Fellow residents help Tom Albee reopen Alna farm stand

Posted:  Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 7:45am

Tom Albee said if it weren’t for volunteers’ help in recent years, he wouldn’t still be able to farm his Route 218, Alna land, in his family since the mid-1880s. Now residents are stepping up to help him reopen his farm stand. Closed the past two years, it will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting this Friday, June 2.

Albee, 77, once a machinist’s mate in the Navy, has asbestosis. He is on oxygen 24/7. He can drive a tractor, but not do the hands-on work in the field where his peas, greens, tomatoes, peppers, blueberries and many other foods grow. Since the stand’s been closed, produce has been sold off-site. In addition to the stand, the produce will be available again this year at the The Alna General Store, The Morris Farm Store and the Gardiner Farmers Market, he said.

“It means everything,” he said about the help he gets on planting, weeding and harvesting, and now the return of the stand. “People talk about community-supported agriculture – this is it to the nth degree.”

Among the volunteers is Melissa Spinney, Alna’s second selectman. She started helping after Albee’s wife Pat died in 2014. Spinney has been an inspiration to him at the farm, Albee said.

“I like helping there because Tom is a good friend, we have fun and the farm is a longstanding part of the community that I want to see continue as long as possible,” Spinney explained via email Sunday. “I have heard many people (are) happy about the reopening of the stand,” she added. “And it makes me happy to see people in the community enjoying what we grow.”

In a phone interview, fellow volunteer Amy Preston, owner of Windy Ledge Farm and former owner of The Alna Store, cited similar reasons for helping. “I’ve always loved Tom and his family. And with all the changes in his life ... we just got involved.” At first, people responded to requests Preston helped get online. Now the effort has developed into share-paying, commitments of labor and breaks on produce. Preston, who hopes to add some of her farm’s goods to the stand later this season, said she calls it a “collaborative” because groups of people are working together toward a common goal: “It’s to help support Tom and keep the farm going.”

Humans are not the only ones helping. When a reporter visited Saturday, Albee pointed out two areas of bumble bee hives, including one set on the edge of the farm. A Whitefield man owns those and gets the honey from them, Albee said. The bees help with many crops, from blueberries to squash. Their work is especially important after last winter, when a lack of snow cover subjected plants to alternating freezes and thaws, he said. 

Covering the ground with straw helped, although some of the straw blew off. “That’s the way it is, in farming.”

Over the season, Albee expects the stand to also have melons, cauliflower, yellow and green beans, cabbages, lettuce, spinach, beet greens, cilantro, gladiolas and more, including the items from Preston’s farm and Amy and Toby Stockford’s Old Narrow Gauge Farm, also in Alna. Amy Stockford said the stand will probably have their farm’s canned foods, like blueberry jam and pickled fiddleheads, and organic eggs.

The stand will open at about 9 a.m. and close about 8 p.m. Fridays and about 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Albee said.

“People are thrilled because of the quality his produce is known for, and it’s delicious,” Preston said. Just being able to shop in town on Sunday is another good thing, she said. “And it’s in the center of town. I just think of it as sort of the heartbeat of the town.”