Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Lily Piel's portraits of writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins and chef Sam Hayward
Maine Farmland Trust hosted its second Maine Fare Event in Belfast, Maine on September 6 and 7, 2013. I made my way up the coast early the first day to attend the event, and learn more about farming in Maine from members of the state’s agricultural community.
The day began with a series of educational panels and presentations on some of the most relevant local food issues in Maine. First up, “The Big Picture: how Maine Can Feed Itself (and help feed New England) with John Piotti, Executive Director of Maine Farmland Trust, and Amanda Beal, Sustainable Food Systems Research and Policy Consultant. Beal spoke at length about her work on the soon to be published report: A New England Food Vision: Healthy Food, Sustainable Farming & Fishing, Thriving Communities. Amanda and several scholars and practitioners are looking fifty years into the future at the six New England states and asking what could most reasonably be grown and consumed here, and what would still need to come from outside the region to create a sustainable food system by 2060 that would help feed a projected 17 million people.
Next up, internationally known food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who was born and raised on the coast of Maine, spoke about the state’s food roots, traditions, and trends. Nancy is also one of the founders of Maine Fare, which started out as the Camden Food and Wine Festival in 2005 and morphed into Maine Fare by 2007. Jenkins spoke about how well the state’s lobster fishing industry has managed their resources, the growth of the organic blueberry market, and the variety of greens grown now that would have been foreign to her parents. She reminisced about the vegetable gardens that were the pride and joy of every homeowner in the state when she was growing up. “We started with asparagus in the beginning of the spring, we went on through peas, carrots, corn, and tomatoes, and we ended around Thanksgiving with broccoli and Brussels sprouts, which my father always said were better if they’d been touched by frost, and he was right,” said Jenkins. “A lot of that also got preserved, first by canning, later on by freezing, or just by storing properly, for consumption during the winter.” Her own parents were not farmers, and had jobs and commitments outside the home, but she said it never occurred to them not to provide food for their family this way. “I quote this motto (a well known household saying during the Great Depression years) ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without’ every time I talk about Maine food,” Jenkins said. “This kind of self-reliance has a really long proud history in Maine.”
Jenkins spoke briefly about the huge cost of industrial farming on the environment, how the poor food it produces is a cause of chronic health problems, and of the lack of variety of fruits and vegetables available to the public today. “Food in Maine, like food everywhere in the county, became globalized and internationalized at the same time it became standardized,” Jenkins said. “Bread got whiter and whiter, cheese got more rubbery, fruits and vegetables lost their flavor because they were bred for long weeks of transit and not for immediate taste impact.”
In the end Jenkins offered hope in the form of organizations such as Maine Farmland Trust and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which are helping people in Maine connect the food grown on a local farm to their plate.
After Nancy’s presentation, I walked down the street to the Belfast Farmers’ Market, where I picked up a jug of Maine maple syrup from Freyenhagen Family Farm and a variety of peppers from Peacemeal Farm. Then I stopped by Lily Piel’s inspiring show, “Groundbreakers: Mainers Shaping Agriculture’s Future”, on display at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery at 97 Main Street in Belfast. The exhibit features two-dozen black and white portraits of persons who have helped revive farming in Maine.
Peppers from Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont, Maine
Later I met back up with Nancy Harmon Jenkins to chat a bit about the objective of Maine Fare. “I have always felt that it was a celebration of food in Maine, and by that I don’t mean a celebration of foie gras from France in Maine or anything like that,” she said. “It’s a celebration of Maine food in Maine. It’s a recognition that Maine food has become something very special. That there are institutions and individuals who have made it very special and there are also social movements that have taken place like the arrival of Keiko Suzuki at Suzuki Sushi and Paula Palakawong and Ravin “Bas” Nakjaroen at Long Grain (both located in Midcoast Maine) and certain chefs who are coming in here who are not necessarily Maine based. Melissa Kelly (of Primo Restaurant) is a very good example of somebody who came here from away with an education that was achieved away and really got it right from the start and has gradually built herself a small, but very significant empire down there (Rockland, Maine) and I think she should be highly praised for what she’s done.”
The final panel I attended was “Meat, Milk, and the Future of Livestock Farming in Maine” moderated by Rick Kersbergen, UMaine Extension. Bill Eldridge of MOOMilk, Todd Haines of S.P.W. Meat Cutters in Aroostook County, Lisa Webster of North Star Sheep Farm, Carrie Whitcomb of Springdale Farm, and Sarah Greer of Maine Street Meats talked about the need for infrastructure to accommodate farmers’ needs, value-adding, diversifying, the pending economic viability to farming in Maine, consumers demand for locally sourced good quality products, and leveraging the value of the “Maine” brand.
I ended the day sampling locally made sausage from the Belfast Co-op, paired with beers from Marshall Wharf Brewing Co., Andrew’s Allagash, and Maine Beer Co.Tweet
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.