Posts Tagged ‘farm’

Welcome Back

We just got back to Maine, after being away for 5 weeks.  We spent the Jewish holidays of Purim and Passover in our home town with some of our children and grandchildren.  While there, two of my granddaughters were being treated for minor orthopedic issues and I spent time babysitting and shlepping to Physical Therapy appointments.

At one PT visit, the younger granddaughter happened to be the only pediatric patient; the rest were all patients in their 50s and 60s undergoing post-op rehab for knee replacement surgery.  Now that I am in my fifties my own knees are not what they used to be; but after seeing how hard these patients worked to regain post-op mobility, I see that knee replacement surgery is not something one wants to do except as a last resort.   (I found out that post-op rehab, rural New England style, is conducted somewhat differently . . . but more about that later.)

The older granddaughter got a cast on each leg as part of a 6-week treatment protocol.  As a precaution she stayed home from school the first day following the procedure, but really it turned out to be unnecessary — she was managing fine and certainly could have gone back to school.  But for selfish reasons, because I was doing the babysitting that day, I kept her home, so we could have some one-on-one quality time.  And what a day it was!

I spent about an hour decorating her cast and the little “walking shoes” that could be strapped on.

My granddaughter chose navy blue casts to match her school uniform.

My granddaughter chose navy blue casts to match her school uniform. (click to enlarge for more detail)

Then we baked homemade pretzels from a little kit I had picked up at a discount store in New Hampshire.


AFter the yeast dough rises, my granddaughter rolls it out and shapes the pretzels

After the yeast dough rises, my granddaughter rolls it out and shapes the pretzels


Proud of her accomplishment and distracted from any discomfort!


After that we watched Mary Poppins.  This was extremely sentimental for me.  When I was seven years old, the Mary Poppins movie came out and I loved it so much I saw it seven times in one year.  Now, here I was, a HALF CENTURY later (!) watching it with my seven-year-old granddaughter!  Am I really that old?

I love Mary Poppins still.  I realized how few movies are made today in which people segue from normal conversation into elaborate song and dance.  There was no cursing and no nudity.  Also, kids back in my day were not overstimulated and distracted by so many external forces, including media;  life moved at a slower pace, so it was not the challenge it is today for a seven-year-old to sit and watch a full-length movie for 2+ hours without getting antsy.  While my granddaughter enjoyed the movie, there were parts that she found boring and requested that I “fast forward,” not having the patience to sit through the parts that didn’t hold her attention.

Afterwards my husband played Monopoly with her.   We hadn’t played Monopoly in at least 30 years.  Alas, art imitates life:  my husband got creamed by a seven-year-old because he was over-mortgaged, in debt, and broke.


Assured of her recovery, we left the next day for Maine.  Even though it took an extra 50 miles and 45 minutes of driving time, we went via the Poconos to avoid NJ and NY tolls, which are outrageous.  We arrived at 3:30 a.m. and dragged our tired bodies straight to bed.

Although I love my kids and grandkids and truly enjoy spending time with them, I really don’t like my hometown city’s culture, crime or weather.  But the 11-hour commute and paying two mortgages really is starting to wear thin.  I know that when my husband retires, we won’t have the income to keep both places, and a decision will need to be made.  A house in a city I don’t like, but with family nearby?  Or the remote rural lifestyle I prefer, devoid of loving family?  Slowly I’ve been trying to convince myself that living in Maine is not a long-term option.  But then I return to Maine, and experience not only the physical beauty of my surroundings, the purity of air and water, the sighting of wildlife, and the slower pace of life, but also the helpful, friendly nature of storekeepers and townspeople, and I don’t know how I can possibly leave.  (The only other place I’d consider living away from family would be Israel.)

Despite so few hours of sleep, I knew I had to get to the post office before the 9:30 a.m.closing time.  Due to Federal budgetary cutbacks, the post office is only open from 7:30 – 9:30 a.m. and then again from 2 – 4 p.m.  Our mail had been held for 5 weeks and I was anxious to conquer what would be a huge pile of letters, bills and magazines.

