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September 19th, 2009

Maine Event

I was up in Maine last week, on a shoot at Four Season Farm. Like pilgrims on a Hajj to Mecca, farmers, gardeners and homesteaders should all make their way to this singular place, out on the ragged fringe of Penobscot Bay.

It is a unique model of organic sustainability, agricultural enterprise, and soil science; an open air laboratory for industrious writer/farmers Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman.

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Barbara Damrosch at Four Season Farm.

Coleman has spent the last forty years listening to his land. Like a soil whisperer, he ‘s taken a stubborn slab of forested bedrock and coaxed it into fertility, infusing it with organic life. In the late 60s, when he bought his piece from back-to-the-land guru Scott Nearing (who wrote the homesteading primer, Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World), It could barely sprout a turnip. Now it turns out some of the most remarkable organic crops in the Northeast, and year-round to boot!

I came away, as I have in the past, daunted, humbled and inspired; determined to tune in more deeply to the voices on my own small parcel.

It takes years to understand the disposition of a place: the tooth of the soil, the aspect of light through the seasons, the prevailing winds, the frost pockets, the random course of rainwater. All of these inform what to plant where and when, and how make the most of your modest holding.

We seem to have had more trials than Heracles this season, but better to be toughened up early than lulled into some facile illusion of what it takes to farm well. Learning to work your land is a complex dance, fraught with missteps, emboldened by small victories, but doubtless worth doing.

Apparently, we think we can dance. – Mb

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Matisse’s Dance. At Stonegate, modesty prevails (at least on Saturdays).

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