Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 26, 2018
Rabbit Hill Farm participates in Open Farm Day
Hannah Legere and Daya Willette of Stonington raised Nubian goats Luna and Milo from birth while working at Red Barn Farm. The two girls plan to be veterinarians and start their own practice together.
by Tina Oddleifson
Visitors were welcomed to Rabbit Hill Farm in Stonington on Sunday as part of an annual Open Farm Day event organized by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation. Farms across the state participated in the event as a way to educate the public about the importance of supporting Maine’s farming industry.
At Rabbit Hill Farm, visitors learned about soil building techniques and growing vegetables, how to build a cider press, and dig for clams. The day culminated in a potluck supper, with food provided by owners Cheryl Wixson and Flip McFarland, from crops they produced on their land bordering Crockett Cove; and clams from commercial clammer Ken Willette.
Approximately a half acre of the eight-acre property is under cultivation and certified organic. It is located on land that was once owned by house designer and artist Emily Muir.
In addition to growing vegetables, the owners have also been maintaining the apple orchard at neighboring Barbour Farm, using the apples to make organic juice and hard cider. McFarland recently established the Deer Isle Cider Company and will harvest, store and press juice from apples anywhere on the Island where trees are not currently being maintained. His work teaching others how to use this underutilized food source is supported by a Blue Hill Community Food Grant from the Maine Farmland Trust.
Wixson operates a specialty food business from a commercial kitchen on the property, called Cheryl Wixson’s Kitchen. She produces small batches of ketchups, baking mixes, jams, applesauce and other products using Maine organic ingredients. She also maintains a root cellar to store vegetables over the winter.
At this stage of their lives, Wixson and McFarland are using their small farm as a way to teach others how to achieve greater food security and improve their diet by growing their own food. “My mission is to take all the knowledge I’ve acquired and make sure I pass it on before I die,” says Wixson. Other than the occasional visit to a grocery store for a small item, they farm, fish, and forage for their food.
Although technically retired, Wixson still spends much of her time consulting to farms, food producers, and agricultural associations to help them develop, produce and bring local food products to market. “I love this work,” she says. McFarland brings his skills as a former small business owner in Bangor to help clients with business development.
Spending her early years on a dairy farm in Maine, and graduating from college during the height of the “back to the land” movement in the 1970s, contributed to Wixson’s passion for local foods. An agricultural engineer by training, her career has been multi-faceted. She has served as an organic marketing consultant and food safety specialist with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and once ran an urban garden and owned her own restaurant in Bangor. She has been a co-host of a Maine Public Television show called “What’s for Suppah?” and writes a regular food column for The Ellsworth American. In April, Wixson was formally recognized by the Maine Nutrition Council for her “outstanding contributions to nutrition and health for Maine people.”