Thursday, July 25, 2002

Farm stands still thriving in Cape

Published in the Current

Formerly the home of more farms than anything else, Cape Elizabeth has but three farm stands left.

Alewive’s Brook Farm is in one way perhaps the most traditional, with family members staffing a small stand next to the barn at the farm between Old Ocean House Road and Route 77.

While they used to take some of the farm’s vegetables to farmers’ markets in Saco, Westbrook and at the Maine Mall, that has ceased to be a profitable endeavor.

“Ninety percent of the vegetables are sold right here,” said Jodie Jordan. He does get emergency orders from restaurants and even other farm stands that have run out of specific vegetables. But most of the veggies sell to locals.

“On a good sunny day, you get more business,” he said, noting that those are the days when folks from Portland and inland head to the beaches.

But in a twist unusual for farm stands, most of the money at Alewive’s is made in lobster. “Lobsters are the big thing,” Jordan said. “Very few people will come in shopping for vegetables.”

Jordan and his family catch some of the lobsters themselves. But demand is so high, he has to buy lobsters from 12 to 15 local lobster boats. Half the farm stand is vegetable sales, and on the other is the lobster tank, with dozens of lobsters in holding cages, separated by weight and shell thickness.

The finances of the operation, though, mean Jordan has to continue operating a genuine farm stand, even as he makes a good proportion of his money from lobsters.

“If we don’t farm the land, the town will tax it,” he said. The land would be considered available for development and taxed at a higher rate than a working farm, he said.

And demand for vegetables won’t support the additional farming the land would permit.

“(People will) buy hundreds of dollars in lobster and no vegetables,” Jordan said. That he blames on supermarkets and increasing time pressures on people.

Most supermarkets stock all kinds of produce all the time, regardless of when the local crops are ripe. People want corn in early summer, Jordan said, but his corn isn’t ready until late July.

Nate Maxwell of Maxwell’s Farm, on Spurwink Avenue, agreed. “We have a steady business when we have produce,” he said. “When things are going well, we can sell everything.”

He starts the season with an “early field,” planting crops before the real growing season begins, to provide some produce early in the summer.

This year frost killed the early field, and cold meant a late start for many crops. He can’t keep up with demand. In the future, he said, he may move toward more pick-your-own crops, in addition to the large strawberry patch the farm has on Old Ocean House Road. That, though, depends on the weather.

Up at Jordan’s Farm on Wells Road, Penny Jordan said pick-your- own strawberries is a big draw, and has been for over 30 years.

“It’s always been a big part of our business,” she said.

The market is now in a new building, constructed last year and opened this season, offering a lot more space than the old place, as well as electricity, which may help the stand stay open later in the fall.

“They come in and they just love it,” Jordan said. With comfortable chairs outside and a nearby flower garden, Jordan has created a pleasant place to relax.

“I want it to become a real community building,” she said.

Local residents are big supporters of the farm, and at the peak of the season, Jordan said, people stop by the farm stand to pick up their produce before heading to the supermarket.

“Cape Elizabeth is a wonderful community for supporting the local farms,” Jordan said.

She also offers new home-grown products, which this year include the oft-requested garlic, and the flower garden next to the stand allows people to cut their own blossoms.

All of the farm stands take seriously their local nature, and buy little if any of what they sell from other farmers, preferring instead to “only sell what we grow,” as Penny Jordan put it.