The most recent surprise Chris and Jill Packard confronted on their 3-acre homestead in Hampden came from their new Ancona ducks.
“They are very messy. They get a mouthful of food, walk over to their water, shake their heads around and spew food all over the place,” Chris told me while the three of us walked around their property recently.
Coping with the unexpected is something the Packards do well — with humility, humor and infectious enthusiasm. As students of do-it-yourself backyard farming, they have learned a lot through trial and error and continue to try new things with unabated relish.
“We are not farmers,” Chris said.
“No, definitely not,” Jill agreed.
They may not be farmers, but Chris and Jill’s property illustrates their farm-centric lifestyle. We spent a good half-hour touring plantings so varied and extensive that I couldn’t keep up.
“Those are raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, Jerusalem artichokes,” Jill said, pointed things out in rapid succession.
We also saw grapes, hops, hazelnuts, barley, goosefoot, kiwi, pears, apples and a new plum tree called Prentiss Americana, onto which Chris hopes to graft peaches. Then there’s a slew of vegetable crops just beginning to sprout in their primary garden plot.
“We moved the main garden because there was too much clay in the soil. This new spot has nice, loose soil. I also just put up that fence,” Chris said, highlighting another unexpected turn of events. “The chickens un-garden as fast as I can garden.”
In addition to their new ducks, the Packards keep a growing flock of friendly “red sex-link” chickens — a popular backyard breed — and a majestically plumed rooster that struts around, crowing proudly over his domain. Five or six years ago, not long after they moved to Maine, Chris acquired his first flock of backyard chickens.
But first, he headed to the Internet for some guidance.
“YouTube is amazing,” he said. “That’s how I learned to slaughter chickens. I did about 60 chickens last year. Now I teach other people how.”
Chris is a teacher by trade and integrates his ideals into his personal and professional life. In addition to teaching advanced placement and honors biology at John Bapst Memorial High School, he founded and advises the Student Environmental Action Committee.
He also is the council president for the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor. The Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor’s principles of compassionate inclusion and respect for “the web of all existence” largely were responsible for the Packards’ move to Bangor.
Chris and Jill had extensive education in the sciences and a strong interest in environmental studies when they met in Ohio 18 years ago. Neither of them had ever lived in Maine, though Chris has a family history here that goes back at least five generations. They were looking for an affordable place with rural spaces, suited to a life lived in close society with the earth and with like-minded people. The job at Bapst and the Unitarian Universalist church made Bangor the perfect choice.
Jill took a job last year as executive director for the Maine Forest and Logging Museum. The museum’s dedication to sustainability dovetails perfectly with Jill and Chris’s vision of a healthier, more sustainable relationship between humans and the earth. Jill brought to the job not just her education but a proven record of enacting change at a statewide level. It all started at home during her years as a stay-at-home mom for the couple’s two sons.
Perhaps the biggest unexpected event in Jill and Chris’s lives was when they learned five years ago that Quinn and Cabe — now age 7 and 8, respectively — have hemophilia, one of them severely. Jill’s response was to co-found the Hemophilia Alliance of Maine with Tracey Gideon of Eddington.
“Having a rare disease can be more difficult in a rural area,” Jill said. “We wanted to create a stronger local support source for people with bleeding disorders in our state.”
In characteristic fashion, Jill and Chris took on the challenge of a frightening disease and turned it into an opportunity to contribute and to enhance community connections. Instead of allowing difficulty to define them, they mixed it into life’s rich soil and continued to cultivate new endeavors with gusto. Chris founded a fencing club at John Bapst. Jill recorded a CD with her own vocal and instrumental tracks. Together, they wrote and illustrated a children’s book. They participate in a medieval re-enactors group. They share chickens with friends who have helped them harvest or who contribute spent grain for chicken feed.
I noticed a new second story on Chris and Jill’s house, covered in Tyvek, and asked about it. Chris’s smiling response revealed their next area for self-education.
They hired someone to do the framing, he said, but plan to finish the rest on their own.
“Now we’re going to learn how to build stuff!” he said.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at email@example.com.