After 25 Years, The Sun Has Set On Laughing Stock Farm

January 2022

February 2022

What a year!  You know, 2020 was a rough year, but back in 2020 you could just say, hey, next year will be better.  Who knew 2021 would be even worse?  Not much went really well on the farm last year. Worst of all, trying to hire people for the farm last year was nuts.  I ended up calling the interview “the mirror test” – if you can steam up a mirror you’re hired.  Of course, this meant someone had to show up for a scheduled interview, and then show up for the first day of work.  Much harder than you might think. We sent out 23 W-2s in January for what ended up being a 5 person crew. Let that sink in.

And, we especially want to thank our 2021 crew who stayed with us for their full commitment. This was one of the best crews we’ve ever had. A marine engineer, genuinely skilled trades people, a paralegal, students of neuroscience, pre-med, and some undecided. Absolutely amazing young people, all! We will miss you and wish you the best as you move on to do great things. If ever there was a small group of young people to give us hope for the future, this was the crew.

On the other hand, we’ve had felons and addicts work for us before, but this is the first time we had a felon who threatened us and, upon reporting it, had the local police tell us that if he came back, we should take shelter, lock the doors, and call them immediately. And an addict who was hired for full time work, then showed up 22.5 hours in the first 80 hour, two-week pay period, and then 9 hours in the second one; and then was surprised when I said, “gee, this isn’t working out”.  And of course, aside from the people who accepted the job and then simply didn’t show up, there were all the people who just walked off the job without saying anything.  It is a weird, weird world right now.

Again, the people who did stay were awesome and fun to have around, there just weren’t ever enough of them to get everything done.  There were seedlings we couldn’t get planted, field crops we couldn’t get weeded, ready crops that we couldn’t get harvested, machinery we couldn’t repair or maintain, etc., etc., etc.. And then serendipity happened.

Someone told me about a job that a friend might be interested in, and I went on a job website to find it to email to her.  While I was there I thought, hmm, I wonder if anyone is looking for engineers.  As I scrolled down through the first few engineer ads, there was one for a landfill engineer, which is what I used to do.  Then I read further, and it was the company I used to work for!  Turns out hiring engineers is as hard as hiring farm workers right now and there were TONS of ads.  Who knew?  I applied for that and some other things and Ralph applied for some things, and it turns out that people were so desperate for engineers they’d even hire us, after the years we’ve been away from it, and at our ages.  Again, who knew?

Ralph: I’ve always been a facilities engineer; professionally and all over north America since I got my engineering degree in 1984, and especially on our farm. Somehow, in the beginning of October, I was lucky enough to be accepted as a facilities project manager in the facilities engineering group at the Maine Army National Guard . The people there are amazing. Being in a position to help support people who are ready and willing to give up everything on a moments notice for all the rest of us is really inspirational. It’s the best way I can imagine for me to give back to something really important for my last working years. Hopefully I’ll be there for a very long time.

Lisa: In November I went back to the same place I was 25 years ago.  Through December I was out drilling holes through a plastic cover into an 80-foot deep papermill sludge landfill.  It was cold and wet most of the time, and so windy one day that I was standing on some ice on the plastic, and a gust of wind came along and literally blew me down!  And I’m LOVING it!  I am absolutely having the time of my life, thrilled to be back at it.  I left when I was about 35 to focus on raising our kids (and start the farm), and when I walk back into that same office I left, I feel just like I’m 35 again.  How sweet is that??

We had 22 terrific years doing the farm.  But after 25 years, the stresses of the economic, political, and social forces conspiring against small farms like ours made it clear that it was time for us to move on.  Around mid January, when we would normally be stressed out about keeping the greenhouses running in the cold, finding seed that was already sold out everywhere, advertising for help (see above), and finding the time and money to maintain the equipment and everything else that needs to be in top shape come April, we both realized that we haven’t missed the farm at all since we started our jobs.  Since we made our changes, we’ve watched the price of heating fuel more than double; labor cost is up more than 100% over the last 5 years; seed, potting mix, fertilizer, and everything else is up astronomically since just last year. Our model of farming is no longer “sustainable”. Who knew all of that was coming in just one year, and more importantly, who knows where it’s all going? 

All I can say is that when a door is closing, start looking for a window.  2021 turned out pretty well for us after all. We feel very lucky to have had excellent options.  Our thoughts and prayers are with all the amazing people we know from farming who are still at it, whether through insatiable passion, stubborn optimism, or sadly for a few, lack of choice. If you’re looking for an alternative, find a local family owned farm who is a member of the Maine Vegetable and Small Fruit Growers Association and look for retailers who carry their products. They are great people and they’re the best of the best at what we used to do.

We have high hopes for 2022, primarily because we are incorrigibly optimistic.  We wouldn’t have farmed as long as we did if we weren’t. We have enormous gratitude to all the CSA members and restaurant customers who appreciated the fruits (and vegetables) of our efforts over those 25 years. We miss you and we wish all of you a very happy 2022 and beyond…

Love,

Lisa and Ralph