HARRISON — As a way to keep small, family farms alive, High View Farm owners Bill and Darcy Winslow have taken a major step to ensure their land will always remain an operational farm.
In November, the Harrison-based dairy farm on Leander Harmon Road earned the designation of a Forever Farm through the Maine Farmland Trust in Belfast. Forever Farms is a program to protect farmland throughout the state through agricultural conservation easements.
“The goal of Forever Farms is to celebrate the partnerships between landowners and land trusts that have led to the growing success of farmland protection in Maine,” according to Forever Farms’ website.
The Winslows got the ball rolling near the end of June after receiving a letter that sought candidates to protect local farmlands. In July, they met with Adam Bishop of the Maine Farmland Trust.
“We sat and talked with him. It sounded like we wanted to do it,” Bill said from inside his barn Monday morning after taking a break from milking. The couple’s Shetland sheepdog, Domino, lay near his feet. “They were wonderful people to work with.”
Bill explained the conservation easement they signed – and were paid for – means the majority of their land must always be used for farming. They have 147 acres of land, with 139 designated as the Forever Farm. Three acres already have an easement for the cellphone tower on their land and the remaining few acres the couple kept in case their children ever want to build a house there.
The farmstead portion of the easement includes all the current farm buildings and allows them to build additional farm buildings in the future, including housing for workers, Darcy said.
“I thought it was going to be more restrictive,” she commented about the easement and designation.
Darcy added protecting their farmland is something they’ve discussed doing for the past decade or so. While some farmers obtain the designation as a way to get paid for the easement – which she noted is nice – it isn’t the reason they became a Forever Farm.
“This protection this is exactly what we were looking for,” Bill said. He added the couple is allowed to cut up to 50 cords of wood per year, but if they wanted to harvest more than that, it would have to be supervised. “We just have to communicate with them.”
Bill hopes their children will take over the family business when it becomes time, or since Darcy is younger than him, she will have the option to sell the farm, where the deed comes with the easement.
“They’re really happy about it,” Darcy said about their respective children, “especially since it’s been in Bill’s family for so long.”
His family has owned the land since 1810 and it has been farmed in some manner ever since, Bill said. It originally was one parcel of land when it was first tilled by the original settler, Leander Harmon. He then split the land into three parcels, giving one plot to each of his two daughters. Bill grew up working on the farm.
“I farmed on this farm since I was a little kid,” he said. “I tagged along with my grandfather and father.”
His parents set up their mobile home on the land in 1971 and the following year, Bill built the house at the bottom of the hill near the entrance to Leander Harmon Road. In 1986, he erected the barn. In 1992, the newer house on top of the hill next to the barn was built.
There was a dairy in the downstairs of the new house, where the milk had to be pasteurized and homogenized to make ice cream, Bill said.
“We bought imported chocolate from Holland and we had ice cream,” he added, with emphasis on ice cream.
“It was so good,” Darcy said.
High View Farm was originally home to the One Cow ice cream stand that now sits on Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm on Route 26 in Oxford. The ice cream season was too short and Bill is lactose intolerant and can’t drink pasteurized milk so he thought it was time to sell the one cow stand.
But during a road trip with his son to Vermont, Bill discovered he could tolerate raw milk. He was handed a glass of the unpasteurized and unhomogenized milk and drank it to be polite, he said, and low and behold, his body didn’t react negatively.
After the discovery, High View Farm began specializing in raw milk, raw cheese and raw butter. Darcy said she started out milking on the farm.
“He always threatened, ‘I’ll get you a milking cow.’ I said, ‘I’ll milk her,’” she recalled. Bill later told her if she didn’t want to milk the cows, she could do other chores, to which she obliged.
“I like cows really,” he said, laughing.
Bill added the milker and vacuum were already set up from his previous ice cream operation so it was an easy transition to create raw milk and its associated products.
“We started out with one cow again,” Darcy said, smiling. “We wouldn’t want to drink it either unless we know it’s clean.”
But High View Farm doesn’t only provide raw milk products. The couple also sells fresh farm eggs from their neighbors and raises a plethora of other animals – all of their own meats sans chicken.
During the winter, they offer sleigh rides through their land, courtesy of their Belgium draft horses. Unfortunately this winter has lacked significant snow. On a good year, they’ll do 120 sleigh rides, with the majority of them during the holiday season.
The Winslows also grow their own vegetables and trade their farmer friends for fresh veggies for their milk products during the farmers’ and Old Squire’s Farm Market in Norway. For the most part, the couple is self-sufficient.
“When we’re out of toilet paper, we go to the grocery store,” Darcy said, laughing.