Originally published in Seasonal Guide, June 28, 2012
Small, family-run farms offer varied ways to “buy local”
Timberwyck Farm in Castine is home to many animals, but the owners mainly focus on raising heritage breed pigs. Merriweather, pictured with owner Colin Powell, is often loaned out for breeding.
by Anne Berleant
What speaks of summer more than early tomatoes or berries, still warm from the sun, peeking out of from their boxes at a roadside stand?
If you travel along route 15 from North Blue Hill to Penobscot, you’ll see farm after farm, with many offering fresh produce on farm stands or “U-pick.”
With around 400 farms in Hancock County, finding fresh, local vegetables, meat and eggs can be as easy as taking that drive down a country road.
Or, stop in the local supermarket, farmers’ market or co-op.
“The demand is definitely there for local foods,” said Chuck Lawrence at a local foods panel last fall. As owner of TradeWinds Marketplace in Blue Hill, he works with area farmers to stock his produce shelves.
From Castine to Blue Hill to Stonington, small, often organic farms are a way of life for the families that operate them and a source of fresh, local food for consumers. Running next door for a gallon of milk—straight from the cow that morning—can become a normal way of stocking refrigerators and shelves.
The number of farms is growing, according to the Maine Agricultural Census, last completed in 2007, which listed a 22 percent increase in five years. But the size of individual farms is going down, from an average 156 acres to 136 acres, a 12.8-percent drop.
Many of these small, family-run farms won’t disappear in the future—they are deeded as “forever farm” land, through a program administered by the Maine Farmland Trust. In Blue Hill, the Blue Hill Heritage Trust works with MFT to secure prime agricultural acreage for local “forever farm” land.
However, not all farming is for meat and produce. Red Barn Farm, in Stonington, sells milk, cheese and soap made on the farm from its own goat herd.
“We draw a pretty good crowd here in the summer,” said owner Donna Brewer. Besides selling to customers directly from her farm, she also sells her products at Burnt Cove Market, in Stonington, year-round.
Brewer has a commercial kitchen in her home, and became state licensed in February. She also makes a caramel topping for ice cream “to die for,” she said.
She and her husband started out with one goat “that had been passed around several times,” she said. “My husband always wanted goats. From there, we got to breeding them…One thing led to another.”
Timberwyck Farm in Castine, owned and operated by Colin Powell and Emma Sweet, focuses on pigs, although chickens, turkeys, goats and sheep also find a home there.
Powell and Sweet concentrate much of their efforts on heritage breeds, which means “the lineage has been kept consistent,” Powell said.
Timberwyck’s new piglets, two sows, and the boar, Merriweather, forage most of their food in pasture, Powell said.
The piglets are raised for slaughter or purchased by other farmers. It takes a USDA inspection to sell specific cuts of meat, which Powell and Sweet recently had done, but they also sell half and whole butchered pigs.
Like most other small farmers, Powell works off the farm too, as a web developer and designer. Sweet runs a farm camp in summer.
King Hill Farm, run by Paul Shultz and Amanda Provencher in North Penobscot, focuses on carrots as its main crops, transporting them to Portland by the tonnage. They also run a Community Supported Agriculture program, where members buy-in at the beginning of the season and then pick up weekly boxes of produce from June-September.
“Perhaps no benefit is better than seeing people connect with the farm, their farmers and their food,” said Provencher, of their customers’ weekly visits.
Homewood Farm in Blue Hill, run by Jeff Beardsworth, who sells his crops at farmers’ markets and to grocery stores, keeps a tradition of offering “U-pick” strawberries and other berries from his fields.
“We welcome the public to come in,” Beardsworth said at last fall’s local foods panel, “and it seems to work.”