Whitehill Farm can be found on McCrillis Corner Road, about a mile and a half in. If you’re past the hill you’ve gone too far. The house and property, greenhouses, and raised beds belong to Amy and Mike LeBlanc. Though things have quieted for the season, there is plenty on the property sitting in wait beneath the early cover of winter.
Amy is an accomplished music educator who made her career teaching public school and as a private instructor. She brings a wealth of experience with her approach to learning in her vegetable gardens, and in instructing interns on the farm. Amy also currently teaches adult ed courses where she shares her knowledge about food preservation and aims to impart the experience of growing food as a journey beginning with starting seeds, nurturing plants, harvesting, preservation and preparation.
It’s clear that Amy’s zest for life and curiosity are boundless. Part of what makes farming such an exciting endeavor for her is being able to pass on skills and information about growing food to empower future generations. Whitehill Farm currently produces and sells eggs, herbs, vegetables, pickles. and value-added herbal products through the Western Maine Market and the Farmington Farmer’s Market.
The relationship Amy has to her farm is one described as “uncharted” and has allowed new interests to shape the path of the operation as time passes. What began as a backyard project to provide food for her family evolved into a deep interest and reverence for growing thousands of different tomato varieties. Amy eventually became known to some as the “Tomato Lady”. She then turned her passion into a booming seedling business, which included the development of an expansive catalog of heirloom tomato varieties. Those endeavors and responsibilities have since been passed on to a former intern and student of hers, allowing space and time for other ventures on the farm.
Connection and enrichment have accompanied a series of joys and challenges since.
Amy has created a unique line of value-added products inspired by customer interests. She has created an extensive line of herbal blends for cooking and starting meals, juices, jams and jellies, catnip toys, and green garlic scape powder! Her more recent projects include growing and drying corn on the cob to grind for fresh cornmeal, as well as using dried corn kernels to make jewelry. She is also experimenting with growing some small fruit including plums, apples, blueberries, and Aronia berries.
Organic principles are very important to Amy who has had her farm certified as “Real” which allows for a more well-rounded approach to organic growing through a focus on land stewardship and soil management. Amy’s experiences farming in Italy and New Zealand through Worldwide opportunities on Organic Farms solidified her commitment to growing organically as a testament to human health and respect for the environment.
She is attentive to the management and plans of her beds and growing spaces, and lets each previous season better inform her future plans. Amy marks fall garlic planting as “the spiritual end of the growing season,” while providing a glimmer of excitement for next season’s first pickled delight; garlic scapes! As the season ends, beds are treated with layers of compost and heavy mulch to condition the soil, some left with plant roots intact to help support the soil structure. The days now are filled with deliberate rotational crop planning for beds, making decisions on what to grow, and developing and planning new products-particularly culinary herb blends. Amy feels it’s “important to learn at least one new thing, and to have at least one hearty laugh each day.”
Amy spoke both thoughtfully and with abundant passion about the future of farming and aims to continue growing as long as she is able. She describes the journey as incredibly rewarding, and as, “a complete and total festival of teaching people and having the pleasure of eating what you’ve grown.” She is excited about the advancement of food security, particularly in western Maine. The advice she gives to those looking to farm or to develop a closer connection to their food is “allow yourself to succeed at a few small things and let that inspire you.” She also encourages working with farmers to develop and strengthen practical skills. As for her own operation, she aims to “work within practical bounds” to scale down gradually, and has plans to relocate beds closer in proximity to other growing projects for greater accessibility. The vibrance she brings to this work truly enriches the experience, and it’s clear that she will continue to inspire many more that meet and learn from her.
Focus on Farming is a monthly feature written by members of the Greater Franklin Food Council. The mission of the Greater Franklin Food Council (GFFC) is to foster a healthy food system in greater Franklin County by bringing people together to ensure access to nutritious local food, support local farmers, and advocate for food related programs that strengthen local communities. The work is accomplished through the development of partnerships, outreach, and education.