Grand prize: Zoe Popovic, Grade 4, Congin School
The Season in My Stomach I usually bring my own lunch to school. Sometimes the kids that buy lunch tease me. It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. I know where my food comes from. I have seen it in the fields; I’ve dug my own potatoes. My food is always changing. I can tell the season by what is in my lunch box. Starting the year with the summer harvest and the green taste of basil on my juicy tomato and mozzarella sandwich. Before I know it I have a thermos filled with butternut squash ravioli with sweet apples just picked over the weekend. In winter the staples from our farm share – rice and beans. I know summer vacation is on it’s way when my lunch turns green again with veggie wraps filled with baby greens. I also see yoghurt mixed with the preserves from last summer’s days spent picking blueberries and I know that soon I will be back in those fields. I have been a member of a CSA for as long as I can remember, whether getting a box from the farm or visiting. I know my farmers, Amy and Tom, and I know the farm. When I eat my lunch I can picture where it came from. I see the path through the fields of flowers down to vegetables. I know where to turn off to cool myself in the river. I imagine the games that I played with the other kids between courses at the potlucks. I think of the chickens running around and being ridiculous. I picture the sunflowers by the barn and remember waiting for them to have plump seeds for picking. If someone has something to say about my lunch that’s okay. It doesn’t bother me. I know where my food comes from and don’t think they can say the same. When the bell for recess rings, I offer to share a carrot and they take it with a smile and we run outside.
Second prize: Eliot Bramble, Grade 3, Breakwater School
Picking Apples Eating the juicy and crunchy apple it’s just dazzling to feel it go down your throat and feel the golden finish wrapping itself in your throat. The crisp feeling in your stomach is like eating gold. When I reach for another one from the tree, a slight breeze blows across the farm dropping many apples. They roll across the field like a stampede of wild dogs. But all that was left was a perfect ripe and golden apple. I got it just in time. My mouth made a perfect circle. The orange hot sun made the apple look like it was the sun itself. Then I took another beautiful rich and ripe fantastic bite of glory upon the gold looking farm. Then I heard a loud and tough sound. It was the bellowing voice of my dad that sounded like a drill sergeant. I sort of fell down the hill, boy was I running fast. Apples flew past me like bullets. I finally found him. Then I found another beautiful ripe apple. This was it! I took a big, huge bite. It was like gold going down my throat. The c risp outside of the apple gave way to juicy flesh that dripped down my chin. I ran back across the field to get one more apple. A hare ran across the field like a bullet zooming on the ground. I was at the top of the hill, and there was a bright orange field right in front of me. I ran down to the field. We were here to find the perfect pumpkin! It seemed like ages, but I finally found just the right one. I yelled for my family to come down and see. They all agreed that we should get this pumpkin, so we loaded up the wagon, which seemed to shrink with that huge pumpkin inside. The rattle of the wagon made a soft drumming noise all the way back to the car.
Honorable mention: Wilson Haims, Grade 4, Merriconeag Waldorf School
I LOVE FOOD In third grade we learned a lot about local, healthy food by making our own garden. It was a long process. First we dug up the earth and made the soil rich with compost and left over scraps from the Harrasseekett Inn. Then we made mounds of soil and planted the “three sisters” called squash, beans and corn. We also went to a local vegetable farm called New Leaf Farm. We harvested many healthy and delicious foods like red kuri squash, pumpkins, corn, beans and apples. It took a lot of time but finally we got everything into the root cellar so that the farmers could eat and sell the food during the winter. Last spring my dad and I decided to grow a garden together. We ordered the seeds from Johnny’s Seeds. Together we made the garden happen. It was hard but after the seeds grew, there were many tasty, organic beets, pole beans, sun gold tomatoes, two pumpkins and one buttnernut squash. I loved everything that grew in our garden and so did a groundhog! We had plenty of food from our garden so I was happy to share some of it with a groundhog family. I wonder what the world would be like without any healthy food? What if there were no gardens in the world? I feel lucky to live in Maine and be around all of these wonderful farms. My god parents own a small organic farm in Waldoboro. It’s called “New Morning Farm.” They grow most of their own food. I like to play restaurant with my sister when we go there. We use dried corn of all different colors and pretend that we are serving it at a restaurant. Someday I hope to have my own farm in Maine. I want to learn more about gardening because I think it is important to grow your own food. I hope you like my essay as much as I do and I am very excited to pick a CSA if I win!