When I came to collect the mail, Deb the postmistress said, “Oh!  Welcome back!  I’m so glad to see you.  And it’s lucky you came just now, because Betty is here!”  Betty is the mail lady who actually does the deliveries.  Deb and Betty exchanged side glances and then looked at me, uncomfortably, like they were holding something back.

“Anything wrong?” I asked.

“Well . . . ” Betty began.  “I was just wondering . . . is everything okay at your house?”

“Yep,” I replied, “at least, as far as I can tell.  Why do you ask?”

“Last week I was out delivering mail, ” she said, “and I noticed a green truck parked on your driveway.  And then again, the next day.  I was concerned so I took down the license plate, in case anything was wrong.  You know, sometimes people who have summer homes around here get vandalized while they’re gone, and I didn’t want that to happen to you.”

I was so touched that Betty was looking out for us!  I couldn’t imagine that would ever happen with the postal workers in my home town.

Effusively thanking Betty and Deb for their concern, I explained that the green truck belonged to Pete,  our heating guy who had made some repairs while we were away.  When we built our house he had suggested that we buy a “freeze alarm.”  This is a little plastic box with a thermostatic sensor.  We set the parameters, and if the thermostat in the house falls below a certain temperature, it automatically dials our cellphone. That’s how we knew we had a potentially major problem: our furnace had stopped working and the interior of the house was only 40 degrees.   The danger is that if temps continued to fall, our pipes would freeze and burst and cause lots of very expensive damage.   Fortunately our freeze alarm saved us from this scenario.  Pete knows the code to get into our house and was thus able to complete the repairs.

From the post office I went to the Town Office where I caught up on the latest local news and bought this year’s fishing license; I went to the small general store to buy worms (bait).  Then I made my way into North Conway NH where I went to the supermarket, so I could buy stuff to cook for Shabbat dinner later that night.  I also stopped into Wal-Mart to buy some fish hooks.

While in the fishing pole aisle an elderly gentleman struck up a conversation with me.  He is a retired army veteran, having served our country for 30 years, where he worked as a sapper (explosives).  “I was born and raised on a New Hampshuh fahm (farm), and that’s what I came back to.  I guess I’ll die on a New Hampshire fahm some day.”  Like so many rural New England men, he was single and very lonely.  Once he started talking, he just kept spilling the beans.  I heard about his truck, his tractor, fishing, hunting, his border collie which he rescued from an abusive situation, his time in the military, the weather, and every ache and pain, all in a span of 20 minutes in the fishing pole aisle in Wal-Mart.  Even though New Englanders are said to be dour and  extremely taciturn with outsiders, for some reason many of them seem to open up to my listening ear. (This was a trait of my mother, as well.  She seemed to know everyone’s life story – – young or old, male or female – –  within minutes of meeting them.  After her death, I found postcards from people around the world who had met her only briefly in casual conversation while she traveled, yet they felt such a connection with her that they wrote to her from afar.)

I asked him how long he was in rehab following his knee replacement surgery.

“Oh, I didn’t do re-hab!” he said.  “I’m a fahmuh (farmer) and that’s all I know.  Got no time for re-hab!  Just got on my horse, and kept that foot out of the stirrup so it could dangle.   When the horse moved fah-wahd (forward), my knee and leg went back-and-fawth, back-and-fawth – – which is all they do in re-hab anyhow!  After a month I’m good as new!”

(Incidentally, I think the only place outside of rural New England that has a greater single male-to-female ratio  is Alaska.  I guess many women don’t care for the hard living and isolation that comes with rural living; it’s hard for mountain men to find a mate.  And despite their tremendous physical strength, many of these men look far older than their years, worn out and bent by time and troubles.  They rarely have someone to talk to and even their recreational pursuits – – hunting and fishing – – are done solo.)



For the past few years during autumn, I’ve noticed a sign just up the road from my house.   (“Up the road,” in rural Maine, as a friend from the city noted sardonically, is relative.  In my neck of the woods, that means 1 – 10 miles away.)


I’ve gone to many u-pick farms over the years, harvesting apples, cherries, peaches, blueberries, pumpkins, peaches and beans, but picking cranberries, one of the United State’s few native plants, and almost exclusive to New England, would be a first.

