Treble Ridge Farm
Farm History

Alice’s parents purchased the thirty-acre farm in Whitefield in 1984, having moved a herd of dairy goats and their older daughter across the country from northern California (with pitstops of a few years in Arkansas in Maryland).  Alice was six months old when the farm was purchased.  The Torberts milked a small herd of dairy goats there, selling milk and cheese from the farm and to various restaurants and health food stores in the midcoast area, until 1996, when the house and barn were burned to the ground in an electrical fire.  After this, they purchased the house next door and retained the old land but no longer farmed it.
 
Rufus grew up spending weekends on his father Ellis’s farrow-to-finish hog operation in Whitefield.  Ellis also made maple syrup and grew snap beans for his specialty pickle operation.  Rufus always enjoyed cooking and eating good food, but a few years spent in culinary school after high school convinced him that he was better suited to growing the food than to cooking it in fast-paced, production-oriented restaurant kitchens. 
 
Upon graduating from high school in 2002, Alice worked for Ellis growing snap beans and packing them into jars to make pickles.  Rufus was living above the processing room, doing the restaurant internship necessary to graduate from culinary school.  The rest is history…
 
2004.  We moved onto Alice’s family’s fallow farm.  We built a small, off-grid cabin to live in and fenced in two acres of pasture for Icelandic sheep, planning to start a sheep dairy.  As an afterthought, we built a small portable shed-and-run unit to raise a few piglets in, just as Alice’s father had done when she was a child.  We didn’t like the sheep at all (except in the form of mutton, which they soon assumed) but we liked the pigs very much.  The sheep went away, but the pig herd kept expanding. 
  Wedding Day
2005.  In the spring, we bought our first litter of piglets to raise over the summer for cut-to-order pork.  In June we married.  In July we bought a team of Belgian horses, along with an aging Percheron, planning to use “true horsepower” on our fledgling farm.  But the lineup of rickety haying equipment that came our way was tractor powered.  We put up about twenty acres or so of hay.  In the fall, we bought a litter of certified organic piglets from Rufus’s father and became a certified organic farm.
 
Baby Calvin
2006
.  We bought a few more litters of piglets, acquired another twenty acres of hay around town, and learned that draft power was not in our destiny.  Our fields were so far-flung that transportation of horses and horse equipment was impractical, our younger horse was hard to handle for novice teamsters, and unlike many draft horse farmers (who like that the horses at least partially free them from operating and maintaining equipment) Rufus is a gear-head who dearly missed his diesel engines.  We sold the Belgians, but kept the old Percheron for barnyard chores and pleasure driving.  Rufus’s enjoyment of fixing equipment, however, did not extend to triage for our decades-old finicky square baler when rain threatened ten acres of windrowed hay, so for the first time we took a deep breath and purchased a brand new piece of equipment.  In December we welcomed our first son, Calvin Bryce. 

 
2007.  The pigs had left a little over a quarter acre of well-fertilized and tilled land, which formed the basis for a miniature produce CSA project.  Lesson of the 2007 season: the sheer variety and number of succession plantings required for any CSA are ridiculously complex at the thirteen-member level.  We decided that even diversity has its necessary limits.  We started raising our own piglets with two sows, Lilith and Calico, and sold most of our pork through small wholesale accounts (health food stores, etc.)  We plowed two acres for grain trials in a nice, private location where the entire town couldn’t laugh at our failures, and planted some field corn.  First the birds picked at least half of the sprouted shoots of corn out of the soil.  Then, when the remaining half set their ears, the birds came back and stripped the plants.
 
Barn Frame2008.  We simplified the produce venture to half a dozen relatively easy crops for small wholesale accounts.  The sow herd increased to three.  Hay acreage continued to increase.  The Rosemont Markets in the Portland area started carrying our sausage and immediately became by far our largest account.  We tried planting field corn on our trial plots again, and learned why crop rotation is a good idea even when you have a crop failure: this time, seed corn maggots ate the seed before it even sprouted.  We replaced the failed corn with a planting of winter wheat instead, which sprouted well and established strongly.  A trial plot of barley and field peas was planted too thinly and then ripened during a long rainy period in August, so the seedheads shattered before we could harvest what little crop there was.  By fall, it became apparent that our “vintage” 30-horsepower tractor was not capable of powering the entire farm even when it was running, so we took another deep breath and bought a new 60-horsepower utility tractor.  We moved into the farmhouse on the property.  The Farms for the Future program awarded us a generous grant toward building a 30x56 timber-framed barn for winter hog housing and feed storage.
 