Grand prize: Ellie Sapat, Grade 7, Falmouth Middle School
We moved to Maine because we wanted to be closer to family, make our own food, grow our own food, eat that food with our relations – and have a compost heap. In a city like Chicago, where we once lived and where people are all stuffed together, but never very close, it’s hard to enjoy these things. Life in a city seems like it has to be quick or you’re late. There’s no time to enjoy what’s truly surrounding you unless you’re on vacation and just seeing the sights. Eating Chinese takeout or ordering something from the nearest pizza house (even if it was deep dish pizza) just isn’t the same as growing, cooking and eating meals with your family. Here in Maine, I have grown tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, lettuce and the occasional melon. I know how it feels to dig up potatoes while wearing no shoes, or to pluck a ripe, juicy peach right off the tree and bite into it with glee, experiences I’d never have had if we’d stayed in the city. Maine is full of flavors that are unique, and that take time and effort to really enjoy. Take wild blueberries – it might require hours to get berries for a pie, but that pie is the best in the world, until the next one. When we pick, we enjoy the silence between the sounds of berries pattering into our containers and the occasional exclamation of joy at finding an extra large patch. In the kitchen, we chat jovially about recipes we’d like to try out, and gaze down happily at the pie that needs no recipe. With each bite, our family and close friends delight in the moments of our picking and baking – they don’t take a pie like this for granted, and neither do I.
Second: Louisa Hetzler, Grade 6, Gray/New Glouster Middle School
The Taste of Maine
January 16th Today is a cold and bitter winter day in Maine. When I look outside, I see my garden covered in white snow. It looks like the world was sprinkled with powdered sugar. After enjoying a long day of sledding, my family and I return home, appreciative of the heat. Sitting by the fire, I slurp a bowl of soup with beans from our summer garden harvest and bite into a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. Winter in Maine tastes like warmth, spreading through my body and leaving me content.
April 9th The air feels warm against my skin as I head outside. My dad and I are going canoeing today. We flow down the peaceful river, silent so we don’t disturb the animals. About halfway, we stop to collect fiddleheads, planning to cook them later for dinner. Spring in Maine tastes like fiddleheads that are sautéed in butter, crisp and fresh.
July 19th I’m bent over a strawberry patch on the hottest day of the summer. I see a perfect berry and can’t resist eating it. I haven’t managed to pick as much as I have eaten, but it is finally time to go home. However, I’m not disappointed. I’m still looking forward to tomorrow when we can harvest fruits and vegetables from our garden at home. This day has left me with sticky, stained hands, a memento of this adventure. Summer in Maine tastes sweet, juicy, and straight from the garden.
October 3rd Fall is here and we’re off to pick apples. When I step into the orchard, I see that it’s covered in the sweet, crisp fruit. My mom and I fill up a bag and head into the store. We thought we were just buying apples but we leave with cider and a doughnut as well. The scent of cinnamon and nutmeg follows us home. Fall in Maine tastes like warm apple pies, and hot apple cider, tart and sweet foods that are warm and comforting.
Maine has a wide variety of foods and flavors, each with their own story and available for everyone to appreciate.
