Artist Jeff Raymond’s Source Awards bowls. Photo by John Patriquin
For exactly a year now, week in and week out, we at Source have been examining sustainability in Maine. We’ve ranged through woods, fields and sea in search of stories, and we’ve traveled from Buxton to Van Buren. We’ve written about folks who save seeds and save bees; who steer colleges down green pathways and plant vegetables for the hungry; tribal leaders who urge their kinsmen to grow fresh food and businesses that encourage Mainers to ride the bus. We are continually awed by the strength and breadth of sustainable efforts in Maine. In short, we are not, ahem, green when it comes to knowing a little something about Maine’s environmental and locavore landscape.
We were still a little stunned by the number and scope of nominations that came in this past winter for our first ever Source Awards. We put out the call, anxiously, truth be told, and we noted with relief when we had “16 nominations total!!” As weeks passed, we watched that number climb, and when the awards committee of six judges finally convened in March, we grappled with almost 200 candidates. Looking at a very strong field, we debated our framework for selecting winners, trying to balance the notion that “small is beautiful” with that of rewarding replicable, far-reaching efforts in the sustainable world. “I feel bad passing on any of these because they are all so excellent,” one judge said. “I’m just glad Source will be around for years, so we can pick again next year.”
The size of the environmental problems we face can be daunting. But the imaginative, smart and passionate – the amazing – Mainers and Maine organizations that you’ll read about in these pages, winners of our inaugural Source Awards, give us hope.
Stewart SmithElder Award | Lakeside farm
Stew Smith sells his vegetables wholesale, usually to big buyers, believing that farmers should be at the center of the value chain. Photo by Gabe Souza
While an undergraduate at Yale in the late 1950s, Stewart Smith mapped out a 45-year-long game plan. He was an economics major, but he had many interests, including the family farm back in Maine. Instead of choosing one path, he decided to carve up his interests into 15-year increments.
He’d start by going back to Exeter in Penobscot County to farm, after which he’d give academia 15 years (“I wanted time to really dig into issues”) and then, 30 years on, he’d go into government and policy making.
Smith accomplished all that, impressively. In his 20s, he was the president of the Maine Potato Council (now the Maine Potato Board). During the Carter administration, he took a job with the USDA’s Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service in Washington, D.C. He came back to Maine to serve as the commissioner of agriculture under Gov. Joe Brennan.
He taught at Tufts and then became a professor of sustainable agricultural policy at UMaine in 1991, taking a two year-leave to serve as a senior economist to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.
None of this happened in quite the precise order he’d imagined, and he left out a fourth segment entirely, the part of his career where he’d really cement his reputation as a mentor to the agricultural community, an important part of the work that has made him the first winner of our Elder Source Award. That’s when he went back to the land in earnest himself, to Lakeside Farm in Newport, where he is testing out the very theories of the Agriculture of the Middle model that he researched as an academic.
“Stew lives as a model,” said Nanne Kennedy, president of the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society (of which Smith was the founding director in 1999). “He lives by his values and he leads by example.”
He returned to farming in 2006 in Newport on his son Carl’s farm, next to his maternal grandparents’ farm. (Farming continues to be a family affair. His third and youngest son, Alex, has a 3-acre organic plot in southern Maine and his youngest of three daughters, Althea, helps out with Lakeside’s marketing initiatives.)
“He could have rested on his academic laurels,” Kennedy added. “But he thought it was really important to cycle back into his farm work and keep his hands dirty.”
Smith grows everything from beets to potatoes at Lakeside, and offers about 100 different products (including variations on a theme, like bunches of beets, bags of beets or bagged beet greens). He’s not so different from the typical vegetable farmer, except that he sells only wholesale, and usually to big buyers, like Hannaford or institutions like UMaine and Colby. That’s where the theories come in.
Agriculture of the Middle is a national initiative (Smith serves on the coordinating committee) designed to save what has been a dwindling segment of the agricultural community. It doesn’t refer merely to the size of a farm. It’s true that farms in this category are usually mid-sized – too small to be considered a commodity farm, but bigger than the kinds of small-scale farms that sell primarily at farmers markets or through CSA shares (community supported agriculture).
But the term also refers to how the food grown by those farms reaches markets. In the Agriculture of the Middle model, the farmer is at the center of the transaction, often selling wholesale and on a fairly large scale.
