By Nancy Arsenault
While most farms offer local produce, meat and dairy products, Stow’s Marble Hill Farm is offering something more – stone bowls and serving plates produced from the granite fieldstone pulled from the ground of their own farm.
“We cleared these fields for a blueberry patch,” said Jen Ward looking out over their acreage, who, with her husband Dan, owns Marble Hill Farm on Great Road. “We piled up all of this fieldstone and my husband thought he would have to haul it away, but then I started looking around for other ideas.”
That’s when she found Gerald Croteau of American Stonecraft in Lowell, a craftsman who sees much more than a discarded pile of rubble in a collection of fieldstone. Croteau uses these natural sources to produce serving slabs and small bowls for farmers to then turn around and sell in their markets and farmstands. “I put the name of the farm where the stone was found, on the bottom of the product made from that stone,” said Croteau, who said it gives farmer’s an income source from something that otherwise would be cast aside.
Croteau’ s works have become so popular that, after one year, he hired staff and left his day jobs behind – selling real estate in Dubai and working as a hedge fund manager. Now, his days are filled with searching out the perfect stone – one that has appeared on a farmer’s landscape in recent months, with little or no moss or lichen growth, a stone with unusual markings or patterns. He then turns them into serving slabs, bowls and coasters. Croteau compares a good fieldstone, once cut and polished, to the best slab of granite chosen for a countertop. “It is just as beautiful,” he says of his cut, smoothed and polished pieces.
Croteau considers himself an artist with a special affinity for farmers and is happy to have found a way to supplement their livelihood. Crafting this tableware as a sellable item allows him to give back to those dedicated to keeping food sources local and productive, serving the greater good of society. “They can actually make more money selling fieldstone by the stone, than by the ton,” he said.
He recently sent a large shipment of New England fieldstone tableware to Australia where he said the marketplace is looking for something that tells a story, something connected to the land, even if that land is in America. The names of all the local farms that supplied fieldstone for the Australia shipment are printed on the bottom of each piece.
Croteau believes that offering options to turn fieldstone into useable products gives new life to something that has been seen as a burden to New England farmers for generations. Stonewalls are evident throughout New England, even in dense woodlands, all indicating where farmers once toiled and gathered the heavy rocks, often by hand, to clear their fields. “I’d like to think that when people are serving something on the slabs, they can tell the story of the farmers and the fieldstone in New England. It helps keep people connected to the land,” said Croteau, who now ships his work all over the world.
Croteau said he is always looking for special stones and will come out to a property to examine a pile that a landowner might be considering for alternative uses. “I love working with active farmers or people who are clearing fields just to keep open space. If someone would like something made from stone on their property, I will come out and help to find the perfect stone,” said Croteau.
Over at Marble Hill Farm, their local stone tableware is a fast seller, so much so that Jen is eagerly awaiting her next order. “I really see it as just another great way for us to do farm to table, or actually, farm to on the table,” she said.
American Stonecraft is based in Lowell, with a stonecutting studio open to the public. More information is available at americanstonecraft.com. Marble Hill Farm is located at 29 Great Road, Stow.