Honorable mention: Julia Haskell, grade 6, Homeschooled in Portland
My family and I have recently decided to eat locally grown food. My Mom says that it will bring our family together to have us prepare the food together. Mom gave me a list of produce and other things are grown. I’ll get the list and see what we’re going to have for right now in February. There’s not a lot growing, but there is still livestock. There are dairy products, eggs, beef, and bacon! Those things will make great breakfast food! I should plan on freezing some fruit for winter next time so that I can bake some pies and cakes with the eggs and dairy products. It looks like we are going to have some good produce in spring! We are going to get some rhubarb and asparagus in the middle of May till June. My mother, sister and I can make strawberry and rhubarb pie with the strawberries we’ll get at the farmer’s market in June. We’ll also get some herbs, peas, some juicy cherries, and potatoes. Dad said that we can make french-fries together (he is better at making them than I am). Now that it is July we still have some herbs left, as well as some peas and strawberries. We just bought some new produce at the farmers market. Now we have carrots, apricots, beans, blackberries, beets, broccoli, cabbage, and celery. I like to put peanut butter and raisins on my celery. I call it ants on a log; it’s really good. My mom took us blueberry picking. There were hundreds of kinds of blueberries! They were really good; I couldn’t help eating a few. They’re going to make great pie! In a little while there will be pears, summer squash, corn, tomatoes, and water melon. My mouth is already watering. There’s even MORE great produce now that it is October! We have grapes, eggplant, cucumbers, and cranberries to make cranberry sauce. We also grew some pumpkins in our garden. My sister and I love decorating them for Halloween; we also love the pumpkin pies that our mom makes. I can’t wait! I never realized that eating local could be so fun and delicious. I get to go apple, blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry picking. I go to the farmers market, and I’m helping local farms. By buying local I help keep money in Maine. It also brings my family together to make fun and creative meals. The food tastes better because it has not been driven across the country to grocery stores. I eat local to keep Maine strong.
Grand prize: Ali Perkins, grade 12, Merriconeag Waldorf School
Tastes of Katahdin
What seemed like the end of our hike brought us to a sign stating that if we went right we would hike three more miles around Kidney Pond and end up at our campsite. If we went left, we were only a few feet from the parking lots. It was the Fourth of July weekend. My family and I had rented a cabin up in Northern Maine, Baxter State Park, with my grandparents. We had spent the whole day hiking up Katahdin’s Abol trail with only some nuts and balance bars to nurture us through the hike. My sister, parents, grandfather, and I stood before the sign figuring out which way to go. “I’m gonna hike this one through and take the Kidney Pond route.” my grandfather stated. Sweat stained and famished, my parents encouraged him to go back to the car with them, so they could reach food faster. Persisting to his desire to finish the hike, my grandfather headed down the longer trail. “A true hike doesn’t involve cars.” he called back over his shoulder. My mother tapped my shoulder towards the long trail. “Honey go ahead and join your grandfather. It won’t take long, and he will enjoy the company.” To the sound of only snapping sticks and crunching leaves, we hiked around the pond in silence. I was a little annoyed to have to hike the extra distance. I was hungry and tired. Every few minutes, my grandfather would stop and feel a leave, or hold his large binoculars up to his intrigued eyes towards the lake. These gestures only lasted a few moments until about a mile into the hike. My grandfather had stood right on the edge of the water with the binoculars up to his face. Without removing them, he waved for me to come closer. When I arrived next to him, he held the binoculars up to my eyes. Through my focused eyes, I saw a mother moose stand in the middle of the pond, making it look shallow. Under her was her young calf nursing. I smiled, then my stomach gurgled. “Ya hungry?” my grandfather asked, removing the binoculars. “Starving!” I replied. “Well then,” he said, taking a jack knife from his jeans, and walking up to a tree. I followed him curious as to what he had in mind. After clicking the blade out from the knife, he sliced off some of the sap that was pasted to the side of the tree. He placed the little chunk of tree sap in my hand, and told me to just chew on it, and not to swallow. I looked at the sap uncertainly. There was dirt on it, and who knows how long it had been clung on to that tree. But I was beyond hungry, enough to the point where even my mom’s attempt at meatloaf would have tasted good. So I popped the sap into my mouth. A minty bland taste filled my mouth. “Hey this isn’t bad.” I exclaimed between chews. “Yeah?” he said, plopping some into his mouth. “Its called spruce gum, longest lasting gum you’ll ever find. Beats anything you’ll chew out of a wrapper.” Suddenly his eyes caught something else on the side of the trail. He walked up to a large bush and plucked