Really, I should have been home stacking wood.  Since our sometimes-handyperson Bill felled more of our trees and chunked the logs into manageable pieces, my husband and I have been busy shlepping them into a pile so at a later date he can come and split them.  (By “manageable” I mean 10 – 30 lbs. per log.  The oak is a lot heavier than the pine or birch.)  Once split, the wood needs to be stacked in the woodshed so it can dry for an entire year before it becomes fuel for our woodstove.  (If you burn “green” wood without seasoning, it doesn’t burn very well, produces lots of creosote, and smokes heavily.)  But like unmade beds, dirty dishes in a sink, or laundry that needs to be folded and put away, that woodpile was not going anywhere and waiting a little longer was not going to hurt.

In the foreground are the cut logs we dragged in from our woods.  In the middle ground is a pile of split wood that needs to be stacked in the woodshed behind it.  That's our house on the left.

In the foreground are the cut logs we dragged in from our woods. In the middle ground is a pile of split wood that needs to be stacked in the woodshed behind it. That’s our house on the left.

I followed the sign down a dirt road and it led me to Woodward Cranberry Farm.


I asked the owners, Rick and Linda Woodward, for a tour of their operation, and they graciously complied.

Linda (l) and Rick (r) Woodward

Linda (l) and Rick (r) Woodward

This is a good year for cranberries – their best ever.  The Woodwards expect to harvest 7,000 lbs of cranberries in 2013!  (Last year, one of their worst ever due to a late spring freeze, they harvested only 600 lbs.  Their average is 1200 – 3000 lbs. per year.)

“Wow, seven thousand pounds!  Are you going to sell to Ocean Spray?” I naively asked.

“Perish the thought!” said Rick.  The Woodwards are very proud of the fact that their cranberries have always been farmed organically (Ocean Spray uses insecticide) and that they supply local customers and small businesses (such as bakers, eateries and health food stores) in New England.

About 25 years ago, Rick, a contractor, and Linda, a dental hygienist for the Massachusetts prison system, were looking for a place where they could be weekend farmers and supplement their retirement.  Someone suggested cranberries, so they took a few university extension courses and they were hooked.  They bought land in Albany Township in western Maine adjacent to the White Mountain National Forest, cleared about 2 acres of trees in boggy ground, and started planting.

“We made tons of mistakes over the years,” said Linda, “but we have two major advantages:  my husband is good with his hands, and I am physically very strong!” she said.  Which is a good thing, because they do just about everything themselves, and that includes a lot of kneeling, bending, and lifting.

Their cranberries are certified organic and the Woodwards are members of MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association).  Birds control the harmful insect population; their 2-acre bog is bordered by many nesting boxes.

“Bluebirds,” says Linda.  “Swallows only eat the flying bugs but bluebirds eat them at the larval stage too.  We love bluebirds!”

Nesting boxes (left) edge the bog

Nesting boxes edge the bog (click to enlarge)

The gentlest, most thorough way to harvest the berries, albeit not necessarily the most efficient,  is by hand rather than machine.  Each picker is supplied with a kneeling pad to provide a cushion for one’s knees, along with a small bucket.  The cranberries actually grow on small, thin vines, and they share the space with moss and sandy soil.  Infringing tree saplings are vigilantly picked and discarded, lest they overtake the bog and threaten the crop.

A close-up of cranberries growing in their natural state

A close-up of cranberries growing in their natural state, close to the ground amid moss and sandy soil

Linda Woodward picking cranberries

Linda Woodward picking cranberries


I had been under the impression that cranberries are always harvested from water, but the Woodwards prefer a dry-pick method since there is less likelihood of mold.  The bog is flooded when frost or snow is expected, however.  The water (or snow or frost) that ices over the ripe berries actually serves as a form of insulation against the severe cold, and make for a juicier berry.  The Woodwards dug a pond next to the bog, and built a pump house.  The pump transfers the water from the pond to the bog when needed, and then can pump the water out of the bog and back into the pond when drier conditions are called for.  Due to the standing water and surrounding woods, the blackflies and mosquitoes are prolific in springtime, but to my amazement the Woodwards were unfazed.

The pond the Woodwards constructed that is to the right of the bog.  At left is the pump house, which transfers the water from the pond to the bog and back again, as necessary.  To the immediate right of the pump house, also in red, is an outhouse with a composting toilet.

