There’s no shortage of press about local food and farms in southern Maine. It’s possible to imagine those of us who live here starting to take it for granted: multiple farmers’ markets per week, restaurant menus that name those who grew their produce and meat, 30 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) options in Cumberland County alone. But for one Newfield woman at least, the opposite is true.
Mary Quinn Doyle has spent the last two years traveling between Aroostook and York counties (and to the 14 in between) learning about and documenting 178 farms. Her compilation will be published this week in a book titled Unique Maine Farms.
The Unique Maine Farms project began when she learned about Spiller Farm in Wells: a diversified CSA farm that donates over 22,000 pounds of fresh produce each year to hunger prevention agencies. She was drawn to profiling them because, as she says, “Maine is really facing a critical need to get good fresh local food to people in need.” From there, the project blossomed to exploring other farms.
Each profile tells the story of a farm and what sets it apart. There’s Joseph and Fannie Zook who run Zook Family Farm in Fort Fairfield. They are part of a small Amish community in Aroostook County, live without electricity or phone, and drive their horse and buggy to the farmer’s market every week. There’s Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren, whose farm vocational training program supplies all six adult correctional facilities in Maine with potatoes each year (over 200,000 pounds). There’s Mtn. Springs Trout Hatchery in Frenchville, whose efforts re-populated an endangered species of arctic char found in only twelve locations in the entire continental US.
As an erstwhile farmer herself (she and her husband ran a greenhouse operation for many years), Doyle speaks passionately on the subject—particularly about documenting the stories of farmers on the fringe who might otherwise be overlooked: such as migrant workers, immigrant and refugee farmers, and people in correctional facilities. Farming publications, she says, are so often technical, written for small children, or focused on one farm. Doyle’s goal is to offer something entirely different. Unique, even.
While the individual stories are seemingly endless (there’s literally a hundred of them), it is the collection in aggregate that is the most striking. Doyle has played an important role in “cross-pollinating”: that is, in moving from one farm to the next, she has witnessed the scope of what farmers are facing. She of rising transport costs in a state where the major population centers are in some cases eight hours south; she’s observed the impact of the decline of the potato industry and the challenges that the dairy industry is facing; she’s heard many farmers discuss the costs of obtaining and maintaining an organic certification. But at the same time, the breadth of her work allows her to speak with enthusiasm and an infectious sense of hope as she recounts stories of maintaining tradition, of young farmers, of cooperative farming and land-sharing.