[Snakeroot Organic Farm logo]
 • What's New Here
 • Snakeroot Poultry

 • About Our Farm
 • Annual Farm Tour
 • Community Supported
    Agriculture Plan (CSA)
Directions to our Farm
 • From a Run Out Hayfield to
    a Prosperous Organic Farm
    in Ten Easy Years

 • Get Real. Get Organic!
 • History of Our Farm
 • Pictures of the Farm
 • Where We Buy
 • Where We Sell
 • Our Yearly Work Schedule
 • Just Pretty
 • Subscribe to our e-newsletter.
 • Newsletter Archive.
 • What We Will & Won't Ship

 • Working Here
 • Our Apprentices
 • Our Farm Workers
 • Pictures of Us at Market

 • Fresh Vegetables
 • Fresh Fruit
 • Fresh Herbs
 • Perennials
 • Aloe - a magical plant
 • Our Bird Houses
 • Lupines
 • Rosemary Plants
 • Lovage, Tansy & Yarrow
 • Our Product Brochures
 • Dried Vegetables
 • Dried Culinary Herbs
 • Maple Syrup
 • Maple Syrup, p.2
 • Sugarin' Is Like Ice Fishin'
 • Our New Sugarhouse
 • Tomato Seedlings
 • Tomato Seeds We Offer
 • Tomato Seed Production
 • Paste Tomatoes
 • About Garlic
 • Garlic for Sale
 • Garlic Year Round
 • Mulching Garlic
 • Growing Rounds from Bulbils
 • Whole Bulbil Cluster Method
 • Planting Garlic

 • Using Mulches
 • Combatting Quackgrass
    with Mulch

 • We Want Your Leaves!
 • In Praise of Chips

 • Buying in Bulk for
    Storage, Canning & Freezing

 • Winter Storage Tips
 • How to Freeze Our Veggies
 • Building Techniques
 • Our Outbuildings
 • Evolution of the Farm Table
 • The Story of Our Cooler
 • Prepping Veggies for Market
 • Crop Rotations
 • Drip Irrigation
 • Low Pressure Water
 • Planting with Spreadsheets
 • Greenhouse Vegetable

 • Let-tuce Begin
 • Recipe Favorites
 • Our "Remay Roller"
 • Gardening Class Notes
 • Your Most Expensive Crop

 • Being Green
 • Digging Potatoes by Hand
 • Farmers' Markets in 2012
 • History of Pittsfield
 • Hybrids or Open Pollinated?
 • Making Websites
 • Open Source Software

    Our Retirement Plan
 • How Should a Farmer Retire?
 • Impediments to the want-to-be     farmer
 • Reducing the Value
    of the Land

 • Who Will Farm Here When
    We're Gone?

 • Apprentice Terms and Stages
 • From Apprentices to Partners
 • Transferring Farm Ownership

…and now for something completely different…

At dawn
Canoe bow waves are quickly lost
    on the shoreside
But go on out of sight
    on the lake side.


The constant swish-swish of skis
    On a day long ski.
The constant swish-swish of wiper blades
    On a day long drive.


My dog, trotting barefoot
Steps on a garden slug
And thinks
Nothing of it.


Word spreads quickly
as I approach the pond.
All becomes quiet.


Hidden in the vines
a large warted cucumber
jumps out of reach.
A toad!


Delicate puffs
of marshmallow snow
carefully perched
on a branch,
await the trigger of my hat
to melt their way down my back.

Deep in the tomato jungle
Fruits of yellow, purple and red
Tell of their readiness
To go to market.

Sugarin' Chores
Snowflakes hurry through my flashlight beam,
As my boots knead new snow with spring mud,
On my nightly Hajj to keep the boil alive,
For as long as possible until the dawn,
To match the power of the flowing sap,
With my meager evaporator and will.
The prize at the finish line are jars of syrup
And Spring.


From a Run Out Hayfield
to a Prosperous Organic Farm
in Ten Easy Years.

by Tom Roberts, February 2004

This is the story of how we started a farm from scratch beginning in 1995.

A little background.

In 1980, I joined Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont, which at the time was focused on organic production of storage crops, and no fresh market retail sales.

From 1980 to 1993, I co-managed Peacemeal with Ben & Ariel Wilcox. During that time we expanded into attending farmers' markets eight times a week and shipping storage vegetables well into January. We increased the fields under cultivation from two acres to over ten acres, an at times had a dozen people working in the fields.

In 1990, I met Lois and it wasn't difficult to get her to join the farm, even though early on she described her ability to grow things as having a "brown thumb".

In 1993, Ben & Ariel decided to split up, and Lois and I operated Peacemeal ourselves in '94. By spring of '95 we began looking for a place of our own.

What we started with.

  • Land. 74 acres in west Pittsfield, mostly wooded partly cut over within the previous decade. 5 acres of run out hayfield in the center with a 700 foot poorly maintained woods road as the only access. The woods were mostly maple, ash, popple, hemlock, spruce and cedar.

