In January, we purchased the historic homestead in Winthrop, somewhat jokingly called Cranberry Rock Farm, as it had not been a real working farm in at least 50 years. The previous owner provided a brief history for us of the property, which led us to research the original owner, Ezekiel Holmes. A year or so later, we were lucky enough to meet another former occupant of the house who was able to provide the story of how the name, Cranberry Rock Farm, came into being.
In June, we moved from our home on Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley to the “farm”. We were a bit bewildered by the blank slate but decided to break ground behind the 200 year old barn in an area that we would call the Kitchen Garden. Many hours of rock and weed removal later, we built some nutrient-poor beds out of the clay soil and planted the basics for ourselves: beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash.
Looking ahead, we realized we would need more growing area, so we came up with what we thought was a good plan to turn our one cleared field into a viable growing area. Five years, much tractor work, many boulders (amounting to a rock pile the size of a two-story house), and a lot of research later, we realize that maybe our plan wasn’t the greatest. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Since you can’t have a farm without chickens, we bought our first flock of layers that summer too, along with a nice coop, and waited and waited and waited for them to lay eggs.
In September, we dug the farm pond that was to serve as both irrigation source and swimming hole. The combination of clay soil and high water table allowed it to fill up own its own over the next 6 months.
After walking the woods all summer and discovering a network of stone walls, we realized that the property had originally been partitioned into pastures. We decided to restore some of the original pastures in order to give ourselves room to grow. The loggers showed up in September with their big scary equipment, and by November, we had four acres of rocky, debris-filled fields to work with.
This year, we continued to fight the battle of the rocks, somehow producing enough vegetables for ourselves and a small CSA subscription.
As for infrastructure, we built walk-in cooler in what would come to be called the “old barn”, and we built a new barn to house our tractor and other equipment, seed, grain, supplies, and animals. We also built a 10x48 foot high tunnel.
In addition to the vegetables, we raised our first meat birds.
In 2014, we started to prepare one of the cleared fields for cultivation. Lucky us….the rocks weren’t quite as big or numerous as they were in the first field.
We continued our CSA subscription and expanded our meat bird enterprise.
By this year, we had figured out that we wanted to establish a permanent raised bed system for all growing areas. We added beds in what we now call “Field 2”. In addition, we built another 10x48 foot high tunnel to allow us more flexibility with tomato, pepper, and cucumber rotations.
This year we joined the Cumberland Falmouth Farmers Market Association, vending at their Wednesday and Saturday markets. We got our Home Kitchen License and added baked goods to our list of products.
We dove right into raising pigs, getting 10 piglets from Central Maine Pig. What were we thinking?! Actually, we were thinking that they would help us clear debris out of one of the recently cleared fields, and they did! Plus, they left behind their priceless gift of fertility. They only escaped a couple of times, and both times they stayed down in the fields (as future pigs would not have the courtesy to do). For some reason, we decided that it would be a good idea to get three more pigs in the late summer to raise for the winter. This harebrained idea bit us in the ass when it snowed 3 feet less than a week before their slaughter date. Needless to say, escape is easy when the fence is buried, and this time they were not content to stay in the field. After a kind passerby came to the front door to let us know that one of our pigs was trotting down the road, three of us learned what truly stubborn, loud, obnoxious animals pigs can be. No more winter pigs!
The year of the drought. Maybe we should’ve dug that well after all…Thanks to our clay soil’s ability to retain what little rain we got, we somehow survived. We got our organic certification from MOFGA and added the Wayne market to our sales venues.
We downsized our pig count to 8, though they proved no less unruly than the 10 from the year before. On one escapade outside their compound, they managed to eat all of the red cabbages in a bed, while leaving the green ones intact. The outstanding event of the summer, however, was their escape on a Saturday morning when both Cindy and Ron were at markets. Thankfully, Henry and Lisle were able to save the day, protecting the neighborhood and the police officer that the neighbors had so helpfully summoned from the marauding swine. Word to the wise: grounding rods for electric fences need to be watered during a drought.
In the fall, we were accepted into MOFGA’s Journey Person program and took their Farm Beginnings business course. Here we learned all that we had been doing wrong from a business point of view, as well as how to run a farm business properly. We shall see how well we paid attention in class.
In the fall, folly again overtook us, and we decided that we needed another dog: a harlequin Great Dane. Her name is Cleo, short for Cleopatra, and she certainly is a regal beast.
Spring has been a little slow to arrive this year, but the wheels are turning. Hoping to put into action the business plan that we created in our Farm Beginnings class, we will be making some capital investments this year to help us expand and diversify.
Look for a self-serve farm stand in front of the old barn, opening in early June.