The pond the Woodwards constructed is to the right of the bog. At left is the pump house, which transfers the water from the pond to the bog and back again, as necessary. To the immediate right of the pump house, also in red, is an outhouse with a composting toilet.

The pumphouse (r) and the outhouse with composting toilet (l)

The pump-house (center) and the outhouse with composting toilet (l)

Once the cranberries are gathered it’s time to sort out the debris (more prevalent when machine harvested with a mechanical rake) which can include small vines, pebbles, moss and grass.  Mr. Woodward uses a winnower machine with a fan that blows the debris aside and puts the cranberries into crates.

Freshly gathered bushel of cranberries

Freshly gathered bushel of cranberries


Rick Woodward pours cranberries into a winnower.

Linda was excited to show me their antique sorting machine.  It and much of their equipment, including their wooden crates (dated 1908) came from a farm museum that had closed its doors.  They continue to use the antique machines at Woodward Farm.


The antique sorting machine that came from a museum and is still used by the Woodwards

The antique sorter searches for berries with the most bounce.  And bounce, they do!  (That’s why to the right in the above photos there is a screen in front of the ejection box.  It helps contain the berries from bouncing all over the barn.)  Those berries that are soft and not bouncy are considered “rejects” but are fine for sauce or juice, known as “utility grade.”

Antique crates, ca. 1908

Antique  wooden crates, ca. 1908

Originally the Woodwards slept in an RV on the property, but eventually they ordered a barn (“It came in a kit!” Linda said) which they assembled and built themselves.  They use part of the barn for their cranberry operation, and part of the barn, which they modernized and insulated, for living quarters.


Sometimes when the barn gets too cold, Linda sorts by hand on this antique sorting belt, which is located in the part of the barn that serves as their living quarters.

Sometimes when the barn gets too cold, Linda sorts by hand on this antique sorting belt, which is located in the part of the barn that serves as their living quarters.


Another view of the hand-sorting belt.


These berries have been sorted and are ready to be juiced, baked, cooked or dried. They are full of anti-oxidants and are known to be helpful for UTIs (urinary tract infections) and prostrate troubles. The Woodwards are happy to share recipes using cranberries.

When Linda heard I enjoy juicing fruits and vegetables, she suggested I make my own fresh cranberry juice and then use the pulp to make fruit leather.  Cranberries are extremely tart, but I prefer not to use sugar.  I found that juicing cranberries with an apple made the perfect tart-sweet combination.  For the fruit leather, I added 1 tsp. stevia to the apple-cranberry pulp, along with a dash of cinnamon.

Cranberry-apple pulp on parchment paper, to be dried into fruit leather.

Cranberry-apple pulp on parchment paper, to be dried into fruit leather.


My cran-apple fruit leather.

After a wonderful morning picking cranberries and learning so much, Linda Woodward put some cranberry vines into my hands.

“Try planting these rooted vines on your land, but make sure you cover them with sand if you want them to succeed,” she suggested.  “Maybe you’ll have your own cranberry crop!”

It is so nice to see people like the Woodwards – and there are many like them in their 60s, 70s and 80s  here in Maine — whose idea of retirement is not lying around doing nothing, but remaining physically active by choice as long as they are able, pursuing and enjoying a healthful lifestyle in a pristine and beautiful environment.  The hard-working and cheerful Woodwards were truly an inspiration to me, and gave me yet another unique Maine experience to share with others.

The Woodwards’ website:

An informative article about organic cranberry growing:

Reportage from a local newspaper:

Farm Stands and Shopping

My local pumpkin stand

I rely heavily on local farm stands for my produce, mostly because they are closer than the nearest supermarket, which is 45 minutes away; but also because the  farm stand food is truly fresher and tastes better and I like to give the locals my business.  This time of year some farms also offer hayrides and labyrinth corn mazes to explore.

In autumn there are tens of varieties of pumpkins (some kinds are better for pie, others for jack-0-lantern carving), gourds and squash (bumpy, smooth, multi-colored, sweet, mild, large and small) and apples (my hands-down favorite is Honeycrisp), but besides the more common varieties there are also “heirloom” or historical apples native to New England.  There is one farm stand that sells their own milk in old-fashioned glass bottles, as well as  fresh eggs,  honey, and homemade cheese (the cheese is unfortunately not kosher).

