Former ballerina Daniela Aldrich manages Dancing Harvest Farm in South Portland. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

Daniela Aldrich spent the first 18 years of her life working toward a career in professional dance, eventually joining the New York City Ballet. After becoming disheartened with that path, she found a new passion: vegetable farming.

She now is the manager of the new Dancing Harvest Farm, South Portland’s only agricultural farm, on Highland Avenue. Fourth-generation owner Jon Ruterbories said the land hadn’t been maintained as a farm in years, but he wanted to return it to its heritage.

“It’s really cool to see that land be farmed again in a way that’s systematic and well done by Daniela,” he said. “It adds to the storied history, and the community is glad that it’s here.”

For Aldrich, farming and dance are not all that different. Both are ways of connecting with people and offering them something you’ve made, she said.

Rows of crops at Dancing Harvest Farm in South Portland. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

“Both are super physical, but also very precise,” Aldrich said. “You’re repeating a lot of tasks all day in ballet and farming. You can be focusing on these small steps, but they all add up to this incredible choreography.

“You offer people a performance and hope to connect with people that way, and with farming you offer them your harvest and hope to connect through your produce,” she said. “It’s something that’s live in the moment, and then it’s gone.”


‘Ballet had been my identity’

Aldrich began dancing as a toddler when she was introduced to flamenco dancing in Spain. Her mother is Spanish and both of her parents are Spanish professors.

In her home state of Pennsylvania, she began ballet at 6 years old. At 18, she was apprenticing with the New York City Ballet.

“My whole life dream had been to be in the New York City Ballet,” she said.

Once she was there, however, she didn’t feel the excitement she had expected, and instead felt “this is not really where I fit.”

The intensity of professional dance pulled her away from the joy of the act of dancing.


“Ballet had been my identity growing up,” she said, “but I thought, maybe I can go back and rebuild.”

She returned to Pennsylvania and went back to school, signing up for environmental studies courses and deciding to learn Portuguese. That combination led her to farming.

She spent her junior year studying in Brazil, where she met farmers and environmental scientists, and felt inspired to pursue that path.

Daniela Aldrich checks the progress of plants in the Dancing Harvest Farm greenhouse. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

“I left ballet brokenhearted, and physically felt very shut off,” she said. “Working in the field and farming, I felt embodied again and found it super mentally challenging and interesting.”

“Every year I finish the season wanting to try it again next season,” she said. “All winter I’m planning and thinking through puzzles, and then you get to practice it in the field.”

A family farm 


Ruterbories’ family purchased the Highland Avenue land in the late 1800s.

“My mom passed in 2021, and when she passed, I inherited the farm,” he said.

He wanted to return it to its roots, and he and his wife, Anne Sedlack, decided to lease the land to Aldrich last year. Aldrich started work on the farm full-time this spring.

“We’re pregnant with our first child now, and it’s great to have our children grow up in this land and to provide food for the community,”  Sedlack said. “It’s been farmed really intentionally by Daniela.”

The couple got married a few years ago, and Aldrich provided carrots for their wedding.

Aldrich provides her spring, summer and fall produce through a Community Supported Agriculture Program. Members can receive vegetables ranging from greens and eggplant, to tomatoes and beets, and turnips and winter squash. She also participates in several area farmers markets.

Her husband, Colby King, helps her manage the farm.

“It’s been amazing to learn from Daniela and see her passion shine through,” said King, a second-grade teacher.

“She brings such a community-focused mentality to building the farm and making it accessible to folks who live nearby, and also people who might not have access to freshly grown veggies on a regular basis,” he said.

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