A former social worker, Michael Hayden came to love farming while working in a program that helped developmentally disabled adults live and work on a farm alongside other families. "I had never farmed before," said Michael, "but I learned. And I loved it. I saw how being on the land and eating what grew there nourished people—adults and kids of all ages and abilities."
Michael, who had spent years wandering the country, settled in Maine, working as a tenant farmer with the dream of one day owning his own land. But how could he attain that dream?
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When Michael first started farming, he grew the gourmet produce he thought people would want: kale, radicchio, and the like. He soon found out that folks in Maine wanted what he calls "1950s food"—familiar vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes and peas.
Michael struggled to find buyers for his crops. One day, he met Wendy Harrington of the Maine Seacoast Mission, a local faith-based social services agency. She had the idea that the Mission could set up its own farmer's market.
Michael, in search of more land to farm, learned of a two-acre plot not far from the Mission. He inquired about renting it, and the owner, who came from a family of farmers, told him, "My father and grandfather would be so happy that someone is cultivating this land. It's yours."
Michael began to grow the kind of food the locals wanted, but sales were still slow at the farmer's market. Wendy asked if he would be interested in a salaried position that allowed him to visit local schools to talk about his crops and to hand out bags of his produce to the students.
Michael happily accepted Wendy's offer. Soon, he was visiting his first school in a pickup loaded with bags of vegetables. The kids were curious about the contents of the bags, and Michael talked with them about what went into growing those vegetables.
The kids enjoyed snacking on fresh carrots that Michael had grown on his nearby farm, and they happily accepted the bags of vegetables to share with their families. "That was the best day I'd ever had as a farmer," Michael says.
Five years later, the program has expanded to three schools. Michael distributes produce year-round to 250 children whose families might not otherwise eat fresh vegetables and who might be hesitant to accept a handout. "Kids don't mind getting free stuff," says Michael.
"I sometimes bring the kids to the farm," says Michael, "and let them pick their own produce. Those are the best days of all." Michael talks to the kids about farming in order to heighten their interest in learning more about the food they eat.
Michael's farm is now financially stable and he's saving up the money to purchase the land he's now farming. "It's holy ground," says Michael. "The ground I was meant to farm. Wendy said God always finds a way. I'm thankful I found my way here."
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