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Wells, ME: Bill and Anna Spiller

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Bill and Anna Spiller have been raising crops on this 130-acre property in Maine since 1967. They also farm another piece five miles away, on land that has been in Bill's family since 1894.

Bill and Anna Spiller have been raising crops on this 130-acre property in Maine since 1967. They also farm another piece five miles away, on land that has been in Bill's family since 1894.

All photos/art by Tibor Nemeth

VIDEO: Maine Farmers Share Crops

On Bill and Anna Spiller’s 130-acre farm in Wells, Maine, an expanse of crops–apples, pumpkins, corn, potatoes, zukes, cucumbers, and carrots–is the result of their 42 years of hard work. Trees have been felled, rocks cleared, fields created. In recent years, a new farmhouse and barn have been added, too, built by Bill from logs he cut and milled himself.

So, in 2001, when the Spillers wanted to try to make a bit of a dent in the poverty that can quietly hit rural areas of their state, they turned to their land and the new Maine chapter of the national Plant a Row for the Hungry program, in which farmers set aside a small portion of their property to grow vegetables and fruits for food pantries and shelters. It’s free food, of course, but just as important, it’s fresh food: crisp carrots, plump tomatoes–the very things to which people in need often don’t have access.

The state chapter, coordinated by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has expanded each year–in 2008 more than 90,000 pounds of food was donated–and with it, so has the Spillers’ participation. Over the last several years the couple has given more than anybody, including nearly 16,000 pounds of produce in 2007 alone. At the height of summer, state volunteers pay two visits a week to the Spiller farm, picking and boxing up so much produce that it can sometimes be a struggle to get it all into the back of their pickup. “This is what we do,” Bill says. “I can donate this easier than I can money.”

The Spillers certainly have their fans–people like Joan Sylvester, volunteer coordinator for the York County Shelter Programs. “They’re true Down Easters,” she says. “Bill is very straightforward. Doesn’t say a lot. But what he does say counts. And he knows food is needed, so he’s always wondering, ‘What can I do to help?’ “

The Yankee in Bill scoffs at any idea of self-importance. Truth is, the Spillers are almost apologetic that they haven’t been able to give more. Their goal: to eventually grow 40,000 pounds of food a year to donate. “I think everyone ought to try and help society,” Bill says. He’s standing outside, gazing across his land. It’s spring, and a whole season of planting and harvesting awaits. “It’s work. You don’t just put plants into the ground and harvest them. I’d like to help people a lot more than I already do.”

Learn more: 877-492-2727; gardenwriters.org

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