Summer lasts only about a 100 days (and not all of those sunny) and so this is our busiest time of year. We’ve been busy making hay, watching our new farm emerge from the forest and moving animals to maximize the lush green grass. Hay has been slow and steady with great yields due to our application of fall manure and this spring’s mix of rain and warm temperatures.
The land clearing began just about 2 weeks ago and we’re looking at 13 acres or so of future pasture and silvopasture. Jake and I spent several evenings walking the land and choosing a mix of big and small trees to leave for shade and future timber. The result will be a mixed hardwood forest with enough openings in the canopy to allow grass to grow while offering some shelter for our animals. We have been very pleased with the crew from Comprehensive Land Technologies.
Moving animals is a daily activity. Not every animal group moves each day, but each day there is a group to be moved. Our goats have been doing their annual road crew work, controlling the bittersweet along the road edge and clearing along the stone walls. The cows, seven of whom will calve in the fall are getting wider and wider with all the fresh grass they are consuming.
You can now order your Holiday Birds! Our Thanksgiving turkeys arrived this week and they are the most feisty birds I think we’ve every had. In just a few short weeks they will head out on pasture where they will be eating a mix of clovers and grasses supplemented by certified organic grain until they are ready to grace your table. We are raising two groups of geese this year to expand availability. Our summer geese have been acting as night watchmen, protecting our chickens from a Great Horned Owl that lives on the farm. The owl’s nocturnal visits usually come at the cost of a broiler so putting a pair of geese in with the broilers scares off the owl.
Follow these links to reserve your turkey or goose.
Christmas in July! We are offering 20% off all our sheepskins and goat hides July 22 – July 29. You can visit us at market or order online– use code JULY17.
Thank you for a great start to the season! Our crowdfunding campaign was successful due to your support. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on our progress throughout the season. Several of you asked about the nest box technology we’ll be using. One of the companies that makes the “Roll-away” nest boxes we’ll be using made this neat video that explains how they work and the benefits for both hen and farmer.
Learning to be a good leader
Rye is monitoring grass growth on a daily basis.
We, along with the animals are impatiently awaiting the April showers to give way to the May flowers. We had a group of ewes escape their winter paddock over the weekend and that taste of grass has ruined their appetite for hay! Since our animals are used to be out and moved around, you can imagine that being in their winter paddock for the last few months has gotten really boring. The goat nursery is anything but with 25 kids running around. Rainy days find the kids jumping on overturned tubs, on their mom’s back or snoozing in the hay. Its a great place to spend a few minutes relaxing at the end of the day. We had our final lamb of the season and he has joined one of the most varied and personable groups of lambs I’ve met. One stand-out is Bill, his mom Barracuda is pretty infamous as she is loud and bossy. But any complaints I’ve had about her have been silenced by the sweet presence of Bill.
We are launching a Market Share CSA. The program is modeled after a traditional CSA where the farmers receive payment upfront in return for a share of the harvest throughout the season. In Apple Creek’s model you will receive a 10% bonus for every $100 share purchased. So a $110 market share will be priced at $100, a $220 market share for the price of $200 and so on. When you purchase a Market Share you’ll receive a card loaded with your share amount to use on whatever products you’d like throughout the 2017 season. The card can be used at any of our markets including the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Farmers’ Market and the Brunswick Farmers Market. More details and the sign up for can be foundhere.
We have TWO new pates in our line-up! Our new beef liver pate and chicken liver mousse, like all our value-added products are made by Jenn Legnini of Turtle Rock Farm using ingredients grown here in Maine. We plan to have fresh chicken mousse available weekly and frozen beef pate throughout the summer.
In the agriculture community the idea of “scaling-up” – whether it means getting big or “right-sizing” your operation- is frequently discussed. What “scaling up” commonly refers to is a farm diversifying its market channels to include not only direct to consumer sales (CSA, farmers’ markets, farm stands) but also wholesaling products to local foods stores, supermarkets or distributors. I think many readers will be familiar with the phrase of Earl Butz, “Get Big or Get Out” which became the rallying cry for commodity agriculture and large scale farms. I worry that this “Scaling-Up” idea may be construed as the same idea with just updated marketing. It also concerns me that by simply saying we are scaling up our farm, our customers would think we’re just getting bigger, not getting better. So, I began to mull over how we might clarify increasing the size, scale and efficiency of our farm.
Our aspirations include marketing some of our products through wholesale channels, hiring apprentices or other help while providing an income to both of Jake and I to work full-time on the farm. But our pressing concern is supplying our existing markets in Brunswick. To do so, over the last three years we’ve been “growing out”- increasing our number of ewes and does for breeding, adding a 100 or so more broilers to our poultry. We’ve done this to such a degree that we’ve also grown out of our existing barns!
