SPRINGVALE — A European tradition will become reality in a patch of southern Maine next weekend during the state’s annual Open Farm Day.

On Sunday, the Springvale Farm Walk will, for the fifth year, traverse fields and woods past livestock, orchards and vegetable crops in Springvale, a Sanford village. It’s a unique opportunity to wander through farmland in Maine, where fields are typically posted and closed to the public. The walk follows a marked and mowed path for four miles that winds through 10 farms that are clustered together just minutes from downtown Sanford.

Not far from where Route 202 leaves Main Street in Sanford, turn right on Hanson Ridge Road and in less than a mile an agricultural world opens up. Traffic lights and congestion are quickly replaced by quiet fields and far-reaching views.

But what’s special about the southern Maine farm walk is not its proximity to an urban center – which is also true of other towns like Lewiston and Augusta – but its unique access to hike across private farmland, which is a tradition across Europe.

In England, Wales and Scotland travelers are invited to walk across pastoral land for exercise, and farmers welcome them. In Scotland it’s called the “right to roam,” and in England and Wales the “Rights of Way Act.” Germany also allows walking through private forests, meadows and fallow fields.

Barbara Sutcliffe of Sanford hiked across English farm fields in the 1980s and her husband, Lawrence Furbish, hiked there in 1990. Later when they were married they went together to Scotland in 2010. They said hiking through farm fields gives you a different perspective.

“There were a number of paths in all directions in what’s called the Lakes District. You’ll be walking along and there’s no fence, and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by sheep,” Furbish said with a laugh.

Sutcliffe almost destroyed a pair of leather hiking boots when she ended up in knee-deep mud, which often is found in England around livestock. But she said it was worth the adventure.

“You can buy walking maps. They go through the fields. The walking paths take you right into the farmland,” Sutcliffe said.

When they went together in 2010, the hikes were memorable for many reasons.

“We were hiking a nice trail in Pitlochry along the edge of farm fields and it ended up at a single malt whiskey distillery,” Furbish said. “So we hiked to it and had a taste of it. Of course that was the point.”

The 10 destinations on the Springvale Farm Walk include apple orchards, vegetable farms, maple syrup and berry farms, as well as farms for Christmas trees and organic mushrooms.

The farmers love the event, even though it’s still a work day for them that could stretch out for up to 12 hours.

Sara Cannon, 27, and her sister, Lara, 30, grew up on Peaks Island and went to college for professions very different from farming.

But after a summer spent helping their aunt, Jean Noon, at Noon Family Sheep Farm, they started their own organic farm three years ago on their aunt’s land.

Now they run an organic vegetable and cheese farm, and also sell eggs and cut flowers.

Sharing the hardships and rewards in farming with visitors is important to them, and they do this at farmers markets. But the one-day Farm Walk offers a better opportunity because they can show more clearly what they mean when they talk of working the land.

“People don’t know Springvale,” Lara Cannon said. “At the farmers markets when we say we have a farm there, they say, ‘Where’s that?’ ”

It’s a story repeated a lot from farmers in Springvale.

“My wife and I bought this farm in 1952 and have been doing it ever since,” said Jerry Rivard, 93, of Rivard Farm. “We have customers that are fourth-generation customers. But many other (local) people don’t know we’re here.”

Lee Burnett of Forest Works, a conservation group in York County, came up with the idea for the farm walk to draw attention to the 75 miles of trails and paths in Sanford. Last year the one-day hike drew roughly 300. Burnett expects more this year.

But even Burnett said the end goal is not to create a permanent trail, only to introduce people who live in southern Maine to this farm region and the farmers who work here.

Only Hazen Carpenter at Carpenter Tree Farm speaks of the farm walk becoming a permanent farm trail. Carpenter owns 200 acres of farmland and helped start the Mousam Way Land Trust in 1998. He already has easements on his land for a one-mile farm trail that loops into the Springvale rail trail and is a section of the one-day Farm Walk.

“There are three to four landowners who would need to have easements, which is very doable to make a permanent farm trail,” Carpenter said.

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or:

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