It was pitch-dark at 5 p.m. Nov. 23, the appointed time for pickup at the back of a parking lot in Bangor. Slowly, cars trickled in, and a small group gathered behind the open back door of a small white box truck. Was there some kind of black market deal going down? Nope. We were all there to pick up our turkeys.
Just a few years ago, Justin Jamison proposed to Eliza Currie on top of Mount Katahdin. After two years of marriage, they are still at the beginning of their happily ever after. It began at match.com and a date at the Bangor State Fair. Before long, it became clear that these two were a match made in heaven, or perhaps even better, a match made in Maine.
Today, they are the happy owners of Mainely Simple, a business based at the Martin Kilby Farm in the tiny town of Benedicta. There, they raise cows for beef “the way beef should be,” and recently added poultry to their menu. After completing their license to process their own birds on the Friday before Thanksgiving, they spent the weekend preparing 35 birds, for the first time ever.
Eliza and Justin, originally from Bangor and Orono, had never met until they connected on the Internet. Not many young people harbor a passion for agriculture or for rural Maine. These two loved both, independently. It must have been match.com’s easiest match ever.
Sitting in the kitchen of their Benedicta farmhouse, I watched the couple exchange knowing looks as we talked. The glow of delight in their good fortune was almost visible.
“Where did the name of the farm come from?” I asked.
“I think that was about our second date,” Eliza said with another twinkling glance at her husband. Martin Kilby is a combination of their two middle names, and sounded whimsical to their ears, like a storybook character.
Romantic as it sounds, Eliza and Justin’s new life has come with a great deal of hard work and careful practicality.
“We are both risk-averse,” they told me, but they are also determined “to have the best possible product.”
Justin’s degrees in sustainable agriculture and business administration provide the necessary knowledge base. His bank job in Bangor and Eliza’s position as a physician’s assistant in Patten offer financial security. The heart of their success, however, is their hopeful enthusiasm and their shared passion for sustainable, local food.
I personally can attest to the deliciousness of their beef and turkey, and I have never seen a bird better prepared. Justin and Eliza also grew vegetables this summer. They have a root cellar full of squash, carrots and turnips, and dream of producing enough in the future to sell with their meat.
“Justin dreams big,” said Eliza. He is always looking for another project, another innovation or improvement. He sought grant money for a research project on beef and dairy cows. When that did not succeed, he chalked it up as a learning experience and moved on to the next project, the next funding plan.
Perhaps the finest product to come from Justin and Eliza so far is their new daughter, Zoe.
“How has Zoe changed your farm routines?” I asked.
“She’s just changed our sleep routine,” Justin said. “There’s less of it. We’re lucky. She’s a really happy baby.”
It sounds like a lot of work, two full-time jobs with farm work to boot, but there is nothing remotely careworn about this inspiringly enthusiastic young couple. It is no wonder that two such optimistic parents produced a happy baby.
“Some people work into the day by sitting down with a cup of coffee,” said Justin. He goes outside and spends an hour on farm chores instead. “That is my work into the daytime.”
This is our hobby, they assured me with all sincerity, and it pays for itself. Other people play tennis or golf, or they travel; “We watch cows eat grass … I could do it all day. It’s what we love.”
Robin Clifford Wood is a writer, musician and recent empty-nester. The state of Maine captured Wood’s imagination as a summer visitor in 1979 and became her full-time home in 2002. Feedback is always welcome through her blog about sunrise and life transitions at www.ayearofgettingup.blogspot.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.