Mainers who love history or photography or both may already know who Abbie Sewall is. The fine arts photographer is the author of “Message Through Time: The Photographs of Emma D. Sewall 1836-1919,” a book of and about her great-great-grandmother’s work, and “The Voice of Maine,” a book of photographs and essays on Maine characters co-authored with Bill Pohl.

But after she retired from a job teaching photography at North Yarmouth Academy, she jumped into a new career in agriculture, starting Bailey Farm, a certified organic elderberry and Aronia farm in Freeport. We called her up to talk colds, antioxidants and reinvention.

HARVEST MOON: We caught Sewall just as her harvest was kicking into high gear. “Last night I harvested about 13 pounds.” And she’s just getting started. “It’s typically mid-August through all of September,” she said. And onward. “By October I am usually tearing my hair out.” Her 285 elderberry bushes are indeterminate, which means they continuously bloom and produce fruit.

SEXY BERRIES: At this point in the conversation, we profess our utter ignorance of the topic at hand, which Sewall assures us is perfectly normal. “You are not alone! There are so many people in American who don’t know what elderberries are and what they do.” We’re all used to what Sewall calls the “sexy berries,” i.e. blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

While consumers have largely learned that blueberries in particular are filled with antioxidants, those natural chemicals that benefit health, elderberries, which Sewall said pack an even higher antioxidant punch, don’t get the publicity they deserve. That’s partly because they aren’t nearly as easy to consume. “You have to work to get them into your body.” Like baking them into muffins or making a sauce, syrup or tincture. Elderberries are tiny, about the size of a wild blueberry, and are filled with crunchy seeds. Raw “they don’t taste all that great,” but toss them into a peach pie or any sort of muffin and it’s a different story.

ROYAL BERRIES: The same is true of Aronia, which Sewall grows in smaller numbers but says is easier to cultivate. “The berries are bigger and you can pull a clump of them off.” Their skin is leathery and – bonus – the birds don’t like them. But when she makes a shrub out of Aronia, it tastes to her just like elderberry. There’s no commercial market for it (yet). She tends to keep quiet about the Aronia she grows. “It’s a challenge because there is so much of a learning curve about elderberry. If I also add in Aronia it is just too much information.” In her book though, they’re both royalty. “I call Aronia the king of antioxidants and elderberry is the queen.”

GETTING HERE FROM THERE: How did Sewall get into growing obscure berries? About 15 years ago, when she was teaching at North Yarmouth Academy and exposing herself to every winter cold and flu her students had, she started trying various holistic methods to boost her immune system, starting with mushroom compounds made into pill form. Even with sniffling students in the closed space of the darkroom, she suddenly felt protected. “I thought I had armor around my body,” she said, laughing.

Her husband traveled for work, but she started sending him off with tinctures. (Turmeric is a favorite, along with elderberry.) Their daughter, who struggled with sinus infections, stopped getting them. Everyone in the family felt better.

SPREADING THE WORD: “The idea of living an intentional life as opposed to just reacting to life hit home for me at age 48,” she said. “I realized that I was about to turn 50 and didn’t have a clue about how to live.”

Sewall’s interest continued to grow as she took a year-long health coaching and nutrition course at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. And so did her desire to share what she was learning. “At a certain point in your life you have to decide how you are going to live your values.”

Her perspective became, let’s take back our health. “Let’s only go to the doctor if we have a broken arm or cancer.” She was, she said, either going to become a health coach or be a farmer. “They are all under the same umbrella.”

FINDING THE FARM: She got serious about becoming a farmer around 2007, when she and her husband found a three-acre, south-facing field in Freeport. “I couldn’t believe that such a thing would exist that wasn’t part of a development.” She only uses about a quarter of an acre for the berries. “You don’t need a lot of land to grow your food and your medicine.” She’s got a grape arbor too, partly because she wanted grapes, but partly as a sacrificial plant for the Japanese beetles to feast on.

GROWING BUSINESS: Her first harvest, four years ago, was a lone pound. “The second year was 400 pounds, and the third year 703 pounds. This year I am estimating between 800 and 1,000.” Although she makes tinctures for herself and her family, she has yet to make a value-added product to sell. “If I were in my 20s or 30s, I would probably be making a shrub.” But as is, she said, “it’s all I can do to farm. I am a single-person farm here!”

Her elderberries go to a few private buyers, including beer makers and Urban Farm Fermentory, where elderberries are used for kombucha, but you won’t find Sewall selling berries at farmers markets. “Occasionally I get a customer who comes in and wants to buy a small quantity to make a shrub or a tincture and I’ll weigh them out.”

WHAT NEXT? “I realized at age 64 that I am a project person,” Sewall said. “I get fired up by taking on a challenge.” She’s got at least one book idea, related to elderberries, and in the future she plans to get back to her first art, photography, which has evolved so much in her lifetime.

“I’m so old that I started in black and white film and spent half my life in a darkroom.” She loved the magic of the darkroom, but she’s happily adapted to digital photography, particularly in the ways in which it is more sustainable. “I am thrilled that we no longer have to use chemicals and water.”

MISSION STATEMENT: Sewall’s mission is this: “The most important political act I can make is to grow my own food and plants for medicine and try not to be preachy but to share my experience of taking back my health.” And like another Maine lady with a penchant for planting – albeit lupines – she thinks in terms of a gift to the world. “Like Miss Rumphius,” she said. “I think, what is my last gift to the world? If I had to put my life into one word, it is healing.”

Correction: This story was updated on Nov. 15 to correct the name of the institute where Abbie Sewall studied. It is the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, not the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.