|Just one measure of the abundance that grows on Maine’s farms and gardens. Here David Hilton, MOFGA member and volunteer at every Common Ground Fair, shows off his garlic crop, including the tall ‘Polish White’ variety he grows. Photo by Penny and David Hilton.
By Jean English
Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener
What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass
Mitch Lansky sent us this excerpt from Andrew Marvell’s poem “The Garden.” (Read the complete poem at www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/marvell/garden.htm.)
A long-time MOFGA member and low-impact forestry proponent, Lansky is also the author (20 years ago!) of Beyond the Beauty Strip – Saving What’s Left of Our Forests, about the destructive effects of industrial forestry and of the financial world’s desire for ever-expanding economic growth.
Botanic growth is something else.
“This time of year,” says Lansky, Marvell’s poem “captures how I feel when I enter our gardens.”
It’s true. Anyone who has invested a decade or more (or even less) in a diversified Maine farm or garden reaps delicious, succulent rewards all summer. So much so that many have leftover produce to share with neighbors, with local food pantries and soup kitchens, or with the Common Kitchen at the Common Ground Country Fair.
And the increasing expertise in extending the growing season in Maine means we can all enjoy fresh greens nearly year round and other crops for months longer than previously. Our MOFGA president, Barbara Damrosch, says that she and her husband, Eliot Coleman, now enjoy quality potatoes all year by growing a main-season crop – and another, early crop sprouted in a warm seed-starting greenhouse beginning on February 15, planted in an unheated greenhouse on March 15 and beginning their harvest between May 10 and May 15.
The value of diversified production is not a new idea. Coleman sent us an article by Haydn S. Pearson called “The Yankee Farmer Declares Independence,” published in The North American Review in February 1933. Pearson spent the summer and fall of 1932 traveling some 3,000 miles in New England, talking with growers, county agents, bankers and ag commissioners, and concluding, “Farming, as it has been carried on for the last half century in the Northeastern section of the nation, is doomed.” Dairy farmers could barely cover the cost of grain. Potato farmers were spending 30 to 40 cents to raise a bushel of potatoes that sold for 10 to 15 cents. Sound familiar?
Pearson blamed specialization on single crops for the plight of New England farmers. Before specialization, “A farm was a self-sufficient unit. Each family raised its own grain, meat and vegetables. Fuel was easily obtained. Clothes were made at home from the farm flock.” And so on, until the Industrial Revolution moved populations to cities, farmers began specializing in order to feed those people, and “behind most farm houses, are piles of tin cans; it was easier to buy tomatoes, peas and corn than to raise them.” Then, with changing transportation methods, farmers from farther away could out-compete New England farmers for those specialty crops.
Pearson saw hope in diversified, local enterprises.
“Dairy cows are appearing on Aroostook potato farms,” he wrote. “Maine’s sweet corn growers are keeping cows, a flock of poultry and are raising large gardens … The State College Extension Services report a tremendous demand for knowledge concerning the handling of home-grown meats.”
A dairy farmer Pearson interviewed said he worked like a slave for 28 years “to earn enough to buy a few groceries and clothes.” He and his wife decided to sell all but three of their cows and to farm like their grandparents had. The $1,500 they got for the cows “represents the amount I’ve got ahead in twenty-eight years of working twelve to sixteen hours a day,” said the farmer. After the sale, they produced enough dairy products for themselves, enough wool for new clothes, stocked their cellar with enough produce that they no longer had empty tin cans by their door, raised their own meat, bartered and sold maple syrup, butter and eggs, and sold raspberries to summer people. And they “had more money in the bank than we’ve ever had before … This is the only way to farm in New England.”
It’s a good way garden, or to homestead, too. Enjoy your insnarement!