a leaf. “Now try eating this.” he said offering it to me. Considering the fact I was chewing on tree sap, I decided there was nothing left to lose and ate the leave. It tasted so clear and fresh, like nothing I had ever tasted. Chomping on the gum and leave, I gave my grandfather a thumbs up. “Great for your breath,” he said. “Eat that before a date, and the guy will be at your front door step the next morning.” As my grandfather turned away to proceed down the trail, I stuffed a few more leaves in my pocket. The last two miles of the hike flew by. We stopped every one once in a while to try another leaf or split open an acorn to try. The hike was filled with non stop story telling of hikes and foods my grandfather had experienced before. My hunger had completely left me, and by the time we got back to camp I didn’t want anything more but to share our experience with the drivers. The hike that began as an annoyance, became the high-light of my summer. Even in September, I was still telling my friends of the true scenes and tastes of Maine that I had shared with my grandfather.
Second prize: Emma Sapat, grade 10, Falmouth High School
Recalcitrant Teens, Slow Food, and the Special Taste of Maine
As I sat in the garden, getting dirt on my legs and hands while I futilely tried to remove the myriad of rocks studding the dirt, there was nothing I hated more than my family’s commitment to “slow food.” Glaring at the green leafy tops of our organic potatoes, I figured that the only thing slower than removing these rocks was probably the glacier that had deposited them here in the first place. I sighed, thinking of how every summer the round of chores would begin, the weeding and watering, and worse: the bug hunt. Since we used no pesticides, the horn worms and beetles flocked adoringly to our plants, and it was my job to find them, and plop them into a bucket of water containing nothing stronger than soap. Assuming that our plants lived through the onslaught next came the weeding. Endless weeding. I looked at my short, dirty fingernails and longed for the beautifully groomed talons of many of my classmates. Even after the plants grew to maturity, there was still the harvesting and canning, both processes that could drag on and on. Worse was the fact that some of my friends turned green with envy over our garden. What a joke! During the late summer days when peaches practically fell off our tree, they had all willingly trooped over to help slip the golden globes out of their fuzzy skins, slice them in half, and put them in Mason jars with just the right touch of sugar. I had sulked over my portion of the fruit, putting on my best “sullen teenager face” and waited for it to end so that we could do something, anything else. Then one summer, suddenly everything changed. First, rain poured from an uncharacteristically grey sky and drowned our infant plants. Next, the sun returned from what I supposed was its vacation and ratcheted up the humidity to almost unbearable levels. Finally, blight hit the tomatoes, changing their leaves from a healthy green to a sickly grayish color. Those plants that hadn’t been flooded out were now moldering and there was absolutely nothing to be done about it. Walking inside, I rejoiced. “No more watering, weeding, or digging!” I proclaimed triumphantly, taking my place at the family dinner table. As on most summer nights at our house, a green salad sat in its bowl at the center of the spread. I grabbed the salad tongs and put a healthy helping on my plate. Raising my fork, I took a bite. I was so surprised I almost spat it out. “Mom,” I yelped, startled. “What’s wrong with the lettuce?” Sadly, as my mother now explained to me, because all our lettuce had died, she was forced to buy the only kind available at Walmart, an inorganic collection of leaves so limp and pale I questioned whether they were even lettuce at all. The difference between them and our Spring mix lettuce, bright and crisp, coming in many colors, was stark. The rest of the meal continued to be disappointing at best, and downright terrible at worst. The shortcake served at the end of the meal had no strawberries. We didn’t trust the imported crop f rom California. The next morning, when I picked the newspaper out of driveway, I discovered all Mainers, from humble farmers to top restaurateurs, were mourning the loss of fresh local food. Indeed, it seemed that the only people unconcerned about this were chain stores such as McDonalds and Walmart, who routinely flew their goods in from thousands of miles away. With cooks forced to rely on non-organic and non-local produce, people found that, just as I had observed at that fateful dinner, Maine food just didn’t taste the same. Something fundamental had been lost. Luckily, not for good. I am happy to tell you that last summer was bountiful enough to more than make up for its predecessor. Maine returned to normal, and the special “taste of Maine” that comes from local and sustainable food came back as well. All through the long June and July, little green cucumbers climbed up their ladders. The cows at Smiling Hill Farm chomped contentedly in their pastures. Schools of fish swam in the Gulf of Maine, and green peaches hung ripening on their trees. And in a garden, a teenager with dirt on her hands started weeding, thinking that this “slow food” thing might not be so bad after all.
