Oyster River Winegrowers is a 57-acre, horse-powered vineyard, farm, and tasting room in Warren, Maine, with great imagination and ambition. After only a few years in operation, the vineyard has already produced several varietals that have received statewide distribution and acclaim, made from grapes from “regions of the country that inspire.” In 2008, though, Oyster River began an even more ambitious project: giving Knox County its own signature vintage, made from hardy white wine grapes, grown right here in Maine.
While he waits for his vines to mature, proprietor Brian Smith has another creative idea for this coming winter. Smith intends to roll out the “Oyster River Farm Express” in Rockland, a door-to-door horse-drawn delivery service of Oyster River farm goods, including locally grown produce, freshly baked bread, homemade sausage, and their own well-regarded wine. For just $39 per week, from November to March, Oyster River will bring crates of local, sustainable, edible treasures from door-to-door, to help locals get through the long Winter and expand the company’s business beyond the usual Summer tourist traffic.
Bringing an old-fashioned horse-drawn cart to the streets of Rockland isn’t going to be easy. That’s where Oyster River’s Kickstarter campaign comes in.
With a campaign goal of $10,000, Smith and company are raising the funds needed to buy the wagon, wooden boxes, and a horse trailer. As of this writing, they are a little more than halfway to their goal. We had a chance to chat briefly with Smith about his project, and what it will mean for the area:
From Away: Is Oyster River a one-horse farm, and what can you tell us about your Winter delivery service?
Brian Smith: Currently, Oyster River is a one horse farm. I can only fit one horse down the narrow rows of the vineyard, which is Don’s primary task, so I have designed all the rest of the jobs on the farm to be single horse tasks as well, like cutting and raking hay, logging, plowing the garden, mowing fields.
Our Winter delivery service is an attempt to try and spread out our depressingly seasonal income, connected to the summer tourist traffic. We know the local folks are buying wine, meat, veggies, bread, and cheese weekly, but in the winter, not putting as much of an effort to do it locally. Because most of our farm work happens in the warmer months, we have more time in the winter to focus on sales as well. So, we will be delivering a box door-to-door to homes and businesses in Rockland, that contains a rotating selection of wine, meat, cheese, bread, and veggies. For out-of-towners who would like to be involved, we will also be offering a pickup option here at the farm or at the Atlantic Baking Company.
FA: So, the horse, his name is Don? Isn’t he going to have a hard time in the snow? What does his life look like when he’s not working?
Smith: Don is a 17-year-old Belgian. He stands about 16 hands high, and weighs just shy of one ton. He is pretty much unaffected by snow. In blizzard conditions, we might reschedule for our sake, not his. He keeps a 4 mile/hour pace pretty much through any terrain. During the summer, he does not wear shoes for farm work on soft ground, but in the winter he will wear shoes primarily for the possibility of ice. He works a part of most days either cultivating in the vineyard, plowing the garden, cutting grass, logging. When he is not working he enjoys eating grass in the pasture.
FA: I like your beard. Are you Amish? Amish-ish? Are you a disaffected city stockbroker, or were you to-the-farm born?
Smith: I am not Amish, but like the Amish, I enjoy working with draft horses and sometimes wish I could travel around only by horse and buggy. But then I would need a faster horse. I appreciate the beard comment.
FA: Who will be building the cart and boxes?
Smith: We just found our delivery wagon down in Philadelphia. Check out our Facebook page or our update from our Kickstarter site for a picture. It was built in 1936, and was used to deliver produce in Brooklyn, NY and Philadelphia. For delivery, we are planning to use old wooden blueberry boxes.
FA: What would you like to respond to your inevitable detractors? Those who call this gimmicky ,or you a hippie Luddite hirsute freak? To be clear, I’m not saying that. See question #3.
Smith: We may not get as much attention if we were delivering with our minivan, but we are just trying to show people what we and our farm is all about. People are always talking about the good old days, but we can deliver a good authentic experience now, too.
FA: Historically, how does this service affect the relationship between farmers and the community? What are your hopes for this first season?
Smith: Back in the day, you always knew where your food was coming from. Now it just comes from the grocery store, especially in the winter in Maine. There are only a few real necessities in life, and food is one of the most important. Farmers should really be the anchor of the community. We are hoping to deliver to 90 customers in Rockland with two routes per week. If it goes well, we may think about extending to other nearby communities.
FA: We’re super-excited about this new service, and can’t wait to participate. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Brian. Good luck with your fundraising, and we look forward to visiting the tasting room soon.
[Photos: Brian Smith]