Thursday, May 20, 2010

Brookfield, VT: Calley Hastings and Judith Irving, Fat Toad Farm

"The goats are definitely the heart of the operation. Everything begins and ends with them."

Talking to Stuart Osha at Turkey Hill Farm was a boon, and after leaving his place we meandered in our Element down a road with big trees on both sides that provided an overarching shade which dappled the sunlight on the road. Ah, beautiful Vermont!

We were on our way to Fat Toad Farm just down the road, owned and farmed by a small family with a couple of interns. Judith and Steve and Judith's daughter Calley created this venture about three years ago, intending to homestead for personal sufficiency and create goat products for monetary survival. Judith and Callie sat down with us and talked about what they do for an hour, then we got the grand tour with Judith.

Fat Toad Farm produces most of the vegetables the family eats in a year. They had a few goats a few years ago, which evolved into several goats, before they chose to create a business around them on the 20 acres that they lease. They currently milk about 45 goats.

"Basically we evolved from lots of homesteading-type things and we gardened forever. Then we started getting chickens and pigs and sheep and goats...because, you know, once you have one thing that's so amazing you want to have everything else. So, that's always very dangerous and we ended up with about, I don't know, 12 goats about three years ago and thought, 'this is really too many for a hobby.' We were milking all of them. We thought, 'okay, we need to eaither make a business that is based on goats' milk, or we need to get rid of goats. And we decided to start a business!"

There are just a couple of products put out by the farm that are sold commercially: goat cheese and goat milk caramel (or cajete as it's called in Mexico where it originated). There are about 4 different varieties of chevre, all very delicious and creamy. The cajete is a fascinating niche product that is sold far and wide in the region; they are currently trying to expand their outlets and, in fact, Calley was on her way out of town to Connecticut with a trunk full of it on a marketing tour.

"It's a traditional Mexican confection so [my sister] picked it up there and then came back and told us we should make it! It's quite a niche in fact; I mean there's one or two other places in the US doing it. Which has been great, except it's also a challenge because people are...we call it 'goats milk caramel' so people have a sense, but it's's not true caramel. It's truly cajeta."

Judith and Steve invested most of their funds, including retirement, into this farm a few years ago with the vision that they could provide good fresh food for themselves and a few really good products for their friends, neighbors and the public and that they can (hopefully) make enough money to keep going and live on. They say that this third year will be the defining one.

We spoke about the significance of the small locally-based farm. Fat Toad is part of a small network of farms around Randolph Center that sell and tout each others' products and focuses. They are seeing stronger movements in younger generations interested in participating in small-scale farming. Why is there a small boom in small farms in the area?

"So, Lilly and Maive down there, they're interns. You're getting a lot of young people who want to intern and really learn what the business is all about. And they've been able to figure out how to live with nothing, basically...I think that they're going to be looking for opportunities where they don't have to buy the land and build the house and build the barn, where they don't have to do all that initial investment, but where maybe they can take advantage of...there's a lot of people who own land who aren't doing anything with it and have pretty nice facilities and they're not doing anything with it. So, I think if that matchup could start happening, which maybe it will, you'll see a lot more possibility for people getting into farming."

"I think at the end of the day it's the consumer's choice. And it's consumer education. And it's the's everything that we try to create n a small farm. You want people to care, you want them to have food that's so good, you know, they've never had food that tasted so good. And the reason why is because it was cared for from day one to the end, you know, from the grass that the goats ate to the end of the goats' milk caramel or whatever product it is. There is no question; I mean, fresh, healthy food just tastes
so good."

They work hard every day to make quality food and sell it so they can make some more and get by. They are an amazing team with interns to help make this relatively new farm a success.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Randolph Center, Vermont: Stuart Osha and Turkey Hill Farm

"We're both 6th-generation Vermonters and this is really the only life we want; I mean, it's part of us. We love it and plan on doing it for as long as we can. It just evolved."

"The right to farm is very very important. And we are believers that any person ought to have the right to farm and sell their products...raw milk, butter, yogurt...up to a certain amount. And then, if you're selling over that and you're distributing product, you probably need to be watched closer. I said probably. If we could start with some limits on the small farm, that you could sell the products you produce without having to jump through all the hoops, it would feed the food system and I think it would feed the economy. It would certainly feed people."

