Unity College students engage in agriculture

As the Sustainable Agriculture program here at Unity College grows and flourishes, more students are becoming involved with organic and sustainable agriculture around Maine and around the country. Here are highlights from a few students who were involved with farms and homesteads this past summer.

Sparrow Arc Farm in Unity, Maine

Calvin Tague and Miranda MacFadzen both worked for Sparrow Arc Farm, which is located primarily in Unity and has satellite fields in surrounding towns as well. These satellite fields are plots of land rented from other land owners and have allowed Sparrow Arc’s owner Matt Linehan to expand his vegetable production to just over thirty acres. When asked what they grew, Tague replied, “Elegant” vegetables, “as well as some normal stuff.” MacFadzen elaborated that the vegetables were heirloom and artisan crop varieties. This is because their marketing “deal”, as Tague put it, “was different than most.” While some of their produce goes to locally sold CSA shares, most goes to specialty restaurants in Portland, Boston, and New York City. When asked about their specific experiences on the farm, here’s what each had to say:

Sparrow Arc’s truck, ready to bring flats to the field

Calvin:

What did you do on the farm?

I was just a general hand at the farm. Everyone did a little of everything so I seeded flats in the greenhouse, transplanted them in the fields, weeded, thinned and then harvested, washed, and packed vegetables for market.

What did you learn from your experience?

I learned a lot. First of all, I learned that money doesn’t matter when you truly love what you are doing, and farmers have the most love out of any one. It takes a specific person to dedicate themselves to the land for such long days but it’s worth it. I treat manual labor with respect especially when you have no reason to complain cause you’re outside creating something that valuable, precious and alive.

Miranda:

What did you do on the farm?

This summer I started taking a managerial position at the farm with more responsibility of handling tasks on my own. At the beginning of the day I may start out watering the greenhouse, or taking the tractor to our Burnham field to harrow. I was particularly in charge of making sure wash up was ready and running on our harvest days. I would wash and pack vegetables into restaurant orders. I used the tractors a lot for harvesting, planting, and prepping fields.

What did you learn from your experience?

I learned a lot on how to use and repair farm equipment now then I had in the past. I also learned to be in a managerial position and how to do a lot of solo work on the farm.

Were any sustainability practices employed that you found interesting?

We would plant lettuce through black plastic but after there was space from the lettuce or other crop plantings we would direct seed beets to re-use the black plastic and space.

Tullamore Farms in Stockton, NJ

Shayne Van Leer, a native of southern New Jersey, returned to his home state to complete his Sustainable Agriculture Internship this summer. He worked at a beef farm called Tullamore Farms in Stockton New Jersey for his internship.

What did you do on the farm?

Moving chicken tractors and feeding chickens, moving cows, egg collection, unloading hay wagons and stacking hay.

What did you learn from your experience?

I learned about all the aspects of farming from working directly with the cows and chickens to the business side and selling at the farmers market.

Were there any sustainability practices employed that you found interesting?

The cows were fed grass and hay that the farm grew itself. The farm is able to grow all the hay needed for the herd and had a surplus they sold off the farm. The chickens were fed with grain that was grown and milled a few towns over from the farm.

Shayne Van Leer administers a nasal shot to prepare a cow for travel

Homesteaders

Jeff Davidson was one of several students who lived at homesteads and worked in exchange for room and board this summer. Jeff’s homestead in Waldo, Maine, raised layers, or egg-laying chickens, and a variety of vegetables, including but not limited to: peppers, tomatoes, squashes, pumpkins, garlic, radishes, carrots, and asparagus. All the produce was used or canned for winter use while excess was given away to neighbors and friends. Here’s what Jeff had to say about his experience:

What did you do on the homestead?

I did everything from sowing seeds to transplanting them to tilling beds and every other step of raising crops. I also helped out with chicken chores and other odd jobs.

What did you learn from your experience?

I learned stuff you’d never be able to learn in class. It was my first experience farming, so I had to learn everything I did.

South Paw Farm and Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Unity, Maine

The Smith Farm in Troy, Maine

Your author, Kelsey Schrey, found part-time work on two very different farms in the Unity area this summer. Fuzzy Udder Creamery is part of South Paw Farm, located up Quaker Hill and around the corner on Town Farm Road in Unity. South Paw is a highly diversified farm, raising six acres of crops this year in addition to pigs, goats, and sheep for meat and cows for dairy. Fuzzy Udder utilizes some of that cow’s milk, as well as cow and sheep milk from other local farms, to create cheese and other dairy products. All the farms products are sold through a CSA and at four farmers markets each week. The Smith Farm, located in Troy, Maine, is a horse-powered farm that grows mixed vegetables and raises grass-fed beef which they sold wholesale and through farmers markets.

What did you do at Fuzzy Udder Creamery?

At Fuzzy Udder, I mainly worked with cheese production. While I wasn’t always involved with the process of making the cheese, I learned a lot about what goes into it. I learned how to do maintenance on the cheeses to ensure that they develop the correct flavors as well as how to process them to get them ready to go to market. Occasionally I worked with the animals, including moving fencing and monitoring sheep for disease.

A wheel of Fuzzy Udder Creamery gouda, ready to be cut and wrapped

What did you do at Smith Farm?

At Smith Farm, I was a member of the vegetable crew. This involved transplanting crops to the field, preparing beds for seeding, preparing flats for seeding in the greenhouse, harvesting, and endless hours of weeding. By the end of the season, I found I had become an integral part of making the crew work together as a team.

What did you learn from your experiences?

Both farms taught me a lot about how hectic farm life can be. Fuzzy Udder was only licensed as a dairy in March and the business was just getting started when I came to join them in May. I got to witness just how nerve-wracking it can be to watch your new business and see whether it sinks or floats. Meanwhile, at Smith Farm, there crops lost due to the heavy rains in the spring and extremely wet conditions in the field, so I also learned about making sure an existing business thrives. I also learned a lot about working with animals and how different a vegetable production operation is when no tractors are involved.

Were there any sustainability practices employed that you found interesting?

Fuzzy Udder found it important to support other local businesses with their business dealings and did so by purchasing most of the milk for the cheese from other local farms. Additionally, they used organic practices despite not having organic certification. Smith Farm had a distinct dedication to sustainability. They were certified organic, but took steps further. They minimized the amount of plastic they used –wooden flats in place of plastic ones for growing transplants, no black plastic on their fields, etc. –and refused to use tractors or other small vehicles around, instead opting for horses to till their fields and encouraging their employees to ride bikes. One distinct advantage to using horses is the ability to cultivate, or remove weeds, mechanically with them rather than sending a person out to weed with a hand tool.

One thought on “Unity College students engage in agriculture

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About Kelsey Schrey