At Lakeside, Smith has scaled up enough to sell to the big customers. According to this model, by placing themselves in the middle of the value chain, farmers have a better chance of realizing enough profit to keep a farm going. The challenge is to provide larger, reliable yields but of the same high quality you’d see at a farmers market – not an easy thing.
“Lakeside is the demonstration of that,” Smith said. “This is my putting my money where my mouth is. How do you make these midscale farms work?”
DOOMSDAY INTO BLOOMSDAY
He’s doing it, but the funny thing is, as an economist, he’d written an article in 1992 that predicted a dire future for farming. He’d studied the farm share of profits for agricultural products and found it had dwindled from 21 percent to only 5 percent in 1990.
Extending that trend line would reduce a farm’s share of profit potential to zero by the year 2020. Needless to say, he’s happy that prediction is not likely to come true in five years. “I caution people against that piece,” he says today. “There was an error in that data.”
Thankfully. But undeniably, the profit to the farmer remains very small, and slim profit margins pose a hazard to any business. As he well knows; Smith has been fighting the threat of vanishing farms as long as he has been farming. His father was proud to send him off to college, urging him to learn about the world. If he needed to learn more about farming some day, his father reasoned, he could always avail himself of the research going on through the Cooperative Extension service.
Did his father boast of his Yalie son? “He was someone who didn’t give many compliments,” Smith said. “But given his perspective, I believe that he approved.”
When he returned home after graduation, he joined his father, a second-generation farmer, in Exeter. “That didn’t work,” Smith said. His father resisted the son’s attempts to innovate. “He had his equity. He didn’t want any debt. He was very comfortable working equipment that was very old at the time. I knew something about the economies of scale, and I just knew that wasn’t going to work.” So Smith moved on to his own farm.
He laughs when he thinks how his father would regard today’s farming climate, with its focus on organic, on farmers markets and on attempts to get locally grown foods into schools and institutions.
“He would have thought, ‘Boy, that’s really old-fashioned,’” Smith said. “He would have believed that industrialization was the wave of the future and the way to go. I am quite sure what he would consider the good farmers the ones who were beginning to use purchased inputs, rather than relying on livestock and crops integration.”
Smith himself was more open to old-fashioned farming, admiring the work ethic involved. As a young farmer and candidate for the Maine Legislature in the mid-’70s, Smith took note of the young farmers “from away.” Those encounters with back-to-the-landers proved formative. He’d campaign at mills and meet some of these new neighbors from Exeter who had small farms, working their second or third job of the day.
“I came to realize pretty soon that some of those folks were going to stay around and make it work. Not everybody who came to Maine made it past the first winter.” But the ones who did needed help. “I used some of that experience and knowledge when I was commissioner to build a policy that could be supportive of that kind of agriculture.”
But as he observed the growing numbers of small farms, and an increase in industrial farming, he also noticed the dwindling numbers of farms in between, the ones that didn’t want to make the leap into the industrial sector. “That’s when I became very interested in this idea of this middle agriculture that was disappearing,” Smith said.
Sustainable agriculture became his area of concentration. His goal, said fellow farmer Bob Spear, was to “get people to use the land and use it right.” And as such, he has helped shape a locally focused, environmentally conscious, 21st-century approach to Maine agriculture.
“He was really the first guy in Maine who got the farm community to begin to think differently,” said John Piotti, the executive director of Maine Farmland Trust (a winner of our Storyteller Award). He has known Smith for decades as they both worked toward a model of sustainable agriculture in Maine. “He has both spurred it and shepherded it.”
“Whenever I have a question about something that requires deep thinking, those are the times that I call him,” said Penny Jordan (whose new business, The Farm Stand in South Portland, won our Newcomer Award). “That’s the kind of man he is.”
And through all he’s done, all the careers he’s had, whether running for Congress (he got knocked out in a primary) or taking a leave from UMaine to serve as a senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee in Washington, one thing has been a constant for Stew Smith. “I’ve never been away from agriculture.”
Tyler FrankGood Neighbor Award | Garbage to Garden
Graphic by Sally Tyrrell
Tyler Frank started his curbside composting business, Garbage to Garden, with $300 and an old pickup truck.
