Originally published in Castine Patriot, July 31, 2014
King Hill Farm opens its pastures to a flock of visitors
The pig enclosure of King Hill Farm in Penobscot, Maine was shown during a farm tour in July 2014 hosted by Blue Hill Heritage Trust.
by Peter Cooperdock
At the top of the hill on Faerie Kingdom Road, off Route 199 in Penobscot, a gathering took place on June 25 under threatening skies and gentle drops of rain. Judy Helliker of the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, which cosponsored the farm tour with the Blue Hill Co-op, introduced Paul Schultz, co-owner of King Hill Farm with his wife Amanda Provencher. Schultz lent a casual style to the proceedings with a conversational approach that made the 40 or so visitors a comfortable audience.
As he swept his gaze across the fields before him, Schultz explained that of the 40 acres currently cleared, five acres are in vegetable production, with most of the remainder in pasture, hay, or cover crop. In addition to Schultz and his wife, they have two full-time apprentices who live on the farm and occasional WWOOFers when needed. WWOOFers are short-term volunteers for organic farms. The community also gets a chance to become involved through the annual carrot harvest in October.
Schultz’s gaze settled on the three greenhouses as he explained how the greenhouses start and end the seasons. He looked around, “Does anyone want to see the greenhouses?” With quick agreement from those in attendance, the crowd moved toward the three plastic-covered, long houses. On the way, Schultz continued to explain that he and his wife first came here as apprentices seven years ago, took over management of the farm due to an illness of the previous owner the next year, and transitioned into ownership over the next few years, shepherded by Blue Hill Heritage Trust, which has an agricultural easement on the property.
A key component in maintaining an organic farm is crop rotation, Schultz said. This extends even into the greenhouses. Tomatoes are planted the first year, followed by a year of spring greens, with a winter of cold-tolerant crops such as kale, spinach, and chard. This is followed by a season of cover crop before the cycle is repeated. Last year the winter greens were harvested through February and supplied a portion of the content of the winter CSA.
The CSA or Community Supported Agriculture was cited as one component of a three-part marketing approach pursued at King Hill Farm. For a set fee, an individual or family can receive a quantity of the available harvest for a number of weeks. King Hill Farm is also represented in several farmers markets around the area as well as marketing directly to stores and restaurants.
One end of one greenhouse is used for starting seedlings. Schultz described the farm’s potting soil construction. All potting soil used, he said, is made on the farm with composted manure from the animals with sand and vermiculite purchased and mixed in a cement mixer. Considerable saving is achieved, he said. As he spoke, chickens ran around an enclosure behind him. He said they currently have 11 layers which provide for the farm’s own use.
Questions were raised about the safety of the chickens, since the enclosure is far from the house and surrounded by a short fence. Schultz said they haven’t had problems with the chickens, but that they had encountered some challenges with skunks, porcupines, deer and groundhogs. No problems have been caused by foxes or coyotes. Steps have been taken with fencing, including electric fence in some locations, but Schultz expressed the sentiment that these animals have to live somewhere.
Onward the group went after the query: “Do you want to see the pigs?” In an enclosure of approximately 10,000 square feet, a couple dozen 3-month-old pigs were rooting and romping as they helped prepare a new area of garden. Schultz said that generally this brood would require about 1,000 pounds of grain, but they are able to reduce that by 40 percent with the supplement of the garden produce.
The gardens occupy the center of the farm. Schultz said the gardens are rotated over a 10-year cycle with three years of production planting and seven years of cover crop and hay. The long fallow time replenishes the soil through nitrogen-fixing alfalfa along with clovers and grasses, starves out the persistent weeds, and produces hay for the cows through the winter.
Carrots and other root crops dominate one-third of the production rotation, with a large community harvest in October. Last year, 40 people came to help harvest 40 tons of carrots. Schultz said he uses a bed lifter attached to one of his tractors to break up the soil so the carrots can easily be removed from the soil. He said the community harvest is a great help and a good time.
Another section of the garden is occupied by direct seeded greens and other vegetation, while the third section is occupied by the transplants. Many of the transplants, especially the brassicas, such as broccoli and kale, are covered with cloth to reduce insect damage. “Flea beetles are a big problem,” Schultz stated.
After the garden plots, Schultz led the group to the cows. The farm keeps 16 cows. These animals spend the summer rotating around the various pastures which surround the cultivated center. They produce the manure which becomes the basis of the potting soil for the starter plants as well as directly to the garden.
Some of the group muttered about the apparent enormous amount of coordination and scheduling required for this operation. Schultz said it is a lot of work with long hours, but a great way to make a living and raise his two small children, one of whom joined the group part way through the tour.