Thornton Academy News

It’s a Way of Life: The Harris Family’s Farms
Katy Nicketakis

For a lucky few, work does not feel like work, work feels like what you love to do. The Harris family, longtime residents of Dayton, Maine, embody this characteristic in their daily lives. 

Hearkening back to another grim time in recent history, John and Ruth Harris started what is now Harris Farm in 1944. John had been laid off from his foundry job; the factory was taken over to make textiles for the war, so he purchased the land in Dayton and began dairy farming. According to Bill Harris’ 60, John’s son, “It was a meager beginning. The homestead burned in ‘44 and there was no electricity on the property.”

But John and Ruth worked hard, and as the years went by, the farm has grown and diversified to stay relevant and profitable. Today, Harris Farm occupies over 600 acres and features dairy cows, beef cows, cross country skiing, vegetables, and their famous sweet corn. Harris Farm is truly a family enterprise. Bill ‘60 and his wife Dixie ‘70 run the cross country ski portion of the farm, while their son Clint ‘87 and his wife Rachel are now the main owners of the farm and oversee all operations. In addition to operating another Dayton staple, Pumpkin Valley Farm, Clint’s brother Keith ’90 produces maple syrup in the spring. Clint’s son Jake ’12 has perhaps the toughest work of all: managing the dairy and beef cows. His day begins with a 5:30am feeding and ends after “everything that broke that day has been fixed.” 

four calves in a barn

At Thornton Academy, we often talk about the importance of community. For the Harris family and the farms they run, community is more than just talk, it’s a way of life. Dixie leaves little doubt about the farm’s importance in Dayton, saying “This is the town center.” The farm relies on neighbors as customers. Previously, they would travel to weekly farmers’ markets across Southern Maine to sell their summer produce. But they discovered that they had enough support close to home and could sell all they needed directly at the farm, saving them long days of preparing and packing their goods. 

Every day is different at Harris Farm. With a wide range of operations, each season brings its own opportunities and challenges. Each annual cycle begins in the spring, with vegetable and corn planting on the 200 acres of pastures and fields on the farm. With more daylight, summer sees increased hours of work from the farmers. As Jake puts it, “The best beach days are also the best haying days.” Autumn means harvest, and reaping the benefits of the hard work of spring and summer. And while normally winter is a quieter time on a farm, over 30 years ago, the Harris family farm decided to take on cross country skiing. Two of Bill’s sons wanted to return to the farm, and they needed some work. Now, skiing is one of the major operations and brings visitors from all over New England. However, Clint has been surprised to learn that “skiing is even more weather dependent than farming.”

a man cross country skis in a cow pasture

 

The Harris family has been intentional about diversifying farm operations. John and Ruth began Harris farm as one of Dayton’s sixteen dairy farms back in the 1940s. Today, Harris is the only dairy farm left. Without the support of vegetable farming, beef cattle, and cross country skiing, it’s possible to imagine that this farm could have gone the way of all the others. Clint succinctly explained how they’ve been so successful : “It’s the way diversification works everywhere—it spreads the risk.” 

During a visit to the Harris farm, the values of dedication, hard work, respect, and family emanate from the fields, barns, and homes.  Fueled by a Thornton Academy education, the Harris family has continued to diversify their entrepreneurial endeavors and continuously pursue further education to maintain the farm’s existence and create a full life, for themselves and future Harrises to come.