Tag Archives: Farm Stories

Forgotten Farms at Johnson Hall, Gardiner

Join us at Johnson Hall, Gardiner on Tuesday, May 23rd at 6:30 pm for Forgotten Farms, a new film about the important role dairy farms play in New England’s farming landscape.

Dairy farmers remain the backbone of the region’s agriculture but fight for survival in an age of artisan cheese and kale. New England has lost over 10,000 dairy farms in the past 50 years; about 2,000 farms remain. Through conversations with farmers and policy experts, FORGOTTEN FARMS reconsiders the role of these vital but forgotten farmers, who will be essential players in an expanded agricultural economy.

Amanda Beal of MFT, Dave Colson of MOFGA, along with the film makers and Maine dairy farmers, will discuss how the themes of the film are present in Maine’s dairy industry today and where we can go from here.

Presented by Maine Farmland Trust & MOFGA

$5. suggested donation.

Forgotten Farms at Space Gallery, Portland

Join us at Space Gallery, Portland on Monday, May 22nd at 7:00 pm, (doors at 6:30) for Forgotten Farms, a new film about the important role dairy farms play in New England’s farming landscape.

Dairy farmers remain the backbone of the region’s agriculture but fight for survival in an age of artisan cheese and kale. New England has lost over 10,000 dairy farms in the past 50 years; about 2,000 farms remain. Through conversations with farmers and policy experts, FORGOTTEN FARMS reconsiders the role of these vital but forgotten farmers, who will be essential players in an expanded agricultural economy.

Amanda Beal of MFT, Dave Colson of MOFGA, along with the film makers and Maine dairy farmers, will discuss how the themes of the film are present in Maine’s dairy industry today and where we can go from here.

$5. suggested donation.

Presented by Maine Farmland Trust, MOFGA, and the Portland Food Co-op.

Two by Two: Two Couples, Four Photographers

(Belfast, ME) When it comes to photography, couples Ralph & Kathryn and Margaret & Drew are two peas in a (tri-)pod. For both pairs, being photographers together is a core part of their relationship – not unlike farming is to many farming couples. The new exhibit at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery features a selection of each of these four photographers.

Two by Two: Two Couples, Four Photographers will be on display from November 7, 2016 through January 6, 2017. There will be an artist talk with all four photographers on Friday November 18, from 4:30 to 5:30 pm, followed by a reception from 5:30 to 8:00 pm.

Kathryn and Ralph

Kathryn has been an artist her whole adult life. She met Ralph when he contacted her to collaborate on a photo series in May 2013. It was a dance series and she participated as the subject. Shortly thereafter they became good friends and eventually fell in love. “Ralph inspired me to step behind the lens myself,” says Kathryn. “So we continue to bounce ideas off each other, share critiques but we pursue our own projects independently.”

Ralph was born in West Germany and studied European literature in Germany and France. He immigrated to the United States in 2002. He is a self-taught photographer who regularly presents his work in national and international shows.

“Kathryn and Ralph both often work in black and whites, and their images are rather dream-like,” says Anna Witholt Abaldo, curator of MFT Gallery. “But that is where the resemblance stops. There is a definite difference in feel, which completely echoes their individual spirit. Kathryn’s works – especially her encaustics – have an ephemeral, wispy, whimsical quality that pulls us into imaginary worlds filled with voices of flowers and wind-swept grass. Ralph’s work can be both beautiful and haunting at the same time. It strikes me as truly European: born from a philosopher’s soul, he mixes equal parts of the same dark and dripping angst found in Rilke’s poems with raw and unexpected beauty. The resulting images quiver with melancholy longing.”

Margaret and Drew

Margaret and Drew typically photograph and exhibit together. “We often spend several hours working at the same location—it could be an old farm, an abandoned mill site, or perhaps an historical building,” Margaret says.
Margaret was not a photographer when they met, but Drew was. “I would come along when he was taking pictures,” says Margaret. Drew proceeded to give Margaret a camera. “I had liked photography in my childhood – but I was always interested in abstract stuff, and was told I was taking the wrong kind of pictures!”

