Adapted from Island Saltwater Farms/Farming on Vinalhaven 1820-1960, which is being published by the Vinalhaven Historical Society with support from MBNA.
Farming, as it had been practiced for nearly two centuries–or until 1960–will never return to Vinalhaven. Too much has changed. In the 1930s, most of the island’s farms were sold to seasonal owners. While many of the farmhouses have since been well cared for, their outbuildings including barns are generally gone — lost to the elements over decades of little or no use. Maintaining farm buildings was not the priority it was for the island’s former farm families for three to five generations: Ameses, Browns, Calderwoods, Coombs, Crocketts, Hopkins, Lanes, Leadbetters, Mills, Smiths, Vinals and Youngs.
In many cases, the hayfields and grazing meadows were encroached upon by spruce and alder, sumac and tamarack. Slowly the farmsteads became skeletal vestiges of their former selves. A way of life exemplified at the Jonathan Calderwood homestead and presented in Ivan Calderwood’s Patchit, the Country Boy has disappeared.
Nationwide, farming has changed dramatically. Except for isolated regional pockets like the Amish in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the small family farm struggles in America with its very relevance questioned and threatened — even where soil and climate are in its favor.
There is some change afoot, however, as some farmers find niche markets where they can sell directly to the consumer on a large enough scale or have an auxiliary attraction, such as promoting corn mazes or farm vacations. Organic farming, specialty crops and areas where eating establishments and markets promote local produce are some of the ingredients for a possible turnaround for those who are interested in seeing small farms succeed.
On Vinalhaven, for example, Torry Pratt of The Haven seeks to use local produce like salad greens and wild cranberries whenever possible.
North Haven has seen a few families turn their efforts in this direction. They were highlighted in the 2004 exhibit, On Solid Ground: Farming on North Haven from Early Settlement to Present Day, researched and organized by Vinalhaven resident Lydia Webster.
On Vinalhaven, for over 30 years, Cheryl Adair has been selling eggs and seasonal produce at her roadside stand on the North Haven Road. Adair does rototilling for others and from time to time, she has also had a dairy cow, goats, pigs, horses, turkeys, and sheep in addition to her chickens. She has particularly enjoyed lambing, both with her flock of Horned Dorsets in the 1970s and, more recently, with Romneys.
Recently, sisters Marthena and Lydia Webster have begun to sell their garden bounty of herbs, lettuces, peas, beans, peppers, squash and potatoes at Vinalhaven’s summer Saturday Market or to The Haven restaurant. Another regular at the market is Carla Harris while Al and Wanatha Garner, on Middle Mountain between Long and Crockett coves, with the help of Bob Watts, are raising a variety of turkeys and chickens as well as Merino sheep, Scottish Highland and Belted Galloway beef cattle. On Norton’s Point, Marthena Webster is also raising a flock of Katahdin sheep for their meat and a couple of pigs.
There are no attempts to farm on the scale of the past, however.
What has also occurred on Vinalhaven is a renewed interest in the island’s heritage apple trees by some of the owners of old trees. This May, a mature seedling tree at the site of the Pleasant River Grange is being grafted with scion wood from some of the island’s heritage trees and several pruning bees have taken place in an effort to better care for these living reminders of Vinalhaven saltwater farms. Others are planting new heritage types of apple trees. These include some planted at Vinalhaven’s new school by Karen Jackson.
Island Saltwater Farms includes over two dozen old maps, 19th-century engravings and inventories as well as 70 photographs, most from glass plate negatives owned by the Vinalhaven Historical Society. Author Jeannette Lasansky first came to Vinalhaven as a newlywed in 1967 and continues to care for the 11 heritage apple trees on the former Calvin Smith/Ernest Norwood place. q
For information, contact the Vinalhaven Historical Society at PO Box 339, Vinalhaven, Maine, 04863. Call (207) 863-4410 or email vhhissoc@midcoast. All proceeds from the book sales go to the Vinalhaven Historical Society.