Just off Porter Hill Road on the Owen Mann Road in Farmington sprawls Porter Hill Farm, a hilltop gem of 23 acres owned by Nancy and Burt Knapp. A beautiful red barn built in 1800 – sporting a new barn quilt – dominates the landscape.
Burt and Nancy are both retired physicians with 70 years of medical experience between them, much of that time spent practicing in the Greater Portland area. They are clearly passionate about health and nutrition and are careful stewards of their land as well. The wiry couple sell spring, summer, and winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares, seasonal vegetables and fruit. They also sell to their CSA members and to the community at large through the Western Maine Online Market, the Better Living Center, their farmstand, and individual shoppers.
This summer there were 36 CSA members who picked up neatly organized boxes of fresh produce every Wednesday from late June through September. The Knapps also cut and sell baled hay from the rolling fields that surround their vegetable gardens. (If you are looking for hay, there will be more cut next summer so place your order now.) They follow organic practices and are proud of the quality and consistency of their food.
Farming is demanding and when I asked Burt and Nancy what particular challenges they face, they noted consistent irrigation has been an issue; finding help; and growing sequentially to meet the demands of a growing market. Rising production costs are also on their minds, although conversion of the farm to solar has helped significantly decrease energy costs.
Burt and Nancy spent more than an hour with me and as I sat in their voluminous red barn dodging very active swallows, I kept noting how many times they talked about the social aspect of farming. Their eyes lit up when discussing the interactions they have with their customers. Whether it is sharing the virtues of an heirloom tomato or playfully arguing about which corn is the sweetest, they clearly enjoy sharing their love of farming and its physical and emotional benefits.
Both said they will farm as long as they can as it is a passion and they are compulsive people. They are aging but do not see stopping in the near future. They are, however, looking to the future and considering the legacy of their land. They hope to involve young farmers and use the land for educational opportunities.
In the meantime, Burt and Nancy are so busy planning, weeding, harvesting and donating their time, talent and treasure to philanthropic causes; they don’t have much time to dwell on what lies ahead. Burt has long been a guiding force in Arts Farmington and Nancy volunteers for United Way and Western Maine Audubon. Excess produce grown at Porter Hill Farm is donated to Care and Share Food Closet in Farmington.
The Knapps believe strongly in local agriculture and hope you want to “know your farmer.” I know that I have welcomed the opportunity to get to know Burt and Nancy and look forward to my return visits to the farm. Next year I definitely will pick my own strawberries from their overflowing rows when they offer the chance to CSA members, and I must buy a few extra peaches to enjoy in some jam during the harsh winter months when I can bring up memories of warm summers and the fruits of Porter Hill Farm. I might just sit awhile, too, and marvel at the industrious nature of this couple who are sharing so much with so many.
Focus on Farming is a monthly column 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.