Farming in Maine, it was the first noble profession.
Because feeding yourself and your family is life and death important. No farmer, no food, no more life is the most basic law of the jungle. Farming in Maine started out pretty small potatoes in the beginning. Creating what to serve up for your own meals, using what you could produce only. Long hours, plenty of patience, not much in the way of tools to make the farm chores easier. Taking care of yourself first. Before expanding into feeding others with the extra farm fresh food from the Maine farm pasture fields.
Watch a Maine farming potato picking video.
The early Maine farm settlers grew corn, beans, squash and raised oats, barley. Plenty of loose hay for their animals who needed something to eat too.
The apple trees created free food like the wild blueberry, strawberry and raspberry patches. Fishing along the rocky coastline, out on lakes or casting the line into rivers contributed to the what’s for dinner routine.
Southern Maine small farms began to dot the early map when Vacationland was still technically part of the Massachusetts bay colony. Self sufficient living and pretty much roll and grow your own was the norm.
Hard life, long hours, no guarantee of reward. Creating more than enough for a food surplus to feed others was slow to happen. Harsh weather, pests and lack of machinery to increase the Maine farm field yield. It made it hard to get ahead of the hand to mouth existence.
And no hustling bustling highways to sail on or an iron railroad to get the Maine farm products to large consuming markets population centers to the south. Lack of transportation options to readily access the Maine farm produce kept agriculture operations pretty Maine home grown small and simple.
Where I live in Northern Maine, family farms dotted the countryside up and down all the country roads in every direction.
That was the norm in rural Maine. Now fewer but larger commercial Maine farm operations create the produce for row crops. The small family beef, dairy and poultry farms too on the same glide path to extinction. Replaced with a handful of larger more efficient operations that can thrive on the economy of scale. Your profit is found in the expenses and no room for loose as a goose or slip shod farming practices.
Despite this national trend, Maine has more micro farmers than ever. The COVID19 pandemic has only accelerated that back to the land agricultural trend.
The size of the farm operation depends how deep you want to go. Whether you plan to mortgage to the hilt, and go big. Or take over a family farm smaller spread and stay manageable. Where everything is paid for and the equipment you use is yesteryear antique but owned lock, stock and barrel.
Farming profits have always been found in the expenses. How well a Maine farm operation is run is key.
And more than just having a green thumb. Today’s farmer is high tech and savvy across the board on a multitude of disciplines besides planting, cultivating, harvest (repeat). Dairy farming, both my parents came from family farms that grew potatoes but also had milk cows. My mom from a family of eleven who all had jobs on the dairy farm. My dad one of four who had a mile route in town. There were lots of small family dairy farms in Maine that delivered milk products by a wheel cart in summer, sleigh pung with runners in the winter snow.
Cheese can be made to store on shelves, butter and Maine farm milk not so easy to leave around at room temperature.
Refrigeration was needed to advance dairy farming to go beyond just serving product to the producer’s own table. Maine Central Railroad refrigerated train cars delivered dairy products to Bangor, Portland, Boston far away markets. This was long before Thermo King units were bolted on the front of 53′ long reefer trailer units. To create just the right storage conditions during transport from rural Maine to urban produce markets.
Butter and cream rather than cheese products became the goal of many Maine farm dairies in what they delivered by train to out of state markets.
Silage in silos helped boost production beyond just hay and grain so dairies could increase production to serve beyond just their small Maine town customer base. More on early Maine farming slides and history. In the late 1960’s, the push to get away from a monoculture of agriculture playing just one note in the farm song. Over farming one crop year after year. Because of that age old habit of predominantly planting potatoes in Aroostook County, sugar beet farming was introduced. Grains had been more of a rotation crop only. To give the ground a rotation rest rather than to help pay the farming bills.
Freddie Valshing reintroduced what Maine farmers had already grown along with hops back in the 1880’s.
