by Barb Ross, who’s joyously celebrating her daughter’s graduation today from UMass Boston with an MFA in Creative Writing
Normally, you’ll find Edith Maxwell hanging out with me at the Wicked Cozy Authors Blog. We see ourselves as the (sometimes less gritty sisters) of the Maine Crime Writers. We’re all mystery, we’re all New England. It’s all good.
Today, we’re celebrating the release of Edith’s third entry in her Local Foods Mysteries for Kensington, Farmed and Dangerous. Her protagonist, Cam Flaherty, operates a farm in northern Massachusetts, and Edith has done some of her research in Maine.
Don’t you love the cover? I think it’s gorgeous.
Farming in Maine
Thanks for having me back to the blog, Barb! My Local Foods Mysteries are set in the northeast corner of Massachusetts, where the winters are dark and cold. The shortest days, in December, are nine hours long. Even when it’s up, the sun hangs low and weak in the sky. February tends to be the coldest month, even though the days are an hour and a half longer. But of course, ye in Maine know better than I how dark and cold it is during the winter.
So what’s a farmer to do? Traditionally, all the fields were put to bed and all the crops harvested by December at the latest. Farmers used to spend the cold dark months oiling and sharpening tools, eating up stored and preserved vegetables, tending animals if they had them, and dreaming of starting seeds again.
But now many New England farmers bank on growing greens and other crops all winter long in high tunnels – structures without a foundation that consist of hoops or arches made of pipes, with doors, wooden end walls, and a covering of one or two layers of heavy plastic. This is what my farmer, Cam Flaherty, tries to do in Farmed and Dangerous, which is set in January – when she isn’t off solving a murder, that is.
I spent a few days last year at Toddy Pond Farm, a fabulous Maine family farm. It’s tucked into the woods in Monroe, near Belfast. I’ve known the farmers, Greg and Heide Purinton-Brown, a long time. I first met Greg, as well as his parents and older brother older brother, when he was a young teenager. I attended Greg and Heide’s lovely outdoor wedding in New Hampshire, and applauded from afar the birth of their two sons, Guthrie and Oliver. Imagine my delight to learn a couple of years ago that Greg and Heide are now farmers, homeschooling their sons (now almost the ages Greg and Justin were when I met them), working the land, and tending a passel of animals.
My own farmer son and I trekked up to Monroe one weekend in the fall. Toddy Pond includes a wonderful guest house that they rent out to visiting families, artists, and groups on retreat (consider it, writers!), and JD and I were invited to stay there. It’s an airy, comfortable retreat house that sleeps seven. And you can walk to a lake and jump in for a dip when it’s hot.
The whole place is idyllic. They raise cows, dairy sheep, pigs, truly free-range chickens, and bees. They grow all their own vegetables and host Farm-to-Table dinners. They’ve restored a couple of cranberry bogs. They bottle and create the most delicious milk, full-fat yogurt, kefir, cheese, and ice cream you could ever dream of. The farm has a solar powered barn and an attack rooster named Ruffles, both of which I copied shamelessly into Farmed and Dangerous. They call all the animals by name, even the ones who are destined to end up as bacon or chicken stew; they also sell meat, and no animal was ever raised more humanely. And the four Purinton-Browns seem so happy! They work really hard, don’t get me wrong. But it’s obviously a healthy, satisfying life.
You Mainers are lucky. You can find the Toddy Pond products at stores and farmers’ markets up and down the coast. I know I sound like a salesperson – but I’m not on the payroll, believe me! Maybe Cam needs to go up for a visit one of these books.
Readers, what’s your favorite Maine farm? Are you a farmers’ market devotee?
Agatha-nominated and Amazon-bestselling author Edith Maxwell writes four murder mystery series, most with recipes, as well as award-winning short stories.
