September 23, 2019
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‘Learn to value what you have’: Maine couple choose farm life, have no regrets

I have known Dennis Fisher and Beth Haines since my family purchased a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share at Fisher Farm in 2011. That also was the year that Dennis and Beth’s daughter Jane was born. So I’ve been witness to the growth and blooming of more than flowers and vegetables at the Winterport farm. After the umpteenth round of shoveling the driveway this February, growth and blooming seemed an appealing subject for conversation.

I went to visit Beth and Dennis one wintry morning at their home on the farm. Jane was in daycare (“That way we can actually have a conversation,” said Beth). A snowy farm road took me past the farmhouse where Dennis’ parents and brother live, past the little barn where we pick up our farm shares from June through October, and through the woods to their cabin.

The cabin, which Dennis and Beth built themselves as time and money allowed, has a ground floor kitchen and living area and a sleeping loft above. A small, central woodstove warms the whole place, and a wall of books lines the stairway wall. When I said yes to coffee, Beth poured beans into an ancient looking hand grinder clamped to the kitchen counter and ground up the beans for my coffee.

The house is completely off the grid — no flashing lights, no undercurrent of electric hum. I wondered if that was why the room felt so relaxing. Then I decided it also was Beth and Dennis’ general spirit of contentment.

February is the time for seed catalogs, planting schedules and field plans for the season to come. Greenhouse plantings will start in March, and Beth has just sent out the first newsletter to CSA members. Life is full enough with the daily chores of cooking three hot meals, general maintenance and repairs to farm buildings, and the seemingly endless clearing of snow. But it is a relaxed time of year, when you might actually linger over coffee with company at 10 a.m.

It became clear to me, though, that Dennis and Beth’s peaceful demeanor is much bigger than February. It has to do with choosing a life they believe in.

Dennis’ parents, Rose and Jerry, had left a farming life in Maine and moved to New Hampshire before their two boys were born. A penchant for hands on work with the earth seemed to emerge in both boys anyway. After graduating from Colby College, Dennis tried several kinds of work, including writing a book with his brother, Joe, called “The Home Brewer’s Garden.”

“We’ve always been very close,” Dennis said of his family, and they all shared an interest in growing things. The idea of moving to a farm in Maine together evolved naturally.

Dennis sometimes hears amazement about his circumstances; “What? You’re living with your parents?”

He acknowledges that it’s unusual but shrugs his shoulders and talks about all the benefits of multigenerational living. In fact, the closeness of the Fisher family allows all of them fuller and more supported lives than they might have otherwise.

Rose and Jerry can travel knowing their home will be taken care of in their absence. Beth and Dennis know Jane’s grandparents and Uncle Joe are nearby if they need help. They also enjoy the built-in company for themselves.

“We’re not social people,” said Beth, “but this way none of us is ever isolated.”

Beth’s inspiration toward the farming life came from books. She was tantalized by John Steinbeck’s beautiful depictions of field and forest, and that’s where she wanted to be. After a year at Boston University, she transferred to University of Maine and graduated with a degree in sustainable agriculture. She was working at the Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont in 1999 when she met Dennis at a farmers market. A few years later, she joined the family at Fisher Farm.

Farmer’s markets are still an important part of Fisher Farm’s work, but two-thirds of their income comes from CSA memberships. Dennis and Beth are enthusiastic advocates of the sustainable agriculture movement, and they have helped expand the number of growers in Maine by taking on apprentices, some of whom have gone on to start their own farms.

I asked the couple how they envision their future. Will they stick with farming?

“Yeah, this is what we’re going to do,” they agreed. “We don’t plan to go anywhere.”

“Farming is never finished,” Dennis said. He meant that as an asset. “There is always room for change and innovation.”

The farm is constantly adding buildings, animals and new ideas. Dennis just installed a solar system to power their cabin and the farm’s irrigation pumps. In January, they put in their first refrigerator. Off the farm, they love meeting with and learning from other growers in the area.

On the Fisher Farm brochure is the phrase “Let us be your family’s farm!”

Knowing the Fisher family makes me proud to be part of their farm, in my tiny way. It feels good to support people whose definition of success is both so simple and profound.

“We are working, but not too much,” said Dennis. “We meet our basic needs, grow most of our own food, and we’re doing something concrete and useful.”

“A certain amount of being successful,” Beth said, “is what you expect in life. If you learn to value what you have, it leads to greater happiness.”

You may contact Fisher Farm about CSA membership by calling 478-4803 or visiting fisherfarmcsa.com.

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

 



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