The oldest farm in North America celebrates its 356 anniversary this year.

"The Tuttles have been growing crops on this land for all 356 of those years, declared Hugh Tuttle, owner of the 245-acre farm in Dover, N.H. "Our family has owned this farm since 1632. I represent the 10th generation of Tuttles, and there is an 11th standing by. When I retire, our daughters, Rebecca and Lucy, and our son, William Penn Tuttle III, will carry on. They will run the farm.A 12th generation is also waiting in the wings. Said Hugh's wife, Joan: "We have six wonderful grandchildren. There is bound to be a farmer or two among them. They will probably be running the place in 2032, when the farm is 400 years old.

According to Joan, who is the unofficial family historian, the oldest farm in the land has never had to suffer through a drought.

"To the best of my knowledge, we never had one," she clarified. "At least, I have never heard of a drought in these parts. Of course, they weren't keeping weather records way back in 1632, so it is difficult to tell what went on weather-wise back then. Or during the next 200 years that followed.

"I do know there hasn't been a drought in recent history. We have been blessed. It's been very dry there this year, but nothing like what they have had in other parts of the country. We have irrigation ponds - sky ponds that collect rain water - and we've been using them lately. We don't expect to have any serious water problems.

"My husband checked our well the other day. It was down five feet, but there is still 20 feet of well water available. A few years ago, our well did go dry. But that year, there were a lot of youngsters on the farm, and they used up a tremendous amount of spring water."

Joan said the fact that the farm is located in an old river basin may be a reason why the land is so fertile, and the farm has been able to survive for so many years.

She said, as far as she knows, there isn't a farm in North America that is even close to being as old as the Tuttle place. "As far as we have been able to determine," she said, "there isn't an older farm in the United States, Canada or even down Mexico way. This fact has been documented a number of times."

This fact was confirmed by Wayne Hassmussen, historian for the Department of Agriculture.

"As far as we know, the Tuttle place is the oldest farm in the United States and Canada," said Hassmussen. "The fact that it is still being run by the same family is a testament to their farming skill through the generations."

Hassmussen also believes the Tuttle place may be the oldest farm in the Western Hemisphere. "I doubt if there is an older farm in this part of the world," he said. "But I'd have to check the land records of several Central and South American countries to confirm this fact. That would be an impossible test."

According to Hugh Tuttle: "Visitors come from all over the country, and from Canada and Mexico, too, to buy our vegetables and canned goods. They bring them home and tell friends they bought them at the oldest farm in North America."

His wife added: "Business has been so good we had to build an addition to our farm store in 1985. We call the place the Red Barn. We needed more shopping space for the people who drive by."

The farmer's wife said every time a newspaper story about the farm appears, the mail is always heavy.

"Quite a few of the letters come from Canada. Most are from farmers who want to know more about the history of our place. A number of them have been from Tuttles living up in Canada who want to know if they are related to us. Evidently, there are a lot of Tuttles up there in Canada."

In a way, life on the farm is much the same as it was back in 1632 when the Tuttles planted their first crop.

"The hours are long and hard," said Hugh, who is 67, "but the work is most rewarding. It is a joy to watch things grow. Farming is not an easy life. It never will be. I've never heard of a lazy man who was a successful farmer. It's worth all the time and effort. There's no feeling that matches the happiness you feel down deep inside at harvest time.

"If you are a farmer in New England, the winters are long and lonely. Still you manage to keep busy. You make repairs and order supplies. You've got to order a lot of seeds when you've 245 acres to plant. In April, my favorite month, our greenhouses are filled with plants. That's when the people start arriving from all over. They flock to our roadside stand out on Route 14 to buy things.

"It's a seasonal business. From April to harvest time, you're on the go all day. Then winter sets in. That's when you have time to sit down and count your blessings. And, of course, you have time to prepare for spring. That's why I love April so much. It's when you start digging again. It's time to start things growing again."

Tuttle, a tall, rugged individual, was placed in charge of the farm several years ago by his late father, William Penn Tuttle, who died in 1977. "My father turned the operation over to me, and maintained a hands off policy," he said. "Dad loved the farm. He was almost 90 when he died, and he used to ride around the farm in a golf card we bought for him. Weather permitting, he made regular tours of the farm until the very end."

Back in 1632, the Tuttles received a grant from Charles I of England for 15 acres of land. The exact date the grant was issued is not known since the original grant was destroyed in a fire years ago. However, town records confirm the property belonged to the Tuttles back in 1632. Additional land was acquired by the family as the generations went by.

"Seven generations of Tuttles were Quakers," said Hugh, who attended Harvard and the University of New Hampshire. "That's the reason I think the family has been able to hold on to the land for so long. In the old days, the youngest son in a Quaker family inherited. The older sons were handed a stake of $100, and told to go their own way. Such an arrangement may have been rough on the older sons, but evidently our family had a lot of younger sons who were excellent farmers.

"I also think the fact the farm is located on rich, productive land is another reason the Tuttles have held on to the farm. The place is in an old river basin, and the land is quite fertile. Fertile land means excellent crops."

According to the farmer's youngest daughter, Lucy, her father annually announces his retirement when the harvest is over. "But every spring, he is back out in the field again doing the work he loves so much. Farming is his life. He loves the work."

Said said, at present, Hugh Tuttle refers to himself as "semi-retired." "He calls himself semi-retired because every winter he goes away with my mother on a vacation trip. He never did that before. But come planting time, semi-retired or not, he is back at the farm working long hours, and loving it."

After 356 years, Tuttle said it is essential to treat the soil, rich as it is, with respect. "I study the latest farming techniques," he explained. "I read everything I can on the subject. This soil has been good to our family."

In recent years, the farmer has handled the planting and harvest side of the family operation while his son, Bill, has taken charge of the business side.

Hugh says he almost became a doctor instead of a farmer. "I was a pre-med student at Harvard for three years. I think it was during my freshman year I first realized medicine would not be my career. I remember walking through the Harvard yard one bright spring day, and spotting crocus in the grass. Suddenly, I was homesick and wondering if my father had started to plant the crops. It took me two more years before I finally admitted to myself that farming was going to be my way of life. I left Harvard and went to the University of New Hampshire, which has a fine agricultural school."

Whether it is winter or summer, the Tuttles are usually up at the crack of dawn. "During the winter, I suppose I could sleep a few extra hours," said High. "There aren't any cows to milk. We're a vegetable farm. But getting up early becomes a habit. It's difficult to sleep later - even in winter."

The farmer paused for a moment, reflected, and added: "Come to think of it, it's a good thing I did get up early in the winter when I was handling all the paper work. There were so many government forms to fill out. If I slept late, I never would have been able to get them done.

With a smile, he declared: "That's the one thing the Tuttles didn't have to worry about back in 1632. They didn't have to fill out all those government forms back then."

Twice a week, the farmer tours the oldest farm in North America on foot. He will reach down and grab a handful of the fertile land his family has cultivated for 356 years. After rubbing it between his fingers, he will let the rich soil drop to the ground.

There will be a look of pride on his face.