Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Cow Milking

The Importance of Testing Milk (Raw and Pasteurized) and Your Animals.

One big benefit of running the private and FDA-certified Bob-White Systems Dairy Lab is that we get to see what works and what doesn't work to keep milk clean. “Clean," for our purposes, means that it passes Vermont's Tier II Raw Milk Standards, which happen to be some of the most stringent in the country, more so than federally regulated pasteurized milk standards. At the lab we perform FDA-certified testing to ensure raw milk producers are compliant with Vermont’s standards. We also perform non-FDA certified tests for diagnostic services. That means we see all kinds of milk, with all kinds of problems, and we help producers troubleshoot many different issues.

Vermont’s Tier II Raw Milk Standards require that raw milk intended for retail sale pass four tests; Total Bacteria Count below 15,000 cfu/mL, Coliform Count below 10 cfu/mL, Somatic Cell Count below 225,000/mL (500,000/mL for goats), and no Antibiotic Residue found. “cfu/mL” stands for Colony-Forming Units per milliliter; bacteria form colonies, and this is the number of colonies per milliliter of milk. Antibiotic residue looks for traces of cow penicillin or other antibiotics that could affect people with antibiotic allergies and probably contribute to the creation of the notorious MRSA and other antibiotic resistant bacteria. Every state has it’s own set of regulations and laws regarding raw milk, more info can be found at the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the map below.

Raw Milk Map

Federally regulated, commodity raw milk for pasteurization must have a Total Bacteria Count less than 100,000 cfu/mL and a Somatic Cell Count less than 750,000/mL (1,000,000/mL for goats). Pasteurized milk must have less than 20,000 cfu/mL of bacteria, 10 cfu/mL of Coliform and no requirement on somatic cell count (they don’t increase after leaving the cow). It’s important to note that Vermont’s Tier II raw milk is “cleaner” than pasteurized milk you buy in the store. However, the fact is that failing these test standards doesn’t mean the milk is harmful. A high count only means the milk was produced and handled in a way that could support harmful pathogens, were they present. In other words, if harmful bacteria were to enter your production practice, it could flourish, but it might not be there at all. These test standards are the tools we currently have to assess milk safety, so that’s what we’re going to use.

Animal Health for Clean Raw Milk

With that background in mind, we’ve pulled together a few basic guidelines that will help you produce “clean” milk in your micro-dairy, homestead, or small-farm. This first post begins with the animals.

Start With Healthy Animals. Imprecise as the tests may be, they can still help you to find a healthy animal. High counts on any of those regulated tests will tell you that something is wrong. In addition, Bob-White Systems offers other diagnostic testing that is not covered under Vermont’s standards, but are still quite important.

We offer a New Cow Test and a New Goat Test that can be performed with a small sample of milk sent through the mail. This$60 test can help you to avoid unbred cows, sub-clinical mastitis, staph infections, Johne's and Leukosis diseases, Coliforms, E. Coli, and bad milk quality (low fat content). One visit from the vet is more expensive and time-consuming than this test. Also, studies show that 89% of U.S. farms have at least one cow with Leukosis, and 40% of the American dairy herd is infected.

Veterinary care is important. In addition to testing the animals, having a vet look at your prospective cow or goat is an excellent way to avoid other health issues that don’t pertain to milk. Vets see so many animals; therefore, they have an excellent idea of what a healthy animal looks like and can help you avoid hoof problems, diseases and general poor health. A vet can also tell you about the body condition of that animal, if it will need a lot of extra feed or if it seems relatively hardy. Having purchased a Jersey in very poor condition I know it takes a long time and a lot of work to put weight on a thin animal that bears a calf every year.

Between a vet visit and milk testing, you can feel confident that the animal you bring home will be a healthy addition or beginning to your herd. That peace of mind is worth a lot.

My next post will cover the milk parlor and milking best practices.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


snowy barn

I enjoy operating my Micro Dairy year round though I have to admit spring and fall are my favorite times of the year. I am not a fan of the extremes of winter or summer. I can get the most work done when the temperatures are moderate and, at 63 years old, I tend to hide from the high summer sun rather than bask in it. At least during the winter I can put more clothes on to stay warm outside. 

