Wednesday, April 23, 2014
You’d never have guessed it was a cold rainy day in early April, to look at row after row of seedlings in one of the greenhouses at Six River Farm in Bowdoinham, Maine. Farmers Gabrielle Gosselin and Nate Drummond had agreed to meet me there so I could ask them about the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) Journeyperson Farm Training Program they had participated in and to learn more about their diverse organic vegetable farm along the shores of Merrymeeting Bay.
It was inspiring and a little surreal looking at all the seedlings that would soon find their way to market: celery, basil, parsley, tomatoes, microgreens, sunflower shoots (a salad’s "secret weapon" according to The New York Times), eggplant, kale, cucumbers, spinach, zucchini, peppers, onions, Chinese cabbage and celeriac.
Gosselin and Drummond moved to Bowdoinham and established Six River Farm in 2007. It is named after the six rivers that flow into Merrymeeting Bay: the Kennebec River, Androscoggin River, Cathance River, Eastern River, Muddy River, and the Abagadasset River. They found the property via Maine FarmLink, a program of Maine Farmland Trust.
Drummond explained to me a growing number of young farmers today lease multiple patches of fields within close proximity of each other as much, because good farm land is expensive as it is unavailable. In Bowdoinham, access to fertile soil and proximity to farmers’ markets make it very appealing to young farmers. Being part of a community of farmers (Kennebec Flower Farm, Fishbowl Farm and Fairwinds Farm) also gives Gosselin and Drummond a real advantage of seeing what other farmers are doing multiple times during the day. Nate said if one farm is experimenting with spacing lettuce or soil tillage the farmers can talk about it while it is going on.
History of Farming in Bowdoinham
According to Drummond, the area has been actively farmed since being settled in about 1720.
From a Brief Description of Bowdoinham, Maine.. “By the 1870s, Bowdoinham reverted to what it had always been at the grassroots: a small, agriculturally-based community of self-sufficient farms. Residents raised market crops of apples, wheat, hay, and potatoes; they harvested fish and ice from the rivers; and wood from the forests, earning a decent -- if not extremely profitable -- living. When the Kendall brothers came to town, their sheep-raising, grain, and fertilizer businesses spurred new industry. This enterprise would rise with the fortunes of the state's agricultural tide, only to be squashed by the depression of the 1930s.”
Search “farming” with the Bowdoin Historical Society and you come up with some gems! “Mr. George Preston recently picked forty-one bushels of apples from one tree. Cider mills are busy grinding up the little yellow and red apples. B.A. Oct. 24, 1884”
In the early 1900s Harry Prout moved to Bowdoinham and according to Nate, people in town remember ancestors picking peas and parsnips for him. He used to drive a school bus around and pick-up kids up to pick. He was one of the first to scale up to meet supermarket demand.
In the 1950s/60s Ransom Kelley and his family began farming, and 1996 it was their farmland George Christopher leased to farm on his own and eventually leased out parcels of to become part of his farmer incubator program….“George did all this before there was attention to preserving farmland. He had the foresight to recognize there would be this need, he sees himself as a caretaker,” said Drummond.
MOFGA Journeyperson Program
Soon after purchasing the initial acreage that defined Six River Farm, they became Journeypersons, having heard about MOFGA from Nate’s parents who are entomologists at the University of Maine. When they began the program they had 2 ½ acres with no employees. By 2009 when they completed the program, they had increased their acreage by leasing two more plots and hired employees.
Through the Journeyperson Program Gosselin and Drummond were paired with mentors David Colson of New Leaf Farm and Seth Kroeck of Crystal Spring Farm. These relationships provided invaluable when it came to practical questions about where to get stuff and having someone to check in with.
In addition to providing social connections within Maine’s farming world, business planning, and technical assistance, MOFGA offers participants an educational stipend of $500 per year, which can be spent on classes, workshops, or conferences related to farming, or books, videos, computer programs, etc that are educational in nature. Drummond and Gosselin used theirs to attend the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference, MOFGA’s Farmer to Farmer Conference, and the Ecological Farming Association Conference. They also purchased copies of Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower and The Winter Harvest Handbook, Building Soils for Better Crops by Fred Magdoff and Harold Van Es, and Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market by Vernon P. Grubinger.
Setting an Example
As Drummond pointed out, every farm has its own unique of doing things. Farming is hard, with real financial challenges. He and Gosselin are setting an example by finding a way past the hurdles to make a living running an economically viable small farm. One of the ways they do this is via marketing. As they explained it, people who shop at a farmers’ market want to get the story behind the food. They shop locally so they can meet the people they are sourcing their ingredients from. Gabrielle learned how important marketing can be while working at farmers markets in New York City. Her brother set up their website and Facebook page, which Gosselin updates almost daily from her Smartphone’s Facebook application. “It is important we do this, because we have a wonderful loyal customer base that interacts with us at farmers’ markets, but it’s rare people visit the farm,” said Drummond.
To learn more about Six River Farm, check out this MOGFA article.
You can find Six River Farm’s produce at Brunswick Farmers Market and Crystal Spring Farmers Market, as well as a few local restaurants and natural food stores. Support them, buy local, and help stimulate the economy in Maine’s small farming towns.
Photos by Sharon Kitchens. Screenshot Six River Farm.Tweet
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.