November 15, 2019
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Gouldsboro man who was known for mentoring young farmers dies at 82

Photo courtesy of MOFGA
Photo courtesy of MOFGA
Bill Thayer, of Darthia Farm in Gouldsboro, stands next to his horses in this undated photo. Thayer died Monday at the age of 82 after suffering a head injury a few weeks ago while on a woodlot at the farm.

William Thayer, a longtime organic farmer and selectman in Gouldsboro who over decades helped blaze a trail for hundreds of aspiring organic farmers in Maine, died Monday morning, weeks after having suffered a head injury, according to his family.

Thayer was 82.

Cynthia Thayer, his wife, said Monday that her husband was in the woods on his property in mid-March with his horses, Andy and Star, when he hit his head. She said it is not clear how it happened, but they think he slipped on ice and fell.

She said the horses ran, but he followed them out to Route 186, where he collapsed and was found by a passing motorist. He was taken to a Bangor hospital and returned home last week.

“He was doing well, but his heart gave out,” Cynthia Thayer said.

Bill Thayer also served for many years as a selectman and held the position of vice chairman when he passed away.

Dana Rice, Gouldsboro’s first selectman, said he greatly valued Thayer’s perspective and thoughtful approach to town affairs.

“He didn’t have a lot to say, [but] he was one of the fairest men I ever dealt with,” Rice said. “It’s a terrible loss to the community.”

Thayer also was a board member with Schoodic Arts of All, a local arts organization founded by Cynthia Thayer, Rice said.

Together, the Thayers owned and operated Darthia Farm on West Bay Road in Gouldsboro, which they established more than 40 years ago. The couple have been active members of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association for decades.

“When he had his accident he was doing what he loved most, working his horses, Andy and Star, and cutting wood in his woodlot,” his family wrote Monday in an obituary. “He raised hell as a young man in Boston and then tried out the insurance business, which wasn’t his passion in the least. He then went back to school and became a special education teacher working with emotionally disturbed children.”

In 1973 the Thayers married and, three years later, they moved from Massachusetts to Maine. In Gouldsboro, they farmed 50 acres of recaptured pasture, hay land, gardens and a selectively managed woodlot, according to the farm website.

Thayer was known for helping to mentor many younger farmers in Maine who wanted to want to grow and produce organic food. Over the years, more than 270 apprentices have lived and worked at the Gouldsboro farm, “many of whom [are] now operating their own farms,” the farm website said.

In May 2012, when a fire at the farm destroyed a 153-year old barn, it was the Thayers who found themselves in need of help, instead of the other way around. The fire decimated their livestock, killing dozens of animals in the barn including 18 sheep, 60 chicks, three draft horses, two calves and two pigs.

According to longtime friend Peter Hagerty, a board member with MOFGA, when members of the MOFGA community found out about the fire, they knew they had to help the Thayers get back on their feet.

“Everyone decided immediately we would cut enough timber [from MOFGA’s low-impact woodlot] for them to build a new barn,” said Hagerty, a board member with the association. That summer, “ a whole new barn was built.”

In the weeks and months that followed the fire, supporters donated nearly $100,000 to the Thayers to help them rebuild, and gave them chickens, piglets, feed, tools, lumber, labor and more.

“We feel blessed that the community here has been so kind to us,” Bill Thayer said in 2016. “I have a list of names here of people who donated money or work or time helping us. It’s over a thousand names, and it’s people from all over the country.”

It was in early 2016 that the Thayers, acknowledging their advancing years, found a young couple interested in taking over Darthia Farm through Maine Farmland Trust’s FarmLink service, which matches aspiring farmers with older farmers looking to retire. Steve “Shepsi” Eaton, Liz Moran and their two young children, Cedar and Harbor, moved onto the farm that winter to begin learning from the Thayers how to run the 150-acre farm.

“They’ll make a number of changes — but we’ll be able to live out our lives in a place that we love,” Bill Thayer said at the time. “It’s a good thing to do, but selfishly I think it’s a good thing for us.”

Eaton and Moran will continue to give tours of the farm to school children, and to grow and provide organic food to the community, according to Thayer’s family.

Thayer has been buried on the farm next to his granddaughter, Melissa Saad, who died at the farm as a toddler in 1996 when a vehicle driven by a farm customer backed over her.

A celebration of Thayer’s life will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor.

 



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