Winter certainly does present its own set of conditions that farmers in snow country must adjust to every fall. First, there is darkness; it is dark when I wake up and dark when I do my evening chores. Having good lighting inside the barns and out is very important. The flood light outside my barn has a motion detector so it turns on and lights up the barnyard when the cows or I go outside when it is dark. That is very helpful. I also recommend installing lighting in the sheds or other outbuildings where you work in the winter. But don’t feel the need to do everything all at once. Every fall I like to make one or two minor improvements to my Micro Dairy in preparation for the winter. 

Next there is the snow, and when it snows there is always plowing and shoveling. In the fall I try to make sure that the areas where I push the snow are open and clear. That means making sure that my firewood is stacked and all my machinery is out of the way. I take down temporary fencing next to the road and driveways. Plowing snow is non-productive at best so I do all I can to eliminate complications and or opportunities to damage my tractor or other pieces of equipment.

I have to admit that sometimes the thought of the coming winter in Vermont can be a little daunting, especially if you operate your Micro Dairy alone, as I do. Back when my wife and I had a larger farm and milked 70 Jersey cows, our kids were younger and chore time was a family affair. Everyone pitched in. But now it is just me, trudging up to the barn in the snow and cold every morning and night. Since I am neither a hero nor a martyr, this winter I decided to lighten my load and sell two of my four cows. I kept one bred heifer and one milking cow so I would have milk to feed a beefer calf I am raising. Doing that essentially cut my chore time in half and reduced the hay and grain I will feed out this winter by 50 percent.


Milking cows twice a day can get tiresome, especially when you also have a day job. It is important to remember that having a small farm or a Micro Dairy allows you the flexibility to sell a few, or, even all of your cows and take a break for a season or two. If you have a larger herd you can sell your milkers and keep your calves and heifers and get back into it slowly when they begin to come into milk. The choice is yours. There is no dishonor in taking a little break.

I believe the keys to preparing for the upcoming winter of a Micro Dairy in regions that get cold, snowy and dark at 4 p.m. are first to make small improvements to your facility that will make it easier, quicker and more efficient to operate. Make a list of any small annoyances from the previous winter that you can correct. And then look for opportunities to reduce your workload wherever and however possible. Selling two cows and putting lights in the shed adjacent to my barn has made a huge difference for me this winter. Owning and managing a Micro Dairy is a matter of choice. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in drudgery. Keep making small improvements to your farm and routines and soon the warm spring winds will once again blow and the grass on south facing slopes will begin to green up. In the meantime, button up!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



In previous blogs I've shared my thoughts on the connection between humans and nature and how global warming is a sign of a weakening spiritual link to the natural world. Most agree nowadays that climate change is indeed caused by humans' actions but it might not be as clear as to why humans proceed with these actions when they are obviously threatening our own existence.

Abundant fossil fuel has allowed us to remove ourselves from nature, to be protected from inclement weather, live untouched by natural limitations of resources such as food and water and take charge over other, or most, living creatures whether it's hunting wild game or raising livestock for meat production. We are here and nature is there. What happens in nature, to many, simply doesn't happen to them.

But once we have established, and accepted, that as a problem, many now start to look for a solution. A lot of people would say that Dennis' and my way of living is part of the answer. Homesteading, a self sufficient, organic food production, solar power, simplicity. But in all reality, any individual's actions only matters so much – even someone with a considerably bigger carbon footprint who — for example — drives his or her car to work every day, live in a conventional house with an oil furnace and several appliances and follows a pretty typical western consumer pattern would still, in the greater scheme of things, only be responsible for a fraction of the problem. Hence, up against China, the tar sand extraction, dysfunctional global summits and the endless cry for economic growth, changing that lifestyle would only contribute to a fraction of the solution.

