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Tide Mill Organic Farm by HC120901045011


									Tide Mill Organic Farm – nine
generations of Bell Family history
The first Bell arrived in Edmunds Township on Maine’s easternmost coast in 1765 from Scotland, and the
roots he planted have only grown stronger in the nearly 250 years since then. Today, the ninth
generation of Bells is being raised on the property now known as Tide Mill Organic Farm, and 17
members of the family live amongst six households there. The farm got its name because of a gristmill
that the early Bells built on the water’s edge. The mill, which was in operation by 1800, was powered by
the tide.

The eldest of the eighth generation, Aaron Bell, his wife Carly DelSignore and their four children head up
the farm operation with Aaron taking lead on the dairy and Carly taking care of the vegetable gardens
and poultry (they raise 10,000 chickens and 500 turkeys each year and have a small processing plant on
the farm) . The family milks a mix of about 50 Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss and cross-bred cows,
producing 200 gallons of milk a day. Seventy percent of that milk goes to Maine’s Own Organic Milk
(MOOMilk); the rest is sold at farmer’s markets and to cheese makers, including his cousin who owns
Tide Mill Creamery. Neighbors also come to the farm to purchase raw milk, leaving their money in a
coffee can next to the fridge in the milk tank room.

In all, the farm is about 1600 acres. At one time, the farm was much larger, and more recently it was
broken up into much smaller parcels by family members. But the family brought it back together, and
“we’ve managed to keep it together and keep it in agricultural production,” Aaron said.

Most of the farm is woodland, with 200 acres of mixed vegetables and 40-50 acres of open fields.
Aaron’s father Robert and uncle Terry operate a sustainable wood harvesting business, cutting on the
family’s property, as well as other locations across Washington County. The brothers started a dairy at
Tide Mill Farm in the 1960s, when there were several in the area, but sold off the dairy herd in 1977 to
focus on logging, beef cattle and hay. After graduating from the University of Maine at Orono in 2000,
Carly and Aaron returned to the farm to live, and Aaron worked with his father in the woods. In 2005,
the dairy foods company HP Hood approached farms in the area to meet the increased demand for
organic milk. Aaron signed on and started making improvements and upgrades to the old infrastructure
that was already in place from the past dairy at the farm. A couple years later, when the economy went
south and some consumers were no longer able to pay the higher price for organic milk and the cost of
transporting the milk from remote dairies like Tide Mill became too much, Hood was forced to drop the
Bells and several other small organic farms. The 10 farms then came together to start their own
cooperative – MOOMilk, which is processed and bottled by Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook.

While it got off to a rough start, the cooperative has been up and running for a couple of years and is
starting to improve. They are now recruiting even more milk, said Aaron, adding that Whole Foods and
other stores in the Boston area have been a big market for them. “We only want to sell in the New
England area,” Aaron said, emphasizing the importance of offering a local, fresh product.
It does cost more for organic feed for his cows, and Aaron gives them a mix of silage, hay and grain
when they are not on pasture. Occasionally, they will mix in seaweed to their cows’ feed to give them
extra nutrients. Along with providing seaweed, a coastal location is a benefit to the livestock because of
the milder weather. “It will be a good 10 degrees cooler here when it’s in the 90s inland,” Aaron said.
“The cows like cooler weather.” And that is evident because they milk production will drop off in
extreme heat.

Even milking a small herd, the process takes about three hours, twice a day. “At least you know what
you’re going to be doing everyday,” Aaron told a tour group during Open Farm Day on July 22. Even with
his busy schedule, he likes to take time out for events such as Open Farm Day because he wants to build
a relationship with customers.

“We depend on that relationship for our income,” he said, adding that customers will buy a product that
they feel a connection with even if it costs more, like the price of organic milk versus conventional. “It’s
like choosing Coke over Pepsi. There’s something that pulls you.

“We don’t launch massive ad campaigns though, we do this.”

But it’s more than just the income. “I love to see people excited to learn where their food comes from.
We (Society) got away from that for a couple of generations. Everyone used to have farms. Then with
the introduction of mass production, we didn’t have to, and people moved away from it.”

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