Originally published in Castine Patriot, June 5, 2014
Timberwyck stands alone as Castine’s only working farm
by Anne Berleant
Drive down The Shore Road into town and it’s hard to miss the sprawling white farmhouse, faded red barn and, at times, a flock of chickens pecking in the front yard.
Timberwyck Farm—the only farm in Castine—is smack up against the road, and the learning curve its owners Colin Powell and Emma Sweet have trod has been done in public view.
“There’s so many farms [in neighboring towns] that are set off the main road, so you don’t have the chance to see,” Powell said.
Pigs in the road, pigs rooting in a private cemetery on the property, sheep outside in winter—all have led to calls to the town office and visits from the town animal control officer, and even the sheriff.
At the same time, there are those who regularly slow down just to catch a glimpse of the sheep, goats, pigs and poultry in their pastures.
Timberwyck Farm has its detractors and its supporters, the couple said in a recent interview.
“[The farm] divides the people,” said Sweet. “Some people are not interested in living in a town with a farm, others are quadruple supportive.”
“It’s often easier to make an anonymous call,” said Sweet, than to approach the farmers themselves. But, she added, she and Powell are “open to dialog” at any time, where they could explain that sheep are not pets and choose to be outside in the winter despite having shelter provided.
Recently, a “missing” gravestone from the private family cemetery was located, by Sweet, after an heir contacted the town. A town resident alerted the Maine Old Cemetery Association of pigs being pastured around the cemetery—something which had been changed nearly two years ago—and a missing gravestone. They assigned a “vandalism investigator” to the case and after a site visit, the town reported the stone as missing to the heir. Then, Sweet decided to trespass onto the cemetery because she was convinced a pig could not move a gravestone, she said. It had been covered by grass and weeds.
“This is the year”
Sweet has relatives who farmed in Maine, and, as a child, she summered in Castine. She and Powell met in college in Lawrence, Kansas, married in Castine in 2007, and started looking for a place to farm. Sweet had a vision of starting a dairy goat farm.
“That was the summer we saw Timberwyck and stopped looking,” she recalled.
They bought the four-acre property, which had not been farmed for years, in 2008, “with a lifestyle in mind, not a business model,” Powell said. Their mortgage was based on Sweet’s income as a George Stevens Academy dorm parent, and they planned to fix up the house and property over a couple of years before moving in.
Instead, they ended up at the farm that winter, with Sweet unemployed and a 1974-era furnace “that sounded like a diesel engine idling in the front yard,” Powell said. After an astronomical fuel oil bill that first month, “we turned the thermostat down to 48 and lived by the fireplace.”
By the end of the following summer, they had acquired chickens, ducks and turkeys, and pigs and sheep—and, finally, the dairy goats that Sweet had planned on from the beginning, purchased from the 4-H club at the Blue Hill Fair. They then began farming in earnest.
“Every year, we [say] ‘This is the year,’” Sweet said. “This is the first year we’ve felt like we were on top of all the animals, and most of the vegetables.”
And the pigs, for the most part, have stopped wandering into the road, thanks to stronger and electrified fencing.
This year, Timberwyck Farm is just about breaking even for the first time, Powell said. “Selling meat for profit is tricky. It gets better every year.” Powell also works full time as a web developer from their home.
Timberwyck Farm mainly sells pork, a heritage breed sold in all forms: roasts, sausages, bacon, chops and ribs.
However, most of what they produce gets eaten inside the farmhouse by their growing family. Along with their farm animals and vegetables, Powell and Sweet are raising four children ranging from 1 to 15 years old.
A big part of their farming “is to produce food we like to eat,” Sweet said. “There’s so much that goes into it…We’re pretty hard-core food people.”
Sharing Timberwyck with the community
While Timberwyck Farm may produce food mainly for its own inhabitants, its gates have been open since Powell and Sweet’s first animals.
They have held a public pig roast, open to anyone and everyone, each summer. This year, they are moving it to autumn after enough years of tending an open flame in high summer heat.
Their sheep and baby lambs have come to the town common for an annual sheep shearing festival, and Sweet has run a farm camp during school vacations and summers.
“I just wanted to invite all the children on to the farm,” she said.
She has the children learn how to make cheese, churn butter, work with wool, gardening and bagel making, among other farm-related activities.
“Every day I have a great new activity and all the kids say ‘Okay. Then can we go out and hang out with the animals?’” Sweet laughed.
Farm Camp is finally starting to take off, she added, with “a lot of inquires for this summer,” which will feature a “Farmer for a Day” series.
Also new this year was a Poop Scoop, where local gardeners could come and either pack their own bags for free or buy pre-bagged manure. Everything they had stockpiled was gone within hours, Sweet said.