How long has it been since you’ve seen a brown cow? Met a flock of sheep? Or visited a Grange Hall?

Madison Jones of Lamoine and her mother were headed to Homewood Farm in Blue Hill to pick strawberries when she spotted brown cows in one of the farm’s fields. There were only two brown ones among a small herd of black cows, but that was all the 18-year-old needed to tick the box on her farm scavenger hunt form.

“I was, like, ‘Take a picture of the cows!!’” said Jones, who then posted the photo on Instagram with the hashtag #Exploremainefarms2020.

Madison Jones and her mother, who live in Lamoine, spotted these two brown cows during their farm scavenger hunt. Photo courtesy of Madison Jones

Jones and her mother, along with about 300 others, have signed up for a summer-long, statewide scavenger hunt that takes them to Maine farms in their own communities, where they are tasked with shopping at farm stands, finding corn fields, snapping photos that show their favorite way to eat a Maine peach, and 27 other challenges in three categories. Participants are encouraged to post photos on Instagram to prove they’ve completed each task. If they complete all 30 tasks listed on the form (a paper “passport”), they get prizes – mostly hats, tote bags, T-shirts and other swag from the Maine Farmland Trust in Belfast, which put the hunt together after it had to cancel its farm parties and other usual summer activities because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Four-year-old Everett Lapine fulfilled the task “meet a flock of sheep” when his mom, Sarah Lapine of Pownal, took him to Mindful Folk Farm in New Gloucester. Mother and son also found a corn field, she said, “on our way to the sheep.”

Sarah Lapine said she signed her family up for the scavenger hunt – which is free – because “it seemed like a lot of fun.”

“It combines two things I really love, which is farms and games,” she said.

The scavenger hunt began in July; completed passports must be sent in by Sept. 11. Ellen Sabina, outreach and communications director for the nonprofit Maine Farmland Trust, says the hunt is designed for social distancing.

“We really wanted to have this be a way for people to get out and explore in whatever way they feel comfortable doing because this summer is such a funny time,” she said. “We didn’t want to drive 400 people to Broadturn Farm to walk around.”

The trust set a goal of enrolling 200 people/families in the hunt, and quickly blew past that target. By mid-July, about 300 had joined and the trust was ordering more passports “because we want people to keep signing up,” Sabina said.

“It’s kind of an experiment, but it’s actually been very cool,” she said. “Typically in a year, we can only do so many events in so many places, and this is kind of a neat way to really reach people all over the state and get them out looking for farms.”

Islay Ikard, 7, surveys a corn field she and her parents found in the Richmond area while doing a farm scavenger hunt. Finding a corn field was one of the hunt;s tasks. Photo courtesy of Will Ikard

Scavenger hunter Rachel Healy of South Portland has two children – 5-year-old Nina and 2-year-old Seamus, who are home from preschool on Mondays and Fridays.

“There are only so many activities we can do these days,” Healy said, “and we’re trying to stay outside as much as possible. We’re getting pretty sick of what our own backyard has to offer, so any excuse for an adventure, we are taking.”

Seamus Healy, 2, meets a flock of sheep at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport. It was the first task the Healy family completed on the farm scavenger hunt. Photo courtesy of Rachel Healy

Healy already has an interest in local foods and farms. She’s a community-supported agriculture (CSA) customer, and her children have been goat cuddling. But the scavenger hunt has provided new destinations for the family, and inspiration for new adventures.

“It’s always good for kids to know where their food comes from and to have an understanding of that whole process,” she said. “We try to shop local as much as possible anyway, but we want to instill that in our kids at an early age.

Healy likes showing Nina and Seamus how close they live to “so many farms.” They go farm hunting in the morning and return home in time for a midday nap. The first task they crossed off on their passport was meeting a flock of sheep, which they did at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport. Since then, the kids have learned what honeybees eat and how many stomachs a cow has.

Healy said the task she’s looking forward to the most is visiting two creameries. She can buy cheese at a store, and cheese comes in her CSA basket, “so it never occurs to me to go to a creamery, but I’m totally into that idea.”

