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Potentially starting a farm in Maine, some questions

 
K Bassett
Posts: 8
Location: Missoula, MT
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Hey all,

So I may be moving to Maine with my girlfriend this spring, or possibly a little later. My parents are (maybe) moving to the Portland area and if they do, they want to buy ~20 acres and have asked if we would like to move out there and start a farm. Obviously this is a great opportunity! We want to make hugel beds, a food forest, lots of fruit and nut trees, and a host of native plants. I was born & raised in New Hampshire and absolutely love Maine, so this would be awesome! I was wondering if anyone has any tips, advice, people to get in touch with, etc about designing a permaculture farm which we can live off of. Any ideas, plans, groups, or anything would be awesome. My parents want me to send a list of potential things to look for in land as well, and I was wondering if anyone had any ideas on that? I already suggested a pond, running water, and some contour, all pretty basic things I feel. Also, what sort of perennials would be good for this area? We want black walnut trees, apple, possibly peaches, and a lot of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and currants. Any other suggestions? Really, anything you can tell us about this would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks!
Kevin
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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A recent trip to Maine really impressed me. I hadn't been there for a few years and it seemed like the economy was strong and small business was not swallowed by ugly corporate boringness.

One thing to think of is infrastructure. How far away you are from your markets and how easy it is to get there.

Thinking about how you want to make your money makes a difference. A pick your own farm will have different needs from a more private farm. Roadside farmstand? Farmers markets? Relationships with restaurants? Tourist attraction? So many ways to go.

Outbuildings are of interest. You can build of course but it's handy if they are right there already. I long for a little shed for drying herbs.

Do you want animals? Fencing is also a consideration.

I suggest moving a bit slowly, thinking and observing, and finding the aspects of farming that you enjoy the most. It seems like people thrive best when they enjoy what they do

A pond is nice but not necessary, you could always dig one.
 
allen lumley
pollinator
Posts: 4154
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Matu Collins : There is a maine expression, '' A rock ribbed down Eastener'' comparing the man to the bare rock coast 'down east'! Dont buy rock
for the view or because its got water,water is not hard to find in Maine- Lots of land facing South would be great ! Don't forget that even if your
dream comes true and you can live off of the land, you still have to pay the tax man ! Budget for him first ! Big AL
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 877
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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If I were told I had to move to Maine and buy 20 acres for a farm, these are some of the things that would come to mind:
...what would that location be like in the winter? Would the snow or ice be a problem?
...how protected is the land from adverse weather?
...does the land drain ok?
...how rocky is the land, especially in areas I would wish to farm?
...how would I want to market my produce and how difficult would it be to get to that market?
...how accessible is the land, especially during the winter? Some areas require four wheel drive for winter access.
...how accessible is veterinary care for the livestock?
...how accessible are supplies for the farm?

I'm not familiar with Maine, so there's probably other obvious issues to explore.

...Su Ba
www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
 
Craig Dobbson
gardener
Posts: 1431
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I moved to the midcoast of Maine (Belfast area) about 5 years ago. I bought 7 acres of south facing, scrubby hillside with an old farm house on it. SMARTEST THING I EVER DID!
There are other permies in the area too and it seems we are all very busy with projects. This area in particular seems to be attracting a lot of permaculture minded people. The MOFGA.org home base is nearby so there are tons of knowledgeable people and lot of supplies for animals as well in close proximity.

Be aware that almost everyone has a garden of some sort or another and many people have roadside veggie and egg stands, so if that's your sort of thing, be ready for competition. There are many CSA's available to get you going before you start producing for yourself as well.
When looking for land, bring a shovel and watch the landscape as you go looking. If you notice a lot of the places around you have stone walls... Rocky ground. Not a bad thing if you know how to use it, but hell of a tractor or plow. There are tons of old farms that are for sale and despite the fact that it looks like all the stones have been dug up, more come up every spring.
That brings up mud season. If you have a four wheel drive truck, you're good to go just about anywhere. In the spring, we get a few weeks when the ground is thawing and some roads and drive ways are closed. You will have to plan accordingly if you live off of one of these closed or "limited traffic" roads.
As far as snow is concerned... eh not really a big deal. The Maine DOT pretty much has their act together. The further you are from important roadways, the longer it takes to get the street plowed, but it does get done. This does require a little help from you- stay off the roads in bad weather so they can do their job and stay safe. You'll want to remember that the road salt is pretty hellish on the undersides of cars and trucks so... plan to replace those parts more frequently.
If you have a long driveway that you have to plow, think about where you'll put all the snow. The further north you go the longer the snow lasts and the higher it piles up. As that pile melts, think about where that water will go and that the ground below it will stay frozen longer that the sunlit areas.

Perhaps the other Maine Permies can add to this, I have to make breakfast.

Good luck
 
Emily Brown
Posts: 61
Location: Maine
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Are your parents buying their acreage in Southern Maine (around Portland) or in central/northern Maine? In Southern Maine the market is great but the land is expensive. I'm in central Maine where every other town has a farmer's market and all my neighbors have a garden. The land is cheaper up here and the community is more connected. I grew up in Southern Maine in a place where gardens are posh but not particularly productive. You had to pursue the community and even then it was always shifting. Choosing between rural and urban Maine will make a world of difference and is a largely personal choice. Most of my closest friends love the urban and suburban life so there must be something to it that I'm not seeing. Just don't come into it assuming it's all rural.
 
Jessica Gorton
Posts: 274
Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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Hi, and welcome to permies! And also Maine, if you end up here. I'm pretty far north of Portland now, outside of Augusta, but I lived in Brunswick and Harpswell for 10 years and ran a restaurant that focused on local foods, so I know a lot of organic farmers in the area. I haven't been that active in the Permaculture subculture around there, but I know there's a pretty active group on meetup in the Portland area. Just search for permaculture on that site and you'll find it.

