May 9, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Community-supported
farming goes buffet in Maine

Two Newcastle farmers are taking the unusual and somewhat scary step of advertising their new year-round agriculture venture as 'all-you-can-eat.'

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Lee Straw shears sheep as, from left, Cameron Wilson, 7; Eric Small, 7; and Bradley Hoskins, 9, students from Woodside Elementary School in Topsham, observe.

Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Pork is among the meats that will be offered through the CSA being launched by Dandelion Springs Farm and Straw Farm in Newcastle.

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BETH SCHILLER said the two farms currently grow 37 primary crops, which includes everything but sweet corn, and there's a good mix of hybrids for vigor and heirlooms for flavor. All the vegetables are certified organic. Here's a sampling of what the CSA will offer:

Mixed greens

Prepared mixes of grab-and-go salad greens

More than 40 varieties of tomatoes, mainly heirloom varieties

Dozens of varieties of winter squash

Basic root vegetables such as carrots, beets and potatoes, plus more interesting ones like daikon and different types of turnips

Bunched greens



Culinary herbs such as parsley, basil, sage, thyme, cilantro, dill and fennel

One freezer lamb



Raw Jersey organic milk


One sheep pelt

Up to 12 skeins of yarn


As part of their share with the Dandelion Springs and Straw Farm CSA, customers will get one whole, custom-cut lamb for the freezer. These aren't just any lambs. Most of the them come from a heritage breed that lives on a private island in Penobscot Bay. They are the same lambs sold to Fore Street, an award-winning restaurant in the Old Port.

Schiller and Straw have about 110 ewes on the island. The lambs are born there and stay there until fall, when they are brought to the farm for the winter.

"The breed stock has been there for over 200 years, and so they've really been selected to be independent sheep," Schiller said. "We just go out three times a year."

The island is perfect for sheep, Schiller said. There's a lot of pasture but also some woods, and an area where fresh water collects. The terroir results in a lean but flavorful meat.

"Everyone who tastes them has a different description," Schiller said. "Some people say they can really taste the saltiness. The lambs eat a lot of kelp. But I think, in general, people might find their flavor to be fresh and more mild than they would traditional farm-raised lamb, because it's often the grain that sheep eat that cause them to have a stronger, almost musky flavor. These don't have it; it's a very clean flavor."

TO LEARN MORE about the CSA, go to:

Schiller expects that the CSA will provide the bulk of a family's food for the year. There may occasionally be limits -- on the first tomatoes of the season, for example -- but most items will be "all you can eat."

The farmers are hoping that, in the end, everything will balance out. One family may love pork chops, for example, but not be big milk drinkers.

"Initially, we talked about setting limits on some of the more expensive cuts of meats," Schiller said, "but then we thought if we were to say, 'No more than one tenderloin a month,' then I think everyone would make sure they got that one tenderloin a month, whether they wanted it or not. This way, I think people are going to be more free to eat the type of food that they're really called to eat, and I don't worry about anybody taking in excess."

The CSA won't provide everything a family might want. The farms raise beef, pork and lamb, for example, but not chickens for eating.

"I recognize that we have some significant holes," Schiller said. "We do not make cheese, and so we're hoping to find somebody who can do that for us. We don't offer grains and we also don't offer sweetener, those are the two main things. We don't have maple syrup or honey available."

With this kind of CSA, customers may be more likely to try, say, some kind of organ meat when they know it's not displacing a bunch of carrots, as it would in a more limited farm share. Conversely, Schiller thinks people will be less likely to waste food, since they are taking their whole diet from the farm.

Kate Bathras of South Portland and her family have decided that the CSA is worth gambling their family's food budget on, and they have already signed up.

Bathras will be shopping for two adults -- herself and her husband, Tim. They have a 3-year-old daughter, Norah, who will eat for free.

A share for the Bathras will cost $4,020. That's $134 a week, or $574 a month.

Bathras already does most of her shopping at the farmers market, where she "easily" spends more than $100 a week for meat, vegetables, milk and eggs. She said she heard about the new CSA through a friend on Facebook.

Before signing up, Bathras emailed Schiller and quizzed her about the farms' practices and what they feed their animals. "I asked her lots of questions to get the big picture," she said. "If we're committing to basically feeding our whole family on this food from this one farm for an entire year, I want to know the ins and outs."

Bathras said foods she can't get through the CSA -- grains, spices, avocados and other fruits, olive oils, etc. -- she'll purchase through a buying club where she's already a member.

She's not worried about taking too much food from the farm.

"When I hear the term 'all you can eat,' to me it goes without saying that what they're saying is within reason," Bathras said. "We're not going to show up and shop for a family of 20. My husband and I will want to make sure that we're being conscientious and respectful of their process and their costs.

"To me," Bathras said, "there are so many pros that it seems really worth it to take the gamble with them and encourage them to try this out."


Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:



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Additional Photos

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Lee Straw of Straw Farm in Newcastle.

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Pak choi is among the vegetables that will be offered through the CSA being launched by Dandelion Springs Farm and Straw Farm in Newcastle.

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Kelly Wilson, left, and Corinne Beaugard, apprentices at the farms, let the outside air in on a greenhouse of young kale plants.

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Beth Schiller grew up west of Augusta, and has been farming in the midcoast since the late ’90s. She and Lee Straw are now farming their two Newcastle farms as one.

2011 Press Herald File/Gregory Rec


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