One of our new favorite blogs is The Maine Farm Chick, a site dedicated to educating readers about local agriculture and husbandry. The Maine Farm Chick travels around the northern countryside, touring farms, talking to farmers, and sharing their tricks of the trade. We’re enamored by her home-spun tales of the farming industry, and asked if she could share her story with The Orris.
Tell us about yourself. What’s your background?
I was born and raised in Maine, although I’ve done some traveling across the States and internationally. A vast majority of my extended family farms, from small dairy operations to large-scale Christmas tree farms. My dad tended to treat my sister and I like boys, so we grew up doing farm chores, “helping” him with hands-on projects around the small farm we had, and were taught about how to work hard from an early age. I went to college and concentrated on archaeology -more hands-on work – and have always felt more comfortable outside, working in the dirt. I have, as you can probably tell from the blog, an insanely neurotic border collie and a young son. Some other tidbits: In terms of hobbies, I like to hike, surf, I dabble in salsa dance and yoga.
What was the inspiration behind this project?
About a year ago, I was thinking about the difficulty people must have finding local food. I started asking around, and realized not too many people were focused on getting food from farms. It’s hard to sacrifice a one-stop shopping experience at a Supermarket (How convenient!) for three or four trips to farms which could be fifteen, twenty minutes apart. I thought, well I do that, how can I get other people to do that? I then started to think about an easy way to pique people’s interest in local farms, and an easy way for them to access it. There are definitely websites out there that provide contact info for farms in Maine, but none really paint a picture, y’know? So, my thought was to go farm to farm, one by one, and see what each story was.
How’d you get started?
I started easy, with my uncle’s farm, just to test out my interviewing techniques, and to see how to make the whole concept of visiting a strange farm flow. It was awkward at first, but after about five minutes (I use a voice recorder so I don’t have to take notes), I ended up getting into my groove and actually collecting viable information. After that, I sort of understood how I needed to approach it and then I just… did it. Lots of cold-calling at first, and then word got around, and farms were contacting me. All of a sudden, about two weeks after I’d launched the Facebook page and blog, I’d gotten 2,000 hits (On WordPress, that’s about the time I bought the domain name) and I had people asking me when I could come visit them. Word travels fast, I will say that. The network of farmers is incredible.
What is the state of the farming industry today in Maine?
That’s a super hard question. For some farmers, it’s a tough market. For other farmers, they’re well-established and seem to be doing well. It’s hard to answer that broadly. I would say that the state of Maine farming is both strong and weak. There has certainly been an upswing in local food interest, which has helped in my opinion.
Why are farms important?
There’s this bumper sticker I keep seeing, “No Farms, No Food.” I guess that’s the basic nature of it. But beyond that, people tend to see neatly packaged food in the supermarket and forget where it came from. That hamburger had to come from somewhere, that “local corn,” being advertised at Shop N Save was sourced from a local farm. So, taking the step beyond tiled supermarket aisles to see really where your food is from… I guess I’m digressing. Farms are important because without them, big or small, we literally would not have food. Recognizing that is important.
It realistically wasn’t that far back in history (Like, really not too long ago) when people were only buying from their local farms. The importance was noticed back then because it was survival, now buying food from a local farmers market or a farm is seen as somewhat of a luxury. I don’t think it should be viewed that way, it should be seen as a necessity.
What makes Maine farms unique?
Of course farms exist everywhere, but Maine farms have an old-time sense to them. Naturally there are many young farmers, but the farms that I visit where the older generation is teaching the younger generation, those are are the most characteristic of Maine. The older generation of farmers, especially up north, work rocky fields to produce potatoes. I mean, they’re rugged people. There’s definitely a new-school vs. old-school farming dynamic in Maine. I’m not saying there’s competition, but there is definitely a dichotomy.
Why is it important to share the stories behind Maine farms?
I think mainly to motivate others to become more involved in farming and food and sourcing groceries locally. In order for the general public to find the motivation to go to three different places to get all of their groceries, instead of one giant supermarket, there needs to be motivation. I think showing people who makes their food, what it looks like before it gets to them, I think that’s why it’s important. On top of this, maybe I will inspire a potential-farmer to take the leap, or even inspire someone to have a small vegetable patch. Food is such an integral part of life that we all seem to take for granted. I eat four, five times a day- it’s this huge part of our lives, and yet it’s so easy to just forget that it has an origin, someone put a lot of work into that food. Local food, local farms, they’re deserving of our attention.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen so far?
Hard to pinpoint that, as I think that pretty much every farm has a unique twist to it. I think overall, the diversity between approaches to farming is striking. One farm uses a team of horses to plough enormous fields, and the next one uses a $50,000 tractor. There’s certainly no consistent formula, and that keeps it fresh and interesting.
What advice do you have for people interested in farming?
Just do it! Even if it’s a three-row veggie patch, just do it. It can only benefit you. There’s no sense in saying, “next year, I’ll have a garden,” or “Next year, I’ll get some sheep.” No time like the present, and it can teach your kids, and yourself, an awful lot about being grateful for your food.
What’s does the future hold for The Maine Farm Chick?
Well, I plan to keep on keepin’ on. I love to write, and I love to meet new people, so it seems natural to continue. It can be hard in terms of free time, and life, being able to juggle spending a couple hours of travel, a couple hours at a farm, and then a couple more editing photos and writing something people want to read. I hope to find a way to make it a bit bigger, maybe bring on a second Chick to help fill the gap between posts. I also hope to get a couple guest bloggers to do some from outside of Maine- I’ve got a close friend in Australia who might contribute. Overall, I’d like to keep it going, and keep helping local farms garner interest. That’s the whole point!
You can read more about The Maine Farm Chick and her journeys on her website.