The return introduced spud farmers to a new sugar beet refinery in Easton Maine. Complete with piggy back rail delivery yards in the Houlton area and other locations in the Aroostook County crown of Maine part of the state. My Dad and Mom planted eighty acres of sugar beets, invested in a harvester and were committed to this extra crop. The one harvested after the potatoes were dug. The foray into sugar beets petered out because of a shift in the audience habits for sweeteners. Also because the one armed Freddy Valshing was not in it for the long haul but the quick buck.
Why sugar beets did not stick in the Maine farming crop rotation?
There was a resistance to anything interfering with spud production alone which the majority of Maine farmers prescribed to historically. More on sugar beets in Maine and how things went wrong trying to introduce a new farm field staple for agriculture production diversity.
Ever thought of starting a micro farm in Maine?
The type of dirt, the condition of the soil all factor into how the Maine farming, living off the land dream is going to turn out for you. Creating wealth and nutrition from the good Earth with hard work, patience and mastering the learning curve. It is not so attractive to many.
Farming in Maine is not for everyone or those dependent on an hourly wage and a secure weekly pay check.
There are many sacrifices and long hours involved with the odds stacked against you as valuable lessons are learned. The longer you can hang on and adapt to change to all the challenging farm condition variables. Then the more experiences you can draw from to stay on your Maine farm property spread.
Working nine to five on a regular job makes hobby farming in Maine possible but restrictive.
That real job is your “ticket” to stay afloat financially if you run a time ship with your saving and spending. With whole hog farming and you are all in or out, the stakes suddenly are much higher. Having an income that keeps coming into the bank account helps your sleep patterns. If one mate in the partnership has a steady income, hopefully hospitalization benefits, that can be a bonus. Or the only way this family farm in Maine is going to get off the ground.
The farm I own in Maine is leased out to an organic grower, Nature’s Circle.
Starting a farm growing lots of initial crops without a market is not going to work from a business perspective. You need to know who the potential customers are and to tailor your farming to their produce requirements.
What will the customer pay, are there local restaurants, farmers markets, the local area audience to buy what you raise from your piece of Maine dirt acreage?
Don’t just grow what you like to consume, learn what your audience will buy. Verify the market before kicking the Maine farm into gear. Farming rides on a business chasis remember?
What is your Maine farm design?
Map out your farm fields and define how you are putting each area to work in your farm plan. My Dad always preached “you have to have a system”. Plan your work, work your plan kinda thinking. Winter is an excellent time to reflect on the year before, the one ahead and what to plant where and why figured out as snow piles up and farming slows down.
Become friendly and familiar with your local USDA soil and water conservation agency if you plan to have success farming in Maine .
Funding for your small scale farm projects may be available to transform your Maine land into a farming operation. Fields not used can be seeded down with a conservation mix to help them get built up with soil amendments. Tired, over farmed abandoned Maine land needs to be nursed back to health. Winter rye, a ground cover added to a field helps soil health, prevents erosion too.
Drainage, tiles installed to drain wet soils that are slow to warm up and that make the farming operation mired down.
Delays getting these fields planted and pulling stuck tractors out of them because of poorly drained wet soils is not fun. If you have enough farm ground to rotate your crops you have a leg up on the smaller patch of dirt agriculture operator who does not have their luxury.
The conservation seed mix broadcast on the farm field pastures to grow rich and strong. Sometimes on a Maine farm it starts with animals clearing your weeds and brush and bushes first. They can help get farm pasture fields tidy and groomed if you have the time. How fast you need the Maine farm land cleared is part of your consideration. Waist high weeds are not fun. And is your Maine farm organic or convention using chemicals to tackle prepping your soil. Lots of compost hauled in to prepare your soil and get it nutrition balanced is the foundation of anything you do after than on your Maine farm.
Direct seed or hand transplanted in your prepared soil beds on your farming in Maine operation?
