July 19, 2023
On one of the few sunny days in the month of June, we had the pleasure of taking a tour of Fric & Frac’s Farm in Brunswick and visiting with farmer Michaela Downing (and her dog Arthur, who is currently living out his best farm dog life as the Fric to her Frac). Michaela moved back to New England to farm after gaining varied experiences out west – studying agriculture in school, and then working on farms in California and Colorado with sheep, pigs, poultry, horses, and diversified vegetables. She ended up running the full operations of a farm prior to branching out on her own – hiring and managing a team, planning and delegating tasks, and taking on the responsibility for the daily management of the farm. There, she really got a sense of exactly what it took to run a farm from top to bottom. While she was fulfilled doing this kind of work, Michaela wanted to be making this level of investment in her own farm, which is why she eventually sought out land of her own.
After repeatedly coming up against the barriers of accessing farmland that many young farmers face (with less than 1% of farmland being sold on the open market annually), Michaela got connected to MFT’s farm matching service, Maine FarmLink, through a regional network of organizations that link farm seekers with available farmland. This was a unique resource she had not seen elsewhere, connecting people who are seeking farmland with farmland owners (or their representatives) who are looking to sell, lease or work out other non-traditional tenure arrangements, based on their respective interests, needs and goals. Through searching the database for farmland that could fit her needs, she was able to find 1/4 acre in Brunswick to lease from landowners Craig Freshley & Carol Nelson, who are thrilled to see the land in agricultural use. Although it spans some rocky and hilly farmland, Michaela found the soil here to be much more rich than that she had farmed previously and conducive to the vision for what she wanted to grow in Maine.
Although she had never farmed in this area and was uncertain of what to expect and what would thrive on this plot, Michaela jumped in headfirst. When I visited with Michaela in early June, she had only just gotten on the land in April and had already (as a one-woman farm!) tilled the property, a whole section of which had never been farmed before and was largely untouched; constructed a perimeter fence; and was already harvesting all kinds of organic salad greens, kale, herbs, and radishes – with tomatoes, okra, and more on the way! Michaela said she has felt welcomed in the surrounding Brunswick farming community pretty quickly, connecting with the owner of the feed store up the road and meeting neighboring farmers that have offered support. Currently, she has set up a roadside farmstand alongside her plot on Hacker Road, where passersby and neighbors can pick up an assortment of produce. Being her first season, Michaela had initially decided not to branch out to farmers markets just yet, but with the success she’s already achieved, she has brought Fric & Frac’s Farm to the new Woodford’s Corner Farmers Market in Portland.
Michaela’s hope is to continue to scale up production, eventually purchasing a plot of land and hiring on a team with shared values and vision. She wants young farmers, particularly women and minorities, to feel empowered and valued as farmworkers and hopes to cultivate that at her future farm. Follow along as Fric & Frac’s Farm continues to grow! We are so excited to see the results of Michaela’s hard work and happy that we could play a role in facilitating this farmland connection. If you’re a farmer also looking to access farmland or a landowner with available farmland, visit https://mainefarmlink.org/ to create a farm-seeker or landowner profile, or just to browse the current listings.