July 18, 2019
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Maine farmer travels 200 miles to sell wares, Christmas trees

UNITY, Maine — Every week during Christmas tree season, Jim Buckle of Buckle Farm rises before dawn and begins the long journey — about 200 miles — south to Boston.

On the first miles, the country roads are narrow and quiet, the other traffic likely to be Amish buggies or bicycles, and the scenery largely limited to fields and forest. But as he gets closer to his destination, the bucolic views give way to the built-up infrastructure and the busy traffic of urban America. By the time the farmer gets to his ultimate destination — a parking lot in Jamaica Plain neighborhood in Boston — he is very far from home.

“Jamaica Plain for the longest time was where the weirdos were. Now, it’s half wealthy, and the other half a crazy mix of minorities,” Buckle, 38, said. “It’s this really awesome mix and melting pot of people and ideas.”

The Unity College graduate is familiar with the city, where he worked for nine years managing Allandale Farm in Chestnut Hill, just seven miles from downtown Boston. After that, he leased a small farm on the South Shore for a couple of years, but when he saw that a 17-acre farm was for sale in Unity, his ears pricked up.

“The price of farming in Massachusetts was climbing up high, and I wanted to get back to Maine,” he said.

He and his partner, Hannah Hamilton, approached the Maine Farmland Trust and asked for help acquiring the property. They worked out a three year lease-to-purchase agreement. Since then, the couple has been busy rejuvenating the heirloom apple and pear orchards, raising pork on pasture and cultivating vegetables.

“I think we live in paradise,” Buckle said.

But when it came to finding a market for their wares, the couple looked south, where Buckle had customers so loyal that they raised money to help him start the farm in Maine. Waldo County was saturated already with farm stands and community supported agriculture offerings from small, organic farmers. So, Buckle and Hamilton travel more than 200 miles to offer their community supported agriculture share to customers, supply restaurants and sell produce at a farmers market. They don’t want to keep the long commute up forever, but for now, it works.

“We really want the farm to be resilient. We want to be away from fossil fuels as much as we can,” he said. “We want to keep our Boston connection, but it’s a lot on us.”

In the growing season they head south on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This winter marks the second year they’ve brought Christmas trees from Maine, and they found that they ran out of trees so early, they had to get more from a Nova Scotia-based supplier.

One Saturday this December, Buckle sold 91 Christmas trees at prices ranging from $25 to $90 for a 10-foot tree.

“It is a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “With Christmas trees, it’s like you’re selling someone happiness. The kids are psyched. And it’s one of our last opportunities in the season to say thank you to our customers face to face.”

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