Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Sometimes I wonder how things would be different if I had decided to start a farm in another part of Maine, away from the coast. But then I wake up after another night of waiting for goat babes to arrive and am graced with the remnants of wintertime. I take my coffee to sip outside on a cold granite bench engraved with a memory, and there I’m calmed by the seas and the sun, which definitely has risen by now. The surf is pounding, crashing over the rocks, and I can feel the sea spray floating through the air. It’s all so soothing and beautiful.
Living in a fishing village, I am surrounded by men and women who, like me, spend their lives wading in muck — only theirs is generated by fresh catches rather than by some breed of domesticated beast. Their days are filled with backbreaking work, lifting heavy traps full of prized crustaceans rather than bales of fresh local-cut hay. They haul nets laden with fish or shrimp rather than bucket loads of grain or water. They slog around in muck boots and Grundens rather than Carhartt’s and, well, muck boots. Farmers layer their Carhartt’s over a barn sweater so full of holes you wonder how it has any warming effect left. Fishermen cover their sweaters, made of sturdy Maine-grown wool full of “grease” to shed the sea spray, under waterproof bibs.
A fisherman’s life is guided by the pounding sea and its ever-changing highs and lows. A monument in my town of Port Clyde attests to lives lost while incurring her wrath or as the result of something gone terribly wrong. Farmers, too, have endured tragic loss from accidents and hardships. Our local St. George and Oceanview Granges stand as monuments to those who have gone before us, tilling the soil, tending flocks and herds, gathering up the harvest in the fall.
The lives of farmers and fishermen are inextricably interwoven. Mother Nature plays the largest role in whether a fisherman is successful in his catches, much to the consternation of the scientists who try and sort out patterns of aquatic life. So it is with the farmer, who basically hopes and prays that this season won’t bring floods or winds or drought or bugs or fungus or disease while the Cooperative Extension Agency wrestles with Mother Nature’s latest invention.
For fishermen, inspiration comes in the form of an early morning sunrise over the bow of the boat while steaming out for the day’s catch. Likewise, the gentle stirring of warm fuzzy bodies bedded down in soft clean hay that’s brought on by the flick of a light switch nudges a farmer through one more day. Stamina to get up long before dawn’s early light, stamina to push through pain from aching muscles and tired bones, stamina to haul a trap or a net brimming with a prized catch, or buckets of water through waist-deep snow. Making a life, not just a living, in harmony with the change of seasons and taking each day as it comes, whether on dry ground or on water.
There’s a rhythm to it all. When I lived on the Chesapeake Bay, I would wake every morning at 3 a.m. when my neighbor on one side, Skipper, started his truck for the ride down to his boat, then again at 4 a.m. when Michael, the neighbor on the other side, followed. I’d lie there smiling with the day already starting in sync and then thankfully roll back over to dream of lambs and chickens and goats.
I once asked Michael what he would do if he couldn’t work the water on what had been his father’s old boat anymore. He just shook his head. As it turned out, he ended up selling the boat rather than sinking it and worked the rest of his short 46 years as a carpenter—a job that kept him firmly on the ground he had loved leaving behind every morning as a fisherman. Times have changed for fishermen and farmers both.
For me, there is a connection between the lives of those who make their living dependent on the land and those on the sea. I don’t think I could have been as happy as a farmer if my life wasn’t graced by waking to the sunrise over water. The thread of hardship, joy, and satisfaction binds farmer and fisherman together.
As the tides in the harbor rise and fall, so do the days unfold as I move from chore to chore. I am as dependent on this guarantee as I am on taking my next breath. I pick up my mail each day in my muck-covered boots at the Port Clyde Post Office, where I’m followed through the door by a fisherman fuming with the distinct odor of bait traps. It’s a blending of aromas, strengths, weaknesses, smiles, daily inspirations, and lives.
I love the strength of mountains, but I’m glad to be building this 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.
All Photos: Bittersweet Heritage Farm