2009.  To be fair, a few good things did happen in 2009.  Our second son, Lowell Shane, was born in February.  The new barn was raised and enclosed in time to house hogs for the winter, a major lifestyle improvement for both them and us.  The winter wheat was our first decidedly successful grain trial,Calvin with Kristin Baby Lowellproducing about a ton of grain on a little over an acre.  Through the WWOOF program, we gained our invaluable friend & employee Kristin (she meant to just stay a couple of weeks, but we sucked her in).  The pumpkins were miraculously prolific, if somewhat late, and our experimental patch of fall-bearing strawberries produced the plumpest, most delicious berries we’d ever had.  We bought a new hay mower.  With those exceptions, 2009 was quite literally a washout.  It rained almost without pause from early June through most of August.  Pigs came down with erisypelas, a bacterial disease that thrives in warm, wet conditions.  The onions never bulbed out because they didn’t get enough sunlight.  The beans bore a scanty, somewhat moldy crop.  The new hay mower went largely unused until the end of August, when it was dragged out to cut a seedy, stemmy, practically worthless hay crop.  We tried to get good hay to our customers by buying in and reselling a truckload of Canadian timothy, but that hay was baled at too high a moisture content and went moldy before too long – and we never did get our money back.  We shut the door on 2009 with a sigh of relief.
 
2010.  The summer of 2010 was a little on the dry side, but after 2009 no one was complaining about that.  It proved too dry for the fall-bearing strawberries, which buttoned up and produced poorly, and the onions didn’t have enough water to size up really well but at least there WERE some Farm Signonions.  A USDA-funded variety trial of open-pollinated melons was wildly successful, generating thousands of pounds of sweet luscious melons off just several hundred row feet.  Alice ate too many melon seeds and conceived another baby.  The beans produced so prolifically that they greatly exceeded our market for them, and half of them never got harvested.  Pumpkins were orange by late August.  The hay crop was light, since in fall 2009 we couldn’t get on any fields to fertilize them, but the quality was unsurpassed.  A spring wheat trial was even more successful than the previous year’s winter wheat.  Not only did it yield well, but it made food grade and we were able to start grinding and selling bread flour.  We gathered our courage and plowed up ten acres of good land with the hopes of actually generating a significant percentage of our own feed in 2011.  We started selling pork at the Camden Farmers Market, our first retail outlet other than casual on-farm sales.  Thanks to Kristin’s superhuman sales prowess and charisma (and of course to the excellence of the product itself), we did really well there.  Our five broodsows produced massive litters in the fall, packing the new barn to capacity for the winter.

2011.  2011 was that diamond rarity in farming, an all-around "average" year.  Few things did really well, but nothing really failed either.  Our third son, Silas Crane, was born twelve days late in March, which put Alice out of the running for maple sugaring season (Rufus pulled it off without her).  We joined several more farmers markets - Rockland, South Portland, and Hallowell for the summer, and Belfast for the winter - which more than made up for the market share we lost to "natural" pork in our wholesale accounts. Cara, our apprentice-worker for the season, arrived from NYC in June with a can-do attitude, and was largely responsible for keeping the gardens presentable all season.  The opening of the Sheepscot GenerCombining winter wheatal in town provided us with a valuable new market venue, especially for produce - not only in the store itself but also in the multi-farm CSA program they administer.  The produce did fairly well overall, though the second year of melon trials was rather disappointing after the bumper crop of 2010.  The onion crop was almost respectable!  Silas SmilingWe did pretty well on our first year of real grain production, considering we were rank beginners and also had a lot of plant losses due to flooding in the spring.  Thanks to a series of small miracles we managed to buy and ship home from Ohio a small self-propelled grain combine in excellent condition, with which we harvested, among other things, over two tons of excellent quality bread wheat. In order to achieve Animal Welfare Approved status we began farrowing our sows on pasture during the summer and renovated the old goat barn into a winter farrowing barn with outdoor access (we received our AWA certification, which supplements our organic certification from MOFGA, in November).  In the fall Rufus turned part-time concrete contractor to install a manure pit below our winter grower barn, a project funded by the USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (the big corn guys take corn subsidies, which we obviously don't get - but we're not too holy to take EQIP money).  Thanks to that project and seemingly eternal warm weather in October and November, the "busy season" took forever to go away this year.  It was Christmas before anybody really got the chance to breathe!
 
And for the future?  How about half a dozen new sausage flavors and a bunch of poultry?…We’ll keep you posted on the “history” of 2012 and beyond!

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