Nathanial Gandy was having a good day on his homestead, despite being smack in the middle of Maine mud season. Morning chores were done, and he’d just witnessed the planned breeding between two of his pigs.
“My boar just did his job,” Gandy, 52, said. “I was able to actually see it, which is really good for planning purposes and knowing when the piglets will be born.”
In addition to the small herd of swine, Gandy is raising egg-laying hens and meat chickens on 93 acres in Brooksville.
“It’s a one-man operation and it’s a bit of work,” Gandy said. “My wife is not a ‘farm’ person — she loves going out to look at the animals — so this is my venture.”
Given the cost of land — especially land near the Maine coast — Gandy knows he is one of the lucky ones who could finance his homesteading plans. He managed to make it work thanks to a hard-working job with a pension and some good fortune.
Gandy is retired and the former commandant of Maine Maritime Academy. His wife is the librarian at Blue Hill Consolidated School.
The couple began talking about Gandy retiring and starting his homestead dream in 2018. At the time they were living in Blue Hill and had been keeping a small backyard flock of laying chickens, animals Gandy jokingly refers to as “the gateway drug of homesteading.”
They found their land in 2019 and were able to close on it just days before the pandemic shut the world down. The purchase included a year of owner financing. That, Nathaniel Gandy said, gave him and his wife time to sell their own home in Blue Hill and secure a loan from a bank for the remainder of the mortgage.
“In those early days of COVID we could not get movers to come,” Gandy said. “So we ended up just getting a U-Haul and doing it ourselves.”
Becoming a 21st-century homesteader was an evolutionary process, he said.
“It’s interesting looking at the new buzzwords like ‘sustainable agriculture,’” Gandy said. “I realized that every four or five generations we need to rediscover things and put new names on it.”
Several generations ago Maine farmers and homesteaders were actively rotating crops, raising animals on natural food and managing pastures to prevent erosion.
“All those are aspects of what used to be called small farming,” he said. “Now we call it ‘sustainable.’”
No matter what it’s called, Gandy said it’s a lifestyle that suits his personality.
“I was looking to slow myself down but I have to challenge myself and not sit idle,” he said. “So this way I could retire, but not really retire with something that keeps me stimulated and lets me take control of my food.”
While going the homesteading route was the plan, Gandy said the pandemic fast-tracked it.
“Our original thought was just to buy a couple of breeder [pigs] and grow them out for our family,” Gandy said. “But when COVID hit, I decided to get breeders to start my own line and create my own market.”
With meat processing plants closing down around the country and a desire for locally raised meat here in Maine, Gandy has found his niche.
Eventually, he wants to be producing 75 percent of what he and wife need.
“We were always going to raise some food,” he said. “But the pandemic forced me to look at it as a business that provides people with a better food option.”
He admits to being a bit nervous about moving onto the farm as a person “from away.” The couple is originally from Delaware. He believes the attitude of moving to a homestead and acting like you know more than the locals is something he did not want to portray.
“You’ve heard the old joke — don’t move here and change into whatever it was you left,” Gandy said. “I am ‘from away,’ but I’m not coming at this to change anything.”
He said the locals and his friends got a bit of a laugh at his expense at the notion of a former Navy helicopter pilot ending up a pig farmer.
Part of that is learning all that he can from local farmers and growers.
“The people here have been awesome,” he said. “They will stop if they see me outside working and chat offering to help or work out some sort of barter system if I need more pasture land.”
Gandy believes his willingness to learn from locals coupled with his keeping the 93 acres whole and not chopping it into house lots eased his transition into the community.
Gandy does not think there is a single definition describing a Maine homesteader in 2023, but rather anyone who calls themselves that falls somewhere on the lifestyle’s spectrum.
Gone, he said, are the days when you could totally throw off the trappings of society, retreat to your land and produce everything needed to survive.
“Even if you did live a really insular lifestyle and only taking care of yourself, you are still going to need to at least barter with people for things you need,” Gandy said. “There has to be some sort of income.”
Anyone wanting to get into homesteading needs to be realistic, he added, and should consider taking it in small steps at a time.
“I jumped in with both feet,” he said. “I probably could have limped in a little slower and saved myself some wear and tear.”
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