EDMUNDS, Maine — Pauline Golicki sat at a picnic table just outside the milking barn at Tide Mill Farms on Sunday. The smells and sounds were familiar to her: the peep, peep of baby chickens, the call of a barn swallow as it whizzed overhead, the smell of cows and grass in the nearby pasture.
Golicki, 85, said she grew up on a farm in New York and was happy to accompany her daughter and granddaughters to Open Farm Day.
“We had a dairy farm,” she said. “We had ducks and chickens and everything. Of course, this was in the time before electricity, the time before tractors. We used horses in the fields and milked by hand.”
Golicki said that today’s youth often don’t know where their food comes from. “It’s all in cans or boxes on the shelf,” she said.
Open Farm Day gives families a chance to counter that perspective, providing visits to farms across the state. This year, nearly 100 farms participated, opening their barn doors to tours, visits and sales.
At Tide Mill, Ben Noeske of Machias rode his bicycle 20 miles each way to visit the farm. Through buying clubs and at local markets, Noeske said, he has been buying Tide Mill food for several years. This year, he joined a community-supported agriculture program at the farm.
Through a CSA, Noeske buys a share in the farm’s harvest, along with many other people. This system provides cash upfront in the spring when farmers need seed money. In exchange, Noeske gets a portion of the harvest.
“I already had an idea of how hard the farmers work because I worked at a very small farm in Massachusetts several years ago,” he said. But visiting Tide Mill and seeing what actually goes into its diversified operation, “it was a wake-up call,” he said.
Tide Mill organic farm is a ninth-generation family farm that raises meat, milk and vegetables. Although this summer’s cloudy, rainy weather has taken its toll on Aaron Bell and Carly del Signore, the farm operators, it’s the collapse of the organic milk industry that has them reeling.
H.P. Hood announced this spring that it was dropping the milk contracts of eight Maine farms; Tide Mill was one of them.
“Our contract is up in November,” Bell said Sunday, just after a tour of the farm’s milking parlor. “We’re nervous.”
Bell and other organic milk producers are working to establish a Maine brand of organic milk that will be raised, processed and marketed within the state.
“We are working hard to get that off the ground,” he said.
In the meantime, he is working to increase his local markets.
“With the chicken and the other meats, the vegetables, selling direct makes sense for us,” he said. “But we need a major market for our milk.”
Just 20 percent of Tide Mill’s milk now is sold through area markets.
All this talk of marketing went right over the head of 2-year-old Wil Compton, who was visiting Open Farm Day with his grandmother.
“A cow!” he shouted, heading for the pasture.
“He’s never seen one up this close,” his grandmother said.