LEEDS — More than 1,500 farmers, vendors and visitors came to the Barker Farm on Friday to see what real farm life is like.

“It’s real animals. People are actually making a living out of it. It’s not the pretty picture people usually think of. It’s reality,” said Larry Thornburg,  a beef cow farmer from Richmond and a member of the Maine Farm Days Committee. 

Jane Heikkinen of the Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, one of the sponsors of this year’s Maine Farm Days, said unlike Maine’s Open Farm Day, which allows people to visit many farms across the state each summer, this two-day event, which continues Saturday, concentrates on only one working farm.

“It focuses on one farm that has usually been given awards for excellence,” Heikkinen explained. The farm that is selected is usually located in the central Maine area for convenience. This is the second year that the five-generation Barker Farm in Androscoggin County has been selected to host the longtime event.

A large number of agricultural exhibitors are on hand to display their products and production practices, and tools from tractors to balers. A farmers’ market is available to buy fresh Maine produce, and a tent has been set up for children’s events, including hands-on educational activities. Other activities include equipment demonstrations, a skid steer rodeo, forage harvest trails, a craft tent, chicken barbecue, food concessions and even a Maine Dairy Princess Scholarship pageant.

A wagon, pulled by a Belgian horse, will offer a tour of the fields to show the type of conservation work a farm needs to stay operating. The tour is hosted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The event  generally draws hundreds of vendors from Maine and other states, farmers and the general public.

“A farmer who we bought our cow from told us about this,” said Sherri Shaw Davidson of Lovell, who was watching a milking contest with her 4-year-old grandson Peyton and husband Don. “This is our very first time.”

Davidson said she and her family hope to be more self-sufficient and were learning a lot at the Maine Farm Days about how to care for their new cow.

Thornburg said the committee has struggled with how to better entice the general public to the event.

Although farmers across the state are well aware of the event, the general public is not as tuned in to what “real” farm life is like, he said.

People generally see farm life through the eyes of agricultural fairs where, he said, farm animals such as pigs and cows are often thought of as pets by the general public and are viewed “blow dried and in sawdust up to their belly.”

“I’ve got eight (pigs) going next week. They’re wonderful little animals, but they’ll look good on a spit too,” Thornburg said.

Celeste Levasseur of Monmouth, who works with the Valley View Farm and farmers’ market in South Auburn, said she was attending the Maine Farm Days not so much to sell her fresh produce but to show her support of the farmers. She also lent some goats and chickens for the children to play with at the event.

“You bring produce into the city, and people are just amazed at the fresh vegetables,” she said of the difference between farm folk and city people eyeing the farm produce at her table.

“People should come out and see these operations,” said Thornburg of the Barker Farm and other operating farms. “There are no carnies (carnival people) here.”

“People today do not understand the value of agriculture,” said Heikkinen, when asked why it is important that people participate in the event. “They don’t understand the cost of the loss of farm food.

The two-day event continues Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Barker Farm, 9 Barker Road off Route 106 in North Leeds.

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