Between 2014 and 2017, all of the farm operations were based on land leased from Jake’s family. In 2014, as part of our future farm vision, we purchased an adjacent 70-acre property that we call “North Ridge”. This property is where, this year we plan to build a hoop house for our chickens, a large barn for our sheep and goats, a hoop barn for equipment, hay and feed storage and our farmhouse. These plans also include renovating our existing two-car garage to include a farm store, egg processing room, walk-in freezer and cooler. Over the last year we worked with The Resilience Hub in Portland to design a site plan illustrating our vision.
This plan is an extremely helpful tool, so let’s talk about what is included:
A clearing project that will remove trees from two existing, fenced paddocks as well as the sloped areas located along the road frontage. This will create additional grazing areas for cows, sheep and goats.
A Hoop house will serve as a winter shelter for our chickens. At present, we are limited to just two portable coops (pictured below) which house 125 birds each. Building the hoop house will allow us to increase our flock to 500 hens. This means more eggs at market (HOORAY!) and the ability to supply new markets such as CSA and local food stores. The hoop house will include such amenities as running water and electricity so that we can provide water indoors without having to carry 5-gallon buckets of water over mud, ice and snow. We are launching a crowdfunding campaign through the platform, Barnraiser to kickstart this project. To view the project in full please visit: http://www.barnraiser.us/projects/apple-creek-farm-hatching-an-expansion
A Barn will provide more space for our breeding does and ewes. We need this to separate groups for flushing, breeding and lambing. As you can see in the photo above (Detail of Site Plan) there will be several paddocks where we can sort animals by their body condition, age or other factors. The new barn will allow us to feed everyone under cover which is particularly important as the Spring and Fall tend to be longer and wetter. Winter has come to include wider variations of temperature which are tough on the animals and making feeding outdoors (without wasting grain in the rain or wind) rather difficult.
A Hoop barn will create storage to keep our tractors, balers and other equipment out of the weather, stack round bales of hay under cover to reduce spoilage and work on equipment out of the rain.
A Farmhouse is a key component of having the farm infrastructure move to this location. The house will be modest and designed with aging in mind. We look forward to having a guest room for friends & family to come and visit!
The Garage renovation will create space for a farm store, which we plan to open in Fall 2017. The store will be modest, open once a week and be the meeting location for farm tours and on-farm events (coming in 2018). We’ll also build an egg processing room where we can wash, grade and pack eggs. Perhaps my favorite addition to this space will be a walk-in freezer. Presently we rent very affordable and reliable freezer space in Bangor. Over the last three years we have used this space to store and build our inventory for Brunswick Winter Market. Though inexpensive, it has taken an increasing amount of time to manage inventory and transport product to and from the facility. Building a freezer on-site will help us spend more time on the farm and more storage for our products. A walk-in cooler will be used to store fresh product which is frequently requested at market. Building a walk-in will mean we can sell fresh chicken at both farmers’ markets during the summer and direct from the farm. It will also mean all Thanksgiving turkeys can be picked up FRESH!You may be asking, “what about the land you’ve been using?” We will continue to lease 70 acres of land from Jake’s family, the land that we call “the home farm.” Located there are the sheep & cow barns where we will continue to house our finishing lambs and kids and our cow/calf pairs. Since our farming methods won’t be changing we will still be using all of the land on both “the home farm” and “North Ridge” as well as leased land off the farm.
Lambing is underway! So far lambs have been arriving every 12 hours and wow, that would be amazing if that pace kept right up.
In case you missed it- our annual report is now available. For those of you unfamiliar, the report is our opportunity to share the year’s numbers and statistics through infographics. We had an amazing season despite the lack of rain and our thanks goes out to all of you for purchasing our products and coming out to markets. We have finalized many of our poultry orders for 2017 and geese will be BACK!
Please mark your calendars and plan to join us at Open Farm Day. This year’s date will be Sunday, July 23rd. The date coincides with the Maine’s state-wide Open Farm Day as well as Bowdoinham’s Farm & Art Trail. As in the past a local foods BBQ will be held in the afternoon. The farm will be open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm for tours, an opportunity to meet the animals and to visit our pop-up farm store.
If you’re looking for a unique addition to your Easter celebrations you can find it at Wilbur’s Chocolates in Brunswick or Freeport. Janet learned the art of making these ornate “panorama” decorative eggs from Jake’s great grandmother, Lucienne Galle. The eggs are filled with tiny figures and each is accompanied by a story about the animal inside, imagining a life on Apple Creek Farm. You can read more about this tradition in a past post, Eggs of All Sizes.
We’ve added an online store for our sheepskins and goat hides. While these are available at the farmers market year-round the online store will be stocked with an entirely different inventory. Our hides are tanned by the kind folks of Vermont Natural Sheepskins and by the traditional craftspeople of Buck’s County Fur Products.
