Category Archives: Stories

A Glimpse of August’s Open Studio Day at the Fiore Art Center

The second Open Studio Day, showcasing the work of the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center August artists-in-residences, took place on August 26th. It was another beautiful summer day with many guests from near and far. Music was performed by Sara Trunzo, a former MFT staffer!

Michel Droge, an abstract painter whose work reflects a poetic connection to the land, climate change research and the philosophy of the sublime, discussed how she begins each painting with an ancient method utilizing navigational stick charts. Before taking to sea, people would form these charts, which are derived from the currents, to interpret the water before a journey.

Estafani Mercedes is an activist artist with deep connections to Maine. She has been interested in local Brooksville archives that connect to the Argentine dictatorship. Through radical justice, film photography and copyright law, she continued her work to restore missing violent histories and silenced voices in a publicly accessible archive.

Performance artist Heather Lyon had just arrived at the residency, which for her would run through the end of September. She shared costumes and sculptural objects she had made, which often become part of her site-specific performance explorations.

Rachel Alexandrou, the resident gardener, led tours through the lush vegetable gardens, which are now offering everything from tomatoes, to hot peppers and eggplant, and even artichokes.

The final Open Studio Day will take place on Sunday, September 30th from 12-3PM. Heather Lyon, Rachel Alexandrou, and visual artists Clif Travers and Carol Douglas will be opening their studios and gardens for the public.

Row 1: Michel Droge

Row 2: Estefani Mercedes

Row 3: Heather Lyon

Row 4: Rachel Alexandrou and veggies from the garden

July Open Studio Day at the Fiore Art Center

Every summer the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center hosts artists-in-residence for the months of July, August and September. At the end of each month, the artists open up their studios to the public. On July 29th, the first Open Studio Day of the summer took place. It was an absolutely gorgeous day in Jefferson and more than 75 people attended.

Thu Vu, the international resident from Vietnam, had a studio full of ink drawings on rice paper for installation commissions in Vietnam. She also shared some of the food-related paper sculptures she had been working on throughout the month, inspired by her time in the kitchen with fellow residents and all the fresh veggies grown by the resident gardener.

Maxwell Nolin, shared some of his portraits and sketches with guests and discussed his previous life as a farmer in midcoast Maine. One portrait which continuously piqued the attention of visitors was that of farmer, friend and mentor Polly Shyka (Villageside Farm, Freedom). During his residency, Nolin worked on a large portrait of his grandfather, as well as a self portrait.

Jodi Paloni, who spent the residency completing her first novel, held several readings in the living room throughout the afternoon. During one reading, Paloni shared how some characters were influenced by the people and experiences at the Fiore Art Center, and read some excerpts from her novel; for the second reading, she read one of her lyric essays –a process of weekly reflection –  which can be read here.

Resident gardener Rachel Alexandrou led three garden tours with  light question and answer sessions about the interesting vegetable varieties she has been growing for the residents, including crimson clover, a unique and stunning cover crop, and dark purple tomatoes (Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomato from Baker Creek Seeds).

The next Open Studio Day will be held on Sunday, August 26th from noon-3pm. Later that day, the Art Center will also be hosting MFT’s third annual Agrarian Acts, a celebration of art through music. This year’s lineup features Syblline, Sugarbush, and Sara Trunzo. The Open Studio Day is free; buy your tickets for Agrarian Acts HERE.

Thu Vu

Max Nolin

Jodi Paloni

Rachel Alexandrou

Rain Begins the Day by Jodi Paloni

Jodi Paloni was the literary resident at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center throughout the month of July, into August. She worked on completing a novel and also wrote weekly reflections on her time at the residency.

 

Big rains have come. They fall in sheet-like vertical lines that cross the field following paths rendered by wind. Tree branches undulate, gentling the picture, and then suddenly the wind is given to change, leaves turned inside out. Leaves on the maples that flank the yard, liaisons between domesticity and all the wilding beyond the fence­–––five gentle turkey hens, a hawk swooping its prey, coyote kits yipping in the night, and even the gardener wearing her straw hat who wades through the field, brushing palms over the surface of hay grasses and wildflowers as if giving a blessing or taking one, even she becomes the wild of the field. Beyond all of that, the dead continue to sleep among weasels slinking the rock wall, loons chorus their lament, and above, as always, there’s the sky, today, a dirty white.

