Horse-drawn carriage to deliver groceries in Rockland this winter
Warren — A 1,900-pound Belgian draft horse hauling a 1930s wagon delivering groceries door-to-door will be a common sight on Rockland streets this winter.
Brian Smith and Allie Willenbrink, owners of Oyster River Winegrowers in Warren, have developed a delivery-by-draft-horse system that they expect will serve 90 families in Rockland each week. The standard box includes meat, cheese, wine and locally grown winter vegetables. The service will run from November to March.
People living outside the city that wish to be involved have the option to utilize pickup locations at the farm and Atlantic Baking Company.
Twenty customers have signed up to receive weekly deliveries thus far. The boxes will allow for additional options to accompany the standard box, depending on customer preferences.
"Can you imagine getting your Christmas turkey delivered by a horse-drawn wagon?" Smith said.
Oyster River Winegrowers will provide the wine made at the farm along with bread from Atlantic Baking Company and mixed vegetables from local farms. Brookfield Farm in Cushing will supply the operation with salad greens until January and Appleton Creamery will provide cheese. Meat will come from local, grass-fed animals, although the supplying farm has not been determined yet.
Smith said supplying 90 units requires a lot of preparation and a high volume of available produce. He hopes more farms will be able to contribute in later years.
During the winter months, the farm generates little income but the owners have a lot of time due to stalled activity at the farm. The horse-drawn grocery delivery was an idea generated to promote local foods in the winter and to earn income during the post-harvest winter lull.
Access to farmers' markets is limited during cold months and Smith's intention is to make purchasing local products more convenient. "Delivering it right to the door makes it as easy as possible," he said.
In an effort to fund the venture, a Kickstarter campaign was set up online. Kickstarter is a platform for pitching ideas in an effort to receive funding. The minimum donation is $1. A campaign must meet its target or the money is not distributed.
As of Tuesday morning, the campaign has raised $10,370 from 129 backers. The campaign is scheduled to end Thursday, August 23.
The money will be used to purchase a produce delivery wagon, built in 1936 and used in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Philadelphia, Pa. The wagon is on hold for Smith in a Philadelphia barn. "We're going to dust it off and bring it out," he said.
A horse trailer is also needed to transport Don. Don is the 17-year-old draft horse that joined the farm about two years ago. He's enjoying his retirement from the competitive pulling circuit.
"He was almost too gentle for that [competitive pulling] activity," Smith said. He added that Don makes a good farm horse because of his calm nature.
The vineyard is solely horse-powered. "He works at the same speed as a tractor, so the actual work is not less efficient," said Smith.
The farm property, protected by a conservation easement by Georges River Land Trust, totals 57 acres and borders the Oyster River.
Poring through books and watching Youtube videos to familiarize himself with techniques and methods of horse-powered farming, Smith said he became an expert before trying it.
The farm's first vines were planted on 2.5 acres of land in 2008. The first grapes will take about three to five years to produce, depending on the soil, weather and grape variety.
"If you get anything in Maine at three years, you'd be lucky," he said. The wine made at the farm comes from grapes grown in other parts of the country.
The varieties planted in Warren are Vidal Blanc and La Crescent, which are both white, Germanic style, cold-hearty grapes. The first yield is expected to emerge this fall. "It will be really small, so it won't be a big deal harvest this year," said Smith. When purchasing grapes, the fall is considered to be "crush time" on the farm.
Smith studied wildlife biology at the University of Vermont. Following graduation, he was employed at Snow Farm Winery in Vermont. "I never thought about studying agriculture before, but I knew I wanted to do something outside and physical," he said.
After working at the winery for three years, Smith moved to California and earned a post-graduate degree in wine making.
Smith said true Maine wine doesn't have a solid identity yet because of the small scale of growing operations in the state.
With cool summers, Maine-grown grapes have a difficult time ripening to high sugar levels. "My theory is that sparkling wine will be the best product for our climate, made from the traditional Champagne method," he said.
Smith's intention is to make sparkling wine from only his grapes, although he will continue to make wines from imported grapes until he cultivates an ample harvest.
The basic premise Smith operates from is that knowing where one's food comes from is important. "Farmers should be the anchors of the community," he said.
Visit oysterriverwinegrowers.com or kickstarter.com for more information.