NORWAY — It’s a hot and quiet day on the farm. The sun beats down, the chickens softly cluck as they bathe in the holes they have dug in the dirt.
As far as the eye can see, vegetables are in all stages of growth. Some have bolted, some are just coming up. Garlic beds are barren as tiny green tomatoes hang on tender vines.
Amidst this largess are two teenage boys.
It is an August day at Roberts Farm.
Storm Ellis, 14, and Brady Scelzo, 13, both of Norway, break the quietude with their enthusiasm.
“Come inside where it’s ‘cooler,'” says Storm, making air quotes. Inside the modular classroom that sits on the site, the air is a degree or two cooler out of the sun.
In the “kitchen” area shelf after shelf is full of drying garlic explaining the dearth in the garden bed.
At the sink, Brady is washing carrots.
Both are rising freshmen, soon to enter the maelstrom called high school. Both are more than ready for the task.
After five years of volunteering at Roberts Farm, Storm is now a paid employee.
“My job is to do lots of weeding,” he says with a grin, “and harvesting, feed and water the chickens and collect eggs three days a week. I also run the farm stand.”
It is Brady’s first year as a volunteer and he says he helps with the farm stand, egg collection, weeding, harvesting and washing of the harvested vegetables.
Oh, and in his spare time, he designed a new irrigation system for the farm.
“I designed it with a team from the middle school program,” he says.
The program is a three-week program where sixth-graders from the area elementary schools get to meet each other as well as some former seventh-graders who can share secrets of success at the middle school.
“This way,” he explains, “we know other students when we get to [the new] school.”
With regard to the irrigation system, Brady says, “I had it in my head.” From there it went onto paper and the team began building it. The team included Travis Glover, Zane Bennett, Ben Carroll and Brett whose last name they can’t remember.
“We finished it the last day of the summer program,” grins Brady.
In short, he explains, the water now comes from a water tower, which gets it from a gravity-fed well.
“We used to have to water by hand,” interjects Storm.
“Yeah, on a 90-degree day it’s not fun!” laughs Brady.
Brady points out in order to design the system he had to tap his knowledge of greenhouses, math, science and engineering.
“But we still have to weed,” adds Storm.
“Well, maybe I’ll make a garden robot that can weed for us!” Brady interjects with a grin.
Do they have a business plan for the farm stand?
“Well, no, probably I’ll do one,” frowns Storm adding he counts traffic for his teacher Patrick Carson to determine differences between sunny and rainy days.
The farm stand, he says, is open on Thursdays “if I have a way to get there.”
Its hours are noon to 2 p.m. at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School on the Brown Street side, near the baseball field in Paris.
Over the course of the month, as produce becomes ready for harvest, it will offer carrots, turnips, kale, cherry tomatoes, eggs, garlic, basil (green and purple), potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, corn, onions, beans, ground cherries, eggplant, watermelon, Brussels sprouts and pumpkins.
So what does the future hold for these two aspiring entrepreneurs?
“I am going into engineering,” Brady promptly answers, “tech for farming like solar panels to automatically water.”
Brady’s mom is in banking and accounting in Lewiston, he says.
Storm’s plan is a bit more convoluted.
Initially, he says, he wants to be a farmer.
His path to that is circuitous albeit clever.
“My first year in middle school I did a Maine Machine Quest program [and found out] they completely pay for college if you work there for two years so I want to get into that then buy a farm.”
He says he will get his degree in “whatever they send me there for.”
But, he continues, “if I don’t get into that program I want to be an underwater welder.”
His mom is a physical education teacher at Oxford and Waterford elementary schools and his dad drives an oil truck.
So where did this all begin?
“I woke up one day,” says Storm, “and said, ‘I am going to plant a garden.’ Then my mom started working at Roberts Farm doing the hiking program and that got me more into it [farming].”
“In the middle school program,” explains Brady, [Carson] “talked a lot about farming in the next 100 years. We talked about building a robot that acts like a scarecrow … moving around [the planted fields].”
Both were inspired and, while they approach farming from differing perspectives, they complement each other.
The boys went to different elementary schools and met at Roberts Farm. Now, they say, they are good friends.
Brady says volunteering at the farm over the summer is better than playing video games and, he adds, you get to build a solar car and bottle rockets.
Storm agrees, noting it is a learning experience out of “normal, boring school … it’s hands-on.”
Brady added, “I don’t even like vegetables but I like some now!” The some include onions, tomato, carrots, cucumbers and green peppers.
As they go back to work, they begin discussing the resurrection of the hydroponic greenhouse that used to be where they grew all their lettuce. And perhaps designing a robot or two that could take over the weeding … .