|Green Spark Farm, Cape Elizabeth, Maine|
CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine -- Mary Ellen and Austin Chadd credit their professors and mentors in helping them to form a holistic approach to farming. They view their farm as a human-manipulated ecosystem and they passionately caretake the health of its ecology while growing their MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) certified organic produce.
Mary Ellen became a Master Composter while studying at the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine in upstate New York. She continued her studies in Ecological Agriculture at the Evergreen State College in Washington, where she met Austin. Austin was in the same course of study and was working as the farm assistant at Evergreen’s Student Farm. He grew up farming on his father’s farm in the foothills of Mount Rainier. After college, and before moving back to Portland, the two worked together at an organic market farm, giving them experience they find invaluable to their current lives growing and marketing produce from their own farm. They completed the Journeyperson Program of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and, with the help of that program and extensive local networking, grew from farming out of an apartment to leasing 13 acres in Cape Elizabeth and farming full time.
Cape Elizabeth farmer friends provided both equipment and wisdom for their process of turning sod ground that had been fallow for 25 years into bountiful vegetable production. The Chadds extend their growing season by using low tunnels and floating row covers. They have just finished a small high tunnel and have received an NRCS High Tunnel grant which will allow them to put up a larger hoophouse this year. Although most of inland Maine is in plant hardiness zones 3-4, Mary Ellen says, “We are lucky to farm in ‘the tropics of Maine’ with a coastal temperature Zone 5+ climate.”
Mary Ellen and Austin pay strong attention to the soil microbial community and plant nutrient-uptake to help make their wide selection of vegetables healthy and nutritious. They choose to cultivate biodiversity on their farm by growing rare and heirloom vegetables, enchanted by their histories and stories. The beautiful and sometimes strange vegetables add rich variety to their market offerings. They sell at two farmer's markets, a farm stand, and to several restaurants. They also offer CSA shares that are redeemable at the farm stand or farmers markets.
As young farmers, they are grateful to the mentors who have helped them hone their skills, many of whom have also become good friends. “They taught us that sustainable agriculture is as much about community building and ecological responsibility as it is about economic sustainability,” Mary Ellen said.
For more information, visit greensparkfarm.com.