Hannah Webster/Courtesy Photo
As you walk your perfectly balanced tower of your mug, bowl, plate, and silverware toward the dish return station in Commons, you may have glanced at the map of Maine that’s displayed right before you hit the napkin board. The map details all the different places where Commons sources its food from.
Farming has a long history in Lewiston and a vibrant presence today. Before Lewiston was a mill town, it was primarily an agrarian community. Many farmers continue this tradition in unique ways that all contribute to a dynamic local food scene.
In Professor Kane’s “Sociology of Gender” course, we didn’t expect to find ourselves feeding a new lamb, meeting small horses (apparently not the same as ponies), or discussing astrology and farming, all about 15 minutes away from campus. And yet over the course of the semester, as a group, we’ve learned more about how easy it is to get involved with the vibrant farming community right in Lewiston and in neighboring towns.
Valley View Farm
During our visit at Valley View, a local farm in Auburn, we briefly left the “Bates bubble” and connected with agriculture, food, and animals within our community. In a discussion with Kathy Shaw, who has owned and operated Valley View for over 20 years, we were welcomed into her store, the Red Shed, which offers various goods and produce. We also explored the land (about 75 acres!) and pet and fed lambs.
Kathy also informed us about how the land she farms is threatened. As Kathy explained, the area where her farm is located is in a unique situation—it is protected by zoning and income restrictions that came into effect in the mid 1960s, making her land zoned as farm and forest only. In other words, the only sort of building allowed on the land has to be related to farms or forestry. Although these restrictions are quite special, the protected land is still under a threat. According to Kathy, these zoning laws mean that the value of the land is much lower which has “enabled people to hold on to larger blocks of land without having to divide them and sell off a lot that would be compliant in zoning. However, that also means that if our protection in this area goes away, the potential for a large amount of this land to be popped into houses is pretty big.”
Although this zoning situation threatens Kathy’s farm, she also highlights the aspects of farming that are particularly valuable and important. “I try very hard to grow good healthy food for my customers and for myself [and] for my family,” she said, “And then there are a lot of other folks in the community that farm that I’ve been doing this for a long time with and I will call them or they’ll call me and say, ‘hey, I’ve got a half a truckload of apples or I’ve got 200 pounds of carrots,’ or I call Ben and say, ‘what do you have for root crops,’ and Ben will say, ‘I’ve got beets, potatoes so you bring them in.’” As Kathy describes, the communal support between farmers and customers is a special part of what she does.
If you travel about 15 minutes in the other direction from campus toward Lisbon, you can visit Chirp Creek Farm. Chirp Creek is operated by Ben Daley. He’s an organic vegetable farmer who sells his produce at the Lewiston Farmers’ Market and many others. He mostly runs the farm by himself with some farmhands and his horses. Part of what makes his farm unique is that it’s mainly horse-powered by his team of horses, Mitch and Eddy.
“They’re like middle aged as far as horses go. They still work hard and they still probably got another five or six years … they could just keep going,” he said, “I don’t want to work them too hard [in] their life. They don’t show any signs of slowing down. I think of them like Tom Brady. Certainly past his prime, but… they’re like football jocks, and they have to boss each other around … [But] when they’re in harness, they’re really obedient and reliable.”
Ben first started farming as part of a student job when he was at college at Wesleyan. He describes that farming clicked for him when his schoolwork didn’t.
“Basically, I got hooked on farming when I was in college, and I felt like I was actually doing something that was physical and could see tangible results from it. Whereas, like most of the time I was in school, I was like, ‘what is this place?’”
He has run Chirp Creek Farm for the past four years, making him a bit unique as a younger farmer who didn’t grow up locally and didn’t come from a family farm. He told us about how welcoming the Lewiston Farmers’ Market as well as the broader farming community has been: “Lewiston is really special [from] like the other markets that we do… Lewiston brings together the greatest mix of people of different backgrounds.”
Community Outreach at Bates
At Bates, there are many opportunities to get involved in local food, farming and agriculture. The Harward Center, specifically the work of Maddie Lee, the community outreach fellow for food and farming projects and volunteering, organizes and manages multiple events for engagement in food and farming. This year, there are many opportunities on and off campus to volunteer at local farms as well as work with projects at the Nutrition Center and at the Bates’ Hop House. Feel free to contact [email protected] or The Harward Center if you are interested in participating in projects like these!
As the sun peeks out again and the days grow longer, it is a wonderful time to get outside, learn more (or for the first time!) about where our food comes from, connect with our community and each other and inform ourselves about the issues that are pertinent to land and livelihood. Maybe even walk downtown to the next Lewiston Farmers’ Market to get a fresh and tasty treat.
For more information:
Check out this StoryMap by Kate Loughlin about food systems in L/A: Community Food Systems in Lewiston/Auburn and Maine
Find farmer’s markets across Maine: Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets