Five weeks after a tractor rolled over and crushed Chuck Lord, the owner of Carver Hill Orchard in Stow woke up from a coma and knew it was time to retire.
Lord didn’t remember the accident, but the 70-year old farmer could feel the pain from his broken ribs, detached thumb, and back injury.
“I can’t do this work anymore,’’ said the lifelong farmer, who was saved, in part, by customers pulling him out from underneath the tractor.
But Lord couldn’t just walk away from the farm started by his great-grandfather in the 1820s — a place that had become a family apple-picking destination in a community known for orchards and pumpkin patches.
In stepped Matthew Lord, Chuck’s son, to take over day-to-day operations. And the Stow Conservation Trust, which is raising money to purchase a conservation restriction for the property.
The restriction will provide the family with some cash, staving off a potential sale to a developer, and protect the land as open space in perpetuity if sold, said Bob Wilber, president of the land trust.
“A conservation restriction could keep the land in their ownership and on the tax rolls, but could provide significant funding that will allow them to recommit to farming at that location,’’ Wilber said. “They found all of that very attractive.’’
The land trust has agreed to buy a conservation restriction for $2 million but is about $235,000 shy of what it needs before the May closing. Wilber said the town’s Community Preservation Committee contributed $1.4 million, and the trust has already raised about $365,000.
Having tapped out donors at the local level, Wilber hopes families outside Stow will support the preservation effort.
“We really see the farms in Stow as a regional amenity,’’ he said. “We know there are many people outside Stow that love the farms here and that the trips they take out here each year with their kids or grandkids are an important part of their quality of life. We need help. This isn’t going to be easy.’’
To help preserve the town’s identity as one of the few farming communities along Interstate 495 near Boston, the trust recently started the Save Stow’s Farms Agricultural Preservation Initiative. In addition to working with Carver Hill Orchard, the trust has purchased a conservation restriction for a small farm on Route 62.
“We know that the farms are beautiful with lots of road frontage, are mostly flat, and are very desirable for development,’’ Wilber said.
Chuck Lord said his father, who died in 2010, had always wanted to protect the farm from development. So, despite his unexpected retirement after the accident in 2013, Lord wanted to follow through with his father’s wishes. At the same time, however, his three siblings, all part owners, were interested in selling.
Although the family would walk away with more money if the land is sold, Lord said the conservation restriction is the perfect compromise.
“Without this, chances are my siblings would want to sell and it would go to a developer,’’ Lord said. “This is a way out where everyone comes out with something, including the town.’’
While the conservation restriction is key, someone also had to take over the farm.
Lord’s two daughters weren’t interested. But Matthew Lord, a 46-year-old school social worker, agreed to switch careers two years ago and now runs the farm.
“He’s the last line of defense before the McMansions,’’ Lord said.
The family owns 81 acres in Bolton and 78 in Stow, where the farmstand is located.
Matthew Lord has always worked at the farm and thought about taking it over one day. But the timing of his father’s accident, combined with an uncertain work situation, thrust him into making a decision sooner than expected.
“This isn’t something I was supposed to do until my mid-50s, but it’s a welcome change,’’ Matthew Lord said. “I looked at it as an opportunity for a life-changing moment. I stepped in, and Chuck has been the guiding force as I go.’’
Matthew Lord said there are no grand plans for changes. He has watched business climb over the past few years with good, old-fashioned fun. He said local repeat customers want a true farm experience, not bouncy houses and animal rides.
“It’s like going into a timewarp,’’ Matthew Lord said. “It’s a farm experience, not an agritourism experience. You might not make as much money but you get a better experience.’’
As his father said: “We have a different vision for the farm than most places. They want it to be a Disney World. Matthew thinks it should go back to the future.’’
The Lords encourage families to stop by to picnic under the apple blossoms, to fish in the pond, or just to take a walk through the orchard.
“It’s a place to get your head together,’’ Lord said. “If they don’t buy anything, at least they had a nice day.’’
But the farm still has to make a profit. That’s why the family is coming up with other ways to attract customers.
One is by extending the growing seasons. The Lords planted stone fruit trees that will produce peaches and plums in the summer.
Carver Hill sells vegetables at the farmstand and now offers pick-your-own vegetables. For $1.50 a pound, customers can head out to the fields and pick squash, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants, and beans. And the Lords will even take crop requests.
If all goes according to plan, the farm will stay in the family, remaining open to the community and free from development.
And Chuck Lord, who had a complete recovery except for some numbness in his hand, can enjoy retirement with his wife, Cindy Lord, from his home, which looks out across their Bolton orchard.
“We are trying to get it done so everyone smiles. It’s trying to leave a legacy from the family,’’ Lord said. “Hopefully it works.’’
For information about the Save Stow’s Farms initiative, visit www.stowconservationtrust.org.Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.