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Farm Glance: Mandala Farm

August 12, 2010

After cycling 125km from  Campobello Island, New Brunswick, to Gouldsboro, Maine,  we were happy to land in a familiar landscape. Having spent four years living and studying at The College of the Atlantic (COA) in nearby Bar Harbor, Alex and I were looking forward to finally visit fellow COA alumns Genio Bertin and Sarah Faull’s Mandala Farm. We  had enjoyed the food they produced (nothing like Mandala Farm bacon and eggs to fuel you through college!) and heard lots about them through friends who had apprenticed at the farm.

One of Mandala Farm's 15 norwegian fjord horses

Sarah and Genio started working with norwegian fjord horses a few years after graduating from college. Their work with the horses evolved into a passion for both the animals and the farming lifestyle, which led them to purchase the 120 acres property they currently farm. After approximately 10 years and a tremendous amount of work on their part, Mandala farm is a highly diverse operation. The activities taking place on site include:

  • 15 norwegian fjord horses used for field work and sold for breeding;
  • 5 acres of flower and vegetable production managed by Phenix (whose last name we missed, apologies);
  • 10 small A-frames keep chickens and turkeys slaughtered and processed on-site (for more on the challenges of bringing meat from pasture to the consumer, see this post on the David Bunnett Family Farm);
  • Approximately 100 laying hens supply eggs;
  • 1 dairy cow provides milk for the on-site store;
  • Several cashmere goats  provide wool and a few miniature goats are pets;
  • A few sheep contribute  wool used mostly for domestic purposes; and,
  • About 10 pigs are raised for meat and piglet sales .

Genio and Sarah built their own on-site poultry processing facility, for which they are licensed to slaughter up to 20,000 birds per year. These days , slaughtering facilities are declining in numbers; we consider Genio and Sarah's initiative to be an important, admirable and visionary accomplishment . In the pictures above you can see the outdoor space where the birds are slaughtered and plucked. They are then passed through the window to be further processed in the indoor space.


Situated less than an hour’s  drive from beautiful Mount Desert Island, a popular touristic destination with a large summer community, Mandala Farm  is next door to a thriving regional market: restaurants, CSA’s, on-site farm store are all part of the farm’s marketing strategy.

Cashmere goats on the left, wool sheep on the right

A table with two holes hold the Dynamic Salad Spinners in place. See our previous Farm Glance on Juniper Farm for another way to stabilize this salad spinner.

MANDALA FARM AND THE NORWEGIAN DRAFT HORSE
Apprentices Matt, Suzy and Ally came to Mandala Farm partly to learn to work with the horses. Their training is bearing fruit; the skills they have acquired and the impressive level of comfort and confidence they display with the animals reflect the seriousness and dedication with which they are approaching their apprenticeship.  And from what we have observed so far on this trip, they are not alone in their interest in draft horses. Especially vibrant amongst new farmers, a movement to revive agricultural trades and traditions seems to be spreading, with draft horses riding the wave.

Childhood dream of having a pony aside, we ourselves have a rather romantic idea of replacing a tractor with a draft horse. Indeed, when we think draft horse, we envision less soil compaction,  we are attracted to the possibility of growing the required ”fuel”-hay- on site (instead of having to purchase and depend on a non-renewable resource), and we sure like the idea of a horse providing both labor and manure.

At work in the field

But this is a rather mechanistic and limited view of the draft horse. Mandala Farm is an excellent example of how working with horses is an art that goes beyond notions of profitability, cost-effectiveness and environmental stewardship.  For Genio and Sarah, working with draft horses makes sense primarily because they enjoy the animals: they estimate spending 75% of their time caring for the animals and 25% using them for field work. Their advice for new farmers was clear; unless you are excited about the animal itself, invest in a 1940’s tractor. But if you find yourself collecting The Draft Horse Connection, or that the pile of draft horse implements sitting in your backyard just keeps growing, then go for it, for there is much value in reviving and preserving both the trade and the draft horse breeds.

The 15 horses at Mandala Farm were gentle and incredibly agile-a testimony to the knowledge and hard work of Sarah and Genio and to a caring team of workers and apprentices.  In the end, Mandala Farm provided us with both a valuable reality check and a hefty dose of inspiration. Their accomplishments, including and going beyond their work with the norwegian fjord horse, are unique and will continue to draw both aspiring and seasoned farmers.

Post by Virginie

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