On the desk, a manuscript in paper, completed, while incomplete, soaks up the damp, when yesterday, pages quivered and flapped in breezes that skimmed across them. The writer allows her characters to rest, to settle into their narrative, reliving their matrices of push and complacency, which is a kind of push, too. She’ll let them examine their agency, see what fits, what is fitting, what squeezes them or lays them out bare beyond the reader’s capacity, but she’ll not let them rest for too long. Time, which was once a playmate, has shifted and now bullies the house, which is only to say how cherished this house has been, and these trees and the field, the cerulean ribbon of lake in the distance.

The middle fruits come in steadily like the end days of July–––string beans of chromium oxide and indigo, cadmium summer squash, and tomatoes with medium violet skins and terre verte flesh. The last lettuces taste sharp in the mouth. The house knows what all this means, but doesn’t speak it, until it does speak it, and turns suddenly as sour as the rough and bitter leaves. Thoughts run ahead to crisper airs and tubers–––carrots, beets, potatoes–––and among these thoughts there’s a stew. The house struggles to find peace while pushed and pulled by roots and shoots timetables, June weeds turned to seed, and planet energies, mercurial. The Internet is slow. Glue turns paper soft. It’s a good day for problem-solving the humidity, for private query, for the felt sense brush stroking of a self-portrait.

Yesterday, residents traveled a near road or two to the archives of the painter this place is named for and viewed more of the tangibles made manifest by his hand, as far as any one person’s eye can turn sight into vision and ask the consumer to see all that was felt or at least to try. Some are moved by the clatter of narrative and color, others by the peace they might take from a line reminiscent of a relatable figure. All are moved by a collection of stones arranged in an old printers box set on the table under the sky light, a scrim of barn dust and splinter of hay making it holy. It’s an artifact, a childlike thing, like this summer month of days with few boundaries, where the inner wilding as been allowed a sliver moon howl swelling towards eclipse. There’s nothing as sacred as emptiness in the quiet after a howl. There’s nothing as sacred as paying attention to what makes us and to what we make.

Here’s one thing the writer now knows for certain, what she has always suspected. Process isn’t solely for the artist; it’s for embedding process into the physical plane–––the canvas, the rice paper, the vellum, the page, the clear glass jars of liquid plant pigment on the pantry shelf–––for what travels over time and through space are the material vestiges of process impermanence.

Take heart, the writer will say to herself and the others, a departure looming.

The field has witnessed your arrival. It has allowed you, has taken you in, as it also swallows the rain, lifts up the birdsong afterwards.

Take heart. You have become immune to describable form, but your having resided here will be held within the forever of this field.

 

 

Jodi Paloni, July 2018

MFT Announces 2018 Joseph A. Fiore Art Center Residency Awards

Early this April, a jury panel consisting of Stuart Kestenbaum, Susan Larsen and Ariel Hall awarded eight recipients with a 4-6 week residency at MFT’s Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm in Jefferson.

In its third year, the Center received 66 applications for its summer arts residency program. The categories included visual arts, literary arts and performing arts. This year one residency placement was reserved for an indigenous artist and one for an international or out-of-state artist.

About the Artists in Residency

Thu Vu, from Vietnam, was awarded the international visual arts residency. Vu first came to Maine from Hanoi Fine Arts College in 1998 as an exchange student; she attended Maine College of Art in Portland. Vu creates light sculptures made out of paper and natural materials. Her work has been exhibited throughout Asia, Europe and the USA.

Light Sculpture by Thu Kim Vu

The remaining five visual arts residencies were awarded to:

Carol Douglas: Douglas grew up on a farm and describes herself as a plein-air landscape painter whose primary interest lies in the relationship between humans and their environment.

“Finger Lakes Vineyard” by Carol Douglas

Clif Travers grew up in the mountains near Sugarloaf. One of his current bodies of work, The Medicine Cabinets, grew from three years of interviews with people around the country. Travers asked each person: “What would you consider to be a social malady that could be easily cured by regular folk?” The resulting “cabinets” are all connected to nature and show the malady, as well as the imagined cure.

