UNITY, Maine — When Richard Scott scythes a field, his hips rotate and his arms wave the curved blade gently through the grass, which slumps over instantly. When Jericho Bicknell, of Dover-Foxcroft, scythed the same grassy area on Saturday morning, such was not the case.
Bicknell and about 100 other gardeners, farmers and curious folk gathered for Farm and Homestead Day at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association fairgrounds to learn different skills, such as how to spin wool, kill a chicken and build a beehive.
“I just got this recently and I don’t know how to mow,” Bicknell said, holding the grim-reaper-looking curved blade at the end of a long stick. “We don’t have a lawnmower and we’re trying to reclaim our pasture, which is overgrown.”
Bicknell is a homesteader who owns sheep and chickens. She won’t mow her entire 12-acre field by hand, she said, but she likes the idea of not using gasoline to chop down at least some of the weeds.
In front of Bicknell, scything instructor Scott sat tapping a metal round into his steel scythe using a hammer.
“Right now it’s tinny,” he said, as the scythe screamed high-pitched thunks. “Now it sings.” Although the hammer was tapping at the same rate, the scythe changed its tune from thunks to one long, continuous screech.
A handful of people stood, watching intently, asking how frequently blades need to be shaped and sharpened.
“If you’re mowing clover in June you don’t need a stone because it’s easy cutting. Now if you mow timothy in August, you need to stone a lot because it’s woody and stiff,” Scott said.
Blade maintenance was one of five hour-long classes on scything.
“They’re so into it,” said MOFGA volunteer and one of the event’s organizers, Nancy Rosalie, who was munching on various types of cornmeal biscuits as she walked by the group of lawnmowing enthusiasts.
The homestead day was free and open to the public. It offered eight different tracks.
“There is a chicken track,” Rosalie said, as she walked by a pair of goats. “It started with incubating chicks. They’re building a chicken tractor now. Then they’ll kill and eviscerate them. They’ll learn how to cut up a chicken and cook it.”
Close to the animal barns on the fairgrounds were the fiber arts classes. Nan Fickett watched as Malika Baggins pulled wool and fed it slowly to a foot-pump-operated spinning wheel.
Baggins owns a sheep farm and wool carding mill in Troy and wants to eventually be able to bring the product, “from flock to sock,” she said. As the spool became fuller with uneven, off-white yarn, Fickett explained why she loves teaching spinning.
The task helped save her life. When she went in for a surgery, there were complications and it caused some brain damage. Fickett began going to physical therapy, but she also tried spinning, which requires coordination between eyes, feet and hands.
“When I got injured, I couldn’t pedal. My leg would kick out. I did this as therapy,” Fickett said, looking at the spinning wheel. “It’s all about multitasking. When you’re brain damaged you can’t multitask. At first I could only do this for 10 minutes and then I couldn’t even walk a straight line.”
Now she can spin again. And walk. Fickett smiled and watched Baggins’ fingers pull and push wool. At a lonely spinning wheel next to her was one of her former students’ spool of thin, soft-looking wool in a long, even thread.
“I taught him that,” she said, smiling proudly.