by Terry Lynn Colligan
During the past three seasons, Maine farmers have played host to a number of Open Farm Day events across this state. These events have been held for the past 24 years. On certain selected weekends, Maine farmers open their farms to the public for the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a working farm. Open Farm Days help the consumer to learn more about local agriculture.
During 2013 nearly 100 Maine farmers participated in these events that were held on various dates during the year.
From the early spring events until the weather takes a cooler turn in the late fall, Open Farm Days is a popular draw in Maine.
Among the numerous farms hosting this event, Spinnakees’ Farm, located on the outskirts of Augusta, was visited.
Spinnakees’ Farm consists of 13 acres located in a secluded spot overlooking sunny Togus Pond. Owners Betty and Bill “Smokey” Stover have been participants in Open Farm Day for over seven years. One of the farm’s specialty products is their German Angora rabbits.
Betty said that she favors the German Angora rabbits because they, “have a great temperament” and that Angora fiber is six times warmer than wool.
About every three months these rabbits are clipped, after having produced between eight to 15 ounces of angora fibers. The angora fibers are spun into various yarns creating very soft yarns. Some of the Angora fibers are spun in with the wool from the farm’s Olde English “Baby Doll” Southdown Sheep.
Visitors enjoy learning and watching as the angora is spun into yarn.
Currently there are 13 grown German Angora rabbits and seven babies at Spinnakee’s Farm. During the July heat wave, keeping these rabbits cool was a challenge that was successfully met by using fans and having lots of water available for the animals.
In addition to the German Angora rabbits, Spinnakee’s Farm is also the home to Olde English “Baby Doll” Southdown and Cormo sheep. From this wool, Betty Stover creates wraps and shawls. She also teaches classes in needlefelting and crocheting. Wednesday evenings her Fiber Fun Group meets. She has been a fiber artist and a shepherdess for 22 years. She enjoys farming since it, “creates a green and sustainable income.”
Maine Open Creamery Day
A second popular event, held in October, was the Maine Open Creamery Day. Appleton Creamery, located in the town of Appleton, was one host to this event.
Appleton Creamery has been involved in this annual event for many years. Demonstrations and tours were given so visitors could see first hand how cheese is made. Visitors watched as Catherine, the farm apprentice, gave a mozzarella pulling demonstration.
Caitlin Hunter, the creamery’s owner, has been making cheese since 1980. Moving to Maine in 1979, Hunter began making cheese starting with a small herd of goats.
Chevre, or goat cheese, was the first cheese that she learned to make, “because it was easy to learn.” Initially, she created the Chevre in her home kitchen but later she built a separate area for the dairy space. Now, the Chevre in olive oil is her number one product.
“The pepper and lime cheese is our second best seller,” she said.
Towards the end of the year, from Christmas until March, her goats are milked only once a day. Some of the goat breeds at the farm include Saanen Cross, Oberhasli, and Nubian.
Caitlin Hunter was a founding member of the Maine Cheese Guild, its first president and now the present secretary. She said that the guild functions more as an educational organization and has workshops and classes year round for those folks interested in cheese making in the state.
The Maine Cheese Guild promotes Maine’s artesian cheese industry.
A University of Vermont study recently cited that Maine is the fastest growing artesian cheese producing state in the United States, second only to New York.
The Maine Harvest Festival
The fourth annual Maine Harvest Festival was held on the weekend of Nov. 16-17 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Vendors had two profitable days while the center was packed elbow to elbow with numerous attendees. Products as numerous and varied as fiber creations, recycled bags and cheeses were available in abundance. A couple of the vendors spoke with this correspondent telling of their wares.
Julia Ventresco of Ellsworth, owner of One Woman Studio, had her hand-made, recycled and repurposed grain feed bags for sale. A few years ago, while she was employed at a grain store, she noticed that the various grain bags were just discarded after use. Realizing that these grain bags could be recycled, she set about finding a pattern that she could use to create stylish tote bags or large, carryall pocketbooks.
Since 2001, Ventresco’s tote bags have been made from recycled lumber wraps and Purina dog chow bags, to name just a few of the reused materials.
Another vendor at the festival on Sunday was Hattie Clingerman of Hancock, who was selling her felted and dyed hats and mittens.
Over 30 years ago, she became interested in fiber arts after taking an adult education course and learned to spin and later to do felting.
Since then she has specialized in creating handmade knitted and felted garments for a wide variety of clients including local farms and national co-ops. She uses Merino sheep, since Merino is the softest of the wools. In addition, she also uses Romney and Rambouillet sheep’s wool for her garments.
Maine Open Farm Days, 2013 Round-Up
by Terry Lynn Colligan