WARREN, Maine — Brian Smith not only delivers locally grown food to local residents, he also brings smiles.
The smiles are due largely to the contributions of Don, a 1,900-pound Belgian draft horse that pulls Smith’s carriage throughout Rockland.
On Saturday morning, Smith and Jesse Wheeler were aboard the carriage dropping off packages of food and wine to a customer. People came out of their homes to watch and others stopped and took photographs.
The delivery service is an extension of the farming activity of Smith and Allison Willenbrink who operate Oyster River Winegrowers in the nearby Knox County town of Warren.
The couple moved to Warren in 2007 and purchased 60 acres that had once been a farm with a chicken barn on Oyster River Road.
Smith is from Baltimore, Md. and his wife originally from Yarmouth. They both studied at the University of Vermont. He then attended Fresno State University in California, focusing on winemaking and grape growing.
The couple is growing organic grapes on 2 1/2 acres of their Warren property and if all goes well the first full crop will be harvested next fall.
A small crop of grapes was harvested this past fall and a barrel of wine is fermenting in a barrel in the basement of their barn.
The farm will focus on La Crescent and Vidal Blanc wines.
The goal is to produce 25 cases of sparkling wines by 2015.
The couple also raises vegetables, mixed fruits, dairy goats and chickens.
But Smith mentioned that a retail shop the couple had operated on Oyster River Road near their home and nearer Route 1 for the past few years has been closed. He said it did well during the four months when the population swells with visitors but is dead the remainder of the year.
The couple kicked around ideas on how to boost income during the farm’s slower months and came up with the idea of delivering locally produced groceries to homes by horse-drawn carriage. The business is called Oyster River Farm Express.
The couple already had Don. He is one of two horses they have on the farm — the other is also a Belgian draft horse named Timberjack.
In addition to the grocery delivery duties, the horses are used to plow the fields.
The couple used an online service Kickstarter in which people have the opportunity to donate various amounts from $1 and up to help a startup business. The money would go to purchase a carriage, a horse trailer and wooden boxes for the food to be placed in for customers.
The Warren farmer solicited donations from people who share “a similar vision of environmental and economic sustainability.”
Smith said they raised $10,000 in 21 days for the home-delivery service. Donors will receive awards such as T-shirts and videos of the horse-drawn deliveries.
The carriage was purchased earlier this year from an owner in Philadelphia. The 1936-built carriage had been used for home deliveries in Philadelphia and before that in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Smith said he found the carriage on Craigslist.
The home deliveries now are limited to Rockland and the carriage is stored there. Don is driven to Rockland by a horse trailer.
The first deliveries occurred in the first week of November and will continue for 21 weeks through March. Some customers pick up packages also at Atlantic Baking and at the farm in Warren.
The farm has 52 customers for its delivery service.
The produce sold is all locally grown or made. The breads are from Atlantic Baking Co. in Rockland. The meats are raised at Old Crow Ranch in Durham, Terra Optima in Appleton, Two Sisters Farm in Warren and Guniea Ridge Farm in Union. The cheeses come from Appleton Creamery. The mixed winter vegetables come from Maple Tree Farm in Whitefield and Brookfield Farm in Cushing.
“We know people eat in the winter and there are no local farmers market in the winter,” Smith said, explaining the success of the endeavor.
He said it brings smiles to the faces of the customers and to people who pass by during deliveries.
He said Don was reluctant at first to make stops on the busy Main Street in Rockland but he has now gotten used to it.
Smith said the great majority of motorists are courteous, although some beep their horn as a greeting. He urges people not to do that, so they don’t startle Don.