Medicine Cabinet by Clif Travers

Michel Droge: Droge is an abstract painter—her work reflects a poetic connection to the land, climate change research and the philosophy of the sublime.

“Breathing Lessons” by Michel Droge

Estefani Mercedes: Mercedes is an activist artist with deep connections to Maine. She is interested in local Brooksville archives that connect to the Argentine dictatorship. Through radical justice, film photography and copyright law, she hopes to restore missing violent histories and silenced voices by building publicly accessible archives.

Untitled by Estefani Mercedes

Maxwell Nolin: Nolin is a young emerging portrait painter who most recently made a living as an organic vegetable farmer. His portraits often feature fellow farmers; however, he writes, “I have yet to fully immerse my subjects in the natural landscape. This seems to be where my interest lies and where my work is heading.”

“Toot and Roger Raw” by Maxwell Nolin

Literary Arts and Performing Arts Residents

The Fiore Art Center’s literary arts residency was awarded to Maine writer, Jodi Paloni. Paloni is currently working on her second book, a novel-in-stories, which takes place in the sixties and seventies on a farm similar to the Center’s Rolling Acres Farm, and tracks three Maine women from their girlhood to contemporary midlife.

Jodi Paloni

The performing arts residency was allocated to Heather Lyon. Lyon was born on a farm in Maine. Her art practice is site responsive and she plans to create new performance work at the Fiore Art Center, “responding to this unique place where the connections between art and farming can be explored and lived.”

View “MILK” by Heather Lyon here.

Heather Lyon

Resident Gardiner: Rachel Alexandrou

Each year, the Center hires a seasonal resident gardener, who lives on the farm for five months and grows food for the residents. “We’ve been lucky to find gardeners who also have their own creative practice, and enjoy being immersed in our residency program setting,” says Anna Witholt Abaldo, co-director of the Fiore Art Center. This year’s gardener will be Rachel Alexandrou, from Alna. Her organic gardening experience spans a decade, and she is currently completing her bachelor’s degree in sustainable horticulture at UMaine, Orono, with a minor in studio art.

“Kale in Decay” by Rachel Alexandrou

Those interested can find more information on application details, summer visitor hours and open studio dates here.

About the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm

The mission of the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm is to actively connect the creative worlds of farming and art making. The Center’s purpose is to continue and evolve the dialogue between human and environment within the context of our current culture and time. The Center offers exhibitions and public educational events, engages in research and development of new farming practices and hosts residencies for artists on a working farm in Jefferson, Maine. The Fiore Art Center is a program of MFT. The late Joseph Fiore was an artist and active environmentalist who, with his wife Mary, generously supported MFT for many years.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

An Interview with Elizabeth Hoy

Interviews & writing by Eliza Graumlich;  Photos by Susan Metzger

Applications for the 2018 artist residencies at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center are open!  There will be six visual art residencies (5 for Maine artists, 1 of which is reserved for an indigenous Maine artist; 1 for an out-of-state or international artist), one performing arts residency, and one writing residency. There will also be a seasonal position for a resident gardener with affinity for the arts. Apply here.

FMI or contact Denise DeSpirito, Fiore Arts Center assistant: denise@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

Before she published Silent Spring, Rachel Carson wrote about the ocean. Frequenting a quarter-acre salt pond in the Muscongus Bay and tidal zones near the mouth of the Sheepscot River, she accumulated observations that would later inform The Edge of the Sea. Elizabeth Hoy, one of August’s artists-in-residence at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center, thinks Carson might have ventured up to the Damariscotta area, too. “If we know that she was in one place, we know that she was around,” Hoy extrapolated. “She could have visited this lake.”

Hoy didn’t come to Jefferson planning to follow in Carson’s footsteps. For the past year and a half, she has been painting Superfund sites: locales that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined to be among our country’s most contaminated, and in grave need of national aid and intervention. (The EPA was founded in 1970, in response to the environmental fervor generated by Carson’s work.) However, upon arriving in Maine, Hoy started to revisit Carson’s writing. Learning of their proximity, she then began to visit and paint the same shorelines that had inspired Carson’s early research. Despite fifty years of distance, these zones remain largely unchanged.

