural value—engaging community to see that healthy farms come from healthy soil, which means healthy air and water.”
SARAH reappears in a parka and leads me toward Tuckaway’s first flock of grazing sheep. Guided by moveable fencing and followed by a chicken tractor, their rotation will even and fertilize fields, limiting the need for mowing and preparing the ground for cover crops that capture carbon and regenerate soil for the next crop—like Tuckaway’s Flint corn sourced by Vida Cantina. At this, Sarah stops walking. “What I love about what we’re doing is creating community built on friendship around this value of resilient food systems,” she says. This value appears at every turn: A UNH student’s birch syrup sugar shack in the woods; A Seacoast heirloom seed saving project on the hill; A local couple’s mushroom inoculation logs by the pond; The word-ofmouth CSA, PYO blueberries, community garden, and farm store. (Contact email@example.com for more information.)
We end our tour in the hoop house where Sarah watches over year-round vegetables as warmly as the elevated temperature in their high-curving incubator. She jogs to the tunnel end opposite us, closing a vent against the now steady rain in which we say goodbye outside.
CHUCK has a chance to chat now, so we take shelter through the equipment shop’s open door. He traces his homesteading roots, including formative years at The Meeting School in Rindge, New Hampshire, until he recalls a memorably antiquated assertion his Cornell Soil Agronomy professor impressed on him circa late 1960s: animalgrazed crop rotation techniques could yield as much as modern chemical inputs. Almost fifty years into such back-to-the-land stewardship alongside Laurel, Chuck also shares the inspiration he’s long-drawn from Islandia, a 1924 novel exploring the viability of a mythical agrarian community. Then, wholly unassuming, Chuck’s eyes track from his hand-hewn building to Tuckaway’s intentionally landscaped environment. “My artwork and talents have become quite a bit bigger in the field, I guess.” He stewards both for the land’s health and for its very shape as well. Function and beauty. Seeds of utopia.