BERWICK — Half a dozen bison lounged in the tall grass behind the Hackmatack Playhouse on Tuesday, barely visible to people driving by.

Such a tranquil scene is more commonly associated with the Western plains than southern Maine’s rolling fields, but this small herd is part of an ambitious vision for two Berwick natives.

Christopher Gallot, 24, and Conor Guptill, 25, grew up together near the field that has been owned by Guptill’s family since the 1600s. They went their separate ways after high school, but after a conversation this fall, they both realized they wanted to return to their hometown and reconnect with the land.

Together, they founded the Bison Project.

Gallot, who was working for an architectural firm in Boston, and Guptill, who recently completed his master’s in intercultural studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, have spent the past six months preparing the field so they could raise a small herd of bison. The first arrived in May, and now they have six – with four calves expected soon.

They hope to keep a herd of up to 30 grass-fed bison in the 24-acre pasture.

The two admit they are inexperienced at raising farm animals.

“You have to figure it out as you go. It’s not complicated,” Gallot said before telling the story of having to reinforce some of the electrical fencing after the herd escaped. They managed to coax the bison back into the field with grain and hay – from a safe distance.

The two have talked to many farmers and done other research in preparing for the arrival of the bison, which came from Yankee Farmer’s Market in Warner, N.H. They also drummed up financial support from friends and family to cover startup costs, which exceeded $20,000. Each bison costs between $1,500 and $3,000. Both say they plan to work other jobs as well as managing the bison operation.

“We both really like trailblazing,” Guptill said. “Doing something new and really having to venture out.”

There are several other bison farms in Maine, and bison meat can be found in many stores.

Gallot said they picked bison in part because of its reputation for being a healthy protein source, and because they are “a truly North American animal.”

Bison meat has a flavor similar to beef but slightly sweeter. The meat has fewer fat grams and calories, and less cholesterol than chicken, turkey, pork or beef.

In addition to appealing to health-conscious consumers, Gallot and Guptill want to tap into the locavore movement.

They plan to sell meat from the farm, and host community gatherings to promote sustainable production of local foods, balanced ecosystems and traditional farming, as well as protecting other farmland.

“We want to bring new life into this region,” Guptill said. “We’re at the beginning of something that is really about to take off.”

Unrolling a diagram that maps out how they plan to grow the herd, harvest the meat and keep the business sustainable, Gallot said they created the visual graphics to help them implement their ideas and make it easier for others to learn from their experience.

“We want to take the work we’re doing here and show it can be done elsewhere,” he said.

Guptill and Gallot currently sell bison meat from Yankee Farmer’s Market at the farm.

Gallot said bison must grow for at least 30 months before they can be slaughtered, which means their first animals won’t be slaughtered until fall 2012.

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]

 


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