Four Season Farm Leases to Little Red Flower Truck Owners

June 1, 2024

By Sam Schipani

Four Season Farm in Harborside has long been a fixture of organic farming in Maine. Owners Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch are continuing the legacy for another generation with a long-term lease to Molly Friedland and Caleb Hawkins, the celebrated cut flower purveyors behind Little Red Flower Truck.

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Iconic farmers Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm entered into a long-term farmland and infrastructure lease agreement with Molly Friedland and Caleb Hawkins of Little Red Flower Truck earlier this year. Photos by Lindsey Jacobus

Friedland and Hawkins, who have been operating the Little Red Flower Truck since 2021, will maintain the established work of Four Season Farm by growing vegetables organically and maintaining the farm’s long-held markets, all while continuing and expanding their cut flower operations on the land. Coleman and Damrosch are excited to watch and support from afar (though not too far, as they will continue to live on the part of the land they retained) as they focus on other projects.

“We love our farm,” Damrosch said. “We want it to grow. We wanted somebody to not have to follow in our footsteps with every detail. We wanted them to make it their farm but enough like ours to keep continuity.”

Coleman and Damrosch, who are now in their 80s, decided in 2023 that they were ready to pass Four Season Farm along to new farmers. The decision to put the farm in new hands was an emotional one. The couple felt a strong connection with the land they had cultivated for decades (Coleman started farming the land in 1968, and Damrosch joined him in 1991).

The couple didn’t want to just sell the farm. They wanted to make sure the farm that they had spent so long developing into a community hub, a training ground for new farmers, and a flourishing growing operation would stay that way for years to come.

“It seemed a shame to leave all this nice fertile soil here doing nothing,” Coleman chuckled.

Beyond the soil, Four Season Farm has an undeniable legacy in Maine. Coleman bought the land at a “giveaway price” (approximately $33 per acre, by Coleman’s recollection) from Scott and Helen Nearing, iconic back-to-the-landers, writers and founders of Forest Farm, also in Harborside, which is now open to the public as the Good Life Center. Coleman and Damrosch have cemented legacies of their own, too. In addition to developing Four Season Farm into an internationally recognized model of small-scale year-round sustainable agriculture, they authored a collection of seminal growing books including “The New Organic Grower,” “Four-Season Harvest,” “The Winter Harvest Handbook,” “The Garden Primer” and “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”

After consulting with experts from Land For Good, Coleman and Damrosch decided that a long-term lease to a pair of young farmers would be the best way to ensure the legacy, while providing an opportunity for a lucky couple to establish themselves.

“I am very aware of the fact that I wouldn’t be here at all if Scott and Helen Nearing hadn’t basically given me, or sold to me at a giveaway price, the land that I’m on here,” Coleman said. “That was a gift that I felt would be nice if I could pay back.”

Four Season Farm announced that they were looking to lease their farm in August 2023 through social media platforms, the Maine Farmland Trust website and the Real Organic Project. They had a few stipulations: They were looking for a farming couple (housing is simply easier when two people can share a room) that had experience operating their own organic farm business.

The deal was a good one for the lessees, too. The 11-year lease consists of a one-year trial period, then two consecutive five-year terms, and includes 8 acres of farmland on the 40-acre property and buildings, greenhouses, residences and other farm infrastructure. It requires that the lessees continue the established direct wholesale relationships with local area co-op grocery stores and restaurants, and keep operating Four Season Farm’s popular seasonal onsite farm stand. Friedland said that for farmers looking to support themselves on their farming income, the access to these markets is as much a gift as a contractual stipulation.

When they saw the listing, Friedland and Hawkins felt it would be “silly” not to apply. They were in the second of a three-year farmland lease; their business was growing; and they were looking to expand so they could support themselves wholly on their farm income instead of splitting their time between growing and holding down gigs off the farm. The couple looked into buying farmland but couldn’t find anything in their price range that was close enough to the Midcoast, where they already had established relationships and markets.

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While Little Red Flower Truck has focused on flowers in the past, Friedland and Hawkins are excited to add vegetables to their crop plan. They will keep using the Four Season Farm brand for the farm’s existing clients and the farm stand but will continue to use Little Red Flower Truck for day-to-day business operations.

Four Season Farm checked a lot of the boxes, according to Friedland. “It allowed us to live onsite, and it allowed us both to work full-time as farmers. It was just an incredible opportunity. Caleb’s family lives about 15 to 20 minutes from here, and it’s not very far from the markets we established in our previous farm business life.”

