Family legacy continues at Rockport’s Aldermere Farm
ROCKPORT — It was the Thursday before Christmas when Heidi Baker heard the news she had been hoping for: Maine Coast Heritage Trust had named her general manager of Aldermere Farm and Erickson Farm Preserve, a role previously held by her father, Ron Howard. Her grandfather, Dwight Howard, had managed Aldermere for four decades prior to being succeeded by his son.
While the beloved Midcoast landmark has always been a working farm, it was run privately by Albert Chatfield until 1999 when Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) took over operations. Baker explained that the herd size has remained about the same, as MCHT strives to preserve not just the properties entrusted to their stewardship, but the respective heritage of those properties, as well.
“There’s a reason why the word ‘heritage’ is in our [Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s] name,” Baker said. “We’re preserving not just the land, but the heritage of the land.”
She added that the Belted Galloway Herd at Aldermere Farm is now the oldest herd of belties in North America.
“For a long time it was the oldest herd in the United States,” she explained, “but fairly recently it was confirmed as the oldest herd in North America.”
Despite her connection to the land trust and its work, Baker said she initially did not intend to apply for the job as general manager. Previously, Baker was the farm’s herd manager.
“If you had asked me two or three years ago whether I would consider the GM job, I probably wouldn’t have said yes,” she said.
While it took her a while, she ultimately decided to throw her hat in the ring following Howard’s retirement in October.
“I think what had changed for me is that I had gotten really involved in the idea of what the farm means to the community,” she said. “I think I have a stronger desire to give back. Though my passion is physically working with the cattle, now I get to have a feeling of supporting the community, cultivating relationships, and making sure that Aldermere continues to thrive.”
Like other applicants, Baker underwent a rigorous interview process.
“I really wanted to make sure that the organization was hiring the person who would be the best fit,” she said.
Baker grew up in Chesterville before the family moved to Gray; however, visits to her grandfather brought her into contact with Aldermere Farm from a young age.
“I experienced the land more than the animals as a kid,” she explained. She said her dad was able to interact with the cows more during his childhood on the farm.
Baker lives in one of the five staff residences on the Aldermere property with her husband, Jacob, and daughters Isabelle, 8 and Zoe, 5. The girls have grown up on the farm, and Baker said that both of them are already involved with 4-H programs.
“They love it,” she said of life at Aldermere.
Baker said her focuses will be diverse, but emphasized community involvement and the evaluation of the myriad programs offered at Aldermere.
“I see my role involving a lot of community connection, as well as building donor relationships,” she explained.
As a resident on the farm, Baker will still participate in rotational weekends where she will be responsible for caring for the herd.
“I’m excited to really understand the bigger picture, to provide support for the staff and the community, and to keep the heritage of the properties,” Baker added.
Baker said she will also remain involved with the physical labor at the farm.
“It’s a very valuable thing that we have housing here. There’s definitely a compelling need to stay on the property,” she said.
Eight hours during the deep freeze spent monitoring water, and two cows due to calf this week, testify to that.
And then, there is the Erickson Fields Preserve, the farmland and gardens on Route 90 in Rockport, which also opens its walking trails to the public.
“I love Erickson, I love everything about it. I’m so excited to have that extension added to my world and really dive right in,” Baker said.
Erickson produced 25,000 pounds of produce in 2017, and is the base of operations for the popular Teen Ag Program, among others.
Sustainability of programming is among Baker’s priorities.
“When MCHT took over Aldermere Farm in 1999 it was a working farm,” she said, “We’ve added programs and brought the community into it. We need to ensure that our programs are sustainable and can develop in the long run, too.”
Aldermere has a farm hands program that receives students from local schools. Because there is often a wait for 4-H enrollment for older students, the farm hands program is a way to gain experience on the farm while waiting for a coveted 4-H spot, she said.
The farm hands program has been a game-changer for students who were not thriving in traditional classrooms, and she hopes to expand the reach of that offering. Additionally, staff work to tailor offerings to the specific interests of the students involved.
“There are kids that are interested in animal health, and kids that are interested in the tractors and operational side,” she said.
Baker beamed as she told the story of one former farm hand-cum-4-H student who will be graduating from veterinary school in May. Another has just embarked on college education with the goal of becoming a large animal veterinarian.
Additionally, multiple educational opportunities are available for adults, Baker said.
One of the goals at Aldermere is to sustain the farm with its three main revenue-producing programs: hay sales, beef sales and breed stock sales. Donations to the nonprofit entity generally assist with programming, according to Baker.
Beef is currently available by the eighth, quarter and half. Smaller orders can also be purchased from the case at the farm office at 70 Russell Avenue in Rockport between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, or by appointment.
Larger orders are always available, but Baker advised it’s best for purchasers to call in advance for their own convenience. While not all cuts are available in the freezer at all times, hamburger and sausage are always on offer.
The database at the farm allows her to look up the history of every cow in the herd.
“I can find out where they were, what they ate and who they interacted with on any given day of their lives thanks to the amazing database we keep,” she said.
Though her formal education is in teaching, and she enjoyed a career as a youth librarian, Baker’s familiarity with the Aldermere herd began prior to taking the position of herd manager in 2012. She volunteered with the Aldermere Achievers 4-H program and worked seasonally on the farm beginning in 2006.
She described the personality of the Belted Galloways as “headstrong,” and added that they are a resilient and “slightly wild” breed.
“They have not been domesticated as long as other breeds,” she explained, “it’s part of what makes them so hearty.”
Albert Chatfield decided to introduce Belted Galloways to Rockport because he thought that the climate and weather mirrored that of their native region in Scotland.
Baker lauded the amazing team that her father and professional predecessor put in place.
“We have a pretty amazing crew,” she said. “There’s a lot of leadership on this team.”
When she told her father that she had been named general manager, his face lit up, she said. She likened it to his excitement when her high school basketball team was victorious, laughing as she made the comparison. When contacted by email, Ron Howard wrote the following:
“Sonja and I are so pleased that MCHT recognized that Heidi was an outstanding candidate to serve as General Manager of Aldermere and Erickson Preserve, and not because of any family legacy, but because of her talents. She is an extraordinarily hard worker and cares so very deeply for the property and the herd of Belties. While she is passionate about integrating the farms within our communities, it is the positive life changing manner in which she has developed Aldermere's youth programs that we are the most proud.”
Jenna Lookner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org