LEWISTON — The Maine Department of Agriculture is hoping for good weather on Sunday. That is when more than 100 farms statewide will open their doors to the public for the 20th annual Open Farm Day to promote agriculture and educate visitors about farming.

The promotion may be helpful. Crops and profits are slumping this season due to June’s bad weather, said Ned Porter, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture.

“The lack of hay is affecting farms with livestock, and vegetables haven’t been growing as well because the weather is cold
and wet,” Porter said.

The department is hoping to entice visitors with activities such as berry-picking, solar-dyeing, felting, demonstrations of horseback riding and tours. There will also be farm produce available for purchase at many of the locations.

“When the weather is bad, people don’t come out as much,” said Mary Ann Haxton, owner of A Wrinkle in Thyme Farm in Sumner, a participant of this year’s Farm Day.

Haxton and co-owner Marty Elkin may have less to celebrate than in previous years. Their farm has lost 47 of its 150 meat birds and will have to wait longer than usual for the remaining animals to grow to full size. Elkin said customers may receive a smaller number of birds than they had originally ordered, consequently affecting the farm’s bottom line.

This summer’s cold and wet weather has also affected Maine’s sheep farms. Lisa Pyburn, owner of Rolling Knolls Farm in Hiram, has seen a decline in her yarn and wool sales.

“I do farmers markets and I typically don’t do them if it’s pouring rain,” Pyburn said, adding that some of her product and patterns would be drenched if she did. “I know that my friends’ sales are down around one-third as well,” she said. Along with her husband, Bruce, Pyburn has relied more heavily on Internet sales this summer.

Crops and plants also were affected by June’s bad weather.

“All my plants are outside and people don’t want to spend a lot of the time walking in the rain,” said Edith Ellis, owner of Sunnyside Gardens in Turner, a producer of 900 varieties of perennials from May to September. The flooding has caused some of her plants to rot. She estimated that her business is down 35 percent.

Cindy Tibbetts, owner of Hummingbird Farm Greenhouse in Turner, plants and sells clematis. “We think that if the weather had been better, that sales would’ve been higher,” Tibbetts said. “Several customers have been discouraged.”

Gloria Varney, whose Nezinscot Farm in Turner will be hosting two public events this weekend, said the wet June has seriously affected their “crop security.” In a normal year, they would be about to harvest their second crop of animal feed — hay and grass — but are just cutting their first crop now. And their corn crop is also about a month behind. The result will be less feed, and the possibility of mold and a poorer quality feed when the season is over.

Despite the challenge, Varney said the farm will be going through with the grand opening of its new cheese room from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, which will include entertainment, demonstrations, tours, prizes, samples and — from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — a wine- and cheese-tasting. The farm will be open again on Sunday for Open Farm Day.

Some farmers have outsmarted the weather. Keena Tracy said that although her production of vegetables at The Little Ridge Farm in Lisbon Falls has decreased, her profits have not. The farm is community supported, a process in which investors buy shares at the beginning of each farming season and are allowed to pick up their shares of meat and vegetables each week. Tracy said many crops were coming in late and there is less variety to choose from than in previous years, but it is a risk the local community is willing to take.

Nonetheless, the slumping productivity at many farms has not dampened spirits completely. Many participating farm owners are still hard at work preparing for this year’s Open Farm Day activities. Haxton at A Wrinkle in Thyme Farm will have a demonstration of felting with wool, and will have her farm store open.

The Pyburns will sell knit kits and demonstrate solar dyeing. Tracy at The Little Ridge Farm will encourage people to buy locally and will have an assortment of jams and maple syrup on sale. Sunnyside Gardens will provide a tour and have shrubs on sale, and the Tibbetts will give a demonstration of clematis and herbs and will have their store open.

The annual event hopes to draw 20,000 people statewide. Most of the participating farms will be open to the public from 10 a.m.
to 3 p.m., although some will open at noon and extend to a later hour.

Mary Ann Haxton’s chickens are at least three weeks behind in size because of all the rain this summer. The wet and cold weather has prevented Haxton from having a good outside spot to put her birds. She has had to keep them inside where they grow more slowly. Haxton and Marty Elkin are co-owners of A Wrinkle in Thyme Farm in Sumner. The farm will be open to the public on Sunday for Open Farm Day.
For the full list of farms and demonstrations taking place at this
year’s Open Farm Day, visit the Get Real Maine site.


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