April 29, 2012

Maine woman vows to protect a farm, and its way of life

By MECHELE COOPER Kennebec Journal

BELGRADE — Mary Perry wants to ensure that the 1870 farm she has been living on for 11 years with her three children remains farmland forever.

click image to enlarge

Mary Perry, holding a pair of ewes at the Winterberry farm in Belgrade, hopes the Forever Farm Program can help preserve the farm.

Photo by Gil Whitehead

So Perry is attempting to protect Winterberry Farm with the help of the Maine Farmland Trust through its new Forever Farm Program, which promotes agricultural easements to prevent subdivision and non-farm development.

“Whether I am able to stay on the farm or not, it is imperative to me that this farm be protected,” Perry said. “The farm has given the kids and I for the past 11 years safety, security, a living — we’ve grown our own food — my kids are schooled here and the youngest one was born here. Whoever lives in the house, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the farm stays a farm and is not developed.”

Stacy Gambrel, lands projects coordinator at the trust, said the Forever Farm Program and its website was launched last year.

“It’s an effort to recognize all the farms across the state permanently protected with easements,” Gambrel said. “As part of this, we have unveiling events where people hear about what it means to have protected farms. We have these signs that we’ve been putting up across the state denoting farms that will always be protected.”

She said the website lists the farms and links to their websites as a way to promote their efforts to preserve the land for future generations. Included on that list is Lakeside Orchards in Manchester.

“We’re always looking for new farms to protect,” Gambrel said. “At this point we’ve protected over 20,000 acres of farmland. We do this in partnership with other land trusts. Our goal is 100,000 acres, so we’re interested in having more farms” participate in the program.

On Thursday morning, Perry was up early, baking pies and bread to bring to the Waterville Farmers’ Market.

Her 12-year-old son, Gill, was setting up benches in the greenhouse for tomato plants, and her oldest daughter, Kenya, 16, was busy harvesting lettuce greens to bring to the market.

“I’ve made some artisan bread, honey oat and cinnamon, and just packed up my wool and some socks I knitted and some herbs, we have culinary and medicinal,” she said. “I think I’ll sort out my daffodils, they’re so beautiful, and bring them to market.”

Winterberry Farm, with 40 acres of open fields, pastures and woodland, was owned by the Foster family in 1870. They ran a small dairy, and cream was made into butter and delivered daily to Belgrade depot to be shipped south, where it was sold.

Later, the farm was known for its lamb and corn, she said. It was dormant for two decades before Perry took over.

The Perrys not only grow food for themselves on the horse- and oxen-powered certified organic farm, but also supply 75 local families with produce and meat through its community supported agriculture program.

Perry said they use their team of horses and pair of steer for the heavy work and plowing the gardens. The family raises sheep for wool, which they spin and dye and knit into socks and sell at their farm stand.

The farmstand on Route 27 also has a commercial kitchen, where she makes pies, breads, soups, jams and pickles. They also have flower and herb gardens for people to pick their own to create bouquets for events such as weddings.

“My object here is for a community-supported farm and to feed many families and have their support,” she said. “We have all sorts of lively fundraiser events to raise awareness for local farms, including our farm. Our effort is to preserve this land as a legally designated forever farm.”

(Continued on page 2)

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