Treble Ridge Farm
thirty-acre farm in Whitefield in 1984, having moved a herd of dairy
their older daughter across the country from northern California
(with pitstops of a few years in Arkansas in Maryland).
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
midcoast area, until 1996, when the house and barn were burned to the
an electrical fire. After this, they
purchased the house next door and retained the old land but no longer
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
operation. Rufus always enjoyed cooking and
eating good food, but a few years spent in culinary school after high
convinced him that he was better suited to growing the food than to
in fast-paced, production-oriented restaurant kitchens.
from high school in 2002, Alice worked
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
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,
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)
liked the pigs very much. The sheep went
away, but the pig herd kept expanding.
In the spring,
we bought our first litter of piglets to raise over the summer for
pork. In June we married. In July we bought a team
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
We put up about twenty acres or so of hay. In the fall, we
a litter of certified
organic piglets from Rufus’s father and became a certified organic
2006. We bought a few
more litters of piglets, acquired another twenty acres of hay around
learned that draft power was not in our destiny. Our fields
so far-flung that
transportation of horses and horse equipment was impractical, our
was hard to handle for novice teamsters, and unlike many draft horse
(who like that the horses at least partially free them from operating
maintaining equipment) Rufus is a gear-head who dearly missed his
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
rain threatened ten acres of windrowed hay, so for the first time we
deep breath and purchased a brand new piece of equipment. In
December we welcomed our first son, Calvin
The pigs had
left a little over a quarter acre of well-fertilized and tilled land,
formed the basis for a miniature produce CSA project. Lesson
the 2007 season: the sheer variety
and number of succession plantings required for any CSA are
complex at the thirteen-member level. We
decided that even diversity has its necessary limits. We
raising our own piglets with two
sows, Lilith and Calico, and sold most of our pork through small
accounts (health food stores, etc.) We
plowed two acres for grain trials in a nice, private location where the
town couldn’t laugh at our failures, and planted some field
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.
the produce venture to half a dozen relatively easy crops for small
accounts. The sow herd increased to
three. Hay acreage continued to
increase. The Rosemont Markets in
area started carrying our sausage and immediately became by far our
account. We tried planting field corn on
our trial plots again, and learned why crop rotation is a good idea
you have a crop failure: this time, seed corn maggots ate the seed
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
rainy period in August, so the seedheads shattered before we could
little crop there was. By fall, it
became apparent that our “vintage” 30-horsepower tractor was not
powering the entire farm even when it was running, so we took another
breath and bought a new 60-horsepower utility tractor. We
into the farmhouse on the
property. The Farms for the Future
program awarded us a generous grant toward building a 30x56
for winter hog housing and feed storage.
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.
winter wheat was our first decidedly
successful grain trial, producing about a ton of grain on a little
acre. Through the WWOOF program,
we gained our invaluable friend & employee Kristin (she meant
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,
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
out to cut a seedy, stemmy, practically worthless hay crop.
tried to get good hay to our customers by
buying in and reselling a truckload of Canadian timothy, but that hay
at too high a moisture content and went moldy before too long – and we
did get our money back. We shut the door
on 2009 with a sigh of relief.
The summer of
2010 was a little on the dry side, but after 2009 no one was
that. It proved too dry for the
fall-bearing strawberries, which buttoned up and produced poorly, and
onions didn’t have enough water to size up really well but at least
A USDA-funded variety trial
of open-pollinated melons was wildly successful, generating thousands
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
unsurpassed. A spring wheat trial was
even more successful than the previous year’s winter wheat.
only did it yield well, but it made food
grade and we were able to start grinding and selling bread
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
other than casual on-farm sales. Thanks
to Kristin’s superhuman sales prowess and charisma (and of course to
excellence of the product itself), we did really well there.
five broodsows produced massive litters
in the fall, packing the new barn to capacity for the winter.
was that diamond rarity in farming, an all-around "average"
Few things did really well, but nothing really failed either.
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 -
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 General
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! We 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
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
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
before anybody really got the chance to breathe!
future? How about half a dozen new sausage flavors and a
bunch of poultry?…We’ll keep you posted on the
of 2012 and beyond!