Almost ten years ago, Jan Grieco saw a long held dream come true when she and her husband moved to the the northernmost part of Maine and began building an organic vegetable and herb farm. Jan, who is a writer, teaches English and Communications at Northern Maine Community College, and spends her summers playing in the dirt growing a variety of herbs, vegetables, and berries sold from the farm.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Harvest, a gathering together
sky is a high, thin blue, scoured clean by the line storms that for four days
marched across the state, flooding roads, toppling trees and power lines, and
ushering out what is sure to have been the last humid days of summer.At dawn a thin ridge of pale gray cloud, the
only remnant of the line storms edges the western sky, and the freshening wind blows cooler, drying the
water bejeweled grasses along the road.The wild white and purple asters are fading, their starry blossoms
drooping toward the spongy ground, poised to drop seed for next year’s bloom,
and the goldenrod is withered, brown at the edges of the once golden banners. Jewelweed,
Queen Anne’s lace, and Joe Pye weed along the road have faded but Virginia
creeper, brilliant scarlet from early frost, climbs alders and cherries,
birches and poplars.
moody and capricious, a mix of warm golden days that quickly give way to cold
rain and the dark lowered skies that bring violent thunderstorms.Often,
we are rewarded by a rainbow in the eastern sky as the storms rush off to
Canada.We blame the cold fronts
sweeping down from around the Hudson Bay, colliding with warm tropical fronts
moving north along the coast, and stripping away summer. The days are cooler
now, razor-sharp with the promise of winter. This morning as we walked the dogs, the still
damp gravel of the road is littered with pine cone petals dropped by raucous
jays that have returned from their summer farther north and red squirrels bold
little thieves that are storing up for winter.The choke cherries are gone and along with them, the warblers and goldfinches
that have fed on them the last few weeks.
morning as I drove to town, Canada goose families gathered to share breakfast and
make travel plans in the newly mown oat fields, and at the big potato farms,
workers were out servicing equipment, working in shirt sleeves in the sun,
prepping to begin the harvest that grips The County. Although many schools have
abandoned the harvest break – two or three weeks off in late September and
early October – a few still let the students out to spend long hard days
picking and sorting potatoes and rocks as dinosaur-big diggers lumber across
the countryside.Although teens are
usually the only ones who still engage in the annual harvest, it is too costly
to run buses just for the elementary schoolers so they too are given a few
weeks of freedom in what may be the last days of warm weather before the onset
of the long, dark winter.My friend,
Shonna Milliken Humphrey, herself a County girl, wrote eloquently, lyrically,
and often brutally of the punishing work that agriculture is, and when I find
myself picking up her book, Show Me Good
Land, to reread it every fall, I am grateful
to those who grow and harvest the food that so many of us take for
granted.There is nothing easy about farming.
of chainsaws and the rattle of wood being tossed into trucks echo from the
forests around us, often punctuated by the sound of gunshots – an eager hunter
sighting in his rifle before deer season opens.Woodpiles sprout and grow by back doors, and empty garage bays are
filled with fragrant blond maple and birch that will warm toes and souls
throughout the snowy days ahead. Dawn
comes later and night arrives earlier.
of September marks the opening of bear season, and guides have been out setting
up bait sites and stands for would-be hunters who come north from the southern part
of Maine and beyond, hoping to bag a big bear. But bears are elusive,
preferring their own company to that of humans, so here they are hunted over
dogs, rangy hounds with floppy ears, snared, and at bait sites. Guides and
private citizens use old donuts and other food that sweet-toothed bears can’t
resist to draw them to one location where hunters wait in tree stands to shoot
the hapless and hungry bruins. The practices often draw broad public criticism
as being inhumane and unsportsmanlike, and this year, as happens every few
years, animal advocates are mounting a campaign to outlaw these practices.
sure how I feel about this approach to hunting. On one hand, it runs counter to
everything that I was ever taught about hunting, as do “heater hunters” who
hunt deer from the warmth of their trucks, getting out only to stand at the
side of the road to shoot a deer.State
laws tightly control bear hunting practices, and wardens are aggressive in
tracking down those who don’t play by the rules, and bears are elusive, quick
to run from the sight of a human.But I also know that as people push farther
and farther into wildlife habitat, and if bear populations grow rapidly, there
are likely to be unpleasant encounters between man and animal.
temperatures have us longing for heartier meals; pot roasts, mac and cheese,
stews and chowders, roasted chickens.The days of throwing something on the grill
are waning fast, and before long, the house will be redolent with the aromas of
roasting, baking, and stewing meals.We quicken
our steps as we go throw our own harvest.The last of the green beans need picked, as do the shell and baking
beans, and there are cucumbers for relishes and pickles, a bushel or so of
corn, and onions, leeks, beets, and carrots still to be pulled and dug and tucked
away for winter meals.
Apples, a bumper crop this year, hang like heavy rosy
pendants from the trees, and sometime in the next week or so, Bruce will take
the bushel baskets and head out to pick for cider and sauce that carry us
through a variety of dishes and desserts.
most of our tomatoes this year to late blight, caused in part by the unusually
wet summer, which rampages through the potato fields and then gets carried in
on the wind and by birds to tomatoes, which are in the same family as
potatoes.We wonder sometimes if the
local farmers rely too much on chemicals to control a biological condition,
which is what blight is. It’s a fungus, designed to cause things to rot and
recycle back into the soil, but it can have devastating effects.Acres of potatoes sometimes rot in the
fields, and the fungal spores with them.
more farmers are practicing crop rotation – potatoes followed by two or three
years of planting broccoli, canola, oats, buckwheat, and recently wheat – but it
doesn’t seem enough.Some enterprising
farmers are opening up abandoned fields or leasing fields that have long been
used only for hay as a way to begin to control the blight.That poses a whole new set of problems in
that it leaves those who raise beef or other meat animals for sale and horse
owners scrambling to find good hay.
this far north and this far out is a near constant gamble and scramble, but it
makes us resilient, persistent and adaptable, and in today’s uncertain world,
those are good characteristics to have.