cows in field

Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, Freeport, Maine to Host the 20th Annual NODPA Field Days

By Allison Carrier, Marketing & Communications Manager, Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment

Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment (WNC) is a nonprofit educational and working farm situated on over 600 acres of picturesque coastal landscape in Freeport, Maine. Our mission is to transform our relationship with farming and food for a healthier planet, using our setting to connect people of all ages to the food they eat and where it comes from through an array of programs and visitor experiences.

WNC_Cows_Pasture_Ocean_smallOne of the earliest pioneers in sustainable agriculture, the farm was created by Lawrence M.C. (LMC) and Eleanor Houston Smith in 1959 and operated as an organic beef farm for decades, consistently leading the way through innovative and experimental farming techniques. The Smiths envisioned the farm as a place to demonstrate sustainable agriculture; to foster farm innovation; and to engage with and inspire people around farming and the natural world, ultimately inspiring and instilling the core values of what Wolfe’s Neck Center is today.

The farm progressed into a public non-profit and community resource in 1997. Today, WNC is an educational and working farm set amidst an agricultural campus consisting of a unique mix of ecological systems: forest, marsh, pasture lands and four miles of coastline. Open free to the public year-round, WNC encourages the more than 30,000 annual visitors to traverse the extensive nature trails, learn about livestock in the barns and pastures, explore organic gardens and vegetable fields, camp along the shoreline, and enjoy the open space. Its authentic, beautiful setting uniquely positions the center to engage with people in deep and meaningful ways that have a lasting effect on their health and how they perceive their role in the food system.

As both an educational community resource and working farm, Wolfe’s Neck Center furthers this engagement by providing immersive farmer training. By training new farmers, Wolfe’s Neck Center strives to play a leading role in shaping the future of sustainable agriculture; inspiring people to make informed food choices; and facilitating farm-based education and research. Its most prominent program is the Organic Dairy Research & Farmer Training Program, established in 2015 in partnership with NH-based yogurt company Stonyfield, to address the growing number of challenges facing the dairy industry. Their shared vision was to create a pathway for farmers into a career in organic dairy, and to support increased milk production from family farms across Maine and New England. The training program is offered in partnership with Wisconsin-based Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program, the first accredited farming apprenticeship in the nation. There are currently three apprentices in the program who live and work at the farm as part of their two-year training. Additionally, there are five graduates of the program now working in the dairy/agriculture sector in Maine.

WNC Dairy Grazing Apprentices

In addition to the organic dairy program, Wolfe’s Neck Center also offers an intensive seasonal opportunity for aspiring organic fruit and vegetable farmers. Fruit & Vegetable Production Interns farm our fields from June through October, contributing to our on-site food offerings and practicing small-scale farm enterprise skills with a 40-share CSA. The program hosts 2-5 interns each summer. The program is two-fold: Provide quality education and experience to aspiring farmers, and support a significant population of food insecure Maine residents. Since 2014, WNC has partnered with the Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers Program and have donated more than 40,000 pounds of fresh produce. In this time, WNC also constructed greenhouses to extend its growing season to increase access to nutritious produce through the winter months when it is needed most. The produce grown in our organic gardens is also prepared in our Farm Café, sold in our Farm Store alongside other local products, and purchased by CSA shareholders throughout the season.

As part of the WNC farmer training programs, apprentices and interns learn to farm using regenerative agriculture practices; caring for the land so that it stores excess carbon and builds soil health for increased resiliency. Soil health research takes place on our fields, and that valuable information is used to help farms, university researchers, and food companies develop practices that limit greenhouse gas emissions and measure effects over time and in varying climates.

In July 2019, WNC launched OpenTEAM, or Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management, a major cross-sector collaboration to rebuild soil health in response to the impacts of climate change. OpenTEAM is a global, collaborative and farmer-driven, interoperable platform to provide farmers and ranchers around the world with the best possible knowledge to improve soil health. This initiative is funded, in part, by a multi-year grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.

While Wolfe’s Neck Center is addressing major issues facing the future of food, farming, and the environment, it also uses its setting to welcome visitors to engage with these elements on an introductory level through a variety of place-based, hands-on programming. Over 500 children participate in summer Farm Camp and throughout the year in school vacation camps and field trip programs, where they engage in hands-on learning about sustainable agriculture and the environment. Wolfe’s Neck Center also boasts a community garden, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, Community and Visitor programs, seasonal events and festivals, and a campground, all to further engage its thousands of annual visitors. Its oceanfront campground, which includes over 130 sites and three oceanfront cabins, has been a favorite retreat for many families for over fifty years. The campground offers kayak and canoe rentals for exploring the coastline of Casco Bay, and bike rental for wandering the dirt roads that line our campus and campground.

Each year at Wolfe’s Neck Center, thousands of visitors engage in powerful experiences through hands-on, place-based interactions while engaging with the natural world. Through this, WNC hopes to inspire active participation in a healthier food system and build a community of people who care deeply about the future of food.