The office of Pineland Farms’ dairy herd manager, N.A. Martin, is located in the corner of the calf barn. From there, he can see many of the thousands of children who come through annually with school groups or on family visits to the dairy that is part of the unique 5,000-acre working farm, business campus and educational and recreational venue open to the public. The calves are a big draw, of course. “They are pretty receptive to little people who want to pet them,” Martin says. “I think it’s a neat experience for folks who might not have the opportunity to be up close to animals and to provide people a chance to understand a bit more about farming and where their food comes from.”
“The Valley Farm” under Martin’s management milks about 75 registered Holsteins and cares for another 100 young animals along with a small flock of chickens and Angus beef cattle. It is one of many operations now thriving on the expansive and beautiful grounds of a former state institution for the mentally challenged thanks to the nonprofit Libra Foundation founded by the late Betty Noyce, who had been married to an early Silicon Valley pioneer. “Our broad mission is to improve the lives of Maine citizens,” explains foundation vice-president Erik Hayward. “When the last residents left Pineland in 1996, we saw an opportunity to turn what many looked at as a giant albatross into a public good. Part of that was to show that farming could be done in Maine—and done well.”
Since Libra’s real estate arm purchased the property in June 2000, it has made extensive investment to bring Pineland’s buildings and farmland back to life, including adding more acreage to the property. Tenants in the 19 buildings include a variety of non-profit and for-profit businesses, organizations and services. Visitors can not only see dairy farming in action but also hike, mountain bike, cross-country ski and ride horses; enjoy meals made from food grown and raised by Pineland’s various agricultural enterprises around Maine; stay overnight in meticulously renovated historic guest houses and even get married.
The main campus of Pineland Farms also has its own cheese-making operation with viewing windows onto a small production facility where Cheddar, Monterey Jack, baby Swiss and feta cheeses are made in rotation. “I really appreciate how many people I’ve been able to introduce to the taste of fresh cheese curds straight from the vat,” says cheese plant manager and cheesemaker, Mark Whitney. “What I hear most is, ‘I had no idea how much work went into making cheese.’ And to see all the kids come in and watch what we do is just really rewarding.”
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