Mary Burr points at the spinach sprouting in the high tunnel at the farm she owns with her husband, Bob Burr, on Corson Road in Mercer on Thursday afternoon.

“We’ll harvest this on Saturday morning to serve at dinner,” she said.

The in-season vegetables will be served at the couple’s farm-to-table restaurant, 122 Corson, which sits only about 400 feet away from the high tunnels.

The restaurant, which first opened its doors last June, is starting its second season Saturday. The hyper-local dining experience is the natural evolution of the couple’s commitment to good food and local products, Mary said.

“We just wanted to have a place that we would be happy to go to,” she said. “We’re firm believers of you are what you eat.”

The restaurant is part of a growing local food movement in the Skowhegan area, which Kristina Cannon would consider a “local agricultural food hub.”

Cannon is the executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, a nonprofit started in 2005 to revitalize the area.

Local agriculture is “certainly one of the most important assets that we have currently,” she said. The movement began with the opening of the Somerset Grist Mill, co-owned by Amber Lambke, and gained momentum with the Pickup Community Supported Agriculture food-shares program and a year-round farmers market.

“People from around the state are starting to notice that we have this great local food economy,” Cannon said.

‘MAKING OUR OWN FOOD’

The Burrs first got into the business of farming at the local farmers market, but they were growing their own food well before they decided to take it to market.

Mary, 63, grew up in Brisbane, Australia, where her family raised horses and cattle. She met Bob, 66, who is from Eastport, after he won a scholarship to study in the country for a year. When they married in 1973 and Mary moved to Maine, they decided to grow their own food with a large garden.

“That became our way of eating, that traditional Maine style of making our own food,” Mary said.

While Bob worked as the president and CEO of Pride Manufacturing, Mary raised a flock of Dorset sheep and grew hay commercially for 35 years.

When he retired, the couple bought a high tunnel in which to grow vegetables using the method designed by Eliot Coleman, who has written books on organic farming and growing vegetables year-round.

They found that they produced more than they could eat, Mary said, so they started Blue Ribbon Farm and joined the Skowhegan Farmers Market. Later, they put up a second high tunnel and added a few acres outside.

“We’ve never thought of the farm as hard work,” she said. “Growing our own food has always been a pleasure.”

When the Somerset Grist Mill was started, they started thinking about what demand wasn’t being met. A number of people were making bread, so the Burrs went to Italy and learned how to make pasta, which began their Pasta Fresca business.

Bob’s understanding of business and finance is what has kept the farm businesses from facing the challenges so many others in agriculture face, Mary said. Any market they chose to enter, Bob would study for at least 12 months, she said.

‘YOU’VE GOTTA LOOK UP’

After taking on a number of commercial ventures, the couple is focusing on “relaxing” with 122 Corson.

“We’ve already made our living, so we don’t have the strain on us that other people have,” Mary said.

The restaurant broke even in its first year, making a small profit, which is uncommon in the industry, Mary said.

Meanwhile, the Burrs have decided “to start peeling some of the layers back a bit.” The pasta machines are up for sale and the Burrs are attending fewer farmers markets as they try to simplify for the future.

The restaurant is the first building on their property that sits near the top of a hill on Corson Road, about two miles from U.S. Route 2.

Most people find out about 122 Corson by word-of-mouth, Mary said. People from out-of-state who own camps in the area will come for dinner, as well as locals who are looking for somewhere to go for a special occasion.

The property features beautiful mountain views of muted shades of purple and blue. In the center of the vista is Mount Blue, to the left Sugarloaf and Saddleback Mountains, and to the right, on a clear day Mary said, Mount Washington in New Hampshire is visible.

The view also keeps the Burrs going through hard days of farm work. “You’ve got to look up,” Mary said.

Bob has eaten in “thousands” of restaurants around the world while working, Mary said, so he had an idea of what to focus on when starting the business.

“We’re both very particular in what we eat and where we eat,” she said.

Their focus was simple: healthy food, a welcoming atmosphere, attentive but noninvasive servers and happy staff.

The restaurant is open one to two days each week and seats 20 people, and it’s usually full, Mary said. She encourages everyone to arrive early for their reservation so they can mingle and make friends.

“We wanted to foster the community aspect of it,” she said.

The fixed menu, which is prepared by house chef Ed Lamarre, includes an appetizer, salad, entree, dessert, and tea or coffee and ranges from $60 to $65 per person. It changes each week with what’s blooming in the garden.

‘SUPERIOR’ FOOD

What the Burrs don’t grow themselves in their two high tunnels and quarter-acre vegetable plot, they get from local farmers.

The seafood is from Mill Cove Lobster Pound in Boothbay Harbor and Maine Shellfish in Ellsworth; the meat comes from Caldwell Family Farm in Turner; some root vegetables come from Moodytown Gardens; the apples come from Cayford’s Apple Orchard; and the cheese Mary offers to people while they’re waiting is sourced from Crooked Face Creamery in Norridgewock and Kennebec Creamery in Sidney.

The Burrs hired locals to build the restaurant as well. Mike Smiley, of New Sharon, built the timber frame and John Dingley, of Industry, worked as the carpenter.

While the couple never thought they would open a restaurant, the venture has given them an opportunity to provide support to the local agriculture network they met while working the farmers market, Mary said.

“The quality is there and that’s what makes the difference for the people who eat here. They can taste the freshness,” Mary said. “The freshness and the flavor is so superior.”

Sourcing all of their food locally isn’t really difficult, she said, because that’s what they’re focused on. If they were just focused on the profit margin, it might be different.

“We wanted to be able to serve people food that is the way we eat,” Mary said.

According to Cannon from Main Street Skowhegan, 122 Corson is also an “important asset” for the region because it provides a unique experience that people are looking for, drawing visitors to the area.

“Visitors are looking for authentic and local experiences, and that’s exactly what 122 Corson offers,” she said.

It’s also something that’s important to locals. When the strategic planning committee for Skowhegan surveyed 500 people in the community, they said that the local food movement is what they’re most proud of and what they would like to see expand.

“Businesses like 122 Corson … are all important to the local region and, ultimately, to the Skowhegan brand,” Cannon said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour