October 8, 2012

Off the Trail: A view from the orchard: We're in trouble

In rural York County, there’s little enthusiasm for the presidential race, but plenty of concerns.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Another in a weekly series on what Mainers across the state say about the race for the White House -- and what they want from the next president.

click image to enlarge

Jeff Walker picks up dropped apples at Pine View Orchard in Berwick on Thursday. He’s most concerned about the economy and the shrinking middle class.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Mike Libby stands at the top of his orchard in Limerick on Thursday. Libby says he’s not too keen on either presidential candidate because they aren’t talking about change.

LIMERICK - Mike Libby apologizes, but he did not bother to watch the presidential debate last week. He may catch up with it on YouTube. He may even tune in to the next debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on Oct. 16.

But probably not.

"It's just rhetoric," said Libby, 57, who is unsatisfied with what he's heard from either major-party candidate. "I don't see too much difference between the two main candidates. It probably won't make too much different who wins. Neither one of them is talking about change. ... We're in serious trouble."

Libby, who grows apples and berries on a you-pick farm in rural western York County, catches himself. He's an optimistic person by nature, and he believes in the ability of the free market to address many of the economic and social issues that vex the country right now. He thinks there is enough wealth in America to go around, and enough smarts and savvy to solve many of society's most pressing and divisive issues, including health care, poverty and energy.

He just wishes government would step aside and allow the private sector to flex its muscle and realize its potential.

"The amount of wealth we can create if set free is enormous," said Libby, who lives in nearby Waterboro.

As he talks, the farmer maneuvers a four-wheeler over a bumpy path that winds among apple trees and high-bush blueberries. A steady rain falls, and mist rises from the hills that ring his 40-acre Libby & Son farm.

He employs a dozen folks seasonally, although he works year-round pruning and caring for his crops. He tends 10,000 blueberry bushes and 1,000 apple trees. He also grows peach trees.

Customers start showing up at his farm as early as late June to pick blueberries. Business steadily builds throughout the summer, and by fall he attracts 5,000 people on a good weekend.

A map on the wall of his store shows pins from every state in the country and many foreign countries, indicating the homes of his visitors. He is proud of his accomplishments, and enjoys his work.

"I started from nothing," he said. "I've put a lot of money in the ground already."

Libby has owned this farm for a decade, buying it from previous owners for whom he worked as a manager. He wants to plant more crops to add variety to attract more customers. He's just unsure about making an investment right now. Taxes, regulations and the rising cost of fuel hold him back.

He has strong opinions, but feels ambivalent about the presidential race. He will support a candidate who has a plan to cut spending and reduce the size and power of government, and he bristled at the idea that a Romney administration would be good for fiscal policy. Romney might be better than Obama, he said, but don't fool yourself. "Neither is advocating for any cuts. It's just a decrease in the increase," he said.

Down the road in Berwick, 65-year-old Jeff Walker hustles a wheelbarrow full of fallen apples through the rows of a small orchard. It's not quite 11 a.m., and already he's collected 500 pounds of apples from the ground.

Walker is used to hard work. A former contractor, he built houses in Maine and Massachusetts for years and routinely worked six days a week. He bought Pine View Orchard two years ago, mostly for the view. The orchard lies about two miles from New Hampshire. His house faces the rising hills on the other side of the border.

(Continued on page 2)

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