Thursday, May 6, 2010

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.


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