Of course the Common Ground Fair in September at the MOFGA Fairgrounds is a good place to go to check out the farming and homesteading (and native arts and alternative medicine) info. It's not permaculture-specific, but there's a lot of crossover. There are respected farmers, foresters, spinners, herbalists, orchardists, all sharing knowledge and community.

If you want to meet the local back-to-the-landers socially, go contradancing! There's a mighty cloud of musicians making beautiful music in Maine...

We do have our particular set of issues here, but I have to say that I just love the Maine ecologies! On the coast, one often has to deal with heavy clay or overly sandy soils, but I have great soil here in the foothills (with our share of rocks, but I love a chance for making nice walls and patios). And we have plentiful precipitation, which makes us well-situated for the future, as water seems to be becoming such a huge issue in other parts of the world.

I also happen to love winter. I'd never want to live in a place without seasons, personally. I need that larger cycle of the year in my life - the busy growing and harvest, the quieter dark season. There's a cost in fuel to keep us warm and shorter growing seasons, certainly, but we gain the benefit of a break in pathogen cycles, in that there are many pests and diseases that don't survive our winters.

Maine is politically and economically very varied (especially in the Portland area, where you have some of the very wealthiest and poorest, and youngest and oldest populations all bumping up against one another), but except for populations in Portland and Lewiston and some tribal areas, we're pretty racially homogeneous (actually, we're the whitest state in the union, so if some of you permies of color would like to move to central Maine, I for one would appreciate it).

Craig is right that there is a lot of competition when it comes to roadside stands and small organic veggie farms. I'm focused right now on creating a varied landscape to feed my family, and thinking about more specific, boutique crops that I could grow to make some money later on. A company to contact, if you want to start growing for market now, would be Crown o' Maine Organic Coop. They deliver locally grown and produced items from all over Maine to restaurants and retail stores, and they might be able to give you some ideas of items that they either lack or that are in high demand. You could then start producing with a wholesale connection already set up.

Maine is a fantastic place to live, with a thriving community of farmers and homesteaders, and we want more!
 
Sarah Houlihan
Posts: 47
Location: Central Maine
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I just bought 8 acres in central Maine. This adivice from you all is great, Thanks! Also, what is contradancing?
 
allen lumley
pollinator
Posts: 4154
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
58
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Look on the notice board in the post office , right next to the Pedro Parties ! Big AL !
 
Jessica Gorton
Posts: 274
Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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Hi Sarah! Where are you located in Central Maine (big place, central Maine!). I'm in Readfield, just outside of Augusta to the northwest. I think it would be great to start getting together with other Maine permies to do work trades on bigger projects...

Here's a thread that Craig started about doing just that: http://www.permies.com/t/26066/eastern-usa/acres-Maine-helpers#217546 We all thought it was a great idea, but with all our schedules (and small children, in some cases), we've yet to work out the logistics. I think it'll happen eventually! Maybe this spring?!

Contradancing is a little like square dancing, with fiddle-based jigs and reels and a person calling the dances, but the dances are done in long lines of partners, and each time that the dance repeats, you and your partner move up or down the line, so that the couple you are dancing with changes with each repetition. It makes for some beautiful patterns (how permie!), and though I haven't gone in a long time, I love that community!
 
Jessica Gorton
Posts: 274
Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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Here's the DEFFA website, it has links to local contradances (and other folk music and dances) in Maine: http://www.deffa.org/
 
Chris Badgett
pollinator
Posts: 289
Location: Whitefish, Montana
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"Take your time" is great advice! Check out toby hemenway's (author of gaia's garden) online video course Food Forest Design & Care for Cities and Suburbs. He has some great information on design whether you are starting small or going all out. It is appropriate for rural areas as well - not just city or suburb.

I grew up in Maine myself. Western Maine is experiencing a lot of growth in the local food movement. Land is cheaper there than in the Portland area.

Good luck!
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1086
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Su Ba wrote:how accessible is veterinary care for the livestock?


As close as the butcher's knife. Livestock doesn't get veterinary care. If you can't fix it, eat it.
 
Sarah Houlihan
Posts: 47
Location: Central Maine
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I have the land in Anson. We should be there in late spring/ early summer. We hope to get things started right away. I will keep following these boards to see what you guys are up to!
 
C. Kelley
Posts: 31
Location: zone 4b/5a Midcoast Maine
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Can't have gooseberries or currants, at least not legally. They're one (of the many) host species for pine blister rust, and as such are illegal to own or cultivate in Maine. Its not a law, its a federal forest service rule, which apparently cannot be changed - my husband looked into it very extensively this year, as gooseberries are his favorite.

What's extra silly about it is that there are many, many native species that are also hosts for the pine disease, and they are not controlled. There are, however, several varietals of domestic gooseberries and currants that have been bred for resistance...which are still illegal.

Definitely a government-facepalm moment, but it is what it is.
 
Sarah Houlihan
Posts: 47
Location: Central Maine
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I have been in Maine for about 6 months now and am very excited to have found the Portland Maine Resilience Hub. Good to know there are other permies nearby if anyone else is interested.
 
William Horvath
Posts: 31
Location: Melbourne
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Hey Kevin?

First just a few questions:

Do you have any savings and what is your budget for starting the farm? - it's good to know your emergency fund capabilities and what can you invest in once you start
What about other sources of income: your jobs? what is happening with that? - going all in can put immense pressure on your project, try to think about part-time employment when you start out
What skills do you currently have and which side of farming interests you the most? - in the beginning focus on your strengths first and build on that
What does your girlfriend think about all this? - this could be a disaster waiting for happen if you don't have similar goals and expectations

In my opinion, you should be thinking about questions first before anything else.






 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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