By Drew Sanborn

A common thread in their work is their interest in the still-visible remainders of Maine’s 19th and early 20th century history. Abandoned machinery from farms and factories, evolving rural landscapes, and even libraries of vintage books are all viewed with a contemporary sensibility.

“Margaret and Drew know how to do justice to the beauty and personality of all things old,” says Anna Witholt Abaldo. “Looking at their work I sense a stillness and emptiness, like time has momentarily stopped.”

Farm Walk & Scavenger Hunt at Mulberry Farms

Come on a walk with MFT and Frank and Debbie Pecoraro, owners of Mulberry Farms  Raymond, on Sunday October 23rd, 3:00-5:00pm .  Explore the trails and fields of the 236-acre protected farm property, learn about the history of the farm and the plans for the future, and hear why Frank and Debbie decided to revitalize and protect this 236-acre property for generations to come.  Plus, we’ll have a farm-equipment scavenger hunt for the kids and some delicious fall snacks and mulled cider.  RSVP is required. Please call or email Caroline at 207-338-6575 or caroline@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

 MFT is hosting farm walks throughout the state this year with the aim of getting people outside and on working and protected farms in Maine.  If you would like to be notified of the next farm walk, or would like to host one, please contact Caroline at caroline@mainefarmlandtrust.org

 

Dairy Farm in Transition: Fletcher Farm

Another in our series about dairy farmers in Maine. In many ways, dairy farms are the cornerstone of Maine’s farming community.  Dairy farmers steward large tracts of farmland for feed and forage, while supporting the feed stores, equipment retailers, and large animal vets that all Maine farms rely upon. Of the 400,000 acres of farmland that will be in transition over the course of the next decade, we anticipate that a large percentage of that land is currently in dairy farming. What will happen to that land, and the infrastructure and communities it supports?
 
While farming in Maine is growing in many ways, Maine’s dairy industry has not seen the same kind of growth. Young dairy farmers are few and far between, often deterred by low milk prices and high start-up costs. Those who have bucked the trend and have decided to become either first-generation dairy farmers or to continue their family’s farm, have an important role to play in ensuring that dairy farms remain the foundation of Maine’s farming landscape.
“Make hay while the sun shines” is something everyone says, but it’s a literal reality for dairy farmers. The first time I visited Walter and Austin Fletcher of Fletcher Farm in Pittsfield, Austin was cutting grass in the fields until dark, racing against the disappearing autumn daylight. Because it’s been such a dry summer, dairy farmers who rely on productive pastures that have been struggling to make a second or third cut before fall sets in, and the hustle for hay (and very few rainy rest days) means that it’s rare to catch father and son Walter and Austin in the same place at the same time.
While Austin cut hay, Walter gave me a tour of the farm. The barn is outfitted with the Cabot logo, easily recognizable with the signature red and black checkered background. While walking around the farm and watching the evening milking, I was struck by how orderly and calm the farm is. All the cows were resting or munching contently in their quiet spaces, each one set up specifically for each group of cows, depending on age, health, and milking/fertility stage of life. The Fletchers take good care of their herd, from the calves up through the older cows, the latter of which are housed close to the barn for comfort and accessibility. Everything on the farm is done without fanfare, but with a tremendous amount of respect and care for the animals that produce the farm’s lifeblood: milk.
Walter and his wife Edna bought 500 acres in Pittsfield in 1980 and started Fletcher Farm. Walter grew up on a dairy farm in Massachusetts and he can’t imagine a different path. “I really think that [farming] chose me,” said Walter. “At first it was a dream that we made real. Than a challenge to be successful not just as a business because farming is more than business it’s a way of life.” He and Edna raised three children on the farm. Austin, the youngest son, left for school and worked elsewhere for awhile but has since come back to join the business. Right now, the father and son team work together as partners in the LLC, from before sun up (morning milking starts at 3:30am) to sundown; the plan is for Austin to gradually take over the farm as Walter slowly transitions away from full-time farming.

Though Austin grew up on a dairy farm, he wasn’t always sure it was what he wanted to do for a living. “There was a time in high school when I definitely wanted nothing to do with it,” he said. “I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t think I wanted to do it.” But after leaving Maine and working other jobs and on other farms, Austin felt the pull pack to his roots. At 33, he’s happy to be back in Pittsfield, working alongside his dad and preparing to continue the family business. “There is a personal satisfaction,” said Walter, “a sense of accomplishment, when your children look at what you have done and see something worthwhile. And when one of them says to you ‘I see what you’ve done and I would like to be a part of it, to build on it and carry it forward,’ it is the greatest compliment that I could receive. It makes me very proud.”

Dairy farming is a tough business. Luckily, Austin isn’t starting from scratch; he’s building on the strong foundation laid by his dad. When he’s not engaged in farm work, Walter is involved in making sure that farming has a future throughout Maine, and is an active board member of Maine Farmland Trust, Agri-Mark and Cabot Creamery Cooperative. Though sitting on various boards means adding a lot of travel and meeting time onto his already full farming schedule, it’s important to him to be involved and work with the wider farming community. As Treasurer for Agri-Mark, Walter represents the concerns and interest of over 1,000 dairy farms and farming families. It’s a responsibility he takes very seriously, evident in his measured, respectful tone when he speaks about everything from the way Agri-Mark works to the way they organize their cows on the farm.
There are challenges ahead for Maine’s dairy industry as farmers retire and land changes hands. Dairy farms like Fletcher Farm that are transferring to the next generation and staying in the family, are increasingly in the minority. But despite an uncertain future, Walter and Austin are hopeful, and doing all that they can to ensure that dairy remains a key part of Maine’s farming landscape.

Historic 100-acre farm protected for future generations

The Waterhouse Farm has been in the same family since before the town of Scarborough incorporated in 1658. Now, thanks to a partnership between Maine Farmland Trust and Scarborough Land Trust, the 100-acre working farm will remain intact, and in the family, into the future.

Dick Waterhouse decided to protect his farm several years ago, and has been working with Maine Farmland Trust and Scarborough Land Trust to determine the best way to preserve his family’s land and legacy. The family closed on the sale of an easement at the end of August. The funds from the sale of the easement will ensure that the farm stays in the family for the next generation.

“We are thrilled to play a role in conserving this historic Scarborough farm,” said Jeremy Wintersteen, Scarborough Land Trust board member and Acquisition Committee Chair.  “Congratulations go out to Dick Waterhouse and Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) for all their efforts.  One of the oldest farms in Scarborough is now conserved forever.  This is the fourth farm that MFT has helped to conserve in Scarborough so we are grateful for their expertise and interest in this region.  We look forward to future partnership efforts with them and other farmers in town.”

“This project has had its share of challenges,” said Charlie Baldwin, land protection project manager at Maine Farmland Trust. “Sorting out the boundary lines on a farm this old was a project in itself, but with Mr. Waterhouse and SLT’s help we were able to secure the future of this great farm”. Despite the lengthy process, the Waterhouse family was committed to seeing the easement through to completion.

This farmland protection project ensures the conservation of quality farmland and 100 acres of open space in an aggressively developing area of the state. And it also protects a direct link to Scarborough’s deep history as one of Maine’s great agricultural areas. The farm has been an active, diversified farm for its entire history. Presently, Dick Waterhouse raises horses, beef cattle, hogs, sheep, turkeys and chickens, maintains pasture, and grows hay.

 

Young Dairy Farmers: Sheepscot Valley Dairy Farm

This is another story in our series about young dairy farmers in Maine. In many ways, dairy farms are the cornerstone of Maine’s farming community.  Dairy farmers steward large tracts of farmland for feed and forage, while supporting the feed stores, equipment retailers, and large animal vets that all Maine farms rely upon. Of the 400,000 acres of farmland that will be in transition over the course of the next decade, we anticipate that a large percentage of that land is currently in dairy farming. What will happen to that land, and the infrastructure and communities it supports?

