We came for the food and stayed for the community

Jan 3, 2024

Twenty years ago, my husband and I fell in love with Deer Isle and purchased a summer cottage, Rabbit Hill, here in Stonington. As a University of Maine agricultural engineering graduate, I was smitten with the “back-to-the-land movement” of the 1960s and 1970s. So when our family left the nest in Bangor, I convinced my husband to move to the island where we could create a self-sufficient life while living in harmony with nature.

Historically speaking, homesteading, or supplying all of your needs from the land, is not a new concept. Agrarian in perception, the back-to-the-land population movements have occurred throughout the centuries, largely due to the severe urban problems where people felt a need to live a better life, or simply survive. Activist Bolton Hall, who set up vacant lot farming in New York City, popularized the notion in the 1920s and 1930s.

Here in Maine, Helen and Scott Nearing’s book Living the Good Life attracted many to this lifestyle. MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, was founded in 1971 to share information and learn, together, on how to farm and garden organically. Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm in Harborside, the modern pioneer proponent of organic agriculture, developed tools and methodologies for all season, organic farming in the harsh Maine clime.

Homesteading, however romantic it sounds is hard work. Gradually we beat back the forest, burning the wood for heat and chipping the brush. We raise rabbits, using the manure, chips and seaweed to build soil suitable for crops. We dig clams, forage for wild mushrooms, hunt for deer and ducks, and fish for lobster and mackerel. Our life is almost totally dedicated to our food, and we eat well.

Life on an island is beautiful and profound, but different. There is no food delivered by Uber, no large department store, no major grocery chain, no public transportation and no hospital. But while we may lack in modern conveniences, we have an abundance of community.

Our community all turns out for the 4th of July parade, high school graduation, Winterfest, and championship basketball games. Our volunteers provide weekly meals for seniors, sponsor community suppers, three food pantries and two school backpack programs. We support a world-class opera house and movie theatre, international craft school, vibrant art community, granite museum, two public libraries, community gardens and Edible schoolyard.

The recipe for Chili for a Crowd is from my archives, and scales up perfectly for a community meal. Robust, full of flavor and packed with fiber and nutrients, this tasty chili can be prepared with a variety of meats, including beef, venison, bear, moose, turkey and chicken. Seasoned with both chili powder and jalapeno or chipotle peppers, this chili can be quite hot! I recommend starting with a small amount, tasting, and increasing the heat as needed, depending upon the palate of your guests.

Community is what inspires us all, and provides hope for the next generation and our civilization. We came to the island for the food, and stayed for the community.

Chili for a Crowd

Cheryl Wixson
Delicious with corn bread, tortillas, biscuits or Muufo flatbread, a traditional Somali bread.
Servings 12


  • 2 tablespoons fat (oil, bacon, butter)
  • 2 cups chopped onion about 2 large
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 pounds ground meat beef, venison, turkey
  • ¼ cup masa harina* or all-purpose flour
  • 1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes about 3 cups
  • 4 cups stock beef, chicken, veggie
  • 2 – 6 tablespoons chili powder depends upon your tolerance for heat
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Maine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 4 minced chipotle peppers or 2 fresh jalapeno peppers use gloves!
  • 4 cups cooked beans black, red kidney, pinto, cannellini


  • Assemble ingredients and tools. Chop the onions, garlic and peppers and set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over moderate heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring frequently, until they start to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and cook until it releases its fragrance, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the ground meat and cook, stirring, until the meat loses its red color. Sprinkle the mixture with the corn flour or all-purpose flour, stirring until it is incorporated. Cook for about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the chopped tomatoes, stock, herbs and spices, Maine sea salt, cider vinegar, and peppers. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer gently for about 1 hour. Stir occasionally to keep the mixture from sticking. If needed, add a bit more hot water if the mixture gets too thick.
  • If needed, spoon the excess fat off the top, and add the cooked beans. Stir and continue to cook for 15 minutes or more. Store in the refrigerator or freeze.
  • To serve: top with optional garnishes of sour cream, chopped onion or scallions, grated cheese, shredded lettuce.

Cheryl's Notes

Makes 12 servings. Nutritional analysis per serving: 307 calories, 26 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams fat, 629 mg. sodium, 5 grams fiber.
*Masa harina is a finely milled corn flour used in Mexican cooking.

Get Cheryl’s next newsletter

See Previous Newsletters