Each year around the time that the CSA starts up, I like to post some background info. on us. I mean, you’ve given us money and entrusted us to provide you with a season’s worth of fresh produce. But who are we, these mysterious people who decided to leave city life behind, moved to Poland, plopped a greenhouse down in the yard, and decided to devote their time and energy to doing something as challenging and un-21st century as farming? Can’t computers do that?? So for those of you new to Summit Springs Farm, here’s a little about Sonya and I…who we are, our backgrounds and experiences, our reasons for starting Summit Springs Farm, and our philosophy and approach as farmers.
Sonya is a native of Casco, Maine; her mom still lives there, just 15 minutes from the farm on route 11. She spent most of her childhood in Casco and split her teenage years between Maine, Massachusetts, and Florida. She credits the book Charlotte’s Web with fixing the idea of farming in her head from an early age, though she wound up studying photography in college and worked in tech support during her early 20’s. Years later while living in Colorado, she finally jumped into the farm world, volunteering for a day at Tomten Farm just before returning to New England and working as a day laborer at Riverbank Farm and George Hall’s Farm, both in Connecticut. She would return to Riverbank Farm, a large organic farm in Roxbury, Connecticut, frequently in subsequent years to apprentice with owners Laura McKinney and David Blyn. In 2004 she traveled to Montana to manage Raven Ridge Farm, with a 70 member organic CSA. She also managed volunteers at Paradise Farms in Florida for the 2003/2004 winter.
Her evolution as a farmer has coincided with her increased interest in yoga. While in Montana, she discovered Kundalini yoga, a style focused on spirituality, breath work, and meditation. She became a certified Kundalini yoga instructor after periods of study at Kripalu in Massachusetts and the Omega Institute in New York. She says, “I definitely could not be this kind of farmer without my yoga practice. My body couldn’t handle it.” She was living in Portland, teaching at Kundalini Community Yoga, and working a winter job as a barista at Coffee By Design when she met John Sayles in 2005.
I grew up in Milledgeville, Georgia, a town perhaps best known as the home of novelist Flannery O’Connor. I always thought of myself as a “Yankee”, however (my mom and dad were from Connecticut and upstate New York, respectively), and decided to attend Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, where I graduated with an English degree in 1996. Not knowing what else to do after college, I traveled west with a couple of fellow musician friends and wound up in Seattle. I stayed for almost six years, working for the majority of that time as a technical writer and web designer for a family-owned masonry company.
By 2002, however, I was sick of the traffic and sick of computers. I wanted to experience a smaller city and felt that I should be closer to my dad after my mom passed away, so I moved to Portland. I got a job at Borealis Breads and worked in their Portland shops for several years, both as a sales clerk and as a baker. My interest in farming came about as a result of a general interest in food issues and food history instilled in me by my aunt and uncle, who have been studying, researching, and writing about food in general and the potato in particular for years. Working in the food world helped, too, and I began to read extensively about our nation’s food economy while also attending MOFGA (The Maine Organic Farmer’s & Gardener’s Association) lectures and classes. Meeting Sonya seemed like a sign (our first conversation was about compost…very romantic!) When she returned to Connecticut for another season at Riverbank Farm, I began doing volunteer work for Portland’s Cultivating Community and at Rippling Waters Farm in Standish. This former tech guy discovered that he really liked getting his hands dirty.
Son and I got married in Portland in March 2007. In the months before the wedding, we’d decided to apprentice together at Riverbank Farm while hunting for a place to start our own farm. Our first thought was to try farming on some land that my grandparents owned over in southern Vermont, but that didn’t pan out. We began hunting for farms or land for sale in Maine, first looking way up north where the prices were more appealing. Cheap land, yes, but very few market opportunities! Our search kept drifting further and further south until the fateful day when we first visited the property at 222 Summit Springs Road. The rest is history! During the 2007 season in Connecticut, we managed to use weekends and vacation time to scoot up here as often as possible to begin laying the groundwork for the farm: testing the soil, mapping out fields, cleaning and painting the inside of the farmhouse, eventually starting to build our greenhouse, etc. We launched the farm in 2008.
During the past few years, whether “on-site” here in Maine or working down in Connecticut with the wonderful crew at Riverbank, we’ve tried to keep a dialogue going about our farm and how we want to approach its creation and growth. I began to keep a running document called “Farm Values” on my computer, a farming manifesto of sorts to keep our values and goals in mind as we went forward. This document is not and will probably never be finished, nor should it be. We hope that, like ourselves, it will constantly change and evolve according to circumstances. Farming is all about learning, and it would be foolish of us indeed to ever decide we had figured it all out.
So what is our approach? Sustainability is at the top of the list. We strive to embrace farming and living practices which do not deplete the resources that already exist. For the farm, this chiefly involves efforts to maintain or increase the fertility of the soil via composting, green manures, and crop rotation to avoid depletion. These efforts will be organic, with no chemical fertilizers, fungicides or pesticides used on the fields, and no hormones, antibiotics or chemicals forced upon our laying hens and whatever other animals we may raise in the future. We ultimately hope to be as efficient and self-sufficient as possible, creating what we need–everything from energy to food to home and farm supplies–from the resources already at our disposal rather than from outside sources.
We value education as well. We firmly believe in doing our part to bring about an end to the current disconnect between people and the food that keeps them alive. Most people have no idea where their food comes from, who produces it, the effort involved, etc. Our farming efforts mean little if folks don’t know about it. We want to be educators as well as farmers, and we ultimately hope to create and participate in outreach efforts to community groups and schools. It is also our great desire to be a productive and supportive member of our local community. This involves supporting local endeavors and businesses with our time, money, and energy as much as possible. We want our neighbors and friends to feel welcome on our farm.
In a larger sense, we want to continue to explore ways to better the environment and improve our roles as stewards of the earth. With this in mind, we recognize that our systems here on the farm need to be flexible. We need to be open to suggestions and new ideas of how to improve our farming and our living. And above all else, we want to have fun! Though we recognize and appreciate the troubled state of our modern world, we wish to approach these issues, and our lives in general, with humor and positive energy. We hope to create and share as much joy as we can.
Wendell Berry writes that “Industrial agriculture, built according to the single standard of productivity, has dealt with nature, including human nature, in the manner of a monologist or an orator. It has not asked for anything, or waited for any response. It has told nature what it wanted, and in various clever ways has taken what it wanted. And since it has proposed no limit on its wants, exhaustion has been its inevitable and foreseeable result….Its connections to the world and to humans and the other creatures become more and more abstract, as its economy, its authority, and its power become more and more centralized.” We hope in our own small way to use Summit Springs Farm to encourage our friends and neighbors to turn back from the destructive trail of industrial agriculture, to reconnect with the land and with their food, and to eat and live in as sustainable a way as possible.
The quote above is from the following source:
Berry, Wendell. What Are People For? North Point Press, 1990.