A Season of Change: Farms of Mount Desert Island

A Season of Change: Farms of Mount Desert Island

September 28, 2021

Fall on Mount Desert Island is a time of change: leaves turning colors, cooler temperatures, shorter days, and the bounty of fall produce. Lucky for us, MDI is home to several farms that make the most of the season by growing and harvesting a wonderful variety of vegetables, fruits, flowers, and more. We’ll focus on three of these farms this season: Beech Hill FarmPeggy Rockefeller Farms, and Bar Harbor Farm.

Nestled in the hills between Long Pond and Echo Lake, Beech Hill Farm has been growing produce and functioning as a living laboratory on 73 acres for College of the Atlantic students and faculty since 1989. They operate an onsite farmstand Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, June through November. Beech Hill Farm also offers a CSA with different pricing options to makee. the farm’s bounty accessible to more islanders. COA students get to enjoy this harvest as well in the college’s dining hall. The farm’s full-season crew includes two farm managers and three full-time staff. To help with planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall, a team of about twenty COA work-study students joins the fun. From an educational perspective, Beech Hill Farm affords COA students and faculty the opportunity to “engage with agriculture as a central concern of human ecology,” the guiding tenet of the college.

Also belonging to COA, Peggy Rockefeller Farms encompasses 125 acres of historic farmland off the Crooked Road in Bar Harbor. They focus on the production of pastured livestock products but also grow a mix of certified organic vegetables, berries, fruits, and mushrooms. April Nugent, who recently started working as the farm manager, was excited to share that “We’re about to harvest our first group of grass-fed lambs for the season.” The farm mainly serves the COA community through employment and learning opportunities for students and food in the dining hall. However, it does sell products through the Beech Hill Farm stand and several other markets across the island.

Kale being harvested at Beech Hill Farm
Fall produce from Bar Harbor Farm
Sunrise over Bar Harbor Farm

About five minutes up the road from the Peggy Rockefeller Farms is Bar Harbor Farm, which was founded by Glenon Friedmann in 2010. The farm runs a strong CSA program in the summer and fall, with a variety of sizes and prices for island families. The 2021 summer CSAs totaled 146 boxes and the fall program is currently serving 75 households. “When Glenon began the farm, she was looking to start a business that would build community,” said Rose Avenia, Bar Harbor Farm team member. “Food was the perfect medium for connecting with people as we all need to eat life-supporting, nutritious food.”

You might be eating produce from one of these local farms without even realizing it. Bar Harbor Farm grows vegetables for Jordan Pond House and Asticou Inn, while Beech Hill Farm also supplies many island restaurants with fresh ingredients for their menus.

Giving back to the community is a major component of each farm’s mission. Bar Harbor Farm grows vegetables for Open Table MDIBar Harbor Food Pantry, and Loaves and Fishes in Ellsworth. Beech Hill Farm manages and participates in several food access programs, including Share the Harvest, which distributes vouchers for their farmstand and the Bar Harbor Farmers’ Market to community members in need. From a renewable energy standpoint, Peggy Rockefeller Farms has “over 100 solar panels, generating electricity that is net metered back into the power grid, producing far more than the farm consumes, with the surplus credited toward COA’s overall electricity use,” according to its website. 

The farms of MDI are certainly not immune to the challenges posed by the pandemic. Staffing, sanitation, and supply issues have been a hurdle from the start. “In 2020, like farms all over the country, we experienced greater interest in our work. People wanted assurance that they had access to healthy food after seeing empty shelves in the early months of the pandemic,” said Rose Avenia at Bar Harbor Farm. “People also were starting more home gardens, which put stress on our seed suppliers. Supplies took longer to get to us, we had to accept substitutions on seed varieties that were sold out, and shipping costs increased substantially.”

A flock of sheep at Peggy Rockefeller Farms
Beech Hill Farm's onsite farmstand in action

Thankfully, there have been some bright spots. “We had an extraordinary crew. I have never worked with a more talented and energetic group of people. It was a huge highlight of the summer,” said Anna Davis, Beech Hill Farm’s manager. 

Here’s a list of other MDI farms and markets where you can find fresh, local produce, but we invite you to take a drive pretty much anywhere on the island and you’re sure to stumble upon a roadside farm stand with some treats to take home: 

Most of the 15-person 2021 Beech Hill Farm crew