During the very first month, it became obvious he had tapped into an unmet need. By simply signing up new customers at a card table he set up at his local farmers market, he was soon serving 174 southern Maine households.
Today, three years later, that customer base has grown to 4,000 homes and more than 100 commercial businesses in six communities.
Garbage to Garden wins the Source Good Neighbor Award because the company makes composting easy, using a model that is easy to replicate, and educates people about the importance of recycling food waste to keep it out of the waste stream.
“Food waste is 40 percent of what we throw away,” Frank said. “It’s the largest single component of municipal garbage. Not only does it affect our soil health, the long-term productivity of our soil is dependent on our ability to recycle the organic material back into the soil and not dead-end it in a landfill” or burn it in an incinerator.
Nancy Strojny, chair of the Portland chapter of SCORE, which gave Garbage to Garden its Outstanding Small Green Business award last year, said Frank is “the real deal.” She said not only did he have the right idea at the right time, “he’s just made it cost-effective and convenient for all of us to do the right thing.”
What especially impressed the judges was the company’s volunteer program that connects its clients to their communities in larger ways. Consumers who cannot afford the $14 per month fee can get the composting service for free if they volunteer at a local nonprofit or at Garbage to Garden itself.
Frank said more than 100 people take advantage of the opportunity to volunteer every month.
One nomination noted that although Garbage to Garden receives no direct payment when a member volunteers instead of paying the monthly fee, the company is “clearly helping to support local charities and encouraging Mainers to connect with organizations that are making Maine a better place for all of us.”
Frank believes that composting will be the next big thing in recycling, and is expanding his company accordingly.
He just started offering the service in Brunswick and hopes to add three more Maine towns later this year.
“We’re on a mission to capture 25 percent of the food waste in the communities we serve,” Frank said. “Between residential and commercial, we’re right at 15 percent in Portland.”
He and his staff are also exploring the creation of town-wide composting programs in Maine. And he says communities in Vermont (where household composting will be required by 2020), Massachusetts and other parts of Maine have all shown an interest in starting their own programs through franchising or licensing agreements with Garbage to Garden.
Garbage to Garden is also now in six public school districts, as well as some private schools and colleges.
Josh Olins, a first-grade teacher at Falmouth Elementary School, had tried to start a composting program at the school with no luck – until he heard about Garbage to Garden. With their help, “it’s been very, very successful, to the point that I was giving tours weekly to teachers and parents from other school districts,” Olins said.
Falmouth Elementary used to throw away eight large trash bags of food waste from the cafeteria alone each day. Now it throws away one.
Olins is now moving the program into the middle school with the help of elementary school “ambassadors,” and he has helped other schools set up similar programs. The compost that is returned to the school goes into its school gardens.
“I think the school angle is important because now you’re teaching another generation that (composting) is important,” Strojny said.
Robin AldenInnovator Award | Penobscot East Resource Center
Robin Alden executive director of the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington poses for a portrait along the Stonington waterfront. Photo by Kevin Bennett
Robin Alden was covering a fisheries conference when a shrimper and a shrimp biologist began yelling at each other.
“It was clear they both knew a lot about shrimp,” she recalled, “but they couldn’t hear each other.”
That was when Alden got the idea of bridging their two worlds through a new publication, Commercial Fisheries News. In the years since, Alden has made it her life’s work to help fishermen, scientists and fisheries managers understand each other better, with the goal of making local fisheries more sustainable for Maine’s coastal communities and future generations, and more adaptable to economic forces and climate change.
Alden, the recipient of Source’s Innovator Award, has worked toward this goal through her work as a reporter and editor, and through a stint as commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, in which she gave frustrated fishermen more voice and responsibility in management decisions. Today, she is co-founder and executive director of the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington.
By tapping into fishermen’s micro-local knowledge of fisheries and connecting that knowledge with scientific findings, this “co-management” model has helped ease years of mistrust and bitterness between those two worlds and led to more intelligent policy decisions that are already showing results.
Fisheries co-management is not new, says Robert Pomeroy, a professor at the University of Connecticut who is considered a world expert on the topic. It began in Asia about 30 years ago, he said, but has been slow to be adopted in the United States.
Alden and the Penobscot East Resource Center “have really been a leader in the United States and even into Canada in terms of how to implement cooperation between government, scientists and fishermen,” Pomeroy said.
