WHITEFIELD, Maine ― Pat and Robin Chase have lived in Whitefield their entire lives. Married in 1975, they raised five children and have worked an array of jobs to remain self-employed. They have maintained their 375 acres of farmland around town, at times raising steer and now running a small dairy farm on their land.
They’ve worked hard to maintain and preserve their land. But like other families in the area, their children do not have an interest in taking over the farm, and the future prospect of Whitefield’s farmland remaining as such is uncertain.
But after buying hay from an Amish farmer in Sherman last winter, the Chases got wind that a few families from an Amish community in New York were looking to relocate to Maine, initially scouting out the Monmouth and Leeds area.
Pat and Robin Chase knew they needed to get in touch with the families and pitch them the idea of looking into settling in Whitefield.
“It’s not like God’s making another batch of [farmland] the town over,” Pat Chase said. “When [the Amish buy land] they don’t break it up and sell house lots. They might sell a piece or give a piece to one of their children, but it’s always going to be in that family.”
In early April, they sent a letter to one family, the Yoders, expressing that Whitefield would be a good fit for their slower-paced, agrarian-centered lifestyle. Mose Yoder wrote back explaining that his family might not have time to make it to Whitefield on their land-scouting trip but ensured that they would try.
This didn’t sound concrete enough for the Chases. So instead of writing back, they took a leap of faith, driving overnight 10 hours to the Yoders’ home in Heuvelton, New York.
“We hopped in the car and drove there and landed on their doorstep and said, ‘We’re the Chases, we’re from Maine,’” Robin Chase recalled while sitting in her kitchen this week.
The leap of faith worked. Over the past eight months, the Chases have acted as point people for the Yoders and other Amish families looking to settle in Whitefield. In June the Yoders closed on a 64-acre plot of land just across the Sheepscot River from the Chases’ home.
“That’s quite an interesting thing how we’ve come together. I almost want to say it was meant to be. I guess it was meant to be because it’s happening,” Mose Yoder said.
Preserving land and a lifestyle
This week Mose and Anna Yoder and two of their sons, Joni, 12, and Jacob, 17, were in Whitefield finishing up work on a spacious, bright red utility barn that the family will use as a temporary house when they make their move in March. With no existing structures on the parcel of land the Yoders bought, they will have to build another barn and their permanent home over time.
As their sons worked installing ceiling insulation on Monday, Mose and Anna Yoder expressed their gratitude towards the Chases for their help in finding land to purchase and for the hospitality the Chases extended by letting them stay in their small farmhouse during the six or seven trips the Yoders have made to Maine in the last year.
“They opened their doors, saying, ‘It’s yours,’’’ Mose Yoder said of the Chases. “It was like home, and they knew a lot about the area. They could show us properties that were on the market, properties that were possibilities.”
The Yoders make up only a portion of the number of Amish house guests the Chases have hosted since they began their recruiting sojourn last April. Robin Chase said in that time about 100 people have stayed in their home.
While that many guests might sound daunting, the Chases welcome the opportunity to show the the families what Whitefield has to offer, and are in awe of the lifestyle the Amish people they’ve met maintain.
“Their quality of life is something we used to really have around a lot … In the fact that more people raised their own food, provided for their families more themselves [rather] than relying on everybody else,” Robin Chase said. “I know for ourselves, we’ve looked at our own lives a little bit differently, maybe we’ve lived too fast a pace and maybe we need to slow down and smell the roses a little more.”
The way the Amish families band together and are always willing to help their neighbors get work done is something that Pat Chase said he has grown to appreciate. Whether it’s raising a barn or haying a field, Pat Chase said the Amish families they’ve met can complete their work so quickly because they do it together.
By helping the Amish families find land to settle in the area, the Chases are hopeful that the budding community will not only help preserve farmland in Whitefield, but bring back some of the slower-paced, community-oriented way of life that they feel has been lost to changing times.
Community connections taking root
The Chases themselves are interested in selling some of the 375 total acres of land they have purchased over their lifetimes in Whitefield, but they haven’t sold any to the families they’ve hosted thus far. They feel that once the Amish community takes root and grows in Whitefield, they will sell pieces of their land to a family. However, right now the Chases are focused on finding the right pieces of land to fit the right family.
Pat and Robin Chase are so dedicated to finding the perfect pieces of land for each family that when the land that the Yoders now own in Whitefield was put on the market, the Chases put down a deposit so it wouldn’t be sold to anyone else before the Yoders had a chance to act on it.
The Chases had this land in mind for the Yoders when they were in town previously, though at the time it was not for sale. Knowing that the parcel had the right makeup of farmland and forested land for the Yoders to maintain their lifestyle, the Chases took the risk of putting down a deposit themselves rather than taking the chance of the land selling before the Yoders had responded by mail.
“We could have ended up with a piece of property that we weren’t sure we wanted, but we really felt they would want this piece of property,” Robin Chase said. “Mose came, looked at the property, loved it, felt like it was really the right thing to do, and then from there we went to closing and they bought the property.”
So far, the Yoders are one of three Amish families the Chases have hosted that have purchased land in Whitefield. Another family from New York, Mose and Clara Miller, purchased property on Route 17. Dennis and Amelia Hostelter, from Senora, Kentucky, closed on a piece of property just up the road from the Yoders on Dec. 16.
Several other families the Chases have hosted are still looking to buy in the area, and new families are scheduled to come up by bus after the first of the year to scout out properties.
Mose Yoder said once he visited Whitefield he was drawn to the slower pace and availability of land. Coming from a community of 300 families in New York, he felt moving his family north to a less populated community would be the right choice.
The plot of land the Yoders purchased will allow them to gather their own wood from the forested areas of the property and provide enough space for a garden that will sustain the family, along with enough acreage for their eight horses and several cows. In the future, Mose Yoder said he hopes the opportunity arises to buy more surrounding land so they can add more dairy and beef cows to their herd along with some pigs.
Mose Yoder grew up farming and presently runs a dairy where they live in New York. However, since their new property in Whitefield is not large enough to run a dairy, Yoder said what they do in Maine for a source of income will vary based on what the community around them needs. With a love for building things, and having sons who do carpentry work, Yoder said they may build furniture or work on building renovations in the area.
So far, Yoder said the community has been welcoming, stopping by the Yoders’ in-progress homestead to ask questions and offer assistance.
“Other locals have been helpful too. I’ve got to put a good word in for everybody around here,” Mose Yoder said.
As the families the Chases have hosted begin to settle in town, Robin Chase said there’s a bittersweet aspect for her. She’s glad the families have found a new home in the places where she had faith they would flourish, but she will miss their presence in her own home.
The Yoders say that the Chases will always remain as the contact point, and that the work they have done to help the Amish families find a place to settle will not be forgotten.
“[The Chases] have been a great help. I don’t know [if] we can ever repay them for what they did for us,” Mose Yoder said. “It’s just been a really interesting adventure to date, and I have confidence that it will stay that way.”