Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 27, 2012
Farmland Forever, with plenty of chickens!
Old Ackley Farm opens to give visitors a tour
“Next week it’s history,” said Blue Hill Co-op produce manager Andy Felger, scooping up a Kosher King chicken that had escaped its pen during a tour of Old Ackley Farm, in Blue Hill, on September 16. The farm processes around 150 per week, said Bob Sullivan, who operates the MOFGA-certified organic farm with Colleen Prentiss.
by Anne Berleant
Old Ackley Farm opened its pastures and greenhouses to the public on Saturday, September 15, for a farm tour sponsored by the Blue Hill Co-op and Blue Hill Heritage Trust, part of a months-long farm tour series of local family-operated farms.
Talk initially turned to this year’s growing season, as a dozen attendees gathered on the farmhouse porch.
“Some things did good, some things did bad,” said Bob Sullivan, who owns and operates the MOFGA-certified organic farm with wife Colleen Prentiss. “It was a bad year for cucumber beetles.”
Old Ackley Farm, located a short jot down Ackley Road in North Blue Hill, uses 137 of the 2,000 acres that BHHT holds an agricultural easement for through its Farmland Forever program, which preserves fertile land along the Route 15 corridor in North Blue Hill and Penobscot for small family-operated farms.
Sullivan and Prentiss have farmed Old Ackley Farm for 10 years, raising grass-fed chicken, turkeys and beef and growing organic seasonal crops.
“One of the things that sets our farm apart is that we do a soil test every year,” checking for minerals and biological activity, said Sullivan.
They also own the only licensed chicken processing facility around, so they can handle the 150 Kosher King breed, double-breasted meat chickens a week they raise from chicks.
Feeding and watering their poultry flock takes a good 2 1/2 hours each day “in the height of things,” said Sullivan.
Old Ackley Farm also raises organic Thanksgiving turkeys, aiming for around 75-100 birds, said Prentiss, which are usually pre-sold out by July.
“It’s first come, first serve—especially for turkeys,” said Prentiss.
Sullivan said chickens are “good things to start with on a farm—not a lot of capital expense and a quick turnaround.”
Their Kosher Kings (which are not actually kosher) get slaughtered after nine weeks.
Farther afield from the chicken pens is the cow pasture, where a small herd of Belted Galloways wander over to the fence to greet the visitors. Prentiss said one bull, named Buddy, breeds their closed herd. The cows also help with predators who lean towards chicken-stealing.
“The cows take care of most anything bigger than a skunk,” said Prentiss. “Buddy’s as big as a car.”
Prentiss and Sullivan work the farm with the help of an apprentice and by trading food for work in the house and on the farm.
“We get a lot of things done because we trade work for food,” said Prentiss. “I call it our Community Assisted Agriculture program.”
This barter system is separate from their small CSA (community supported agriculture), where members pre-buy a set amount of produce, eggs and often meat before the growing season begins. They also run a farm stand on site, sell their farm product at local farmers markets and occasionally cater for The Manor Inn, in Castine, and Lily’s Café, in Stonington.
This year’s apprentice, Ashley Hebert, traveled up from Santa Cruz, and said the main difference between farming in Maine and in Californian is the seasons.
“There’s a clear distinction between seasons,” Hebert said. Preparing the farm and storing food for winter is not a concept Californians are familiar with.
“And the growing season is shorter. [That’s] probably the biggest thing.”