Terra Optima Farm Fabulous Festival, a celebration of life for farmer Cheryl Denz

By Jeffrey B. Roth | Oct 08, 2018
Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth Fall horse-drawn wagon rides at Sunday afternoon's Fabulous Farm Festival at Terra Optima delighted children, parents and adults.

Appleton — Woodland trees displaying leaves painted in pastel yellow, cinnabar vermilion, interspersed by ruddy reds and russet browns, provided a perfect backdrop for a small farm harvest festival.

With occasional sunshine breaking through the aluminum-gray skies Sunday afternoon, along with brisk autumn temperatures, bluegrass music a la the Leaky Boot Jug Band; the sounds of children at play; pig grunts, chicken cackles, horse whinnies and donkey brays provided a rich soundscape of life at the Second Terra Optima Farm Fabulous Festival, Gurneytown Road, near Appleton. For farmer, Cheryl Denz, 60, the festival expresses her joy for the privilege of living on the small diversified farm.

“You asked about the first festival,” said Denz, who has lived in Maine for more than 40 years. “All I can say is I was happy to be upright in the face of everything ...I still am. I have been blessed with friends and community that stepped forward and continue to do so to keep this little farm going.”

Born in western New York, Denz said she has “always been a grower,” but “not always a farmer." During her childhood, her father farmed for a time, but "he had to get a 'real' job to support all of us kids,” Denz added. “That's the way it seems to go, right?”

For a time, Denz was “a news photographer... years and years ago, working for the Kennebec Journal and stringing for the UPI and AP. I stopped then because of sudden kidney failure, thought to be related to dark-room chemicals. I was very ill for several years, then suddenly I was in remission from something undiagnosed.”

At that point, Denz decided to switch gears and careers for her “second passion,” horticulture, resulting in the birth of her Terra Optima landscaping business, which continued to thrive until 2010. In 2000, about the same time she began raising animals on the farm, Denz faced a new health threat, which was misdiagnosed as lymphoma.

“The blood disorder I have, Sarcoidosis, mimicked lymphoma at that time,” Denz said. “No one knew that back then. The symptoms resolved themselves after about two years. Nevertheless, the fact that I was feeling on top of my game and had the world by the tail only to suddenly be faced with a life-changing illness, changed what I did from that moment on. I retreated to this place, slowed down landscaping and began to add farm animals.”

For Denz, the retreat to the farm opened a new chapter in her life. Unfortunately, once again, Denz was struck by a bout of serious ill health.

“A few years ago, I had terrific trouble breathing and was incredibly fatigued,” Denz said. “The doctors revisited the lymphoma diagnosis again. However, Dr. Fabricius, at Pen Bay, was not convinced. He suspected from everything I had gone through since my late 20s that it was a blood disorder. Bingo!”

While the disease “is not curable, it is manageable with long-term steroids,” Denz explained. “I can say it has not been easy. I have great days and bad ones. The medication induced insulin-dependent diabetes along with a laundry list of side effects.”

For Denz, Terra Optima is more than a sanctuary and a working farm, it is an outdoor classroom, and represents her desire to provide food to hungry Mainers. The Fabulous Festival is an acknowledgment of spirit of community she has experienced through challenging times in her life.

Those feelings of connectedness are expressed through her work growing vegetables for the Good Shepherd Food Bank and with the Mainers Feeding Mainers Program. This is the first year she has dedicated part of the farm to producing healthy food to address the needs of people who are “food insecure.”

To help educate young people, as well as people of all ages, Terra Optima Farm cooperates with the Knox-Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District, by providing farm tours, and with the “Farmer in the Classroom” program.

“My life, like everyone’s life, has been full of happiness and sadness,” Denz said. “I believe we are all connected and to this end I do what I can to reach out, through sharing my knowledge to anyone that comes here or connecting people who are more experienced than myself.”

For more information on Terra Optima Farm, visit Terra Optima Farm on Facebook.

Wagon ride. (Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
(Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
(Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
Shy sheep. (Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
A face everyone can love. This kunekune pig may at first be confused with the Vietnamese pot bellied pig breed, but this little guy hails from New Zealand. (Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
Natalie Gore, 12, of Appleton, rubs the back of a kunekune pig, one of several raised at Terra Optima farm, near Appleton. The New Zealand pig breed are highly prized for their meat. (Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
Enjoying the music and the people at the Fabulous Farm Festival at Terra Optima Farm. (Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
Terra Optima Farm. (Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
Pumpkins from the patch...at Terra Optima Farm...welcome guests to the Fabulous Farm Festival. (Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
Terra Optima Farm owner, Cheryl Denz, held the first Fabulous Farm Festival in 2017 as way to thank friends, neighbors and community for supporting her through a serious illness. (Photo by: Jeffrey B. Roth)
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