Spiller Farm Addresses Hunger and Land Preservation Issues in Maine

Reader Contribution by Mary Quinn Doyle

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 YouTube.com, 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.

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