Scott Huber has no idea as to the variety of the grapes growing on his Itty Bitty Farm in Columbia Falls. He suspects they are a wine grape due to their thick skin and tart flavor.
What Huber does know is that they are living, growing tribute to his late mother.
When Huber’s parents William and Carmen Huber moved from Tennessee to a big old house in Down East Maine in 2000, they immediately set about fixing the place up. Among the projects was constructing a portico between the house and garage and adding some grape vines to climb up its sides. It was a move his father later came to regret, Scott Huber said.
“Those vines really grew into a giant arbor,” Huber said. “They were beautiful but my father would complain all the time that they were going to make the wood rot.”
For years Carmen Huber harvested her grapes to make jams, wine or experiment with other recipes. Brain cancer took Carmen Huber’s life in 2013, and for another three years the grapes just kept on growing.
“My dad decided one day that he had to take it down before it fell down,” Huber said. “I went over to the house and he had cut those grape vines down to nubs.”
Huber decided he was going to dig up what was left of the grape vines and replant them on Itty Bitty Farm, which he owns with his wife Susie.
“We have this fence running off the side of the garage that I built to hide stuff behind,” he said with a laugh. “I planted the grapes in front of the fence figuring they could climb it.”
For four years the vines struggled next to the fence, looking spindly and putting out only a few leaves until eventually only one plant remained.
Maybe the vines needed some time to adjust to their new surroundings. Maybe it was something in the weather or, perhaps Carmen Huber was looking down and decided to give her beloved grapes some help. Whatever the reason, this spring things took off.
“This spring there were a few vines growing but not a lot going on,” Huber said. “Then it just suddenly exploded.”
Over the summer, as the vines grew and thrived, Huber would wind them around the slats in the fence until he had an arbor of his own.
“They were going everywhere,” he said. “They are loaded with grapes now.”
Sadly, Carmen Huber did not live long enough to see the creation of Itty Bitty Farm.
“She would have loved it,” Huber said. “When I look around at all the things we have [and] if she knew I was raising pigs she had been all over that because she loved pork.”
Back in Tennessee, Huber’s parents had raised chickens and other farm animals. When they moved to Maine his mother decided she wanted chickens, so his dad built a coop for her.
“My mom was a painter and she painted everything, including that coop,” Huber said. “The inside of their house is covered with murals she painted and my dad would joke if he stood still long enough, she’d paint him.”
The coop — and her chickens — eventually ended up on Itty Bitty Farm and Huber said those chickens were really the start of the farm. The flowers and vines his mother had painted on the coop have long faded, but its influence remains strong.
“Those chickens were our first animals,” he said. “Now we have meat rabbits, quail and pigs so mom’s chickens were really the impetus for all those things.”
Huber loves those tangible memories of his mother.
“The grapes are like the chicken coop,” he said. “Everytime I go out to feed the animals or work on the farm, I see them and have those reminders of my mother.”
He said he never had the opportunity to sample the wine Carmen Huber made from her grapes while she was alive, and he figured the chance to try any of it was lost forever. Turns out, there are several bottles still left in the basement of his parents’ house.
“They have been gathering dust for a while,” Huber said. “It’s going to be either really good or really bad.”
In the end, that hardly matters to him. What is important are the living grapes thriving on his farm.
“Those grapes were one of her things,” Huber said. “It’s just neat they grew and made it back and it looks like they intend to stay.”