True to Carson’s tradition, Hoy does most of her work outside, painting with oil and drawing with whatever materials might be at hand: pastel, watercolor or pen. “My paintings and drawings are pretty fast,” she confessed. “I feel like the further away I am from my experience, the more it can start to become something else.” More curated are Hoy’s sculptures, which mimic her paintings in both subject and form. “They’re on the wall and have a framing device,” she explained. “They’re almost like a little diorama or a stage set.” The sculptures are made out of found materials: scraps of fabric purchased at local church sales, carefully selected pieces of beach trash and more.

“What happens,” Hoy explained, “is really terrible but also sort of cool. Little bits of plastic get tossed with the rocks and end up looking like rocks themselves. Even Styrofoam cups look like pieces of shell or something.” She retrieved a fistful of synthetic treasures from the other side of the studio and arranged them delicately on the ground between us: an impossibly round sand dollar, a smooth stone, a necklace-grade piece of shell. “They’re really hard to find because they blend in so well,” she said.

The Superfund site nearest to Hoy’s home is Newtown Creek, a tributary of New York City’s East River that separates Brooklyn from Queens. Despite its designation, the area remains industrial. The riverscape features a recycling plant, petroleum trucks, barges that carry crushed cars and a colony of stray cats. No signs name the creek’s status as protected; Superfund sites are unmarked. Online there is a database that lists site names, but it lacks full street addresses. Hoy uses satellite images on Google Earth to locate sites she hasn’t yet visited, looking for large, empty pieces of land.

I asked Hoy how much explanation she liked to include in her labels given the abstract nature of her work. She tends to give very little context, she said, sometimes providing only the definition of a Superfund site, or a list of materials. She is more interested in seeing what effect her work has on its viewers: “If everybody’s thinking about one thing and you’re not thinking about that, maybe you should start.”

An Interview with Josselyn Richards Daniels

Interview and writing by Eliza Graumlich, photos by Susan Metzger

Applications for the 2018 artist residencies at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center open early December. There will be six visual art residencies (5 for Maine artists, 1 of which is reserved for an indigenous Maine artist; 1 for an out-of-state or international artist), one performing arts residency, and one writing residency. There will also be a seasonal position for a resident gardener with affinity for the arts. FMI or contact Denise DeSpirito, Fiore Arts Center assistant: denise@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

Josselyn Richards Daniels doesn’t wash her palette very often.  When all of the colors run together, they become a little closer to brown, she says, and a little closer to the dust and dirt that her subjects once inhabited.

Before she draws an insect, Daniels must first kill an insect, gently and without smashing anything. The freezer becomes a low-tech cryonics lab. After the bug thaws slightly, Daniels arranges its appendages, fashioning antennae and legs and elytra (wing casings) into a three dimensional Rorschach test. Limbs are bent to showcase joints. Wings are splayed open. Straight pins—the kind with a plastic bead of teal or magenta or yellow at the top—keep everything in place. When the bug has dried, Daniels removes all but one of the pins. The placement of this final pin is based in tradition and varies by species. For Daniels’ most recent specimen, the carrion beetle, it is the pin on the right side of the thorax that remains.

Of course, these steps are merely preparatory. Her desk has five slim paintbrushes, several shiny tubes of paint and a pencil sharpener, and all have yet to be used. Next, Daniels will tone her canvas with walnut ink and a hacky brush. She will sketch an outline of the beetle with a mechanical pencil and use a proportional divider to confirm scale lengths and widths. Then, there is watercolor, hatching, gouache and hand lettering, preferably in a Roman font.

Daniels began her residency at Rolling Acres Farm with the intention of designing a poster on garden-friendly bugs. However, upon arrival, she started drawing the living things that she found around her: wildflowers in the hay field, lupines out by the road, the aforementioned carrion beetle (found atop a dead snake that she hoped to sketch) and various species of bees. Previously, as a student at Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach, California, Daniels dedicated 60 hours per week to studying fundamentals and technique. Now, she hopes to build a portfolio.

