The Monday, Dec. 12 snowstorm may have prevented some travelers from getting where they needed to go, but not two farmers from Lincoln County. Tom Berry, of Dandelion Spring Farm in Newcastle, and Annie Bayer, of Buckwheat Blossom Farm in Wiscasset, had a 2,000-mile road trip they needed to get started on.
By late afternoon, they had received word that the roads were beginning to clear and they started their trek south in a 10-foot insulated box truck filled with winter provisions that were destined for the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
“They wanted to start heading south to get a feel for the truck and make their goal of getting across Pennsylvania by (Wednesday),” said Beth Schiller, owner of Dandelion Spring Farm. If all goes as planned, Bayer and Berry will arrive at Standing Rock’s Rosebud Camp by the weekend.
The plan to donate the box truck ― filled with food and other needed items ― began just two weeks ago, when Schiller was watching the news from Standing Rock, where people were protesting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in a fight to protect the Missouri River. While the Army Corps of Engineers said Dec. 4 that it would not permit the advancement of the pipeline, some protesters remain in camps on the reservation.
Schiller owns Dandelion Spring Farm and Straw’s Farm with her partner, Lee Straw. Having recently retired the 10-foot insulated truck from their fleet, Schiller said the decision to donate it to the Standing Rock community was easy.
“It wasn’t that hard or complex of a decision,” Schiller said. “It just made sense to move this truck on to another useful place.”
However, Schiller said she was truly surprised by the outpouring of support from fellow community members, farmers and otherwise, in their willingness to help them collect items to donate.
“I’m continually amazed and heartened by the generosity and the organization,” Schiller said. “I think in Maine in general we support each other well, but often in a quiet way, and when it’s time, all of that quiet energy has quite an impact.”
When the truck departed from Newcastle on Monday, it was filled with $1,400 worth of donated items from neighbors and community members, including dry goods, food, art supplies for children, toothpaste and toiletries, sleeping bags, blankets, firewood, and four small woodstoves.
Money was also raised to fund gas costs for the trip, with any extra money being donated to the Standing Rock community.
While they needed to be careful of what they donated for food to make sure it wouldn’t freeze or perish during the trek to North Dakota, donations from Schiller and Straw’s farms included dried herbs and roots for medic tents, milk packed in coolers, potatoes, and carrots.
Just days after the organization of this donation got underway, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not allow for the pipeline to be drilled under the Missouri River, marking a win for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who had concerns the construction of the pipeline would affect their reservation’s drinking water.
However, Schiller said the ethics behind the donation and solidarity with a community 2,000 miles away extended beyond the issue of the pipeline.
“I use farming as a metaphor to talk about a lot of different acts for and against the environment. My sense is that those people standing at Standing Rock are also standing there for many reasons beyond the pipeline,” Schiller said.
Beyond the ethical motivation to continue with the donation, contact that those involved in organizing the donation had with people at Standing Rock indicated that a need was still there.
One of the people Schiller had been in contact with was Lauren Pignatello, an herbalist from Whitefield who recently returned to Maine after spending three weeks at Standing Rock treating the injured with homeopathic healing techniques.
On Dandelion Spring Farm and Straw’s Farm, Schiller said there is always a lot of talk about food and politics, so the connection their farming circle felt with those standing at Standing Rock was inherent.
In a time when words – often hurtful ones – are thrown around too often, Schiller wanted the donation of the box truck and other goods to be a concrete action toward good.
“This action takes some of the food and resources in Maine and transfers it onto another community,” she said.