2017-04-27 / News

After death, Saco farming family moves forward

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer


Rick Grant, the former owner of Grant’s Farm in Saco, is commemorated in his son Ben Grant’s new farm stand on McKenney Road, also in Saco. (Garrick Hoffman photo) Rick Grant, the former owner of Grant’s Farm in Saco, is commemorated in his son Ben Grant’s new farm stand on McKenney Road, also in Saco. (Garrick Hoffman photo) SACO – Since the unexpected death of Rick Grant, the seventh-generation farmer of Grant’s Farm in Saco, his son Ben Grant ensures the legacy of the farm will continue.

Under the name Grant Family Farm, Ben Grant, 31, plans this year to grow about 30,000 green pepper plants on at least 15 acres of land, in addition to a number of other vegetables including zucchini, summer squash and cucumber. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins will be the other major crop as it has in the past, he said. He plans to use his grandparents’ land on McKenney Road for farming – which he’s done before for corn and beans – with the help of about four or five crewmen, as well as three or four acres of land that belongs to one of his neighbors.


Ben Grant, owner of Grant Family Farm in Saco, with his family at his new farm stand on McKenney Road. From left is his wife Vanessa Grant, Ben Grant, their puppy Reese and sons Richard, 3, and Cameron, 8. Vanessa Grant said, “Every dollar he makes on that farm puts food in our kids’ mouths and pays for everything that we have.” (Garrick Hoffman photo) Ben Grant, owner of Grant Family Farm in Saco, with his family at his new farm stand on McKenney Road. From left is his wife Vanessa Grant, Ben Grant, their puppy Reese and sons Richard, 3, and Cameron, 8. Vanessa Grant said, “Every dollar he makes on that farm puts food in our kids’ mouths and pays for everything that we have.” (Garrick Hoffman photo) Previously, Grant, who grew up on his father’s 100-acre farm on Grant Road, farmed for himself on a small plot, helped with maintenance and upkeep of the farm and worked full time alongside his father for 12 years. After the death of his 57-year-old father on Feb. 13, there have been conflicts regarding land ownership in respects to the farm. Although it’s pending, the 100 acres may instead go to Stacy Grant, Rick Grant’s wife of about three years, but there is confusion regarding Rick Grant’s will that will be sorted out legally. Until then, Ben Grant has no involvement with Grant’s Farm, and said farming at his grandparents’ house – where he recently set up a farm stand to sell vegetables – will hopefully not be everlasting.


Ben Grant and his sons Cameron, 8, and Richard, 3, whom Ben is carrying, have play time together at Grant’s grandparents’ house on McKenney Road in Saco. (Garrick Hoffman photo) Ben Grant and his sons Cameron, 8, and Richard, 3, whom Ben is carrying, have play time together at Grant’s grandparents’ house on McKenney Road in Saco. (Garrick Hoffman photo) “I don’t see it being that way, but at same time I have to make a solid plan,” he said. “Things can change and evolve, but at least I know I can place my stuff down there and I have a market and all of that.”

Stacy Grant said she’s unsure of the future of Grant’s Farm, its land, or whether she’d sell any of the land to Ben Grant if the land was deemed hers, but for now farming operations will continue.

“I don’t know what the future holds. I’m unsure about that,” she said. “My job is to honor my husband and his wishes were for me to continue on the farm. I’m doing everything I can to honor Rick’s memory and his wishes. That’s what makes me feel good everyday. I just want to work at the farm, grow food for people and honor Rick’s memory.”

Ben Grant, his wife, Vanessa Grant, and their sons, Cameron, 8, and Richard, 3, reside, along with their 10-week-old golden retriever, Reese, on the farm on Grant Road. Vanessa Grant said her late father-in-law referred to her sons as ninth-generation farmers and future owners of the farm. Ben’s grandparents’ property on McKenney Road is about two miles away and the farm has been in the family’s name since the early 1700s. Grant Road was named after the family, Ben Grant said.

Vanessa Grant said since the death of her father-in-law, the family has experienced hardship because of erroneous public perceptions about the family and the farm and uncertainties about land ownership.

“We’re trying to raise a family and put food on our table,” she said. “What most people don’t realize is that (farmland) is our property. That’s Ben’s job. That’s the only job he’s ever had. Some things have been here before Rick died. There’s a reason Rick put Ben’s house lot on this farm, because that farm is his life as much as it was Rick’s. The way it’s been made is Ben farmed a small plot of land and that was it. No, that’s not it – that’s our life. Every dollar he makes on that farm puts food in our kids’ mouths and pays for everything that we have.”

The time since Rick Grant’s death has been chaotic, she said.

“It’s just hitting that point where we’re really trying to stay publicly appropriate and kind and take the high road,” she said. “There’s a point where our whole reputation and everything that we’ve lived on and by forever is being destroyed – one article, one Facebook post, one thing at a time, and it’s devastating. It used to be so peaceful and so calm. Nothing was ever chaotic like it is right now.”