One of the center’s most visible successes has been helping to turn around Maine’s scallop fishery, which collapsed several years ago. Alden and her staff worked with local fishermen and state fisheries managers to design a new approach. They created scallop fishing zones and a system of rotational closures based on information provided by the scallop fishermen, who also helped monitor the catch.
The result? The scallop fishery is now thriving. While scallop landings were worth just $200,000 in 2004, last year they brought in more than $5 million.
Alden describes her role in the project as “the grease” and gives more credit to the “fishermen who took responsibility and managers who stepped up to work with them.”
But Carole Martin, a Maine-based national consultant who specializes in shared leadership and complex community collaborations praises Alden as a “thought leader” in bringing people together, viewing problems as opportunities, and emphasizing how new ways of thinking can change how problems are defined and solved.
Alden recognizes when she needs to make decisions, Martin said, and when decisions are best left to the group. Beyond that, she has credibility with the government, with nonprofits and in the for-profit realm.
“All of the research shows that one of the number one elements that allows innovators to be successful in the collaborative realm is that they are credible and highly trusted,” Martin said. “And Robin epitomizes that fundamental trust. People are willing to try new things with an innovator. When it involves collaboration, you need to trust the person first. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the innovation is, if the person isn’t trusted, it just won’t work because people are not going to take risks with big changes. So that precursor is really important to her success, and that’s no small feat.”
What’s next? Fishermen have told Alden “you’ve got to get us earlier. You’ve got to get us in high school.”
So the Penobscot East Resource Center created the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, a program launched in seven Maine high schools. Sixty students are participating this year, up from 43 last year.
“We are targeting kids who want to go fishing and also kids who are interested in learning regular academics through the lens of relevant, real marine questions,” Alden said.
The students learn practical skills, like how to tie knots. And they learn academic skills like math, by studying navigation and the ins and outs of running a small fishing business. But the most important part of the curriculum is all about co-management.
“The existential question we’re asking is how do you have human beings live off of a natural system and do it in a way that the human system adjusts to the changes that are happening in the natural system?” Alden said. “How do we fish it so we continue to sustain ourselves and it continues to produce?”
Kasey HarrisPollinator Award | Hannaford
Kasey Harris, sustainability program specialist at Hannaford, checks over seafood products at the market. Photo by Gordon Chibroski
America’s supermarkets use a lot of energy bringing consumers their frozen food and keeping them comfortable while they shop. They also consume a lot of water and generate a lot of trash.
Grocery stores produce more than 68 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, nearly the same as the emissions from 13 million cars, according to the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Peter Cooke, Brunswick-based manager of Manomet’s Sustainable Economies program, doesn’t see this as a problem but as low-hanging fruit – “a huge opportunity.”
“I don’t think there’s another business sector out there that has quite the opportunity the grocery sector has for communicating and demonstrating sustainable practices,” he said.
Hannaford, based in Scarborough, is “definitely a leader in the country for managing sustainability across a really large number of stores,” Cooke said.
Hannaford, which – full disclosure – was a major advertiser in Source in its first year, is the winner of our Pollinator Award. Our judges unanimously and quickly selected the grocery chain among a strong group of nominations. They liked the fact that Hannaford’s sustainability efforts set an example with the potential to encourage other large grocery store businesses to institute their own environmentally minded practices. The judges singled out Hannaford’s work on seafood for praise; the chain traces every seafood product in every department back to its source in order to document that all seafood in its stores is harvested sustainably.
Hannaford tackles sustainability issues in a systemic way, covering everything from energy costs to food waste and reusable bags – most recently sponsoring a two-week education campaign to give away reusable bags in advance of a new 5-cent fee imposed on disposable paper and plastic bags by the city of Portland.
Notable steps taken by the chain include opening the first LEED Platinum supermarket in the United States, in 2009 in Augusta. (LEED Platinum certification is the highest rating possible from the U.S. Green Building Council.) And in 2013, Hannaford installed the country’s first cooling and freezing system that uses only carbon dioxide as a refrigerant, in its Turner store. Hannaford won the EPA’s Best of the Best Award for the Turner project, which cut back significantly on greenhouse gas emissions.
