A Nature Lover's Dream: Pettengill Farm
Liana and Justin Webb
Photo by Brad Mintz
Of all the people hungrily searching for their roots, few could reach as far back as Liana Webb, manager of Pettengill Farm in Salisbury. When Webb’s ancestors settled the family farm in 1792, George Washington was president, and the food that the family raised was used as much for bartering as for sustenance.
Today, Webb and her husband, Justin, are reflecting on their long ancestral line of farmers, as they plump up their pasture-raised offerings of organic eggs, meat, and vegetables, while tending the flowers that are a Pettengill Farm hallmark.
“We’re proud to be another generation of Pettengill Farm that is connecting back to our roots,” says Liana, 37. “Farming was a common thread ingrained in both of our childhoods.”
Pettengill Farm is a nature-lover’s dream, a sweeping 70-acre expanse that backs onto Salisbury’s Great Marsh. Last year, more than 20,000 visitors arrived on the farm—most of them in the spring and summer—to glean ideas, talk to experts, participate in events like the Pasture to Plate dinners or the popular Vintage Bazaar, or just slow down and breathe in a place where nature prevails.
In high season, Pettengill is a vibrant carpet of flowers and shrubs, interspersed with display gardens of native plants and big pots brimming with softly colored succulents. A historic barn, a romantic courtyard, and 13 greenhouses anchor the property. The greenhouses grind into gear as early as February to gestate pots of spinach and other cool-weather vegetables and flowers, many of them unusual or difficult-to-find native plants. The greenhouses are the purview of Jan Pettengill Richenburg, Liana Webb’s mother and the owner of the farm with husband Henry Richenburg.
When Jan Richenburg’s parents ran Pettengill Farm, there were no flowers for sale; all their energy went into raising cows and operating a summer vegetable stand. Richenburg herself never intended to farm, and in fact had escaped the farm as a young woman to live in Boston. But the rigors of city life and concrete took their toll. As Richenburg says, “Everything in Boston was pavement. There were no paths to the woods, no green grass, no animal noises, and no wide-open fields. I missed the farm.” And then came the final deciding factor: “I fell in love with the flowers.” She and her husband bought the farm from her parents in the early 1980s, and soon she was growing and drying flowers for sale, including astilbe, German statice, and strawflowers.
Today, Jan Richenburg still stakes her time in her love of flowers, choosing which species the farm will offer. She also assists with Petal Pushers, a group that consults with home gardeners; helps schedule classes and seminars; and ducks into the courtyard’s Order Up A Garden studio to chat about flowers. Husband Henry Richenburg maintains the greenhouses and keeps the farm books.
Like her mother, Webb wasn’t captured by the idea of running a farm. “Growing up, I had no interest,” she says. After a move with her husband to Arizona, they returned to Pettengill, where their young daughters love helping with the planting season and labeling jars. The couple plans to sell organic produce from a local farm this summer and partner in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
The more Webb and her husband help Pettengill Farm evolve, the more they see how looking forward brings up the past. Both grew up on farms and were pulled back to working the land, continuing the longtime family tradition. “We learned early on about the importance of sustainability and appreciation of nature, animals, and family,” Webb says. “We value being with our family, and we love working outside.” pettengillfarm.com