Honorable mention: Gaelyn Lindauer, grade 10, Bonny Eagle High School
I am not sure when it was that I first realized that ‘local’ was the best way to go. Maybe it was in middle school, when I would do project after project about current issues on environment and community related subjects. I remember that everything had a similar solution: local. Small businesses, small farms, local everything. Even entering High School, the toxic pop-culture environment could not rid me of my perhaps exotic way of thinking, because we discovered community at Raven Hill Orchard. Set on a hill in the middle of rural Waterboro, it’s easy to see how this orchard/cafe/bakery/bistro can be overlooked. It’s a house with a barn, seven hundred organic apple trees, a coop full of old chickens and a goat who likes to be scratched between the horns. It may be small, but it is the epitome of how local foods can bring a community together (not to mention how deliciously organic it is). Raven Hill is owned by Steve, and it was once run by Steve and his wife, Jean, and a select few employees. However, that was before the bankruptcy, the divorce, the early frost that killed his apple crop, before his tractor had been repossessed, and before he had to fire his chef for various reasons. Steve has been struggling to keep his place going, closing up for weeks at a time, churning out a hundred loaves of bread a week to pay his bills and doing all he can to attract customers. Today, it’s the generous hands of the Friends of Raven Hill and Steve’s determination that keep it going. Steve buys local and organic foods when he can and this attracts a certain crowd that has been faithful to his Sunday brunches over the months. However, this is not a huge surprise. Ask anyone who’s been there; Steve’s bread is amazing, pastries are scrumptious and his brunches are hearty for the hungry. It’s the people hungry for this local taste that keep coming back. I know that Steve is grateful for this, but we are also grateful to him for providing the place for us all to come together, local style. I do not understand why anyone would chose otherwise. What is the value of buying food processed by people countries away, that burns up the ecosystem when it travels miles and miles to get to a store, where it is stocked on a shelf by hands that had only ever touched it’s sealed-plastic covering. Instead you can inhale the scent of a fresh loaf of bread, taste a carrot just pulled from the ground, or watch the fat dribble as you fry a slice of bacon that you know had a happy life just down the road. Instead you can sit down with like-minded people over a cup of fresh apple cider in Steve’s aesthetic bistro loft. Why would anyone give up a chance to meet new people in their community like I have. People like Ray and his passion for food independence, Kevin and Amiee who are organic farmers, Carla who lives off the grid, or eleven-year-old Nola who enjoys volunteering her Saturdays to work the cash register and boss Steve around. The United States used to be the place where bigger was always better, but I don’t think that it is the case anymore. Quality should be able to outshine quantity any day. Who would pass up a place like Ravel Hill, the Secret Garden of local delicacies and the hang-out of locavores, young and old?. It’s time to stop patronizing the big box stores and support the local ones. Next time you have a hankering for some good Maine food and good community, do Steve a favor and stop by. You’d be crazy not to.