Vol 7, Num 3 :: 2008.02.08 — 2008.02.22
What better way to know a field in winter than to stand in one? This past January, I had the opportunity to travel to New England for a college interim class, and our first weekend was spent at Morrill Farm in Sumner, Maine.
Morrill Farm is a small, organic farm owned and operated by Larry and Pat Perron. The farm also operates a bed and breakfast and a living history program. It was this program that I and 20 other Calvin students experienced. We were ushered back to January 1870, donning button-down shirts, long skirts for the women and name tags with the name of a nineteenth-century Sumner resident. Looking the part, we set to work.
We split into two groups to trade indoor and outdoor work. Indoor work included cooking three full meals each day for about 40 people, washing all of the dishes, doing laundry and working on a quilt square. All this was done with no modern appliances, electricity or running water (and women and men alike were made to wear aprons and dustcaps, to the chagrin of some and great amusement of others).
We lost the caps and aprons for outdoor chores, but not the skirts. Together, we did everything from cutting ice from a nearby pond with a six-foot saw to butchering and plucking chickens for potpie, after learning how to select chickens that were no longer laying. We had a turn at hand-milking cows, and thrashing soybeans (a technique that removes the bean from its casing and the plant).
Mr. Perron stepped out of his 1870 character to tell us a bit about his farm and farming practices. We looked around his barn, which was full of old machinery. He still uses much of this machinery—we got to try our hands at shelling corn in an old, iron machine, which worked surprisingly well. Mr. Perron stated that farms don’t have to be huge; they just have to be efficient.
In spite of apparent efficiency, keeping up this kind of organic farm is difficult. Mr. Perron’s corn is non-GMO, grown in a field that has never been exposed to chemical pesticides—it’s almost difficult to believe. The farm is certified organic, and sells meat, eggs and produce at a local farmers’ market, as well as selling at a discount to families struggling to afford groceries.
The Perrons feed their livestock an entirely vegetarian diet, from excess produce to table scraps (we produced no trash during our stay—everything had a recycled purpose). The animals are pastured, watched over, loved. When it’s time to kill a cow, Mr. Perron won’t do it in the butchering room. He says the cows know what that room is for. Instead, he leads the cow out to pasture, lays his hands on it and speaks a French prayer. When the shot rings out and the animal falls, it has no concept of what is happening.
Mr. Perron approaches all of life with this passion. Each morning, he gets up around 4:00 to go to the chapel he built for morning prayers. The day is filled with farm labor and, when he gets the opportunity, education. His grandchildren are many, and most of them live nearby. From a very young age, they learn the ways of the farm, even helping with the animals in the summer. Mr. Perron is a strong promoter of organic farming—he’s well-read on the dangers and perils of GMOs, pesticides and commercial farming, and he loves to educate visitors about these matters. He’s a proponent of raw milk, saying the pasteurization process makes it less digestible, and sold raw milk from his farm until the government found out and wouldn’t allow it.
I don’t know if I agree with Mr. Perron on all points. I know all issues have multiple viewpoints, and that there are pros and cons to Mr. Perron’s farming methods. Still, there’s something special about Morrill Farm. Maybe it’s in the way a family and community of people work together, eat together, pray together, live together, or the beautiful French words of Mr. Perron’s prayer, or the hope he has in the future of organic farming. Whatever it was, I came away from the experience with much food for thought (pun intended), and a new perspective on the food I put on my table and in my mouth.