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Fertile Soil

People have been growing food in the upper Kennebec Valley for thousands of years. Native Americans and European settlers alike recognized that the intervale land, at the confluence of the Sandy and Kennebec Rivers, is some of the most productive land in New England. Jay Robinson, of Sweet Land Farm in Starks, says that his land “can grow anything,” boasting prime agricultural soils and southern exposure.

Now, thanks to a conservation easement, Jay’s 113 acres of rich farmland will continue to be available for farming far into the future.

When Jay bought the farm in 1978, it was being used exclusively to produce feed corn for dairy farms. Now he grows all kinds of vegetables, including the trifecta of squash, sweet corn, and beans that Native Americans had been growing for centuries. He sells through farmer’s markets and to various wholesale markets, including Good Shepherd Food Bank’s “Mainers Feeding Mainers” program.

“It’s ironic that [the region] is considered impoverished now,” Jay says. The wealth in soil doesn’t necessarily translate to feeding the area’s inhabitants, but by selling vegetables to the food bank, Jay is hoping to help change that. He says it works out well for him—he gets a stable wholesale price for his product, and doesn’t have to market, package, and deliver his goods—and the food gets to those who need it most. He’s also looking ahead to the future, participating in seed trials for Johnny’s Selected Seeds and growing specialty crops for emerging markets.

Jay is looking further into the future by helping to cultivate the next generation of farmers in the Kennebec Valley region. His farm apprenticeships provide invaluable experience for interns, and for several years he leased a portion of his land to young farmers Adam and Johanna of Songbird Farm so they could grow heritage flint corn. As the number of young farmers in Maine grows, Jay hopes more of them will put down roots in the Kennebec Valley. The landscape is slowly changing, he says: now, young farmers are interested in Waldo County, but that area is getting saturated, and they’ll start looking west. There’s a lot of prime, underutilized soil in the area, and he would like to see others take advantage of that potential.

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