Posts Tagged ‘mofga’

GLLT

Just down the road from me is the Greater Lovell Land Trust (GLLT), a non-profit conservation organization.  Their aim is to buy large parcels of the raw land in the area from private owners to prevent further development; to conserve essential resources; protect plants, wildlife, and watershed; to open these areas of conservation for public enjoyment via hiking trails, guided or not; and to provide education in the form of lectures on a variety of topics including history of the area, geology and geography, and nature.  Much of the work is done by volunteers, who do everything from trail building to acting as naturalist docents and guides.

I came across an article written by one such docent in an older newsletter published by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association which I think you might enjoy.  I have taken advantage of many of the GLLT’s programs which run throughout the year, most recently a presentation about Barred Owls.  It’s fun to be able to identify what you are seeing and hearing in the woods whether it’s the call of the owls, or knowing just how fresh that bear scat is on the trail!  When I convey the many factoids I’ve learned over the years to my grandchildren when they visit, they are fascinated, and as a result, they too have become lovers of nature to varying degrees, whether hiking or camping or kayaking or quietly observing wildlife.  There is an abundance of free educational opportunities provided by local non-profit wilderness organizations, as well as the Forest Service.  Ultimately, it transforms us from vicarious admirers of nature to stewards of the land.

 

Organizations that offer natural wilderness education, hikes, etc. in the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire:

 

 

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The Creed that is Maine

One of the things I love about where I live in rural Maine is that people aren’t just subsistence farmers, they truly care about the quality of the food they eat.  A lot of local farmers are using organic farming methods, seeds that are not genetically modified, and heirloom varieties of vegetables.  Fruits and vegetables are picked when they are ripe.  But the selection can be sparse and the variety limited because of weather.

At my current favorite farm I noticed that the kale is always sweet.  I don’t know about you, but when I buy kale at the supermarket, it often has a slightly bitter edge.  I finally realized it’s because the supermarket kale is probably 3 or 4 days old since the time it was picked.  The kale I buy from my local farm was picked that morning.  It truly makes a difference when produce is so fresh, not only in taste, but in maximum nutritional benefit.

And the eggs!  When you crack open an egg from chickens that have plenty of space to roam around and, well, act like chickens, instead of imprisoned in tight confinement and never breathing outside air, you’ll see that their eggs look totally different from what you buy in the supermarket.  The egg yolks from a naturally-raised laying hen aren’t pale yellow – – they are a deep marigold yell0w-orange color whose flavor is so rich you will wonder how you could ever possibly think of buying a supermarket egg again.

The color of the eggs is determined by the breed of chicken.  There are at least 4 breeds of chickens represented by these eggs.  They vary in size as well.  But they are uniformly fresh and delicious.

The color of the eggs is determined by the breed of chicken. There are at least 4 breeds of chickens represented by these eggs. They vary in size as well. But they are uniformly fresh and delicious.

What I love about Flyaway Farm is . . . everything.  It’s a family farm in the truest sense of the word:  a back-to-the-land sort of family, slightly hippie, living very simply off the grid in a remote area, homeschooling their hard-working kids, growing what they need to survive, and selling the surplus for some extra cash.  Oh my, do they work hard!  There is little respite.  Since they are an organic farm, they are constantly coming up with creative, ingenious ways to thwart the notorious Maine bugs and crop destroyers without the use of toxic pesticides, and improve their soil without the use of chemicals.  Like any farmers, they are at the mercy of nature:  too much rain or not enough; killer frosts.  And still they keep at it, knowing that it’s mostly a losing game but worth the cost because life is good.

There are a lot of good people in rural Maine who barely get by.  Many grow what they need as subsistence farmers and hunt to supplement their food supply.  No one wants to be poor, but I can say with conviction that few people in Maine make it their goal in life to be rich.  Some would arguably concur that Mainers lack drive or ambition.  But most people live in Maine because they want to get away from the rat race, and live slower.  It’s hard to do that while wending your way up a corporate ladder.  Rural Mainers want to make enough to have the basics and a little left over for an emergency or an occasional splurge, but rural Mainers are the least materialistic people I’ve ever known.  Their lives are guided by this question:  do I really need it, or do I just want it?  Can I make something similar with my own two hands, or from spare parts sitting in the shed/barn?   Can I barter for it with something I already have?

 

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At my local farm, I can also buy seedlings for herbs and vegetables for around $2 per plant. The structure above the seedlings is called a hoop house.

 

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Freshly picked greens are put in bags in the stand's  fridge, waiting for customers.

Freshly picked greens are put in bags in the stand’s fridge, waiting for customers.

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The sign reads, “We are committed to using only non-GMO, untreated seeds. Many are heirloom and organic. We feed our plants with certified organic fish/seaweed fertilizer. NO CHEMICALS. It’s healthier for us, our children, and our environment. Thank you for supporting a small family farm.”

 

Each week when I buy vegetables, I write down what it is that I’ve taken (this week it was 4 bags of kale, a bag of snap peas, and some fresh eggs gathered that morning from their free-range chickens), and record how much money I’ve paid.

The owner is not always at the stand, so I write down what it is I've taken and how much I've paid.  You can see the lock box and change box in the rear right corner.

The owner is not always at the stand, so I write down what it is I’ve taken and how much I’ve paid. You can see the lock box and change box in the rear right corner.

I put the money in a little lock box, although there is another box with about $20 in bills and coins in case I need to make change.  It’s all about the honor system and it’s not just a convenience, it’s a creed here in rural Maine.  It’s a great and holy thing when you can trust not just your most intimate acquaintances, but the majority of the population, even if they might be strangers.

When you live in an environment that is consistent in honesty and decency it changes a person.  Life just seems more livable and more meaningful.  And soon, you can’t imagine living any other way.

The thought of returning to the city, where people are cynical and skeptical and mistrusting, because they’ve been burned more than once and expect to be burned again, is astonishing.  Why put up with such ill-begotten behavior if you don’t have to?  And you learn that we all make choices, and then wonder why anyone would choose to live in chaos, or get so used to the corruption of certain values that they forget that life can be different in such a positive way.

The state motto is, “Maine:  The Way Life Should Be.”  There is a lot wrong with the state of Maine, but mostly there is a lot that’s right.  It’s the important things that count:  that basic decency and honor and craftsmanship and pride of place that is the very definition of rural Maine, that is sadly lacking in so many other places.

 

The most popular supplier of organic vegetable, herb and flower seeds, bulbs, potatoes, and trees in Maine is Fedco Seeds.  That’s where I order my garlic bulbs and they’ve been great.  They sell to commercial organic farmers, serious hobbyists,  as well as weekend gardeners. You can order a print catalog or just look online.  Their catalog has a wealth of information and makes for great reading.  They only sell seasonally.  I highly recommend them, and they ship all over the US.

Cranberries

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.)

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Another view of the hand-sorting belt.

readyberries

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.

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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:

http://www.woodwardcranberryfarm.net/woodwardsite/

An informative article about organic cranberry growing:

http://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Summer2009/Cranberries/tabid/1194/Default.aspx

Reportage from a local newspaper:

http://www.advertiserdemocrat.com/community/story/025-42-com-2011cranberries-31-v-0