Wow December! It has been cold!!
We can tell just how cold by how frosty an animal’s nose and whiskers are, or by how much ice is on Jake’s beard by the end of chores. We keep everyone warm with plenty of water, extra bedding and as much food as possible. Our 2017 laying hens arrived just as the temperatures dipped really low, so they are in the basement until we can add extra insulation to their brooder trailer. These gals (a mix of barred rock and black sex links) will be laying by summer. In the meantime our hens are laying surprisingly well despite having the weather and daylight against them. For us, the chief advantage of this cold weather is that we can pack for market on Friday night, enabling us to have a bit more time to linger over our coffee on Saturday mornings.
This Saturday, December 24th we will be at the Brunswick Winter Market inside Fort Andross. We’ll have all three types of pate made by Turtle Rock Farm— chicken, turkey and lamb. These are delicious (if we do say so ourselves) and handy during the holiday visiting season.
In addition we will have our inventory of sheepskins & goat hides. All sheepskins will be on sale, just in time for any last minute gift giving.
The farm has had a very successful year, thanks to our supportive community & customers! Look for our annual year-end report in the next few weeks. We’ll be sharing our plans for the farm’s expansion to our adjacent land!
The fall has been downright gorgeous with so many colorful trees around the farm! It has been a glorious backdrop for all our late summer and fall activities. We’ve been raking up huge bags of leaves to feed the goats through the winter. They delight in the crunch so much we call them goat “chips.” We’ve also been putting ewes into breeding groups and have incorporated a new, Clun Forest Ram. If you recall Sam our bull then you’ll want to check out the photos on the farm’s Facebook page to see his calves. We have had two so far and are waiting on three more. Our goats spent the end of summer grazing at Six River Farm, helping to clean up some woods edges and cover crops. We are so glad for the collaboration with other farms particularly when grass was in short supply. Because of this, it was fortunate that we are not raising geese this year. We will resume raising them in 2017. If you had been planning on a goose for your holiday table let us know, we can help you choose another one of our delicious options.
If you haven’t seen us at market recently then you’ve missed meeting our new canine ambassador, Rye. He is a rescue pup from Arkansas who has filled the giant holes in our lives and hearts left by our previous dog, Chicory. Since Rye won’t be able to attend Brunswick Winter Market inside Fort Andross be sure to stop by on Tuesdays at Brunswick Farmers Market or on Saturdays at Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Market at Crystal Spring Farm. We are still taking orders for Thanksgiving turkeys and our market schedule is below.
Lamb is back! So many of our customers have been waiting patiently- thank you! Our lamb is 100% grass-fed which is part of the reason for the wait. We graze our lambs all summer and this year was particularly tricky with the drought to provide enough forage to help them grow.
We have turkeys for your Thanksgiving celebration. Follow this link to order yours. Birds will range from 12-20+ pounds, are priced at $5 a pound and are certified organic. We are proud to raise our birds outside, on pasture supplemented by certified organic grains. Our birds are processed at Weston’s Meat & Poultry in West Gardiner one of our local processors who are now MOFGA Certified Organic. We thank the staff at Weston’s and in MOFGA’s Agricultural Services Department for their help in making this happen!
We are now able to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) & EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) at all our market locations. It has taken us a good long while to get there (we started the process in March) but are now equipped with a new EBT card reader and wireless printer. If you receive these benefits you can access the full range of Apple Creek Farm products. We’re really excited to be even more accessible!
We’re adding new products to our current line-up of certified organic meats! These include ground turkey, drumsticks, wings and backs. This will lengthen our turkey season which had been limited to whole birds for Thanksgiving.
One of our goals is to be able to offer all of our products year round. So, getting turkeys in the early spring to be finished in late summer is one way to do that.
Our turkey poults arrived in the same way as most of our poultry, as day old birds shipped via the US Postal Service. We had ordered all toms (males) in order to maximize their ability to grow out relatively quickly. Keeping the poults warm during a Maine spring is no easy feat! We used between 2-4 heat lamps at any given point during the day to ensure even heat of nearly 90 degrees. After 4 weeks, once the poults are fully feathered we allowed them outdoor access using small wooden fences. Each fence is constructed of strapping covered with chicken wire. An eye screw at each end allows us to use fiberglass poles to stake each panel. We build the panels at 4′ for the turkeys and then cover the outdoor area with shade cloth in order to protect them from predators and to keep them from flying out. The sound of a loose poult is very distinctive! After a week or so of the panels and tarp we began using Premier poultry netting to keep them contained. These fences are key to our operation and once electrified keep the turkeys in and other critters out!
Our birds grew a bit more slowly than in the past due to the lack of rain. The drought meant that new pastures weren’t as lush and rich so more frequent moves were needed.