Biological illustration is different from fine art, Daniels explains, in that the former explores the world while the latter explores the self. However, Daniels’ works seems to stand at a junction of the two genres. Her illustrations, captivating in their realism and handsome in their aesthetic, would be equally appropriate gracing the illustrious back cover of Cook’s Illustrated or the walls of a gallery.

Daniels’ residency in Maine completes a journey begun in her childhood. Her earliest memory of making art comes from a camping trip in Bradbury Mountain State Park when she was five years old. After sighting a barn owl illuminated in the light of the campfire, she asked her family for drawing materials. Though she accepted the pen she was offered, she eschewed the back of an old receipt in favor of birch bark. Later in her childhood, she made fairy houses in the lilac trees behind her Munjoy Hill home and attended a school on Mackworth Island—a piece of land donated to the state in 1946 by Governor Percival Proctor Baxter “as a sanctuary for wild beasts and birds.”

In the fall, Daniels will study Human Ecology at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. This program of study—the only one offered by the college—focuses on investigating the relationships between humans and their environments. Daniels says that her primary educational goal for COA is to gain an understanding of environmental sciences, in order to inform her artwork as a natural science illustrator.

An interview with artist Tanja Kunz

interview & writing by Eliza Graumlich, photos by Susan Metzger

Applications for the 2018 artist residencies at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center open early December. There will be six visual art residencies (5 for Maine artists, 1 of which is reserved for an indigenous Maine artist; 1 for an out-of-state or international artist), one performing arts residency, and one writing residency. There will also be a seasonal position for a resident gardener with an affinity for the arts. FMI or contact Denise DeSpirito, Fiore Arts Center assistant: denise@mainefarmlandtrust.org

Tanja Kunz says that she likes pretty places. She also likes light, wildflowers and the color green.

Her artwork—botanically-referenced yet abstract paintings and drawings—reads like photosynthesis distilled. Energy emanates from each canvas, as movement, illumination or both.

Kunz’ studio at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center is a mirror to the surrounding farmland: greens and yellows spotlighted in the July sun have another life indoors, in oil paint. Everything here is radiant. Kunz is unapologetic. Why not paint that which is already lovely? Paraphrasing the American abstract painter Agnes Martin, she queries: “What is wrong with the world? So suspect of beauty!”

The first painting of Kunz’ that caught my eye was from a series depicting Queen Anne’s lace—a flower perhaps more familiar as “wild carrot” or “bird’s nest” or even “bishop’s lace,” depending on where your mother grew up. On canvas, the delicate blooms seem to stretch slightly larger than life, though their size is ultimately ambiguous; the petals grow and shrink with a tilt of the head. Kunz describes this fluctuation as the work’s generosity to the viewer, and a quality of the paint that is impossible to reproduce in a photograph. Behind the flower’s precisely rendered umbels, broad streaks of light flood into an otherwise muted background. Here, there is a breeze. There is juxtaposition of focus and gesture, and a tension between abstraction and representation.

Also of note are Kunz’ field studies. They too feature Queen Anne’s lace, but this time acrylic on paper and monotone. Despite the limited color palate, they remain luminous, drawing the eye even from their placement in the corner of the room. Imagine cyanotypes but without the cyan. Each work is an exercise in form and line. Kunz says that her field studies are a way of returning to a subject with a different language. She thinks of everything she has ever painted as one large work in progress. A circle, not a line.

Unlike many artists, quick to intertwine explanations of their work with references to their own biographies, Kunz is decidedly private. She is interested in traditional and herbal medicine. She studied cell structure through painting to earn her MFA. She has lived in New Mexico and Texas and, now, Maine. This is all. What she has to say, she says through her art.

Maine Farmland Trust will soon be looking for a farmer to purchase 143 acres of land in Windham.

MFT recently bought a portion of the former Clark Farm, which includes 37 acres of open fields and excellent frontage on Swett Road. The farm will be protected with a conservation easement and sold to a farmer at a reduced price.

The property, which does not currently have any infrastructure, is located between Swett Road and Webb Road. There is extensive road frontage that allows good access to the fields along Swett Road and forested land access along Webb Road. Approximately 98 acres (70% of the property) is designated as either Prime Farmland Soils, Farmland Soils of Statewide Importance, or Farmland Soils of Local Importance.

Windham has a strong agricultural past, but given its proximity to Portland, the remaining active farms are threatened.

