At the beginning of the year, Bowsprit received an incredibly generous donation, which allowed us to negotiate taking over the deed to the farm! This is in no small part due to the patience and fortitude of the original investors, and incredible lawyers at Bernstein Shur in Portland, Maine, who worked with us pro bono for as long as it took! The seeds of Bowsprit’s success have been sown by these people.
Finally, the restructuring is complete! There is now a conservation easement in place through Maine Farmland Trust, and Bowsprit has overall responsibility for the farm management, while continuing to develop its educational work. Meanwhile, our search continues for new farmers and some extra staff…
What happened this year? Our participants were mostly students and accompanying staff members from Stetson Ranch, a residential School in Stetson ME, plus some other young people, from near and far.
We began with a couple of necessary adjustments - for reasons beyond our control, the participant group turned out to be smaller than we had hoped for; then one of Drew Houser’s horses became lame, so that we couldn’t get Drew and his team to the farm to twitch out the logs necessary for our projects. So we decided to visit Drew’s farm instead, groom the horses there, and give them some loving attention before returning to Bowsprit to figure out how we were going to get the logs out of the woods under our own steam…Fortunately, the rest of the session went like a dream!
Chris Helliwell from Clervaux Trust (Ruskin Mill Trust - https://rmt.org/) in northern England was our guest mentor. He worked with Peter and myself first to build two pole lathes from lumber harvested from our home, gave us a crash course in using them, then gracefully held our group for the first week with his firm-yet-kind mentorship. Chris’s knowledge of working with green wood is deep and wide, and it was really quite hard to let him go at the end of the first week when he returned to England. We dare to hope that he’ll be back!
In the first week most of our group drove to Temple ME, to the Maine Local Living School, where Chris Knapp and his crew welcomed us - teaching us how to care for and safely handle sharp tools; then to use the draw-knife and shave-horse to make spoons. Lunch was prepared for us by that semester’s MLLS students. This was a wonderful introduction to the power of working and learning together as a small community.
John Sherman from Liberty ME, was our lead mentor for the session, and he jumped right into the swing of things in the second week bringing with him his cheerful warmth, and skillful instruction. He was especially adept at teaching to the group while holding space for individual projects. We are so lucky to have him in the neighborhood, and we hope for a meaningful collaboration with him into the future.
Our strong lads ended up rolling or flipping the heavy logs down the hill into place near the work-tent. Moe Martin, our older neighbor who has spent his whole life in the woods, and whose knowledge is seemingly unending, joined our group for two days to show us how to cross-cut saw our logs and rive them into usable pieces with hand tools. Moe’s calm influence is steady and inspiring, and we will be asking him to return again and again.
Of course, our programs would not be complete without our amazing chef Jacqui Holmes and her grandson, seven-year old William. Jacqui cooks delicious and nutritious meals which go down a treat, and has an excellent ear for the tone of our gatherings. These mealtimes pleasantly punctuate the day and naturally provide an opportunity to relax and enjoy each other’s company, just as they should! As the youngest veteran of our program crew, William, is an inspiration, enthusiastic and determined; always happy to help with whatever work is going on.
Louis Pontillo, our returning TaiChi instructor, holds the distinction of having been with us since the first program. He is always enthusiastically welcomed by participants and mentors alike and has developed a wonderful rapport with the young people.
The farm takes a back seat right now as our search for farmers continues apace, and Peter and Graziella, founders, build a home on an adjacent lot. Next year we’ll be better positioned to offer much more rounded farm-work experience. In the interim, we start our seedlings in a community greenhouse nearby, run by Unity College, and have put in a small garden in one of the farm fields. Misty Brook Farm(ers) continue to keep our pastures and haylands healthy and in production with some of their dry cows and young cattle.
We began with a short hike across wet grassy fields to get to an ancient clay seam now covered by cedar woods. David Rocque, a local soil morphologist, described the make-up of the soil under our feet as we walked. As the gentle ridge of the field sloped down into the woods we paused and David wrapt us in geologic history, and the qualities and values of soil. Then with shovels and carts we entered the area where, in the 1820’s a brick kiln had once stood, above the rich clay deposit. We were careful not to dig near the banks of the trickling stream so as to protect its integrity and once we had located an opening in the woods where we’d be less likely to impact the tree-roots with our digging, we began. Strong arms, and feet on shovels, dug holes deep and round, colors changing from dark brown to ochre, to greenish, then blue! Having had our senses of observation keenly honed by David, the complexity of the soil became quickly evident, and we wondered at the process of discovery it must have been to locate this perfectly malleable substance hidden deep beneath the surface - perhaps a combination of adventurousness, knowledge, intuition, and drive had led to this spot. By this time we were all dirty, but still fascinated, filling 5 gallon buckets with the clay, taking pride in who had found the bluest blue, and competing to carry the heaviest buckets.
Pottery Studio : Pia Walker, Stella (her daughter/assistant), and Squidge Davis.
Squidge lent us her wisdom by imagining the beginnings of our universal culture in sculpture form, all of us blindfolded, and in silence - a perfect metaphor for the first discovery of the earth beneath us.
Pia provided us a perfect bridge from the purely creative to the practical elements of making pottery. Under her guidance, the participants made vessels, incorporating some of the clay we had mined and prepared ourselves, which were then fired in a barrel; surprising results were achieved and admired, and on display at the end of the session.
Other Stetson students and staff joined us for a pizza party at session’s-end.
Our participants worked hard all session to create an octagonal floor structure, with the intention to finish the top layer in cob made from the mined clay. This will be a temporary pottery - and built over next spring with a wooden frame filled with cob. We anticipate using this until our efforts afford us a more permanent studio space for working with clay…
Fall 2023 - (canceled but not abandoned program)
Despite the last moment suspension of the official program, Jo Hesse was still resident for the two weeks working on her own projects and teaching Graziella, Jacqui, William, and Sunniva the felt-making skills so that we can assist in future programs. As we worked, Jo sent out a video on Instagram and reported that one of the best rug makers in Iran had ‘liked’ our work! - a serendipitous juxtaposition of ancient and new technologies.
Among the items made was a colorful 3’x2’ ‘Logo-rug’, which will later be incorporated into a banner used for Bowsprit events.
Ahoy! See you all in 2024, and Happy New Year!
Despite a challenging beginning, this past summer, Bowsprit Foundation held it’s very first practicum, which was CLAY-themed. A small but enthusiastic group camped out at the farm, tended the garden, and built a gorgeous cob oven…Thank you Jesse !