by Enrico Villamaino
New England winters are brutal. The region known worldwide for its incomparable autumn splendor pays dearly for all those lovely turning leaves with subsequent months buried under snow and ice.
The silver lining is that during this forced hibernation, local farmers can take some time off from working land they’re not likely to lay eyes on until all that cold cover melts in the spring.
But not at Harris Farm. At Harris, they arguably get busier.
“We raise dairy and beef cattle,” explained Rachel Harris, “so that’s obviously a year-round endeavor. But our vegetable growing season definitely closes up for the winter…and that’s when ski season begins!”
Run by the Harris family for four generations, the farm dates back to 1942. Clint and Rachel Harris have owned the operation, which sits on nearly 600 acres in Dayton, Maine, since 1994. Rachel and Clint both attended the University of Maine, studying microbiology and agricultural engineering, respectively. Their son Jake earned his degree in integrated agricultural management from the University of New Hampshire. Rachel and Clint oversee the vegetable end of the farm while Jake is the dairy and beef herds manager.
The vegetable offerings at Harris vary throughout the year. Growing seasons include early summer (shell peas, snow peas, Swiss chard,) mid-summer (sweet corn, summer squash, eggplant), late summer (cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, watermelons), early autumn (acorn squash, butternut squash, zucchini) and mid-autumn (pumpkins and fall decoratives).
The Harris dairy produces whole, skim and 2% milk. Flavored milks include chocolate, low-fat chocolate, strawberry, coffee, blueberry, vanilla, banana and orange creme. All milks are available in old-fashioned glass bottles. Half and half, heavy cream and butter are also very popular products. Rachel pointed out, “The majority of our revenues comes from our milk sales.”
Their beef cattle are born and raised on the farm. The herd is fed a grass-based diet and processed one at a time at a local, family-owned butcher shop. The meat is then dry aged for 14 days before being individually cut, packaged and flash-frozen.
Whether a customer is looking for vegetables, dairy products or beef, they are able to make their purchases at the on-site farm store and at the farmers market located 10 miles down the road in Saco, Maine. According to Rachel, “We also sell our stuff in eight or nine stores in York County, mostly within 30 miles of the farm.”
And yes, Rachel did earlier mention the farm’s “ski season.”
In 1987 Bill and Dixie Harris, Clint’s parents, decided to make use of all the forested land around the farm. The layout and topography of their property presented an excellent opportunity to host countless cross-country skiers. Today, 40 kilometers of trails crisscross the open fields of the farm. Bearing names like Maternity Loop, Bobcat Run and Turkey Lane, the trails range from gentle beginners’ loops to rolling terrain for more advanced skiers. According to Rachel, “Twenty-five kilometers are groomed with wide skating lanes and 35 kilometers are track set.” For those not interested in skiing, there are also snowshoeing, fat-biking and sledding options.
“We have a ski lodge over the farm store. And we both sell and rent equipment, as well as offer lessons with our instructor,” Rachel said. As with most things in Maine, the ski season at Harris “depends on the weather!”
Despite the broad scope of operations at Harris, the farm is still very much a family business. “We have one full-time employee and a few seasonal part-time employees,” Rachel noted. She laughed, “We have all we can handle right now. We don’t need to be getting any bigger… It’s not like we’re getting our winters off!”
For more information visit www.harrisfarm.com.