Second Wind Farm is nestled among the trees at the crest of Roy Hill Road on Chebeague Island. A small wooden farm stand, a colorful flower garden and a small field of oats mark the entrance. Down a grassy path, through rustic gates, sit a sheep pen, a chicken coop, farm implements and newly cleared land. Off to the side is a field of corn, beans, potatoes, peas and tomatoes.
After months of uncertainty, the future of Second Wind Farm has been secured. In mid-July, thanks to a last-minute financial rescue, the 8.3 acres were acquired by islander Chuck Varney.
On a hot, buggy Saturday evening, Varney, a farmer and handyman, is diligently tending his gardens. As he begins watering the flowers with great green watering cans, he is joined by volunteers Elaine Clark and Jamie Calthorpe. As they work, Varney tells the story of how Second Wind Farm came to be-and how, he hopes, it will flourish.
There wasn’t always a farm in this clearing encircled by the Maine woods, he begins. Just three years ago, there were plans to build a seven-house subdivision here. Well before that, Varney says he had been approached by the landowner who wanted to sell 15 acres-mostly woods-and a small farmhouse for $70,000. But Varney didn’t have the money, and the property was sold instead to a developer. As she listens to the story, Elaine Clark, who is a real estate lawyer at the University of Maine at Orono, interjects that the plan was “not at all appropriate for the island.”
After spending two days clearing the site for the new houses, Varney continues, “I realized this was not typical island land.” In other words, not full of rocks or underlain with clay. He decided to try to dedicate the acreage to agriculture, which once flourished on Chebeague. Varney sought help from the community. For a while there was talk of forming a non-profit organization to acquire the property, but that dissolved after Varney discovered how many restrictions would be placed on his use of the land. He then set out to buy the land himself.
At the end of the summer of 2008, the future of Second Wind Farm looked uncertain. Varney, who also runs a sawmill and does other odd jobs on the island, had to come up with $164,000 as the final payment on the land. He mortgaged his home on Schoolhouse Road and borrowed from a bank. But because of the sagging economy and the hours he devoted to the farm last year-more than 1,000 by his estimate-he still came up short.
He solicited an additional $40,000 in donations. When asked how he did that, Varney replies as if it’s as clear as day: “I just called bunch of people up.” He is quick to point out that much of that $40,000 is in the form of loans, which he will pay back to his friends and neighbors over the next three years. “The person who gave one dollar was as important as the person who gave $1,000,” Varney says with an appreciative tone as he surveys the golden crop of oats.
This community support, evinced with a few phone calls, impressed mainlander Elaine Clark, who has been involved with the farm since 2006, and owns a summer house on the island. Referred to jokingly as the Chief Perennial Boss, Clark has created the flower beds. “I love the farm,” she says, “and I have been completely hooked since day one.” Clark is only able to come out on weekends, but marvels at the community efforts to help Varney realize his dream.
“I think it’s spectacular that islanders have supported us in such a tangible way,” she says. They have volunteered to work on the farm and donate extra produce for the farm stand. Clark and Varney were both particularly touched when a couple of neighborhood kids, eager to help protect the land, brought in the proceeds from a lemonade stand: $15.
The generosity of the island community appears to be contagious. It has infected Elaine Clark. When the farm was still short on money, and the deadline for purchase was approaching, Clark loaned Varney $35,000 to make that final payment. “I didn’t need money in the stock market,” she says. “I needed to advance my own beliefs. The farm is a tangible expression of my values.”
So in mid-July, Varney was able to pay the final installment, and now the land is officially his. That is not the only thing that has changed since last summer. Varney has been busy, improving the soil with tons of seaweed he hauls from the beach and uses as compost. As a result, he is able to grow, in a garden just under a half-acre, corn, potatoes, lettuce, onions and herbs. And lots of blue Hubbard squash.
Varney’s vision for Second Wind Farm is huge. He is working on clearing more land to expand the tillable acreage and to let in more sunlight. He hopes to construct a greenhouse and barn, which could house his collection of old agricultural tools, including a cider press and potato digger. He plans to include classrooms for children to learn traditional agriculture and the “old ways” of farming.
Thanks to the backing of Elaine Clark and the community, the future looks sunny for Second Wind Farm.
Anna Maine, a Chebeague Island resident, is participating in Working Waterfront’s summer student writer program.