UNITY, Maine — The last light of the day shines on the potato fields at Sparrow Arc Farm in the rolling hills of Central Maine. In high summer, days are hot, nights warm. Jeremy Sewall sits under an apple tree feasting on grilled lobster and suckling pig. He has earned his seat in the shade. Sewall and his wife, Lisa, own Lineage in Brookline, he is chef and co-owner of Island Creek Oyster Bar, and executive chef of Eastern Standard.
He is surrounded by 30 members of his young staff, women in skimpy swimsuits, men shirtless, sunburned, tattooed. The restaurant and farm crews mingle. Farmers are dreadlocked and dusty and even more tattooed. Everybody is drinking and telling funny tales. The grill is full of surf and turf — summer squash, the crustaceans, thick rib-eye steaks. Potatoes roast in the ashes. Watermelons soak in vodka. The party is just getting started.
Every year Lineage closes for a day in July. Usually the staff heads to Island Creek Oyster Farm on Duxbury Bay. This year they decided to come here. “The plan is to relax, to drink, to grill some food, to see the farm, to sleep under the stars,” says Sewall.
The caravan of cooks arrived in Unity midday, after a stop at Smuttynose Brewing Co. in Portsmouth, N.H. Sewall picked up 50 pounds of lobster from his cousin Mark, a fisherman in York, Maine. “We buy everything that Mark catches, he says. “Lobster year round, shrimp in the winter, 1,000 pounds at a time.”
Matthew Linehan and his wife, Heather, parents of Maceo, 4, and Louisa, 1, own Sparrow Arc Farm. The home farm is 16 acres of good silt loam, 7 acres of tillable fields, 8 of orchard trees. With a crew of six, they farm 40 total acres in the area and drive almost all their vegetables to Boston restaurants.
It started about seven years ago when a few of the Lineage cooks were working at L’Espalier. Sous chef Martin Porto says, “Here comes Matt in this big nasty truck and he says that he’s heard there’s a restaurant here, and that he has produce. We go down and check out what he’s got. Seriously, it was so beautiful. Matt knows his stuff, man.”
The plan is to spend the afternoon picking produce to grill. But first everyone feasts on carnitas — pork butt simmered with spices and spooned into crispy corn tortillas. Porto says, “I worked with this Mexican kid and he kept telling me that he would show me how to make carnitas. Finally I go over to his place and he has just this one electric burner.”
The group squeezes into vans, trucks, and cars. The first field is about 8 miles from the home farm, “a long way by tractor,” says Linehan. It had been a hay field, low lying and close to the water table, but with perfect silty soil as fine as talcum powder. Now it is flush with tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. “I drive around and look for land to lease, and then I plow it, and if its good I keep it,” says Linehan. He talks about growing from seed rather than seedlings, and irrigation (he has none). The staff follows in sweaty silence, in awe of the land, in awe of the heat.
Next is the squash patch. “Let’s pick this,” says Linehan. The variety is Boothby Blonde, a Maine heirloom. “It’s insanely good, so sweet,” says the grower.
Last stop is the farm’s packing headquarters. “Have I told you that my packing shed is an old circus tent?” Linehan asks Richard Morin, Lineage’s chef de cuisine. “Actually, it’s a revival tent, I bought it off some sham missionaries in Lewiston.” Twice a week trucks at Sparrow Arc are loaded at 1 in the morning. Linehan leaves for Boston around 2, driving the four hours listening to the BBC.
Back at the home farm, the kitchen crew gets busy. A suckling pig roasts over apple and pear wood. The charred and crispy skin is basted with rosemary butter. “Does your crew eat pork?” Morin asks the farmer.
“Heck yeah!” says Linehan. “We ain’t no hippies, man. This farm is punk rock from start to finish.”
Lobsters turn bright red on hot coals. Steaks are charred and ready to slice. There are baked beans and hobo packs of carrots in butter. Linehan and Sewall are talking shop — what will be in this week’s order, what will ripen next, what strange and wonderful new things the farmer might grow.
“We are lucky to have this relationship,” says the chef. “It won’t be long before cooks are the ones knocking on doors, going farm to farm, begging for produce.”
242 Harvard St., Brookline,
Sparrow Arc Farm,
Unity, Maine, sparrowarc