The life Dennis and I pursue as homesteaders is the result of our concept for what a sound and healthy life in this world looks like. I walk through life on a path blazed by ethics and values based on my respect for all life and on a long term sustainable approach where I wish to leave this world a better place than when I came. Every day I'm faced with a number of choices and decisions that I make based on what will best keep me on my path and allow me to navigate through life with intention and focus on those values. Every day I choose how to spend my time, how to interact with the people and the place around me, I choose where to get my food from, how to make my money and what I do with it, if we really need the purchase we consider or if we could make it ourselves. Often I have to decide whether to ride my bike or take the car doing errands around the island and if, on a day off, we should go for an outing that involves a drive or stay closer to home.

Some days I feel like I did pretty good, that I thought things over and didn't rush and take a short cut by — for example — throwing industrially produced grain to our pigs instead of going to our neighbor to gather wind blown apples. Other days I don't do as good, I get impatient and hop in the car to get the stuff from the hardware store just so we can keep doing what we're doing but rarely at the end of the day do I feel that I gained much in the greater context by that little bit of time saved. But when it's all said and done and I lay my head to rest at night, I think that this is as close to saving the planet as I'll come. To form a set of principals for my life, to let that be my path and to follow that path to the best of my ability, one day, one decision, one question at the time.

So I don't look at China or the tar sand or the global politics when I think about saving the planet. With all due respect for those who fight the cause on that level, it is not where my heart and mind are. My greatest influence is over my own life and to stay as close and clear to my values as possible. To share this lifestyle is a social responsibility, through the Hostel and by going out in the public to say that you too can find a path to follow. And in that message lies that it's okay to do something, even if it's not on the level Dennis and I are doing it. I often find myself telling people “every tomato plant counts” as a way of saying that if your life only has room for one tomato plant, go out and plant it. All the small things and the good heartened attempts that brings us closer to nature count. If one tomato plant will keep someone on their blazed path, I believe it will make a difference. It might not be highly visible in the context of global warming and increased carbon dioxide but it matters if it means we can go to bed at night thinking, and truly believing, that we did our best.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



It's inevitable — every single year I get the urge to hatch chicks or ducklings, and every single time I decide to hatch them during the coldest months of the year. My logic is simple and honest — if I hatch in the Fall or Winter, then they will be laying by the time Spring and Summer come. But hatching during cold and unpredictable months can be a set up for heartache and failure. Between varying temperature's indoors, the threat of loosing power during a snow storm, and having to keep chicks indoors until they are fully feathered - it's a mess, to say the least.

Never-the-less, I always end up outweighing the pro's to the con's, and the hatching begins in October and normally ends in March — only to start back up again in the Spring and Summer. It's never ending. My most recent hatch was just this fall, when I welcomed a new and ancient breed to our homestead — Icelandic Chickens.

Over the past two seasons I've learned quite a bit through trial and error, and ultimately, hatching through the Winter isn't as scary as it once used to be. Here are some things you'll need to consider and prepare for when taking on this commitment during the harsh Winter months.

Being Prepared for the Electric to Fail Your Incubator

More likely than not, if you're living in a Central or Northern state, you'll receive at least one significant snowfall during the year. In Virginia, the temperature and weather are so unpredictable that I need to be on guard at all times. This means I need to find a few easy ways to keep my incubator warm, if I'm not using a miraculously broody hen indoors.

Having an alternate heat source in your home is certainly a bonus. Using a kerosene heater, wood stove, or hooking up a space heater to a generator will help keep your incubator warm when placing it near the heat source. We heat strictly by wood stove, therefore, I am able to place the incubator near the wood stove and adjust the heat with distance. Humidity, of course, is also something you should constantly be aware of. A dry heat source will quickly wick away the water in your moisture wells. Placing a wet sponge into your incubator helps hold moisture longer.

If having an alternate heat source isn't an option for you, then you can easily wrap your incubator with multiple towels or a blanket and close all of the vents in order to keep the humidity and heat locked inside for a short amount of time until the electric comes back on. Eggs should stay warm this way in your incubator without an alternative heat source for about 2-3 hours, depending on your indoor heat condition. With no guarantee that your power will return within a couple of hours, another easy hack is placing stones in the bottom of your incubator (before the power goes out), as they hold heat inside for a longer amount of time, which is even helpful on a regular basis for when turning your eggs manually.

