Sleeping with sheep

Not exactly sure, but I think Maine’s Department of Agriculture sent me a press release about a new state program that provided state funds as seed to Maine farmers interested in the bed & breakfast business. I called the contact person and asked if he could put me in touch with one of the farmers who had gone into the bed & breakfast business. That resulted in a phone conversation with Anne Gass, who along with her husband Alan owned Moose Crossing Farm, a sheep farm in the western part of the state. Beth and I drove there on a Saturday afternoon and spent the night. I remember it being a bit more primitive than what we now generally think of bed & breakfasts, but it was enjoyable, and the breakfast was plain but very good.

By ARTHUR FREDERICK

SOUTH PARIS, Maine (UPI) — Alan and Anne Gass bought Moose Crossing Farm in 1985 because they wanted to raise sheep, and they do, but thanks to a state program, they are also in the bed-and-breakfast business.

The main activity at Moose Crossing Farm still is the herd of about 65 sheep that roam the fields of the old 90-acre farmstead, but sometimes guests find their way up Christian Ridge Road and onto the dirt driveway.

The money supplements the Gass’s farm income, and the guests provide company.

4F944F6A71‘The farm is wonderful, but with the sheep you can’t ever get too far away from home,’ Ann Gass said as she prepared bacon, scrambled eggs and homemade popovers one recent Sunday morning in the big farm kitchen. ‘I enjoy people, and the bed-and-breakfast helps in that regard.’

The state Department of Agriculture, ever on the alert to find ways for farmers to generate new income, came up with the farm bed-and-breakfast idea about three years ago. Now, 20 Maine farms offer rooms and a real farm experience. More are expected to join the program in the coming months.

Maine’s popular coastal areas have been dotted with bed-and-breakfasts for many years. But Department of Agriculture officials believed at least some of the thousands of tourists who flood the state every year might be ready for something a little different.

‘We saw an opportunity at the department four years ago,’ said Chaitanya York, a marketing specialist who started the program. ‘We dealt with the hypothesis that there was a growing interest among vacationers in staying at farm bed-and-breakfasts.

‘We also worked on the assumption that there was a willingness among some farmers to have bed-and-breakfast operations,’ he said. ‘We saw it as a real possibility for some farmers to have another source of income that could help them to continue farming.’

York and his associates studied similar programs in other states and in New Brunswick, Canada.

The department sponsors the annual Maine Agricultural Trade Show, and three years ago York presided over a seminar on the operation of bed-and-breakfasts.

‘We got it on the program, publicized it, and reserved a room that could hold 70 people,’ York said. ‘Way over 100 people showed up.’

One reason for the success of the program so far, York said, is that all the farms that take part in the Maine Farm Vacation B&B Association must meet very strict operating standards.

‘The farms must be inspected and must meet guidelines,’ York said. ‘And every farm must have some sort of farming activity going on. You can’t just have a set of farm buildings.’

The Maine participants all offer something different, York said.

Moose Crossing has its sheep; Piper Mountain Farm in Dixmont grows Christmas trees; Squire Tarbox Farm in Wiscasset has a herd of dairy goats; SealCove Farm on Mount Desert Island raises goats and sheep and produces several varieties of cheese.

Arnold Sturtevant, president of the Maine Farm Vacation B&B Association, said his Home-Nest Farm in the town of Fayette attracts guests through a variety of sources.

‘They find us through articles, through bed-and-breakfast guidebooks, and a bed-and-breakfast reservation service lists us,’ Sturtevant said. ‘They also find us through the Maine Publicity Bureau, and through the state information centers (on the Maine Turnpike). We also have our own brochure.’

Sturtevant’s 200-acre farm, which has been in his family for seven generations, features a main farmhouse as well as a smaller cottage and an old schoolhouse. All offer space that can be rented by the night or for longer periods. Some families, he said, spend several weeks on the farm each summer, and skiing and snowmobiling is offered during the winter months.

For Jim and Marcia Cope and their young daughter, from Columbus, Ohio, who have stayed at Home-Nest Farm during the past three summers, the vacation provides some much-needed tranquility.

‘This is pretty hard-core inner city, with lots of noise and crack use and confusion,’ said Cope, a Luthern minister who serves in Columbus’ inner city, in a telephone interview. ‘I really look forward to getting away to a quiet setting. I grew up on a farm, and this sounded like the kind of thing I was looking for.’

For Cope, staying on a farm B&B, which generally costs $40-$60 a night, provides an alternative to the popular coast of Maine.

‘The costs have gotten so high, and the Maine coast is so rocky and so much of it is owned privately that it isn’t easy to find a place overlooking the ocean at a reasonable price,’ he said.

 

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