PALMYRA — While one of the two people in most young farming couples in Maine have to work at a paying job off the land to make ends meet, Jarret Haiss and Johanna Burdet are bucking the trend. And it’s paying off.

Beginning with this year’s growing season, the couple, with their 18-month-old daughter, Tiger, are working Moodytown Gardens on Warren Hill Road full time.

“To me it was really scary,” Burdet, 31, said. “I knew that we weren’t making a lot of money from our outside employment, but it was always a nest for me so if things got really tight we had some sort of other income. It’s definitely scary for anyone to stop working off the farm.”

Now, she said, she can focus all of her energy working on the farm and doing what she used to think about doing when she was the agriculture education teacher at the Cornville Regional Charter School near where she grew up in Cornville.

The couple bought the 75-acre farm on Warren Hill Road, which is Route 151, four years ago, and they cultivate about 10 acres of organic vegetables and make hay on about 20 acres.

They run their own farm stand in the front yard and raise pigs for market. They have nine piglets and Fat Man – a giant 700-pound castrated pig who’s “just a lucky pig” because he refuses to get on the livestock trailer for the slaughterhouse.

Vegetables, seven varieties of potatoes and flowers are grown using organic methods, but the produce is not yet certified organic.

Haiss, 32, grew up on a farm in neighboring St. Albans. He worked roofing and did odd carpentry jobs, farm work and some ski instructing before landing on the land full time.

The couple have been farming together for seven years. For the first three years, they farmed an acre of land at Burdet’s parents’ farm on Moodytown Road in Cornville, and the name stuck. They later moved onto a parcel a little less than an acre near her parents’ home and started their own little operation and finally outgrew that and purchased what was the old Elm Lawn Farm in Palmyra.

“This is the first full year that neither of us has had any outside employment,” Burdet said. “What we realized was that my teaching job was really just pulling from the farm (and) it wasn’t really helping us make ends meet.”

Haiss added that when both of them are working full time on the farm, they can sell more produce, do tractor work and run the three-person farm crew they hire for the season.

“We are making more money with me being able to focus on the farm,” Burdet said.

YOUNG FARMERS ON THE RISE

The number of farmers age 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, the last time the U.S. Department of Agriculture released agriculture census data.

John Harker, the former director of production development at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, said in 2013 that young farmers make up more of the farm owners and managers in Maine than in previous decades. Harker, who since has retired, said the number of young farmers buying property and attending farmers markets and agricultural meetings continues to grow.

“There is a movement for more people who want to grow their own food or start a small food business,” he said in 2013.

Harker said more colleges also are offering sustainable agriculture programs. He said a large percentage of those attending those classes are young families who want to start farming in a serious way.

Matthew Randall, agricultural compliance supervisor at the Maine Department of Agriculture, said that while new census data have not been released, the recent Maine Open Farm Days showed other families like Haiss and Burdet are working farms full time. The data are released every five years.

Gary Keough, a statistician at the USDA field office for New England in Concord, New Hampshire, said all of the New England states have seen an increase in the number of farms since 2007 and 2012.

“Everybody has an increase in the number of young farmers, especially beginning farmers,” Keough said.

Heather Johnson, executive director at Somerset County Economic Development Corp. in Skowhegan, said her office is keeping track of young farmers and will be releasing data, probably next year.

“There’s so much value in these young farmers coming into our communities, not only for what they produce on their farms, but for the value they add to the community in total,” Johnson said. “I think they bring an energy and an excitement and a broader thought to our natural resources and the value that our natural resources can play to the individuals in the community.”

EARNING A LIVING

Haiss and Burdet are on pace to make enough money to earn a living, they said.

They have several wholesale accounts for their produce – five restaurants, a couple of stores and a lot of shares for The Pickup, Skowhegan’s community-supported agriculture program. They also sell at farmers markets in Hampden, Skowhegan and Belgrade Lakes. Hello Good Pie and Day’s General Store, also in Belgrade, buy from them, they said.

Burdet said she has joined the Maine Federation of Farmers Market board of directors and is secretary and newsletter writer for the Skowhegan Farmers Market.

Burdet said this year their sales have increased about 30 percent over previous years. She said having time to work enriching the soil with organic nutrients has finally begun to pay off.