PORTLAND – Jessie Grearson of Falmouth, along with her husband and their two daughters, spent a sizable chunk of Sunday morning shoveling snow.
But for a few hours Sunday afternoon, Grearson forgot all about ice and snow and winter worries. Walking around inside the Woodfords Congregational Church, Grearson and her family met with two dozen local farmers. They spoke of tomatoes and planting seeds and about sharing in a bountiful local harvest.
“There’s all these pictures of flowers and vegetables,” Grearson said with a dreamy look in her eyes. “And we’re looking at our backyard where we’re up to our thighs in snow. So this is like a little breath of the future.”
All across Maine on Sunday, at about a dozen events, farmers and fans of locally produced food made connections to last through the summer, fall and perhaps even next winter. The fancy name was Meet Your Farmers and Fishermen: a celebration of Community Supported Agriculture and Fisheries, but most referred to it as the annual CSA fair.
In Portland, they gathered inside the Woodfords Congregational Church, sampled brightly hued coleslaw made fresh by folks from Local Sprouts Cafe, and investigated options for buying shares of local farm produce.
Traditional CSA programs involve paying a set fee in winter or early spring and receiving a weekly box of produce throughout the harvest season. A popular option involves paying a certain amount now, say $100, and receiving 110 percent in credit that can be used at the farm stand or at farmers markets so the buyer doesn’t get stuck with, say, eight heads of unwanted cabbage.
Some CSA programs, such as one offered by Fresh Start Farms, double the value of food stamps for fresh produce.
“It made a huge difference in people being able to get vegetables that they wouldn’t normally be able to get,” said Sarah Robinson, office manager of Fresh Start Farms.
“It’s great to have the options,” said Adrienne Lee of New Beat Farm in Knox, who helped organize the Portland event. “With the traditional model, you usually get more of a discount. But at a farmers market, you get to choose what you get.”
Lee said Sunday’s Portland CSA fair was double the size of a year ago. Among the farms offering CSA programs for the first time were Emma’s Family Farm of Windsor (meat only), Frith Farm of Scarborough (first year in operation) and Green Spark Farm of Cape Elizabeth (second year in operation).
“The average age of the farmers here is quite young, which is very exciting,” said Lisa Fernandes of the Eat Local Foods Coalition of Maine. “The number of new farmers per capita in Maine is one of the highest in the nation, and a lot of the new farmers are under 35 years old.”
The attraction, Fernandes said, lies in reconnecting to the landscape, in practicing a livelihood that’s “not beholden to some of the corporate industrial systems.” “And,” she said, “there’s just an increased demand for local food. The supply side of that equation is catching up in the form of new farmers and more creative ways of getting seafood to market, too.”
The Portland CSA fair had no community-supported fishing option other than that offered by Alewive’s Brook Farm of Cape Elizabeth, where one can use CSA credit to buy lobsters.
It’s the first year that Alewive’s has offered any type of CSA, said Caitlin Jordan, whose grandfather Alvin Jordan bought the farm in 1957. She and her brother, Lincoln, 21, a horticulture student at Southern Maine Community College, help run the family farm with their father, Jodie, and two other siblings.
“We figure it will probably take the four of us children to do the one job our father and grandfather did,” said Caitlin Jordan, a law school graduate and recently elected member of the Cape Elizabeth Town Council. “With the way things are growing, the reality is, we’re going to need Lincoln to do the farming, our other brother to do the lobstering, and then the two sisters to run the farm and do all the paperwork and everything.”
Steve Hoad from Emma’s Family Farm said he hopes to use the up-front money generated from the CSA to feed their animals through the summer while using savings to build a poultry-processing plant. He also hopes to get a handle on demand, because all his meat sold out last year.
While Hoad was in Portland on Sunday, his wife attended a CSA fair in Hallowell, one daughter did likewise in Rockland and a second daughter was in Waterville. On Friday, they’ll be at still another CSA fair in Auburn.
“We hope it works,” he said. “We don’t expect monstrous things the first year, but a lot of folks know our products and have been happy with our products, so we know we have good references.”
Fernandes, of the Eat Local Foods Coalition, said Sunday’s CSA fairs are all about putting more Maine food on more Maine tables, more often.
“When you are connected to your producers, you value the food more, you appreciate the food more,” she said. “You’re actually creating community, in a way that you really can’t when you’re six times removed from the source of the food.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: