Living off the land
Amy Warner and fiance Toby Stockford think a lot alike. They hunt and enjoy homesteading, living off their land in Alna as much as possible. That means less reliance on a grocery store; it’s also become a source of income from products that include organic eggs and pork.
Warner and Stockford, whose family once owned Wiscasset’s Morris Farm, started Old Narrow Gauge Farm about two and half years ago near the railway the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum honors. The couple built all the farm’s fencing and other structures, including farrowing housing for the sows to give birth and raise their piglets through weaning.
The farm produces jams, jellies and other goods from berries and fiddleheads the couple forage for.
“There’s so much edible that people just don’t know about,” Warner said. The farm also sells an assortment of eggs from its free-ranging hens, watched over by the couple and some roosters. Each rooster has a group of hens.
Cornflake takes his name from Cornelius, the rooster on a box of Corn Flakes, Warner said.
The birds put themselves in the coop at night. After dark, Stockford and Warner count them and close the coop.
The eggs are certified as organic; that’s a little unusual with free-range, laying hens because they might eat wild bird feed or be exposed to compost with non-organic items, Warner said. However, the compost pile’s distant location and the couple’s avoidance of feeding wild bird feed helped clear those hurdles to certification.
Free-range was important to her because it’s healthier for the birds, she said.
The farm’s Gloucestershire Old Spot, or G.O.S. pigs are a heritage breed that has gone from critically endangered to the improved status of threatened, Warner said. “Old British legend says that the spots are bruises from falling apples, because the breed is traditionally a cottage pig or an orchard pig,” she said.
The farm is a member of the Livestock Conservative, a national organization.
Heritage pigs are starting to come back into popularity, Warner said.
The G.O.S. is a docile breed, making the pigs easier to manage than some; that factored into the choice to raise them. The G.O.S. also invades tree roots less than some breeds do, Warner added. “(That’s) another nice quality. A lot of these commercial trees would have been dead (because another breed) would have rooted so extensively.”
The farm sells both pork and registered breed stock.
“You want to make sure you’re following the breed characteristics. Not every piglet’s going to make a good registered breeder. Sometimes the ears are too short, or the nose is too long.”
The key to going organic is keeping the animals in a healthy environment; antibiotics can still be used if an animal gets sick, and then that animal couldn’t be sold as organic for meat. But in organic management, the animals don’t have to be raised on antibiotics, Warner said.
“You make sure everybody’s got enough room (and) access to fresh water, organic grain (and) forage. Then you look at, OK, am I having a parasite problem? Why? Have I had them on the ground too long? You’ve got to really troubleshoot.”
Warner plans to focus even more on the farm when she ends her service as Alna’s town clerk in early 2016. Stockford expects to keep working full-time, for Maine Land Enterprises in Wiscasset. That makes Warner’s help during the day all the more important, he said.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel truly blessed to have Amy in my life,” Stockford said. “Amy may not have grown up around farming, but her work ethic and her thirst for knowledge (are) beyond anything I’ve seen in my life.”
When he gets home, he helps out, with the aid of a head lamp after dark.