LIBERTY — When Alexandra and Francis Stewart first spied a sign advertising land for sale along Route 3 in Liberty while camping in 2017 they couldn’t help but take a look. The couple, both 27, have fostered a shared fondness for Maine since their respective childhoods. Alexandra hails primarily from Southern California but “grew up a little all over both the East and West Coast,” she said, while Francis is a New England native raised on the outskirts of Boston.
The Stewarts noticed there was an abutting farmhouse that was also for sale.
“We thought, oh my goodness this our dream house,” said Francis. “We are very much ‘sometimes things are meant to be’ people.”
“It was kismet,” Alexandra added. “It checked all the boxes.”
They called the realtor who invited them to look around; it was Sunday. Later, they scheduled a formal showing and Alexandra took along her mother, who has experience in architecture and renovation. The couple said they were hoping she might detect an issue and talk them out of it. Instead, there were no major issues to be found.
The house had not been occupied in two years and needed renovation work; however, the major components were in good condition, the couple said.
They made an offer and received an acceptance. Once they closed on the house they spent every other weekend driving from Massachusetts to Maine and essentially camping out as they performed the requisite work. They were able to relocate to Maine on April 1, 2018.
Along with the move came other major steps including their resignation from jobs and the sale of the multi-family home in Massachusetts that Francis had renovated.
Along with the dream of farming was their developing business plan.
“We realized that the best way to be successful was to work with other farmers,” Francis said.
“[The store] showcases our products and products created by others,” Alexandra said.
“We identified a need for a market for people who are health conscious or just want to know where their food is coming from,” Alexandra said.
The building that houses Wild Grace is a handsome structure that, save for the new lumber, looks as though it has been a part of the landscape for decades. The couple worked with nearby Heritage Timber Wrights and used wood from their land. Francis said he was able to cut the live edge beams inside the store and the couple did the interior build out themselves largely using sustainable and upcycled materials.
“It was really important for us to use local builders and materials,” Alexandra said.
Francis made the impressive wagon wheel chandeliers inside the building and a reconstructed cart and antique crates that serve as their produce display was salvaged from a nearby cannery.
Wild Grace Farm Store officially opened for business on May 22.
“Shockingly, we opened on the day we had planned,” Alexandra said, laughing with Francis.
In just a month, the store has already cultivated a handful of regulars, both folks who travel from Belfast where the Stewarts attend church and Liberty locals. They both said that they have felt supported by the community, but laughed about some of the speculation they heard as to the future of the shop building while it was under construction.
In addition to the farm store and cafe Wild Grace offers a CSA and an Air BnB, though they explained that they were currently closed to reservations for the next month or so as they focus on getting the store up and running.
They have eight CSA shareholders who will receive a variety of their garden’s bounty each week. Among the crops in their gardens are more than 30 varieties of vegetables including many varieties of greens, root vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, squashes, tomatillos and more. They explained that they are growing some unusual strains along with traditional and heritage crops. Additionally they have planted an orchard.
“It’s part of a long game,” said Francis, “we would like to eventually do a pick-your-own.”
The couple also plans to add several “glamping” sites in addition to one already extant on the property which features a 12-foot canvas bell tent situated on a custom wooden platform. Despite the fact that they have temporarily closed reservations to focus on their store and cafe, the couple said that having people stay with them has allowed them to meet folks from many walks of life.
“It’s been a really cool experience to have people staying,” Alexandra said.
The menu for the cafe is developing, although the couple said they will offer paninis and salads as well as a variety of fresh baked goods. For all of their menu, they are performing all food prep on site using locally sourced and organic ingredients.
A grand opening is planned for Saturday, June 29 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. It will feature pizza by Uproot Pie Company and ice pops by Get Sticky Maine.
Lake St. George brewing will be on hand to offer beer tastings and Wild Grace will be offering food samples. John Pranio and Toki Oshima will be playing a mix of traditional fiddle tunes and songs from a variety of genres, including swing, blues and old time country. As members of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, they will also be doing an official ribbon cutting ceremony.
To find out more about Wild Grace visit their website: https://www.wildgracefarm.com/
Reach Jenna Lookner at firstname.lastname@example.org