Our Friend and Champion Paul Birdsall has Passed On
Paul Grew Birdsall, June 04, 1927 – June 12, 2018
Our dear, gentle friend farmer Paul Birdsall had the countenance of an old Maine lobsterman-wood cutter mixed with a toy maker’s spirit. He had that long true visage of a man at sea, it started ‘neath the cap bill and waved out and away just as far as need be. He had the posture of a man poised to turn and move onto the next thing that needed doing. No hesitations, no wasted steps. He had the patient reach and touch of a true horseman, making useful contact and taking sweet rewards. Several people commented about how Paul was the old fashioned, stoic, pioneer sort. And many, like me, would be forgiven to learn they were wrong thinking he was from Maine. He was a Harvard educated, Massachusetts button man and sailor. Back in 1971, Paul and his one true love, Molly Birdsall, came to be farmers of the first rank; dedicated to communion with nature, to preserving farmland for the generations to come, to helping young people to learn and get started farming, to good work horses, good potatoes, good soil and a good day’s work. Early in the history of SFJ, the Birdsalls helped us to keep the journal alive, as they helped hundreds of other folks with their farm adventures. When looking for the foundations of today’s best farming we know to search for the people who understood what mattered and who worked always to keep the important things close at hand, safe and thriving. There’s a growing list of exceptional human beings who’ve served nature, farming and good people exceedingly well. Paul Birdsall belongs at that table. Now he is forever etched into our shared history of golden farming. – LRM
from the Bangor Daily News in Maine, by Marada Cook
PENOBSCOT – With parents Helen Grew and Paul M. Birdsall he grew up in Williamstown, Mass. He served with the army as a medic in the South Korean occupation then graduated Harvard and Wesleyan Universities with a masters degree. In 1952 Paul married the love of his life Mollie Owen Weare Birdsall. He first worked for Patent Button Co. then taught high school at Easthampton and Westport, Conn. In 1973 they moved to Penobscot, Maine, and started Horsepower Farm. He then dedicated himself to his workhorses, Belgians, then Suffolk Punches. Keeping them busy with field and woods work kept him fit and young at heart also. Hosting 150 apprentices over the years he happily shared knowledge of horsefarming skills and life. He served 38 years on the Hancock county soil and water district. Paul was instrumental helping start and grow Blue Hill heritage trust serving there 25 years. He was predeceased by Mollie in 2000; son, Andrew and his wife, Donna, who were already working the farm now took on mom’s jobs too. Paul kept active with his horses caring for and working them into this March. He loved his family and is missed by all. He is survived by another son Nathaniel with Jeanne and many grand and great-grands. See you around the universe.
from the Ellsworth American
PENOBSCOT — Many people in Hancock County and in Maine remember Birdsall with respect and affection but especially so his family. “He was a lot of fun,” said son Andrew Birdsall. “He taught my brother and I how to ski and skate and work and believe in ourselves. He was a good man. I don’t know of anyone who’s had a work ethic like him.” Ellen Werner had been a founding member of Blue Hill Heritage Trust with Birdsall. “I was always impressed with his dedication and reverence to leading a life that respects and honors the planet,” said Werner. “That we are all together and that if something goes awry, it affects all of us. He was a terrific man.”
Birdsall put a conservation easement on the 341-acre Horsepower Farm, located off Route 15, so that it remains farmland forever.
Birdsall worked extensively with the Hancock Soil and Water Conservation District to develop agricultural land for the Route 15 corridor.
“He bought farms like the Quill’s End Farm and sold it at a huge discount to young farmers. He thought if this whole thing was going to work, you had to have young people engaged.”
Quill’s End belongs to Phil and Heather Retberg who farm the land with their children. Heather Retberg said “We will miss him, the spirit, the fire, the tenacity, the fierce principles always worth fighting for.
“He stood up for us again and again, showed me it’s okay to yell sometimes, it’s OK to say when it’s not OK and demand different,” said Heather. “It’s good for change to come from the bottom up.”
Dave Colson, director of agricultural services at Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, said Birdsall and the Thayers took their horses to the Common Ground Fair every year to provide wagon rides for the children.
“A lot of folks who have horses, the training would be such that I would be concerned about them giving rides to children around the fair with 20,000 people,” said Colson. “Paul was so calm and the horses were well behaved so there were never any problems.
“Paul was of a generation that really came back, so to speak, to farming and agriculture as a passion and a pastime,” Colson said. In the 1980s, there were only 20 or so people in Maine getting organic farming certification. Today there are over 400 certified organic operations…
Birdsall was a board member of Maine Farmland Trust since its inception in 1999. “In many ways, Paul Birdsall was the father of farmland conservation in Maine,” said Ellen Sabina, outreach director for the trust. “He recognized that Maine has a limited amount of rich, viable farmland and saw the need to preserve the soil and the open land so that agriculture could thrive for generations to come.”
Paul and Molly Birdsall had a profound effect on Maine agriculture. We want to do that good work justice. If you have stories or information that would help us put together articles about their work with Maine Farmland Trust or any of the organizations they volunteered with, or vignettes of how they helped folks, please share them with us. – LRM