Vermont is my favorite state to get lost in. It is, in fact, the only state that finds me delighted instead of frustrated as we take wrong turn after wrong turn down beautiful dirt roads encroached upon by green grass and wildflowers. That's sort of the way we ended up at Stuart and Margaret Osha's farm in the middle of Vermont, down a long forked driveway with a little hand painted sign that read "farm goods left at the fork." We passed a friendly man on the way who turned out to be Stuart, and he assured us we were headed in the right direction. He agreed to spend an hour with us on the fly, and we got to have an incredibly enlightening and enjoyable conversation with a fascinating and kind man. Margaret, his wife, passed through the room during the conversation, but unfortunately was on her way out of the house so couldn't join us.

Stuart has seen his share of health troubles, which is one of the reasons he left his successful business and invested his energy into the land and animals. He has three pigs, four cows and a hundred chickens who have beautiful and comfortable living spaces. He espouses raw milk and his strong white teeth and healthy demeanor are an advertisement for what he believes in.

He believes in local food and community networks for the economics, the satisfaction, and the practicality of them. He has about 40 regular raw milk customers who all come to the store at Turkey Hill Farm to pick up the product. The store (the "Moo-tique") is a single small room with a fridge (for milk, eggs, and other products), a freezer (for meats, etc.), and two sets of shelves holding maple syrup, Margaret's granola, Stuart's book of poetry and stories, and products from other farms in the neighborhood. They also sell veggies during the summer.

"The demand; people want the quality food and once they know the's not just us, there are lots of people like us just in this area...once they know their farmer they get a connection to their food and they want to buy it. They want to eat it. Because they can tell the difference. I mean, you eat one of our meat chickens and you just can tell the difference. You won't want to go back and buy one down at the supermarket. It's not the same."

He cited many books, individuals, and documentaries that have come out recently regarding the food system and industrialization. Though he owns no television, the internet has provided access to the popular culture around food lately, which he sees as an improvement in the general support of local systems. He also told us about recent laws and issues around sales of raw milk and small farmers. At any moment he feels that government decisions could put his small operation at risk. The Weston A. Price Foundation has provided a good deal of research around diets and health that Stuart is influenced by.

"Just the fact that there are more farmers, small farmers, producing and the fact that there are farmers' markets...I think last year was the first year since the 1950's that the number of farms has grown; but they are small farms, places like this, that are producing food. And the only reason they're growing is because people are responding to them. It's just, I think, more of an awareness...I think it's more of an awareness of what the big boys are producing."

Stuart wrote us an email later saying he had thought about the conversation and that he knew there was much more to talk about, that food and farms are such a big topical issue and that he wished he'd thought of more in the moment. He seemed like the kind of farmer who really considers what he's doing and why he's doing it a certain way at any given moment. Turkey Hill Farm was beautiful; small and practical and inviting to the community, producing food, sharing it, and including the neighbors in its operation. He hasn't traveled much, but, calling his operation a homestead, he said that if he had a choice he'd never leave the property, choosing to sustain himself, his family, and his community in the beauty of central Vermont.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Montpelier: Karl Hammer, Vermont Compost Co.

"First there was magma, then there was rock. The rest is soil history. Well, we are part of that, of course. In fact, it's not a metaphor to say that we are walking soil. We are...walking water, walking many things you could point out, but walking soil is it. So if you combust us; get rid of the carbon, get rid of the water, that ash, those components...those are rocks that were magma and dust.

"We used to say people were 'of' a soil, came from somewhere. That really mattered because they were 'of' those rocks. Now, are we eclectic and cosmopolitan! Turkish figs, California lettuce, wheat from the, if I'm walking soil...talking soil...what are my special responsibilities to the rest of soil?"

We were fortunate to roll into Montpelier on May 2nd, arriving in Vermont's capitol at the tail end of the Parade of Species. The parade was over but we came across lots of fairies, some tigers, a dinosaur, and a man walking his goat on the capital green. We settled in with our gracious hosts, Schuyler and Aisling, and they introduced us to a delicious Vermont tradition, the maple creemee (soft serve ice cream with maple syrup flavoring). We returned to that sugar shack more than once while we stayed in Montpelier that week.

