NORTHPORT, Maine — When Judy Berk and David Foley moved home to Maine nearly 30 years ago, after a stint in California, the best piece of land they could afford was an old chicken farm on Beech Hill in Northport.
“We called it fixer-upper land,” Foley said. “But the place had a lot of potential.”
“There were a lot of old junk cars, washing machines, sofas,” Berk recalled. “Even an underground oil storage tank.”
That was then. After decades of diligent care, construction, planning, planting and, most of all, hard work, the fixer-upper now called Ocean Glimpse Farm has been transformed into a fruitful, tranquil homestead. The 12-acre property includes 6 acres of field and 6 of forest. In addition to Berk and Foley, it’s home to two Katahdin sheep, a flock of chickens, a massive cooperative garden, an apple orchard and several buildings built mostly by the hands of Foley, a designer and partner in an architectural firm. At the heart of the property is their home, a New England-style shingled farmhouse with deep gables and a clean look that seems perfectly placed in the landscape.
But constructing the house was not as straightforward as going to a bank and borrowing money for a building loan. Early on, the couple made the decision not to borrow money for the building project because they didn’t want to be in debt. They figured they would just save up and pay for materials as they went. Berk still remembers how much a single window was back when they were beginning their construction journey: $350. The house’s first iteration was a windowless plywood structure.
“Every week or two we’d save up to buy another window,” Berk, who works at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said.
The strategy worked, according to her husband.
“We built the house without a mortgage,” Foley said. “That means it still takes 30 years, but without writing the monthly check to the bank.”
Meanwhile, they planted at least 3,000 trees on the property and built up the cooperative vegetable gardens, which cover 0.4 of an acre of sunny land next to the farmhouse. They’ve been gardening there with friends since 1989, and the garden now has five gardeners who plant, tend and harvest the neat rows of tomatoes, potatoes, corn, squash, beans, carrots, basil, arugula and so much more. The gardens feed all those people and then some, and also provide abundant opportunities for potluck lunches with their fellow gardeners.
“We think the outdoors is as much where we live as the indoors,” Berk said.
But the indoors is vibrant and lively, too. After years of diligently saving paychecks to construct their 1,600-square-foot home, they built something worth waiting for. It has inviting touches throughout, such as the window behind the kitchen sink where they display their colored glassware, which the couple calls their “stained-glass window cabinet.”
Upstairs, the master bedroom has large windows that frame the flower gardens that were ablaze with sunflowers. The walls are lined with art done by their friends and family and a cozy nook contains a spare bed for overflow guests.
“We have a lot of summer visitors,” Berk said, adding that the couple has hosted as many as 14 people at a time. “I feel like it’s sort of a clubhouse.”
Energy efficiency is important to Foley and Berk, who heat the super-insulated home with about a cord of wood a year. The 12 solar panels installed 3½ years ago on the roof of Foley’s next-door office, “the corporate headquarters of Holland and Foley Architecture,” Berk said, provide all electricity for the house and the office.
“We’re getting toward our retirement,” Berk said. “We have very few bills. That helps us be more secure for the future. It’s important for people to be aware of what’s possible, and it’s possible to dramatically reduce your energy bill.”
Elsewhere on the property, the couple constructed a cabin with a screened porch, a sleeping room and a Coleman stove for cooking. Guests love it, and Berk and Foley venture there every Labor Day weekend, just so they can feel “we’re up to camp,” Berk said.
“It’s the simple life,” she joked.
But not really. Foley and Berk continue to work on their house and land, finding new projects every year. They change it, and, they said, it has changed them. They are looking toward a future where they can think of downsizing while still living on their property. They may move into the downstairs guest suite eventually or convert the building with the office into an apartment with full bathroom. Foley calls this kind of planning “future proofing,” adding that it was important to create a home that would work for different kinds of contingencies.
“We’ve co-evolved with it. I say it’s who I am, but we shaped this place and this place has shaped us,” he said. “I’m at the stage where I’m looking back and taking stock of things. We didn’t have children, but I see these 40-foot trees and the stone walls we’ve built. We’ve done something.”
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly said Judy Berk and David Foley's home is off the grid. It is grid tied, so when their solar array produces more electricity than they use, it flows into the grid. If they use more than they produce, the grid supplies them with electricity.