Farmed and Dangerous is the latest in Maxwell’s Local Foods Mysteries series (Kensington Publishing). The latest book in the Lauren Rousseau mysteries, under the pseudonym Tace Baker (Barking Rain Press), is Bluffing is Murder. Maxwell’s Country Store Mysteries, written as Maddie Day (also from Kensington), will debut with Flipped for Murder in November, 2015. Her Quaker Midwife Mysteries series features Quaker midwife Rose Carroll solving mysteries in 1888 Amesbury with John Greenleaf Whittier’s help, and will debut in March, 2016 with Delivering the Truth.
A fourth-generation Californian, Maxwell lives in an antique house north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the other Wicked Cozy Authors (http://wickedcozyauthors.com), and you can find her at http://www.edithmaxwell.com, @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest and Instagram, and at www.facebook.com/EdithMaxwellAuthor.
Welcome, Edith! Your post makes me want to get up from my desk and start farming! (or at least gardening!) Your new book sounds wonderful!
Welcome. Here in the Westen Maine mountains we have lots of small farms, but most of the ones I know about tend to focus on one thing–dairy, apples, strawberries, Christmas trees, goats, llamas–you get the picture. There are farmers markets. There are also people along the road selling produce out of the back of a truck (including seafood, which is a little strange when you consider we are about a two hour drive from the coast) or at a farm stand. One place I often see farm produce for sale is in the lot next to the local Giffords ice cream!
No one-stop shopping, sounds like! There’s a llama farm scene in my fourth Local Foods mystery. I’d love some seafood off the back of a truck. Best shrimp I ever had were like that.
Congratulations on Farmed and Dangerous, Edith.
When I was a kid, all the land that is now the Methuen Mall was farmland. Behind the mall, at the end of Washington Street, was another large dairy farm owned by the Sierpina family. They are friends of our family, and family through marriage. Although their land is subdivided now, I remember going there to feed the cows, and growing gladiolias in their fields, to enter in flower shows. I won some ribbons, don’t know where they are anymore, but boy! Did you bring back history with your entry. I also learned that cows have no teeth, and if you hand feed them clover, beware, the gentle creatures will suck your hand right up into their mouths, along with the grass, and slime it with their enormous wet pink tongues. Thanks for the memories.
Are you a Methuen kid? Did you know Wicked Cozy Liz Mugavero was a Methuen kid, too? Also, my husband’s cousins. His aunt’s family had a farm out that way. Going to ask her maiden name when he gets home.
Edith and I have both appeared at the Methuen Library with Liz. It is gorgeous and bustling. Just the way a town library should be.
Karla, I did NOT know that about cows! So much lovely farmland now the property of unappreciating lawn people, nationwide…
Barb, Again our paths cross! I was born in Methuen at Bon Secours Hospital and lived a mile from there over the city line in Lawrence until I left for college. My mother still lives in Methuen. In case Liz is holding back, Korbani’s bakery near the corner of Jackson and Swan has the best wheat Syrian bread in the world! And yes. Nevins Memorial in Methuen is one of the most beautiful libraries, much like the library in Bar Harbor, Maine. Thanks again for the post Edith!
Cool post, Edith!
We have a CSA share at the fabulous Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where Austin and Maryellen Chadd grow amazing vegetables. For a town known for its lighthouses and lobster rolls, Cape Elizabeth is home to a good number of farmers who market themselves collaboratively under the banner Cape Farms Alliance. Strawberries are a significant crop, and we will see them in about a month — yippee!
We also are regulars at the Portland Farmer’s Market, which in addition to being a place to score amazing, healthy food, is a premier place to see and be seen, especially on Saturday mornings when it’s in Deering Oaks park. Portland also now has a winter market, which is terrific. These days we seldom buy vegetables except from the people who grew them. Sometimes we are those very people, because we grow the basics (greens, chard, tomatoes, herbs, cukes, eggplant, et cetera) in raised beds in our back yard.
I look forward to reading your book. Farmers are interesting people!
I still grow veggies in my back yard, Brenda – just bought a few more seedlings today, because…you can’t have too many cucumbers or habaneros. I think Toddy Pond sells somewhere in Portland, possibly at the farmers’ market. Look for their stuff. Another week or two until Massachusetts strawberries.