Some other ways to keep your incubator warm without an alternate heat source — if you have a gas fireplace or oven, you can warm up water and other things on or in it. Warm up water or rice, and place hot water bottles or warm bags of rice inside of the incubator, replacing as needed. Most of all, do not open the lid unless completely necessary to do these things.

No matter what route you choose to keep heat inside of the incubator, you'll need to ensure that you are measuring heat and humidity at all times. I use this digital reptile hygrometer and thermometer meter.

mixed breed chick

Keeping Hatchlings Indoors

I'm extremely fortunate to have a basement. This means that the smell of chicks isn't nearly as bad as it could be. The wood stove is located downstairs as well, so when the electric goes out, they remain warm and comfortable. Being near the wood stove in the Winter allows me the freedom not to use a heat lamp indoors. Heat lamps are dangerous enough in coops, and I highly discourage them. But they are even more dangerous inside of your own home if not secured properly.

Whether you choose an indoor or outdoor brooder, a heat source that doesn't run off of electric is necessary, unless you have a generator. Once again, a wood stove or kerosene heater may be the best option for you, or other safe DIY heating options that you can create yourself such as the above bags of rice and hot water bottles. These work excellent for chicks as well, as they can lay on or beside them to keep warm.

You more than likely understand how to set up a brooder, but if not, there are plenty of wonderful articles on this website that can help you set your brooder up. In the Winter months, it's a bit different, as they will be indoors longer if you don't have an outdoor brooder set up with a heat source. We choose to keep our chicks indoors until they are completely, or almost completely, feathered. They then go outside into their own "mini-coop" with a regular watt light bulb so that it takes the bitter chill off. We've also used an outdoor brooder with chicks that weren't fully feathered. It is a small and completely enclosed dog house that has been re-purposed into a small coop. It houses a very secure heat lamp with a thick layer of hardware cloth between the bottom, where the chicks are housed, and the top of the coop. This gives us peace of mind, knowing that it can not be accessed by little chickens playing around.

While the chicks are indoors, it's important to change their bedding regularly. For the first few days, I simply add pine shavings over top of their regular pine shaving bedding. But once they reach a week or so old, their feces become much more pronounced. You will need to remove and add new bedding to the brooder daily or every other day. Make sure the bedding is never wet from them knocking water bowls over. If it is, remove and replace immediately. Leaving soiled bedding in a brooder can harbor E-coli, Coccidiosis, and other diseases that can be detrimental to your growing flock, and even to yourself.

Hatching and keeping chicks and other poultry or waterfowl in the Wintertime can be nerve wracking, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Your bond with your new hatchlings can be stronger, simply because of the fact that you are forced to tend to them much more often. Come Spring, there will be several happy pullets preparing to lay their very first eggs, and the satisfaction from them will far outweigh the work you put into them during those bitter months. Ultimately, it is safer to hatch chicks during the warmer months, but if you're hopeful for Spring layers, and you are completely prepared for whatever may come your way, Wintertime hatching may just be the perfect fit for you!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


Full-Time Homesteading

Welcome to "Unplugging to Reconnect," a new series of posts documenting my family's break from a conventional, dual income, nine-to-five, suburban and harried life in order to establish a full-time homestead, homeschool our four kids, and become more involved with community in a laid-back locale. Part how-to guide and part fodder for homestead voyeurs, I hope our grand life experiment is both informative and inspirational.

To be honest, it was hard to decide where to begin this tale, for the beginning is not always the best place to start with a story. Rather than focus on a particular timeframe or event in our ongoing process, I settled on an issue that we confronted early on (and continue to discuss on a regular basis) and that prevents most people from acting on a deep desire to pursue a "back-to-the-earth" lifestyle or other dreams — fear; more specifically, fear of financial uncertainty, if not ruin.

So...kicking off this series is the first of several bite-sized, easily digestible posts on the financial aspects of making the move, taking the plunge, going whole hog into this different lifestyle. Enjoy!


