Taking Root and Beginning the Harvest

Here is the latest update from the Bangor Daily News on the lives of the farmers we are working with.

In other news we have moved through a hot and dry summer together and everything seems to be proceeding in good order: we “filled in” for the farmers when they spent two nights away from the farm; we harvested our one long row (80′) of garlic beside the many long rows that the farmers had planted last fall; we helped them process 55 chickens (slaughter, pluck, gut, and freeze), most of which had been raised in the existing chicken tractors, in early August for our and their personal use; we have both admired the bumper crop of pears and apples that are developing in the orchard, and I am looking forward to making a good bit of hard cider this fall; they helped us move the Airstream, which had been sitting up buy our new house, down to it’s “final” resting spot between the raspberry patch and a few of the apple trees.

One of our biggest accomplishments was solving an issue with the 1948 Ford 8N tractor that had kept it from being in regular use (we still have a compact diesel Kubota doing the rest of the machine work). It would run well for the first ten or fifteen minutes, but then the engine would begin to choke and cut-off. If we waited a few minutes and then restarted the engine we could work for one or two minutes more before it would sputter and cut-off again. This was going to be a problem because I was counting on using the 8N for all the brush hogging around the shared fields, as well as my own fields, and losing the 8N would mean tight scheduling of the Kubota for mowing and all the other needs, especially as the farmers are interested in expanding their tilled working space. I had reserved a time for my ‘tractor guy’ to make a site visit and start tearing apart the governor to look for the issue, but he suggested, before he arrive, that we try putting a makeshift heat shield between the fuel filter and the engine block just to rule out vapor lock. And wouldn’t you know, one sheet of aluminum foil later, I was up and mowing with the 8N for hours at a time after that with no issues.

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Homestead Story

seedlingOur tenants’s story has attracted the attention of a local reporter, and the first in (what is hoped to be) a series of reports (including a video) on their progress of building their farm can now be found at the Bangor Daily News web site. It came out in the weekend paper today.

The reporter, Gabor Degre, is a photographer for the paper as well as a reporter and is focused on using video to tell the story. He had been intrigued by the growth of small farms started by young people in this area of Maine, and he found out about our tenants just as he was looking for someone to profile that might help describe this latest “back to the land” movement. As part of his reporting, Gabor has visited the farm multiple times and interview us as well.

The First Annual Meeting

Our first annual meeting of the Windswept Farmstead Cooperative, LLC took place in front of a roaring masonry heater in the Farmhouse on a blustery March evening ahead of sharing a dinner. Following are the items discussed and/or decided upon for the upcoming year. Attending were the current tenants and current members.

We reviewed several areas that were in need of repair, as well as improvements that the tenants would like to make (and pay for as allowed for in our LLC Agreement) and sought the Consent of Members for them. The tenants are planning a big event in the fall of 2015 and there was some discussion about the timeline and use of sub-assets for that event.

In addition there were some areas where the tenants wanted instruction, and we all discussed the best way for them to learn about these areas, either from one of the LLC members, or from a recommended outside source.

The Agreement

SEE IT HERE: Farmstead Cooperative LLC Agreement Template version 1.0 Build 150407

Linked above is a rendered version of the LLC Agreement that we will be using (minus our specific names, etc.) to organize our effort to create a Farmstead Cooperative. It is marked up with footnotes that I’ve added to help clarify some of the legalese, but also to emphasis some of the important concepts. Once downloaded you can “turn off” or remove these notes by manipulating the style sheet in the header. You can also work with the document in a word processor like Microsoft Word (see instructions below).

Yes it is LONG, and probably boring on a narrative level, but the idea behind it is that the language is based on legal precedent in an effort to create a structure that will perform exactly as we want it to perform in every possible challenging circumstance, especially if challenged in a court of Maine law.

In many ways, I’ve learned, that documents like this function within the legal system just like software functions when it is compiled and run by a digital processor. Software code is not easy for the lay reader to understand, but it is meant to perform a specific set of tasks for the user through the refractory of the digital processor. In that same way legal language is software programmed for the court system to perform a specific set of tasks. In that spirit, please enjoy.

[To simply save the document to your computer for off-line review click the link above and then use your browser’s “Save As” menu item to save the document as an .html file. Then you can open the off-line copy in a browser, or in a word processor (like Microsoft Word) — just make sure you set your word processor to open documents with a .html extension, usually called “Web Pages” naturally.]
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One Way To Do It

I can describe the specifics about how we went about forming our Farmstead Cooperative and then separately worked out a method that would allow some folks to become members of that FC. Our “one way” is probably unique to our collective situation (and therefore one of many ways to do it). The specifics described here are likely unique to our group. Another group may decide to organize in a different manner, as they should, according to their own collective requirements and goals.
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The Manifesto

Manifesto DeliveryTransferring access to farm land (partially or completely) using a Farmstead Cooperative is not easy. In fact when compared to a cash sale, mortgage sale, or lease agreement it’s probably the most difficult method for a seller to use. Significantly, while it allows for shared access to land, it also demands shared responsibility for that land as long as one remains an equity member of any fraction.

The Farmstead Cooperative idea became the only way I could achieve our goals of keeping our farm agriculturally viable into the future, and offering a new farmer fair equity when they worked to maintain and improve the land. As we began the formal process of creating an “entity” under which we could organize the idea of a working Farmstead Cooperative, I sent a letter to the lawyer that we had chosen to work with on the transfer paperwork. He immediately dubbed it “The Manifesto.”

The letter reworked the outline we had sent to a lawyer friend who helped us find a Maine lawyer who specialized in land use issues. I used the letter to organize and clarify the ideas I had been thinking about around this effort, and to help me communicate to the lawyer what we wanted to create.


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Our Story

My wife and I moved to mid-coast Maine from Boston in 1990. We both had grown up in the suburbs, and we both had lived an urban life after college. We enjoyed the Big City, but we wondered what was out there beyond the last street light. Mostly I wondered — having worked in many food services positions (cook, waiter, bakery manager) through high school, college, and post-college — where did the ingredients prepared and consumed come from before they were hauled through the service entrance in boxes, big bags, and tubs? I thought, “surely we could spend a year investigating that mystery and then return to Boston with wisdom and experience well beyond our peers?”
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