Some scavenger hunters are strategic. The Lapines bit off the “low-hanging fruit” on the task list first, such as visiting a neighbor who owns a couple dairy cows and sells milk and yogurt out of the barn. The task to cool down with an ice cream or popsicle made with local ingredients was easy for them because they make popsicles with Maine berries all the time anyway. In order to check off the task, they added some of their neighbor’s yogurt.

Islay Ikard, 7, of Bath drew this picture to fulfill a scavenger hunt task that asks hunters to create a piece of artwork related to farming. Photo courtesy of Will Ikard

Other families are winging it, taking their time wandering through the Maine countryside. Will Ikard, his partner Sarah Graulty and their 7-year-old daughter Islay live in Bath, and are enjoying the scavenger hunt as a respite from “normal” summer weekends jam-packed with activities, Will Ikard said.

“It feels like there is some get together or social thing or group camping trip or sporting event every weekend day in the summertime, and none of those things are happening this year,” he said.

This year, with the virus slamming the brakes on socializing, the hunt has also helped keep boredom at bay.

“Last weekend, we spent almost the whole day on Saturday just driving around central and midcoast Maine,” Ikard said. “We knew where a few farms and farm stands were as we sort of took circuitous paths through some rural areas, keeping an eye out for Forever Farm signs or a flock of sheep or whatever. It was great.”

Forever Farm signs designate which farms are part of the Maine Farmland Trust’s farm protection program.

Ikard likens the hunt to the highway games families used to play on long drives, but it’s a game that is “more fun and conducive to our values.” “It’s an organic, rural version of that,” he said.

On weekdays, “in this strange time of no school or camp,” Islay is using the basic internet research skills her father taught her to complete some of the tasks in the “Learn” category, which asks questions such as: “Historically, what kind of agricultural products were produced in your county?”

The family is also trying to tackle the bonus tasks that the Maine Farmland Trust posts every other Thursday. (Participants who complete all 30 tasks plus the bonus tasks win not only all the swag, but a copy of the Maine Bicentennial Cookbook, too.) A recent bonus task asked the scavenger hunters to use social media to say thank you to local farmers. Ikard and family thanked a good friend who farms in Bowdoinham.

“We get all our vegetables from his CSA, and our refrigerator is currently barely closing with all the greens we have,” he said. “So I just shared a picture of our overflowing refrigerator and tagged him as a thank you.”

Everett Lapine investigates the property at Spring Day Creamery with Emma, the owner’s springer spaniel. Even though the creamery is near the Lapine’s home, Everett’s mom hadn’t known about it until they embarked on the scavenger hunt. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Some tasks require more than simply posting a photo or spotting a cow. One task asks participants to visit farm stands in three counties. Lapine lives right on the Androscoggin County line and is close to Sagadahoc County, so she won’t have to travel far. She thinks she’ll really have to work, though, to find a Maine food she hasn’t tried yet – a task in the “Do” category – since she’s lived in Maine her whole life and has always been passionate about eating local foods.

“I’m sure there’s something seafoody,” she said. “I’m sure there’s some sort of seaweed that I haven’t tried.”

As for Jones, she figures that since most creameries are in midcoast and southern Maine, completing that task will involve a day trip. “My mom says that before I was born she never adventured, and now she’s happy that I drag her out to go adventure,” Jones said.

Along with adventure comes occasional surprises. Lapine, for instance, discovered a creamery near her home that she hadn’t known about – Spring Day Creamery in Durham – and a neighbor who milks goats. When Jones tackled the “eat a new-to-you Maine food” task, she was pleasantly surprised to discover that she likes garlic scapes.

Rather than complete each task quickly and systematically, some families are having so much fun they want to stretch out the experience. Ikard said his family is happy following only their own wanderlust, at least while the deadline is still far off.

Jones and her mother have similar plans.

“I like that it’s all summer long,” Jones said. “My mom said ‘We can’t check everything too quickly. You’ve got to spread it out.’ I was, like, ‘I know.’ It’s just so fun. I want to go every weekend and see new things.”


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