The next day we were able to meet Karl Hammer, founder and director of Vermont Compost Co. Karl is an expert at concocting customized compost, and works in the community to rescue food waste from restaurants and grocery stores that would otherwise be piling up in landfills.

Karl has about 400 chickens who eat some of the food scraps in the massive piles around the property and he collects the eggs to sell. The chickens aren't fed; they scavenge in the mounds and find their own food, while giving back their own pellets of nutrition and converting food waste into nitrogen to be mixed back into the piles.

Karl started out using mule power to run his farm, and he still does some work with mules, though he has mechanized his operation as well. The compost piles are now turned with back hoes and are shipped around the country in the form of commercial amendments and potting soil. He has run into a many difficulties because his compost operation and farm are on Main Street in Montpelier, mostly political. With the scale of the Vermont Compost Co. operation, there are bound to be occasional issues, not the least of which are general fears of sanitation and neighborhood contamination. Karl had plenty of arguments as to why these are unfounded and clearly laid out his methods and reasons behind his approaches, but will surely continue to deal with politics for some time.

The operation is on a hill, sloped downwards towards the street. He makes use of the slope as the piles migrate and likes to take his guests "to the top", up the hill to overlook the whole operation. We stood upon a solid mound that was once the topsoil of the property, rolled up and saved as part of the landscape. His reverence for soil, or at least his understanding of it, shows that he is passionate and dedicated to working with it and not mining it away.

"Vermont has been through this a cycle of this before; there was the sheep boom...first came the potash burners. They came and they burned everything and they shipped the ash for soap making and for fertilizer back to Western Mass. where they were starting to need fertilizer because they were, well, basically monocropping wheat and corn. Then came the Marino sheep boom; they brought those Spanish Marino sheep here and people got rich in the 1810's and '20's in the sheep boom. 95% of Vermont was open for sheep grazing and was overgrazed. And wool has a lot of silica; wool is a huge amount of the mineral wealth of the soil is shipped when you ship the wool. Then, just about the time the sheep boom collapsed with the cotton gin and the whole changeover to textiles that were cheaper than wool, the Erie Canal opened. And there was rail to Boston and Boston was a market for butter. And butter, when you sell butter, you're selling air. Fats have no minerals. Pure butter has almost no minerals; it's all synthesized from air. So if you keep the whey, the hair the bone, all that stuff in the community and ship butter you're enriching your soil, especially if you've got some subsidy. So we re-mineralized Vermont at that moment."

At the end of the interview, back at the bottom of the operation, past the barns and greenhouse and chicken building, Karl scrambled up to the top of one of the wood chip mountains and dug his hands into the bark, unearthing a handful that he held up to his face and deeply inhaled. We followed suit and were surprised to feel the warmth emanating off of the pile. It smelled like peppermint.


Due to frequent inquiries about our means of transport on this trip across America, we have been convinced to show you the ins and the outs of our as-yet-unnamed vehicle. For anyone who is wondering what the Honda Element looks like in its house-on-wheels state, this post is for you.

You're wondering how on earth we fit two 6-foot-tall people:

and all of this stuff:

into this unassuming box of a car:

, allowing for all of our food, photo equipment and accouterments for the season.

After my wonderful and beautiful mother sold us her element, Trav and I undertook the business of making it as livable as we could for the next 5 months. The car was built to accommodate people like us; the back seats of an element flatten out like they are victims of rigor mortis, and then you can detach them from the floor of the car and clip them up to the side wall of the car, which creates a big open space in the back. Trav and I built two 10" platforms, one held up off the floor by 5 two by four legs and one is a plywood box we built to store our clothes in. The table platform goes in the back, and we store our food, shoes, books and other miscellaneous stuff under that. The plywood box abuts it and we can reach into it from the front.

