FARMINGTON — The Franklin County Soil & Water Conservation District held its annual meeting recently when several awards were presented and a pair of local farmers shared their story and samples of their goat’s milk cheese.

Cathee Pullman, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Assistant State Conservationist, reminded those in attendance of the one of a kind relationship between conservation districts and NRCS. The partnership relies on a long, strong and unique delivery system that can be found in every county in the U.S. “No other partners do this,” she stressed.

Soil Scientist Jade Gianforte and Fernando Vazquez, Soil Conservationist Trainee, presented the District’s Earth Team Volunteer Awards. Jade noted that the Farmington office had the 2nd highest number of volunteer hours in the state. The local district’s 1,006 hours of assistance accounted for one quarter of all volunteer hours statewide.

Some 53 individuals and one group assisted the district with such varied tasks as Ag Day at Farmington Fair; workshops such as GPS use, invasive species identification and control, and erosion and sediment control; routine office assistance and preparing newsletters for mailing; and fundraising events such as the annual auction, the shrub sale and trout program.

Gary Hedstrom, who stepped up last year when health issues prevented District Manager Rosetta Thompson from assisting with the shrub program, was singled out not only for that endeavor, but for helping with the shrub program for more than 20 years.

Maine Forest Service Forester Patty Cormier then introduced the recipients of the 2013 Conservation Woodlot Owners of the Year Award. Brothers Scot and Jon Bubier inherited 58 acres in Phillips in 1992 and the pair has performed several conservation practices in the years since to encourage wildlife habitation and growth of more valuable trees.

Cormier spoke of a thinning workshop held on their property that saw 70 people in attendance. Efforts include 575 feet of gravel access roads built, 315 feet of forest trail completed, critical areas seeded and mulch hay spread.

Jon Bubier stressed that the land has always been open and “never posted.” The credit goes to my brother, Scot, he added.

Scot Bubier noted that it is a really beautiful area and that he is “having a lot of fun,” with it.

L. Herbert York then presented the 2013 Conservation Farmers of the Year Award to David and Verna Pike of Farmington. York pointed out that, for years, Pike has been on the cutting edge of agriculture and is a well-known figure at state, regional and national grower meetings.

Pike has shared information about his innovative methods of growing strawberries in black plastic mulch; the use of floating row covers instead of straw mulch to protect his strawberry beds in winter; and his success with the use of day neutral cultivars as compared with June bearing varieties.

Pike told the audience that on April 2, 2013 he was already laying irrigation pipe for his crops. This year, the fields were still covered with snow.

State Senator Tom Saviello and Representative Russell Black then presented Legislative Sentiments to the Bubiers, Pikes and Dave Fuller, who was recognized earlier as the Maine Tree Farm of the Year recipient.

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walter Whitcomb then spoke of the relationship between his department and conservation districts. That partnership has grown over the years with an “emphasis on rural districts,” he stated.

While districts are now under the direction of the geologic land management department rather than the agriculture department, Whitcomb plans to work with districts even more to strengthen existing programs and potentially create new ones. He was proud to note that Maine is one of the few states in the nation where agriculture is growing.

John and Penny Duncan of New Sharon then shared details of how their farm, York Hill Dairy, has changed since they moved here and began raising milk goats 30 years ago. John & Penny both worked off the farm at first, but they have been full-time farmers for 27 years. John noted that while it has taken awhile to cultivate markets, “Penny liked making cheese and I liked working with the animals.”

A York Hill Farm cheese won its first award in 1987 and the farm has regularly been recognized for the quality of their cheeses ever since. John noted that the market has changed over the last 10 years with the buy local movement. “85 percent of our cheeses are being sold in Maine now,” he stated whereas years ago they sold most of their cheese in Boston and New York. Today, several local farm markets also carry their cheeses.

At first, the Duncans lacked the ability to pasteurize their milk but the purchase of used equipment from LePage Dairy has had a big impact on their farm operations. They also use a 200-gallon bulk tank to store the milk in and milk into 40-pound pails. They have two employees that help them milk twice each day from mid-March until just before Christmas. The goats are then dried off in preparation for kidding and starting the process again.

Penny makes both Capriano, or hard aged cheeses, and soft curd cheeses. The aged cheeses are cured for six months and she has two people who help her with the cheesemaking. Differences in time, temperature and the amount of rennin used result in different types of curds being formed, which are the basis for all of the cheeses.

Ice packs and Styrofoam boxes allow the shipment of cheeses overnight to anywhere in New England or two days to get to New York, Cleveland or Washington, D.C. For distances further than that, 2nd Day Air is used. Cheeses that are sold wholesale for Whole Foods and similar businesses are vacuum packed.

John noted that all goat milk on the farm is turned into cheese and that he eats his cheese. While John pointed out that temperatures between 42 and 62 degrees Fahrenheit are used to age the cheeses, Penny stressed that the humidity is more important than the temperature and is easier to control.

John and Penny then shared samples of their cheeses with those in attendance.

For more information about the Franklin County Soil & Water Conservation District, contact Rosetta Thompson at 778-4279. Questions about NRCS programs should be directed to 778-4767. To learn more about York Hill Dairy, visit their website, yorkhillfarmmaine.com or call 778-9741.


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