From Downeast Maine comes a story of land sharing and community cooperation.
When an organic blueberry farm nestled in between large commercial operations came up for sale, Peter Collin bought the property to save a small piece of Washington County agriculture for organic use, essentially preserving the existing organic status rather than letting it meet an uncertain fate amidst a sea of conventional blueberry growers. The 25 acre property, Fortenberry Farm, a non-profit 501c3, is a little far away from where Collin lives, and he is only able to work on the property a few times monthly.
Instead of hiring a manager or leasing the property, he found young farmers Nicole deBarber and Michael Hayden to partner with. “We do a lot of trading (with Peter),” Nicole explained about the arrangement. The duo trades their labor on the blueberry barren for a residence on the property and leasing of about an acre that they use as a market garden, named Folklore Farm.
“It’s kind of a neat story,” Nicole said as she led in to explain that the acre is four square plots that had once been blueberry barrens. “Once you pull out native blueberries, they never grow back,” she said. In the 1930s, residents had removed the berries to plant beans, and set the future plot for Folklore Farm’s garden.
At Fortenberry, the official scoop is this: Pete is the director and blueberry manager. Michael is Fortenberry Farm’s vegetable manager and full time caretaker. Nicole is Fortenberry’s community liaison. She brings her excitement to the outreach and education the farm does with with local schools by collaborating with the Beehive Design Collective and The University of Maine at Orono.
She and Michael love making the farm an inviting place. A lot of the farms in the area are what Nicole describes as “very industrial”. “We think it’s important for a farm to be inviting, a place where you can celebrate being on a farm . . . where you want to spend your time.”
Nicole and Michael have been at Fortenberry Farm since just this April, and do not yet have any formal lease agreement. “So far, I think we want to stay . . .” said Nicole in the shy and smiling voice of someone not sure yet if they want to tell their partner they love them.