Hannaford also has several projects to reduce food waste, including setting up in-school food pantries and buying trucks and refrigeration equipment for food banks. Last year, the chain donated 14.6 million pounds of food to hunger-relief partners across the Northeast.
Phil Lempert, a national analyst known as “The Supermarket Guru,” follows food trends and consumer behavior. He said many grocery stores are starting to clean up their environmental footprints because such efforts have attracted the attention of consumers.
“People want to know more about the companies that they’re doing business with, including supermarkets,” Lempert said. “It’s becoming more and more important all the time. People want to know that their retailers are being responsible, that we’re all on this planet Earth together. And as we look at climate conditions, and the drought in California, and all these other things, people are getting smarter about it, and they just want to reward those companies that are serious and making an effort.”
Kasey Harris, a member of Hannaford’s sustainability team, said the store’s practices save the company money, which in turn helps customers save money.
“We are finding in our research that sustainability is important to our customers,” she said. “It’s important to the people that we employ as well. So we do it for a number of reasons.”
According to a recent study done by the Manomet Center, Hannaford’s sustainability efforts have saved the business $15 million a year and kept more than 430 million pounds of greenhouse gases from being emitted, the equivalent of taking more than 41,000 cars off the road. Hannaford’s goal is to cut its carbon footprint by 20 percent by 2020.
Cooke said most grocery chains now have sustainability managers on board. He’s been working with a half-dozen chains from Maine to Texas, including Hannaford, helping them work on a systemic approach to sustainability.
Last year, Cooke examined all 184 Hannaford stores for Manomet’s Grocery Stewardship Certification program and granted immediate certification to 179 of them. The remaining five stores received provisional certification. Hannaford has stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. (We admit we also like the supermarket chain because it’s homegrown; it got its start as a horse-drawn produce car on Portland’s waterfront.)
Harris said the interest in sustainability is “a bit contagious” among the company’s leaders, “and then you start to feel it as an associate. Once you’ve been part of one project, you feel empowered to look at another initiative or current issue.”
John PiottiStoryteller Award | Maine Farmland Trust
A photograph by Lynn Karlin was among works on view at the Maine Farmland Trust gallery in Belfast in June 2014. The trust mounts six to eight shows a year, some quite raw, as in its show on how pigs are slaughtered. Courtesy photo
Maine Farmland Trust’s John Piotti gives a lot of credit to the Michael Pollans and Barbara Kingsolvers of the world, the gifted storytellers who propelled so many 21st century Americans to start thinking – and caring – about where their food came from. They helped create what he describes as a “broader societal snowball” of interest and appreciation for food and farming that has rolled through Maine and made his job as executive director of Maine Farmland Trust a little easier.
But as cited in multiple nominations, the “visionary,” “tenacious” and “innovative” nonprofit land trust itself has done an extraordinary job bringing that narrative home to Maine and because of that, is the first winner of our annual Storyteller Award.
Their stories aren’t told just on the page, although Maine Farmland Trust does produce a regular newsletter, and beginning in 2014, a lush, beautifully photographed annual journal called Maine Farms. There’s an art gallery at the land trust’s Belfast headquarters, which hangs six to eight shows a year, all featuring some aspect of agriculture life or culture.
The trust also has used film as a media for its message, funding a series of short documentaries, starting with “Meet Your Farmer” in 2010 and more recently, “Growing Local,” which explores the challenges and rewards of farming in Maine.
The goal of Maine Farmland Trust has not been to preserve the past, but rather, to protect Maine’s future. Maine meaning its families, communities and economies. People, not parcels. And its methods draw widespread admiration.
“You know, conservation has sometimes, in the past, been accused of kind of protecting land from people,” said Mike Tetreault, executive director of the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy. “One of the things I admire a lot about Maine Farmland Trust is that they are very much about helping communities enable what is a community-held vision, so that it is a shared vision.”
Maine Farmland Trust has saved about 150 farms statewide and protected more than 40,000 acres of farmland, established a network to match potential owners with available land (Farmlink) and leased back donated land to new farmers. To do that, they’ve smartly made farms and farmers a key part of the narrative.
“Aside from air and water, there is nothing more fundamental to us than food,” Tetreault said. “And when you bring the characters who are providing for all of us and what it takes for them to bring their food to us, it really is powerful.”
