John and Stacey Bsullak and their children Abby, 15, and Johnny, 13, have over 900 apple, pear and peach trees to pick from on their Gathering Winds Farm & Orchard in Poland. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

POLAND — John Bsullak went to grab apple juice for his 1-year-old daughter, read the label — made from concentrate from China or Chile — and that about sealed it.

They were going to farm.

What started with a livestock-heavy focus in New Gloucester 14 years ago grew to owning and bringing back an orchard with Mount Washington views in Poland in 2016.

“We purchased the Roberts’ Orchard because it was right next to our (managed forest) land and because we know that once farms go away, they’re never coming back,” Stacey Bsullak, John’s wife, said.

Last year, the couple’s Gathering Winds Farm & Orchard grew apples, pears, almost two acres of vegetables and pumpkins, and planted in a high-tunnel for the first time, offering produce at their farm store on Poland Corner Road.

This is the time of year to get ready to do it all over again, trimming 800 trees on 10 acres.

“You get all the apples picked off and it snows and the new year starts, that’s when we start pruning,” John said. “Some days it’s all day, some days you might get an hour or two in … Basically what you’re trying to do is train the tree. As you prune that tree, you’re opening it up so when the leaves are on it, the tree will naturally dry out quicker and it’ll help with pest and disease and trunk growth.”

The focus for now is reviving what they have, he said. “Planting is on the next agenda.”

When they bought the orchard it had more of a focus on commercial sales.

John Bsullak pushes branches pruned in the apple orchard into a burn pile at Gathering Winds Farm & Orchard in Poland. Bsullak is a veteran of the U.S. Army. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“We really wanted to provide that family experience and bring people back, bring the community back together, know your neighbor, wave to your neighbor,” Stacey said. “We are a community, and during the pandemic that’s the biggest thing I see and appreciate. We have a fabulous neighborhood of support. When we need help in a pinch, they’re a phone call away and they’re out in the hayfields or out helping pick up prunings or out in the pumpkin patch. We have families that come and want to be in the garden, ‘What can our family do today?’ Little girls, 5- and 6-year-olds running down picking all my onions, a little more than I needed that day, but they were thrilled to be a part of the farm.”

The pandemic canceled what had been a growing, annual bluegrass festival on the farm and kept away a lot of summer residents and tourists, making local ties even more important.

“We saw a shift in our customer base and our market shifted a little bit,” she said. “We connected with cider mills that also purchased a lot of our apples this year, which was helpful.”

They pasture-raised poultry last year and would like to expand on that this summer. Over the winter they have an egg club with 35 laying hens.

Abigail, 15, and Johnny, 13, have grown up helping out and learning equipment. When they were little, “they loved taking adults out just because they knew they were afraid to get eggs or feed the pigs,” John said.

The couple have been grateful for help from Maine Farmland Trust, SCORE, Coastal Enterprises and others, and welcomed volunteers last year from United Farmer Veterans of Maine in putting up the new high tunnel.

“It’s pretty neat to have folks come out and give you a hand, even when it’s 90 degrees,” John, an Army veteran said.

They’ve since returned the favor, helping others. Both have jobs off the farm for most of the year but they hope one of them moves to full-time farming at some point.

“Even after working all day and coming down here to mow or pick up pruning … this morning I had a coffee and I was looking at Mount Washington, looking at the foxes, all the animals that cruise through the orchard, there’s a value in just being out in nature, for myself,” John said.

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