Where is your happy place? The beach? The mountains? A hammock in the backyard? Sisters Lana and Sara Cannon find their happy place on their family farm in Springvale, Maine where they are in the throes of their first year as organic vegetable and poultry farmers.
Over turkey and stuffing a career was born.
It started a couple of years ago at Thanksgiving. Their aunt, Jean Noon, an organic sheep farmer with rock star-like status in Maine's farming community, suggested they take up the family business.
"We fell into it," says Lana, 28. Having just returned from a trip to Belize, she was volunteering at Drumlin Farm in Massachusetts. With a Master's degree in sustainable international development she never fancied herself a farmer. "But all the reasons I wanted to go into sustainable development fit into becoming a farmer," she says.
After art school, Sara, 25, hopped on her bike in Portland, ME and pedaled 2,000 miles south to New Orleans where she found work at Inglewood Farm.
Almost in unison the sisters say that farming allows them to, "live the ideals we haven't been able to exercise in other ways."
Farming at the height of the growing season means eighty hour work weeks. At slower times of the year they're still working more than they would at any other job. Spend that amount of time with anyone and tensions arise.
"We bicker when we're tired and grumpy," admits Sara.
You get a taste of that dynamic when the sisters debate who the chickens favor. "The chickens don't like Sara," Lana says.
When it comes to chicken farming, Lana is "good cop" because she feeds them. Sara is "bad cop" because she has to coral them into their coop for the night.
Squabbles quickly subside when the sisters consider the bigger picture. "I like that we're working together on the same page. Our goals are in sync," says Lana as Sara nods in agreement.
The sisters watch out for each other; one reminds the other to take days off.
Image: Chris Hull
Lana tells of an experience at a farmers market where a customer assumed that their husbands or brothers were the farmers and that they were simply tending the farm stand.
However, Lana says, "Women of all backgrounds come up to us and say how cool it is that we're women who are farming."
Although Sara sometimes wishes she had the physical strength of her male counterparts, she doesn't see any major drawbacks to being a female farmer. Her sister concurs. "I would like to be physically stronger," says Lana, "But I feel strong."
The sisters have a formidable role model in their Aunt Jean. They tell of seeing Jean proudly riding a tractor--the only woman they've ever seen on a tractor.
"Adulting" is a word that comes up a lot while talking with Lana and Sara. It is obvious they think a lot about the responsibilities of being adults (and farmers). They have student loans, living expenses, family responsibilities, and a small business on their minds.
"Marketing and financial matters don't come naturally like growing food," says Sara.
Finances are always front of mind. They farm on 1.25 acres on the family farm. They get this land rent free (they "pay" in labor and veggies), which is a great help.
A grant from the Sanford (Maine) Regional Economic Growth Council helped with start-up costs.
They sell their produce at two farmers markets in southern Maine as well as a farm stand at a local nursery. Additionally, they offer nineteen CSA farm shares for the twenty week growing season. They also sell to a few local restaurants.
This week is especially exciting because after nine months of farming the sisters will be able to pay themselves a salary! Both work at part-time jobs off-farm to help with expenses.
Financially, they plan to break even this year. And they have established relationships with CSA members, market patrons, and restaurant owners that will help them in coming years.
They're proud...and humble
Their first year of farming has had its challenges; for example, not having enough time in the day and growing more than they can sell.
The deaths of their grandfather and uncle within a month of each other have also been a cloud hanging over their heads. But there have been successes. "We underestimated ourselves because we didn't want to have high hopes and then fail," says Lana. One major success is that they have grown more food than they expected.
And, most importantly, the sisters are proud of what they've grown. "We're constantly taking pictures of our vegetables because they're so beautiful!" says Sara with a smile.
Follow the Cannon's progress at: www.cannonsatnoonfarm.com.
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Top image of women on a farm via Shutterstock