Tir na nOg

So it’s been a while! We stayed at Tir na nOg for about 16 days and had an amazing experience! This was one of the first farms we found through WWOOF and before we even knew we could go there, we found ourselves planning our trip around the possibility of being there. Something about their profile--the Scottish Highland Cattle pictures, that they like playing board games in their free time and that we could help them at the Farmer’s Market--it all seemed like something we wanted to be a part of.

Tir na nOg is run by Holly and Sue--two awesome ladies who have boundless information to share and a love for what they’re doing. When we first arrived on August 28th, they had another WWOOFer there named William, and they were finishing up bagging chickens they had just gotten back from the butcher. They gave us a quick tour--showed us their cute little farm house and the bunk house where we would be sleeping. This was a dream for us because at the other farm we had a small room in their basement, and here we got to have a whole separate building to ourselves! There was a loft with a mattress on the floor where we slept, and it was incredibly comfortable and really cozy.

The day here starts at 6am with morning chores--feeding and watering their 5 Highland Cattle, letting out the free-range chickens, collecting their eggs and feeding them, moving the meat birds and feeding them and feeding and watering the baby guinea hens. After morning chores we would sit down for breakfast, usually lovingly made by Holly and ALWAYS delicious. We had a couple great french toast days, some toad’s in the hole, yogurt and granola, muffins and buckwheat pancakes. Breakfast was usually not a rushed meal, and the food kept on coming as you ate!

After breakfast we would head over to their sister farm, The Upper Farm, where they have a greenhouse, some apple trees, and a few gardens with potatoes, beans, radishes, corn and dahlias. They also had 9 piggies there that we would feed, and whenever we would drive towards them you would see a little herd of pigs coming up over the hill--then they would race us to the feeding spot! It was really cute. We gave them tons of bread, leftover food from some of the local restaurants and sometimes, but not always, grain. The Upper Farm is run by Greg and Nicole, and they had a WWOOFer named Sarah who was there during our stay. They have 38 alpacas, all of which have completely unique names and they know them all.

Saturday 8/29: We helped to get ready for the Farmer’s Market that morning which means picking massive amounts of delicious tomatoes, flowers and filling coolers with grass fed beef and chicken. We filled the car with their tent and tables, signs, coolers and products and went on our way. The Farmer’s Market is held on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and usually has the same venders, but are in 2 different locations--Cumberland and Falmouth. We usually had a spot next to Ron of Cranberry Rock Farm. He had a huge array of vegetables, fresh cookies and muffins made by his wife, homemade granola and chicken--we usually ended up getting a cookie from him at the market..and a muffin. One of the staple guys there is Gene, who often rolls in late, has all of his stuff in tupperware containers, has a large fan club and you can often find him wandering around doing whatever he pleases (aka talking to himself). Another staple farm there is Jilson’s --a non-organic farm with baskets and bushels overflowing with brightly colored produce, showing up everyone around him. Market’s became one of our favorite things to do at Tir na nOg--we did 5 of them in our stay--and it really gave us a great opportunity to know what it’s like on the selling side of the table, we got some great ideas for what we could sell, and we had time to fantasize about what our little booth would look like one day.

That night us and William went to Freeport to get bread from When Pigs Fly bakery for the piggies. And this is no ordinary bread--ridiculously amazing artisan breads from sourdough to chocolate to blueberry lemonade (my favorite). They throw all of their leftover bread into big trash bags and we proceeded to go through it all and eat fistfulls of bread. Which we ended up doing at least 3 other times. We didn't want them seeing us eat it, so we would drive away a bit and then pull into a parking lot and rummage through the trash bags… So embarrassing..but not really, it’s worth it. In the summer L.L.Bean has free concerts on Saturdays, so we went with William and saw a folk/rock band! It was jam packed with people and we just sat on the grass and talked--it was really nice!

Sunday 8/30: We went to see our friend Geoff preach at his church in Windham. We spent a little bit of time with his family afterwards and then headed back to the farm. On our way back we kept seeing old cars and realized there was a car show nearby, so we went there and ended up talking to a guy who was from Pennsylvania that has a ‘77 green bus just like we wanted! We talked to him for a while about it, about Penny and how camping works for him with his kids in the van and then went on our way. When we got back, because Sunday is a slower day at the farm, we popped Penny’s top and I worked on blogging while John edited pictures and did some tinkering around the van. For dinner we made a campfire to celebrate William’s last day with us. Greg, Nicole and Sarah came over too and we made hot dogs over the fire, laughed and watched the stars come out. 

