by Esther J. Perne
It's a family farm, a protected farm, a "forever farm" and arguably the last working farm in Belgrade. Winterberry Farm on Route 27 is best known for its attractive roadside stand where customers stop for vegetables, flowers, preserves and baked goods, especially "pies, pies, pies."
Customers also stop at Winterberry Farm for the tantalizing smells, the warm reception, and the glimpse of an old-fashioned lifestyle, where someone — the owner Mary Perry or her student interns or her children or the farm's volunteer workers — is sure to be busy with the back-to-the-basics of farm life, for beyond the farm stand and down over the hill from the 140-year-old barn is a world of cultivation that provides 50 CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) members, the farm workers, and the family with an extensive range of fresh produce.
Although the farm's pastureland, where the work ponies graze, extends toward Great Pond, it is the garden operation that attracts a visitor's attention. Row upon row of organically grown vegetables, carefully weeded and hand watered are the basis for the weekly distribution to CSA members. Each spring the gardens are plowed by over a dozen teams of oxen from a local club, but all of the planting, tending, even covering the growing plants to protect them from the hot sun is all done by hand, except for the rooting of the fallow field, which is the job of the farm's pigs Emily and Jefferson. The farm has been certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
In addition to the fields, there is a greenhouse and two high-tunnel barns to extend the growing season. And in addition to the pigs, the farm has sheep (for wool and for mowing the lawn), steer — son Gil's project — turkeys (available for Thanksgiving), hens and quail (for eggs), and the ponies (for plowing and for sleigh rides in the winter).
Purchased by Mary Perry 12 years ago, the Winterberry Farm is a holdover from the hundreds of farms that once were the hallmark of the Belgrade region. With its large barn and spacious house, this 40-acre property, which has been farmed off and on since the 1870s, was perfect for Mary's dreams of working the land, of raising her children in a healthy lifestyle, and of assuring that the farm would be here for future generations.
Winterberry Farm recently became a "Forever Farm". A program of the Maine Farmland Trust,"Forever Farms" is a way to celebrate the growing success of farmland protection efforts in Maine. Over 55 "Forever Farm" signs have been installed across the state on farmland that has been permanently protected through agricultural easements. Agricultural easements prevent the land from being developed for non-agricultural purposes and ensure the land will be forever available for farming.
"It is a great feeling to know that I am an owner of a farm that will be here for future generations," said Perry, whose children, Kenya, Gil, and Sage also work on the farm. "It is imperative that my children know the importance of where their food comes from. Preserving farmland is the most important way we can guarantee our future generations are most healthy," Perry added.