TOWN HILL — A local farm has shifted its cultivation practices in an attempt to minimize its environmental impact.
Bar Harbor Farm is an organic, sustainable vegetable farm that was started by Glenon and Gary Friedmann and partner Rose Avenia in 2011. After leasing 15 acres of farmland on the Gilbert Farm Road for several years, Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) helped the founders buy the farm while placing an agricultural easement on the land so it could never be subdivided.
The farm, which has been certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, has over 60 types of vegetables, an orchard and chickens. Glenon said the farm’s variety of produce ranges from watermelons and cantaloupes in July to squash in the fall.
“We do have limited melons because it’s hard to grow them on the coast of Maine,” she said. For some produce, the yield depends on the summer’s gradually rising temperatures. “We’ve had better melon years lately because summers have been getting warmer,” said Glenon, who added that the farm grows large quantities of leafy greens and tomatoes in June – all while being mindful of also cultivating a positive impact on the environment.
Rather than overloading their fields with chemical fertilizers, the owners practice alternative methods to sustain and build fertility of the soils.
“We’ve moved to a new system of growing plants in the last couple of years,” said Glenon. Prior to the new system, Glenon said the farm turned soil with tractors and rototillers to kill off perennial grasses. “Only recently, we have realized that any soil disturbance compromises the microbial community,” Glenon said.
Their agricultural practices are now designed to sequester carbon in the soil, which Gary said is not agriculture but permaculture – a practice that helps ecosystems flourish. Without tractors or rototillers disrupting the soil, nutrients are restored in the carbon-rich soil to grow healthy crops.
The farm reduces soil exposure by planting crop cover to nourish biodiversity in the soil. Rye, Glenon said, is an excellent cover crop. Rye is planted and then flattened and covered with tarps for future planting.
The process of crimping, which involves farmers using a board to flatten tall stalks of rye, is a manual way to produce a ground cover that holds soil in place against erosion. Crimping increases soil suitability while building resistance to drought and flooding.
According to Glenon, rye’s deep roots help prevent compaction in annually tilled fields because its roots are quite extensive. “When you move it [rye], everything underneath it is broken down as a microbial community and then you can plant right into it,” she said. The farm also uses a tarp to keep nutrients trapped inside the soil to enrich the soil.
In addition to cover crops, the farm uses chicken manure and composted matter to fertilize their plants.
Instead of pesticides, crops are covered with a thin mesh to prevent critters from destroying them. “We get leaves delivered by local landscapers as well as chips we use for mulching. All are forms of organic matter that we’re trying to increase in the soil,” said Avenia.
Solar panels provide power for everything from the irrigation system to heating and cooling in their greenhouse. Crops are fed with water pumped from an artesian well.
The farm is subsidized by its Community Supported Agricultural program, commonly referred to as a CSA.
“Our primary market is our 145-member CSA,” said Glenon. The farm has summer and fall CSA shares for locals interested in agriculture – all while being mindful of also cultivating a positive impact on the environment. “We even have a bunch of high school students that work on the farm who come to work Saturday mornings,” she said. She added that the farm also sells wholesale to area restaurants and food pantries, and in the winter the farm’s produce can be accessed online through MDI Farm Drop.
For more information about Bar Harbor Farm, visit its Facebook page or www.barharborfarm.net.