Pleasant Lake Farm
Two friendly dogs welcomed us at Pleasant Lake Farm in Harwich on an overcast day at the end of August. Nitka was large, brown and friendly. Her name means bear in Choctaw, and she was flanked by her son, Sonny. When farm proprietors Skipper Lee and Rebecca Scanlon caught up with their advance guard, the pair introduced the dogs as rescues, and said there were four more back at the house.
Lee, a Harwich native, bought the property in 1995, and Scanlon has been working beside him for the last 11 years. While Pleasant Lake Farm’s ten acres serve in part as a dog sanctuary, allowing room to run and roam, they also provide a subsistence, off-grid lifestyle allowing Lee and Scanlon to produce most of their own food independently. Lee says there is nothing like eating the fruits of your own efforts while maintaining the integrity of your crops, especially in an age of increasingly corporatized food production and ambiguity surrounding the true meaning of the organic label. As they produced their own food, both Lee and Scanlon were surprised when the farm grew into providing food for others as well as themselves.
“We were off grid for the first 15 to 17 years. The idea was to produce our own food as a homestead, but it developed into a commercial operation. We were more interested in sustainable living,” Lee said from a weathered Adirondack chair next to his farm stand.
The chairs gave a view of the dirt driveway winding from the street through the trees to cultivated fields and the fenced-in home of two pigs, six cows and a flock of chickens. Trees ringed the clearing, and the property felt far away from traffic and noise.
Lee described off-grid as no power and no utilities. “To me solar power is photovoltaics, wind and sun,” he said. Photovoltaic technology converts light (photons) into electricity (voltage). Their water came from a well, and they used propane for their refrigerator and hot water.
“It seemed like the thing to do. I wanted to live simply. I wanted a house where I could close the door and walk away to travel for a year. It didn’t turn out that way,” Lee said.
Skipper Lee grew up on boats. He also grew up traveling, and living in a way similar to what he envisioned at Pleasant Lake Farm. “I’d go out of school for a year. I grew up in the Bahamas with no electricity, reading by kerosene. It seemed normal and nice if you live that way. Everyone thinks it’s some far-fetched thing, but at one time everyone lived that way, off-grid with a market garden,” he said.
Lee lived off-grid in Harwich for about 17 years. He and Scanlon first starting selling vegetables and garlic at the Hyannis and Provincetown farmers’ markets, and in time the growth engendered by the farm’s success eventually necessitated a grid connection to power refrigeration. “We started selling meat and we needed freezers to sell the meat. We didn’t have enough solar power to power the freezer, so we tied into the grid.”
Lee said he started the pier market in Provincetown until it became a town market. Currently he and Scanlon can be found at the Brewster Farmers’ Market on Sundays in season.
There are now six cows at Pleasant Bay Farm, where Lee raises Highland cattle and Highland crosses with Herefords. The flock of about 30 chickens, including one proud rooster called Rudy, produce eggs (no meat), and there are also Berkshire/Mangalica cross pigs, one boar and one pregnant sow due in December. Her piglets will be ready for slaughter in time for the start of the 2018 Brewster Farmers’ Market.
We found one of the pigs wallowing very happily in a huge mud bath. Up close the pig’s skin had hairy bristles, at least where we could see through the mud. It seems the only part of a pig that really needs to be out of the mud is the snout: two round, quivering air holes.
Scanlon works the vegetable side of the operation. “Farming means feeding people,” she said, remembering how Edible Cape Cod contributor Veronica Worthington (of Farmgirl Confidential fame) was a big part of the farm from 2005-2014. “Veronica grew lettuce here. She helped me learn to farm, she mentored me. Veronica and I fed 35 families through our CSA in the beginning,” Scanlon said. She continues to grow vegetables, now with Brooke Virginski, who has been there for five years. Lee drives the tractor.
They produce a good variety with a focus on root crops: garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, squash, peas, beans, peppers, kale, basil, chard, horseradish, leeks, raspberries, rhubarb. Next year there will be blackberries.
“It’s important to feed our families and the community. We donate to the Wild Care in Eastham and the Harwich food pantry. If people are looking for donations we’ll always donate. It’s important that people can eat well, so I also keep prices comparable,” Scanlon said.
While the vegetables at Pleasant Lake Farm are certified organic, the meat is uncertified but clean, and Scanlon says it’s important to offer knowledge of what organic means.
Lee takes it back to his original purpose, which was sustainable living and feeding himself. “It’s very unique to see the fruits of your own labor on your plate,” he said.
Lee and Scanlon both question the integrity of the organic movement as it becomes more mainstream and corporatized. “We were certified to support real organic growing methods. We remain certified to support Baystate Organic Certifiers, and we would grow organically anyway,” Lee said. “It’s important for small farms to maintain the integrity of their product despite the corporate onslaught,” Scanlon added.
Perhaps in reaction to the corporate onslaught, future plans at Pleasant Lake Farm include scaling back, simplifying and going back off the grid. Lee and Scanlon plan to raise cattle for the next two or three years for market, and then to raise only to feed themselves, except for pork.
“We didn’t anticipate getting big so fast. I want the land to do more than give to me. I want to contribute to the solution somehow, which can be a fine line. Getting off electricity and feeding people is one way,” Lee said.
Connect with Pleasant Lake Farm on Facebook: facebook.com/pleasantlakefarm