When Andrew and Becky Toothacker purchased Hart Farm in Holden last year, they bought more than just 160 acres to work and build a business on.
They also bought more than 150 years’ worth of local history made at the former dairy farm, located at the top of scenic Copeland Hill — just a 10-minute drive from downtown Bangor and Brewer — which the Toothackers now have a pristine view of from their hilltop farmhouse.
Andrew Toothacker, 28, said people regularly tell him and his wife stories about Hart Farm. In its heyday in the first half of the 20th century, Hart Farm milk was sold to families all over the Brewer region. In the 1960s and ‘70s, local teens would park at the top of the hill to watch the sunset — and, according to the lore, would sometimes get up to other, less innocent things while there.
And, most recently, the last patriarch of the farm, C. Evans Hart, grew locally renowned gladiolus, selling the enormous, vibrant blooms each year during the long, warm days of late summer.
Andrew and Becky Toothacker purchased Hart Farm in Holden last year to work and build a business on. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
“When you buy an old farm, you buy the stories along with it,” Andrew Toothacker said. “Someone had to move all the stones from the ground so the land was workable. The fact that this was a dairy farm means that the soil is amazing. All those things are why we’re here today.”
Hart Farm has lain mostly fallow since the late 1960s, however, when the last dairy cows were sold. The house has been empty since Hart’s death in 2011, eventually falling into disrepair. To protect the property from being subdivided and developed, Holden Land Trust stepped in to purchase the property in 2016, and established an easement that required the land to be used for agriculture. The trust then put it on the market, looking for the right people to bring the farm back to life.
The Toothackers, meanwhile, had been looking for a farm property to buy for several years. They met in 2014 at an agricultural retreat in New York, and quickly bonded over a shared love and vision for farming in the 21st century. Becky, originally from Massachusetts, studied social work and sustainable agriculture at the University of Vermont, while Andrew, originally from Portland, Oregon, had toggled between working on farms and working in kitchens, including most recently at nationally acclaimed restaurant Fore Street in Portland.
They established their first farming venture in 2016, on a few acres belonging Becky’s family in New Hampshire. They quickly realized, however, that if they wanted to scale up, they needed a bigger plot of land. And that’s when Hart Farm entered the picture.
“I remember we drove here on this amazingly foggy day in December 2019, and you wouldn’t have had any idea there was this view,” Becky Toothacker said. “But we pretty quickly realized what a gem this place was.”
They closed on the property in March 2020, one day before the pandemic shut virtually everything down in Maine. With plenty of time on their hands, the pair immediately got to work on extensive renovations. They gutted and modernized the farmhouse, jacked up the falling-apart post-and-beam barn and built a greenhouse. During that time, Andrew completed a one-year certificate in diesel equipment engines and heavy equipment technology from Eastern Maine Community College, so he could properly maintain farm vehicles and equipment himself.
By spring 2021, they’d planted four acres of produce, and had already begun raising hogs. They launched a community-supported agriculture program, and their initial 30 farm shares, as well as their hog shares, sold out in a matter of weeks. They converted the former milking parlor in the barn into a self-serve CSA pickup and market, where they also sell fresh cut flowers and a small selection of items from local bakeries and sugarhouses.
“In the next couple of years, we want to get to 100 farm shares,” Andrew Toothacker said. “If we can get to that number, we can sustain things year-round.”
The longer-term goal for Hart Farm, however, is to renovate the upper floor of the barn to house an event space, where the Toothackers can host farm dinners, markets, live music and private events.
“I think that’s really the name of the game for farms these days, is to offer a lot of diverse things,” he said. “You’ve got to be more than one thing.”
For the Toothackers, farming is as much about community as it is planting and harvesting. To that end, they helped to launch the Holden Farmers Market this year, on Friday afternoons at the historic Holden Town Hall on Route 1A. And one of the selling points of the farm for them was the fact that, as part of the easement, part of their land is open to the public, with Holden Land Trust trails accessible via a parking lot across the street from the farmhouse.
“The fact that people come through here and use the trails every day means that people see us, and know we’re here,” Becky Toothacker said. “We really want to be a part of the community. I think the area is ripe for the kind of thing we’re trying to do.”
Hart Farm will host a CSA Day event from 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 26. A $15 ticket includes farm tours, live music and a farm dinner cooked by Andrew Toothacker and some of his former colleagues from Fore Street in Portland. For tickets and information, visit hartfarmmaine.com.