Pleasant Valley Farm is a labor of love for Robert Elwell. A subsistence farmer, Robert sells eggs from his free-range chickens but primarily farms for his family and community. He grows hay which one neighbor cuts to feed his seven beef cattle every winter. Robert also invites community members to pick blueberries and vegetables; he doesn’t charge them for his produce but gladly accepts contributions. When asked why his garden plots are spread out around the farm house, Robert smiles wryly and explains “God didn’t put all the good soil in one spot.”
Robert grew up farming. He spent his childhood on his grandfather’s farm in Westbury, Massachusetts where his family raised Holstein dairy cows. “Growing up on a dirt-poor farm you couldn’t throw anything away. You found a way to make it work” Robert explained. Evidence of this Yankee ingenuity could be found on Robert’s own farm throughout our tour. When we pulled into the driveway, Robert was busily tying a tarp over a sawmill he fashioned from a Honda motorcycle engine and a rail car. We also discovered a water treatment tank recycled as a cistern to feed water to Robert’s gardens and a military version of a 1954 Dodge Power Wagon with a 20-ton winch has been maintained to free a number of neighbors’ trapped cars in the winter and spring. Character-filled treasures all.
Robert met the love of his life while he was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida serving in the Navy. Robert’s ship sailed into Lauterdale where, by chance, Mary Patricia (Pat for short) was part of the committee organizing a dance for the sailors. Robert was standing by the door of the dance hall when Pat walked in. “I took one look at her and knew it was over” Robert said. Robert and Pat danced together that evening; when he returned to his ship, Robert bet his best friend $10 that he was going to marry Pat. Robert collected that $10 two years later. Robert and Pat celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary November 2014.
Robert and Pat have put down their roots in Lancaster, literally. They brought three bushels of peony roots with them from Cherry Hill Nursery in Massachusetts to plant at their farm. Pat also began raising Gladiolas which won many a blue ribbon at the Lancaster Fair. Garlic the Elwells grow came from seed stock they received from Steve Touraj of the UNH Cooperative Extension. “This is the last stop for me”, Robert said viewing his fields. “They’re going to drag me out in a box.”
A man of many talents, Robert is also a writer. He ended our tour with a poem he’d written about the farm and armfuls of fresh-picked vegetables for dinner.