2013-02-08 / Front Page

Neighbors

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Nick Tammaro Nick Tammaro Next to Nick Tammaro’s Down Home Farm, behind a brand new barn where 10 cows chew on hay and barley, through a patch of woods, before you reach the acres of hay fields owned by Nate Maxwell next door, there’s a stream.

Actually, Tammaro said, it’s more like a ditch.

That ditch doesn’t look like much, but it feeds into Trout Brook, which picks up in volume as it winds through the Ocean Street neighborhoods of South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, past Brown Elementary School, through Mill Creek Park and finally, into Casco Bay.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection categorized Trout Brook as an “urban impaired stream,” and Tammaro has been working with environmental experts on a plan to nurse the brook back to health.

Last month, workers from L.P. Murray & Sons, Moulton Custom Home Builders and Tammaro Landscaping finished construction on the newest addition to Down Home Farm, a covered manure storage facility.

The roof over the pile of manure Tammaro has pushed against the wall protects the contents from the elements and keeps the nutrient-rich substance from running off when a rain storm hits. When the manure was uncovered, the runoff contaminated the brook and robbed Tammaro of quality fertilizer for his hay fields.

The structure was funded through a $68,000 grant from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Tammaro received the grant to build the three-sided shed in July 2012, secured the permits he needed from the town of Cape Elizabeth and built the barn in January.

The quick turnaround for the structure from concept to concrete and wooden beams reflects Tammaro’s all-in attitude toward running his farm and business.

The story that led Tammaro to the farm begins when he was 12, when he became, as he put it, “the only kid in Cape with a pig.”

Tammaro’s father wanted his son to become involved in the 4-H program, which teaches life skills to children and teenagers through agricultural business. The problem was, the Tammaros didn’t have any land on which to raise an animal.

So Tammaro knocked on the door of a property owner who owned some land on Pleasant Avenue in Cape Elizabeth near his family’s house. She leased him three acres for $1, and then he received the required permits from the code enforcement officer, all before he turned 13.

Tammaro stayed involved with the 4-H program throughout high school, even as he started his own landscaping business his junior year. By the time he graduated in 2003 from Cape Elizabeth High School, the business was successful enough that he decided to focus on it full time. Tammaro attended Southern Maine Community College for three weeks before he dropped out.

At the age of 20, Tammaro bought his first house on Scott Dyer Road in Cape Elizabeth (before he could buy a beer, Tammaro jokes). Even with the landscaping business continuing to grow, he always kept the goal of owning animals in the back of his mind.

That led to another problem. Although Tammaro’s business was successful, he wasn’t in any position, still in his early 20s, to buy a piece of land large enough to properly raise livestock. In Cape Elizabeth, those incredibly valuable properties can fetch millions of dollars.

So Tammaro decided to write a letter to the farmers he knew in town, including Elsie and Ken Maxwell, to find out if anyone would be willing to lease a piece of land to him.

“The letter was mailed on a Monday, I got a response from Elsie on a Wednesday,” Tammaro said.

Elsie Maxwell told Tammaro her son, Nate Maxwell, could have a piece of land available for lease. Nate Maxwell was initially hesitant, Tammaro said, but ultimately agreed to lease some of his property. Down Home Farm opened in 2009 when Nick brought two cows over to the property.

In the same year, he built a barn for the livestock, got married, completed construction on his house and continued to run his landscaping business.

“I was ambitious as hell. I had no worries,” Tammaro said. “If I did it again, I might stretch it out a little.”

Today, Tammaro owns three acres of land where his home and a barn for the rest of the livestock are located. The rest of the property, including a wooded area where cows roam, and acres of hay fields, are owned by Maxwell. In return for the land, Tammaro is the property’s steward and provides Nate Maxwell with free meat year-round.

“To this day it still blows my mind,” Tammaro said. “Most people who hear about our relationship walk away thinking, those guys are crazy. But it works for both of us. We don’t care what anybody else thinks as long as it works for him and me.”

In four years, Tammaro’s farm has grown to include some pigs, about a dozen cows and a few chickens. Customers can visit the farm, pick out the cow or pig they’d like, and have the meat within a few months after the animals are sent away to slaughter. Tammaro said one cow provides about 800 pounds of meat, enough to feed four families for a year.

At 28, with a wife and two children, Tammaro said things might slow down a little for him with the new facility completed, but he still has a few projects in mind for the upcoming spring.

“You’re never done,” Tammaro said.

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