OXFORD — After 50 years in business, Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm continues to grow and the community is invited to celebrate its golden anniversary.
The party is from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at the farm stand at 1408 Main St. (Route 26) in Oxford. Gayle and Roger Smedberg Sr. ran the business for the past 50 years and one of their sons, Roger Jr., took over in January.
“All are welcome to the anniversary,” said Beth Toothaker, office manager. “The party – what we’re trying to accomplish with that is really honoring what started here in this small business, this small community, what has grown.”
There will be fiddle players, along with plenty of food including Smedberg’s famous hamburgers, games, giveaways and prizes.
“[We will] really have a good time and share some memories to where we’re at now,” Toothaker said, which includes a slide show of old and current photographs and the original wooden farm stand on display.
“At the root of all of it is Gayle, Roger and Roger and all the work they’ve put in here in and everything they’ve built,” she continued.
Gayle Smedberg is trying to get in touch with people who used to work at the farm stand to invite them to the party.
“Every day we think of somebody else,” she said.
CT to ME
Even though the Smedbergs seem like a western Maine institution having served the local people for the past 50 years, they aren’t originally from Maine. They hailed from Connecticut, where in their early years they rented farms, including one called Crystal Spring Farm.
“Roger always wanted to have a farm,” Gayle said. “So we traveled all around looking at farms. We were all set to go home. We hadn’t found anything.”
But then a realtor called and told the couple about a farm in Oxford, Maine, that had not gone on the market yet.
“We drove in the front. It said, ‘Crystal Spring Farm.’ I said, ‘That’s got to be the one,’” she recalled. “It was good land with no stones, not like Connecticut. Most of our fields are nice, we don’t need to pick rocks. … So we decided this would be the right one.”
This was in 1967.
“When we first moved here, there was a little stand that the Cummings had that was on the end of the porch,” Smedberg remembered. “It was just an open building. She used come out the front door to wait on people.”
They decided to move the farm stand to where the red building near their home.
“We moved it down there and closed it in and I cannot remember how many years we were there, but we outgrew it,” she continued. “It took forever every morning to put the baskets and stuff out.”
So they built another farm stand as an extension off of one of their greenhouses.
It was about 20 years ago they built the current, larger farm stand building across the street from their house.
“We started in January and we had to be ready for May and it was. I am not sure it was really ready but it was,” Gayle said. “It just evolved. … It just started out wanting all Maine-made products and we try to sell products that local people sell.”
So how did Smedbergs come to known as “Home of the Lobester?”
“I’m not a very good speller, but that’s not what happened,” Gayle said.
At the time, she could not afford to have the lobster signs printed so she spray painted wood white to write “lobster” on.
“One of the girls walked by and told me I left an ‘e’ out. I thought, ‘How can I get an ‘e’ in there?” Gayle recalled. “Somebody else walked by and said, ‘Why do you got that ‘e’ in there for?’”
Gayle had spelled “lobester.”
“Now I’ve got this white sign with these big red letters. I can’t cover it up,” she said, adding she did spell lobster correctly on the other side.
While many people take photos of the quirky sign, one man was upset by it. He told Gayle people think Mainers are stupid and she’s proving it by spelling lobster wrong.
“One of the girls said, ‘Well is Rite Aid spell right?’” Gayle said. “I said, ‘This seems like we need a shirt.’ So I came in and drew a lobster and I called the place ‘Home of the Lobester’ and we had a shirt. By that man being upset, he made us some money.”
Her daughter would often point out when she misspelled a sign in the store (broccoli is always a tough one).
“So one day when I knew she was coming, I made all new signs, almost every of them spelled wrong. [It wasn’t] until after three or four she realized I did it on purpose,” Gayle said with a smile. “We don’t go many places, we don’t do too much, but we have a lot of fun.”
And Roger Jr. has continued on with the misspelled sign tradition with one side reading “Meet Sail” when they have their annual meat sale.
“The business has to keep changing and changing to go with the times,” Gayle said.
They were milking cows and then price of milk went down. So now they only have beef cows. They used to wholesale a lot of corn until a distributor tried lowering the price. They still wholesale, but not in the same quantity as before.
Smedbergs continued to diversify its products over the years, sometimes at the behest of one of their daughters, Razell, who has a knack for finding interesting Maine-made products.
“It’s like most businesses, you change with the times. Sometimes things work out really good, sometimes they work out OK and sometimes they don’t work at all,” Gayle said, laughing.
Toothaker noted the business has been able to tap into the farm-to-table movement.
“Just as this business started, there was a necessity for Gayle to cook for the family and it overfilled into the community for her baked beans [and other goods],” she said. “As far as knowing where the food is coming from, that is a big deal. I can literally say here I know how many times that has been touched before it’s out for the consumer to purchase. … It is a pretty cool thing.”
The Smedbergs own 150 acres and rent and use more than that. They employ 10 people year-round and more high schoolers during the summer.
Gayle admits she did have a tough time transitioning to working full-time to the semi-retired life. And unfortunately Roger Sr. is still doing haying and plowing because they can’t find someone to do those jobs. Since Gayle couldn’t sit still for too long, she decided to continue to work at the farm stand two days a week.
Now Roger Jr. plans to build an addition onto the current farm stand building to accommodate a walk-in cooler.
“We’ve adapted to the changing times. We most certainly have not changed, we’re still doing what we started doing with a few added details and that’s our mission,” Toothaker said. “No matter what, we’re going to be the same old Smedbergs even when we have new paint or a new freezer.”