Monday, October 15, 2012

Visiting Pineland

Over the weekend we took four of our kids and some friends to visit Pineland in New Gloucester, Maine.  The Pineland story is one of renewal and vision, so I wanted the kids to learn about it.

In the early 1900's, Pineland was the Maine state "school for the feeble-minded," a place where those unable to care for themselves could live and perhaps learn some simple farm work or craft. Mental patients, orphans, the poor, and social undesirables also sometimes found themselves shipped to Pineland.,Among those were the African-American families evicted in 1912 from Malaga Island in Casco Bay, as told in the Newbery Honor-winning novel Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

Although at one point Pineland had two farms, 28 buildings, and over a thousand residents, changes in standards of care and the de-institutionalization movement gradually led to the school losing residents, funding, and reputation.  Eventually, in 1996, the last residents left, and the school closed.  Many of its buildings were now derelict and its farms abandoned.

In 2000, the Portland-based Libra Foundation, founded by my mother, bought Pineland and 1600 surrounding acres from the state.  Libra's president, Owen Wells, had a vision of building a multi-use campus with commercial buildings surrounded by a farm used for education and for supporting Maine farming as a way of life.  The foundation spent tens of millions of dollars restoring the campus, barns, fencing, and surrounding farmhouses.  We built a world-class equestrian center and 30 kilometers of cross-country ski trails.  We brought in a prize Holstein herd, Angus cattle, and Dutch Warmblood horses.

Today the Pineland campus is a serene and lovely place to work.  Over 300 people in 25 businesses occupy the restored brick buildings.  Farms, woodlands, ponds and gardens now comprise over 3500 acres set midway between Portland and Lewiston.  Visitors come for weddings, for hiking or skiing on  thirty kilometers of trails, for corporate retreats, or for educational events from cheese-making to felting.  We have sheep, chickens, beef cattle, prize milkers, dressage horses, and seasonal pigs.

Saturday night my family stayed in the very comfortable (huge kitchen, two living rooms) five-bedroom Collyer Brook Farmhouse.  Craig Denekas, current president of Libra, along with Owen Wells, gave us the tour Sunday morning.  We bought a pumpkin at the market and Welcome Center, which is stocked full of Maine products and wonderful sandwiches. Downstairs, visitors rent skis in the winter, and just outside, the cross-country trails lead across the fields and into the woods.

We toured the creamery, a state-of-the-art cheese-making facility, which now processes 20,000 pounds of cheese each month.  Mark, the cheese-maker, walked us through the process from pasteurization through adding rennet and bacteria to raking up the curds to stopping the process with salt, squeezing the cheese into bricks or wheels, and finally aging the bricks in the cold storeroom for up to two years for extra sharp cheddar.

Next we visited the hydroponic greenhouse, where without pesticides, and with nutrients dissolved in water, the manager grows fat tomatoes, bean sprouts, lettuce and cucumbers.  From the greenhouse we traveled to the cow barn to see the noble and patient-looking cows chomping and guzzling. In the calf barn we found that a calf's tongue is surprisingly rough, and that calves like licking hands and sucking on fingers. Finally we visited the riding center, a huge indoor arena with two attached fifteen-stall barns.  There a prospective Olympic dressage champion mare went through her paces on a lunge line, switching from walk to trot to canter on signs from her trainer too subtle for me to see.

After our tour (and tours are available to all) we returned to the Welcome Center for lunch.  The kids, intrigued by their grandmother's legacy and the Libra Foundation's unique brand of economic philanthropy and renewal, kept asking questions.  I was glad we had finally found time for this family exploration.

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