Eliot Coleman: Gardener, Teacher, Entrepreneur

Eliot Coleman: Gardener, Teacher, Entrepreneur

Group News posted in on 27 September 2018| comments
audience: Maine Community Foundation | last updated: 27 September 2018
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Eliot Coleman was born December 15, 1938, in New Jersey. He attended Williams College and Middlebury College, where he received a master's degree in Spanish literature. He has been involved in organic farming since 1966, with experience in field and greenhouse vegetables, rotational grazing of livestock, and range poultry. He has written extensively on organic agriculture since 1975; his most recent book is The Winter Harvest Handbook(2009). As a commercial market gardener, director of agricultural research projects, and teacher and lecturer on organic farming, Coleman has studied and practiced all aspects of the craft. He presently owns and operates Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine.

When and where did you start farming?

I began farming on rented land in Franconia, New Hampshire, in 1965. I moved to Harborside, Maine, in October of 1968 to start my present farm.

You and your wife, Barbara Damrosch, are considered leaders of the organic farming movement in America. What is your sense of this movement at this time?

Let us call it the “farming with the natural world movement.” Whether “organic,” “biodynamic,” “agroecological,” or whatever, the ideas behind a non-chemical and non-industrial approach to agriculture are very sound and becoming more recognized every day as the future of agriculture. 

What is a market gardener?

Market gardening has typically meant growing fresh vegetables for a local market. 

In August 1998 you received a grant from the Maine Community Foundation through the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to develop a baby lettuce harvester. What inspired you to pursue this idea?

Baby leaf salad was a popular product, but the market had been captured by large-scale California producers using mechanized equipment. I knew that small local farmers could compete again if we had a more efficient harvesting system. The harvester initially failed, but then was reformatted successfully. 

How did this come about? 

We came close, but our prototype was not quite perfect. Then I showed our effort to an energetic young farmer and he took it and ran with it and added in the missing component, which we had imagined but never successfully created – a perfect example of the benefit of many minds working on a problem. His model is now sold to small farmers around the country.

We read the other day of an Aroostook farmer who filed for bankruptcy after several poor seasons. How do you feel about farming after years tending crops and tilling the soil? 

It is the hardest job you will ever love. The greatest satisfaction comes from making an exceptional product that enhances the well-being of your customers. 

What is your favorite time of year at Four Season Farm? 

The name of the farm itself makes that a difficult question. However, our winter season is most exciting because we are doing the impossible: offering fresh produce at a time when most farms are waiting for spring.

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