While farming in Maine is growing, Maine’s “traditional” dairy industry has not seen the same growth. The younger generation of farmers choosing to go in to dairy farming and sell fluid milk to large processors are few and far between, often deterred by low milk prices and high start-up costs. Those who have bucked the trend and have decided to become either first-generation dairy farmers or to continue their family’s farm, have an important role to play in ensuring that dairy farms remain the foundation of Maine’s farming landscape.

 

From the outside, it might appear that Annie Watson and Mike Moody of Sheepscot Valley Dairy Farm in Whitefield tried hard to not become dairy farmers. Mike grew up on a dairy farm in Lincolnville, learning the trade from his grandparents, in an area where there were handfuls of dairy farms around. In 2005, he was the last one, and he sold his herd, just a few months after he met Annie. Their first date had involved riding around on his tractor and chopping corn and Annie could see how much he loved this work and lifestyle, but that how exhausted and burnt out he was also, filling in the extra hours with urchin diving and striping lines on parking lots for extra money to keep farming.

He needed a break. Annie and Mike talked about other business ideas and opportunities, but as Annie says, “once a farmer, always a farmer” and six years later, they decided dairy farming really was what they wanted to do, and they wanted to do it together. “We knew it was a lifestyle we both wanted and that it was a great way to raise a family,” said Annie. “In 2012 we got married, and within our first year of marriage, we had connected with a farmer thinking about retirement, and in May of 2013, we purchased our farm in Whitefield. Not bad for newlyweds!” On the day they bought their farm, the retiring farmer milked the cows in the morning, papers were signed that afternoon, then Annie and Mike milked their new herd that evening.

Today, they manage about 250 acres (both owned and leased) for grazing pasture and hay, and milk around 50 cows in a herd of 125, give or take. They are a certified organic dairy and are members of CROPP co-op, which owns Organic Valley.

 

Mike acknowledges that growing up on a dairy farm definitely makes the learning curve of starting a new operation much less steep, but teaching Annie about running a dairy farm presented unique challenges. As Annie recalled,”it was when he had to teach me to milk and we worked together that the real challenge came. When you’re so used to doing something on your own, it can be difficult to teach someone else. I am someone who really likes to learn new things, and I try my best. For me that involves asking a lot of questions, which at times, drove Mike nuts! But it also made him think a little differently about some things, and I think it ultimately made us both better farmers.”
Those challenges taught the couple how to be better communicators in business, and in life. “Some couples can’t imagine working together, but honestly I can’t imagine not working together- it has strengthened our relationship so much, and we have a great deal of respect for one another.” As their young family grows and changes, Mike  says he misses the days when they would both do the milking together, which is now less frequent with kiddos, and Annie’s work as an event planner.

For any family, dairy farming “is a commitment unlike any other…the idea that you have to sacrifice seemingly “normal” things like vacations and free time is scary to many,” said Annie. “We live in an age where the idea of signing a cellphone contract is unimaginable to some.  Being there to milk the cows twice a day, every day is a lot to take on.” But it’s been the right choice for their family, and they wouldn’t trade the lifestyle.

Mike echoed the sentiments we’ve heard from the other dairy farmers we’ve talked to around the state: it’s really difficult for young farmers get into dairy farming, either by taking over an existing farm operation, or starting one from scratch. For most retiring dairy farmers, the value of the farm is their retirement, and as much as they would like to be able to, simply can’t afford to hand the farm over to the next generation. At the same time, the cost of starting a dairy farm from scratch, or buying an existing farm is often prohibitive, and younger dairy farmers can’t afford to buy the farm without some substantial capital in hand, and/or without going into debt.

Mike and Annie were fortunate enough to have received a family inheritance, which enabled them to put a down payment on the farm along with saved money from Mike’s time commercial fishing in Alaska and Maine. They were able to owner-finance through the previous owners which is also a huge help. The farm came with the Organic Valley supply chain, so they know they’ll continue to see a return on our investment because of the relationship already established. These days, organic milk prices are on slightly more stable ground. Mike and Annie hope that the work they’re putting into their farm now will enable their business to continue to flourish and grow, and that someday, if their kids want to take over the farm, they will be able to, without taking on debt.