At the heart of these multimedia forms of narrative, there is Piotti himself, a one-man roadshow. He estimates he’s done 100 talks at Grange halls and the like, bent on conveying a core message of the trust’s mission: Farming has a future in Maine.
When he first started beating the drum, 15 years ago, his audiences had little faith. “Farming was seen as something that was dying, if not dead,” Piotti remembers.
If Maine Farmland Trust was to convince anyone to protect farmland, there had to be a purpose beyond the aesthetic. “How do you get people to open their eyes to the possibilities?” Piotti said. “To get landowners to think about protection if you don’t communicate that there is a vibrant future?”
You tell stories. The films have been a vital part of membership outreach (when Piotti took over in 2006, the nonprofit had 400 members. Now it has 5,000). But as Piotti points out, these can’t be fictions, even pretty ones. Take farm art. The gallery at Maine Farmland Trust was something of an accident – its downtown offices in Belfast came with an empty storefront, and as the staff put photographs on the wall to brighten things up, passersby started asking, “Is this a gallery?” So it became one, but one with a mission beyond sales.
“If our goal was to get people to think that farming had a robust future that was active and real, the artwork that depicted farming was part of the problem,” Piotti said. “It was either overly nostalgic or romanticized or depicted the farmer as the country bumpkin kind of guy. In truth, our gallery shows some pretty pictures, because farms are beautiful. But our gallery has also been used for a show on how pigs are slaughtered.”
That’s been the challenge for these storytellers, and within the agricultural community, the way Maine Farmland Trust has risen to it has been warmly welcomed.
“They are not sugar-coating anything,” said Lisa Webster, president of the Agricultural Council of Maine. “They show the raw truth of what is going on.”
At those Grange meetings, and elsewhere, Piotti says he gets a much different response from audiences now. Faith and hope in the future of farming are on the rise.
“The public consciousness, by and large, has changed in the last five years,” he said. “I like to think in a small way, Maine Farmland Trust has contributed to that.”
Drew DumschEducator Award | The Ecology School
Drew Dumsch, center, executive director of the Ecology School along with staff members Haley Diamond, left, dressed as a great blue heron, and Aaron Altabet, dressed as a sea star, at the beach near the school in Saco. Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette
Less screen time, more green time.
That’s what students get when they spend time at The Ecology School in Saco, where hands-on environmental education teaches them the ABCs of ecology and sustainability. No cellphones allowed.
“We like to say that we’re live and unplugged,” said executive director Drew Dumsch, who founded the organization as the Ferry Beach Ecology School in 1999. “We’re not anti-tech, but we’re here to get kids to interact with the real environment, not virtual.”
The Ecology School is our judges’ choice for the Source Educators Award. For 12 weeks in the spring and 10 weeks in the fall, Maine schools send children to visit the coastal campus or meet staff at some other outdoor venue – a state park, nature preserve or their own school grounds – to spend time exploring the outdoors and learning how everything in nature is connected. The program has grown so large now that at least a quarter if its programs are held off site.
There is also a residential program for extended stays at the school. During their stay, students are taught to notice patterns and natural processes in the world.
“What’s so great about residential environmental education programs is kids are living what they’re learning,” Dumsch said. “It’s not like a two-hour inside classroom. They’re going out to these great ecosystems like the tide pools and the forests and the salt marsh and learning about how those healthy ecosystems function, but then taking those lessons back to their school community and their home life.”
Last term, the school marked its 120,000th participant in all of its programs. Students from Lebanon Elementary School and the Hanson School in Lebanon and have been participating for years. Typically, they visit Ferry Beach every year from kindergarten to the fifth grade, and Ecology School staff visit their classrooms to put on a field study workshop. The fifth grade is the students’ “capstone year,” when they get to stay at the coastal campus for four days.
Principal Tom Ledue says that for those fifth graders, the residential program is “a powerful, even transformative experience.”
“When you look at the children we serve, a lot of our kids are never going to see the ocean if they don’t have this program,” Ledue said.
Other students have never experienced a family-style meal like the ones they’re served at the school. For many, dinner at home is a frozen burrito heated in the microwave and eaten in front of the television. The school added a food systems component about 10 years ago called Food for Thought, which involves kids in everything from permaculture gardening on site to composting.
Dumsch views time spent at the school as an incubator for sustainability. Time spent there is not the end point, he said, but the beginning.
