We are the second generation of Sarah’s family farming on this land. My father bought the farm in 1987 and we bought it from him in 2007. We have been here since 2005. It is hard to say exactly how long our land has been a farm. Our house was built in the 1820’s and as far as we know it has been farmed in some way since then. We own 298 acres and lease 72 acres in addition to our own farm, there are 156 open acres, 120 acres of woodlot, and 14 acres of “homestead.” All the land we rent is open. We are a certified organic diversified farm milking a mixed genetics herd of 40 cows, we raise beef and rose veal, 3 acres of mixed veggies, and seasonally pastured laying hens and broiler chickens. We wholesale our bulk milk to CROPP Coop, which is marketed as Organic Valley. We sell our other products through five armers’ markets, a CSA, restaurants, health and specialty food stores, as well as on our farm.
We are incredibly passionate about organic, diversified family farming. We are young, creative, and innovative farmers operating a unique farm where we milk 40 cows, raise 3 acres of mixed vegetables, raise pastured beef and rose veal, have 150 seasonally pastured laying hens, and raise several hundred pastured broiler chickens each summer. In addition to wholesaling milk to C.R.O.P.P., we also sell our products at five farmers’ markets, various health and specialty food stores, to Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative, and restaurants throughout Maine. We are both college-educated and knew we wanted to farm when we met at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC. Today, we are extremely involved in our local community as citizens and farmers from managing markets to serving on the Maine Organic Farmers’ and Gardeners Association (M.O.F.G.A.) board to volunteering for Main Street Skowhegan to serving on the board of Maine Organic Milling (M.O.M.) to giving talks to local school classes. We are defying the stereotype of the “brain drain”in rural American communities and we are proud of it!
Both of us work full-time on our farm and we are fortunate to squeak out a living for ourselves and our two young children. Our farm is beautiful and historic. We have 298 contiguous acres set majestically atop a hill overlooking the west branch of the Wesserunsett Stream in Skowhegan just a couple of miles from the mighty Kennebec River. We are only a couple of miles from downtown. This farm is legendary in our community and everyone seems to have a story about working or playing on this land. We feel honored to be stewards of this place and to be pouring our sweat, blood, laughs and tears into restoring it to the former glory once known here. We were conscious consumers before owning our farm and we tend to the land and animals here with that same care. We practice management intensive grazing of our cows, which means they move into small paddocks of fresh grass every 12 hours in the summer. This practice gives our girls access to the most nutritious and digestible grasses, while concentrating their manure for fertilizing, and forcing them to eat more evenly across the field. It is much more work for us than simply opening a big pasture for them, but it reaches the true sense of organic management. We plant cover crops on open garden fields and make beautiful compost for growing the most amazing veggies. We practice the simple steps outlined in Conservation Security Program, which works to promote the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life, and other conservation purposes. We have a nutrient management plan and work closely with our NRCS and FSA offices. Good management of all pieces of our farm results in healthy animals, grasses, and vegetables coming off our land.
Farming is a challenging career choice. No one became a farmer because they thought it would be easy or that they would make a lot of money. The story of our community is the same as many rural communities across the country. We live in an economically depressed area where 51% of the citizens received food stamp benefits. It is difficult to market high quality, more expensive foods to many in our community. We are working tirelessly on increasing access to the foods we produce for folks receiving federal food benefits. Another challenge we face is to determine which parts of our farm to focus on expanding. We operate a very diversified farm and can only continue to expand to the limits of our time and energy as well as our bank account! We hope to find another committed person to join us at the farm someday so that we can more efficiently maintain and manage the various pieces of our business. We are attempting to expand and improve our farm slowly over time without taking on increased debt. It can be very challenging and time consuming to work on the business end of farming to determine where our profit margins exist. Each year we do our best to add one piece of equipment or building that increases our efficiency and profitability.
A final challenge in farming today is access to good labor. In this age of instant gratification and technology, there are few people interested in working as hard as we do for the meager wages we earn. We do eat well though! We utilize interns during the summer and fall. These are folks from all over who live with us and become a part of our farm family. They work in all aspects of our business and have many skills when they leave the farm. Very few have gone on to farm on their own, but each leaves with a new appreciation for farming and food production. We spend countless hours teaching them many things and we sit around a large dinner table as a group each evening talking about food politics, reviewing books and news stories, and changing their minds about the food system in this country. It is difficult to find good interns. Many people have an idealistic view of what farm life is like. It is truly the dream job on a 75 degree, partly cloudy day with a nice breeze, but what about when it is raining or 100 degrees? Or, when the cows get out at 3:00 am or you have to shovel rocks or pick beans for hours on end? We have heard many comments from our help about how they have never worked so hard, slept so soundly, or eaten so well! We love these aspects of our life, but it can be a big change for many.
In the long run, we hope to continue to improve our land, animals, and buildings. We hope to continue to expand our markets and access for the foods we grow for folks living in our community. We will wake up every morning and do what we did the day before, but we hope we learn to do things a little better than yesterday. We want our farm to be a place that our children are proud of and want to continue when we retire to our front porch chairs. We want our neighbors and community members to know who we are and respect us for the many things we have offered them from food, to beautiful green space, to friendship and relationship. We dream of a world where the time honored relationship between food producer and consumer is re-established. A world where meat is worth an extra $1.00/lb. or carrots worth an extra $0.50/bunch when you are supporting a family and a way of life. The change is happening slowly!
Interested in learning more about Grassland’s operation, check them out at www.grasslandorganicfarm.com