Everyone at the Cornerstone farm in Palmyra had their hands full with the morning tasks of feeding the pigs, piglets and chickens; mucking out stalls; and preparing a clean “nest” for a litter of piglets that were born about fifteen minutes before. As the first rush of activity quieted down around 7:30 a.m., farm apprentices Marissa Diebolt and Caitlin Curcuruto, farm owner Hanne Tierney and her daughter, 10-year-old Edith Tierney, headed into the house to have a quick breakfast.
Hanne Tierney runs a farm where they raise pigs and chickens, a dairy cow to provide milk for the family, and a few horses for the fun of it. They sell pork products at farmers’ markets, and a few years ago, Hanne began working with Clayton Carter, an organic farmer who grows vegetables at Fail Better Farm in Etna.
“We work together in every part of the process, whether at Cornerstone or Fail Better. That way we know each others’ products and are able to talk about them to our customers at the farmers’ markets,” Tierney said.
The cooperation between the two farms happens every day. They share equipment, manpower and ideas, and when going to farmers markets, they sell each other’s products. Both farms are members of the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, which has a live-in apprenticeship program. This season Cornerstone Farm is hosting Diebolt, from Ventura, Calif., and Curcuruto, from Lewisburg, Pa., while Carole Mapes of Earlham, Iowa, is the apprentice at Fail Better Farm.
They said they are all interested in learning about small-scale organic farming, but hands-on experience is hard to come by in their home communities.
“It’s all about large farms and the small ones are not organized like here in Maine,” said Diebolt.
“We do try to make sure that we spend some time with our families and especially with the kids,” Hanne said.
While Tierney’s children, Sam and Edith do help, she tries to spend time with them and her husband, Dan, who works off the farm. Clayton also sets aside time to spend with his five-year-old son, Graham.
The day’s work is often 12-14 hours long, especially in the early summer as the vegetables for market have to be planted and harvested according to a strict schedule. However busy the days are, everyone agrees that harvest days are the most fun. That is when they get the fresh vegetables ready for the next day’s market.
The day started shortly before the sun rose, and when the final chores were finished, it was past 7 p.m.
“No matter how busy we are, we try to eat well. We have the best food right here on the farm; we might as well make a good meal out of it,” Hanne said as she and Clayton prepared a traditional Wednesday dinner for everyone.