“We’re the luckiest farmers in Maine” says pasture aficionado, Joe Grady of Two Coves Farm. But it’s probably the folks living in the historic seaside community of Harpswell, steeped in lobstering tradition and providing scenic vistas for vacationers, who are the lucky ones, as the farm balances out their seafood diets with local, pasture raised meat and garden delicacies.
Joe and Laura Grady along with children, Yvette, Muriel, and Little Joe, have one of the prettiest addresses around. The 88 acre, 1800 circa farm is nestled upslope of Mill Cove and Widgeon Cove (hence the name), on the cusp of the Atlantic ocean. The neck used to be jammed with farms, particularly dairies. This particular piece of fertile soil was in the cross-hairs of developers. “At one time the fields were staked out for McMansions”, said Joe.
Like a love story of sorts, the land, formerly known as the Dunning Farm, was bought in 2006 and saved from the excavator by a long-time local family. The family who prefers to remain out of the public eye placed the property in Maine Farmland Trust and Two Coves was designated a Maine Forever Farm with an agricultural conservation easement, which secured it as the only commercial farm operating in Harpswell today.
In 2009, fate connected the two families and the land, and a thriving farm business was soon born. Joe and Laura moved to the Dunning Farm from a smaller farm they operated in Hiram, Maine. Before that, they managed a community farm in Rindge, New Hampshire. In starting at Two Coves, Joe also taught at Casco Bay High School in Portland and was part of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Journeyman program while Laura nurtured the farm enterprises and home schooled their kids. “We believed in wanting to grow our own food and being leaders in the food movement, but also had to balance the finances until we could get going full-time”, said Joe.
“Our mission is to grow the best food on earth for our customers and community. To achieve this, our goal is to raise healthy and happy animals on the most vibrant and diverse pastures”.
Today the diversified farm raises produce, 75 sheep, 600 broilers, 100 turkeys, 20 pigs, 350 pastured layers, 2 milk cows and 25 head of feeder cattle grazed on 40 acres in nearby Brunswick. They operate a vegetable and meat CSA, a farm store and have a licensed kitchen for making value added products. They participate in 2 farmers markets and run a 3 week farm and art camp for kids. Joe also provides sheep herding demonstrations and training for herding dogs. In a word, they are busy!
“We are blessed because of our great relationship with the farm’s owners and an abundance of customers who buy everything we produce. Our marketing approach is simple: Come and see how your food is being raised”, said Grady. Being transparent is vital to their success and pasturing animals make it very accessible for residents to see from the road with a patchwork of portable electric netting and small paddocks moved daily. ‘Pasture is our most important crop and view-scape”, said Grady.
Farming on a peninsula is not without its challenges. Haymaking on the 30 acres is very fickle next to the Atlantic, grain and inputs have to be trucked in from far away, large animal processing is quite a haul and like many farmers; vacations during the summer are slim. “We barter a lot to thrive,” said Laura. “It’s pretty unique to trade pastured pork or beef for services. The lobsters also draw special attention.”
The Gradys, like most multi-faceted farms, strive to find the financial balance between enterprises. “We are trying to streamline our daily chores so we have time for other endeavors or just some time for ourselves. With some new perimeter fencing and a new portable water system, we see positive things for the future.” said Grady.
The investment to ensure a vital local resource continues, and has Harpswell, Maine in good, calloused hands for the next generation.
To learn more about agricultural easements, visit www.mainefarmlandtrust.org.
Previously published by Lee Publications