No till seeding where the ground is not disturbed and roots already established hold the soil together is one approach. Transplanting seedlings can jump start your farm operation. Building hoop houses, using a greenhouse nursery instead of direct seeded field crops will optimize your agriculture operation. How long is the growing season for whatever you plan to raise comes after who are the people you will serve in your marketing brand.
What is the personality of your Maine farm and who are you going to be catering to with whatever you raise.
Who you are going to attract for a repeat audience to buy what your grow on the Maine farm? Part of what you end up doing is providing what your produce customers want. Educating them to broaden their purchases into other items you introduce them with care.
Spreadsheets, analyzing your Maine farm production data and study of what the market sale data shows. This is not the most fun in your day to day farm operations but the key to a successful sustaining farm business survival plan.
Local produce, meat and dairy and we’re not even talking operations like oyster farming raised from the ocean depths off the Maine coast.
Or Maine kelp farming. And scallop farming in Maine. Don’t forget Maine seaweed for food and fertilizer. Plus off shoots like hemp farming in Maine. Maybe maple tree sap to boil down into golden syrup is where you want to farm hidden in the woods not standing out in the field.
Local farm to table is alive and well in Maine and there is a resurgence in smaller farms like micro breweries.
Where local agriculture production and supporting your area small Maine farm enterprises is healthy for the family and community.
Building out of pocket and pretty much hand to mouth as you go is not a lifestyle well suited for many. With the prevalence of entitlement in today’s society, the working like a dog nip and tuck to survive is not the lifestyle choice of many. Doing what you have to do to stay on your Maine farm. To make it sustainable would be for the birds. For many too soft and just not so gung ho committed to working the Maine land soil to eek out a simple living.
On the small Maine farm, money is replaced with creative resourcefulness and a ton of patience.
To carefully put it all in perspective. To find gratitude in what you do possess and accomplish rather than lament whining about what you lack. Teaching your children work ethic, the responsibility of chores on the Maine farm and developing their skill set prepares them for anything that comes down the pike to deal with in life just fine.
To do more than merely survive and persevere but to come out on top and prosper with the right positive attitude and respect for how best to use your time and money to get ahead of the farming learning curve.
On the small, medium size farm in Maine where it is pretty much work around the clock through all the seasons that play out on the kitchen wall calendar, your focus is meat and potato basic. Down to Earth simple and very disciplined.
Work comes before play and labor is your pleasure offering it’s own reward in the farming in Maine accomplishment.
Making it better than it was. Or just maintaining the status quo in the tough of war with Mother Nature and the market to break even. To monetize on the other end of from what you raise or grow on the Maine family farm. To offset all that sunrise to sundown labor, letting go of hard earned finances, and yes, taking a chance.
The calculated risk involves a little gambling on what is the best course of action for the family farm. Where you are not wearing a tie or pinned to the wall by a corporate World office desk. The steel toe work boots, warm flannel shirt over the long underwear and Car-hart outerwear wardrobe that replaces the sports coat and button down dress shirt and shiny shoes.
Farming in Maine where you are up at the crack of dawn doing the feeding and watering routine and at the same time pondering machinery repairs that lie ahead.
The kind that require you to work with what you have rather than just trot into town to pick up expensive parts you simply can not afford. Welding, brazing, bolting together bits and pieces from saved not thrown away materials that get re-purposed. Farming with broken machinery because it’s the only option teaches you how to squeeze more out of something many would just discard as junk and seemingly worthless.
Being up against it and knowing if it is to be it is up to me does nor hurt a person but challenges them and makes them grateful for the little things that retail therapy does not artificially create.
Awareness of the center of your World focus which is the family farm brings you down to Earth and clears the heart and head. To see clearly what’s what on the agricultural spread where you wear many hats and do several jobs.
Farming in Maine does require total immersion and just not everyone’s cup of tea.
But sadly, there was a time in history when 96% of us were farmers of some sort because it was basic survival and the cornerstone of small rural Maine living for the bulk of the sparse population. Hope this farming in Maine blog post is food for thought and helpful.