October 21, 2017
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How a Sangerville family farm has stayed relevant for a century

By Lauren Abbate, BDN Staff

The trip to Stutzman’s Farm on a recent balmy fall day was picturesque. Just outside of Dover-Foxcroft on a long stretch of road lined with a newly changing canopy of leaves, the farm ― which is more than 100 years old ― appears on the left.

The red farm store was lined with pumpkins, and within ten minutes of opening for the day, customers were filing in, enticed by the aroma of freshly baked bread and piles of corn and squash.

Generation to generation, the farm has changed, morphing to meet the needs of the family at the helm and the customers they serve. From a wholesale potato operation to it’s present state as a diversified vegetable farm and cafe, the farm has had many lives.

“Like everything that has happened with this farm, it has always morphed into what someone needs and what someone wants and we’ve always kind of let it do that,” Rainie Stutzman said. “Every season, we’re seeing something different happen.”

Rainie Stutzman and her husband Sid Stutzman have owned the farm since 1979, when they purchased the farm from Sid Stutzman’s mother after his father passed away. As the third generation to own the farm, they revel in having their own children and grandchildren come back during the summers to work and share in the farm life.

But the story of how the farm got its start is also something the Stutzman’s are eager to share, with their own family as well as their patrons. Old photos and documents hang proudly on the walls of their cafe.

The first Stutzmans arrived on the farm in the 1920s, by way of lonely hearts correspondence club. John Miller, a widowed Maine farmer, had been running the farm now known as Stutzmans as a dairy farm since the turn of the 20th century. But when he was widowed, he needed to find a wife to help him raise his nine children and run the farm.

Enter Sid Stutzman’s grandmother, Mary. A widow herself, Mary Stutzman was living in Franklin, Louisiana, at the time with her five-year-old son, Otto, Sid Stutzman’s father. Miller and Mary Stutzman began writing letters to each other after getting in touch through a correspondence club, something Sid and Rainie Stutzman openly call a mail order bride scenario.

Miller, who was 54, sent Mary Stutzman his high school photo and a proposition to come be his wife and share in what he touted as a “huge” farm.

“You think they lie over the internet,” Rainie Stutzman said laughing. “This was big time.”

Having never traveled before, Mary Stutzman accepted the offer, leaving her house in Louisiana and boarding a northbound train with her son.

She took over as the woman of the farm, and never talked about the circumstances that brought her to Maine.

It was only through neighborly chatter and piecing together documents that they found in her trunk after she died that Sid Stutzman learned how his grandmother and father came to become Maine farmers.

“The funny part about it is, no one ever spoke out about it in our family,” Sid Stutzman said. “I was in my 20s before I heard about it and that was from the neighbors. This is a really old neighborhood. It goes back three generations of families all living in the same houses. So everyone knows what your grandfather did and all that stuff.”

Despite Miller having nine children of his own, it would be Otto Stutzman who continued the farm for a second generation. Otto Stutzman was the youngest of the children, and upon graduating high school he was the only one who was around to take over the farm after discovering that the his stepfather was considerably behind on the mortgage.

“He was it. If he didn’t take over the farm there would have been no one to take over the farm,” Sid Stutzman said.

Despite ambitions to become a lawyer, Otto Stutzman stayed in Sangerville and saved the farm his mother had brought him to in 1925. In his time at the helm of the farm, he moved it away from dairy operations, and began growing potatoes for a wholesale market.

It was also during this era, that Stutzman’s original roadside stand opened. Sid Stutzman’s brother wanted to make money to go the agricultural fairs in the area so he went through the family’s garden and stripped vegetables to sell. After a few days, Otto Stutzman realized his son had a pretty good idea and converted a small roadside building into a retail farmstand.

In 1978, Sid Stutzman would find himself in a similar position as his father did when he took over the farm. On the second day of what Sid Stutzman called his dream job, Otto Stutzman passed away.

“It had a pretty good job, but I wanted to see the farm continue,” Sid Stutzman said. “[Taking over the farm] was pretty scary. There was a lot of money to foot out, and there’s no job security.”

Sid and Rainie Stutzman had always worked a lot on the farm, but had never managed it. So before committing to buying the farm outright, they leased it from Sid Stutzman’s mother. In 1979, they formally purchased the farm, ensuring that the farm continued in the family for a third generation.

Having grown up just down the road on her family’s dairy farm, Rainie Stutzman said she always loved the idea of raising a family on a farm.

“I was always pushing for the farm. I really wanted to raise my kids on a farm,” she said. “Whether we know it at the time or not, things made sense.”

For nearly 20 years, Stutzman’s continued primarily as a wholesale potato farm, selling some diversified vegetables at the small roadside stand the previous generation began. But around the turn of the 21st century, things started changing in Dover-Foxcroft.

The retail stores that Stutzman’s had sold its potatoes to for decades had also changed ownership, and demand for a copious potato crop began to decline. Sid Stutzman said orders changed from 2,000 pounds per week to 200.

To protect the farm, the Stutzman’s gradually started backing off from the wholesale potato operation, and expanding the other crops they grew. However, customers who had purchased Stutzman’s potatoes for years at local stores were still looking to purchase them. So in 2000, the original farmstand was replaced with the larger red building that stands today.

Instead of focusing on solely potatoes, they began adding new crops that were becoming popular with customers such as kale and other greens. They also continued to sell crops that had always been popular with their older customer base, such as turnips, carrots and beet greens.

“In diversifying, we tried to introduce what we thought was going to be the next thing,” Rainie Stutzman said. “Tastes change and you have to realize that.”

The Stutzman’s have two adult sons, one lives in Portland with his family working as a teacher, and the other is a game designer who lives in Seattle, Washington, with a family of his own. Despite not being on the farm, the latest addition to Stutzman’s came from the fourth generation.

Prior to moving to Portland with his family, the oldest son pitched the idea of adding a farm cafe to existing farmstand where they could make fresh breads, pizzas and other from-scratch style farm to table offerings. Having a degree in design, he created the design for the structure.

While ultimately it was more financially stable for their son to pursue a career in Portland, the cafe came to life about four years ago ― and its popularity ever since has exceeded all expectations.

“We really didn’t have a lot of experience in that. We just knew what we liked and we were just hoping that people wanted wholesome, made from scratch food,” Rainie Stutzman said. “It’s been filled up ever since [we opened].”

The cafe is open through November, with a popular brunch featuring live music held on Sundays. This summer, Rainie Stutzman had some additional help running the show, when three of their grandchildren came to stay on the farm.

In talking about the fifth generation of Stutzman’s finding secret ponds in the woods and taking pride in their farm-work, Rainie Stutzman’s face lights up. She’s a proud grandmother and delighted to see that her grandchildren have found their own love for a farm that generations before them have worked to build.

While the grandchildren joke that they’ll never let anything happen to the farm, right now, the future of Stutzman’s is still up in the air.

With their sons not quite ready to take over the farm, Rainie and Sid Stutzman are trying to figure out how they can age in place and still run the farm while the family works out a more long term plan.

“We see a lot of people retire and do nothing,” Rainie Stutzman said. “I don’t think farmers do that.”

 


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