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.


Donna said...

This is so great to see! I'm Ben Marcus' Mom and I chose that farm back in 1978, when his sister, Fay, was 1 year old. She took her first steps in the farmhouse kitchen. Ben and his sister, Dara were born in an upstairs bedroom. Nothing makes me happier than knowing Ben and Taryn along with their friends are making the farm productive again. Thank you to all who appreciate and love the land and are helping Ben and Taryn fulfill their dream.

Kate Kinney-LeBlanc said...

Great article ! Donna - Glad to hear Ben is still at the farm and Hope all is well with you, as well. Kathryn Kinney-LeBLanc

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