ROCKPORT – Ron Howard has logged 17 years as General Manager of Aldermere Farm and more recently, Erikson Fields. On October 20, Howard will officially retire his position. No replacement has been named, but Maine Coast Heritage Trust is actively searching for the right person.
"When we started, and that is going back to when the Chatfield's owned it, it was very private and the community wasn't really invited," he said. "That included the land and the cattle."
Aldermere Farm has approximately 100 head of cattle and Howard said that the sales of beef have been very good.
The farm has evolved over the years, with youth programs, gardening, and trails, all with the help of many volunteers.
"We have two 4-H programs," he said. "There are the Clover Buds, which is the younger kids. The Aldermere Achievers is for the older kids who work directly with the cattle."
Howard said most of the Aldermere Achievers lease a Beltie from the farm to show at the fairs through the summer and some buy and own their own cattle.
Howard said one young woman wanted to be a shepherdess, so she has purchased and owns her own flock of sheep on the farm.
At Erikson Fields, on Route 90, families can now be taught how to grow their own vegetables.
"At the Teen Ag. program there are four acres of cultivated gardens," he said. "The food all goes to the food pantries, the school lunch programs and to some private restaurants, such as Quarry Hill."
Erickson Fields now includes 140 acres.
"The original was 70-plus acres," Howard said. "We then bought another 70 acres, we being Maine Coast Heritage Trust. It abuts not only Erickson, but Beech Hill Road. We wanted to expand our public trails to get people out to Beech Hill Road."
Aldermere Farm also employs Sustainable Agricultural Initiatives, which provides a wide range of support for other farms.
Howard said that although he may be retiring, he will still spend time at the farm.
"They are actively searching for a replacement for me, so that position will definitely be filled," he said. "My daughter still works here at the farm. She's our herd manager, so it's been three generations with my dad here before me."
Howard said he is building his retirement home and he needs to finish that. And, he has five grandchildren with whom he wants to spend more time.
For most of his 17 years with Aldermere, he has lived mostly on the farm.
"We all take turns when it's calving season, but I'm an early riser, so I always do the 4 a.m. check of the cows to make sure everyone is OK," he said. "It's a long, long day and because we're a public farm my offices are here at the house where I live. You get people stopping in nights and weekends asking how we get the stripes on the cows. I won't say it's 24/7, but it's involved."
Howard said far and away the most enjoyable part of the job has been watching the children come through the farm.
"We see some of the kids come in meek and weak and watch them blossom over the course of a year," he said. "We've seen that happen a number of times as kids relate with their animals and get passionate about it. At the start of the hay season, they can barely lift a bale. By the end of the season, they are so proud that they can lift it and throw it up in the air."
In today’s world, those are big accomplishments.
"And that's just a component of it," he said. "There's the common sense they have to develop to solve problems and fix things. It's not just a nine-to-five job. If there's a job to do, you have to get it done. People who are exposed to farming develop those skills to get it done. It's not just the hard physical work, which I think is important, it's the maturity that lets these kids far surpass their peers when they leave."
Kids can join the farm as early as four years of age and stay until they are 18 and 19.
Aldermere Farm is inviting the public to the farm for a celebration of all the programs Ron Howard has created at Aldermere Farm and Erickson Preserve. The date is October 20, from 4 to 7 p.m. It's potluck so take a dish to share. Join others to tell stories about the farm.