What makes the farm stands unique, however, is the way they sell the fruits of their labor.  Usually no one is around.  The  produce is sold by the peck  or the piece (i.e. 3/$1.00) rather than by weight.  You simply leave your money in a basket or cash box and make your own change with the money that’s already there.  The honor system is alive and well in the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire.

Yes, we do have supermarkets in rural Maine.  Hannafords is the name of the largest chain store and they are pretty well stocked.  My house sits halfway between two Hannafords:  45 minutes to the west, in New Hampshire; or 45 minutes to the east, in Maine.  Both of these locations also have Walmarts, including one Super Walmart which is also fully stocked with groceries.

Amazingly Hannafords does have a “kosher aisle” that consists of 8 packages of Kedem Vanilla Wafers, 3 jars of gefilte fish, 2 boxes of matzo, onion soup mix, and 4 yarzheit candles.  Yesterday I spoke to the the stock manager in charge of the wine department and asked if he could get kosher wine.  He said occasionally (meaning Pesach time) they get Manischevitz.  I asked if any other brands were available and he said once they got Baron Herzog, but in that understated Maine way of saying things, he said “it wasn’t a big seller.”  He assured me that if I wanted it he could get it, however, and he’d place an order for a few bottles which should be in on Friday’s truck.

In New Hampshire, where taxes are lower, alcohol is sold in State Liquor Stores which are run exclusively by the State.  Not only is liquor much cheaper there (many people come from other New England states to stock up), they occasionally get kosher wines  such as Bartenura, Herzog, and Recanati and the prices are more reasonable than in cities with a large Jewish population.  But the supply is random, tenuous, and you can’t place requests or an order for more.

So far we’ve been bringing up our own supply of hard cheeses and meat; I can get Empire chicken at Hannafords by special order for about $1 more per lb.  If one is willing to pay a premium, one can order virtually anything , including perishables, via the Internet at all sorts of kosher food websites.  The point is, we are not starving.

The long distance to major shopping, and with no neighbors to loan me a cup a sugar, ensure that I plan my menus carefully and that my pantry is well stocked with emergency supplies, especially in the event of really bad weather.

In fact, we see this as an opportunity to eat better.  The stresses of the last few years, plus having “treats” around when the grandchildren would visit resulted in a loss of self-control.  I’ve got 60 lbs to lose and that is one of the many goals I’ve set for myself in Maine.  We’ve gotten rid of all junk and snack foods, relying more on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and are exercising more.  I’m not doing anything drastic so the weight will come off slowly, but I hope to be a little bit thinner and feeling better about myself the next time I visit my “home town.”

As far as other types of shopping, we live about 45 minutes from a major outlet center in New Hampshire.  No sales tax!  While I’ve raided Children’s Place and TJMaxx a few times for my granddaughters, I haven’t really shopped for myself.  It’s funny, but once you live away from the city, you don’t really need much, and when you try to live with what you need versus what you want, shopping is not such a temptation.

There are two stores I love, however.  Reny’s is in Maine and it’s like an old-fashioned Woolworth’s department store.  The prices are great and it feels like I’m in a 60s time warp.  The other store is in New Hampshire and called Christmas Tree Shops.  I wonder how many Jewish tourists avoided this store because they thought it sold nothing but Xmas decorations? In fact it’s like a giant A to Z or Amazing Savings (or Pic ‘N Save if you’re from California).  You never know what you’ll find but it’s always cheap and fun.  I’ve found all sorts of Israeli food there (such as crackers with “Pas Yisroel” written in bold letters) and Elite chalav yisrael chocolate bars for $.89!

That said, the most-visited store when you live in Maine is the hardware store.  There are both a Lowes and Home Depot next to the outlet center in New Hampshire, but big-box building supply stores are shunned by locals, who resent all that they stand for.  Even though the prices at small hardware stores are necessarily higher, Mainers support them vigorously.  Rural hardware stores are crammed to the gills with anything and everything.  Only the proprietor can find what you need, which he does with dogged determination and helpfulness.