When you live in a rural place and the nearest supermarket is 35 – 45 minutes away, you tend to have a lot of emergency rations stored in mouse-proof containers. You make a marketing list with a week’s worth of food garnered from a week’s worth of menus that have been thoughtfully planned. Although this may sound daunting (I seem to go nearly every day to my supermarket in my hometown, since I’m much less organized and it’s just around the corner), when you realize that it costs $10 in gas every time you make the trip, it quickly motivates you to become more sensible.
But it’s not difficult for me to pop over to several nearby farm stands. All are located on private farms; some may be little more than a lean-to and others are quaint wooden buildings complete with a wide front porch. One has to wonder how it is possible for some of them to make a profit in today’s world of large-scale agri-industry. The answer appears to be diversify, diversify, diversify, even on a small scale, and become social-media savvy. Most have websites and Facebook pages of their own, and one farm even had a Groupon with a 50% off coupon.There are farms that have children’s activities, hay rides, and special Halloween celebrations. Some have full-fledged kitchens that whip up artisan breads and heavenly-smelling fruit and pumpkin pies and other baked goods. This time of year there is also fresh apple cider. Usually the
proprietor is too busy working the farm to stick around waiting for customers, so they leave a cigar box where you leave money for your purchases and you can make your own change. Some of the farms offer a pick-you-own option for apples and pumpkins.
Yesterday I went to Five Fields Farm to see if they had any “drops.” When apples fall to the ground before they can be hand-picked, they may bruise slightly and lose market value. The “drops” are sold for pennies on the dollar, but they make great cider, applesauce, and are perfect for drying into apple chips with the dehydrator that my younger son and daughter-in-law bought me. (Actually I used the dehydrator for the very first time today. I made beef jerky from some pepper steak I had brought from my home town. It is delicious!). Last year I bought 150 lbs. of apples and made many, many jars of unsweetened applesauce which I gave away as gifts, but this year I don’t feel quite so ambitious.
When their orchards lie dormant in winter, Five Fields Farm uses the fields for dog sledding and skijoring races as well as cross-country ski trails.
Today I went to Pie Tree Orchards where I bought some delicious organic Northern Spy apples.
This “heirloom” apple variety is extremely cold-hardy (necessary for Maine winters) and originates in Maine. It’s rarely found outside of New England. It’s a hard, crispy, sweet-tart apple that is packed with juicy goodness. Pie Tree Orchards also sells many unique squashes and pumpkins, plus kale and various root vegetables picked straight from the garden.
Then I went to another local farm: Silver Fox Farm. It is one of the most picturesque, nestled in a valley surrounded by the White Mountains. In addition to fresh eggs, a remarkable pumpkin patch, and the largest selection of weird and wonderful squash varieties I’ve never seen elsewhere, they also raise shire draft horses. (By the way, all the eggs sold in Maine are brown-shelled. When I asked why it’s so hard to find the white-shelled eggs, I was told that the variety of chicken that lays the brown-shelled eggs is much hardier and can better withstand the Maine winters than the type of chickens that lay the white-shelled eggs. Unfortunately, it is quite common to find blood spots in fresh farm eggs, so I always have to buy double the amount I actually need since I end up discarding the ones with the blood spots for kashrus reasons.)
Adjacent to the pumpkin patch, Angus cattle (raised for beef) were playing with and eating discarded pumpkins that were not fit for market. They were pushing the pumpkins around on the ground with their noses, kind of like “nose soccer.”
Then there is Sherman Farm. This is a large farm that is renowned for its milk, vegetables, and a 12-acre corn maze that has a different theme every year. People come from all over New England to wind their way through their famous corn maize. Perhaps you are old enough to remember when milk came in glass bottles. Well, it still does at Sherman Farm! I’ve done a blind “taste test” of milk from Sherman Farm and the supermarket, and not only can I tell the difference; Sherman Farm’s milk is far superior. Sherman Farm also gives back to the community. During harvest season, volunteers descend onto the fields and pick hundreds, and sometimes thousands of pounds of surplus produce, which is donated to local food banks. The August 2012 harvest yielded 10,678 lbs of fresh surplus produce picked with a value of $27,910 and it served 15,617 meals! In the summer of 2011 during Hurricane Irene, the low-lying farm was flooded and lost the majority of its crops. The surrounding communities gave money, time, manpower and materials to help rebuild Sherman Farm.