A Chesterville couple brings fertile new dreams to acres of fond memories.
Ray Crane remembers his grandmother’s fluffy, mile-high biscuits served up at the farm. “She had all the best ingredients,” he said. “That makes a difference. A big one.”
Today, with every seed sown, every weed yanked and every scoop of feed tossed into the goat pen, Ray Crane and Brenda Wanden are breathing life back into the family farm at 72 Gordon Hill Road in Chesterville.

Ray is no stranger to the rolling fields, flecked with blades of green grass poking through the mud, stamped with goat prints in the wet earth.

When he and Brenda decided to build a house atop Gordon Hill four years ago, it was a wonderful homecoming. Each morning as they get out of bed, they’re living their dream.

Back in the 1940s, Ray’s grandparents, Florence and Roscoe Crane, lived across the wide dirt road in a farmhouse surrounded by more than 1,000 acres.

Though Roscoe worked at the mill, he and his wife ran a small, working farm that included cows, goats, chickens, sheep and the rest of the barnyard critters featured in song and nursery rhyme.

Dotting the lawn were gardens labored over by Florence, who was known for throwing baskets of her plump, ribbon-winning veggies into the back of the buggy and heading into Livermore Falls, stopping off along the way to give the vegetables away.

“She was always great at giving stuff away to people who needed it. And there were a lot of those,” Ray remembers of his grandmother. “My grandparents were very giving people.”

Though Ray’s parents, Sidney and Virginia, decided to raise their children in Livermore Falls, the family would often visit on Gordon Hill, spending much of their time in the gardens, picking blood-red tomatoes and crisp green beans for canning.

As a baby, Ray slept in a bassinet set up in the yard as his parents chopped wood to be loaded into the giant, gleaming cook stove. When he grew older, though, they put him to work haying and working in the gardens.

“There was always plenty of work to be done here. I liked it. It was nice seeing something get done,” he says.

The reward was a rich and hearty homemade supper, cooked by Florence with ingredients fresh from the farm.

Florence outlived her husband. She passed the farmhouse and land to Sidney in 1972. After breaking her hip, she moved into a nursing home where she died in the late 1970s. She had sold about 850 of the original 1,000 acres, leaving about 150 acres to Sidney who passed these on to Ray.

Ray suspects his grandmother sold so much land because she was living on her own and to pay property taxes.

Sitting at the table looking out across the fields, Ray admits that ever since he could remember, he wanted to come back to the farm for good.

“I’ve always dreamed of building a house right here,” he says contentedly, a smile forming. “This is it.”

The dream came true when Sidney left his son 150 or so acres.

Four years ago, Ray and Brenda moved here.

Last year, they decided they wanted to farm, the third generation of farmers atop Gordon Hill.

The property is so expansive and well-kept that Brenda goes through 15 gallons of diesel a week to keep it mowed. Ray whacks the weeds.

They planted vegetables and displayed them in a little hutch at the end of their driveway, with the good-old honor system as their only way to collect payment.

“We sold so many veggies, we didn’t have anything to can,” Brenda says proudly.

Together, the two built a greenhouse using wood they cut, then lumbered right in the back yard.

Adding a “C” to the longstanding name “The Farm,” this May Brenda and Ray will open up The C Farm, which will specialize in produce and plants including herbs, annuals and perennials.

Starting May 1, the greenhouse will be open every day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. In the summer, veggies will be for sale – pay using the honor system by the road.

Ray also works four days on, four days off at Form Fiber Technology in Auburn.

“People say, ‘Ray, you work all the time.’ But I enjoy it. I like to make it better here,” he says.

And he won’t sell any part of the farm until he is left with nothing to eat except the bark on the trees, he says.

“We’re just trying to make a few dollars, I guess. We want to work the land and enjoy the land. We don’t want to lose that. We always want to enjoy it here,” Ray says.
‘The old way’
The C Farm is a fusion of the old and new worlds. Next to an old-fashioned cook stove is a dishwasher.

Brenda wears simple dresses, with long, traditional aprons made especially for her by an Amish friend. Yet she does research for her greenhouse on the Internet and is involved in an online discussion board about living the back-to-basics country life.

Sometimes she makes her own butter using an antique butter churn and spins fleece on a spinning wheel. Ray lovingly calls Brenda his little Amish girl.

She cooks from scratch as often as possible, just like his grandmother did.

The couple has even hooked up a 100-year-old rake to the back of a new tractor to hay the field.

“I believe a lot in the old way,” Brenda admits. “I try and stick to the basics. It’s just a way of life for me. We taste the land. It’s good to be outside and be able to smell the land. Why waste a day? Get out and smell the flowers.”

When the couple’s grandchildren Hunter Jaramillo, 5, and his sister Haley, 10, visit from Hallowell, they tag alongside their grandparents, eager to help in any way they can. “They love it. Whatever I am doing, Hunter is right there by my side.”

Haley and Hunter are the fifth generation to work atop Gordon Hill.

The farm has a flock of chickens and three goats – Jack, Jill and Petunia – who plod behind each morning down the long dirt driveway as they retrieve the mail or pick up the morning paper. There’s also a cat named Puppy and a dog named Dew. Ray wants to add turkeys, ducks, maybe an emu.

“Not a day goes by that I am not so glad to be here,” Ray says as the trio of goats ambles behind him. “We’ve really got something here.”

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