“Windham has a goal of balancing our relatively rapid growth with preserving the working farms that add so much to the character of the community,” said Ben Smith, Director of Planning for the Town of Windham. “The fields on Swett Road are what many residents consider to be the heart of rural Windham. In all of our planning work, these fields have been singled out for their iconic representation of Windham’s rural character.”

This is MFT’s second Buy/Protect/Sell project on Clark family land. In March 2011, MFT, in collaboration with The Trust for Public Land and the Windham Land Trust (now the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust), purchased, protected, and sold 217 acres to Clayton Haskell, who still currently owns the farm.

Representative Chellie Pingree Introduces the Local FARMS Act

On October 4, 2017, Maine’s own Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), along with Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Representative Sean Maloney (D-NY), introduced HR 3941, the Local Food And Regional Market Supply Act (The Local FARMS Act). Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has also introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Maine Farmland Trust is proud to support this bill. As MFT President Amanda Beal stated at the time of the release, “Maine Farmland Trust is excited to endorse The Local Food and Regional Market Supply Act (The Local FARMS Act). This Act provides the financial support, infrastructure development, and technical assistance that farmers in Maine need to grow the local and regional food economies. At the same time, it increases access to fresh, healthy, and locally-grown food for low-income communities in Maine. Simply put, the tools in this bill will strengthen our economy and nourish our communities. We are grateful for the sponsors of this bill, and especially Representative Chellie Pingree, for working to include these important changes in the next Farm Bill.”

Although the U.S. agricultural economy has experienced an economic downturn in recent years, growing interest from consumers has enabled farmers in Maine and across the country to connect with expanding local and regional markets and find economic success. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2015 over 167,000 U.S. farmers sold $8.7 billion worth of food to local consumers, retailers, institutions, and distributors. In addition, these local and regional food markets can have a significant impact on revitalizing rural communities and keeping families on the farm. However, despite this economic potential, there are barriers that prevent farmers and food entrepreneurs from fully participating in these markets. Such barriers include a lack of infrastructure (e.g. storage, aggregation, transportation, and processing capacity), as well as a lack of associated technical support (e.g. training, marketing, and business planning services).

The Local FARMS Act removes many of these barriers and helps to unleash the potential for greater growth of local and regional food economies in Maine and beyond by:

  • Creating a more comprehensive and efficient program called the Agricultural Market Development Program that merges the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and Value-Added Producer Grants Program. The new Program includes support for farmers’ markets, farm to retail marketing, local food enterprise development, value-chain coordination, food hubs, planning and feasibility studies, producer-owned value-added enterprises, and regional planning through public-private partnerships.
  • Creating a new Food Safety Cost-Share Program to help family farmers comply with new food safety rules and regulations by upgrading on-farm food safety infrastructure and becoming food safety certified.
  • Expanding the Food Safety Outreach Program, the food safety training program for small and medium sized family farmers, by increasing funding and prioritizing projects led by community-based organizations.
  • Reauthorizing the Organic Cost-Share Program for farmers and handlers.
  • Expanding the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program to include low-income military veterans and increased program funding.
  • Piloting a new program called the Harvesting Health Program to demonstrate and evaluate the impact of fruit and vegetable prescription projects in addressing food insecurity, supporting local agriculture, and reducing health care costs.
  • Making it easier for schools to procure locally and regionally produced food by allowing schools to use “locally grown,” “locally raised,” or “locally caught” as a product specification.
  • Expanding the ability of Rural Development and Farm Service Agency grant and loan programs to be used to support livestock, dairy, and poultry regional supply chain infrastructure.

The text of the bill can be found HERE.

Maine Farmland Trust is currently working to create a more interactive webpage for our policy program. Sign up HERE to be alerted when the page is live, and to receive policy updates and action alerts.

FOREVER FARM: South Paw Farm

BY ANNEMARIE AHEARN     PHOTOGRAPHS BY MEREDITH PERDUE

It had been many months since I’d left the coast. It’s easy to forget that so much of the state is farmland; much of it fallow. Some stretches of road are ghostly with abandoned farmhouses, broken-down tractors and decaying agricultural buildings. Others showcase a commitment to keeping agricultural traditions alive, such as Route 137 running through Waldo County.

