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Food Stories Part 4: "Farm Life was the Best Life- It was out of necessity"

Photo of a lush green head of lettuce on tan burlap, from the Helio's Horsepower Farm

"Just call me gutsy!" Virginia remarks,

with a smile.

We're sitting in her kitchen on a sunny late morning. Virginia has been a FarmShare customer since 2017. She heard about us through an ad in the paper way back when PR Food Center was known as Piscataquis Healthy Food For All and we toured with Piscataquis Thriving In Place meeting seniors in the region. Currently Virginia receives FarmShare from the Helio's Horsepower Farm in Guilford. Almost every time we call Virginia to take her order she urges us to pass along good words to the farmers Lizzy and Andrea. She makes sure we let them know how much she appreciates their hard work and wonderful produce.

I was struck throughout the visit with Virginia and afterwards again at how having access to the fresh produce becomes increasingly important to her and other seniors, especially now. Virginia has lived in an independent senior facility in Greenville for about 10 years. With the occurrence of a stroke years ago, her lifestyle and homestead operation "went to hell!". Her son went to college, and though the land is still in the family, nobody took an interest in the farm. Life looks very different now for Virginia then it did when she was homesteading. The following is a bit more about how Virginia came to lead the lifestyle she recalls.

In 1956 Virginia moved to Maine from Connecticut. She visited with her husband and as she states, "just knew I wanted to be here- I knew exactly where I wanted to live".

Virginia isn't shy about life- its hard truths or its beauty. Virginia Simko is gutsy and more, armed with wit and a sharp mind. As she says about life, "circumstances got twisted around". The circumstances that changed for Virginia were that suddenly she found herself divorced, and a single mother to a small boy, 3 years old. Matter of factly and with a slight grin she quips, "That's the way the ball bounces."

The place she picked was near Sebec, and not anywhere close to being or looking like an established farm. "The only thing growing was rhubarb!". But in time, she turned her land into a working farm for herself and her son. 10 acres, with woods and a brook and a "cedar swamp" soon became home.

Virginia can remember applying for WIC and AFOC (another assistance program that no longer exists today). She soon realized it wasn't enough to support herself and her son, even while working 8 hours a day. So, her homestead operation began. And though it was out of necessity, the joy of self sustainability also became quite prominent.

"There's nothing better than for a child growing up on a farm- so much to learn on a farm." And to her recollection, to the disappointment of neighbors, "Everything went smoothly".

Virginia shares that her son started to express an interest in playing and growing food on the land. And without question, Virginia, self proclaimed "farm girl", roto-tilled a plot for her son so "he could grow what he wanted." What her son turned out to want was "just purple beans and watermelon!". Over the years they also incorporated chickens, rabbits, goats, ducks, geese and dogs. But Virginia is clear that what she loved was making sure he could grow what he wanted, and that he was able to participate.

Every Sunday Virginia and her son John would take walks with their goats, dogs and even their cats. The goats would follow, walking along the downed trees around her property.

Virginia's love for her lifestyle, as zany as it sometimes was, shone through when she shared with us the story of her mischievous goats who made her have to replace the lumber for her rabbit pens. "Those damn goats- they'll chew on anything! They went on the front lawn by the clover...." Virginia used to broadcast (a method of seeding known by scattering seed by hand) clover seed all along her front lawn. To her chagrin, "There was plenty of things for them to eat but none of them went for the usual!" Virginia shares this memory with laughs.

Virginia didn't know she was cultivating a lifestyle that might have been considered progressive or ahead of the times. She was growing food using organic methods and "doing it without knowing it". She didn't at that time even know what organic meant, it was simply what made sense to her. And as she continued to lead the lifestyle that fit her and her son best she continued to hope that others would do the same.

Many of our conversations with our senior customers who've had a history around regional agriculture, homesteading or family farms, end with a kind of hefty acceptance of where they are now. Life looks a lot different as time has passed. Despite the fact that these senior customers aren't growing food themselves or going to the farms to pick produce up, the connection to farms remains a beacon.

Virginia, upon speaking about her new lifestyle remarks that it's very different, especially being alone. "I have no cats, so...." She stops and an eyebrow slightly raises. "Well- I had a little spider in my bathtub last week. Tried to name him but he didn't like it!". We laugh and I am struck again by her resilience and excellently timed humorous quips.

So remember, when life gets a little heavy or throws you a curveball, take a cue from Virginia:

"That's the way the cookie crumbles...

No sense in wasting a good cookie!"

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