Farmers Market: World class beef from Orchard Hill Farm

15 years ago

    The story of Orchard Hill Farm began many years ago when Gail was the HTH (that would be “Home Town Honey” for those of you too young to remember that particular moniker — back in the days of “Far out” and “Groovy”) of Stan Maynard down in New Hampshire. Among other things in common, they shared a love for Highland cattle, an ancient beef breed originally from the Hebrides Islands off the windy coast of Scotland. While other couples spent time together at movies or pizza joints, they walked the pastures at a nearby Highland farm, admiring the big shaggy Ewoks browsing the nearby hillsides and dreaming.

ImageContributed photo
    The Highland cattle at Orchard Hill Farm in Woodland are their own best ambassadors for their breed at fairs and livestock shows up and down the state. The farm has been featured on MPBN’s “Made in Maine” and in Echoes magazine.

    Over time, they built a marriage and a life together. In 1991, two heifers from Rose Acre Farm in Waldoboro and a bull from Florenceville, New Brunswick, put “hooves on the ground” for their earlier dreams as they farmed both sides of the Mattawamkeag River in Oakfield. A few years later, they claimed family property in Woodland that really didn’t want to be potato ground anymore, seeding it to pasture and surrounding it with electric fence. Orchard Hill Farm had “arrived.”
    The farm is now certified organic; the soil is enriched with wood ash from local biomass plants and, of course, by 60-plus brood cows, blonde bombshells drifting laconically across swards of deep green or bulldozing through chest-high drifts of white. The shaggy double coats, the stocky square bodies, and the sturdy tree-trunk legs of Highlands make them well suited for winters in Aroostook County. They live out-of-doors year round — grass in the summer and hay or haylage in the winter and an adorable calf every year in May … good work if you can get it! The animals are their own best ambassadors for their breed at fairs and livestock shows up and down the state. The farm has been featured on MPBN’s “Made in Maine” and in Echoes magazine.
    The Maynards currently participate in their local school’s lunch program as well as “Ag In The Classroom,” a USDA-sponsored educational program for public school teachers and students.
    Future plans include expansion of the herd to about 100 breeding animals and expansion of their product line into regional restaurants, hospitals, and other school systems. Gail talks with animation about the Farm to School Program, as she and her husband are educators both by vocation and avocation. Stan describes a plan to eliminate the shrinkage and stress associated with shipping his cattle half way across the state to an organic slaughter facility; they would like to upgrade an existing building on the farm to process their meat, thus closing the circle on their product to focus on quality control from start to finish.
    The Orchard Hills Web site (orchhill@ainop.com) features photographs of their cows and calves as well as the opportunity to have vacuum-packed beef shipped on dry ice anywhere in the world. Highland beef is available in a few local markets and in the summertime, through the Presque Isle Farmers Market at the Aroostook Centre Mall on Saturday mornings. They proffer the idea of “cow pooling” where several families can pool their food dollars to buy an animal to provide their winter meat. Gail and Stan are also investigating the Maine Farmland Trust as a way to preserve their corner of paradise for future generations. Always, they take pride in their animals and what they have been able to accomplish.
    Editor’s note: This weekly column is written by members of the Presque Isle Farmers’ Market. For more information or to join, contact their secretary/treasurer Steve Miller of Westmanland at 896-5860 or via e-mail at beetree@xpressamerica.net