When I pulled off Greeley Road in Freedom onto the dirt driveway of South Paw Farm, I was greeted by four dogs, two of them pups and all of them some mix of collie and shepherd. A tall, quiet fellow named Santiago greeted me and shooed the dogs away. He called out for Meg Mitchell, co-owner of the farm, before getting back to work himself.

When Meg and I sat down at a weathered picnic table to begin our chat, a little girl no older than ten approached Meg to ask if she could help on the farm for the day, as she was saving up for something special.

Meg had an entire crew to manage and lots to accomplish, but she explained to the little girl that she could tag along if she kept up and took her job seriously.

Meg is kind and honest by any measure. She is also patient, thoughtful, and passionate. Passion in farming can be fleeting, but in Meg’s case, her commitment to that passion carries her steadily along.

At the age of 18, while in school in Atlanta, Meg attended a semester school reunion in North Carolina. While at a diner, Meg met a man named Daniel Price who had just finished school at College of the Atlantic and gone on to purchase a farm in Freedom with his wife, Ginger Dermott. They had aptly named the new venture, Freedom Farm. Before the reunion was through, Daniel offered Meg the opportunity to move to Maine and work on Freedom Farm. Meg took the job and spent four years familiarizing herself with the land, the soil, the drainage and the potential for growth.

In 2008, armed with her experience at Freedom Farm, Meg set out to own and operate her own business, which had always been her goal. She bought a “squirrely little piece of land” (Meg’s words) in Unity and named it South Paw Farm. As she worked the land, she came to better understand the local market as well as the economic model for the business. Meg quickly realized that while going to farmers markets across the state diversified South Paw Farm’s customer base, she sold the vast majority of her produce at the Portland Farmers Market. It was in Portland’s Deering Oaks Park, selling vegetables, that Meg met her future business and life partner, Ryan Mitchell, who at the time played in a punk band. Then, towards the end of 2014, Daniel and Ginger decided to move to North Carolina and offered to sell their farm to Meg and Ryan.

A few years prior, Meg had enrolled in the Maine Farms for the Future program, where she had written a business plan to grow the vegetable production capabilities of South Paw Farm. When Daniel and Ginger decided to sell Freedom Farm, Meg and Ryan were able to redirect the grant funds Meg received toward securing the land in Freedom. Maine Farmland Trust purchased an easement on the Freedom Farm land, which lowered the purchase price and made ownership possible for the young farmers. For the 2015 season, Meg and Ryan operated under the moniker South Paw at Freedom Farm as they transitioned, taking advantage of the business Daniel and Ginger had built, but giving it their own stamp as they developed a strategy for sustainable growth.

It takes years to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are as a farmer on a particular piece of land. As Meg tells me stories of her challenges over the years running a farm, I pick up on a sense of accomplishment in her voice, despite the struggles. She explains, “One season, cabbage laid to rot in the fields due to an overambitious planting; another there weren’t enough peppers to keep up with demand.” In the past, poor irrigation has led to extremely thirsty crops. But from these mishaps comes wisdom. For example, Meg consulted with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to determine how to prevent leaching with new technology. Now she has more suitable irrigation methods. “Always keep records,” she says with certitude. “You simply can’t improve your farm without them.”

In a state like Maine, running a diversified farm can be critical to long term sustainability.  South Paw is 55 acres of land, much of which is woodlot, and 22 acres of which is either cultivated or pastured. Of that, 18 acres are vegetables. Meg and Ryan recently leased another 8 acres across the road, with an eye toward purchasing that land in the future through a similar arrangement with Maine Farmland Trust.

Seventy percent of South Paw’s business is gener-ated by sales at the Portland Farmers Market, twenty percent is wholesale accounts, such as restaurants and Rosemont Market, and about ten percent is devoted to a small but committed CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The farm has a significant hoop house operation, growing a variety of tomatoes and peppers, basil, and ginger. Meg recently acquired a chili roaster, which tends to be a draw to their booth at the Common Ground Fair. The fragrant mix of hot and sweet peppers tosses in an iron cage over an open fire; a conversation starter on cold days. Meg and Ryan have also established a substantial perennial operation, with over ninety heritage apple trees, peaches, elderberries, and raspberries. As another side project, they are on their sixth round of raising dairy cows for calf stock.

