Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Mornings in Maine come softly and quietly. My days begin with tending flocks and herds. Then Penny, my English Cockerspaniel, and I slip up to Harborside Market for a cup of coffee before heading to Marshall Point Lighthouse. As Penny runs along the rocky beach, across the hills surrounding the lighthouse, and through the woods behind, I sit on a granite bench engraved with a local family’s name. I drink in my coffee and the view. Islands dot the watery landscape. It’s March, and they’re still dusted in white.
I take time to do this each day. It’s more than just the dog needing to stretch her legs. These trips remind me of the history of the people who, for generations, have worked these waters. Likewise, there are those who have eked out an existence working the lands that hug these coasts. It’s not an existence for the faint of heart.
Sometimes, usually when I least expect it, I get rewarded for keeping at it. Small things, like a tiny newborn goat kid laying its head on my shoulder after a bottle feeding. A doe in labor, resting her chin on my knee in the stall, awaiting her new arrival. A lamb falling asleep in my lap as we sit in the sun on a hay bale. On days when my patience has worn thin from spending time repeating the same daily tasks, I’m reminded why people before me chose this life.
Sunrises and sunsets here remind me why artists are drawn to coastal regions. Whether a cold wintry morning or in the heat of a summer sunset, colors intensify around the water. Who cares about the weight of a hay bale when you step out the barn door and are greeted by such stunning skies?
Some people say farming is too much worry. Worry that predators, either overhead or on land, will snatch up a tiny one when you’re not looking. Worry that winter snows will never melt and uncover buried fences, leaving flocks vulnerable. Worry that the hay won’t stretch through until next season.
Worries fade when sacks of newly spun wool, rich with color from each flock member, wait by the spinning wheel. Milk sits in shiny stainless totes, so white and creamy you can’t help but pour big, tall glasses of it. Vats full of curds evolve into fresh, crumbly cheeses. Eggs in shades of every brown imaginable softly rest in nest boxes.
We’re moving from winter to spring on the farm. It may not feel like it or look like it when you glance out the window. But it’s in the air. The animals feel it, too. They are anxious to get back to grazing, foraging, scratching in the earth. It will feel good to have luscious green blades underfoot after such a long, cold winter. We’ll take our morning walks again through the pasture, into the edges of woods. The herd will nibble at green shoots and emerging buds. I’m happy to let them take it all in. They deserve it after a long time being stuck in coops and stalls while the snow drifted high.
Fishermen will lay their traps out soon. They, too, will be glad not to be cooped up. Just as the girls are being sheared for their wool, lobsters will begin appearing on a more regular basis. Witch hazel will be popping, forsythia budding.
The last vestiges of winter are fading. I’ve already received my application for Open Farm Day in July, when Maine farmers throw open their barn doors to visitors. It’s sort of like being invited aboard a lobster boat. Bittersweet will, once again, celebrate farming. I’m happy visitors can stop by, take some time, sample fresh made cheeses and farm fresh milk, ask questions about wool, and simply share what I am privileged to experience every day, on my farm by the sea.
Dyan Redick describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross ﬂock, goat milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.
Photos by DYAN REDICK