To begin with, we spent two years intensely researching our trajectory before we launched. Specifically, we sought out information from people who had gone before us. We voraciously read related materials, from Pritchard's "Gaining Ground" to anecdotes on Internet homesteading fora. We attended MOTHER EARTH NEWS conferences, where we listened to Joel Salatin and others address relevant topics. We scoured websites for anecdotes, guidance, horror stories, and such. We talked to people who were living off-grid and producing much of their own food.

What did we learn? At the risk of stating the obvious and sounding naive, we quickly focused in on the fact that not all paths are the same that lead to homesteading or building a farmette or simply adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. As with many things in life, we all cut our own trail; ours is unique and yours will be, too.

That said, we noted some common themes--the first being the requirement to develop a financial cushion for the transition from old to new life. This, it was argued, was especially important if your journey includes a lifestyle change complete with leaving a career and the subsequent loss of regular income. Makes sense. Most guidance we saw noted a requirement to have at least one year's worth of funds to survive absent any other income, with many commentators urging two years' worth, if possible, to improve your odds of success. Going debt free was also highly recommended. the midst of a government furlough...we ran the numbers. We met with our CPA. We talked to our real estate agent. We chatted with the retirement benefits staff of our respective employers. We conducted Internet and on-the-ground research into the cost of living in the area we had identified as a good potential location for our endeavor. All systems go.

Making Radical Financial Choices

After some careful risk-versus-gain analysis, we made some radical, if not controversial, moves. We sold off assets to pay off mortgages, cashed out investment savings (including some retirement), moved money from insurance holdings to hard assets (a new, debt-free property and home), and capped college savings after confirming we had enough to guarantee each of our four kids two fully funded years at a public university (they will come up with the remainder through savings, work, grants, loans, etc.). Within three months, we were free of any consumer or loan debt and had enough money left to survive for two years absent any income. (Did I mention that we are coming up on the end of year one? Let's hope our math was right!)

To be continued...

Photo by Flickr/Reuben Aingber

For a blow-by-blow account of our family's ongoing transition from homestead voyeurs to full time homesteading, drop by our online journal at

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


blog photos 003. jpg

We heat with a wood stove and live in the mountains where that stove gets plenty of continuous use. We burn approximately 9 to 11 cords of firewood each burning season which can last up to 8 months. Therefore woodstove safety is critical for our family of five. Carol and myself plus our three German Shepherd Dogs (GSD). One of the positive additions we have installed is a metal fence with a gate designed to encircle our woodstove.

Safety for a Blind Canine

We had thought of doing this several years ago, but when our female GSD went suddenly and totally blind with “Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration” (SARD) we realized with her lack of sight it would only be a matter of time before we would be facing a serious accident. After a month of adjusting to being blind and a hint from a MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader about something that had worked for her we gave it a try. Sarah actually regained her sight which totally astounded us and her vet. Our vet had told us that there was no cure and it would be permanent. The reader suggested bilberry capsules and it seemed to help restore her sight. Detached retinas don’t reattach but with the bilberry application hers actually did reattach in both eyes and was nothing short of a miracle. It is a rare disease with no treatment or known cure. We bought the metal fence before her sight was restored and now realize what a true safety feature it really is regardless if our GSD was blind or not. We don’t have to be in the room with our beloved fur family and we know they will be safe from being burned on the woodstove.

A Woodstove Fence a Good Solution

When the GSDs are playing anywhere near the woodstove, swinging tails can be singed accidentally by hitting the stove. This fence keeps our fur family safe from any burn injury and it would probably be equally safe for small children. It does not get hot enough to burn, but warm enough to not try to keep your hand on it very long. Burns are perhaps the most painful injury anyone can experience and the purchase of this reasonably priced fence with a gate may be the best way to protect unsuspecting animals or children who could easily come in contact with a hot woodstove. Our woodstove is cast iron and it gets very hot, but steel stoves get far hotter. So having a barrier that is non combustible and doesn’t contain the burning type of heat gives us the peace of mind that our four legged family members will stay safe.