Monday 8/31: Holly wanted to show us how to slaughter a chicken--which honestly, I wasn’t worried about whatsoever. She had a plastic cone nailed to a tree, caught the chicken and put it upside down on the tree with its head coming out of the end of the cone. The best part of this process is that Holly was very respectful the whole time--using it as a way to thank the chicken for its life and the food it was going to be for us, and as a teaching experience for us. Hanging the chicken upside down makes them sleepy, so they’re less aware of what’s going on. Holly made a quick slit in the neck of the chicken and we watched it bleed out and after all the nerves had finished seizing she put it in boiling water which allowed her to take off all of the feathers easily. At that point it literally looked like a grocery store chicken--it was very bizarre, but interesting, and it was a good experience because of how gentle and kind Holly was. We then got a call from Greg at the Upper Farm that he needed help, so we went over there and helped them bale hay into a tractor trailer. It was about 90 degrees and the hay was really dusty, so it was pretty hard and allergy-inducing work. We had dinner and then played Settlers of Catan (which we had never played before, and ended up challenging Sue and Holly to it many times after).

Tuesday 9/1: William said goodbye after breakfast, and we headed to the Upper Farm to try and save their back garden that has been ignored for a little while. There is a few different varieties of beans, potatoes and radishes, all being choked by weeds--we worked for a few hours in the heat and the sun to try and save the garden. Because of the heat we didn’t get to finish that day, and because of the time of year and she shape of that garden, Sue decided that she was just going to till it up when we left the farm. After lunch we helped build a little house for their Guinea Hens. They had 17 quickly growing birds all stuck in a little cage, so it was crunch time to get it finished by the time we left. William had helped Sue start it earlier in August, but only the frame and the floor had really been finished. This day we got to put the roof on!

Wednesday 9/2: Market day! We spent the morning getting ready by picking tomatoes and flowers. After the market John and I went to Freeport for a little and went to L.L.Bean, got a little bit of lunch and walked around. When we got back, Holly and Sue took us to the beach! On the way we stopped at a little drive in for burgers and shakes which were amazing. This beach wasn’t quite like the shore that we grew up with--it was very small and rocky, but still really pretty. We got there pretty late, as the sun was going down, so we just watched the water and walked on the rocks. The beach was about an hour away, and the ride back was honestly a little creepy. There's something about the Maine coast in the dark--I can see why Stephen King writes stories based there.

Thursday 9/3: We put a new line of electric fencing on the piggies and spent the morning weeding the garden of dahlias. After lunch John and I set up our hammock and spent the afternoon taking naps, editing photos, reading and bothering the chickens.

Friday 9/4: Holly took us mushroom foraging on Bradbury Mountain--we walked up a couple dried up stream beds and picked some Chanterelles and Hedgehog mushrooms. It was awesome to go with someone who actually knows what they’re talking about--so many times John and I have gone mushroom hunting and just take pictures of them and look them up later, but we’ve always wondered what’s edible and what’s not. Holly pretty much can immediately tell you what a mushroom is (or at least what family it’s in), if it’s edible or not and where you could typically find them. That night they took us to see a free movie called Inhabit a few towns over. It was a documentary about permaculture which is “a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.” In other words, it’s a way of farming that allows humans, animals, plants, bugs, trees to create a “circle of life” situation. What the animals do for the plants, helps the bugs, helps the trees, helps the humans and so on and so forth. Everything lives in perfect harmony with each other. The cool thing about this idea is that it can literally be done anywhere--and that’s what the movie was all about. It followed farmers in totally different and difficult environments--in the desert, on a quarry, in the city on the roof of a building, in suburbia--all with incredibly lush and self-sustainable gardens.

Saturday 9/5: We spent the morning preparing for and selling at the market! That evening John and I went to Freeport to get some of that incredible bread and to go to the last L.L.Bean concert of the summer. We walked around for a little and got ice cream as the tweens started pouring in for the concert--it was Andy Grammar, who is on the radio and I knew a song or two before it, but didn’t think much of him--it was moreso just something to do! He was actually really awesome! We ended up knowing a lot more songs, plus he did some covers (a Bieber cover!)..I definitely didn’t expect it to be that good but it was a really fun time.

Sunday 9/6: We had to go back to Freeport to get more bread for the piggies. We stopped at an antique store on the way home and a few other shops--we spent the rest of the day playing with their dog Zoe, editing pictures, writing thank you notes and, again, bothering chickens.

Monday 9/7: We got to help Nicole at the Upper Farm with alpaca maintenance--giving shots, clipping toenails and making sure they’re at the right size. Sounds easy? Lucky for me I didn’t have to do too much, but John wrestled with alpacas to keep them still while Nicole and Sarah did what they had to do. Alpacas are really just ridiculous creatures--funny faces with big weird bodies, bad teeth, 90’s hairdo’s and giving you judgemental looks. They put up quite a fight too, making hilarious Jurassic Park sounds and “spitting” on us -aka- spitting regurgitated grassy gunk on us. It was certainly a learning experience! No alpacas for us in the future.

