MONTVILLE, Maine — On an unexpectedly warm midwinter day, G.W. Martin’s place, tucked into the shadow of Montville’s Hogback Mountain, looked a little bedraggled, with its muddied-up yard and small, home-built greenhouses seemingly scattered everywhere.
But there is a method to Martin’s plan.
The 37-year-old farmer and greenhouse maker lives on Hogback Mountain Farm with his wife, Bridget McKeen, and their three children, 7-year-old Ora, 6-year-old Bea and 3-year-old Whit, whose sunny smile lighten up the February gloom. They share the 500-acre family property with pigs, a herd of cows, chickens and mules. They also share it with Martin’s intense commitment to a certain ideal of homesteading, one that prizes community, independence and skills over creature comforts.
“I’m free,” Martin said. “That’s the American dream. It ain’t to be rich. It’s to be free. We own our time. It’s ours. It’s given to us, and we get to choose where we spend it.”
The burly, affable Montville native said he came to homesteading only after spending some post-high school seasons as a whitewater rafting guide and hunting guide. When he decided it was time to come back to the land and maybe start his own family, it also was time to hone some of the traditional skills he had learned as a boy.
Now, he and McKeen work together on their homestead. She is quieter than her husband, with a bright, quick smile, just like her son’s. She homeschools the children, and together she and Martin make sure the younger generation will learn what they need to for a good life on the farm.
“Skills to prepare for the upcoming winter and to keep ourselves healthy, and thrifty, and independent,” he said. “If we spent more time in our local school curriculum teaching about civics, about animal husbandry, about gardening practices, sustainable wood harvesting, using a wood cookstove, all these things that homesteaders find are skills that they can count on,” Maine would be better off.
Martin certainly has done his part in spreading the homesteading gospel. For seven years in the 2000s, he edited and published The Sap Pail, a bimonthly publication that was full of how-to information about gardening and small farms.
“It takes community resiliency and knowledge to be truly secure,” he said. “These local skills we need to be independent. We need to keep in practice.”
Martin has hung up his editor’s pen.
“I got busy applying all the things I learned by doing it,” he said of his decision to stop publishing The Sap Pail.
His days remain full of projects. He spent the beginning of February butchering two fat hogs in the part of his property he calls the “Sausage Factory” and which he said is close to becoming a commercial kitchen. There, Martin and his clan intend to sell barbecue supplies to customers.
A short walk away is a long, homemade greenhouse, where Martin and some friends are busy making more modular greenhouses by stretching clear plastic over a poplar frame. When he first thought the idea of constructing modular greenhouses built with an easily found Maine wood might be a concept worth pursuing, he began advertising within the medicinal marijuana community, which he’s long supported. The greenhouses were a hit, and so he took them to the Common Ground Country Fair in nearby Unity, where people all over the state could check them out.
“Then it was just game on,” Martin said. “The greenhouse business is an unbelievable explosion.”
He doesn’t have a website for his wares — a decision he made because he doesn’t want demand to outstrip his ability to build the supply. Instead, Martin sells his greenhouses and what he calls “open source greenhouse technology” through lower-tech word of mouth advertising and by having would-be buyers call him over the phone. He dreams of one day having people use a version of the structures as low-cost housing that heats itself only with the sun.
For now he uses greenhouses in various sizes on his property — perhaps a dozen of them altogether — to dry firewood, start seedlings and make warm work spaces for the winters.
Martin said he is hoping to rent greenhouse space this summer to medicinal marijuana patients who will take advantage of his security and rich compost mix to grow their own plants.
“The best money to be made in the state of Maine in the marijuana industry is renting spots on old farms to grow medicinal marijuana,” he said. “These old dairy farms, especially, have bountiful amounts of so-called black gold.”
While Hogback Mountain Farm is a busy place of many diverse enterprises, for Martin they all help point him and his family in one direction.
“We get more for our time and energy when we teach and help somebody,” he said. “We all gain as a community.”
For information about Martin’s greenhouses, call 505-1271.