  • Equipment. As Peacemeal had grown we bought and evaluated many farming implements and hand tools, so at our new place we were able to envision a minimal but sufficient equipment package to get us started. It was:
    • a 25 hp Kubota 4WD tractor with bucket.
    • a Kuhn 3 point hitch, 4 ft. wide rototiller.
    • a Woods "Dixie Cutter" bush hog rotary mower.
    • a Patu D-40 3pt. hitch brush chipper.
    • a 3 pt hitch tool bar with four single shank disks.
    • a 27' x 100' greenhouse

  • Knowledge. We had a hands-on knowledge of how to farm including the timing of plantings, seedling starting times, plant spacings, weed management, use of cover crops, hand tools, variety selections, marketing methods, soil improvement techniques, and compost making.

What we added since the beginning.

  • More equipment.
    • a manure spreader
    • two Excalibur food dehydrators
    • a Burch 3pt hitch 6 foot wide disk harrow
    • awoods trailer
    • well and drip irrigation system
    • two more greenhouses
    • a Troy-Bilt Pony hand tiller
    • a Stihl weed whacker
    • a 2 ft. x 3 ft. Waterloo-Small maple sap evaporator and arch

  • More products.
    • seeds
    • maple syrup
    • dried tomatoes and herbs
    • lupines
    • grapes

Advantages we had

  • combined 15 years of farming experience.
  • simple low cost living style.
  • enough cash and credit to spend $35,000 for land and $25,000 for tractor and equipment the first year.
  • Lois's nursing license.
  • experience with farmers' markets, both attending and starting.
  • a 5 acre old hayfield and 70 acres of woods.

Disadvantages we faced

  • loss of our mentors.
  • "starting from scratch".
  • not the best of soils.
  • not a lot of space for expanding our growing area.
  • no readily available irrigation water.
  • We were both 50 years old.

What we did.

After toying with several other possibilities, we named our new place Snakeroot Organic Farm because it was on the Snakeroot Road in Pittsfield and because we wanted to promote the fact that we were an organic farm. To assure marketing and income continuity, our first year we farmed a few fields at Peacemeal but now went to market as Snakeroot. As we did this we tilled the hayland sod of our new fields, had lime spread and planted buckwheat, tilled it midsummer, planted buckwheat again, tilled it in September and planted rye for the winter. Over that summer we moved our stuff over to Snakeroot and set up living arrangements.

That winter we applied for organic certification from MOFGA, and the following spring began planting our new fields. Our only market at that time was the Orono Farmers' Market, which we had helped start two years earlier. We were going to market in a Honda Civic hatchback, pulling a trailer when we had more to sell than would fit in the little car.

In July of '96 we began setting up in Pittsfield at Hathorn Park several days a week to introduce ourselves to what we hoped would be a new and local customer base, and to determine which days would be best for a Pittsfield Farmers' Market. Eventually we settled on Monday and Thursday afternoons, which, along with the Saturday Orono market gave us the ability to market our produce continually as we harvested it.

When the Unity Barn Raisers began a farmers' market in Unity, we immediately joined as charter members. Since Unity was to be a Saturday market, this meant that Lois would have to attend that market since I was busy going to Orono. Luckily she enjoys going to market, too, and is good at it.

In 2000, the Town of Fairfield organized a farmers' market in that town, and again we became charter members for that Wednesday market. In 2003, the folks at the new Johnny's Selected Seeds warehouse in Winslow asked how their employees could be better served by local farmers, and our answer was "Start a farmers' market!" so now we have two Thursday afternoon markets.

Our market season is from early May to late November, but our busiest season is from July to October when we attend market Monday afternoon (Pittsfield), Tuesday afternoon (Orono), two on Thursday afternoon (Winslow and Pittsfield) and two on Saturday morning (Orono and Unity). Once they are properly trained, we often have apprentices do some of these markets so we can stay home and farm.

Along the way, we opened more of the land that could be turned into productive fields, and now we are moving onto less productive areas and into greenhouses, both of which requires us to bring in good soil to these new growing areas. With surprising forethought, when we created the large circular driveway with plenty or turn-around space for large vehicles, we had all the topsoil bulldozed into piles before the driveway gravel was spread. Today we are using those topsoil piles, the sod long since rotted, to make ourselves new growing areas in locations that previously had poor soil.

We have developed several local relationships for supplying feedstuffs to build our compost piles. About a mile down the road from us is an organic Jersey farmer who brings us cow manure when he can't spread it on his own fields. The Town of Pittsfield has taken up our invitation to be the town compost pile for resident's leaves, grass clippings, and other yard waste. When chipper trucks are clearing out the brush under local powerlines, they know they have a standing invitation to dump their chips at our farm. So we are well supplied with materials with which to make our compost. The manure and leaf piles we mix in the spring, turn during the year, and spread on our fields in the following year. We also utilize the leaves and hay for mulches and turn any remaining leaves into leaf mold for use in potting soil in future years.

In 1999 we solved the chronic springtime cash flow problem by initiating a CSA plan where our customers purchase a $100 share by April 1 and get $130 credit at the farm or any of our market locations. Starting with 8 members in 1999, by 2005 we had 31 members buying a total of 36 shares, including two memberships we donate to the Maine Public TV auction and the WERU Community Radio auction.

Also see The History of Our Farm.

27 Organic Farm Road, Pittsfield Maine 04967
owned and operated by
Tom Roberts & Lois Labbe
Tom: Tom@snakeroot.net (cell) 207-416-5417
Lois: Lois@snakeroot.net (cell) 207-416-5418

Gardening for the public since 1995.

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