Sunday, 21 July 2013

Harris Family Farm

Martha Harris strode across the front lawn of her century farm, when she saw our tour bus approaching, and waved eagerly at us, much as John Williams had when we arrived at his farm a few hours earlier. A large 19th century farm house, from the days of 10 children families, stood behind her and was surrounded by huge shady trees. Up the lane way, past a sheep filled enclosure, was a well maintained barn probably of a similar vintage to the house. What was built by the sweat and hard labour of men in the 1800s, is still being appreciated and well used today, which is something I love to see.

Martha was joined by her sister, Beth, and they explained that their younger brother, Robert, was somewhere about, but I got the feeling that he would prefer to toil in the background rather than meet nearly three dozen media types and their cameras! Martha gave us a talk about their operation which includes farm fresh produce, maple syrup, lop eared rabbits and the cornerstone of their business which is grass fed lamb.

I am from the very rural west coast of Scotland and my male ancestors were almost all shepherds in days gone by and a few cousins still farm sheep today. Visiting the Harris Family Farm took me back to my native Argyllshire just a little bit. Later on, I asked my father, a former shepherd himself, if he had heard of the Katadihn sheep that the Harrises keep and I was surprised that he had not. It seems that it is a fairly recent breed, only arising in the 1950s when a farmer in Maine, U.S.A. crossed a breed from the Virgin Islands with his own flock, to create a hardy, fertile, good eating, wool-less animal.

I had never heard of hair sheep before. It seems that they grow a heavy coat for the winter and then shed it naturally in the spring, just like a dog would, with none of the work or expense of shearing a fleece. Since the Harris family has no interest in wool and is focused solely on producing quality lamb products, this is an ideal breed for them. In fact, no wool means less lanolin, which in turn means less fat and cholesterol in the meat. The Katadihn sheep have other bonuses too such as year round breeding and twin lambs are very common, even triplets and quadruplets are not unheard of.

Under the protective shade of some willow trees, I found a pen full of gorgeous French lop eared rabbits. Someone in the group mentioned that they were also for food and I had a brief Peta moment where thoughts of facilitating an escape from Alcatraz crossed my mind. I didn't do it of course, but I felt sorry for them. It turned out that the earlier report of bunny burgers was erroneous and that the lops here are being kept for sale as pets or for exhibiting. Whew!

The Harris Family Farm has 2 separate gardens that I saw. The one to the right of the house, beside their newly built produce stand, is more of farmer's field with rows of bright green garlic plants, peas in full flower and other assorted vegetables, all straight and well weeded. Next to the house, on the left hand side, is a lovely mixed herb and flower garden with a circular centre garden with what looked like either melon or squash plants. Beth Harris, chief gardener for the family operation, freely combines herbs and flowering plants in the same beds and it looks terrific. I'm not sure why I thought they needed to be separate before, but I can tell you that I now pair them up together and will from now on.

You can visit Martha, Beth and Robert (if you can find him) at the farm from June until October. You can contact tech savvy Martha anytime through their website , by email, or through Facebook or Twitter - she's got it all going on! They are young and energetic, but yet old fashioned perhaps and wise beyond their years when they proudly say "Our family is proud to carry on the farming tradition, in which shared knowledge, hard work ethic, and love for the land and animals have been passed down from generation to generation." I don't believe we are related, but I am pleased to share the name Harris with you!

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