singing to garlic: MAINE’S FARMER MUSICIANS BY CARRIE BRAMAN PHOTOGRAPHS BY MOLLY HALEY
Photos and text by Jenny Nelson
Polly Shyka and Prentice Grassi (and their three young boys) own and operate Villageside Farm in Freedom, Maine. They grow certified organic seedlings, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, as well as raising laying hens and meat chickens. They sell their products through a CSA, to retailers, and Unity Food Hub. I visited Villageside a couple weeks ago, as they were getting ready for their first seedling sale of the season, and we talked about their approach to farming, and what it means to be part of the farm community in Waldo County.
Villageside Farm was the first farm to sell through Unity Food Hub, a new distributor that connects farms with wholesale markets, like institutions, as well as low-income customers. Colleen Hanlon Smith, the operations manager at UFH, lives just down the road from Polly and Prentice, and while they have a business relationship, they are also simply neighbors who care about farming and food, and are collaborating to do good work in rural Maine.
On working with UFH, Polly said, “We really enjoy the clarity of communication, mutually beneficial marketing and solid professionalism. We are excited to see how UFH’s mission and work in the farming sector expands and grows in the years to come.”
Villageside uses sustainable growing practices, and they’re certified organic through MOFGA. Polly said they chose organic because, “Organic agriculture is food production, an ancient craft, in service to life processes. Organic farmers work with nature, rather than against nature. We feed the soil microbiology, protect our crops with physical rather than chemical barriers and strive to steward the land for the next generation. We want to be a part of the necessary return to original, regenerative and respectful agriculture.”
“The best part of raising our boys on the farm is being able to show them the gifts of the natural world. Our boys are in daily contact with feelings of reciprocity, loss, emergence and creativity. They also have ready access to tractor mechanics, bookkeeping, whole foods eating, soil stewardship and animal husbandry. After dinner last night, our middle son asked if one of us would go look for spring peepers. On the walk back, he said, quietly and kind of to himself, “I love being outside.” That about sums it up.”
Polly and Prentice train 3-5 aspiring farmers each year and love seeding the next generation of farmers. There is a wonderful young energy here, lots of laughter, cooperation, and a laid back vibe, although everyone is always busy.
By raising their family on the farm, training new farmers, growing food for their neighbors and for start-ups like Unity Food Hub, Polly and Prentice are investing in their community, and perpetuating the future that they want to see.
“We support local businesses and craftspeople whenever possible. We love the vibrancy of Waldo County, however small and rural it is in the scheme of things.”