Friedland wondered if they’d really be in the running because their business was in flowers and not vegetables, but she knew she had the skills, knowledge and desire to add that to their growing business. Hawkins, who has always been Little Red Flower Truck’s fix-it guy, was prepared to take on the task of having a whole farm’s infrastructure to maintain.

It also just so happened that Friedland and Hawkins knew the former Four Season Farm managers from their days at Warren Wilson College, who, according to Damrosch, “highly recommended them.”

Coleman said that they received four serious applicants that they were considering, but when he and Damrosch met Friedland and Hawkins, the connection immediately clicked into place.

“We met with these guys and that was it,” Coleman said. “They were already living in Maine, so they knew what the weather was like in the winter. They had already created their own business, which indicated they had some brains and chutzpah. If you’ve been in this game a while you have a pretty good idea whether people are going to be able to do it. These guys seemed like they were it.”

Friedland and Hawkins were thrilled when Coleman and Damrosch extended the offer.

“If you’re a farmer, you should probably jump at the opportunity to farm at Four Season Farm,” Hawkins laughed.

Even after Coleman and Damrosch selected Friedland and Hawkins as their lessees, they had a lot of work to do. Coleman’s children also had an interest in the future of the farm — his daughter, Clara Coleman, had even run the farm between 2016 and 2022 — and wanted to be involved with finalizing the terms of the lease.

“The devil is in the details; you want to think about anything that might be an issue,” Damrosch said. “A farm has a lot of moving parts. It’s good to get that all done at the beginning instead of down the road.”

Negotiating the exact terms of the lease involved lots of video conferences with the farmers, the Coleman children and everyone’s lawyers (Friedland noted that their lawyer was accessed through Legal Food Hub). The group also had support from MOFGA and two mediators from Land For Good, who were indispensable in the process; the first iteration of the lease was from a Land For Good template, and the mediators had first-hand experience working with long-term leases for their own farms.

“Our takeaway would be to lean into the resources that exist,” Friedland said. “All these things made this transition doable and possible for us.”

In the end, the group came up with a lease that satisfied all parties. One major point was that Friedland and Hawkins will keep using the Four Season Farm brand for the farm’s existing clients and the farm stand but will keep the Little Red Flower Truck LLC for day-to-day business operations.

“We are Little Red Flower Truck farming at Four Season Farm,” Friedland said. “I think this place will forever be known as Four Season Farm no matter who is farming here, but there are so many nuances to running a contemporary business that it was another leg up for us to be able to continue using the Four Season Farm brand to sell vegetables.”

The final lease was signed by all parties on February 2, 2024.

Since then, Friedland and Hawkins have settled into their new life at Four Season Farm, growing crops for this season and preparing to onboard employees. Friedland said that there is certainly a learning curve to scaling up their operations as much as they have, but they are grateful for the opportunity.

“To be able to commit fully to buying and running a new farm was financially inaccessible to us,” Friedland said. “If we were to start with a blank slate, how many years would it take us of investing time and resources to support a lifestyle farm business? The opportunity to lease at Four Season Farm is not only one of participating in this incredible legacy, but it’s also a turnkey operation.”

Now that the ink has dried on the lease, Coleman and Damrosch are hard at work writing new books: Damrosch finished a book about growing your own food in a home garden that will come out in October, and Coleman is working on a book about green manures, which are plants that are grown specifically to add nutrition to the soil and are often tilled into the ground before planting. They are also preparing a home garden. Coleman joked that he’s going to call it “Five Season Farm” once they get underway.

Coleman and Damrosch are also available to answer any questions that Friedland and Hawkins might have about the land — that wasn’t in the long-term lease agreement, per se, but they’re happy to share knowledge anyway.

“It’s a living legacy,” Hawkins said. “We’re still able to walk in and ask a question. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we ask a question. This is Four Season Farm, but we’re still going to have to work our butts off to make a go of it. We’re here to work it and make it work.”

Sam Schipani is a writer based in Bangor. For three years, she was a reporter for the Bangor Daily News, where she covered food, farming and sustainable living. Prior to moving to Maine, Schipani has written for Sierra, Smithsonian, Earth Island Journal and American Farm Publications.

This article was originally published in the summer 2024 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. Browse the archives for free content on organic agriculture and sustainable living practices. Subscribe to the publication by becoming a member!

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