That night we went to Holly and Sue’s neighbor Jane’s house for Memorial Day. She’s an older lady with an adorably quaint farmhouse and a dirty mouth. The way she spoke was the best part--the way she pronounced words and said phrases. She pointed out that John and I are “so in love” because we kept looking each other, but really we just kept giggling at each other because everything she would say was bizarre! Greg, Nicole and Sarah came over also and we had chicken, corn, tomatoes and ice cream sandwiches for dinner.

Tuesday 9/8: We went to the Upper Farm to do some work on the dahlias and feed the piggies. When we got there we realized we had forgotten our tools so Sue went back to get them--in the meantime John and I went exploring in the woods. There were little frogs all over the place! We went to visit the bigger pigs Stella, Henry and Sophie and give them a wallow for the day. Sue came back empty handed--no tools, so we convinced her to do some more work on the Guinea House. Sarah had helped earlier in the week to get the back wall on, so we started doing the side walls and finished with the battens.

Wednesday 9/9: Holly and Sue had to take their pig Sophie to the butcher this morning--she had a hurt foot and was producing too many babies with hernias. So after a morning of luring her into a trailer with apples and bread, they took her off to the butcher while we prepared for market. John and I went by ourselves and it was totally dead there--we only made about 50 bucks!

Thursday 9/10: We spent the bulk of the morning working on the dahlias, weeding and watering. We spent the afternoon putting a tin roof on the Guinea House and finishing up the battens. For dinner Holly made us lobster and we played Settlers of Catan, of course! Holly makes amazing late night snacks--homemade popcorn, apple pie, peanut butter cookies, and Moxie floats. Moxie is a type of soda that is “famous” in Maine, and Holly likes to initiate all of her WWOOFers with it. It tastes like a flat root beer, but smells like cough syrup--not great, but better as a float!

Friday 9/11: It was pretty rainy this day, so we spent the bulk of the morning relaxing. We decided to prepare a little ahead of time for market and picked some edible flowers and tomatoes for Holly. She takes the edible flowers, eggs and tomatoes to a local restaurant in Portland called Vinland--an organic and gluten-free restaurant that only used foods, spices and herbs that are grown within 100 miles of the restaurant--they don't even use pepper! We went with Holly and Sue to Vinland to deliver everything, and then they took us to a local honey shop and cute local market. When we got home we finished the Guinea House officially! We moved the guineas in to their new home and of course, one escaped and we had to chase it around for a while in the greenhouse. It was cute to watch them in their new house--we had moved them in a dog crate and opened the door so they could come out when they wanted. It took about 5 minutes and then one by one they teetered out and they all just ended up standing in a small mob in the corner..even though they had about 6’x10’ of room..and they stayed in that mob until the morning because they were too scared to move!

Saturday 9/12: We had originally planned on leaving this day, but we had just decided to go to Baxter State Park after the farm, so we asked to stay until the next day. Our chances of getting a campsite on Sunday weren't very good, so we decided to wait until Monday. This ended up being extra nice because Greg and Nicole’s pig Breacan finally started having babies! We had been anticipating that call for the entire 2 weeks we were there. We had watched Breacan slowly gathering sticks for a nest, getting more and more chatty and getting bigger every day. We had waited and waited to hear about her having babies, and we joked a hundred times that she would wait until John and I left. At the other farm we got to meet baby goats the day before we left and this one we met baby pigs! We spent a large portion of the day watching Breacan toss and turn and have babies, and at the end of the day she had 10 in all, but 2 were stillborn. We quick ran to Freeport to pick up our last truck full of bread and when we got back to the Upper Farm Sue had gotten us all pizza. We smushed onto a picnic table for a couple hours, ate and talked--it was a good last night.

Sunday 9/13: We woke up and got ourselves ready for a day of packing up the van and goodbyes. We wrote in their guestbook, signed our bunkhouse and the Guinea House and stuffed everything back into Penny. We gathered up all of our fresh veggies and fruits that we bought from Ron at the market on Saturday, and we got our fill of tomatoes and yummy bread for the road. We took a picture of Holly and Sue and a picture of us in front of their amazing little farm, said our goodbyes and took off for Baxter.

!This was such an amazing and fun experience at Tir na nOg--Holly and Sue really taught us a lot about small farming, what Old Time Music to listen to, how good french toast can be, to be respectful to your animals, that loving and caring for your plants really makes a difference, how to play Settlers of Catan, that John and I can easily be rewarded with orange juice and Diet Coke, about all the varieties of baby tomatoes, how to work a farmers market and how important it is to be best friends with your husband/wife. I hope that they enjoyed having us as much as we enjoyed being there, and we’re so happy to know that we could come back and visit in the future.