Saturday, March 8, 2014
Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer.. Saturday, November 28, 2008...The Lank Farm in Kennebunk has a seasonal Christmas celebration to encourage people to buy handmade wreaths, cut their own Christmas tree, enjoy a wagon ride, and even visit with Santa. Joann Lank works on a large holiday wreath in the farm's workshop.
Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer.. Saturday, November 28, 2008...The Lank Farm in Kennebunk has a seasonal Christmas celebration to encourage people to buy handmade wreaths, cut their own Christmas tree, enjoy a wagon ride, and even visit with Santa. These visitors to the farm took a ride in a horse-drawn wagon before heading off to look for a Christmas tree to cut.
KENNEBUNK — Lank Farm has a sawmill, boards horses and grows vegetables, but the biggest cash crop on its 280 acres is just now being harvested.
The farm offers Christmas trees, wreaths and other holiday greens, and on Saturday had both Santa Claus and a horse-drawn wagon on hand to make sure customers would spend more than just a few minutes at the farm picking out a tree.
Kathy Lank, part of the family ownership that goes back to pre-Civil War days, said the farm's Christmas items -- mostly from balsam firs grown in wetlands unsuitable for many other crops -- have become its biggest revenue source.
''Without the trees, I don't think we'd be able to make it work,'' said Lank, who was surrounded by five women quickly putting bows and pine cones on fresh balsam wreaths as Christmas music played in the background. ''You have to have something year-round.''
The days when farms could exist on a single season's crops, and the farmer could spend the winter quietly tending animals and fixing equipment, are gone.
Farms have had to become equal parts agricultural venture and entertainment venue, bringing the customers to the source to build a relationship that will last through all four seasons.
''They're taking advantage to offer recreational opportunities and also marketing their food directly to consumers,'' said Jon Olson, executive secretary of the Maine Farm Bureau. ''This gives the farmers the opportunity to speak directly to consumers, one-to-one.''
Olson said it's imperative for farmers to be welcoming neighbors for a variety of reasons.
One is establishing a personal relationship with consumers, so the same family that picks out a Christmas tree in December comes back in August to buy fresh vegetables and in October for a Halloween pumpkin and hayride.
Another is making sure residents value the open space farms offer and support tax breaks that make it affordable for farmers to keep operating instead of selling their land for housing developments.
Farmers are finding all sorts of times to open their barn doors to the community, beginning in March, Olson noted, for Maine Maple Sunday, when farmers tap their trees to start the syrup-making season.
On Mother's Day, he said, farmers and nurseries with greenhouses will invite mothers in for free plants.
Olson said he knows of a dairy farm that sells fresh milk directly to customers and of another farm that opens its fields to cross-country skiers in the winter.
Maine farmers have a marketing advantage because they're close to population centers, both in state and for tourists from Massachusetts and Connecticut, he said.
Large Midwestern farms may be able to turn out tons of corn and wheat each year, he said, but they tend to be in much more rural areas, surrounded by other farms rather that right next to, or in, small towns and cities. Plus, their crops aren't the kind that are likely to draw families to the farm, like Christmas trees, pumpkins and maple syrup do.
''One farmer told me that Maine farmers can't out-produce those farmers in the Midwest, but we can certainly out-market them and this is one way we're doing it,'' he said.
Lank said her family's farm has been producing wreaths for 25 years but only hit on the idea of having Santa and wagon rides last year. The farm collects names and phone numbers of its customers and earlier this month, Lank called about 200 people to remind them the ''Old Fashioned Family Christmas Celebration'' was on again this year.
The family was prepared for scaled-down sales because of the economy, Lank said, but has been surprised by orders outpacing last year's.
''We're totally amazed,'' she said. ''We thought we were probably in for a hard year, but that hasn't been the case.''
Lank said the sawmill business is down because of the economy, but it still brings in some money, as does horse boarding. She said the vegetable and pumpkin crops were off this year because of the rainy summer, but the family still will plant more next year.
''A lot of farms have to do whatever they can,'' she said. ''We're just lucky to be making a living at it.''
Chris Poirer of Wells stopped by the Lank Farm on Saturday with his mother and niece and said he hopes to make it a tradition.
''It puts you in a holiday spirit,'' he said. ''It's better than going to a mall.''
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:
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Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer.. Saturday, November 28, 2008...The Lank Farm in Kennebunk has a seasonal Christmas celebration to encourage people to buy handmade wreaths, cut their own Christmas tree, enjoy a wagon ride, and even visit with Santa. Visitors to the farm walk past undecorated holiday wreaths as the head off to look for a Christmas tree to cut.