I asked Meg if she faces challenges recruiting labor, as this is a common industry struggle. She said that there is a core team that has been there for a while: Santiago (“Santi”) Zamudio Quiroz, Mike Showalter, and Kelly Murray, without whom they couldn’t possibly make the place run. Farmhands are often traveling folks who head south for the winter months to work in agriculture, hospitality, or other seasonal positions.

It’s the kind of job some people quit fast: demanding responsibility, responsiveness, and serious stamina. While farming has romantic undertones, the reality is that many people aren’t cut out for it, physically or mentally. Luckily, this is a quick discovery for most.

But even for farmers who own their land, a second job is often the norm. Meg and Ryan work for Fedco Seeds in the off season: Meg does most of their potato seed purchasing and Ryan helps with bookkeeping.

Meg has a lot of energy, but her journey hasn’t been a race. Her approach has been measured and carefully executed. I asked what advice she has for future farmers. “Stay as organized as possible,” she said, “and take smart risks. Don’t plant 3 acres of potatoes if you don’t have potato digging equipment, for example.”

She adds that new farmers also need to be prepared to broaden their skill set. Being a farmer means being a carpenter, a welder, an electrician, and a bookkeeper, because farmers don’t make enough money to hire special services or pay someone to fix everything that breaks. As a reward, there is the quiet satisfaction in knowing you can do it yourself.

Meg and Ryan were married in October of 2015. The ring bearer was their cow Madeline and the couple still did farm chores the day of the wedding. They asked a friend from the general store who fills their tank with diesel every week to officiate. From time to time, Meg and Ryan go to the local grange to see friends and other community members. There are other competing farms just down the road, but the prevailing sentiment in town is that they are all part of a movement, helping each other further the mission.

It’s a good life, that of a farmer—not just a job. It is a commitment to a greater purpose that pays in the knowledge that all day, every day, you are contributing to the health and happiness of others. You see progress through your physical work, but also through the betterment of your community. And for Meg and Ryan, there is no better work or life, than this. | southpawfarm.net

Lacinato Kale, Avocado, and Cilantro Salad

When I asked Meg what crops were her finest in late spring and early summer, she enthusiastically replied, “lacinato kale, last year’s shallots and cilantro!” In an effort to embrace all three, I’ve written a recipe that celebrates the early summer gems of South Paw Farm.–AA

For 4 servings

1 shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

Juice and zest of a lemon

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 bunch cleaned cilantro leaves and upper stems, roughly chopped

⅓ cup olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Red pepper flakes

1 bunch lacinato kale, cleaned

1 ripe avocado

2 tablespoons pepitas

1 In a blender, buzz the shallot and garlic with a touch
of salt, before adding any liquid. Use a spatula to
scrape the mixture off the sides afterward. Then
add the lemon juice and zest, Dijon mustard, sherry
vinegar, and cilantro and blend to a consistent
texture. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper
flakes and blend once more. Season to taste.

2 If you are using baby kale, there is no need to cut
it. If your kale is adolescent, cut it across the stem
into thin strips. If it is full grown, pull the leaves
backwards off of the stems and then cut it into thin
strips. If it is particularly tough, you can massage
the cut kale between your hands to tenderize it.
It works! Place kale in large wooden bowl.

3 Cut avocado in half, remove pit and slice across the flesh
every ½ inch, without penetrating the skin. Then make
one, long perpendicular cut through the center, without
penetrating the skin. Use a spoon to release the flesh from
the skin into the kale. Do the same for the other half.

4 Spoon about half of the dressing on the kale and avocado
and gently massage it in. Taste for salt and pepper and
add more if necessary. If you like a heavy dressing, which
is often very nice on a kale salad, add the remainder.
Otherwise, save it for another use. Sprinkle the pepitas
on top of the salad. To make a meal out of it, serve with a
fried egg on top and a hunk of crusty bread on the side.

Enjoy.

Annemarie Ahearn is the owner of Salt Water Farm cooking school in Lincolnville. | saltwaterfarm.com