By Adam Drapcho
The Laconia Daily Sun
Peter Weeks, the fifth generation of his family to run the farm, is depending on volunteers while he recovers from hernia surgery. (Laconia Daily Sun photos/Adam Drapcho)
GILFORD — A Yankee farmer doesn't like to ask for help, which is why Peter Weeks put off hernia surgery for years. Recovery from the surgery requires him to refrain from any lifting for about a month, which means he can't tend to his cows and chickens. So, he delayed the procedure until the pain was too great, shooting from his right hip all the way up to his elbow. Something had to be done.
Weeks is the fifth generation of his family to farm on the land. High up on the hill, off of Belknap Mountain Road and overlooking Gilford Village, the Weeks Farm has been in operation since 1837. The farm once covered 700 acres, including the land that is now known as Gunstock Mountain Resort. The Weeks family were among the region's skiing industry pioneers, installing a rope tow and renting rooms to skiers who wanted to glide through their sloped pastures.
A photo album, put together by Peter's grandmother, shows the farm as it was a century ago, with sheep, ducks and wheat thriving on the farm, with many family members helping in the work. Now, it's just Peter, the only child of Arthur and Mildred Weeks, who have both since passed away.
Although he handled the farm duties on his own, he is hardly alone, which he found out when he told his friend Terry Bobseine that the surgery was needed and that he would need help with farm chores while he recovered. What resulted was a list of volunteers enough to fill a page in a spiral-bound notebook. Weeks had his operation on Jan. 20, and a small army of people has converged around him, bringing meals or cookies, driving him to appointments, keeping up with the housekeeping, and of course, collecting eggs, mucking out the barn, milking the cows and feeding the animals.
"He can't lift anything for another four to five weeks, volunteers are doing the work until he can get to that point," said Gordon DuBois, one of those who have stepped in to keep the farm going. Weeks currently has nine cows, and only two of them are currently milking. He said a few more helpers would be appreciated, especially if they know their way around an udder.
"If anyone is interested, if they have any experience in dairy or cattle, they can call me or Peter," he said.
"They asked me if I'd come up here, I said, 'sure'," said Eric Divers, who grew up on a dairy farm and feels nostalgic tending to the cows. "It kind of reminds me of being a kid."
Divers works for Fay's Boat Yard in Gilford, and Merrill Fay, his employer, can be found among the other volunteers. On Tuesday morning, Fay was removing manure from the room in the barn where the chickens live, collecting it in buckets to be spread over a garden. When asked why he helps, Fay said the farm is the last remaining connection to an industry once common throughout Gilford.
"They're the last cows in Gilford," he said. "I'm retired, kinda, and I love the animals. My wife thinks I'm absolutely bonkers ... And the guy's in need, I'd certainly help with that."
Weeks is eager for the day when he can say goodbye to the volunteers and go back to working 12 to 15 hours on his family farm. It might not be everyone's idea of an ideal life, but it's the only one Weeks has ever known.
"I started when I was 7 years old. I was shoveling by hand: snow, manure, sawdust, you name it," said Weeks. By the time he was 14, he was driving tractors and learning all there was about farming from his father.
"Those were the good old days, if you ask me," said Weeks.
At 56, Weeks doesn't have any children to pass the farm on to. Someday, the Weeks Farm will fall to disuse, and like nearly every other farm in town before it, turn into a neighborhood of homes, these with especially good views. Weeks doesn't want to see that day come any sooner than necessary, though.
"I feel like my grandparents, mother and father would want me to take (the farm) over. Some people say they'd be real proud of me."
Merrill Fay feeds hay to the cows on Weeks Farm. Volunteers are needed to feed animals twice each day, and to milk cows and collect eggs in the morning. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)