Rain was in the air as I was winding my way down the driveway to one of two barns at Four Winds Farm on Marabac Road. I knew I was in the right place—rows and rows of fine, upstanding, robust plants, several cows along with a few pigs, and tucked way, way back, a sturdy looking house. Noticeably missing were big pieces of farm machinery and anything that resembled a weed. How could this be a 24-acre farm without those two elements??
Jay and Polly Armour, the owners of Four Winds, were only too happy (and proud) to tell me their story. Theirs was one of those by-chance meetings; they shared a common concern for the environment and met at a local gathering of Clearwater, the organization founded in 1966 by folk music legend and environmental activist Pete Seeger. This led them to something else they had in common—a strong determination to farm the land and experiment with organic methods. They combined their talents and resources to search for land and in 1988 arranged purchase of the Marabac acreage, which, at that time, housed an old, all-purpose barn and a run-down (but inhabitable) trailer.
Years of hard work, taking extra-curricular jobs away from the farm and tapping into the treasure of local resources (including their neighbors) combined to produce the present day Four Winds business model. Of their 24 acres, a total of four are planted, with one acre devoted exclusively to heirloom tomatoes. From the outset, they agreed that their choices had to be socially, environmentally and economically sustainable for them as a family. Four Winds maintains a National Organic Program Certificate for the farm.
While Jay concentrates his energies on producing 18-month-old, certified organic compost (a recipe he is happy to share) and fine-tuning highly productive no-rototill (no weeds) growing methods, Polly monitors the most efficient methods for reaching the consumers in order to best market their lettuce, beans, peppers, kale, tomatoes, beets, squash, greens, cucumbers, broccoli, onions and herbs. Together, over the years, their efforts evolved as they have participated in several different farmers’ markets.
Beginning as early as 1993 they offered CSA shares (Community Supported Agriculture), and experimented with offering winter crop CSAs. As of 1999, the seedling sale at the farm took off in a big way. Currently the Armours have returned to farmers’ markets featuring their organic heirloom varieties of tomatoes.
In their time in Gardiner they have added an additional barn, built their home and raised two children, Sarah and Josh, now in their teens. They depend on their land for their livelihood and take pride in being good neighbors and buying from other Gardiner farms what they don’t produce (hay to feed cattle and straw for mulch).
Look for Four Winds at local farmers’ markets and visit their website FourWinds.com. Visit the farm in May for the huge seedling plant sale and discover the wonders of growing your own organic heirloom varieties of your favorite vegetables.