“We are so fortunate to live in a community that really supports agriculture.” Annie says. “We live next door to another dairy farm, also run by a young family, and it has really made all the difference for us. Mike and our neighbor throw ideas back and forth, and it is so nice to have people in our lives who understand what our life is like. We are also surrounded by a community that understands what it’s like to have tractors driving down the road, and sometimes it can stink when we are spreading manure. We don’t often hear any complaints and we are fortunate for that.”

Young Dairy Farmers: Bo Lait

This is another story in our series about young dairy farmers in Maine. In many ways, dairy farms are the cornerstone of Maine’s farming community.  Dairy farmers steward large tracts of farmland for feed and forage, while supporting the feed stores, equipment retailers, and large animal vets that all Maine farms rely upon. Of the 400,000 acres of farmland that will be in transition over the course of the next decade, we anticipate that a large percentage of that land is currently in dairy farming. What will happen to that land, and the infrastructure and communities it supports?

While farming in Maine is growing, Maine’s dairy industry has not seen the same growth. The younger generation who are choosing to be dairy farmers are few and far between, often deterred by low milk prices and high start-up costs. Those who have bucked the trend and have decided to become either first-generation dairy farmers or to continue their family’s farm, have an important role to play in ensuring that dairy farms remain the foundation of Maine’s farming landscape.

While their decision to become dairy farmers was relatively easy, being dairy farmers is anything but. Without a background in dairy farming, their learning curve has been steep, and making it work is a constant challenge. “There’s so much to know when you’re running a farm. You’re a vet, plumber, carpenter, accountant, manager, electrician, mechanic… the list goes on. Most dairy farmers we know still claim to have only learned the tip of the iceberg, even with decades of experience under their belts. It’s no exaggeration to say we learn something new everyday, whether we want to or not.”

Luckily, Conor is no stranger to intense work, and feels uniquely equipped to take on the challenge. He says his experience in the Special Forces set the standard for the type of work ethic and drive necessary to start a farm from the ground up. “The biggest challenge is finding enough hours in the day to get things done,” said Conor. “Also prioritizing work and realizing that the biggest “fires” are the most important to put out first. Managing cash flow is also a big challenge on a dairy because the expenses are very high and the margins are small.”

Conor and Alexis sell their certified organic fluid milk to Organic Valley, a cooperative based in Wisconsin. “We were very lucky in that Organic Valley was looking to add new farms at the time we started, so we were able to sign our contract with them 6 months prior to our first shipment date.”

Right now they’re milking 38 of their 46 cows. “We’ve grown quite a bit over the last year and we think we’ll stay put at this herd size for a while. It feels manageable without being too crazy.” Their milk pool manager at Organic Valley has been a great resource for them as they’ve grown, and a great advocate as well.

The support network they’ve grown around them helps to temper the challenges  running a dairy farm, and the MacDonalds are thankful for the many people that pitch in, in all kinds of ways: “Between our co-op, other local farmers, family, friends and our wonderful, PATIENT neighbors who come over with a smile when the heifers have gotten out again,” said Conor, “I don’t think we could ask for more.”

Young Dairy Farmers: Santy Dairy

This is the second post in a series about young dairy farmers in Maine. In many ways, dairy farms are the cornerstone of Maine’s farming community.  Dairy farmers steward large tracts of farmland for feed and forage, while supporting the feed stores, equipment retailers, and large animal vets that all Maine farms rely upon. Of the 400,000 acres of farmland that will be in transition over the course of the next decade, we anticipate that a large percentage of that land is currently in dairy farming. What will happen to that land, and the infrastructure and communities it supports?

While farming in Maine is growing, Maine’s dairy industry has not seen the same growth. The younger generation who are choosing to be dairy farmers are few and far between, often deterred by low milk prices and high start-up costs. Those who have bucked the trend and have decided to become either first-generation dairy farmers or to continue their family’s farm, have an important role to play in ensuring that dairy farms remain the foundation of Maine’s farming landscape.

