Charles DeGrandpre, former Wolfe’s Neck Farm manager and a pioneer in the organic farming movement in Maine, died early Thursday. He was 88.
DeGrandpre was remembered as an early leader in sustainable agriculture, who shared his passion with farmers across the region.
He was recruited to work at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in 1968 by its founders, Lawrence M.C. and Eleanor Houston Smith, early pioneers of organic agriculture. Together, the Smiths and DeGrandpre developed an organic beef farm, which became home to 300 head of mostly Black Angus. He was an early leader in developing healthy soils and nutrient-rich grasses with very few grains.
His son Jim DeGrandpre, of Freeport, said his father was an innovator in the organic farming movement. He listed several experiments his father tried, ranging from using rotational grazing to finding extensive uses for animal manure and using stone dust as a soil enrichment.
“Mr. Smith and my father were always thinking about innovative ways to cut costs and grow healthy animals using organic practices,” his son said. “He had a real passion for it.”
DeGrandpre worked on the farm nearly his whole life. A hallmark of his career was teaching young people sustainable farming practices. Over the years, he hired hundreds of high school students, neighbors and lobstermen in the offseason. He also shared his knowledge with farmers across southern Maine, teaching them the same practices that he used at Wolfe’s Neck.
His son Richard DeGrandpre, also of Freeport, said he was a consummate mentor, who taught them by example.
“He helped turn boys into men,” Richard DeGrandpre said. “One of his sayings was, ‘Work hard, boys. That’s how I got my start.’ He worked with them. He was out every day working beside you.”
He was a loving husband to his wife, Claire DeGrandpre, for 58 years. The couple lived at the farm, where they raised four sons. She died in 2009.
Jim DeGrandpre said his parents shared an “awesome life.”
“They really supported each other,” Jim DeGrandpre said, noting that she was a secretary at the farm for many years. “My father was a very hard worker. She made sure he had some balance in his life so everything wasn’t all about work. It was his nature.”
DeGrandpre retired from the farm in 1992 and moved to a house adjacent to the farm property.
He was an active member of the Freeport American Legion, Wolfe’s Neck Club and St. Jude’s Catholic Church.
“He was well known in the community,” Jim DeGrandpre said. “He was a good, friendly guy who was willing to help anyone. Our phones have been ringing off the hook from people wishing us well.”
In his retirement, DeGrandpre continued to serve as an adviser at Wolfe’s Neck Farm. Today, two of his sons and his grandson work at the farm, continuing his work and dedication to the land.
“His legacy here is immense and really immeasurable,” said Dave Herring, executive director of Wolfe’s Neck Farm. “His fingerprints are all over this place. …We all feel that we lost a real legend from these parts. He was one of those ever-present forces here for so long. Our hearts go out to his entire family.”
Mr. DeGrandpre’s full obituary is expected to appear in Saturday’s Portland Press Herald.