Restaurateurs keep farm-to-table in the family
Army drill sergeant to granite countertop salesman, to restaurant owner, to farmer and Airbnb operator. Your typical career progression, right?
Dan Lagueux, who owns Hip Peas Farm in Hooksett with his wife, Valerie Vanasse, wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dan and Valerie bought the 5½-acre property in July 2017, with financing from the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund and Enterprise Bank. Since then, Dan says he’s worked harder, physically, then he ever has before.
The land’s transformation is undeniable. In one season, he, his farm manager (a UNH Sustainable Agriculture graduate), and a handful of seasonal full- and part-time workers, turned fields of brush and trees into manicured, irrigated, covered beds exploding with numerous varieties of peppers, radishes, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, you name it.
They converted a portion of the barn into a commercial food processing room with a walk-in refrigerator. And in October, against spectacular splashes of red and yellow foliage, they raced winter to erect a pair of 52-foot solar-heated high tunnels. Those are greenhouses with no foundations, within which crops are planted directly in the soil.
Simultaneously, he has renovated the 1800s farmhouse to rent to tourists seeking a farm experience.
Restaurants need consistency
If that sounds like a lot of accomplishment in just over a year, it is.
The original plan for Hip Peas Farm was simply to supply produce for the couple’s farm-to-table restaurant, The Tap House, also located in Hooksett. Tap House staff worked a few hours on the farm this summer to put them in touch with the source of the food they prepare and serve.
With more restaurants wanting to serve fresh, local vegetables, Dan and Valerie realized local farms couldn’t produce the volume they need.
As Dan points out, restaurants need consistency year-round.
“We want to be able to grow enough spinach, grow enough green beans, and grow year-round so I don’t have to outsource (produce).” The alternative, he says, is buying from a farm for a few months, then having to negotiate with another vendor, then another.
The greenhouses, also financed by the Community Loan Fund, are the first step toward getting that consistency, Dan says. They’ll produce year-round, starting with swiss chard, radishes, kale, and a few types of lettuce, along with thyme and rosemary this winter.
Donations = technical assistance
In addition to financing, the Community Loan Fund connected Dan and Valerie with resources that helped them solve the greenhouses’ water and drainage challenges, plan their barn restoration, and navigate the town’s permitting process. Technical assistance for the Community Loan Fund’s Farm Food borrowers is paid for by donations and grants, while investments supply the loan capital.
Hip Peas’ longer-term goals include two more greenhouses (“We could get a good portion of what makes sense to grow in New England in the winter,” Dan says), a wedding hall or tent to the site, a farmer’s market with deli and bakery, and expanding the house to make the farm available to more visitors.
“It’s a fun business to be in. It’s challenging ’cause there’s so many moving parts right now,” Dan says. “But dealing with dirt and squirrels? It’s fun. I love it.”
Learn more about the Community Loan Fund’s Farm Food Initiative.