“Kids and teachers leave The Ecology School and aspire to make changes in their own life,” he said, even if that is just a small shift like not wasting food at the dinner table.
“We like to say that sustainability is applied eco- logy, that if you take ecological principals and you can figure out how to have that in the school community or workplace community, in economics, culturally and in our society, we’ll have more healthy, vibrant communities long-term,” Dumsch said.
The school recently started a research project in which it is interviewing former students about their Ecology School experience and how it affected them, even years later.
Dumsch said outdoor education is an experience he thinks all children should have. He recalls participating in 4-H programs when he was growing up, and birdwatching with his grandmother.
“Not every child has that dynamic with their family,” he said, “but every child should have the opportunity to come to a place like The Ecology School and spend a week on the coast of Maine and enjoy being outside.”
Joseph FournierNewcomer Award | The Farm Stand in South Portland
Joe Fournier, Ben Slayton, and Penny Jordan are photographed behind the meat counter at their store, The Farm Stand, in South Portland. Photo by Gabe Souza
Of human obligations, getting the groceries is one of the most mundane. You don’t text your friends to say “Going to the grocery store!” You make the list, pick the time when the grocery store won’t be too crowded and then fill your cart with items that have been shipped from all over the country – or the world.
But if you care about buying products grown and produced locally, a trip to The Farm Stand in South Portland is wildly exciting. Everything from the meat to the blueberries to the celeriac is 100 percent from Maine. It’s like a farmers market, but open at something closely approximating supermarket hours (9 am to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays).
“Indispensable,” one nominator gushed of our winner for the Source Newcomer Award, for a business or entity established in the last 18 months. Another credited The Farm Stand, the brainchild of Penny Jordan and Ben Slayton of Farmers’ Gate butchery in Wales, with allowing them to “effortlessly integrate” the mission of eating local into their lives.
Which is really the point – take the excitement of the local food movement and make it so normal that soon it might be considered mundane to run down to the shopping center in South Portland to pick up Maine meats butchered by Slayton in Wales or vegetables grown by Penny Jordan’s fifth-generation family farm in Cape Elizabeth. Or a similar bricks and mortar store in Augusta, Brunswick, Kittery, Bangor or Houlton.
Insiders in the local food movement see this as the wave of the future, a collaborative effort that partners the likes of butchers, vegetable and fruit producers and cheesemongers under one roof.
“If you were going to look ahead for what is an emerging trend, I’d say keep your eyes on models like this,” said Marada Cook of Crown O’ Maine distributors.
Slayton approached Jordan about a shared business venture about five years ago. He had quickly made a name for himself at Farmer’s Gate and through regular Meat Up! events to buy locally grown meat (“If I could snatch him up I would,” Cook said). While his Wales location is ideal for interaction with his slaughterhouse and the farms where the animals were raised, he wanted to reach a broader audience. “Not that our customers don’t appreciate us, but we just don’t see enough of them,” Slayton said.
Meanwhile Jordan had been hoping to expand her family’s retail business in Cape Elizabeth (a popular farm stand open seasonally) to another location, but knew “we needed to offer something more than vegetables,” she said.
Slayton and Jordan “batted around” ideas, including one that would have pulled together different vendors under one roof, in booths, like a public market. But they began to see the drawback to the consumer in that; shuffling purses and wallets or writing checks at every stand. “We recognized that customers don’t care that we are two different businesses,” Slayton said.
They joined forces with Joe Fournier, whom Jordan knew as a purchaser with Rosemont Market who, like her, had long had a yen to open a retail shop in South Portland. “I told Joe, ‘That dream is mine and you can’t own it!’ ” Jordan said. But Fournier could share it.
Jordan says local customers are grateful to have something of their own. “When we first opened we heard that continuously,” she said. “ ‘I don’t need to cross the bridge!’ ”
But the first eight months have been a lesson in having patience, Slayton said. A grocery routine is so ingrained that it takes a while for shoppers to embrace something new. ““We are still drawing people in,” he said. “But they haven’t quite figured out how to change their routines. Over time, word will spread. It just takes time.”
Not too much time though, if Jordan is to fulfill her next dream.
“I tease Joe and Ben that I want store number two before I am 65,” Jordan said. “And I just turned 62.”