Brayden Nadeau was 2 when he helped his grandpa steer a John Deere tractor, and he was 3 when he helped feed the hogs and chickens on the family farm in Minot, Maine.
At age 5, when he was asked by his kindergarten teacher what he hoped to do for a living one day, nobody was surprised when Brayden said he was going to be a farmer, said his mother, Kari Nadeau.
“It was just a given,” she said.
Brayden, now 12 and in seventh grade, is already on his way to achieving his career goal.
On his own initiative, he does much of the work on his grandfather Dan Herrick’s 25-acre farm, and on the 275 acres that neighbors let Herrick use to grow hay, Kari Nadeau said. Brayden plants, tends and harvests produce, and sells his bounty.
For the past two years, he has run Brayden’s Vegetable Stand, selling fresh food such as corn, cabbage and tomatoes. He used his savings to buy a new store structure in May 2021 for about $7,000 and install it at the edge of his grandfather’s farm. He posts live updates on Facebook about what’s fresh each day.
He works on the farm and at his store 10 hours a day in the summer, and four hours a day (mostly after school) when school is in session. He’ll restock his store before school at 7:30 a.m. and leave an honor box for customers to drop in their money.
Brayden said he puts most of his earnings into savings, but uses some of the money to add improvements to his veggie stand, such as a new floor.
“I’ve become his employee,” joked Herrick, 64, adding that he still harvests hay on the farm but has allowed Brayden to take over most other responsibilities.
“I taught him the basics, and he took it from there,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud that Brayden wants to follow the tradition of farming.”
Herrick said he has never needed to hire extra help at the farm and has always kept it as a family operation.
“Brayden pretty much runs the show now,” he said. “He knows how to use the equipment better than I do.”
Brayden said it’s his favorite way to spend his days.
“I really enjoy it — even getting up at 5 in the morning,” he said. “I’m not into video games and goofing around on my phone like some of my friends. I’d rather be busy on the farm.”
People in the area who appreciate his spring peas and fall pumpkins are glad he’s in business.
Maine was among the top five states with declining farmland between 2012 and 2017, according to a survey done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In rural towns like Minot in southern Maine, many families eventually sell their farms or stop working the land because their children find other ways to make a living, said Herrick, who has farmed for most of his life.
“It’s a hard job, and you really have to enjoy doing it,” he said. “It’s definitely not for everyone. It’s very rewarding, but we need more Braydens to keep the heritage alive.”
Brayden’s father, Jon Nadeau, said he had a small hobby farm for a while, but he now runs a local boatyard to pay the bills.
“When Brayden showed such a keen interest, we decided to let him run with it,” said Jon Nadeau, 40. “To him, it’s not work. He’s dedicated to it because he’s doing what he loves.”
Brayden’s sense of duty to the farm has also helped to foster a close relationship with his grandparents, said his grandmother, Marie Herrick, 60.
“Nobody has ever asked Brayden to do this — there’s just nowhere else he’d rather be,” she said. “It’s been a joy all these years to watch him learn everything he can from Dan.”
At 6:30 every morning, one of Brayden’s parents drives him two miles to the Herricks’ farm, and he goes to work.
Brayden said he feeds the livestock (100 chickens, 60 pigs, 30 laying hens, 20 turkeys and six cows), cleans stalls, picks ripe produce and gathers eggs. Then he stocks the shelves in his vegetable stand, which he operates until Thanksgiving.
Every spring, he said, he starts his vegetables from seed, then puts them into the ground. To make the task of caring for the plants easier, he recently bought a drip irrigation system with money he’d saved from his produce sales.
Jon Nadeau said his son is meticulous about following safety precautions.
“He’s confident and he knows the proper way to use everything,” Jon Nadeau said. “There’s never been a time when we’ve been nervous about it.”
Brayden said that farming has taught him important lessons about patience.
“My goal is to have $100,000 in the bank, a truck, a tractor and a trailer,” he said. “And I know that will take time.”
Until then, he said he’s happy to drive his grandpa’s tractor and load up his vegetable stand with whatever he picks fresh each morning.
His customers said they look forward to seeing what he has to offer each day, from broccoli and tomatoes to eggplant and summer squash. Brayden also sells bacon and sausage made from his grandpa’s hogs and loaves of his grandma Marie’s fresh zucchini bread, as well as jars of her zucchini relish.
“Zucchini is probably the favorite thing I plant,” he said. “It’s always been amazing to watch something grow from an itty-bitty seed.”
Some of his customers feel the same way about watching Brayden grow.
“He’s the hardest-working kid I’ve ever known,” said customer Wendy Simard, 48, who was also Brayden’s reading teacher at Minot Consolidated School.
“Brayden is always encouraging people to try to grow their own produce at home, and he passes along some valuable pointers,” she said. “He’s told me a couple of times when it’s time to start my seedlings.”
Simard said that when she taught Brayden in first grade, he was drawn to books about farming, and liked drawing pictures of tractors, pigs and cows.
“Now he comes in to tell our pre-K students all about vegetables, and he’ll bring in a baby pig at the end of every year to show the kids,” she said.
Brayden said he likes educating people about where their food comes from.
“Everyone needs to eat, and that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have farmers,” he said.