Maine women in farming, 37 percent; national average, 15 percent

Local farmer Cheryl Denz on farming; Maine women farmers exceed national average

Posted:  Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - 8:45am

ROCKLAND — Cheryl Denz, local farmer and owner of Terra Optima Farm and Terra Optima Market in Rockland, gave a lively and at times touching talk about her experience as a woman actively farming in Maine.

In recent years there has been an increase in Mainein the number of women in farming. As of 2007, 37 percent of all farm operators in the state were women. That is way ahead of the national average of 15 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Denz has been a farmer for more than 15 years and owns a diversified livestock operation recognized for its woodland raised pigs, broiler and egg-laying chickens, turkeys and Jersey cows. She shared her observations and stories about her life on the farm and why it’s important to engage and encourage young people to consider agriculture as a career option Jan. 30 when she spoke at the Rockland Public Library.

Terra Optima farm is committed to the humane treatment and health of its animals, which Denz believes translates into a better food product for the consumer.

Peter Imber, Camden Conference vice president and chairman of the conference Community Events Committee, said the topic of this year’s conference is Global Politics of Food and Water. He said the committee always looks for local tie-ins, things that are interesting and maybe not covered conference weekend.

Terra Optima Farm is on Gurney Town Road in Appleton.

“The librarian here, Any Levine, suggested Cheryl and so I invited here to give a talk about women in farming particularly here in Main eand she readily agreed,” said Imber. “All together when you put the four libraries together — Rockland, Rockport, Camden and Belfast — with our discussion series this year we came close to 50 speakers just like here tonight.”

“I just don’t think there are enough mentors, not necessarily for women, but for people in general to get started in farming,” said Denz. “Access to farms and lands and experience is not something you can pick up in school. I think it’s a hands-on learning experience and job.”

Cheryl said that having the wherewithal to do farming comes down to one word, “passion.”

“A passion for food, a passion for the land, a passion for the animals, it just all depends on what kind of farming you want to do,” said Denz. “The way to success to anything is to have a passion about it and this is really hard work. There’s not a lot of financial reward, you have to be able to dig down deep and it has to come out of your soul or you’re not going to make it.”

Cheryl also owns and operates Terra Optima Market at 218 Main Street in Rockland. The market offers its customers as many local farm products as possible throughout the year. Denz started as a landscaper and remembers the day she purchased a pig with her neighbor.

“I was hooked,” she said.

The numbers grew Cheryl’s pigs are raised naturally without antibiotics or hormones; start by nursing; move to whey from State of Maine Cheese and Appleton Creamery; and then pasture in the woods. They do get some conventional grain, including corn, barley and soy, especially in winter. Terra Optima can raise as many as 60 at a time, 120 to 140 per year. Their 25 or so head of Hereford beef raised from calves are generally grass-fed only.

Chicken and eggs are also raised at Terra Optima. Their animals do not receive any unnecessary antibiotics or hormones. Their diet consists of high quality grain and natural forage.

The mission of the Camden Conference is to foster informed discourse on world affairs through year-round community events, public and student engagement, and an annual weekend conference. For more information, visit, email, or call 207-236-1034.