Oliver Levick and Monadnock Berries
Oliver Levick is always up for a new adventure. Ten years ago, he completed the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Rowing Challenge as part of a four-person team, paddling for 56 days from the Canary Islands to Barbados, through 30-foot swells and gale-force winds. He was a professional mountain biker until he was injured in a serious crash last summer.
As he healed from spinal surgery, he had plenty of time to consider his future. And his thoughts turned to the family business, Monadnock Berries in Troy, New Hampshire, which he purchased from his parents this spring with financing from Walden Mutual.
Fruit farming is in Oliver’s blood. His father, Anthony Levick, grew up—and grew apples—in the U.K., where Oliver and his two sisters were born. (His mother, Fenella, is American.) “It would be considered the West Midlands,” Oliver says. “Over by the border of Wales.” In 1995, when Oliver was 10, the family relocated to the U.S., at first settling near Groton, Mass, and leasing an orchard to run before purchasing the berry farm in Troy.
“My dad’s been a fruit farmer his whole life,” says Oliver. “He was in business with his father. They grew cider apples and black currants, primarily for food and drink manufacturers.” So it’s not surprising that fruits popular in Britain, such as gooseberries and black currants, are grown at Monadnock Berries, too—along with 10 acres of blueberries.
Oliver and his sisters spent summers and school vacations working in the family’s orchard. “My parents grew apples, and stone fruit like peaches, nectarines, and apricots—pretty much everything to fill up the fruit portfolio,” he says. After the move to berry farming, Oliver continued to work in the family business through his college years at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., where he majored in economics.
A fine day for blueberries
These days, Monadnock Berries is primarily a pick-your-own farm. “Initially, there wasn’t a huge customer base,” Oliver says. “The farm was a lot smaller and my parents expanded it quite a bit, and were splitting their sales 50/50 between wholesale and retail pick-your-own.”
That business model shifted in the last couple of years, as the COVID pandemic led to labor shortages while at the same time causing people to want to get outside. The farm still does some wholesale business, mainly to farmers markets and small groceries, but “out of total revenue, wholesale is about 15%,” says Oliver. “It’s mostly people coming with their families to pick. You’re handing people buckets and weighing their fruit—and in season we’re really just swamped. It’s kind of cool. It’s pick-your-own berries, a big lawn, a couple of miniature donkeys and a few goats—and the view.”
The lawn with its unmatched vista of Mount Monadnock makes the farm a great venue for weddings. Memorial Day though Columbus Day, the farm hosts family celebrations for up to 200 people. “We have 12 booked so far this year,” Oliver says. “I have two of my best friends getting married here.”
Now that Oliver has purchased the business and the family house, his parents have moved about 20 minutes away, to Harrisville, N.H., but plan to continue to help out at Monadnock Berries, especially during the ownership transition. “They’re looking to be semi-retired,” says Oliver. “They’ve worked forever; it’s kind of who they are. My dad's a fruit farmer at heart.” The family also owns Granite Roots, a craft brewery using fruit from the farm. “In retirement, my parents will have a little bit more time to focus on that business.”
For now, Oliver is continuing to work remotely as director of supply chain analytics for Yankee Alliance while he runs the farm. He and his partner, Elise Hodgdon, who manages the wedding business, relocated to the farm full-time this spring, moving back into the house where Oliver grew up. “This piece of property was always a little haven for my sisters and me,” Oliver says. “I always had it in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to let the property go.”
He closed on the farm in May, just in time to get ready for the season. “I’m happy to be able to continue to share this place. A lot of our customers have been coming here for years,” he says.
Working and living on the farm means keeping an eye on the sky every day. “It’s like that Simon and Garfunkel song—’I get the news I want from the weather report,’” Oliver laughs.
Weather permitting, picking begins on July 14.
Photography courtesy of Monadnock Berries