When Ben Grant was told that his father died, he was initially incredulous. Although Rick Grant had hypertension – or high blood pressure – the seventh generation farmer seemed healthy for a 57-year-old otherwise, he said.

“I saw him earlier that day – the day he passed – and we talked briefly,” Ben Grant said. “It didn’t seem like anything was up. I was standing out front (of my house) raking my roof off. Someone tapped me on my shoulder and told me Rick passed away, and I must have said, ‘What?’ 60 times. ‘Who? What? My father?’ You don’t believe it; you’re confused. There’s just a lot going on I guess, and I had a hard time believing it for a few minutes. Then it kind of sets in.”

Ben Grant, who went to Saco schools and graduated from Thornton Academy in 2004, farmed with his father his whole life.

“I worked mostly in the summers,” he said. “He taught me pretty much everything. We worked side-by-side full time for 12 years (since graduating). Even in high school I worked at the farm every summer.”

Grant said he often recalls moments from being a child and growing up on the farm.

“Simple things like riding my bike from this farm, when he would drive the tractor down the road – I’d follow him on my bicycle to McKenney Road to my grandparents’ place,” he said. “I grew up on the farm.”

He said being around his father and involved in farming operations helped teach him a variety of skills.

“It’s one of those professions where you know a lot of different trades,” he said. “I’m not an expert at any of them, but I can weld, maintain things, change oil, parts, build, fix things in general, make things work.”

When he farmed for himself on his father’s land, Grant grew his own vegetables with the help of crewmen he hired. At the end of harvest, however, he sold all the vegetables under Grant’s Farm, and he and his father would subsequently go through their accounting books to sort out financial matters.

He began growing vegetables for himself at 12 years old, when his father became vexed with giving him money too frequently, he said.

“The words out of his mouth would be, ‘I get sick of giving him 10 bucks every time he wanted to go downtown with his friends, so I handed him a bag of cucumber seeds,’ and that’s where it started,” he said.

Grant’s Farm sells vegetables to Hannaford stores throughout the northeast, as well as a Florida-based distribution company, Penrose Farms. Sweet corn and green beans were its principal crops, though the Grants also grew tomatoes, zucchini and squash.

“If you’ve shopped at Hannaford (and bought corn) in the summertime, you’ve had our corn,” Grant said.

Although Grant doesn’t yet have anything lined up with Hannaford, he said he will try to work something out with the company to sell his vegetables. Until then, he plans to sell vegetables at a farm stand situated on the edge of the road at his grandparents’ house on McKenney Road.

“There’s not a ton of money in farming; it’s a generational thing,” he said. “No one is ever going to tell you they want to be a farmer because they want to be rich. It’s never been said. We do well because our market is so close. We’re not hauling things to Boston.”

Grant described his father as a goofy, adult-sized kid with a strong work ethic.

“He was a kid at heart for sure,” he said. “He, in his own words, was just a kid playing with a farm set. That’s how he was. He just had fun; he was goofy. He had a lot of his own sayings – silly words. He liked to collect toys; they were just big kid toys. Things that kids that play with in their sand box, he’d buy the adult version and have fun with it.

“He was a hard worker for sure,” he continued. “A lot of pride went into this farm and farming and building it to what it was. He was proud of his ancestry and the fact that the family farm has been in the family since the early 1700s. He was proud to do his part in building that for the next generation.”

The pride is evident in a 2006 video produced by Hannaford that featured Rick Grant on the farm, where one can hear his thick Maine accent and one of his trademark sayings.

“We try to keep (the farm) small enough so me and my boy can basically do 100 percent of the farming, and that way we retain control over every field and every product line,” he said, followed by one of his sayings: “My crew is instructed to look at that item of produce and decide whether their mother would buy it in the grocery store.”

He continued, “I’ve had an awesome relationship with Hannaford. They’re the type of company that seeks out a high quality product, and we want to be the guys that grow that high quality product, and our biggest source of pride is when someone pats you on the back and says, that’s the best corn I’ve ever had.”

Ben and Rick Grant had a good working relationship, and they would spend time together in northern Maine during winters to snowmobile.

“He loved to snowmobile,” he said. “That was our slow time of year so we made a lot of trips to northern Maine. We have a lot of memories up there for sure. We had a good time. There’s something about working with family and getting along.”

Vanessa Grant said she can see the resemblance in her husband and late father-in-law.

“They’re so similar, oh my God,” she said.

Ben Grant said he’s thankful for the outpouring of community support for him, his family and his future endeavors.

“I’m working with other farms; it’s a tight-knit community,” he said. “Everyone’s been more than helpful in offering their services, to borrow this or that if I need it. It’s nice to have that support, but at the same time I have most of the stuff I need. I don’t have all of it, but we’ll make it work.”

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