If you’ve ordered a salad at the Cockeyed Gull on Peaks Island this summer, there’s a good chance you’ve eaten lettuce grown at the Island Micro Farm.
Located on the back side of Peaks Island down a winding gravel road, the farm is a new enterprise created by resident Mark Shain. But unlike traditional farms where straight rows of tilled soil define the landscape, Shain’s farm follows a permaculture model.
Permaculture aims to mimic nature in a sustainable system that produces abundant food and minimizes soil disturbances. Petro-chemical fertilizers and pesticides are never used and there is no such thing as waste on a permaculture farm as everything is recycled.
“I’m really concerned about climate change and the cost of food on the island,” Shain said. “The permaculture model fits with my concerns.”
Two hoop houses – which will soon increase to four – overflow with lettuce, chard, kale, garlic, radishes and tomatoes. This is where the lettuce destined for the Cockeyed Gull grows.
“We’re always looking for anything that’s organic,” said Gary Taylor, who owns the restaurant with Chon Ye.
Taylor explained that everything is more expensive to have shipped to the island, and organic produce (which already comes with a price premium on the mainland) is particularly pricey.
“Mark is right here and makes (organic lettuce) accessible to us,” said Taylor, who is looking forward to serving other vegetables from the Island Micro Farm as they become available.
“We’re very flexible in what we serve, especially on the vegetable side, so we’ll be able to use anything he provides,” Taylor said.
The lack of tilling can be seen along the farm’s driveway, where a ditch has been layered with mulch and planted with eight varieties of potatoes.
Shain is only exaggerating slightly when he says “I have like a million projects going on.”
Working from a plan created by permaculture experts Julia and Charles Yelton, who own Humustacia Gardens in Whitefield and Villa Francesca in Sicily, Shain will soon take the poplar logs from a wooded area that was cleared behind his house, inoculate them with oyster mushroom spores, set them in a shady spot and await the harvest. He’ll do the same with oak logs and shiitake spores.
He has a selection of apple, peach and pear trees waiting to be planted in another cleared area, and nut trees will be next.
Shain expanded a small pond as part of the permaculture design. The pond has a mechanical water pump, but like the former pond, it does not have a mechanical filtration system. Instead Shain will use native plants to filter the water.
“Water in a landscape is really important, because it attracts a lot of beneficials” such as dragonflies, snakes and worms, Shain said.
Just outside the house, he’s putting in a brick walkway using reclaimed bricks that will eventually encircle a kitchen garden. Like everything in permaculture, the placement is deliberate, making it easy for Shain to grab a few fresh herbs and vegetables while preparing a meal.
“I’m going to have chickens and Muscovy ducks, if the city will allow me,” Shain said, noting that Peaks Island is governed by the urban regulations of Portland.
He also needs to expand his grape arbor and build a cob and bottle greenhouse.
Shain and his 16-year-old neighbor Liam Fox are tackling most of the work.
“I’m a former political junkie and now I’ve become an activist in a different way,” said Shain, who also works as a graphic designer.
His goal is to have two-thirds of his acre-sized lot producing food.
“All my inputs for the soil come from the island,” Shain said. He uses seaweed and horse manure gathered on the island and mixes them with kitchen scraps and other plant matter in his compost station.
“I want my permaculture site to not only produce a lot of food, but be attractive too,” Shain said. “I want to appeal to that ornamental aesthetic that a lot of gardeners have on the island.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter at: Twitter.com/AveryYaleKamila