WINTHROP — Most days, when Jeanne Gibson gets home from her accounting job and does some gardening, she likes to look up the hill to her neighbor’s property, where everything from corn to blueberries to goat’s milk are produced.

“I’ve always looked up the hill to see what the real gardeners are working on,” she said.

Her neighbors are Jop Blom and state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, the owners of Annabessacook Farm, an organic farm and bed-and-breakfast on Annabessacook Road.

But after Hickman was seriously burned in a brush fire accident early last week, Gibson is among dozens of people who have volunteered to help keep their business going.

Last week, state officials said that Hickman, 50, was burned after he tried to start a brush fire using gasoline, causing the gas vapors to explode. One investigator said he may have been trying to smoke out a woodchuck or other rodent. The accident — which Hickman declined to discuss on Sunday — left him with burns on his right arm, torso and thighs.

Craig Hickman walks and talks Sunday with friends and neighbors who volunteered to weed a plot at his Winthrop farm after he sustained serious burns last week. JoEllen Cottrell, left, Carol Branning and Jessica Gorton said they were eager to help the state representative cultivate produce at Annabessacook Farm while he recovers from the injuries. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

On an overcast Sunday morning, Gibson walked up the hill to her neighbor’s land and was helping to remove weeds from a row of okra. In a way, Gibson said, she was just returning the favor: when she has been away, Hickman and Blom have helped her by milking her own goats.

That’s the same message that many people who have volunteered to help Hickman and Blom have expressed in the last week. The men often give away food from their farm, cook for community dinners and perform other favors for people in the area.

Another volunteer who came to their property on Sunday, JoEllen Cottrell, is the executive director of the Winthrop Food Pantry. Every month, the pantry receives about 1,000 pounds of food, which Hickman and Blom have allowed to be stored in their garage.

“Craig and I and Jop are very interested in feeding people,” said Cottrell, who on Sunday was helping to remove weeds from a patch of arugula with two other women, Jessica Gorton and Carol Branning.

Craig Hickman knocks down weeds with his feet Sunday at Annabessacook Farm in Winthrop while recovering from burns he sustained on his chest, arms and face last week. People are volunteering labor at the farm to help the state representative cultivate produce as he rebounds from his injuries. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Once they created piles of weeds, they walked a short distance to a pen containing several goats and dumped the vegetation inside. The animals, who had names like Pecan, Almond and Clove, were happy to devour the meddlesome plants.

Despite his burns, Hickman was also out on Sunday, directing volunteers and doing what limited work he could. At one point, he instructed Gibson how to pluck the weeds to help stimulate the growth of okra. At another, he pulled some collared greens out of the ground himself.

Before the accident, Hickman said that he worked about 12 hours every day on the farm. But he has gauze over a large section of his body now, which will prevent him from doing more messy tasks like weeding and watering. As he heals, he also can’t overexert himself.

Blom, who is Hickman’s husband and also works as a physical therapist, will return to work on Tuesday. The challenge now, they said, is to keep all their crops irrigated, a task that requires multiple hours of work each day.

While Blom said the rush of volunteers has been very helpful, he also worries that the help may dwindle over the next couple weeks as the news recedes from people’s memories.

They’re now seeking people who can water four or five hours on weekdays and sharing information about their needs on the farm’s Facebook page.

“We do have sprinklers,” Blom said. “But sprinklers only get you so far.”

On Sunday, Hickman declined to speak about the accident. Instead, he wanted to thank and praise the people who are helping to keep his farm going.

“There’s been enough about me and this accident,” he said. “It’s about the community coming together and the people who are here.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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