The fence/gate is attractive and functional. It installed easily and the gate has a magnetic closure that prevents it from accidentally coming open. We can reach over it to insert firewood so we don’t have to open the gate each time. When our GSDs are playing with each other even if they bump against the fence they will not get burned. I wish we had bought this fence before and we would not have spent so much time making sure our fur family friends kept a safe distance from the hot woodstove.

Helpful Woodstove Tools

Other tools that help keep us safe as we use the stove is having a good pair of fireplace gloves. Those come almost up to our elbows and are heavy thick leather. They are very useful when putting large irregular logs in the fire box. A functional poker is also handy to have on hand. The one we bought was exactly what we knew would work well but it was too long. We took it to a local machine shop and they cut the handle down and rethreaded it for a minimal cost. Long unwieldy pokers are hard to handle and maneuver when readjusting firewood in a small fire box. The last important tool we use frequently is a good bellows. When we get up in the morning and clean the ash out of the stove there are often some live coals left. Using the bellows gets those coals roaring hot in short order and our fire is then continuous.

I have regretfully discovered that a moment of carelessness when I accidentally get a small burn is not only painful but it seems to take forever to heal. Staying safe in the daily operation of a woodstove is therefore much wiser than getting careless and hence burned. Having a workable fence with a sturdy gate around the woodstove is additional security and safety.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their mountain living go to their blog, McElMurray's Mountain Retreat.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Bill and Anna Spiller

Bill and Anna Spiller were chosen as the very first farmers to be profiled in the Unique Maine Farms' project because of their incredible commitment to address the issue of hunger in Maine. They have consistently followed through with a pledge to donate a large percentage of their crops to those in need. In 2014, they donated over 23,000 pounds of fresh produce to the Maine Harvest for Hunger program. Anna Spiller explained that this was able to materialize because of the generous efforts of several Master Gardener volunteers who came on Tuesdays and Thursdays to help with the harvests.

The Spiller family has been farming in Wells, Maine, since 1894. Their farm encompasses approximately 115 acres. Thirty acres are dedicated to row crops. There are four acres set aside for apples, as well as four acres designated for strawberries. Raspberries can be found on a one-half acre plot. They raise pasture-fed beef animals without the use of hormones or antibiotics.

Like so many farmers in Maine, the Spillers have learned to diversify. In addition to offering a variety of U PICK crops, the Spillers have supported local farmers' markets in Kennebunk and Wells. The Spillers' Farm Store, that is owned by Jim and Jeannine Spiller, carries a large selection of their fresh produce. A belief in the value of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been embraced by Bill and Anna Spiller. They operate a highly-successful CSA operation. A person who agrees to purchase a CSA share is provided with a very good assortment of fresh berries, fruit, veggies, and apples from the middle of June until the middle of October. The Spillers raise peppers, strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries, blueberries, summer squash, zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, green and yellow beans, beets, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, chard, butter and sugar corn, silver corn, melons, watermelons, winter squash, pumpkins, and apples.

Good Shepherd Food Bank 

Bill and Anna have a philosophy that giving to others is simply the right thing to do. They have never felt any need to be recognized for their generosity. Bill has even apologized on several occasions explaining that he wishes he could contribute even more to the cause of hunger. They participated in the Senior Farm Share program in the past. In addition to donating an enormous amount of food to those in need, the Spillers grow food for the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

It was most unsettling to learn from Kristen Miale, the President of Good Shepherd Food Bank, that “200,000 Mainers live with food insecurity, which is not having regular access to food to lead a healthy life.”  The Good Shepherd Food Bank has dedicated their efforts to address the critical issue of hunger. The fact that 60,000 children (one of four Maine children) are affected by hunger in Maine is simply unconscionable. In 2010, Good Shepherd Food Bank created the Mainers Feeding Mainers program.  

Over twenty Maine farms participate in the Mainers Feeding Mainers project. The Spiller Farm and seven other farms that have been profiled in the Unique Maine Farms' project (Aldermere Farm, Cultivating Community, Friends of Aroostook, Horsepower Farm, Pineland Farms, Spear Farm, and Veggies For All) have established wholesale partnerships with the Good Shepherd Food Bank. They sign contracts in which they agree to sell specific amounts of produce so that food pantries and feeding programs can access fresh, local food.  

