Passion for the land inspires Wallagrass farming couple
WALLAGRASS, Maine — Farming may bring wealth to some people, but, Jody Spiers and Annette DeCroix have not created In-Spier-ed Acres Family Farm to reap financial rewards.
“We want to wake up each morning, sit on our porch and look at that view,” Spiers said Wednesday, pointing across a small valley above Soldier Pond, the landscape a patchwork of open fields, backroads and woodlots.
“It’s not our intention to get rich,” he said.
“Farming has always been a passion,” Spiers said, as he walked between a small barn and the large pen where he keeps some pigs along the New Canada Road.
Spiers, whose mother, Norma Ouellette, is from St. Francis, grew up in Sherman and Medway. He came to the St. John Valley in 2005 to work as a truck driver, and then worked for Bouchard family farm in Fort Kent for eight years before starting his own farm.
“You can’t beat this lifestyle. But, you’re married to it,” he said. “You can’t just decide to go away for the weekend. There is always something to do.”
Six years ago, Spiers bought the farm for his son Jody Jr. A few years later, though, his son joined the military and Spiers decided to take over the farm himself. With more than 360 acres in all, about 200 of which are tillable land and pasture, he and DeCroix have their hands full.
“I also have a cable skidder and work in the woods,” Spiers said.
“The skidder is supposed to be a hobby. But, right now it’s helping to pay for the farm,” he added with a chuckle.
Today, he and DeCroix raise a mix of Angus and Simmental cattle, which are 100 percent grass fed, he said. “We don’t use chemicals or hormones. It’s all natural.”
Despite that, the couple has chosen to not get certified as organic, mainly due to the expense, he said. Still, Spiers is trying to find a market niche to fill and is hoping that grass-fed beef will be popular.
“There is so much competition now. We are trying to be different,” he said. “We don’t have a lot customers yet. But, we have very, very loyal customers.”
The couple have their own bull on the farm and maintain about 55 brood cows that produce about 30-40 calves each year.
“The bull is half the herd,” said Spiers. “You can get a brood cow for a few thousand dollars. A good bull will cost you $12,000 to $16,000.”
The farm offers half, quarter and whole sides of beef, which are slaughtered at a facility in Stockholm. Spiers has not yet moved into offering selected cuts of beef. Rather, customers purchase in bulk and work with the butcher to have individual cuts packed.
Spiers and DeCroix also raise pigs, free range chickens, turkeys and some vegetables on the farm. A few Nubian goats provide milk, which the couple plan to turn into cheese and sell.
As he walked around the farm Wednesday, the hours of hard work and his love of doing it, were both evident in Spiers’ face. He happily showed off his pair of rather odd looking silkie chickens, which were protecting a small newborn. Spiers was eager to call over a group of piglets with a whistle and call of “pig, pig, pig.”
He was also able to coax out Alf, the farm’s lone pig boar, from his shelter. Alf, with his very pregnant girlfriend in tow, happily came over to visit.
Inside the barn was the family’s milking cow, which was helping to take care of a new calf whose mother had abandoned it at birth earlier this spring.
“She was a first time mom. It happens sometimes,” said Spiers.
Farm labor at In-Spiers-ed Acres consists of Jodi and Decroix, with some help from Blue, their small but busy shepard, who is trained to work with cattle.
“He follows me around all day,” said Spiers. “He loves working with the cows.”
Marketing has proven to be a tough nut to crack, Spiers said. The couple would like to entice new customers and expand their base of returning customers. Anyone interested in more information about buying beef or pork products may call 436-9564 or 436-0311.
Spiers said he is a supporter of the food sovereignty movement, which seeks to have communities regulate locally produced food distribution free from state control. As of July, however, no towns in the St. John Valley had declared their food sovereignty, according to The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets.
“We are waiting to see what happens with the rules. Kind of just riding the wave right now,” Spiers said.
Regardless of whether or not Spiers and DeCroix branch out to offer direct meat and poultry sales, he said customers and potential customers are encouraged to visit the farm.
“People don’t know where their beef comes from. They think it comes from the store,” Spiers commented.
“But, more people are catching on, and they want homegrown stuff. Folks are more than welcome to come visit the cows,” he said.