Brad Santy of Santy Dairy Farm in Skowhegan is a second generation dairy farmer. He grew up on his grandparents’ and uncle’s dairy farms in New Hampshire and has always known he wanted to follow in their footsteps. When I asked him why and he said simply, “I love it.” He recognizes the challenges of dairy farming and yet he can’t imagine doing anything else.

Brad attributes the lack of growth in “young” dairy farms to several factors. “It’s tough to start a farm with such huge overhead involved,” he said. “It’s incredibly hard to start small, too, with one tractor and 10 cows.” In his experience, it’s rare that young farmers can jump right in and buy the land, equipment and a herd, without taking on an enormous amount of debt.

Brad and his former wife bought the farm 10 years ago this May. The land had been managed organically for the previous decade, and they decided to maintain certification as a trial run, and ended up keeping it organic. Brad sells fluid milk to Horizon, through Agri-Mark, a Northeast dairy cooperative. He says that while being certified organic is definitely extra work, “it’s more sustainable” and it also helps to ensure a more stable price for his milk, in an industry often characterized by  drastic ups and downs. “Once you’re used to the detailed record keeping, it’s actually really easy,” Brad said matter-of-factly.

One of the reasons Brad and his family decided to move to Maine to start the farm was the relative access to farmland. “We looked at 20 farms all over New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York and ended up finding the best and most affordable ones in Maine,” Brad says. It turned out to be the right place for them. The farm has been a great place for his kids to grow up. Brad’s kids Matt and Ally have been around the cows their whole lives. They know their names, help out with milking and other farm work, have seen calves born, and witnessed all of the other realities of farm life.  Ten-year-old Ally is a natural with the cows, said Brad, “she spots things before I do. We had a cow with pinkeye and she found it first.”

The other draw to Maine was the farmer support system –both formal services and informal networks of fellow farmers– that’s in place  here. Dairy farmers don’t often leave the farm; it’s around-the-clock work to take care of the herd. Conveniently, Brad doesn’t have to go far to tap into that support network: in central Maine, there’s a strong community of farmers that can help each other troubleshoot, and share information, equipment, stories, and the occasional beer. His best friend is a conventional dairy farmer up the road, and Brad feels lucky to have found some good employees. One of the two local guys helping him on the farm has been working with Brad for years, and after graduating from college, he returned to the farm full-time.

When he looks ahead to the future of his farm, Brad is hopeful. He feels good about the decision to be an organic dairy farmer, and thinks that will help put the farm in a better position for his kids, who he hopes will want to take over someday. Taking over an established family farm may be a bit easier than starting from scratch, but dairy farming will always be challenging. Equipment is expensive, milk prices go up and down, and access to land for pasture and feed is often a concern. And yet, if you love dairy farming as much as Brad Santy does, the decision to take on those challenges is an easy one.

As Brad’s tattoo reads: “Farm on.”

Land in Transition: Curran Farm

Our Land in Transition series shines a light on the hundreds of thousands of acres of Maine farmland that will be changing hands within the next decade. The future of farming in Maine depends on what happens to that land.

We often share stories of the beginning farmers we work with, who are gaining access to farmland and keeping it in cultivation. Their energy and passion for growing food and building community is inspiring.  But the story of new farmers putting down roots in Maine often starts with the previous farmland owners, who have the vision and patience to ensure that their land stays in farming and is accessible  for the next generation. Older farmland owners’ commitment to the land is equally inspiring, and they play an important role in making sure that Maine has the farmland needed to sustain itself and the region far into the future.

Dan Curran has farmed his family’s land in Sabattus his entire life. It’s where he grew up and where his parents also farmed. It was a dairy farm until recently, when Dan decided to switch to raising beef, lamb and selling hay from his 91-acre property. He farms alongside his children and their families, who plan to take over the farm when he retires.
He’s thrilled that his kids want to continue farming here, but said that he would have protected the land regardless. Recently, videographer Galen Koch and I had a chance to walk the property with Dan, and listen as he explained the decision to protect his farm.

Help keep farms like Curran Farm in farming by joining us in our work to protect farmland, support farmers, and grow a future for farming in Maine. Become a member.