On the “Mainers Feeding Mainers” video that appears on, Kristen Miale, explained how purchasing fresh produce from local farmers reduces the transportation costs, extends the shelf life, and enables Good Shepherd Food Bank to purchase a better quality and a larger amount of fresh food. The program is beneficial to the farmer since they have a guaranteed purchaser for their products. Good Shepherd Food Bank also understands how crops can be adversely affected by a variety of situations. Bill Spiller shared information about how an early freeze in 2012 affected his apple crop. Because of Good Shepherd’s flexibility, Spiller Farm was able to substitute corn that year.

Kudos to Good Shepherd Food Bank for creating “Mainers Feeding Mainers.”  It is such a successful way to tackle the hunger crisis in Maine. Good Shepherd partners with 600 local agencies to distribute food to food pantries, meal sites, and community centers. In 2013, they distributed fifteen-and-a-half million pounds of food to more than 100,000 people in Maine. They are now exploring ways to improve their processing and storage capacity.  

Certain fields at the Spiller Farm are dedicated for specific food pantries and kitchens. For the past nine years, the Spillers have hosted seed potato cutting parties where Master Gardeners from the Maine Cooperative Extension program come to their farm and cut the potatoes into small sections for planting. These Master Gardeners return in the fall as different gleaning teams to harvest the potatoes and deliver them to various food pantries and soup kitchens.

When Lori Hussey and her son worked with the Spillers to start the first gleaning team at the Spillers in 2000, the Spillers became the first farm in York County to welcome gleaners in the Plant-A-Row program. Because of their concern for those in need and because of their welcoming ways, gleaning for the Harvest for the Hunger program now takes place at over ten farms throughout York County. York County’s successful gleaning program and focus on addressing hunger has led the way for other Maine counties to follow suit. The Spillers were true catalysts for farm programs in Maine specifically growing crops for those in need. If the Spillers had not stepped forward to address hunger back in 2000, one might wonder if the gleaning programs would be as successful as they are today. There are many individuals and agencies that are extremely grateful to Bill and Anna Spiller.

Thanks go out to the Spillers for addressing the critical issue of hunger and for being an inspiration to so many. The Spillers have also been an inspiration in regard to land preservation. One of the articles in the November 2014 town elections in Wells, Maine, focused on whether the town should appropriate and expend $125,000 from the CIP Land Bank Reserve-Open Space account to partially fund the total project cost of $549,000, for the purchase of an Agricultural Easement over approximately 115 acres of Spiller Farm. The article was passed by an amazing 76 percent of the townspeople of Wells, and because of this, the property will be preserved as farmland in perpetuity. Development rights will be extinguished and subdivision will be prevented. The Great Works Land Trust will monitor the easement.

Several entities worked with the Spillers to see that the Agricultural Easement would become a reality. Bill and Anna Spiller stepped forward in the beginning of the process by selling the easement for $125,000 less than its worth since the easement was appraised at $501,000 and they agreed to sell it for $376,000. The Great Works Regional Land Trust obtained a grant of $250,000 from the federal Farmland and Ranchland Preservation Program. Other supporters of the project included the Town of Wells Conservation Commission, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Maine Farmland Trust, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

An intense focus on the concept of community is integral to Spiller Farm. With the help of the Wells Rotary, they have held Strawberry Festivals in June in the past. In September many families flock to their farm for the Family Jamboree and enjoy hayrides, face painting, and many fun activities. The Spillers have also worked with the Farm to School program over the past three years. Students from the Wells Junior High School have helped harvest various crops which they bring back to their school for processing and use in their cafeteria. The school has shared a list with the Spillers in the spring about the crops that they are interested in such as potatoes, carrots, beans, and apples. Many of these crops are served throughout the year in the school lunch program.

Thanks go out to Bill and Anna Spiller for addressing the critical issues of hunger and farmland preservation and for being an inspiration to so many. It seems quite fitting to share information about their farm in this first farm profile for Mother Earth News because they are such a great example of unique farmers who have made such a difference in the lives of so many Maine people.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 

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