Carol Bryan and her crew demonstrate scythe mowing, a relaxed swinging motion some say is meditative.
By Joyce Kryszak
Photographs by Michael D. Wilson
[dropcap letter=”A”]t her 45-acre organic farm, a breath away from Passamaquoddy Bay, Carol Bryan kneels in a freshly mown field, squinting under the noonday sun as she watches two novice scythers practicing an ancient skill. The young men gradually fall into the slow, rhythmic sweeping motion needed to mow efficiently with the primitive tool.
Dating back to 500 BCE, the long-handled implement with a curved blade (think Grim Reaper) was largely nudged out when mechanical harvesters came along. But now, a growing demand for eco-friendly, heritage technologies has fueled a scythe renaissance. In fact, Bryan’s crew at her company, Scythe Supply, has its hands full just keeping up with orders for handcrafted, European-style scythes. “The business has a life of its own,” Bryan says. “Tomorrow morning somebody in Iowa will wake up and say, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to buy one of those scythes.’”
The fit 71-year-old — with help from her business partner, woodworker Richard Scott — runs the farm-based business out of her barn loft and the cellar of her home. Bryan’s life partner, the late Elliot Fishbein, started Scythe Supply in 2001 but died in a car accident a year later. Bryan kept the fledgling business going.
Today, Scythe Supply is a bustling company with six employees — some of whom have been with Bryan since the beginning — churning out roughly 2,000 scythes a year. We walk down the cellar stairs, into the production room, where employees are feverishly logging phone and web orders and packaging completed scythe kits for shipping. The company sells the custom-fitted scythes to people in every state and many other countries all over the world.
Bryan says scythes never totally went out of vogue, especially in poorer agrarian societies — or in Maine, the only state with a scythe on its state flag. But Bryan says the scythe is enjoying a revival elsewhere too, among folks who simply enjoy using this elegant tool.
Your late partner, Elliot, was a sign maker. How did he get into scythe making?
He always wanted to do something else, something new. He just fell in love with the scythe. I have very strong memories of Elliot at 6 a.m., hearing that swish, swish, swish outside the window. He wanted everyone else to love it too — and we do. He left an amazing legacy.
Why did you keep the business going?
This wasn’t my idea — I was a pediatric occupational therapist. But Elliot put so much into the company that, after he died, the family said you have to continue this. So, I asked Richard to help me. I’d grown up on a farm, but I’d never used a scythe — I have now!
What’s the difference between an American and a European scythe?
The American scythe has an S-shaped snath [shaft] so you have to stoop, and the blade is heavier. The European style has a straight snath that lets the blade move more smoothly. Its blade is lighter, more elegant, making it more efficient and easier to use.
You say there are only three European scythe makers in the U.S., with Scythe Supply the only one in Maine. Are yours all Maine-made?
As much as possible, but the blades have to be imported from Austria. For everything else, we use Maine businesses. Our white ash comes from Peavey Manufacturing, Holden Cabinet mills the snaths, and the handles are made in Kingfield. We’re the Perry post office’s number-one customer. We believe in the adage of giving back to the community. There is a specialist in American scythes in Bar Harbor: that’s Benjamin Bouchard of Baryonyx Knife Co.
Is this scythe revival some kind of new-age, romantic fad?
It’s funny, the other day I had someone say to me, “Oh, you sell to the granola crowd.” Whoever the granola crowd is, I’m not sure. But, no, we sell to all kinds of people.
Scythe Supply sells only online and via mail-order catalog, but visitors are welcome by appointment. 496 Shore Rd., Perry. 207-853-4750.