MILBRIDGE, Maine — Standing on the observation deck of his seven-story hunting camp which looks sort of like a water tower, beef farmer George Rippere can look over his entire 250-acre farm in Milbridge.
He can point out the ponds that he dug. He can show off the fields and pastures that he cleared. He can brag — or complain, depending on one’s perspective — about the miles of fences, roads and trails and the efforts to reclaim the land lost to time and trees.
But mostly, he wonders about how a financial advisor from Connecticut and California that dealt in municipal bonds ended up as a farmer in Maine.
“It all started out when I bought a one-room hunting camp and 28 acres,” he said. “And now? Ooh, yeah. I’m having fun.”
Rippere and his wife, Nita, welcomed dozens of visitors to Coyote Creek Farm Sunday, one of more than 112 farms across the state that flung open the farm gates for the Maine Department of Agriculture’s Open Farm Day. At goat farms they were able to make cheese, at grass farms they took rides and at dairy farms they were able to milk cows. At Coyote Creek, they bottle-fed a baby lamb and gently petted a three-day old Hereford calf.
Visitors called — in vain — to the Russian Wild Boars that are nocturnal and didn’t want to make an appearance in Sunday’s sun, and watched Hereford and Black Angus cows cluster under the shade of maples.
“This is exactly what Maine needs,” Robert Ramsay of Addison said. “We need people like the Ripperes that will invest in our land and create jobs. This is not just a sustainable industry, it is an essential industry.”
Rippere is able to capitalize on the local food movement, providing a natural, grass-fed product that is currently in high demand.
Beyond its livestock operation, Coyote Creek — which is about a mile from Route 1 on Beaver Brook Road — has an interesting history. On its land once stood the beginnings of the village of Milbridge. Early settlers had a dozen houses, a blacksmith shop, a schoolhouse and a network of roads on the side of a wooded ridge along the brook. Many of the buildings are clearly marked on maps as recent as 1862.
“It was an ideal location,” Rippere said. “Then, they didn’t really care about the ocean. They were farmers. It was later, when electricity came along Route 1, that they loaded up the houses onto logs and rolled them away to become shipbuilders and fishermen.”
Today, granite foundations are being recovered and the Ripperes are caring for three separate cemeteries on their land. “But when we came here, all this was grown over,” George Rippere said. “It was hard to imagine that a whole town had lived here. We had to reclaim it.”
When the Ripperes first bought the small hunting camp, there was a pasture nearby. “I thought, well, I could put a couple of cows down there,” George Rippere said.
Today he has 50 Angus and Hereford steers and heifers, including three bulls. Thirteen calves have already been born this year. He markets his beef and pork through local farmers’ markets, the Internet and by selling direct to two local Hannaford supermarkets in Milbridge and Columbia.
A small herd of horses will soon be expanded and an arena is under construction. “Folks will be able to board their horses here,” he said. He also sells hay, horse shavings and tack. Diversification is one key to farming success in Maine, Rippere said.
His “Sky Tower” camp — complete with grill, refrigerators, easy chairs and bunk beds — can be rented by hunters and he stocks his ponds with trout. The farm is completely off the grid and solar power is used to electrify the fences, pump from the farm well and provide refrigeration.
“It’s been a steep, steep learning curve,” he said, but quickly added that he has had lots of good advice over the past 10 years. “I don’t know that I’d recommend cattle ranching to a young person just starting out, but I’m happy,” he said.
Coyote Creek Farm beef and pork can be found at www.MaineBeef4Sale.com, Hannaford Stores at Milbridge and Columbia and at Milbridge area farmers’ markets.