It’s hard to describe how idyllic Winter Hill Farm appeared last Saturday when I visited.* There were gentle hills, brilliantly green pastures, adorable small children with chubby limbs, even the pig rolling in mud looked like the kind of thing you’d see in a storybook. There was an old cooler emblazoned with a Coca-Cola logo in the barn to hold milk and yogurt for pick-up. I was affectionately nuzzled by a cow.
I was there as part of a farm tour organized by Sharon at Delicious Musings to visit some of local Maine farms and get to know the farmers. Saturday’s tour included a visit to Winter Hill, largely a dairy farm, and Spring Day Creamery, just up the road from Winter Hill. I am so grateful to Sharon for setting up the visits, and overwhelmed by the generosity of the Steve and Sarah at Winter Hill and Sarah from Spring Day for spending so much of their Saturday talking with us about their work.
Winter Hill produces raw milk, yogurt, and cheeses from their herd of (incredibly friendly!) Randall cows. Sarah and Steve took over the farm last year from Jim Stampone and Kate LeRoyer, the couple that originally built the dairy and creamery. The herd itself is kind of interesting: Randalls are a rare heritage breed descended from indigenous landrace cattle common in New England in the nineteenth century (according to the Official Website of Randall Cattle— do click over if you’re interested in an extensive discussion of the confusion that arose from having “lineback” in the original name). Randall cows are well-suited to the climate here and multi-purpose (good for milk and meat and draft) in addition to being very friendly.
Since taking over the operation, Sarah and Steve have expanded their products to include eggs, a small vegetable CSA, and occasional pork and veal. You may have encountered their meat or dairy products at Rosemont Markets, it was only when I saw their labeled bottles in the cooler that I realized I had bought their milk at Rosemont earlier this year.
I came away from the visit struck, again, by the sheer amount of work that goes into operating a small, organic farm.** There are all the challenges that you imagine with farming: the sheer logistics of pasture rotation (ensuring that fly larvae don’t hatch while the cows are grazing nearby), managing weeds, coping with torrential rains or no rains at all, making sure the animals are healthy, making sure the soil is healthy, wrangling cows that manage to get themselves out of their fences, the hand-holding that cheese-making involves, that whole producing-the-food deal. And then there are things like Facebook pages and marketing and websites, staffing farmer’s markets, explaining to local bloggers the differences between raising cattle in Maine and California. To do it well, I think, requires an impressive combination of passion, seriousness, patience, and very hard work. I am thankful, once again, for my job, for paid time off, and for good farmers.
You can find more information about Winter Hill Farm at http://www.winterhillfarm.com/
Their dairy products are available at:
- Rosemont Market (in Portland on Munjoy Hill and Brighton Ave, and in Yarmouth)
- Bow Street Market and Royal River Natural Foods in Yarmouth
- Morning Glory in Brunswick
- Portland Food Coop in Portland
- and Lois’ Natural in Scarborough
* And unfortunately I took a bunch of pictures before the sun came out, so it’s not really as lovely in the photos either.
** They are not certified organic, but their farming practices certainly fall within what I would understand as organic.