Lorraine Merrill is not your typical politician. She starts her day in the cow barn checking heifers for heat, ends most days cooking supper for her husband, John, and in-between she drives to Concord, New Hampshire, to fulfill her duties as commissioner of agriculture. In her free time, she manages the farm books, moves cows to and from the parlor, checks on the dry cows and more. Lorraine, John, son Nate and daughter-in-law Judy are all partners in the Stuart Farm in Stratham, New Hampshire, milking 260 cows and raising 200 young stock. Stuart is Lorraine’s maiden name, and their farm has been in her family since 1961. The Merrills met at the University of New Hampshire and were married at the end of her freshman year.
Unlike many farm couples, John was the one who had to adjust to farm life. Lorraine said, “When I was young I always said I was not going to marry a farmer because they work too hard. But I always wanted my children to grow up on a farm because I felt I had benefitted so much from my experience growing up on a farm. John turned into the farmer after marrying me.”
Her sons, Nate and Justin, participated in farm life, and her grandchildren have the same opportunity. Nate’s daughters Hannah, 20, and Sammy, 18, work on the farm when school schedules allow. Justin’s daughter, Catherine, 11, lives 10 minutes away but helps her Aunt Judy feed cows and likes to provide input into sire selection. All three girls inherited their grandmother’s love of farming.
Lorraine was a full-time mom, helping on the farm when the children were very young. She taught school part time when the kids were in grade school, but mostly combined farming with freelance writing. As her sons grew older her writing duties increased. For 25 years, she specialized in agricultural journalism and her experience as a farmer gave her a better understanding of the topics she covered. Lorraine also did a lot of technical writing and editing in the environmental and planning fields. Getting to know many people involved in agriculture in New Hampshire and the Northeast was a big factor in her decision to take the commissioner position nine years ago – she wanted to serve the people involved in agriculture.
Being commissioner of agriculture is a complex job with diverse responsibilities. She feels her experience as a teacher and writer helps her educate the vast majority of people who are no longer connected to agriculture. After a stressful day at the office, Lorraine finds solitude in doing chores, going for a walk through the fields or visiting her parents who also live on the farm.
I asked Lorraine what advice she would give to a young lady marrying a farmer. She said: “Every woman needs to find her own way and should make her own way. She and her partner should talk about what is important to them in life [and] what kind of life they want to create for themselves and their family before they get married. Despite the demands, farming can offer a lot of flexibility for a couple to craft a life together. Women can contribute so much to a family farm, and those ways may change over time. Often women function as the glue that holds the farm together whether they work on or off the farm.”