DAP Board Member Lizzie Koltai sat down with Earle Mitchell, “Mitch”, of Bowdoin Maine to talk about his farm.
Mitch and his wife Penny Savage grow food for themselves and sell the extra. They have a team of Belgians—Dick and Dock—as well as Bear the dog, chickens and cats. Mitch describes his farm as more like a homestead “except for hay, maple syrup, grain and some dry beans.”
Mitch started out as a fisherman. In 1975 his father got sick and the family decided to sell the family farm. He owned 25 acres of that farm, and used his share to buy 50 acres in Bowdoin. Half the land was wooded and half open but neglected. Bowdoin was just far enough inland that Mitch decided to quit fishing. He figured he would cut wood for a living. At the time, he didn’t have enough money for a skidder so he bought a team of horses. They worked in the woods for 4 or 5 years until he could afford the skidder.
The team was still there, so Mitch used them on the farm. They began with making hay. Mitch decided to plow some of the land to improve it, and seeded oats for the horses. Once he had the tilled land for oats, he decided he might as well use it for dry beans as well. In this way, Mitch brought the whole farm back into use piece by piece.
After some hard times Mitch no longer had his own team, but started boarding a few horses. With a single draft he was boarding, he began collecting sap in the farm’s sugar bush.
Then Mitch met Penny. Together they built a house on the farm and bought a new team in 1992. They have had horses ever since, as well as Mitchell and Savage Maple Farm/Maine Maple Kitchen. They also bought the adjacent farm—a mirror image of their own—doubling both their fields and woodlot.
What is the most fun thing you do with horses?
“It’s all fun,” Mitch told me. After some prodding he admitted that he likes plowing the best of all. So much so that he keeps buying old plows, handles or no handles so long as the points are good.
What is the hardest thing?
“Cutting wood,” Mitch said. “It’s hard on the harness, the horses, and the people…Farming is nothing compared to logging.”
Where do you look for advice and inspiration about horses?
To this Mitch started listing other teamsters he knows, and finally said “anybody who’ll listen. I just throw the question out there because you never know where the answer will come from.”