The whole platform is about 4 feet long, and as you who know us can imagine, we each have about two extra feet beyond that on our persons. So we lay down the 2 front seats (we pop off the headrests first) and unfold our 6 foot camping mattress and throw some mints down on our sleeping bags and viola! Element sweet Element. We keep the frisbee within easy reach and Trav has rigged up a lovely toiletries travel mug for convenient access. I guess we highly prioritize minty breath and frisbee throwing.

Here's how it happens:
First we flatten the back seats, pop them off the floor and fold/latch them to the wall. Here we see the left rear seat up on the wall while the right one is still down:
Then we put a cheap protective rubber mat on the floor, just to stabilize the platform and prevent damage to the car floor. On the floor are latches, sunken in, to which the rear seats usually are attached. This mat goes right to those hooks, measuring about 30" from the rear door. The hooks will come in handy in a second:

We then set in the table we built. It measures 47" wide by 30" long. The width allows it to perfectly fit into the element rear door without having to be tilted on its side. There are 5 legs, each 7" tall pieces of 2x4. We screwed pieces of 3/4" board to the bottom of the platform, to which the legs were nailed. This allowed for a total platform height of 8.5", including the thickness of the plywood:

The platform is held in four places with these remarkable turnbuckles. In the rear of the car we added eyehooks to two legs and attached the turnbuckles to the convenient hooks built into the car's wall. Towards the front, shown here, we rolled back the mat to attach the buckles to the aforementioned hooks in the floor (meant for the rear seats when they're down):

Next we added "the box." The box measures 18" by 38" and is cut to accommodate a 30" hinge. This is simply set in front of the table. We originally designed it to be anchored with turnbuckles also, but this seems unnecessary, as it is heavy enough to not move around and our belongings stop it from sliding forward:

A back view with the lid of the box open. Note the plastic tote holding our food. Under the table there is plenty of room for the food tote, shoes, books, and even our chocolate-making supplies and tools for when we have the chance to use them:

Next we add an old tablecloth to protect the mattress and prevent it from sliding all about. It's just laid on there and tucked in to the sides:
Then comes the mattress. We learned about this mattress from the Honda Element Owner's Club on the internet, where multiple people have shown their bed designs. This mattress is 48" across, exactly the width of the element. It fits with room to spare under the folded-up seats, allowing full elbow room. It's 6 feet long and comfortable:

From the side...note that the front seats recline fully and meet our built box. The headrests pop off and are fit into the center of the folded-down seat, exactly where the mattress reaches. In front of those headrests at night is where we put loose items, like duffle bags and photo equipment:

Our heads rest in the rear, directly under the moonroof. Our view:

And, my favorite part...a bungee runs from a latch in the rear roof of the Element to the front of the folded-up seat. It's attached to an old cup and the tension holds it in place. It's for our toothbrushes, easily accessible by the side driver's side door:

Some miscellaneous reading material as we go:

And down the road we go!

--Kacy and Trav--

Friday, May 7, 2010

Groveton, New Hampshire: Michael and Nancy Phillips, the Apple Grower and Herbalist

"This tree here is probably, I don't know...ninety years old or so. On the backside here, say 40 years ago, it cracked down the middle, was starting to fall over. The farmer, the people before us, wrapped a chain around it and it's grown into the bark. Well this tree was planted here and this type of apple will be found on many northern New England farmsteads; and it's the Duchess of Oldenburg. In the early 1840's they brought over four varieties from Russia because they wanted that northern hardiness and something that was dependable. Since we've lived here...and I've maintained this tree for twenty-some has it's on years and off years to a degree...but it always gives 12-20 bushels of apples. And it happens in late August and it's one of the most phenomenal pie apples"

We rumbled down the Heartsong Farm driveway early Sunday morning on the lookout for Michael Phillips, who literally wrote the book on apple growing (The Apple Grower, published by Chelsea Green). We found Michael listening to reggae while grafting new trees onto Bud.118 root stock, to serve as swap items at a local "homesteaders' swap meet" down the road later that day. He gave us a mini workshop on how it's done.

On a tour of the property we saw that the main orchard area was filled with rows of apple trees of various ages with their spindly and wildly crooked limbs twisting toward the sky. Michael's tone becomes reverent when he talks about them and he offers us information about each variety like he's handing us jewels; which ones are good for pie, where certain trees originated, what minerals are important to have in the soil around them, which variety was Thomas Jefferson's favorite, etc. We learned about the local solitary bee that he tries to encourage as a pollinator and about the benefits of comfrey at the base of an ailing apple tree.

Michael talked about the importance of growing apples in northern New Hampshire even though the land isn't the friendliest to apples there. This is the community he lives in, and he sees that as somewhat of a commitment to stay even though his property isn't totally ideal for apples. Besides that, he knew he wanted to be in a quiet place where he could see the stars at night...and so he has it, with almost two acres of fruit trees and more planned, the gardens he tends with his wife, Nancy, and a nice unnamed brook trickling by the house. His daughter also helps out with some projects, though she lives part time in Vermont while going to high school.

He has instigated a community-supported cider share system and will do the same with apples

He meets annually with a small group of apple growers in the Berkshires to discuss their experiments, successes, and news on the dedicated orchardist front. He's amazed and appreciative of the people who attend his workshops. When asked where his orcharding education came from, he replied, "luckily it didn't start in universities. I have a degree in civil engineering from Penn State and I did that for about ten months, working in Washington, and I'd watch the sun rise in four-lane bumper-to-bumper traffic, and I thought...'Well, this is stupid!' So I retired at age 23. This is just retired life now."

He makes money as a builder and designer (and, as is classic, his house is in long-term remodel), as well as through some teaching and speaking about growing. He takes both a design approach and a holistic approach to apple tree care, steeped in science.

"It rains...and leaves on the orchard floor that haven't decomposed from last year, if they happen to have scab, they get wet and then they release tens of thousands of spores which just settle on everything. And when that spore lands on this's a fungal thing, so it has to send out a hyphae, and then it sends out enzymes to get through the leaf cell to access the nutrients...and if it does that, if it stays wet long enough for that to happen, that's when the black spot disease starts to show up. Well, the tree has a few things going for it. One is, if it has a number of different organisms on the leaf, competing for resources, that potentially crowds out the disease's potential to find room.
The hyphae has to go through the cuticle of the leaf, which is the non-waxy coating on the leaf...that cuticle can be strengthened with silica. And silica you can get from nettle and horsetail, so you make fermented herbal tea. Finally, if the hyphae does get into the leaf cell, the plant, if it's healthy, responds with certain compounds, the tupenoid and isoflavenoid groups. If a lot of fungicides have been sprayed, that kind of suppresses the tree's ability to stand up to that, but the neem oil contains turpenoids, so when I include neem here, it stimulates more production of that just as we're going into this disease/infection period. And both the neem and the liquid fish contain a whole bunch of fatty can't quite feel the oil, but I can see the darkness of the bark...those fatty acids fuel the microbes, but they're also food for the beneficial fungi in the soil which bring nutrients to the roots and if the plant's getting all of its balanced nutrition, just like if you have a good wholesome diet, and you're eating all of your food groups...not as stated by the USDA, but by earth [chuckles], then that helps you produce more of those compounds, it helps you resist disease and the whole thing shifts. So basically it's all about nutrients."

Before taking off to Vermont (which was two miles away) we sat at the rustic kitchen table happily sampling winter-stored apples, drinking apple juice and nettle/peppermint tea, and devouring muffins made by Michael's wife Nancy, who is a very accomplished herbalist.

Nancy is a teacher at their daughter's school in Vermont and holds her own workshops and lessons on herbs. Michael had shown us some of the herb gardens amidst the blooming flowers and the leftover stalks from last year's shoots that were waiting to be cleared. Nancy was excited to talk about which plants and leaves do what for the body and obviously longed for a holiday from school so she could get her hands into her beds and tend her spring blossoms and buds. We wish we'd have had a chance to speak with her a bit longer about her work, but we'd already taken up a good three hours of their morning and they were surely eager to spend some time with each other and their daughter. The book that Nancy and Michael published together is called The Herbalist's Way, also through Chelsea Green.

Montpelier Vermont is our next stop, to speak with composting gurus, dairy farmers, large scale vegetable farmers, and homesteaders. We were headed over to stay with our friends from Olympia, Schuyler Timmons and Aisling badger.

Kennebunk, ME: Ryan Wilson, The New School

Ryan Wilson is a recent Evergreen State College graduate and a friend; he's the reason we ended up in Whitefield, Maine, as he is living part-time at Maple Tree Farm (see previous post). Finally, as we were driving out of Maine and into New Hampshire, we caught up with Ryan in his hometown of Kennebunk. He is teaching sustainable agriculture to high schoolers at The New School. He is twenty-two. We joined him and his class as they headed out into their field area, which is a farm ("Neverdun Farm" reads the small sign above the house door) belonging to the founder and principal of the school to do some soil testing.

We had abbreviated interviews with three of the students while they collected samples for soil analysis later. Eating locally was a prevalent theme amongst them. The importance of life-enhancing farming practices versus large-scale and chemically-based farming practices was another issue that came up frequently. They were ready to talk about food and seemed very inspired by the class that they were taking.

After his class took off to enjoy the weekend Ryan spent another hour and a half with us, eating almond butter and jam sandwiches and talking about sustainable agriculture in his empty classroom. Ryan talked about why he thinks educating youth about sustainability is crucial and how his own journey into ag started in this same classroom when he was a high schooler here. When asked what Ryan thought about the food system in the United Stated Ryan thoughtfully replied that it is a fascinating reflection of society, that it's appropriate (but not necessarily in a good way) to the way that our society currently functions. What we eat feeds us and in many cases kills us in the same bite. He continued to stress the importance of teaching food and sustainable farming to young people. He also teaches farm design and incorporates high-quality design theory into farm models that consider place, surroundings, goals, and all of the soil, ecology, and climate around a farm.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Whitefield, Maine: Maple Tree Farm

Our project has come to an end here in Maine, but before leaving we interviewed and photographed some of our wonderful hosts, Ben Marcus and Taryn Hammer and Ben's father, Paul. We stayed with them in Whitefield for most of our time in Maine, tapping into their network and sharing dinners and ideas.

We started by answering a call from Taryn, asking us if we could help her plant the neighbor's 1500 strawberry plants. We were excited to get our hands in the dirt and hang out with our friend, so we headed over to Treble Ridge Farm to see what it takes to plant a strawberry crown (or a few hundred strawberry crowns as the case may be).

Taryn is an AmeriCorps Vista worker, charged with managing a $60,000 grant for the local farm-to-school program. It's her task to get kids to eat more local, healthy, and unprocessed food. Taryn radiates energy has a determined strength that shows in what she says and does. She contracts with local farmers to bring their food into the schools, and then shows kids and parents how to prepare it. As we worked down the strawberry rows, Taryn spoke about the links between what people eat and how they behave/feel. There seems to be a very obvious connection between non-nutritious food consumption and behavioral problems/poor academic performance with school kids. Taryn headed into work after our interview, and Rufus and Alice (owners of Treble Ridge Farm) paid us handsomely with sausage links for our hand in planting strawberries.

We later spoke to Ben, that night, after a delicious dinner of sausages and vegetables. Ben grew up on this property and has spent the last few years traveling and in college (at Evergreen...Eco-Ag students will be pleased to know that he and Taryn met in Sheep Club!). He and Taryn have recently returned to Maine, with the confident intention to turn the property into a working, successful CSA.

Ben's father Paul bought the farm back in the 70's when the "back to the land movement" was in full swing and a lot of people were leaving corporate life and investing in rural property and dreams of self sufficiency. Ben believes there is a similar movement happening today in Maine and around the country, but that it may have more organization and a clearer vision and perhaps less distractions than were prevalent in the 70's. Ben and Taryn are investing all that they have into this dream, which, at the moment, includes a small flock of chickens, 5 pigs, 30 fruit trees, two goats (one dry and one milker), a few big garden plots and a beautiful herb spiral.

Ben spoke very eloquently about the challenges and perks of trying to mesh visions across generations, as his father, Paul, also lives on the property and will continue to be a major voice in the planning and instigation of Maple Tree Farm.

The farm itself used to belong to Larry, who still lives across the street and wanders over each day to check on things and keep people company. In front of Maple Tree Farm, along the road is the oldest looking maple tree that we've ever seen, along with a giraffe made of sticks, created by Ben's grandfather. In a room on the top floor of the old cluttered and dark barn is a beautiful room, impeccably organized, housing dozens of wooden sculptures, carvings, and figures...the mass of Ben's grandfather's art, there to be appreciated and periodically honored by visitors.

Ben and Taryn say that they aren't ready to do this on their own yet, so are populating their small home with friends and community. Ryan Wilson, Gina Simmons, and Isabel currently all share the space and contribute their hands and ideas to the farm as they work on other farms in the area.

Jefferson, Maine: Ellis Percy

We pulled up to what used to be an industrial-sized chicken barn. In central Maine there are quite a few that now act simply as storage or workshops. The steady hum of the old Belgian coffee roaster made our knock on Ellis Percy's warehouse door inaudible, so we let ourselves in and were greeted by an exuberant man with a joyful smile. "A character," people had told us...but that's how most of the farmers are described before we meet them.

Ellis showed us into his cozy home-away-from-home, complete with comfortable chairs and couches crowded around a table next to the thrumming purple roaster, which was producing delicate and delightful smells as it worked its magic on barley grain. This space is where Ellis blends his well loved coffee alternative (called Beyond Coffee) and works on various other projects as well. Ellis has also gained fame for his pickled green beans and fiddlehead ferns, which we were able to sample at our generous hosts house. "You know the definition of an entrepreneur?" he asked. "Someone who gets to choose which 70 hours a week they work!"

Ellis was part of the back-to-the-land movement of the 70's, and he settled on Whitefield Maine because he felt there was a very strong community here to be a part of. Ellis has been very active in MOFGA (Maine Organic Farm and Gardeners Association) since it's inception and has continued to be a guiding force in its direction as an organization. For a moment Ellis lost his good humor when speaking about the difficulties small farmers face. He talked about huge farming conglomerates like the Monsanto corporation which has the money and market to put small farmers out of business in the blink of an eye, all the while offering the public food which is made up from ingredients we have a hard time pronouncing.

No longer a farmer himself, he takes pride in his past operations, especially his 4-cow dairy operation and his role in MOFGA. He has farmed on various levels and seems to enjoy working on new projects annually. His son Rufus lives down the road and has started a very successful diversified farm, which Ellis thinks is the neatest thing possible.

He kept checking his roasting barley and chicory to get the perfect roast for his product and glowed in the dim and vast barn as he told of his early years and his community from one of the comfortable chairs he'd arranged next to his purple roaster. Some people just seem satisfied with life and with change, and Ellis flat out seemed to love both.

Farmington, Maine: Sandy River Farm

Bussie York is a 72-year-old second generation dairyman in Farmington, Maine. On his 600 acres he milks Milking Shorthorns and Holsteins. He is ever-aware of markets and trends and went organic when he saw demand (and prices) rising. He writes for the local paper (on "the state of agriculture" as he puts it) and is part of a task force, created to maintain local control of agriculture as regulations get more and more strenuous.

A new shop across the street from the farm has just been built and on the lower level they are preparing to begin bottling their own milk, becoming only the second dairy in Maine bottling their own product. He also hopes to deliver the milk door to door, "like my father did...we're setting the clock back 80 years."

Interestingly, last year they tried out a corn maze...10 acres dedicated to tourism. They found it to be the most lucrative venture on the farm, despite the years of energy put into other products and services, such as the corn-burning stoves that they sell and the feed business that he runs. The farm's own products are organic, but many of the grains that are grown to sell to other farmers are conventional.

Bussie is looking ahead as he prepares to pass the business on to the third of his three daughters will be taking it over with her husband, though Bussie himself figures he'll be plenty healthy in the coming years. As he recovers from a recent surgery, he is still active. "I got one foot up on the tractor the other I guess that's doing good."

A note about Farmington Maine- we encountered the most "no parking" (no pahking as we would joke amongst ourselves as we roamed the streets searching in vain for a place to stop) signs we have ever seen in our combined life experiences. We wondered what would happen if we even thought about pahking on those fahbidden pahking spots. Our favorite sign read "Parking Regulations: NO PARKING!"