2024 Season Update

It has been more than a year and a half since our last blog post on the website! Sorry for this negligence, but please know we have been very busy with the multiple phases of transition that Hope’s Edge Farm is currently undergoing. Here is an attempt to bring you up to date.

Lambs: Since mid-March I have been midwifing new born lambs—22 running around right now. This number of lambs is far more than originally planned due to a failure on my part at gender recognition. You would think that after many years of raising sheep I would be able to recognize a male from a female. Nevertheless, when I separated the 2023 ram lambs from the females in September, I somehow missed a ram lamb. He was thus mingling with the flock of ewes throughout the fall, happily breeding old and young females.

As is usual, some of the newborns require bottle feeding and/or other special attention. Of the 22 survivors, seven require this special care. Two of the seven are being nurse-maided off the farm by a group of compassionate friends. Caring for the rest and for the herd as a whole is, as you might expect, taking much of my time. Since I intend this year to be the last one raising lambs, I am retiring from midwifing lambs with a big bang.

Crop Production: I am continuing to scale back both the growing acreage and the diversity of crops. In summer of 2023 I grew vegetables on less than an acre. The Knox County Gleaners (KCG) helped make sure the majority of the produce was distributed to those who were food insecure or homeless and to food pantries/soup kitchens. I intend to continue this association with KCG in 2024 on even less acreage. I’m also continuing my association with Primo restaurant, albeit on a similarly reduced scale.

Building Projects: Other farm-related activities for 2024 include two infrastructure projects. One will create a “porch roof” on the south-facing side of the barn to divert water away from the main building and provide an over-winter loafing area for the remaining flock of sheep. The other project will renovate the cabin in the upper corner of the property in order to provide housing for a future farmer. I am currently seeking a person with carpentry skills who might be interested in working with me to accomplish the renovation. If you know of someone who might be interested, please refer them to me. This work will be paid…although volunteers are always welcome.

Finding the Next Farmer: The work on the cabin is closely related to the important transition looming: finding the next farm steward(s). The opportunity is currently listed via two websites: the Maine Farmland Trust FarmLink program and the New England Farmland Finder. These two websites link prospective (or current) farmers with landowners looking for farmers. At this date we have had a few inquiries but no takers so far. The lack of on-farm housing is a major factor, putting further emphasis on completing the cabin and making it a four season living space. We are optimistic that finding the next farm steward is on the horizon, but finding someone for this coming season is unlikely.

In the future, when we do find the person (s) to continue caring for this piece of “heaven on earth”, they will be asked to comply with the terms of the easement agreement that will be finalized sometime this summer. The easement will guarantee that Hope’s Edge Farm will join with many of Maine’s other properties designated as “prime farmland”, protected from development and thereby providing a place for food production far into the future and for generations to come.

To our many farm friends, please feel free to drop by and visit the lambs, walk the fields and if so moved, join the never-ending efforts toward weed control. We’d love to see you.

– Tom

The Annual Letter from Farmer Tom

Transformation is the essence of farming

To all our supporters, past and present, near and far – 

After 22 years of growing food for our community, Hope’s Edge Farm continues in its transformative phase. Transformative in many respects. First of all, Holly is in a process with Maine Farmland Trust and Georges River Land Trust to insure that this land will remain farmland forever. Knowing that this beautiful property, which has fed so many, will have the potential to continue to feed families for generations to come is, for me, heartwarming. I feel that this is an act of generosity to an entity that has itself been so generous.We hope to provide more information about this later in the year and someday will celebrate it.

Another transformative aspect for the immediate future concerns my own personal relationship to the ongoing working of this land. For 19 years of the last 20+, I have been focused on growing food for a CSA. For this year, I am choosing to scale back production – growing primarily for local food banks. This means growing fewer crops on fewer acres, thus requiring less labor. This decision is not coming out of the blue, but has been ruminating in this skull of mine for several years. It comes as an ongoing question of how I might farm in a sustainable way as I move into my 70s.

As many of you are aware, in 2022 I chose to take a sabbatical from the Farm – bicycling across the northern US from late June until early September. Part of the impulse behind this crazy venture was to give myself the opportunity to contemplate my farm future. In my absence, Jason Rawn and Rachel Olsen chose – on a trial basis – to take on the day-to-day running of the Farm, reinstating a smaller version of the CSA and market stand. Despite their minimal experience and the pressures of a hot, dry summer, they were able to produce a respectable harvest, feeding their CSA members produce and beauty into the autumn. This experience, although rewarding (particularly with respect to relationships formed with their shareholders) and educational, crystalised for them the fact that running the Farm long-term was not in their future.

As for me, pedaling a bike for an average of five hours a day gave me a lot of time to think and it became clear, as the miles passed, that I want to focus more on growing for a less advantaged and perhaps food insecure population. It wasn’t clear exactly how I would do this, but I have settled on the food bank option for now. 

Plans for the Farm Going Forward

Since beginning this venture as a much younger body, it had been my hope that by this point the “right” individual would come forward to take over the management of the Farm. Now, as the time of my stepping back has arrived, it has become clear that this unique arrangement that Holly and I entered into 22 years ago, requires a unique individual(s) to step into this position. Holly and I will work actively this year to find that right individual and to come up with a plan for the Farm that incorporates all that we appreciate most from the last 22 years…especially the community that has developed here. We will be sure to keep you posted on these developments, and on the progress with the land trusts.

Final Thoughts

Recently, I have estimated that, up to this point, Hope’s Edge Farm has produced at least 250 thousand pounds of vegetables and fruit, plus lamb and flowers. In the words of the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn, “This food is a gift of the whole universe. The earth, the sky, and much hard work.” With these words, he is giving recognition to the seen and unseen forces which sustain our lives (and the life of the planet). The “hard work” he refers to was accomplished by all those who toiled to produce the quarter of a million pounds of produce: Holly as the landowner, co-workers, apprentices, volunteers, and myself. The “Earth and Sky” gives a bow to physical nature – sun, soil, rain, plants, microbes, etc. And “the whole universe” (as I interpret it) recognizes the non-physical realm of Spirit. In Biodynamic terms, this would be the elemental beings of earth, air, fire and water and spiritual forces– love being just one example. 

Finally, I want to recognize you and the thousands of consumers who have partaken of the food produced from these soils over the last two decades. This list includes the CSA members (from 2002-2019 and from 2022), two local restaurants, three schooners going out of Rockland, the Good Tern Co-op, AIO Food Bank, and market stand customers. I wish to thank all of you for supporting us through the years. I have said it often that growing for a community we know is so much more satisfying than growing for the general marketplace. I realize that this message will only reach a small number of all of the above cited beneficiaries, but I believe that gratitude is another one of those spiritual forces and so, whether you read these words or not – the force will find you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.