A small organic farm in Unity was one of 10 farms in the nation to receive a grant in April from The FruitGuys Community Fund, which gives money for sustainability projects.

The owners of Songbird Farm, Johanna Davis and Adam Nordell, will use the $2,966 grant to build a rainwater catchment system on their barn.

After the drought the Northeast suffered last summer — and which just officially ended for most of Maine this past week — a system that will help the 13-acre farm conserve water will be a definite advantage, Davis said, especially because they have only one well.

Since March, groundwater levels have improved, according to the Maine River Flow Advisory Commission. The snowmelt and rain in April is supposed to provide good conditions to restore the groundwater.

But over last summer, conditions were more dire. The state’s Drought Task Force met twice to discuss what officials called worsening drought conditions. The drought had been building for about three years, officials said, and affected southern Maine most harshly. A number of small-scale farmers in central Maine said the conditions were the worst they’d ever seen.

While the grains Davis and Nordell grow don’t require much water, the vegetable crops took a hit last summer.


“A guess would be that we probably got about one-third of what we were expecting,” Davis said, adding that throughout the fields the crops grew unevenly.

The rainwater catchment system that Davis and Nordell plan to build will collect water that hits the metal roof of their 40-foot barn in gutters along the edges. The water will travel to downspouts that empty into tanks, which will pump it out into the couple’s irrigation system.

Davis estimates that, given the surface area of the barn’s roof, a 1-inch rainstorm would provide 1,000 gallons of water.

“Which is kind of crazy,” she said.

Even if the state doesn’t suffer drought conditions again, Davis said, the system still will help them get water into the irrigation system for their crops that are in high tunnels, which are unheated greenhouses that don’t get rainfall.

Davis came across the grant while doing research in the winter and applied in the first round, in February. Songbird Farm was one of 20 farms that made it to the second round, and the winners were announced April 6.


The grant comes from San Francisco-based The FruitGuys, a company that provides farm-fresh fruit to businesses so that employees can have healthful snacks at work. Its community fund, which is sponsored and managed fiscally by Community Initiatives, of San Francisco, California, was established in 2012 and provides small grants of up to $5,000 for farms and agricultural nonprofits to complete sustainability projects.

While the couple had thought about adding a catchment system after they bought the farm nearly three years ago because of the barn’s metal roof, the idea got “shaken up to the top” of the priorities list with the drought.

Still, it probably couldn’t have happened this year without the grant, Davis said.

“We’re super-grateful to the fund for granting us that money,” she said. “And besides just us, granting folks around the country who are doing cool, sustainable projects is really important, and we’re really grateful.”

Davis and Nordell grow vegetables on 3 acres of their land, one of which is irrigated, and grains on the other 10 acres. They also run a a community-supported agricultural network, called the Pantry Share, which provides oats, beans, wheat and flour. In the winter, the two travel the country as the folk duo Sassafras Stomp.

Before buying the farm in Unity, they rented land in Starks for four years.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239


Twitter: @madelinestamour

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