The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Source Wed, 28 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Jon Hill, energy-efficiency inspector and organic blueberry farmer Sun, 25 Sep 2016 11:09:50 +0000 If you’ve recently weatherized your house, you know that to get a rebate from Efficiency Maine, the work must pass inspection first. An auditor, typically brought in by your contractor, comes to check the work and signs off your rebate application. But Efficiency Maine also follows up, inspecting the inspector as it were. That’s Jon Hill’s job description. We called him up to talk weatherization, checks and balances and, to our surprise, bees and blueberry farming.

RESUME: Jon Hill has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maine. He grew up in Brunswick, where his family owned almost all of the blueberry fields in town – they still own almost 100 acres – but he lives in Winslow now, drawn there by a job with Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

JOHNNY APPLESEEDS: “Years ago, I was looking for something interesting to do and a friend of mine worked at Johnny’s. A position came up to handle the tools and supplies, with some development involved on the tool side.” That was around 2003, he thinks, and he stayed with Johnny’s “through four catalog cycles.”

From there, he started doing energy audits as an independent contractor (as opposed to a weatherizing company that provides the energy audit and then does the work they’ve suggested; many see the potential for conflict in an arrangement where the adviser is also essentially the salesperson).

A NUDGE: Now he works for Efficiency Maine, as a subcontractor, managing the technical inspections. He or one of his colleagues might turn up at the door to provide one last look at the work after the rebate application has been received. “It is just a way of keeping an eye on things, making sure that things are meeting our program guidelines.” What happens if they see something that hasn’t been done right? “If it’s not best practice, we share that with the contractor. Give them a nudge in the right direction.”

A WIND IN THE DOOR: If the homeowner wants it, they’ll set up the blower door – the primary test to gauge how much heated air is seeping out of the house, which is usually done before weatherization services are suggested. That and the infrared camera that shows where heat loss is occurring are the homeowner’s best tools for seeing what’s actually happening with the flow of air in and out of the house, and thus for understanding why insulation matters so much. “It is mysterious. You can’t see air, so what are we doing?” The door and the camera peel back the invisibility cloak.

NO REGRETS: One observation he’s made in his line of work? Choosing between heating systems can be confusing, especially as prices fluctuate. People might watch the price of oil drop and regret switching to say, a propane boiler. But when it comes to sealing the envelope of a house? “Nobody ever says, ‘I wish I didn’t put in as much insulation.’ ”

SHOW US YOURS: What kind of heat and insulation does an inspector have in his own home, a 1970s ranch with some additions? “I heat with just a very small pellet stove.” That provides 90 percent of his heat; the rest comes from a solar thermal system that generates hot water. He’s been doing the air sealing and insulation himself. “I have just been picking away at the upgrading. I took off the siding and added two inches of foam last summer. Last winter, it was very comfortable throughout the house.”

How much does he pay for heat? “Last year it was probably less than $400.”

DOES A TESTER TEST? If we had a blower door system around the house, we’d want to check our numbers every time we did more insulating or air sealing work. Does he do that? Not yet. “Maybe this weekend, I’ll take it out and test it.”

SUSTAINABLE LIVING: He and his partner have a big garden and a little hoop house, and new this year, three beehives. They took an adult education class in beekeeping with Lincoln Sennett of Swan’s Honey, came home with a nucleus hive, divided the bees and then, thanks to a swarm they happened to catch, now have three thriving hives. “They just went nuts this year.”

The bees dine on Johnny’s flower trial field, “that just happens to be down the road. We’ve been stealing from Johnny’s all summer.” His curiosity about keeping bees was piqued by having used them to pollinate the family blueberry fields in Brunswick.

ALL ORGANIC: Hill’s family has owned blueberry fields in Brunswick for multiple generations; when the former U.S. Navy air base was built in the early 1940s, the government took some of their fields by eminent domain. The Hill family still owns considerable acreage near the high school, leasing about 70 acres to Seth Kroeck of Crystal Spring Farm and managing another 25 themselves. Both Kroeck and the Hills grow organic and sell to Todd Merrill of Merrill Blueberry Farms in Ellsworth, the only organic packer in Maine. “I like Todd a lot, and it’s a good market. I really wanted to get away from any sort of spraying.”

How, with the pressures of development (the high school was built on former blueberry fields owned by another family), have they managed to hold onto this farm? He chuckles. “My mother was pretty stern about keeping it going.”



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Getting winterized: Energy savers, prepping the plot for winter, dehydrating summer foods Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:11 +0000 0, 26 Sep 2016 15:01:45 +0000 From LED bulbs to window coverings, 5 easy ways to cut energy use in your home Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 With all the political wrangling this year around solar policy and natural gas expansion, it’s easy for Mainers to overlook the most obvious and cost-effective ways to save money and use less energy in their own homes.

Today’s high-performance houses can be warmed with the heat output of a few hair dryers, but that’s not where most of us live. Maine has the fifth oldest housing stock in the country, according to the U.S. Census, with more than a quarter of all homes built before 1940. So for most of us, the challenge is to integrate modern efficiency measures into our vintage structures.

As a longtime energy writer, I’ve used what I’ve learned to upgrade the efficiency of my family’s 38-year-old cape-style home. Here are my five favorite steps.

Each step can be done by a handy do-it-yourselfer. Each will help reduce energy use in your home, which saves money and lowers carbon emissions. In most cases, your investment will pay for itself within a year or so.

As a bonus, your home will feel more comfortable.


Last week marked the autumn equinox, with the sun setting around 6:30 p.m. That means turning on lights earlier and earlier.


A shopper examines a display of LED offerings. The savings from switching to LED bulbs can be big, especially if you still have incandescents. They use 83 percent more electricity than  LEDs.

A shopper examines a display of LED offerings. The savings from switching to LED bulbs can be big, especially if you still have incandescents. They use 83 percent more electricity than LEDs.

Only a few years back, LED bulbs were expensive and didn’t fit all home fixtures. Those days are over. Rebate programs operated by Efficiency Maine and market response have made switching out all frequently used light fixtures from incandescent to LED a no-brainer.

I long ago got rid of incandescents in my house, so I’ve been trading the squiggly CFL bulbs in reading lamps and places where light quality matters. I’m also focusing on fixtures we use the most, such as in the living room and kitchen.

The savings can be big, especially if you still have incandescents. They use 83 percent more electricity than an LED. One 60-watt incandescent burning for six hours a day costs $19.71 a year, according to Efficiency Maine’s online calculator. A CFL of similar light output costs $4.93 a year; an LED, $3.35 a year.

Maybe your kitchen ceiling is speckled with recessed, incandescent floodlights. That’s like running a small electric heater.

To really save money, look for the best deal on bulbs. Efficiency Maine has a web page with best LED bulb prices. As an example, The Home Depot was selling an eight-pack of soft-white EcoSmart bulbs with a 60-watt equivalent output for $11.75. That’s $1.47 per bulb.

Also consider making your old home “smart,” with digital timers, motion and photo sensors, and even wi-fi enabled lighting controls.

DETAILS: The best deals on LEDs are for the standard, medium base design used in most lamps and overhead fixtures. Floodlights, spotlights and other specialty bulbs cost more, but the savings are comparable.

LEDs also come in different “color” choices on the light spectrum, such as warm white and daylight. Check the package information, as well as Efficiency Maine’s primer on LEDs.


The typical Maine home has hundreds of cracks, gaps and holes. Add them up, and it’s like leaving a window open year round. Besides wasting precious fuel, a leaky house is a drafty house. You can feel more comfortable and cut your heating bill by 15 percent, according to Efficiency Maine, with a minimal amount of air sealing.

unknownI’ve spent years air sealing my house. I’m the guy on a step stool, feeling around door frames and windows, or on my knees, moving my hand along foundation sills and electric outlets in winter. It’s a process, because wood expands and contracts and I discover new problems.

But some air leaks are obvious. Every exterior and basement door needs good weatherstripping and a door-bottom seal. If you can feel cold air in the winter, it needs more work. Same with the windows. Same with any access door to the attic.

Some problems are harder to spot.

Electric outlets on outside walls: Put foam gaskets behind the face plates and plug in outlet covers, the kind used to protect toddlers.

Baseboards on outside walls: Seal drafty spots with clear caulk.

Water and sewer pipes from the basement: Seal around them with rope caulk or expanding foam.

Don’t expect to do everything in a day. This winter, examine every pipe, wire or duct run. Don’t neglect the basement and the foundation. A house is like a chimney. Warm air exits at the top and is replaced by cold air from the bottom. You want to slow the process as much as you can.

If you have a fireplace, check the damper. Chances are it’s warped and sending heated air up the flue, even when the damper is shut.

And don’t leave the clothes dryer door open. Warm air is streaming out the vent, like a chimney.

DETAILS: Caulk and weatherstripping come in many varieties. Each has a specific use, price and longevity. Spend time online, watch a video and get educated. Take a smartphone photo of your problem area and visit a hardware store for help picking the right product. Efficiency Maine also offers financial incentives for approved air-sealing projects and tips on the most-common trouble spots.


Many people are familiar with the Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar program, which identifies products that are more efficient than standard offerings. Fewer people know about WaterSense, which is like EnergyStar for plumbing products.

1071620_491155 ws.jpgEven during a drought, saving water isn’t top of mind for most Mainers. But how about saving hot water?

A nice, hot shower can warm cold bones after a day outdoors this winter, but heating all that water is expensive. I’ve replaced all the showerheads and sink aerators in my house with WaterSense-labeled products. Here’s some math to show why you should do that, too.

A standard showerhead uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute. A WaterSense showerhead uses no more than 2 gallons.

Assume a 10-minute shower. The WaterSense showerhead uses 20 gallons instead of 25, a savings of five gallons a day or 1,825 gallons a year. Multiply by the number of people taking showers in your house.

Then add bathroom and kitchen sinks. A standard sink faucet uses 2.2 gallons a minute. A WaterSense aerator uses no more than 1.5 gallons.

DETAILS: Look for the WaterSense label. Big-box stores such as Lowe’s and The Home Depot, some hardware chains and online retailers carry good selections.

These showerheads aren’t like old-school water-saving models that dribbled a feeble spray. Still, it’s smart to check out the ones you’re thinking about and read online reviews.


If you have a standard electric water heater, as I do, you’re keeping at least 40 gallons of water hot 24/7, until you’re ready to shower or do the dishes. So you want the tank to be well insulated, to reduce heat loss and the amount of time the electric elements turn on. Especially if your tank is in an unheated basement, as mine is.

1071620_491155 waterheaterwrap.jpgWater heater tanks already are insulated, of course. Newer ones have foam instead of fiberglass, and models made after 2015 have thicker foam. But these are just minimum standards. It’s like going out in the winter wearing a fleece. You’ll be OK, but a down jacket would be warmer.

I want my water heater to wear a down jacket. So I’ve swaddled it in a thick coat of fiberglass and a wrap of reflective insulation that someone left at the recycling center. I’ve roughly doubled the insulating value of the tank, bringing it above R-30.

I’ve also insulated the hot water pipes with foam sleeves. This reduces the amount of heat that copper pipes give off while moving hot water, especially through my chilly basement.

And I’ve made sure the thermostat is set at 120 degrees.

DETAILS: Fiberglass water heater blankets are available in different sizes, online and at hardware and big-box stores. If you have room, you can fashion a thicker one from a roll of fiberglass insulation and high-temperature HVAC tape.

Some cautionary notes: You must leave an opening for the pressure relief valve and a flap to get at temperature controls. My tank also is set in a drip tray with a battery-powered water-leak sensor.

Also, some manufacturers have disclaimers for repairs or problems following after-market insulation.

Lastly, this project isn’t recommended for gas units. Improper installation can block air flow or present a fire danger.


Windows represent one of the largest areas of heat loss in a house, even with proper weatherstripping and air sealing. You can improve the situation by covering them, especially at night.

1071620_491155 shutters.jpgMy house has 10-year old replacement windows. They’re not bad. But I’ve made them better with cellular or honeycomb shades, which have layered cells that trap air.

I’ve read studies that show various designs cut heat loss by certain percentages. But everyone’s windows are different. I can make my own assessment, with these two tests.

On a winter night, I can feel a draft while standing by an uncovered window, as warm air is pulled toward the cooler glass. Closing the shade reduces that sensation.

Following a bitter cold night, I can see frost on the edges of the inside glass. That’s because the shade has blocked some heat loss, making the glass temperature low enough to freeze condensation.

Insulated window coverings do double duty in our warming world. In the summer, covering south and west-facing glass reduces heat gain, keeping your home cooler.

You have so many choices for window coverings. Thermal-lined drapery. Wooden shutters. Roman shades. There are also designs for DIY rigid insulating panels and interior storm windows. The top performer, in my opinion, is Window Quilt, a five-layer shade that runs on sealed tracks. But style, privacy and price may trump energy performance.

DETAILS: It’s hard to calculate payback on window treatments, due to the range of options and prices. But keep these guidelines in mind.

None of these coverings work if you don’t use them. Thicker fabrics or multiple cells have greater insulating value and slow conductive heat loss. Tight-fitting shades and floor-to-ceiling patio door drapes, for instance, reduce moving air or convective heat loss.

If you have south-facing windows, remember to keep them uncovered on winter days. The sun streaming through your windows is free heat.

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Hills and Trails’ outdoor designs will remind you of your last hike or camping trip Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If you love home decor truly inspired by the outdoors – not just some corporate vision of what it should be – check out the pillows, linens and prints from Hills & Trails, a fledgling illustration and print studio based in Portland.

Graphic designer Kanya Zillmer and her boyfriend, James Fryderych, a photographer, had both been working as freelancers when they decided to take the leap and open their own business. They started Hills & Trails earlier this year as a creative outlet to express their love for the outdoors. The couple spend summers at their camp in Union, which they use as a home base to explore the midcoast with their baby, Summit, and their beagle, Scout.

“We use the photographs in our travels for inspiration, and then we come up with the designs we want to do,” Zillmer said.

Their first project was a textile print called “Treeline,” which they have made into pillows and linen napkins. They are hand-printed, so no two are the same. They’ve also made prints and banners of the mountains of Maine – individually and grouped together – which have proven popular with hikers who want to preserve their memories of summiting.

Hills & Trails’ pillows, linens and prints can be purchased online through their website, or through their store. So far they are in only one retail shop, Daytrip Society in Kennebunkport. Pillows start at $32; a linen napkin set of two is $30; and banners and prints range from $10-35.

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Dehydrate your vegetables to preserve the remains of your vegetable garden Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I’ve put more kids to bed than I have gardens. But I do know I need to harvest all the vegetables from the raised beds before cleaning up the soil and covering anything that needs to be tucked in for a long winter’s nap.

I’ve canned and frozen my way through more abundant crops this year (frozen tomatoes, canned hot peppers), but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to a third food preservation technique: dehydration.

I’m talking zesty zucchini chips, mouthwatering melon seeds, kale-idiscopic cherub dust and dried green tomatoes. Yes, my tongue is in my cheek, but only because it’s trying to pry out the honey-vanilla melon seed stuck between two back molars.

Drying food saves money, preserves the harvest and cuts down on storage space. But it takes time and consumes energy – solar, natural gas or electric. To pull enough water out of sliced tomatoes to be shelf stable, they must be dried for one to three days in the sun, eight to 12 hours in a dehydrator or 18 hours in an oven.

According to a library of books on the subject and Kathy Shaw – who operates Valley View Farm in Auburn, is a Master Preserver by way of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension program and dehydrates the full gambit of Maine produce for personal use and for sale – drying fruits and vegetables in the sun is the greenest way to go.

The trade-offs to that long-practiced method are pests and toxic dusts settling on your food while it’s outside drying. Food safety parameters dictate you pasteurize sun-dried fruits and vegetables (either in a 175 degree F oven for 15 minutes or in the freezer for 48 hours) to kill off any insect eggs that may have been laid among your dried goods.

Oven-drying requires a low temperature setting – between 125 and 145 degrees F, depending on the produce. Temperatures higher than that cause “case hardening,” a term for premature hardening of the exterior that prevents the interior from drying properly.

For those reasons, Shaw uses a commercial dehydrator to handle the volume she dries. To experiment, I borrowed a friend’s Maxi-Matic Elite five-tray model that pulls 120 volts/250 watts, costs around $50 and was designed for home use.

Dried green tomatoes appealed to me because of the play on words; also, I thought I could use them to add acidic flavor to wintery soups and stews. What I learned is that all things, even if they are of the same variety and cut in the same fashion, will dry differently.

This dehydrating experiment was not the set-and-forget prospect I’d anticipated. It involved a series of “dryness checks” conducted over an 18-hour period to ensure all of the slices were dry but not rock hard. To test for dryness, cool one slice of what’s being dried to room temperature. Consult a book, the Internet or the dehydrator’s operating instructions for how the specific fruit or vegetable should look and feel; the descriptors range from springy to leathery to brittle. If it fails the test, it goes back into the dehydrator. A serious dehydration devotee keeps copious notes about these things over time.

I wanted something more immediate from the kale, leeks, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes I had sitting on the counter. I ran with a vegetable bouillon of sorts (see recipe, page S2) because I could assemble julienned slices of vegetables I want to taste but not necessarily see in my winter soups on a different trays in the dehydrator until they passed the brittle dryness test, grind them to a powder in my coffee maker and combine them into a mix that will flavor my meals throughout the winter.

The bouillon is boundless. But I simply don’t do one-trick gadgets in the kitchen. No worries. Marrone writes that with a bit of shelf adjustment, the dehydrator can be used to help dough rise, make yogurt, re-crisp crackers and cookies, decrystallize honey, dry seeds and create croutons. I am sold on this dehydration thing.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at:

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Fall is the easier season to get chores done Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Fall is my favorite season. Temperatures are cooler, the air is less humid and the scenery is stunning. You can sit back and contemplate how your garden did this year and make plans for next year.

Yes, there are chores, but the list isn’t as long as in spring, when it seems that just about everything has to be done and done immediately.

In fall you have a lot of choices.

That said, my standard rule is that if it can be done in the fall or be put off to the spring, do it in the fall. You have a lot more free time in the fall.

A prime example of that when it comes to my own garden is the raspberry patch. Each year, I have to cut out the canes that produced fruit this year, shorten any of the canes that will produce next year if they are too long and weed the bed.

Every time I am lured by football on TV and ignore the raspberry bed, I am faced with a major task in the spring – and I vow never to procrastinate again. This year, I will listen to football on the radio while working.

Counter to my previous advice, the Humane Society wants you to put off cutting back some of your ornamental plants until spring.

“Those dead stalks, leaves and seed heads provide food and protection to wildlife,” the society says in an online article. “Critters will go especially wild for large flowers like black-eyed Susans, sedums, purple coneflowers, Joe-Pye weed and sunflowers, as well as zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, phlox and dianthus. The same goes for hardy ferns, which often remain green well into winter.”

If you are changing your garden into a more natural landscape, as I wrote about in my Aug. 7 and Aug. 21 columns, it helps to leave plants standing so the seeds that aren’t eaten by wildlife can produce new plants.

My wife Nancy and I always leave up plants that stand tall like ‘Autumn Joy’ sedums, coneflowers, ornamental grasses and Joe-Pye weed. We like the look of them standing up above the snow, and it is good to know that our practice also helps the wildlife. Sunflowers we grow intentionally for the birds – although they look good, too.

We do remove perennials that flop. Daylily leaves, for one, just lie on the ground and turn brown and ugly. We pull those up and put them in the compost bins.

And yes, compost bins are required. We always have at least three, made up of pallets tied together with plastic clothesline. One holds finished compost that we dig from, one we add to and one is in mid-process. This year, we actually have seven, including a plastic one we bought from the town as an experiment.

We are adding to four, letting two decompose and taking from one. We do not turn our compost – we just keep topping up the working bin for about two years and then, in spring, we begin digging out the compost.

The vegetable garden must be cleaned up – no choices there. We compost any vegetable foliage that isn’t diseased. If your tomatoes, squash or cucumbers had wilt or other fungal diseases, bag them up and take them with your regular trash. But one of the few good things about this summer’s drought is that our vegetable crop has been mostly fungus-free.

You don’t want to leave the vegetable-garden soil naked all winter, so cover it with the leaves you rake from the lawn and then chop up with a lawn mower.

Seeing how finely iris hybridizer (and jeweler) Dean Cole chops up leaves for his iris beds inspired me to do a better job of chopping our leaves. (I’ll devote a column to raking leaves a few weeks from now.)

Fall is also about planting. Garlic and spring-flowering bulbs must be planted in the fall. And spring- and summer-blooming perennials can be planted now, too – from seeds purchased from groups like The Wild Seed Project or from potted plants bought at garden centers, where they are all on sale.

If you get around to the job by mid-October, you can dig, divide and transplant such sturdy plants as daylilies or Siberian irises. As a general rule, dig and divide summer-blooming plants now, and spring-blooming plants after they bloom.

If you have a cold frame, plant some lettuce. Nancy and I had a supply of homegrown lettuce up until Christmas last year and beginning in late March this year once we started using a cold frame. It was fun as well as productive.

You also want to do some mulching, especially on perennial crops. We put pine needles on the asparagus and strawberries, but straw and leaves also work.

Other garden chores have little to do with the actual garden. Clean each tool after you use it for the last time. I sharpen tools that need it in the dead of winter, when nothing else is going on, but some people sharpen them at the same time they clean them. Whatever works for you as long as you sharpen tools before the next gardening season.

The rain barrel also should be emptied and stored. We put ours in the garage, but we have more space than some people. If you leave it outside, turn it upside down and tie it down so the fall and winter winds don’t blow it away.

Limit fall pruning to trees and shrubs that don’t flower in the spring. If you prune the latter in the fall, you may be removing buds that produce spring blossoms.

Wait until November to prune evergreens, including holly, because you want to use the prunings in indoor arrangements.

Most important, though, take time in the fall to enjoy your garden. You have worked hard all summer. Pause, enjoy the foliage, put up vegetables in the root cellar and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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A new gardener assesses her first season outside Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Although I am not an unhappy person, contentment has been depressingly elusive in my adult life. It arrives on rare occasions, mostly when I am on vacation – a merry meal in a garden in Barcelona, a summer afternoon sitting on the dock on Lake Champlain, a clamber up the almost painfully beautiful Fox Island at Popham Beach.

At home, though, contentment usually takes a holiday.

Floors need washing, bills need paying, desks need organizing. If I am talking to person X on the phone, I am fretting that I neglected to return the call of person Y. The chores feel infinite, the time available to get them done discouragingly finite.

One early July morning this summer, however, I stepped out into my garden and contentment slipped in. It was 6 a.m. and sunny, a work day. I watered beds, I weeded here and there, I wandered about looking for a suitable home for two lemon balm plants, gifts from a generous neighbor. I paused to admire my sugar snaps, and I sized up the lawn critically. In a flash, a long hour had passed, and emotions I’d often sought (in vain) from yoga, my very modest garden had kindled: I felt present, open, unhurried, content. Back inside, I dressed for work, a little dazed.

I have been planting the garden outside my new home in fits and starts. In the spring, I started out like gangbusters (or perhaps like mint plants let loose), but as summer raced by and visitors visited and my September bicycle tour loomed, I cycled and I trooped to Fort Williams and I ate lobster rolls more – and I gardened less.

It is the first garden I’ve ever planted, outside the first home I have ever owned. I thought I was planting it for a ready supply of herbs, rhubarb and tomatoes and also because my sweet 101-year-old bungalow begged for some fetching accessories – coral bells and coneflowers, lilies and lupine, phlox and hollyhocks, peonies and poppies. But on that morning I realized my garden had better and rarer gifts in store for me.

When I have shown it to visiting friends and family this summer, I have heard the air quotes in my voice around the word “garden.” “The garden, such as it is…” I find myself saying or trailing “garden” with “a work in progress.” For now, it consists of one small and unexceptional flower bed; one raised bed with rhubarb and strawberries; two weedy, neglected raised beds; one herb bed with thriving chives, bolting dill, and basil that is on intimate terms with a slug; two pots of productive but afflicted tomatoes (Septoria Leaf Spot, if my Internet diagnosis is correct); a wee dogwood tree that nonetheless came with the breathtaking price tag of $100; and many flourishing, inherited daylilies.

That last is among the many, many, new things I learned this year – what a daylily looks like. I wondered about the plants in early spring. Are they weeds? Should I pull them? They looked too intentional so I (wisely, it turned out) watched and waited. When the lilies finally bloomed and announced themselves to my sadly ignorant self, I don’t know which I felt more – deeply embarrassed or deeply delighted.

In late spring, my sweetheart Joe – also not a gardener – helped me plant the herb garden near the kitchen. We tried the no-dig method, which I’d read about on the Internet (God bless the Internet). He kept pausing from layering newspaper, straw and soil over the lawn to pepper me with questions: Was it wide enough? Deep enough? Wet enough?

How the heck should I know?

Questions continued to pile up: Had I planted the rhubarb too deep? The peas too late? The new flower bed too near the street where salt from the town’s road crew would kill it come winter? What’s an inoculant and what, precisely, does sprinkle “generously” mean on the inoculant package?

Was that a weed? And that?

It turned out I like to weed. I like to water, too. And rake and plant. But I loathe, and lack all talent for, building stuff. Who knew how much carpentry a garden requires? My garden – such as it is – needs a trellis for the peas and fences for the raised beds. I’ve been advised (during a useful, eye-opening permaculture consultation with the Resilience Hub) to re-contour a slope before I plant blueberries, and I’d gladly bake 100 pies for anyone who’d build me a grape arbor.

To be honest, it may be that I like to weed because I didn’t do much of it. I had little idea which were plants and which weeds (see, daylilies). I’d moved into my home in October, so I didn’t know what the garden had in store for me.

All kinds of things popped up that I found beautiful, and the bees seemed to like them, too. Even the dandelions that dotted the lawn were cheerful, and their leaves fed me well in the spring. By midsummer, the weeds had put me in a philosophical mood: Who was I, quite possibly Maine’s Most Ignorant Gardener, to declare this a good plant and that a bad one? I was pleased to chance upon a quote from Luther Burbank: “A flower is an educated weed.” He should know.

Wildlife ecologist Douglas Tallamy‘s talk at Maine Audubon in June validated what I’d previously regarded as my laziness or bad habits. He suggested gardeners leave their lawns a little long and their gardens a little messy to give the animals we share the place with food and shelter. Look at your property from the perspective of the chickadee, he said. “We’ve never shared our residential neighborhoods very well. We humans are into neatness. Leave a little mess.”

I’ve got that under control.

The daylilies were not the only happy surprise. At the back of the yard I discovered – and liberated – a rhododendron being slowly strangled by invasive multiflora. There were volunteer blackberry bushes, too, and in June my lawn was blanketed with wild strawberries. Though they get no bigger than thimbles, I intended to pick them and make an jam that in my mind tasted of midsummer and meadows. Alas, I failed to communicate with Matt, a neighbor I’d hired to mow my lawn, and most were inadvertently cut down before they had the chance to fruit.

That failure to communicate had more dire consequences. One Sunday, I spent the afternoon planting newly acquired perennials. I scattered them around the yard, not in beds, definitely a rookie move, and then I forgot to tell him. When I came home from work the next day, most had been mowed down. I sobbed for two hours. What can I say? I am a recovering English major. The perennials seemed a metaphor for all things cut down before their time.

A week passed. Equilibrium was restored. Plants I can replace, I reminded myself. Nice neighbors, not so easily.

Gardens seem to nourish generosity. At the start of the season, my neighbor Wayne noticed my meadow, I mean lawn, and mowed it out of the goodness of his very big heart. My boss handed me an attractive new shovel he had no use for, and co-workers and neighbors presented me with plants unsolicited. One afternoon, I met a stranger in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s who handed me a tray with six kinds of mint from her garden. Thank you, stranger. Thank you, Freecycle. As we parted, she asked me if I could use any irises.

Late on the night before my birthday, my sister Susan helped me lug home a large pile of rocks that a woman down the block was getting rid of. Rocks are useful in the garden, I was learning, and also expensive. My neighbor Lorelle offered straw she didn’t want with this comment: “We don’t do straw. We do dirt.” Lorelle spritzed my fledgling dogwood tree with her hose on several occasions when she thought it looked droopy, and she suggested I outgun my slugs with beer, as her mother used to. Her teetotaling mother, she added, who apparently worried that the neighbors would think she’d taken to drink.

And then there is Joe, who patiently dug and planted and weeded and watered by my side all season, even though it’s not his thing (and gave me a Hori-Hori digging tool for a birthday present, to boot). Until the drought settled in, we watered largely from my rain barrel, a terrific purchase from the city of Portland that inspired me to save household water in all manner of ways. I made a habit of emptying the dehumidifier water into the barrel, also cooking water from vegetables and pasta. At one point, I tried to save water from my showers, but the soap and shampoo bubbles ruled that out. Those showers, by the way, failed to remedy my newly dirty fingernails.

I don’t think I can yet call myself a gardener, but I already have a gardener’s fingernails.

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Summer may be over, but your lawncare isn’t Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maybe counterintuitively, September is the best time to work on your lawn, whether it’s changing your mowing routine or the once-per-home task of planting an entirely new lawn.

Lawns do best in cool weather and often go dormant in the six hottest weeks of July and early August. In my neighborhood in Cape Elizabeth, people who didn’t water their lawns this very dry year had a field of brown in mid-August. But after cooler temperatures and almost an inch of rain over four days of occasional showers in late August, the lawns greened up again. A well-grown lawn will survive a lot of drought.

My wife and I moved to our house 40 years ago this month (it doesn’t seem that long). We didn’t manage to get the lawn seed down until the first week of October. While one of our son’s kindergarten friends sank knee-deep into our would-be front lawn after a heavy rain the following spring, that was the only problem we had. The grass sprouted beautifully in very late fall. And the seed that didn’t sprout in the fall began growing when everything thawed the next spring. Anyway, if you’re planting a lawn, it’s best to do it in the next week or so.

Now, for more routine tasks.

Rake the lawn. It is OK to let the leaves stay in the shrub and flower gardens because they break down and add organic material to the soil and suppress the weeds – even though the leaves also provide homes for mice and voles. Everything is a balance, and you make your choices.

On the lawn, however, the leaves get matted down by rain and snow and smother the grass if you don’t rake them. Raking is better than using a leaf blower because in addition to removing the leaves, it gets rid of some of the thatch that builds up, allowing the lawn to breath and send up new shoots in the bare spots. Besides, the loud, shrill sound of a leaf blower irritates everyone in the neighborhood.

Keep on mowing. Throughout the heat of the summer, I mow with the mower at its highest setting to keep the grass roots shaded and fed from the photosynthesis provided by the longer blades. I lower the setting for the last two mowings in the fall – when I also am bagging up the early-dropping leaves – so the lawn goes into the winter at the lowest height possible without damaging the grass crowns. During this time of cooler temperatures, the grass roots are warmed by what sun is available, and the shorter grass lets more leaves be blown away by fall winds. The chopped-up leaves and grass clippings go into our vegetable garden.

You should get a soil test to see if the lawn has the proper pH and needs any other amendments. If the lawn soil is too acidic and needs lime, adding it in the fall gives it more time to break down.

The Maine Yardscaping Partnership several years ago released a study that said lawns that are more than 10 years old do not need to be fertilized. But if you are going to add a fertilizer, it is best to do it in the fall. Though the blades of grass grow more slowly in the fall, the roots continue to grow quickly. The fall fertilization feeds the roots while enough nutrients stay in the ground to give the grass a boost in the spring.

Use a fertilizer with no phosphorous – phosphorous causes algae in lakes – because most Maine property has more than enough phosphorous already, studies have shown. Our soil test last year confirmed that phosphorous content was above optimum.

Every three or four years, a lawn should be aerated. Over time, the soil where the lawn grows gets compacted – by hard rains, by people playing games or walking around looking at nearby flowers and even by routine mowing. Aeration allows necessary air, water and nutrients to sink into the soil and feed the roots. Core aerators are available for rent at most tool-rental stores. Leave the cores on top of the lawn, where they will break down into a kind of compost.

Except for the bit about planting a new lawn, the preceding paragraphs apply to the care of a lawn that looks pretty good. Now we get into fixing problems.

Any bald spots in the lawn can be reseeded. For small areas, an all-in-one lawn repair mixture works best. If the soil itself is in good shape, just loosen it up and add the mixture, which includes seed, fertilizer and a bit of mulch to keep the area moist. Keep the area watered until ground freezes or snow falls.

A way to improve a lawn where the soil is poor, according to a University of Maine Cooperative Extension publication on low-input lawn care, is to spread up to half an inch of compost or a soil-compost mix over the entire lawn. The mix has to be raked out so the blades of grass are covered at the roots but the top of the blades are above the compost; doing this correctly takes time. Once the compost is spread, it helps to topseed the lawn with grass species like fescues and perennial ryegrass that require less fertilizer and watering than traditional bluegrass-heavy blends. This is another occasion where a good gardener reads labels: The grass seed bag will tell you what it contains.

I spent the afternoon of Labor Day doing those repairs on a sad-looking, heavily used section of our backyard lawn. I’ll let you know how it comes out sometime next spring.

If none of this works, add a lot of compost, till in the whole area and start over.

The lawn would have to be really bad for me to be willing to do that much work.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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Wind bells will soothe your senses with the sound of the sea Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Years ago, when we were visiting Round Pond, I bought a “Bar Harbor bell” for my parents. It’s like a wind chime, but instead of random tinkles it sounds like a bell buoy in Frenchman Bay. Now, a good two decades later, I can still sit on their patio in the hot Tennessee sun, close my eyes and pretend I’m back in Maine.

At the time I bought that bell, North Country Wind Bells was a small operation. A local lobsterman, Jim Davidson, started the business in 1975, when he fashioned pieces of steel to match the sounds he heard on the water as he pulled traps. Soon he was mimicking other tones, from places such as Boothbay Harbor, Pemaquid, Camden Reach, Kennebunkport and Nantucket, and selling them in a small business he ran with his wife, May. Today the couple is retired, but the business is going strong with eight employees, including their daughter, Connie.

They are still creating new sounds and designs, such as “Island Pasture Bell,” which mimics the sound of sheep and cattle bells on Maine islands, “Wilderness Bells” and “Lighthouse Bells.” All of the bells are made of recycled steel and are packed to ship in old newspapers. They range from $40.95 for an Island Pasture Bell to $96.95 for a Nantucket Bell.

North Country Bells are sold all over the state, but the best way to decide which one is for you is to visit the website. Why? Each bell comes with an audio link that allows you to listen before you buy.

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Parades, protests, chicken feet: 40 years of memories at the Common Ground Country Fair Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A very small item about the first Common Ground Country Fair ran in the Portland Press Herald on Sept. 2, 1977 under the headline “Fair to Have Extra Features.”

The “few touches” that would make the fair “a cut above the traditional” were “a roster of speakers that includes Helen and Scott Nearing, renowned homesteaders and authors.” The story is 102 words long, which suggests that editors at the Press Herald had limited expectations for the future of the Common Ground Country Fair.

Forty years later, there’s egg on our face and it’s organic. The Common Ground Country Fair was started by the Maine Organic Farmer and Gardeners Association as a fundraiser, and it succeeded, raising $22,000 that first year. It has endured, changing locations from Litchfield to Windsor and then settled in its own permanent location near MOFGA headquarters in Unity.

Although it lacks a ferris wheel and cotton candy, Common Ground is the most famous Maine fair this side of E. B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” (which was modeled on the Blue Hill Fair). To celebrate its 40th anniversary, we asked some of Maine’s agricultural and food luminaries to share recollections of the fair over the years.


Amanda Beal was recently named the executive director of Maine Farmland Trust, a nonprofit that protects Maine farmland and supports new farmers in their efforts to find their own land. Her greatest Common Ground Country Fair moment happened when she wasn’t even at the fair: “It was after I had been serving on the MOFGA board of directors for a few years and I realized that the first fair took place in Litchfield in 1977, which was shortly after my family had purchased the dairy farm in that town that my father and brother now run together. I was too young to remember it, but when I asked my father if we had attended, he confirmed that we did. Discovering that my connection to MOFGA ran that far back in time was definitely a special moment, and it’s something I think about each year when I return to the fair.”


Matthew Strong served on MOFGA’s board for many years and for about a decade was the food coordinator for the fair. His wife, Peggy, has also been a key player at the fair, coordinating the craft area. When he and his brother were younger, they’d gone to the Blue Hill Fair with their mother and watched the vendor at the onion ring booth. It seemed like such a simple way to make money. In 1977, they were casting around for a way to do just that, and they knew how to make egg rolls. They hit a few fairs that summer before landing at the Common Ground Country Fair in Litchfield: “We happened to find the deep fryer at some yard sale. It was no great MBA business plan. We were only one of five vendors that first year. On Saturday or Sunday, we started running out of vegetables and people were taking the vegetables out of the exhibition hall and bringing them to us. We were chopping up whatever we could get, cabbage, onions, carrots. We managed to make it until the end.”

The Strongs kept frying egg rolls (and rice) until 1997, when two other business ventures (including his scrap metal business) started taking too much of their time. But this year they’ll be back. Or rather, Peggy will. She will be making egg rolls to raise money for her church, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ellsworth.

“We were talking about fundraisers and my minister, who is only in her 40s, remembered the egg rolls from when she was a kid,” she said. “Everyone kind of stares at me. I’m going, oh, no. I’m 72!”

Her desire to help the church won out over her desire to rest on her senior citizen laurels. Matthew Strong called up the friend they’d sold the stand to 20 years ago. He still had it, albeit it mothballed.

“We went up to Millinocket and got everything and have been cleaning and repairing it, so it has been resurrected,” he said.

The price of an egg roll in 1977 was $1. When they quit in 1997 it was $1.75. This year they’ll be $4. It’s not cheap to send whole wheat Maine-grown organic flour down to Boston to be turned into wrappers at a Chinese noodle factory. Everything else, including duck sauce with local apples, will be made by the Strongs.


Bridgewater is a long way from Unity, and potatoes get harvested in September, so farmer and anti-GMO activist Jim Gerritsen doesn’t make it to the fair every year. If it’s raining in Aroostook County but not in Unity, that’s ideal; he can put the chores aside for a day and make the drive. One of his most memorable fairs was in 1978, when author Wendell Berry was the keynote speaker. There was a special breakfast with Berry, just for farmers.

“This was back when I was still a bachelor and had a cow that I had to milk,” Gerritsen said. “Everybody wanted to get into this breakfast, and MOFGA decided to let in two people from every county. They gave us four though because Aroostook County was so big. I got up at 2 a.m, milked the cow, met my friend in Houlton at 3 a.m., drove to Litchfield, had a nice breakfast with all this good Maine food, and then Wendell Berry started talking to us for about 45 minutes.

“Wendell Berry in a small setting with a roomful of farmers is something that I have never seen repeated again. I think he was really energized. It was one of the great opportunities in my life and it was all because of MOFGA,” Gerritsen said. “I think everybody in that room, probably most of us, had read ‘The Unsettling of America’ and we recognized that this guy was prophetic… I would say it was a beautiful wedding of common interests.”


Roberta Bailey’s first memory of the Common Ground Fair is a quiet one.

“But it is very vivid for me – in Litchfield,” said the Vassalboro farmer and longtime Fedco Seed grower. “My partner, my kids’ dad, and I had just parked and we were walking toward the fairgrounds. And we both had carrots that still had the tops on them and it felt like this statement of yes, we are a part of this. That is my first memory. That was 37 years ago.”

In the mid-1980s Glen Brand, director of Sierra Club Maine, started visiting his wife’s family at their camp near Moosehead Lake. The fair was one of those temptations tugging at summer-only visitors.

“Sadly, we’d have to close camp before Labor Day, and our sorrow leaving Maine each year was made worse when we saw the lovely Common Ground posters. So when we moved to Maine in 2004, one of our must-do’s was going to Common Ground the following fall, and we’ve been there nearly every year since. My most vivid memories of the fair are a collection of beautiful images: my two young children running free, the cornucopia of apple varieties, the amazing shepherd dogs at work, the small animals, the food, and most of all the people celebrating Maine’s joyful harvest.”


Beedy Parker, a longtime MOFGA member, remembers when anti-abortion protesters showed up with posters of bloody fetuses. Fair organizers debated whether it was time to get rid of the fair’s social action area, to take the politics out of the fair entirely.

“We got together and had a meeting and said, or some of us who are social action junkies said, ‘We can’t let this happen, and made a big fuss,’ ” Parker said.

“The Children’s Parade came out of it, through me… (The social and political action area) is a really important piece of changing how we live. I tried to get people to start a parade based on Bread and Puppets, but then (instead) we ran the first parade for children.

“The kids dressed up as vegetables,” said Parker, who started the parade in 1990 and whose daughter runs it today. “They always carry the banner made in that first year, which says: ‘We all belong in the garden.’ ”


In 2003, Andrew Mefferd was either going to be a journalist or maybe a farmer. Now the Virginia native is both, helping his wife run their farm in Cornville when he’s not busy being editor and publisher of Growing for Market magazine.

“A friend of mine was like, ‘You’ve got to go up to Maine; they have got this organic fair thing going on.’ I just put my tent in the car and drove up here. I knew that you could get a camping spot if you volunteered.”

He helped out in the kitchen, which meant good food for free, too.

“I was like, this is the way fairs should be. Cotton candy fairs are cool too, in their own way, but this was…” Just as his friend had promised, awesome. “I remembered Maine for that,” he said. “Any place that could produce that had to be a pretty great place.”


Eric Rector, cheesemaker at Monroe Cheese Studio, president of the Maine Cheese Guild and a longtime MOFGA member (he was on the board from 1998 to 2008), had only had been to the Common Ground Country Fair three times before leaving for the 1994 fair on a “rainy and blowing” Saturday. The weather was lousy enough that his wife, Alison, opted to stay home next to the woodstove, and he was alone. It was what came to be called the Turkey Fair (that’s what the poster and T-shirts featured).

“When I arrived at the Windsor Fairgrounds, parking was a breeze, but as soon as I bought my ticket and entered the fairgrounds I could see why. The fairgrounds were flooded, and there were wooden planks everywhere skipping over the worst of the collected and running water, but there was no way to keep your shoes (ideally boots!) out of the water and the mud. The fairgrounds were almost empty as fairgoers hopped from tent to tent.

“There really was nothing to do but pick a tent and listen to the scheduled talk, then leave that talk to find another and another and another. Instead of leaving early I returned home late that day with my head bursting with ideas to tell Alison about from all of the information I had been exposed to throughout the day.

“Ever since then it’s been the activity inside the tents and the halls that have meant the most to me and represented what the fair really is: a place to demonstrate and share new ideas for sustainable living,” he said. “All the other things that go on are just gift wrapping (beautiful gift wrap!) to the true gift of the fair inside those tents and talks.”

Walt Whitcomb, Maine commissioner of agriculture, notes that there are 27 agricultural fairs in Maine, and Common Ground is not the biggest (or best) of them. But he does admit that MOFGA’s fair is unique in its educational component and in adhering to tradition.

“We’ve emphasized to other fairs that you have to regain that component, which is the reason fairs were started 100 years ago,” he said. “Other fairs, I think they have reacted to what they perceive as a consumer interest. You won’t see the extent of lectures at other fairs.”


“There was literally a foot of water in our booth that morning after Hugo,” said Bailey, the Vassalboro farmer and seed grower. “My son came with a fishing pole, and he was pretending to fish with a bobble in the puddles. We broke open all the hay bales that had been part of the vegetable display and just laid them out on the floor so that people could walk into the booth. We gave away all the Fedco seed because it was all wet.”

Jean English, editor of the Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, remembers the hurricane came through Maine on Friday night, into Saturday morning, so the fair opened late.

“A lot of people assumed it wouldn’t open at all,” she said. “But it opened between 10 or 11, and that is because so many people pitched in and pumped water. I think there were 500 volunteers.”


Cheesemaker Eric Rector joined the MOFGA Board in 1998, the first year the Fair was held in Unity.

“It was a sprint to the finish, right through Thursday night until the gates opened at 9 a.m. on that Friday morning. So many people went above and beyond the call to turn that potato field into a fairground that could possibly host 50,000 or 60,000 people over a weekend, and the results are astounding.

“As great as the fairgrounds looked that weekend, the traffic backups from the lack of parking experience were the most impressive thing about that fair. Every year is a traffic challenge for every popular fair, but that year so many people wanted to see the new Unity site at the same time that MOFGA and the Waldo County sheriffs were still figuring out traffic flow. The fair (rightly so) got a black eye for traffic issues that weekend, and that kept many people away for the next few years, even though the major issues were largely solved over the next few fairs.”

Whitcomb, the agriculture commission, wasn’t all that pleased when the fair moved to Windsor in 1981, not that far from where he lives on his family farm near Belfast.

“It was really disruptive,” he said. “I don’t think anyone was prepared, including obviously the fair. You couldn’t move the school buses.

“I’m part of the agricultural community. I used to buy my feed from some of the farms near there. And the trucks couldn’t move,” he said.

“I can’t say I have been to every one since I have been commissioner, but I go to most. I go before the crowds get there so I can talk to the farmers while they are setting up. Those are the people I want to talk to. It is a good time to be at a fair. They are a little more comfortable. I will buy some milk from Tide Mill Farm. I always buy things at any fair, that’s my contribution. Because, of course, the farmers are trying to make some money.”

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, famously MOFGA’s first ever official farm apprentice and the one who started the program, remembers when the fair was nothing more “a tiny gathering.”

“No one would have ever imagined it would grow in size or popularity to what it is now,” she said. “I remember one year when I started my drive there too late and had to wait in the traffic forever. I always start very early now to avoid that and always stop to see the Coffeeman (Doug Hufnagel) for some excellent coffee and a few minutes of his political perspective.”


In 2001, MOFGA invited agriculture and social justice activist Vandana Shiva to travel from India to the fair. Given that the fair took place two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, she would have been forgiven for cancelling. But she showed up.

“For me this is truly a journey for peace,” Shiva told the audience. “I undertook it in spite of everyone worrying – about taking a flight, coming to this country at this point of history. But that’s precisely why I got onto the flight, because if you give up hope, what chance is there for peace? But it’s also my tribute to all of you who built this amazing movement here out of a peace movement. After all, those of you who came to Maine, built the organic movement, did it as an extension of fighting in a peaceful way against a war mentality.”

Jean English, the Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener editor, remembers her visit.

“She really brought us together,” she said. “That was a powerful year.


The Common Ground Country Fair is very Maine-centric. There are even rules about what proportion of the food has to be from the state. But one New Hampshire farmer, David Kennard, has been welcomed for either 28 or 29 years; he can’t remember precisely how long. That’s because he brings his sheepdogs from Harrisville, New Hampshire, for demonstrations. He and his son Colin, now 34, always devote one part of the demonstration to letting fairgoers have a hand at trying to herd the ducks, sheep and goats.

“Over the years consistently, the people who have done the best job are the senior citizens,” he said. “What they do is use their intelligence. I had one little old lady come in, in these mini high heels and an umbrella. She had heels and a skirt, and was probably 60-something. She would take her umbrella and swing it at the sheep. I warn the young kids, do not chase the sheep full speed; they are not patient. But the older people go slow and methodical. I tell everyone, be aware of the pressure point. That’s the point at which an animal will turn and defend itself. You have to respect that. I think that they just understand.

“Common Ground is totally my most favorite fair. It is just the best fair in the world. There is no midway. There is no junk food. It is all about education, it is about really nice people who want to recycle and eat organic things.”


Chellie Pingree remembers attending in 2012 with Kathleen Merrigan, then deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“She had a wonderful time. I think it was the same year that the folks at Tide Mill farm were giving out chicken feet at their farmstand. If you made a purchase at the stand, you could redeem it at their food booth for a treat. I carried the foot around through several conversations on the way over – that’s a uniquely Maine ‘coupon.’ ”


Roberta Bailey gathers with friends for lunch each day of the fair. Last year one of them raised the question, is the fair too much?

“I really still am thinking about that question, because how do you take it apart? How do you undo that? It has grown to be bigger and more commercial, but within it there is this strong, strong thread of education and people getting together and learning and sharing. And the commercial part of it, well, that’s kind of the skeletal structure that supports the education. I am not sure it could be pulled off without it anymore.

“For me what the fair is is a place where I see other farmers and people that I only see once a year. It is a gathering place… You can’t walk 10 feet without seeing someone you know. It is a meeting and a sharing of how things went that year… It is really talking about the science of life, how the drought affected you, how some hailstorm affected you, what went well and didn’t go well. There is a lot of brainstorming and speculating. For me, that is the core of what goes on at Common Ground Fair… people walking around, sharing bits of their lives. And from so many angles.”

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Maine heirloom apple trees bear satisfaction today, fruit for future years Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “Pick your way through these piles of colorful orbs… and you will get a sense of the many things an apple can be, the many roles it can play in our lives. If there is one particular lesson the apple has to teach us, it is that the world is ripe with possibilities.”

Rowan Jacobsen, “Apples of Uncommon Character”

Hundreds of varieties of apples once grew in Maine, with names as colorful as their varied hues: Canadian Strawberry, Nutting Bumpus and Winekist. Apple trees were commonplace on most Maine homesteads, providing fresh fruit for at least half the year, as well as abundant cider, sauce and vinegar.

Over time, Maine lost its apple culture, but now that’s changing, and each of us can play a part in its revival.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to plant an heirloom apple tree. More than one would be better still.

When I planted the first of our apple trees more than a decade ago, I had no clue about Maine’s remarkable apple heritage. I didn’t know that the Starkey apple tree I’d chosen had originated just 50 miles from where I was placing its slender descendant into the ground.

Nor could I imagine the explosion of flavor that awaited me when we harvested our first Ashmead’s Kernel apple. Its homely exterior belies an exquisite taste. “Surely no apple of greater distinction or more perfect balance can ever have been raised anywhere on earth,” observed British pomologist and food writer P. Morton Shand. Imagine having that superlative fruit in your yard!

By planting heirloom apples, we honor and extend a land heritage tracing back centuries. New England was home to some of the earliest named apple varieties, including the very first, Roxbury Russet, discovered in 1635.

Varieties widely propagated during the 1700s and 1800s slowly lost their foothold as farms reverted to forest, people grew less of their own food and weather events took a toll. A single severe winter in 1933-34 killed off more than 300,000 Baldwin apple trees in Maine.

As apples became more of a commodity crop, orchardists were encouraged to replace traditional varieties with ones commonplace today, like the Macintosh. A Massachusetts man charged with overseeing the cutting of old apple trees as part of a Works Progress Administration project, Stearns Davenport, realized the risk of losing the region’s agricultural legacy and began collecting representative varieties in his own orchard during the 1930s.

For more than three decades, John Bunker has been at the forefront of Maine’s heritage apple preservation. “It’s about history,” he says, “but it’s very much about the future.”

To help people appreciate the state’s historical apple varieties, Bunker founded Fedco Trees and spearheaded creation of the Maine Heritage Orchard, which will soon have more than 400 varieties.

Since apple trees do not come true from seed, propagating a particular variety depends on grafting cuttings from existing trees onto rootstock. Most heirloom varieties go onto standard Antonovka rootstock that can produce a long-lived tree (some in Maine date back 200 years). Dwarf varieties common in commercial orchards produce more quickly and take little space but are weaker and shorter-lived.

Heirloom trees grown on standard rootstock can take up to a decade to bear fruit, but delectable apples are not their only harvest. Part of the mission in planting them is to keep these beautiful trees and the pollinators they help support as part of our collective landscape. Planting and caring for these trees offers us a chance to provide joy and nourishment to people we will never know.

The hardest part of fulfilling your tree-planting mission may also be the most tantalizing: reading through pages of mouth-watering descriptions to select your choice. I set out to choose three varieties but can’t seem to pare my list down from nine that captured my imagination.

Once you have your tree in the ground (for Portland residents, the city can help through its Co-op Tree Planting Program), little ongoing maintenance is required. “You just have to be attentive and patient,” says orchardist and Source award winner Waite Maclin.

Maclin reassures novices that his initial attempt at pruning an apple tree was reminiscent of a “first kiss – wondering ‘am I going to ruin it?’ ” The tree flourished and so did the 80-plus others he has planted, wherever in his ledgy land he can find three feet of topsoil.

Apple trees are remarkably resilient, Maclin adds: “They survive us really well.”

Marina Schauffler is a freelance writer and editor who is online at

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Which Maine heritage apples work best in your favorite recipes? Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 My favorite part of the Common Ground Fair is preservation pomologist John Bunker’s annual Apple Tasting. You’ve got to get there early to get a seat under the tent. But as the crowd gathers at its edges, a loaves and fishes kind of thing happens: everybody gets at least a sliver of each heirloom variety on offer and a chance to hear their stories told by Maine’s own apple whisperer.

Bunker’s apple joy is contagious. I just joined his cooperative Out on a Limb heirloom apple CSA through which, for $150, I will get a quarter bushel of rare, Maine apples (10 to 12 pounds) sourced from multiple orchards every other week through early November.

The point of the CSA is to provide a market for these old apples, which many growers don’t even bother to harvest for lack of retail interest.

“If we keep these growers happy, we hope that they will take good care of their old trees” and keep the heritage varieties alive for future generations, Bunker explained.

Cultivating biodiversity in any crop is protection from having a monolithic failure of any monocrop by pests and disease. But from a culinary standpoint, cultivating apple biodiversity means that cooks can have a wide variety of apple tastes, textures, tannin levels and times at which the apples ripen.

In all, I’ll get to sample over 20 varieties I could never find in the grocery store and might only see at a farm stand once in a blue moon. I will receive a mix of eating and culinary apples.

Uh-oh. How do I know how any of these apples will behave in the pan? I went looking for a few rules for fitting apple varieties I don’t know into recipes I do.

Yankee Magazine Food Editor Amy Traverso, author of “The Apple Lover’s Cookbook,” divides all cooking apple types into four categories. Firm-tart ones like Granny Smith, Gravenstein and Ida Red hold their shape when cooked, are best for cakes and pie and benefit recipes that require “a bit of acidity and bright flavor.” Firm-sweet apples like Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Ginger Gold, Honeycrisp and Jonagold work well in savory and sweet dishes that need firm, but sweet fruit. Tender-tart apples like Cortland, Macoun or McIntosh are best for soups and sauces. And lastly, tender-sweet Gala and Fuji apples suit quick-cooking dishes, dessert sauces and especially salads since neither tends to brown very quickly when sliced.

These apples are familiar because they (plus the ubiquitous Red Delicious) are the dozen best-selling in the United States. Traverso offers up a cheat sheet for how 48 more interesting but less common culinary apples (her favorites are the firm-tart Calville Blanc and firm-sweet Pink Lady, both of which are good options for her Pork and Apple Pie with Cheddar-Sage Crust, recipe below), line up in her categories as well.

Of the 123 apple varieties Rowan Jacobsen profiles in his book “Apples of Uncommon Character,” he only enthusiastically recommends about 40 for cooking. He says early summer apples should be eaten as the first raw tastes of apple season; that dessert apples (in the English sense of fruit being served for dessert) should also be eaten straight up; and that the bulk of what he calls keepers, should be taken fresh from the root cellar as a necessary dose of freshness in winter.

I cross-checked Jacobsen’s list with Traverso’s, looking for agreement on heirloom cooking apples and found only a baker’s dozen in common. Both authors agree that Arkansas Black, Ashmead Kernel, Bramley’s Seedling, Calville Blanc, Newtown Pippin, Northern Spy, Rhode Island Greening, Rome, Roxbury Russet and Staymen Winesap apples would make great stand-ins for ordinary firm-tart Granny Smiths in cakes and pies. And they agree that Black Oxfords and Grimes Goldens can be used anywhere a recipe calls for a Braeburn. The Black Twig is the only one they agree upon as a tender-tart apple good for soups and sauces.

Understanding where the rest of the thousands of apples that grow in this region fall into your own recipes requires case-by-case research. The website maintained by Fedco Trees, an outgrowth of Fedco Seeds that is headed by Bunker, serves up an interactive chart ( depicting over 90 types of Maine apples, their flavor profiles, their best culinary uses and their seasonality.

Still, as the saying goes, there is no accounting for personal taste. So as you’re digesting virtual information about a new-to-you apple, take a bite out of the real thing to really understand how it might fit into your own favorite apple recipes moving forward.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at:

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Zero-Waste Challenge could turn improving Earth’s health into habit Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a monthly series of columns about a group of professors at the University of Maine at Augusta undertaking the Zero-Waste Challenge, trying to avoid sending trash to the landfill or incinerator.

Received wisdom says that it takes a minimum of three weeks to form a habit. The faculty and staff at the University of Maine at Augusta, where I teach English and women’s and gender studies, are taking an entire semester to see if we can alter some of our routines to improve the health of our planet.

This year, our annual university-wide theme focuses on climate change, and because this topic can feel very overwhelming, our community wanted to model a form of individual effort that will both reduce our own carbon footprints as well as inspire others.

Hence, the UMA Zero-Waste Challenge was born. Our collective goal is to reduce our home and office waste over the course of the semester and figure out which good habits we can maintain for the long haul.

While there are many ways to address climate change, and we will be discussing this subject in classes, panels and events throughout the academic year, scientists and community organizers believe reducing personal waste streams is effective.

“Stop Trashing the Climate,” a report co-authored by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Eco-Cycle and GAIA, argues a zero-waste approach is among the fastest, cheapest and most effective strategies to protect the climate. It asserts that significantly decreasing waste disposed in landfills and incinerators could reduce greenhouse gas emissions an amount equivalent to closing 21 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants or significantly improving national vehicle fuel efficiency.

Zero waste is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. While a very small percentage of Americans have managed to reduce their waste to virtually nil, we believe all attempts toward our goal count. In other words, the efforts of people who can reduce their waste streams by 30 percent are as valuable as those who are able to reduce their trash output by 70 percent.

One statistic on waste generation estimates the average American creates 4.43 pounds of garbage per day. We want to see how challenging it is to make a sizable dent in that number.

Using jars to store food purchased in bulk helps eliminate packaging waste.

Using jars to store food purchased in bulk helps eliminate packaging waste.

The faculty and staff at the University of Maine at Augusta are already very waste-conscious. We have reused interdepartmental envelopes for years, and our college has been repurposing scrap paper for decades. All toner cartridges get recycled. If something can be reused or upcycled in our office, it will be.

My colleagues are also consummate consignment and thrift-store patrons. Many of us are already composters. However, this semester offers us an opportunity to be even more mindful about what we consume, how we consume it and what that means to our larger environment.

Over the course of this semester, we will learn about five basic tactics advocated by seasoned zero-wasters: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.


The first tenet, refuse, is the most important. It may also be trickier to manage than it initially appears. It involves rethinking consumption more generally, and not buying or acquiring items we do not need, including excess food, household items and clothing. It also means not accepting things like toothpaste samples from the dentist’s office or junk mail. An advanced practitioner may also refuse unneeded gifts (we’ll see how that goes!).


Reducing the number of products we use also sounds easier said than done. This can mean ceasing to use single-serve products, such as individually wrapped snacks, which can be challenging, especially for those of us with children at home, as well as disposable products like paper towels and plastic produce bags.

Reusable bags for shopping contribute to reducing waste.

Reusable bags for shopping contribute to reducing waste.

Other approaches include buying in bulk, using products that multitask (such as vinegar and baking soda for cleaning), and simply using less in general (smaller dabs of toothpaste and shampoo, for example).


As mentioned, the university community is already practiced at reusing and recycling, but there are always new tricks we can learn. We also can commit to more repairing, borrowing and upcycling. Moreover, we will become more cognizant of our local recycling rules and try to be more effective about the things we can and should recycle when we have brought them into our households and offices and have no more use for them, like paper, cardboard and glass.


Finally, there is rot, or the compost of organic compounds, which is mostly food. This is one of the better-known ways to reduce garbage in landfills, and many of us already practice this at home. However, there are different levels of composting, and I, for one, have never before composted things like pet fur, nail clippings and household dust, which is advocated by several zero-waste experts. Some members of our community will try to compost for the first time.

Lisa Botshon, a professor at the University of Maine at Augusta, with her compost bucket. Composting reduces the amount of garbage being sent to landfills.

Lisa Botshon, a professor at the University of Maine at Augusta, with her compost bucket. Composting reduces the amount of garbage being sent to landfills.

Breaking down the approaches to zero-waste efforts this way is helpful as it makes the process feel more manageable, but ultimately, our success will hinge on how effective we are at establishing and then maintaining new habits, like bringing our own food containers and bags to the store, eschewing paper napkins in favor of cloth and cutting down on the number of catalogs we accept.

My colleagues and I will take turns in this column documenting our challenges and successes in attempting zero-waste living. We hope not only to find strategies we can employ for the long term, but also to inspire others to do the same.

Lisa Botshon is a professor of English and women’s and gender studies at the University of Maine at Augusta. She is currently researching back-to-the-land memoirs written by Maine women. She may be contacted at:

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For 20 years, Dave Colson has been helping people park at the Common Ground Country Fair Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 At any given time during the three-day Common Ground Country Fair, there will be 12 to 20 volunteers helping people park. Dave Colson has a day job – he’s the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s agricultural services director – but at fair time, he’s busy running the show in the parking lot. His beige Toyota Tundra is command central for volunteers. We called Colson up to get a view of the fair from the parking lot as MOFGA gears up for its 40th fair, starting Friday.

FIRST FAIR: Colson’s first fair was in September 1981. His sister, who went to College of the Atlantic, was living in Maine, and she’d been sending Colson advertisements for land for sale in Maine. She knew he’d been looking for affordable farmland in Oregon without any luck. Although they grew up in western New York state, the family had roots in Maine, going back to a grandfather from Skowhegan. Colson told his sister he was considering the move. “She said, ‘You better come in time for the Common Ground Fair.’ ” And he did, arriving just in time to attend. “I was pretty hooked,” he said. That winter he and his parents bought land in Durham and started New Leaf Farm, which was certified organic in 1985. After Colson met his wife in the late 1980s, they all ran the fruit, vegetable and herb farm together until 2005, when his aging parents began to back off from farming. These days, with his MOFGA responsibilities, they’ve scaled back to a haying and green manure operation only.

UNITED IN UNITY TRAFFIC: The traffic jam heading to the fair in 1998, the year MOFGA opened permanent fairgrounds in Unity, is legendary. “It was very interesting. There are definitely a lot of stories from then.” Colson remembers overhearing some of the Waldo County deputies talking about the preparations. “They were saying things like, ‘These people are crazy if they think they are going to have this many people show up.’ ” But they did show, and in even bigger numbers than expected. “We were kind of shell-shocked at the end of that Friday and pretty much had to meet that evening to regroup,” Colson said. It’s been a steady learning curve since. “I think we have it down pretty well now. The issue, of course, in being anywhere in rural Maine is that the roads can only manage so much traffic at any time.”

CASE IN POINT: About five years ago, there was a parking disaster when it started to rain mid-afternoon on a Saturday. Fairgoers decided, all at once, that maybe it was time to go home. “The crowds came out to get in their cars, and it got completely snarled. We had a lot of upset people.” They implemented changes the next year, making it easier to find – and reach – exits. But Colson asks for flexibility and a reality check for fairgoers. “Anyone who has ever driven to any major sporting event knows that it takes just about as long to get out as it does to get in. People need to realize, if it takes us five hours to fill up the parking lot, it is not going to take us 15 minutes to empty it.” Remind us, if it rains this year, to hang out in an exhibit for awhile or get something more to eat before heading for the lot.

BY THE NUMBERS: Though it feels as though you’re parking on farmland, MOFGA owns 200 acres in Unity, and you’re parking on its land. (The fields are hayed by local farmers for MOFGA, although with this year’s drought, the second haying that usually happens before the fair starts might not be needed.) They park cars in 11 different lots, not all of them contiguous. Volunteers work in four-hour shifts (and are fed easy-to-transport meals from the communal kitchen, like sandwiches and calzones, delivered via golf cart). There might be 100 volunteers in a weekend, just for parking. And work has already started. “All those stakes and ropes and signs need to be laid out and driven in. It is full-throttle over here right now.”

WHEN THE DAY IS DONE: What happens after all the cars are gone? On Saturday, that can be late; the fair typically has portable lights running on a generator to help people find their way back to their cars. “We’ll get something to eat and think about going to bed.” He no longer camps at the fair. Instead, he camps at the MOFGA offices. “I throw a pad down in my office and sleep on the floor.”

IT’S INEVITABLE: Things Colson knows will happen every year: Someone will lock themselves out of their cars and need AAA. There will be flat tires. There will be dead batteries (the parking volunteers help with jumps). And people will lose their cars and need assistance, generally via golf cart, to find them. “Oh yeah, every year.”

BETTER TO BURN OUT?: Colson’s co-coordinators are Paul Volckhausen and Bob Critchfield. Critchfield, a carpenter from Raymond, has been volunteering for about 10 years while Volckhausen, a farmer from Happy Town Farm in Orland, has, like Colson, been running the parking operation since the fair was in Windsor. (Both men are past board members and presidents of MOFGA.) Aren’t Volckhausen and he burnt out after 20 years? “Call us gluttons for punishment. Part of it is, every couple of years I will say to Paul, “I think this is my last year,” and Paul will say, “I’m not ready to quit yet.” And then I can’t quit. One of these days we’re going to look at each other and say, “This wheelchair isn’t going to get around the parking lot so well.” He has been working on site mapping so that the whole process can be standardized and passed down. “Because I am anticipating I won’t do this forever.”

IS IT A CARNIVAL RIDE?: With all that coordinating, does he ever get to enjoy the fair itself? “Typically, no, I don’t see much of the fair,” Colson said, chuckling. “The joke around here amongst the parking people is, ‘Oh, there is a fair going on? I thought it was just a big parking lot!’ ”

PAY BACK: Why not quit now? And go to the fair? “This organization has done so much for organic farming and for farmers and been such a wonderful community to be part of. There is a very large planning team that manages most aspects of the fair, and a lot of those folks have been doing this a long time too. Part of the enjoyment is seeing those folks and being able to work with them. That has kind of been what’s kept me going all these years.”

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South Portland rolls out plan to promote pesticide ordinance Wed, 14 Sep 2016 00:47:20 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — City officials launched a pesticide education and outreach effort on Tuesday, hoping that it will encourage residents to comply with a newly adopted ban when it takes effect in 2018.

People like John Hychko won’t need convincing. Hychko and his wife, Shannon, converted their front lawn into a pesticide-free garden when they bought their Barstow Street bungalow eight years ago. A puree of sweet English peas, grown in a raised bed laced with organic compost, was the first solid food that they fed their son Logan.

They like that Logan, who is now 6, can pluck a ripe cherry tomato from the vine and pop it into his mouth without washing it. And they’re unfazed by a few insect holes in the curly kale and rainbow chard that grow among bright orange nasturtiums, feathery green fennel and vibrant pink cosmos.

“A small percentage is going to the critters,” Hychko, 35, said Tuesday. “But that’s OK. We just mix in some good compost and let the plants do their thing. I definitely never want to have chemicals in our yard.”

Mayor Tom Blake and Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach announced plans to appoint a Pest Management Advisory Committee as soon as possible and begin developing an outreach and education plan for the pesticide ordinance that the City Council adopted last week.

They acknowledge that it may be an uphill battle to win over some residents who refer to Rosenbach as the “sustainability czar” and question both the need for and the enforceability of an ordinance that carries no penalties.

“It does have an enforcement mechanism,” Rosenbach countered on Tuesday. “It doesn’t have fines, but we’re going to work with people to bring them into compliance. Education will be a huge part of that. A complaint can be filed and in general, people don’t want that. We’re assuming most law-abiding citizens are going to want to comply.”

Under the ordinance, only pesticides classified as organic or “minimum risk” by federal agencies will be allowed for use on city-owned and private property. Retailers in the city can still sell banned products, including glyphosate-based Roundup, neonicotinoids and certain weed-and-feed applications. And residents could still buy them.

The ban exempts commercial agriculture and playing surfaces at golf courses, and it will allow waivers for public health, safety and environmental threats, such as mosquitoes, poison ivy and invasive tree insects.

To help win public support, the city plans to send out informational fliers, hold public workshops and gardening demonstrations, and develop active partnerships with the Friends of Casco Bay, Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association. They also plan to work with local garden centers to make sure they can advise and meet the needs of customers using organic lawn and garden practices.

“Hopefully, we’ll get 95 to 100 percent compliance and we won’t need penalties,” Blake said. But if residents don’t readily comply, some councilors have suggested that fines could be added in the future. When first proposed, the ban called for escalating fines of $200, $500 and $1,000 per offense following an initial warning.

As residents prepare to meet the ban over the next year or so, the city will take the lead in becoming an example to others. The ban will apply to city property starting May 1, 2017, and broaden to private property May 1, 2018. The ordinance will apply to the South Portland Municipal Golf Course and the privately owned Sable Oaks Golf Club starting May 1, 2019.

Outreach and enforcement of the ordinance will be overseen by the seven-member Pest Management Advisory Committee, which will consist of the city’s stormwater program coordinator, a practicing expert in plant and soil science, two licensed landscape professionals and three residents. Anyone interested in applying should call Rosenbach at 207-347-4148.

Ultimately, Rosenbach said, she’s trying to promote a cultural shift that will be most successful if neighbors work together to learn about the ordinance and share information about organic lawn and garden practices. The overall goal is to minimize the use of pesticides and the detrimental impacts they have on public health and the environment.

That’s already happening in John Hychko’s yard. Hychko and his wife tend berry bushes grown from a neighbor’s cuttings. They readily share seeds from plants that bees and butterflies love. And where there is lawn, they have sprinkled in clover to minimize mowing and eliminate fertilizing.

“We’re behind the ordinance all the way,” Hychko said. “It’s better for all of us.”

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Grace Pease brings a college degree home to the farm Sun, 11 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 We approached Grace Pease at the Portland Farmers’ Market last week to ask about Merrifield Farm’s cheap tomatoes. $1 a pound! Was she crazy? Doesn’t she know farmers markets have a reputation for being pricey? We grabbed a bench and sat down with the 24-year-old to talk about the harvest, curing squash and how she’s bringing a college degree in medical anthropology to work on the farm.

KNEE HIGH: Pease grew up in Cornish and has been farming since she was 6, in one shape or another. At 18, she and her sister Ruby, who is one year older than she, were running their own farmstand in Porter. Their parents still farm in Cornish on Merrifield Farm, just a few miles away from the family farm where her father grew up.

Merrifield Farm incorporates fields in Porter, which Grace runs with the help of three apprentices, and in Steep Falls, which Ruby runs with three apprentices. All of them, apprentices included, live in Cornish. “The home farm we call it.” Living quarters include log cabins and a school bus. “It’s fun.” Is that a vintage Cornish school bus? “I think it is an old Ford. My dad used to take it on camping trips with his family and friends. Now it is just parked permanently.”

EXPECTANT PARENTS: Her parents did not expect both their daughters to return to Maine to farm. “Ruby is a career farmer. She is definitely in it for the long run. I think I am in some sense, but I also think I’ll need a break from it at some point. For now, it is really enjoyable. Very humbling. You learn a lot. You’re always learning, so that’s exciting.”

LAST NEW THING: What’s the most recent thing she’s learned? “About how to cure winter squash.” Is that a prescription? “Curing just means so that the sugar develops in the squash and the skin becomes dry and hard so that it doesn’t rot on your counter before you can use it.” Among the tricks, piling it in a field with vines over it. “Some people put them in their greenhouses with a tarp over it.” A cool, dark place is a must.

COLLEGE DAYS: Pease went to Bennington. What made her choose the college made famous by Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt? “We had some Bennington students come to our farm actually and work as part of a field work term, so I have known about it since I was a kid. I knew I wanted to go to a small college.” Bennington does have some agriculture classes, but she steered clear of them. “I wasn’t interested. I thought I was going to do something completely different from what I grew up with.” Also, she already knew a lot about farming.

So she studied medical anthropology. “It’s similar to public health,” she said. She studied issues like the stigma associated with some diseases or the economics associated with it, factors “that are influencing the disease from the outside rather than from within the body.”

PUTTING IT TO USE: Farming might seem like a stretch from medical anthropology, but Pease has found a way to incorporate it. She’s been working with the Sacopee Valley Health Center in Porter on what she calls “a prescription food program,” identifying individuals in the community who are either food insecure or have health problems that are related to dietary issues, such as diabetes. “They hook them up with me, and basically it’s like a CSA box every week.”

Last year, she donated weekly CSA shares to 10 families. This year it’s 20. Every week? “Yep. And we got funding for it this year.” Cornish resident Alex Steed made a donation of $2,000, “which basically means we can include fruit in the boxes as well as veggies. We buy the fruit from the stands, and add things like peaches and blueberries and fun stuff that we couldn’t do before.”

LUCK OF THE DRAW: The land she farms on is a free lease in Porter, arranged courtesy of the logging family that owns it. “They like to see that it is farmed.” The previous landowner had farmed and logged there, and in the 1980s had built a farm stand. Ruby took it over when she was 19, and Grace joined her the next year. “Now I have been doing it for three years by myself.”

It’s a great arrangement for now; because they’ve got heavy trucks going up and down the road, it’s not desirable for development but it’s ideal for a beginning farmer. In exchange, the owners pop into the store with their grandchildren and pick up corn, tomatoes and pies. Every year, Grace writes them a thank-you card and includes a gift certificate to a local restaurant or some such. “I would love to reimburse them in some other way.”

ABOUT THOSE TOMATOES: The crop has been bountiful, mainly because the lack of rain meant a corresponding lack of blight (which thrives on wet leaves). “We had a lot of seeds this year, which meant we kind of overdid it in the green house.” Also, “we’re very conscious of our prices in the market,” in part because Merrifield is not certified organic (which commands a higher price). Another factor, she said, is that the Portland Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays isn’t quite the booming business it used to be. “If you talk to any farmers in that market, they’ll say that back five years ago we could move amazing amounts of food.”

Because farming has gotten more expensive (inputs, equipment, and until recently, the rising cost of fuel), farmers have had to pass the prices onto consumers and correspondingly, she believes, business has taken a hit. Pease said she’s not about to walk away from the Portland market; slots are hard to come by still, and her family has been selling there “since horse and buggy days!” Those $1 a pound tomatoes might just attract a few more customers who will pick up some corn or cabbage while they’re there.

IN THE CAN: With blight-free product and prices that low, is she canning like a madwoman? “No! I only make strawberry jam. That’s all I do.” She sounds sheepish. “It’s so sad in the wintertime when we go to the store and we buy tomatoes.” Her father’s family was good at such home projects, and she has aunts who pickle and make quilts, but “Ruby and I, we’re just too busy. We might throw some blueberries in the freezer.” She shakes her head. “It’s so ridiculous to buy tomatoes in the winter.”


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Desserts in a jar are delicious and convenient Sun, 11 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A lot of baked goods get served in our newsroom, and when we run out of paper plates, sometimes a slice of pie has to go into a paper cup. This is genius, a fellow reporter and I joked the first time we did it. Someone should start a business called Pie in a Cup, we said.

Now Jordan Crosby and Nick Sarro have beat us to it, only their idea is more clever. Their new bakery, launched in Franklin in January, is called Downeast Cheesecakes, and they’re making desserts in a jar. You can buy blueberry or strawberry pie in its own little 8-ounce reusable Mason jar.

Their Apple Crisp in a Jar and S’mores in a Jar – made with homemade marshmallow fluff and chocolate sauce – are selling briskly as the weather cools. The Cheesecake in a Jar comes in flavors such as cherry, pumpkin, plain, German chocolate, strawberry, blueberry and raspberry. The desserts cost $5.99 or $6.99 for a single serving, or you can buy multiples up to a dozen for $64.99.

Crosby, who attended Johnson & Wales culinary school in Rhode Island, and Sarro, who handles the business side of Downeast Cheesecakes, are longtime friends who decided to move home to Maine to open their own restaurant. Then Crosby started teaching adult ed classes on making cheesecakes.

“He sold out every night that they had it,” Sarro said. “People just loved it so much, we decide to give it a shot.” They dropped the restaurant idea, and their families helped them construct their own commercial kitchen.

The partners are still looking for a distributor, so for now their desserts in a jar can only be ordered from or purchased when available at local restaurants such as Ironbound in Hancock, the Lucerne Inn in Dedham and Two Sisters Cafe & Deli in Prospect Harbor. I had two shipped to my home, and they came packaged in a sturdy rectangular box. I have a feeling that, come holiday season, Santa is going to love these.

— Meredith Goad

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Leg Work: Down East trail expands as it supports assortment of uses Sun, 11 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A new section of the Down East Sunrise Trail will open in Ellsworth this fall, making Maine’s longest trail easily accessible to the more than 2 million visitors passing through that city each year en route to Acadia National Park.

The trail now extends about 85 miles, providing a way to explore wild and beautiful parts of Hancock and Washington counties. It crosses bogs, passes mountains and lakes and follows the Machias River for a stretch. Along the way, riders and walkers can see beaver dams, ospreys and bald eagles soaring overhead, and an occasional moose or bear.

The East Coast Greenway Alliance chose the trail as part of its designated route from Maine to Florida. But the trail presents challenges for pedestrians and cyclists. Most of the surface is loose and crushed gravel, making for a bumpy bicycle ride. And unlike many other Maine trails, this one allows motorized vehicles (ATVs, snowmobiles and motorcycles).

I was curious how that mix of users was working out, six years after the trail opened. And I wondered if the trail has helped bring tourism to an area that has struggled economically for decades.

Four of the Sunrise Trail Coalition’s board members recently met me at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias to provide an update. Coalition members worked for more than 20 years to win support to build the trail on the former Calais Branch of the Maine Central Railroad. The state owns the trail, but the all-volunteer coalition plays a key role in overseeing and improving it.

Our meeting came just as the Hancock County Planning Commission was finishing a report on the trail’s economic impact. The report has some shortcomings, such as counting trail users only at one location. But it is an admirable effort that could prompt more comprehensive studies.

A camera at Washington Junction, just outside of Ellsworth, took images of trail users in 2014 and 2015. Based on that data, the report estimates 3,704 people used the trail in the 10-month study period. Nearly three-quarters of trail users (73 percent) were on motorized vehicles, primarily ATVs, 17 percent were walking and 7 percent were bicycling. The trail also draws cross-country skiers, horseback riders, joggers and dog sleds.

In a survey of 210 trail users done for the economic report, most responders gave the trail excellent or good ratings for maintenance. But cyclists were the least enthusiastic, because of the difficulty of riding on gravel.

“It is possible that cyclists are staying away from the trail and thus not being counted in this survey,” the report notes. “Nearly all long-distance cyclists on thin-tire bikes are using the paved road network” instead of the trail.

The trail’s new 2-mile section near Ellsworth and an adjoining four miles have a crushed concrete surface, which makes for much easier cycling. The new section also will give cyclists access to Ellsworth-area stores for bicycle parts, repairs and rentals, services not available along most of the trail.

Several trail users told me snowmobilers and ATV users are careful when encountering cyclists or pedestrians on the trail. “Everybody gets along,” said Bill Ceckler, the coalition’s acting vice president.

But the user survey shows that some cyclists and pedestrians are concerned about ATVs and snowmobiles going too fast and passing too closely. And the rumble of motors detracts from the experience of being in a wild place.

The survey found that most trail users live in the vicinity, taking day trips rather than spending the night in local lodging establishments. But cyclists were more likely to stay overnight than other users, one reason making the trail more attractive for bicycling could pay off for local businesses.

The report estimated the trail had generated at least $236,000 in direct spending on food, fuel, other supplies and lodging during the 10-month study period. That figure could double when taking into account indirect benefits, such as hiring local workers at hotels and restaurants.

One great asset of the trail is that it draws visitors at times of the year that normally would be slow for business – late fall, winter and late spring. Signs along the trail point the way to local businesses, and the coalition’s website also shows their locations.

“We do get quite a lot of business” from the trail, said Shelley Roberts, general manager of the Machias River Inn in Machias. “We get a lot of ATVs in spring and fall, some in summer.”

For those who live near the trail, it’s already proving its worth.

Stephen Rees Sr., the coalition’s president, always starts his bicycle rides near the railroad trestle bridge in Cherryfield that crosses the Narraguagus River. “That is the prettiest spot on the trail, bar none,” he says. Rees listens to the rushing stream and appreciates its beauty before he pedals off.

Shoshana Hoose is a freelance writer who walks and bicycles in Greater Portland and beyond. Contact her at

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Summer’s heat gives pepper lovers sweet abundance Sun, 11 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Peppers are very hot right now, even the sweet ones.

At my favorite Friday morning farmers market in Brunswick, I counted 18 different varieties. I bought a bagful, let them sit beautifully in a bowl for a day, and then had to figure out what to do with them.

Those over 80-degree summer days (21 in July, 20 in August here in southern Maine) were just the right temperature for Capsicum to thrive, says Source’s own garden guru Tom Atwell. Roberta Bailey of Seven Trees Farm in Vassalboro has been growing all sorts of peppers since the 1980s. She confirmed this summer was indeed a great year for peppers, more so for sweet than hot, but both are bounteous.

Bailey cultivates Czech Black (her favorite!), Fish, Hidalgo serrano (her other favorite), Matchbox and Thai Hot for seed for Fedco Seeds in Waterville. She removes the seeds from her peppers, steams the flesh, purees it with garlic, and mixes it with the same amount of either cooked carrots or sweet potato to make a hot sauce akin to a Thai Sriracha.

Another way to preserve the 2016 pepper season would be to save seeds from this year’s fruit to plant next spring. Make sure your peppers came from open-pollinated parents if you’d like to reproduce the very same kind of pepper, Bailey warned. If your pepper is a hybrid, you can still save the seeds and plant them, but you could very well get a plant resembling any of the varieties crossed to produce the hybrid you liked, she said.

Grey Goose Gourmet pepper jellies are made in Wayne with primarily local peppers, owner Sandra Dwight-Barris said. The company’s Original Pepper Jelly, crafted from a recipe Dwight-Barris’ mother gave her 25 years ago, includes bell peppers, as well. “This coming year we will be using 100 percent local peppers,” said Dwight-Barris, in part because of the bumper crop and in part because she bought a new freezer, as the five she filled last year with processed pepper jelly starter didn’t meet demand.

To freeze the peppers, she washes and stems them, deseeding some to keep the heat in check. She uses a powerful blender to make a pulp, which she then freezes in containers measured out for her batches of jelly. Freezing them diminishes neither the flavor nor the heat, she said.

Homesteader and blogger Rachel Arsenault says her hot peppers – the Anaheim, jalapeño, Hungarian wax she grew from commercial seed and the experimental ones she collected from dried de arbol, japones and guajillo chillies – are all coming off the plants much hotter than they were last year. She dries her fair share in a dehydrator and stores them in jars, but she also likes to blister them on the grill as a key ingredient in huge batches of salsa, which she then freezes.

To freeze the King of the North bell peppers she grows, Arsenault slices them into strips before placing them in freezer bags for use in fajitas during the winter months. She freezes jalapeño peppers whole, explaining that they are easy to chop when partially frozen.

1049899_107599 20160907_greenplat#2.jpgPortland’s Sur Lie chef Emil Rivera is partial to pickled peppers. He uses a house brine of Champagne vinegar seasoned with black pepper; and coriander, mustard and fennel seeds to pickle mild cherry bomb and shishito peppers, which softens the texture of the flesh and adds an obvious sour note to cut rich dishes like the restaurant’s braised short ribs.

Rivera also juliennes jalapeños to sauté very lightly with local mushrooms and butter and stuffs poblanos with whatever strikes his fancy on any given day.

As is traditional in a tapas place, Rivera also serves grill-blistered Padrón peppers sprinkled with sea salt. Eaters play a Russian roulette of sorts with these, because they don’t know which ones are mild and which ones are numbing. Rivera says this summer’s weather has increased his diners’ chances of getting a hot one by threefold.

I am a self-proclaimed heat wimp, so I won’t be playing with Padrón. I like to manage the heat of my preserved peppers, tasting a tiny bit of each one as I slice them for jars of Candied Mixed Peppers so I can balance the really hot ones with a calming selection of the sweeter ones.

To each his own, I guess. Fortunately for pepper eaters this year, we do not want for choices.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at:

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New garden in Cape Elizabeth beckons children back to nature Sun, 11 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Children’s Garden of the Arboretum at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth is a throwback – not to gardens of the past but to a type of childhood that has largely disappeared.

“When we were younger we would spend time wandering through woods and creeks, and children don’t do that as much now,” said James McCain, arboretum director. “Kids have so many organized activities that they don’t have time for unstructured play. This site has lots of areas to roam and play and enjoy a natural setting.”

Volunteers work on the Children's Garden at Fort Williams Park.

Native plants are featured in the Children’s Garden at Fort Williams Park.

When I joined a group of volunteers spending a late August morning planting 1,800 native plants in the garden, my first reaction was that in the future, many young visitors will be going home with wet, muddy clothing.

That’s because the hillside garden’s most dramatic feature is a 200-foot stream that runs downhill from the newly created frog pond. Must-be-walked stepping stones in a Y shape cross the pond, and garden paths lead right up to the stream, where youngsters may accidentally – or perhaps accidentally on purpose – fall in.

Which is fine, according to the builder of the pond and stream. “We designed it to be pretty rugged,” said Christopher Paquette of Robin’s Nest Aquatics. The pond and stream are lined with two layers of reinforced polyvinyl liners. Paquette himself placed more than 50 tons of stones on top of the liners so the stream would look natural. No easy task.

“I walked seven miles and got more than 60 flights of stairs that day” as measured on a Fitbit, Paquette said.

The water for the frog pond and stream is pumped from a pre-existing skating pond. The aquatic plants in the frog pond will filter the water and help clean up the skating pond, which is home to many invasive goldfish.

Stepping stones reach across a small, shallow pond in the garden.

Stepping stones reach across a small, shallow pond in the garden.

The garden, designed by Sashie Misner of Mitchell & Associates Landscape Architects in Portland, offers plenty of other places for children to experiment and explore, as well, including a tree house, two tunnels and uneven natural stone steps. Also, an area has been set aside for a fairy village.

But fun as these features are, it is mostly about the plants – 5,690 of them, McCain said, which came from an assortment of local and regional nurseries, a board member of the Wild Seed Project and generous homeowners, who dug up hundreds of their own plants to donate to the project.

Different areas in the new Children’s Garden represent the Eastern forest, with mostly oaks and huge stumps where invasive Norway maples were removed; a pollinator meadow; and sections with low-bush blueberries, hay-scented fern and a native sod made from sheep laurel and wintergreen. Throughout the garden, soil that would usually be considered poor quality was used, both to encourage native wildflowers and to discourage weeds.

Opening ceremonies for the Children’s Garden were held on Friday, but that doesn’t mean it’s complete – if you can ever call a garden complete. It’s slated to get more small perennial seedlings, buckwheat to prevent weeds and erosion, and additional aquatic and marginal plants for the pond and stream. Although it typically takes about three years for a newly planted perennial garden to fill in, McCain expects the Children’s Garden to look attractive as early as next year.

The cost of construction came to $375,000 – donated labor and materials kept it from being higher – and additional money has been set aside to buy more plants and maintain the space over the next four years. Volunteers tend to all the gardens in the 90-acre Fort Williams Park, which keeps expenses down.

Jessica Simpson of Cape Elizabeth plants wild petunias near a stream that runs through the garden.

Jessica Simpson of Cape Elizabeth plants wild petunias near a stream that runs through the garden.

The fun and learning opportunities for children make it worth it, McCain believes.

“This garden is designed to be a safe oasis, where we can have children engaged in nature, appreciate and learn about nature,” McCain said. “They can study butterflies and honeybees and learn a bit about the stewardship of the world around them.”

The Children’s Garden is the third completed garden of more than a dozen proposed as part of the Fort Williams Arboretum, following the Cliffside and Lighthouse View gardens. Work has already begun on Cliffside Walk, which will connect the Cliffside and Lighthouse gardens, McCain said. To a large extent, that project will consist of controlling invasive plants, such as bittersweet and swallowwort, and letting the natives and other noninvasives grow in a kind of natural succession garden.

Once that’s completed, the adults can have their quintessential Maine views without the invasive plants in the most visited part of Fort Williams Park, and the children will have their private 1.5-acre hideaway in what previously was a seldom-visited section.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

]]> 0, 11 Sep 2016 21:05:39 +0000
A 19th-century Brunswick botanist gets her due with book of flora paintings Sun, 11 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Kate Furbish was a little woman. Her health wasn’t great. Born in 1834, she was raised by parents who owned a hardware store in Brunswick, but she never married; naturally, given the era, this limited her financial resources.

She had sharp eyes though, an eager capacity to learn and the kind of endurance that took her all over the state, from the Crown of Maine to the bogs of Bangor and east to Cutler. By train and by horse-drawn carriage and most important, by foot, Kate Furbish traveled her hometown of Brunswick and then onward, over the state of Maine looking for flowers she’d never seen before. She was an intrepid collector and painter of specimens and in her mid- to late 40s was at the forefront of botany in the state despite having no degree in plant science.

After nearly four decades of intense work, almost all of it as a volunteer, save her a stint in the 1890s as the staff botanist at the Poland Spring House, Furbish completed 1,326 paintings and sketches of the flora of Maine. When she gave them to Bowdoin College in 1908, bound in 14 Moroccan leather volumes, she claimed no “artistic merit” in a letter to Bowdoin President William DeWitt Hyde, only “truthful representation” of the plants she’d found around the state. Her hope, she wrote to him, was that her paintings “will assist the earnest student instead of serving merely to entertain the visitor…”

That was her modest wish. The paintings were her “children” she joked, or half-joked – her letters suggest a wit as sharp as those eyes – and she kept just one for herself.

She lived until 1931 having no idea that her work would alter Maine environmental history or of the spell of intrigue it would cast over a unique group of individuals over the next century and beyond: an artsy Bowdoin student in the Vietnam era; a pair of Milbridge writers and naturalists in the 1980s; then in the next decade a psychotherapist from Washington, D.C., and a young woman getting a master’s degree in botany from the University of Maine who now runs the education program at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.


Furbish has had her moments of rediscovery before, including most recently in 2013 when a 600-acre parcel of waterfront land on the former Naval base in Brunswick was named the Kate Furbish Preserve. But she’s never had a vanity moment quite like this. The latest installment of Furbish fever is a gigantic book, or rather, books, titled “Plants and Flowers of Maine: Kate Furbish’s Watercolors.” This two-volume set is destined to tax most coffee tables, weighing in at a solid 37 pounds and possessing roughly the dimensions of a jumbo cookie sheet. The publication is a joint effort of Maryland-based Rowman & Littlefield and the Bowdoin College Library, in collaboration with the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. The editor of the two-volume set is Richard H. F. Lindemann, who was the director of Bowdoin’s archives for 15 years (he retired in 2015).

But the seed of it was planted not long after Jed Lyons, the future president and CEO of Rowman & Littlefield, arrived at Bowdoin in 1970.

Lyons was a cartoonist while at Bowdoin and published in the school’s newspaper, the Bowdoin Orient. The college didn’t have much of a studio art program at that point, so it wasn’t Lyon’s major. But art remained an interest, and maybe a bit of a distraction during study sessions at the college’s library.

“When I would get bored I would go up to the Special Collections room where the Audubon prints were,” Lyons said. Bowdoin has a complete set of John James Audubon’s “The Birds of America,” one of what’s believed to be only about 120 in the world. “There was always an Audubon out. The same was true with Furbish’s paintings.”

He admired the paintings, and perhaps even more so, the woman who had devoted her life to making them. “She worked independently, and her equipment always included grappling hooks,” he marveled. “She would crawl on her stomach to get to a plant.”

In an era when publishing houses have generally been on the decline financially, Rowman & Littlefield, known for its academic and museum studies books, has been making money and growing. (In 2013, the company acquired Maine’s own Down East Books.) And Lyons never forgot those Furbish paintings, or the botanist who had something of that Audubon-like urge to be a completist and paint every one of Maine’s flowering plants.

“I reached out to Bowdoin and I said ‘These really need to be collected in a book and seen by more than just a handful of people every year,’ ” Lyons said. The college loved the idea, he said, and this month marks the release of the Furbish sets, priced at $350.

“It is, needless to say, a very expensive undertaking,” Lyons said. “That’s a very expensive trim size and yet every one of those paintings is reproduced exactly as she drew them. We decided right off the bat that if we were going to do this, it was going to be done right.”

He is not expecting to make money, despite the price tag, since the volumes are likely to appeal to a limited crowd: academic libraries, collectors and those with an interest in Maine horticulture. An even more deluxe version, with leather binding and hand-colored end sheets, priced at $750, already has eight pre-orders from Bowdoin alumni, he said.


When Bowdoin celebrates the Furbish book launch with a reception at the library on Sept. 26, the guests will include Ada Graham and Frank Graham Jr., the Maine couple who wrote the only biography of the botanist. She’s 85 and he’s 91. Their book, “Kate Furbish and the Flora of Maine,” was published in 1995 by Tilbury House, representing the culmination of a nearly 20-year fascination that began with the environmental controversy over a type of wild snapdragon discovered by and named for the Brunswick-based botanist, the Furbish lousewort (Pedicularis furbishiae).

Furbish found the lousewort in 1880 alongside the St. John River. She’d traveled north via Orono, taking a train to Mattawamkeag and then on to Fort Fairfield by stagecoach (in a letter, she noted that often a carriage to the County included a gun on the seat next to the driver). She spent six weeks there, exploring the land near the Aroostook River looking for plants she’d never seen before, including those identified by Saco native botanist George Goodale (who was serving as first director of Harvard’s Botanical Museum) in the 1860s. She continued north, arriving in Van Buren in August. The Grahams describe her as going right to the banks of the river where she was pleased to see plants she’d never encountered before. One looked a lot like the common lousewort, but not quite right, and she jotted down “new species?” in her notes. When the summer was done it proved to be something not only new to her, but to the world of botany.

She sent samples of it and wrote to George Davenport, an avid member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and New England Botanical Club who published articles on ferns throughout his lifetime, that winter, with a request. “If Pedicularis sh’d prove to be an unknown species couldn’t it be named for the finder, with propriety?”

Davenport took the hint and pushed his colleagues to name it after Furbish, rather than for its river location. “Miss Furbish has devoted all of her leisure time for a number of years to illustrating the Maine Flora by a series of plates carefully drawn and colored directly from the plants themselves.” Her paintings, Davenport wrote, “are marvels of accurate coloring and fidelity” and her work “one of which any state might feel proud.”

He won out, and Furbish had her own flower, albeit it one with an ungainly name (the generic lousewort originally got its name because people believed – wrongly – that cattle that grazed near it got lice).

Fast forward to the early 1970s, to that same era when Jed Lyons was killing time in the Bowdoin library. That’s when the energy crisis reignited interest in a plan first proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1959 to build a hydroelectric plant in the Upper St. John watershed. It had evolved into the Dickey-Lincoln School Lakes Project, a double dam, starting with one just above the confluence of the St. John with the Allagash River. The two projects would have flooded 88,000 acres and changed the landscape forever.

In the summer of 1976, the Corps of Engineers hired University of Maine botany professor Charles D. Richards to survey the area for rare and endangered plants. No one had recorded a sighting of Furbish’s lousewort since 1946 and the plant had been listed as “probably extinct.” Richards found it in Allagash, in the area that would be flooded, and the next summer, not far away in a region downstream. Theoretically, the Furbish lousewort might have survived the Dickey-Lincoln project in that downstream location, but Richards’ findings contributed to the conservationists’ argument against the dam, and the Furbish lousewort was forever linked with the dam and the eventual demise of the project in the early 1980s.

1049947_518809 youngKate.jpg

Courtesy of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library


The story of the lousewort also awakened Graham’s interest in Furbish. Frank was a field editor for Audubon magazine when the dam was proposed and Ada wrote natural history books for children. They approached an editor in New York with a book idea about the role the lousewort was playing in this modern project. “She said what would be more interesting to her would be a biography of Kate Furbish herself,” Ada Graham remembered.

As biographers, the Grahams had the good fortune of being on time, barely, to get help from Furbish’s grandniece, Alice Furbish Kerr, who had Furbish’s letters to her cousin Millie, which shed greater light on the woman herself – and early feminist, if unnamed as such – than her later botanical-related correspondence. (Of a gentleman caller in Brunswick in the Civil War era who failed to come around for repeat visits, Furbish wrote “I know one thing. Though he was quite pleasant, his company was not essential to my happiness.”)

The Grahams found a journal of Furbish’s from a visit to France, and they pored over every letter in Bowdoin’s possession, including the one where Furbish reveals that the Acadians had dubbed her “the Posey-Woman” in her summers in Aroostook County. “We were like terriers,” Frank Graham said. “Anytime we ever got a sniff or a thought of anything we would follow up on it.”

But the Grahams also had some bad fortune; when their manuscript was complete, the imprint that was going to publish their Furbish book had gone under. They tried to find a new publisher but no one wanted their book about a spinster botanist from Maine. “The manuscript just lay there for seven or eight years,” Ada Graham said.

Enter the next person with a yen for Bowdoin’s Special Collections. Judith Falk is a psychotherapist in the Washington, D.C. area who has a summer home in Damariscotta. In 1977 she went canoing on the St. John with the Audubon Society, the year the Furbish lousewort’s found its greatest fame. Two of her daughters went to Bowdoin and like Lyons, Falk had seen Furbish’s drawings in the library. After an exhibit of the drawings in 1991, Falk told a Bowdoin librarian there ought to be biography of Furbish and was told there was, it just wasn’t published. She got in touch immediately.

“Ada told me, ‘I was just going through my things, and I was about to throw it all away!’ ” Falk said.

Falk drove to Milbridge to have lunch with the Grahams (Ada’s crabcakes were divine, she said) and left with the manuscript. “They said, ‘We’re not willing to change one word.’ ”

“I stayed up all night and read it,” Falk remembered. “It struck me as the kind of thing that would be in the New Yorker.”

She ultimately helped fund its publication in 1995. Tilbury printed 3,000 copies, including 750 hardbacks, which sold out immediately, Falk said.

1049947_518809 lousewort.jpg



In 1996, when Melissa Dow Cullina was a graduate student at the University of Maine, studying botany, she took a trip to Fort Kent with the Josselyn Botanical Society. The society was founded in 1895, and its charter members included Furbish and Merritt Lyndon Fernald, a native Mainer and close friend of Furbish’s who had the career she might have had if she had been born a man. (He started working at Harvard’s Gray Herbarium at age 17 and went on to be an editor of Gray’s Manual of Botany.)

On the trip Cullina saw Furbish’s lousewort and learned about Furbish for the first time. A few months later, her mother gave her the Graham’s book for a birthday president.

“Randomly,” Cullina said. “But it was a perfectly timed gift.”

Cullina, who wrote the introduction to the two-volume Furbish set in her capacity as Director of Education at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, fell hard for Furbish. She tries, she says, to emulate Furbish in all that she does.

“One of the things that is so remarkable about Kate is how she did travel, so extensively, throughout Maine,” Cullina said. “If you think about that period of time, traveling by train and carriage and foot, just the amount of energy it required, that in itself is so impressive to me. She didn’t just stay in Brunswick and do what was easy for her. She really traveled outside the box.”

It’s particularly remarkable if you consider that Furbish suffered from neuralgia, a painful nerve condition. It did slow her down sometimes.

During the Civil War, she wrote to her cousin of her longing to go be useful in the war effort. “I would I were a strong rugged woman. B. (Brunswick) would not hold me long I assure you.” Even so, after she discovered her passion for collecting and capturing the unique characteristics of Maine’s flowers, she did not let Brunswick hold her long.

Although Furbish was considered an amateur, having no degree in botany or employment as a botanist (except those seasons at the Poland Spring House, which the Grahams wrote may have been in exchange for room and board), it’s not the right word for who she was, Cullina said.

“I just don’t feel that it does justice to the level of seriousness she applied to her work,” Cullina said. These weren’t just pretty paintings. Furbish, she said, “was a botanical illustrator, a scientific illustrator.”

Cullina already used Rowman & Littlefield’s versions of Furbish’s images in a class at the botanical gardens late this summer. They hold up, she said, as teaching materials.

This new two-volume set is, “a real fulfillment of her vision and purpose,” she said. “It is sort of difficult to think of these beautiful drawings being in storage, so I see this as just a giant leap forward, because they will be available for more people.”

“I hope somewhere she can know that her purpose in creating them is really being fulfilled,” Cullina said.

Which is all Furbish wanted when she made her gift. She signed off her letter to the Bowdoin president with that hope that her work would prove useful to students.

In that case, she said, time might prove that “Love’s Labor (is not lost)…” Between the student who went on to be a publisher, the special collections librarians who cared for the paintings over all those years, the biographers who refused to change a word, the psychotherapist who thought Furbish deserved more and the student who went on to be a teacher, that wish has been granted.


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Take the bus to the Common Ground Fair Fri, 09 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Anyone who has ever been to the Common Ground Fair here, which celebrates all things rural, organic and agricultural, has probably also been in the epic traffic jam either going or coming or both. This year, the fair’s 40th anniversary, Maine Adult Education is organizing buses from several locations around the state as a way to alleviate the congestion and reduce the carbon footprint of fairgoers.

The fair, produced annually by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), runs for three days, Sept. 23-25; the buses will run on the weekend only. On Saturday, fairgoers can ride buses from Windham, Portland, Freeport, Gardiner, Bath, Damariscotta, Wiscasset, Waldoboro, Lincoln and Bangor. On Sunday, buses will transport fairgoers from Skowhegan and Fairfield. Depending on the distance, the cost of the ride ranges from $14 to $39. Bus riders also get discounted admission to the fair, $8 as compared to gate tickets prices of $15.

“Ride with us, get in for less, and avoid driving and parking hassles!” the bus organizers say. To sign up, go to and search for “Common Ground Fair.”

To ease the parking problem, fair organizers have previously encouraged fairgoers to park their cars and ride the last few miles to the fair by bicycle or train. Few other organizations in Maine have the history of caring about the environment that MOFGA does, so it seems especially apt that fairgoers now have the option to ride a bus, helping in some small way to reduce polluting car emissions and, thereby, global warming.

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Maine drought officials meet again amid worsening conditions Thu, 08 Sep 2016 19:40:00 +0000 The state’s Drought Task Force met Thursday for the second time this year, and just the second time since 2002, to discuss what officials say are worsening drought conditions around most of the state, the Maine Emergency Management Agency said.

Agency Director Bruce Fitzgerald said the drought has been building for about three years and isn’t going to go away overnight. The southern portion of the state continues to be the most severely affected – with groundwater levels in Sanford and Poland the lowest on record for July and August – and severe drought conditions are now expected to reach as far as Wiscasset.

Meteorologists from the National Weather Service’s office in Gray and Caribou said that the northern part of the state is seeing above-average levels of precipitation, but most other areas are seeing a deficit.

Weather forecasters said temperatures are expected to be above normal with below-normal precipitation levels for the next few weeks.

Groundwater basins in northern Maine are at normal or near normal levels, said Nicholas Stasulis, a data section chief for the U.S. Geological Survey. Basins in the southern parts of the state, however, are continuing to drop and are already low or very low.

“Surface water conditions are generally below normal to a moderate hydrologic drought for the southern two-thirds of the state,” Stasulis said in a statement. “Groundwater levels in Sanford and Poland are the lowest on record for the months of July and August.”

Officials from the Department of Agriculture said the state’s potato and blueberry crops are doing well, but there are some smaller farm operations that are experiencing difficulties. Most counties in Maine reported problems with wells, irrigation ponds and/or crops.

The task force said no restrictions have been placed on water usage, but officials encouraged people to take steps to use water wisely. Town offices should be contacted if someone is experiencing dry wells or other drought related problems.

The task force is expected to meet again in October.

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South Portland passes pesticide ban that puts education over enforcement Thu, 08 Sep 2016 02:05:14 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council gave final approval Wednesday to a revised landscape pesticide ban that will be penalty-free when it takes effect but could result in fines in the future.

The council voted 6-1 for the ordinance, which will rely on education and outreach to encourage property owners not to use certain lawn-and-garden pesticides and herbicides.

Councilors and supporters touted the measure as a history-making effort because South Portland is the largest of more than 25 communities in Maine that have restricted pesticide use in some way.

“This is a huge step forward,” said Councilor Maxine Beecher, who voted for the ban along with Claude Morgan, Eben Rose, Brad Fox, Patti Smith and Mayor Tom Blake.

Councilor Linda Cohen provided the sole vote against the ordinance, saying that she supported its overall intent but “you don’t pass laws you don’t intend to enforce.”

Rose, Blake and others indicated that the council may revisit the ordinance and add enforcement measures after the city has gathered data on local pesticide use.

Under the revised ordinance, retailers in South Portland could still sell banned products, including glyphosate-based Roundup, neonicotinoids and certain weed-and-feed applications. And residents could still buy them.

However, only pesticides allowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and classified as “minimum risk” by the Environmental Protection Agency will be allowed to be used within city limits. The local ban also will exempt commercial agriculture and playing surfaces at golf courses, and it will allow waivers for public health, safety and environmental threats, such as mosquitoes, poison ivy and invasive tree insects.

But rather than implement the ordinance in a “punitive way,” city officials plan to develop an education and outreach campaign to promote non-toxic land care practices and help the community comply with the ordinance.

As a result, the revised ordinance eliminates penalties. As first proposed, the ordinance called for escalating fines of $200, $500 and $1,000 per offense following an initial warning.

The revised ordinance also calls for the city’s sustainability coordinator, not police officers, to receive complaints, educate alleged violators to bring them into compliance and keep a public record of how complaints are resolved.

The ban will apply to city property starting May 1, 2017, and broaden to private property May 1, 2018. The ordinance would apply to the South Portland Municipal Golf Course and the privately owned Sable Oaks Golf Club starting May 1, 2019.

Activists on both sides of the issue say South Portland’s effort could be copied by other communities across Maine and beyond. Portland residents and officials have been monitoring South Portland’s progress over the last year.

Supporters promoted South Portland’s ordinance as the most far-reaching and environmentally progressive proposal of its kind in the nation, though it’s unclear how effective it will be without enforcement powers.

It follows a similar measure passed last year in Ogunquit and the Healthy Lawns Act that’s being rolled out in Montgomery County, Maryland. The Maryland Legislature also passed a bill, which takes effect Oct. 1, specifically banning the retail sale and homeowners’ use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to the decline in bee populations. Commercial uses would still be permitted.

Supporters said South Portland’s grassroots efforts is important because the EPA doesn’t require conclusive independent safety testing of pesticides and has acknowledged that it doesn’t know the full impact of many chemicals on humans or the environment.

“Passing this ordinance is an important first step,” said Andy Jones, a local organizer for the Toxics Action Center. “Protect South Portland will continue working with the city and other organizations to educate homeowners in safer and more sustainable lawn care practices.”

Opponents of the ban have said it will confuse many homeowners who won’t know which chemicals to use and likely pit neighbors against one another. Several spoke in favor of integrated pest management, which promotes a controlled use of pesticides, whether organic or synthetic, that is most effective and least toxic to humans and the environment.

“This (ordinance) is a great experiment,” said Jesse O’Brien, vice president of Down East Turf Farm in Kennebunk.

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Portland council opts to negotiate deal to build solar array at landfill Thu, 08 Sep 2016 01:34:22 +0000 The Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to authorize an agreement to build one of the state’s largest municipal solar power arrays on the Ocean Avenue landfill.

The vote will allow City Manager Jon Jennings to negotiate an agreement with ReVision Energy LLC at a cost to the city of $150,000 over its first six years. The project would reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuel-based electricity by 25 percent over the next decade, Mayor Ethan Strimling said.

“This is a great step in that direction,” he said.

Steve Hinchman, a spokesman for ReVision Energy, said the project will still require approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection once a contract has been finalized and ratified by the City Council. Hinchman said construction could begin in 60 days.

“All that’s left is the boilerplate language,” said Hinchman.

Several people in the audience who were wearing buttons supporting solar power applauded the council vote.

ReVision proposed the solar project in June 2015. Under ReVision’s proposal – the only one submitted to the city – the company agreed to install and own a 660 kilowatt array on the closed landfill, located near the Falmouth town line.

The project would require the city to invest about $25,000 per year for the first six years, after which the city would have the option of purchasing the array, according to Troy Moon, Portland’s Sustainability Coordinator.

Moon said the solar array would generate enough renewable energy to power City Hall and Merrill Auditorium, and is expected to save the city more than $3.2 million in energy costs over its lifetime.

In January 2016, the city of South Portland joined the venture and plans to have an identical solar array built on its closed landfill. Combining the two projects is expected to reduce overall project costs.

The Portland project would create one of the largest municipal solar arrays in Maine. The city’s Planning staff is currently revising zoning rules to allow stand-alone solar generation facilities in Portland. The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the revisions later this year.

City officials expect the investment to be paid back in 10 years through energy savings.

“This proposal is a meaningful step in Portland’s commitment to a clean energy future,” Councilor Jon Hinck, chair of the council’s Energy and Sustainability Committee, said in a news release.

“The Ocean Avenue project will be a very visible demonstration of the city of Portland walking the walk and setting a powerful example when it comes to embracing solar technology,” Strimling said in the release.

“The Ocean Avenue solar project is a major step forward for the City of Portland’s commitment to clean renewable power. Sierra Club’s Portland Climate Action Team is proud to have played an important role in initiating and supporting this historic project, and we are looking forward to working with the City on a plan to dramatically scale up solar in Portland,” Sierra Club Maine Chapter Director Glen Brand said in a press release.


]]> 17, 08 Sep 2016 19:19:53 +0000
In key advance, food waste recycling-to-energy program begins in Portland area Wed, 07 Sep 2016 17:09:25 +0000 A food waste recycling program launched Wednesday in Portland hopes to trigger the next big advance in southern Maine’s municipal trash business: collection of household kitchen scraps and other organic waste.

Kitchen scraps, expired produce and other food waste make up close to 30 percent of the trash that Mainers throw out, according to a 2011 University of Maine study, and removing these items from the waste stream is seen as a key way to reach a statewide goal to recycle half of the state’s waste stream by 2021.

But the lack of a transfer facility to consolidate and weigh food waste that could then be shipped for processing has prevented efforts to expand food waste recovery in the region, especially from towns and cities in the Portland area.

Ecomaine, a nonprofit solid-waste corporation collectively owned by more than a dozen southern Maine municipalities, aims to clear that hurdle and help the region join a small number of U.S. communities removing food material from the waste stream. Ecomaine’s Portland headquarters has begun collecting and storing food waste for delivery to Exeter Agri-Energy, which converts the waste into methane-rich gas used to produce energy.

Local officials compared the potential effect of the service to the big gains in recycling after the introduction of single-stream collections nine years ago.

“Having the infrastructure locally is a game-changer,” said Troy Moon, chairman of the ecomaine board and Portland’s sustainability coordinator. “Providing towns and businesses with an easy way to divert this material from the waste stream will help our communities be more sustainable and may help save them money.”


The program initially is being aimed at commercial customers such as supermarkets, restaurants and food processors. But demand for residential service is strong, and with the infrastructure in place, municipal collection programs aren’t far off, ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche said at a news conference Wednesday morning.

“One of the reasons we felt this was the time we should launch the program was because there is demand on the edge of their seats waiting for this to roll out,” he said.

Ecomaine already has lined up food waste clients, including companies that currently are bringing organic waste directly to the Exeter plant.

On Wednesday, a trash truck deposited its load into a concrete containment area at ecomaine headquarters, adding to the approximately 12 tons of putrefying food already on the ground. The overpowering smell was too much for some people on a tour of the facility, and Roche said that’s why the plant is designed to trap odor inside.

Food waste recovery systems in other parts of the country have failed because of complaints about odor and waste runoff, he said. Ecomaine’s approach was planned for almost a decade to make sure it would succeed.

“The planning has been done such that there is little room for risk or error in this program,” he said.

The ecomaine plant processes about 175,000 tons of trash and about 45,000 tons of recycling. The facility might handle 5,000 tons of food waste in the first year, and Roche expects that number to increase over time.

Ecomaine will charge lower tipping fees for food waste – $55 per ton compared with $70.50 per ton for trash, creating an incentive to separate the materials and covering the cost of collecting and handling the new category of waste.

Agri-Energy has a system that offers a solution to the “ick factor” that prevents people from handling decomposing food, Roche said.

Food waste can be shipped inside clear plastic bags, and a machine at the Exeter plant separates food from the plastic. The bags will then be shipped back to ecomaine to be incinerated in its waste-to-energy plant, Roche said.

The Exeter plant mixes cow manure and food waste in an anaerobic digester that creates biomethane used to generate heat and electricity. Recovered solids are used as animal bedding at Stonyvale Farm, the second-largest dairy farm in the state, and liquids are used as farmland fertilizer. The plant generates about 1 megawatt of power, enough energy to heat 300 New England homes, the company says.

Dan Bell, waste solutions manager at Agri-Cycle Energy, the company’s transportation and collection wing, said the plant has the capacity to expand to produce 3 megawatts of electricity.

Ecomaine’s new transfer station and the possibility of municipal waste could help the company expand even further, Bell said.

“Where ecomaine is a member-owned facility, it is a really big step,” he said.


Food waste collection is a growing trend in other parts of the country, although the waste often is destined to be turned into compost.

In 2013, there were about 183 towns and cities in the U.S. with curbside compost pickup, according to a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Some big cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto have sophisticated collection systems, while smaller communities such as Hamilton and Wrentham, in Massachusetts, also have started programs and reported savings on waste costs, the MIT study states. Some individual communities in Maine have started municipal composting programs.

Towns and cities in the Portland area are eyeing municipal collection now that there’s a processing site in Portland. Julie Rosenbach, the South Portland sustainability coordinator, said the city is considering a pilot program. South Portland has a 28 percent recycling rate and wants to reach 40 percent by 2020.

“I think organics is going to be a key piece to that,” Rosenbach said. “We need to figure out how it will make sense for South Portland.”

A municipal food waste program is also on the table in Falmouth, where the town is looking to cut costs and modernize its trash and recycling program, said sustainability coordinator Kimberly Darling.

“If there are savings with tipping fees and we can take and enhance our services, that’s where we’re looking,” Darling said. “There are a lot of different avenues for this, that’s what makes it exciting.”


Private hauling companies also may benefit from the ecomaine food waste service.

Tyler Frank, president of Garbage for Garden, a private company that collects organic waste at the curb, said it already sends some of its waste to Exeter Agri-Energy and will be using the ecomaine facility.

Garbage to Garden started in 2012, and now collects 4,000 tons of organic waste from more than 6,000 customers in Greater Portland and Massachusetts. Most of the collected waste goes to composting farms around Portland, but some is transported to Exeter Agri-Energy. Transporting waste that far was a challenge, and Frank said that sooner or later a company would have established a food waste transfer station in the region to accommodate demand.

Now that ecomaine’s member communities might look more seriously at curbside collection, Frank sees an opportunity to grow with new collection contracts.

“I am seeing this as a boon. I hope to have a lot of conversations with town managers in the next couple weeks,” Frank said. “Increasingly, municipalities are going to be our customers, rather than households.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

]]> 17, 08 Sep 2016 10:16:14 +0000
What ‘The Tree of 40 Fruit’ produces Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Here is a list of the native and heirloom fruits and varietals that artist and professor Sam Van Aken has grafted onto his grove of four stone-fruit trees at Thompson’s Point.





Chinese Montgamet






Sha Kar Pareh

Tlor Tsiran


Cherries will be grafted to the trees next year.



Blushing Star

Carolina Belle

Hale Haven

Indian Blood





Early Magic



Kuban Burgundy


Ohishi Washi






French Petite

Green Gage

Long John

Prune D’Ente

Tulu Dulce




Dapple Dandy


]]> 0, 04 Sep 2016 08:26:10 +0000
Go beyond boxwood, with hedgerows that wow Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 You don’t like part of the view from your property. Or maybe you want some privacy. The wind blows too strong from one direction, or perhaps you just want to outline the edge of your property or keep your children in the backyard. If any of these is true, it is time for some screening.

The simplest solution is a fence. A good fence can be attractive, is low maintenance and takes up little space on your property. At least consider it before going through the expense, time and effort of creating a row of plants to do the same job.

Plant screens have been part of garden designs for centuries. Many homes now have a line of arborvitae, yews or boxwood – often sheered into rectangles – right next to the sidewalk. Bordering gardens in sheared boxwoods or similar plants dates from the beginnings of ornamental gardens. While these plants can be tall enough to block views and have a constrained, geometric order to them, they have some problems. They are generally not native and thus do little to support wildlife. They also are boring, with the same plant one after another in a line. If one of them dies, it will take years to get a plant to grow enough to fit in with the living bushes that you have there already.

The solution is one I have never advised in the dozen or so years I have been writing this column: Look to Europe.

While driving through the countryside in Britain, France and the Netherlands, we saw fields divided by hedgerows made up of native plants. Traditionally, these hedgerows kept the livestock from roaming and, in addition, provided wood, berries and other items that the farmers could use.

An article from the Penn State Extension succinctly describes the advantages of such a planting: “By choosing a mixture of plants, you will protect your screen from major loss caused by an outbreak of a single pest or disease. A mixed planting also increases the biodiversity in your landscape by creating habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and animals. By attracting these beneficial creatures, you may find that they successfully keep populations of pest insects in check.”

Larry Weaner, author of “Garden Revolution: How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change” and the subject of an earlier column, suggested that groups of property owners should join in such plantings.

“If similar native hedgerow compositions defined the borders of all the backyards in a neighborhood, many more fragments would be connected, increasing the ecological value of each by many times,” he wrote in his book.

The mix of plants could include perennials, shrubs and trees. The perennials provide screening at ground level, the shrubs in mid-level and the trees as high as you want to go.

Incorporating evergreens, such as hemlocks, rhododendrons and hollies, will allow the screening to be more than bare branches through the winter. Some of the deciduous trees should have distinctive bark, whether the red and yellow of some dogwoods or the white of native birches. Also include flowering plants such as viburnums, to provide beauty and berries for the birds. A few blueberry bushes will provide some food for you. And for different-colored foliage, another type of visual interest, consider red-leaved physocarpus or beach plums.

In the traditional European hedgerow the many levels of screening are often created by the ancient practice of coppicing.

When most deciduous trees – including oak, maples, alders and other natives – are cut down, new shoots sprout from the stump, creating several smaller trees in the same area. A sprouting stump may not look good in the middle of a lawn, but in a hedgerow, it could serve multiple purposes: The cut tree provides wood for the fireplace, while the sprouts that grow within a few months fill what would otherwise have been a bare spot in the screen.

Perhaps you want to hide a neighbors’ rusty grill without blocking the view beyond it of the mountain range or lake. In that case, avoid the trees and create a mix of perennials, grasses and shorter plants, such as switchgrass, Joe Pye weed, native shrubs including ninebark and viburnum. Perennials will die back to the ground in the winter, allowing more light onto your property in winter, while a sheared row of yews will block the view and the light in every season.

These screens need space, perhaps about four feet to start. If you don’t have that kind of space, create a screen of vines. Of course, vines need something to climb, but a trellis requires less investment than a decorative fence.

Vines can be almost anything. We have always grown Dutchman’s pipe, which is native to the Eastern United States but not Maine, because my wife remembers it from her grandmother’s house. Consider growing hops for homebrewing. Other options: climbing roses, kiwis, clematis, grapes and morning glory (an easy-to-grow annual). A mixture might be stunning. The down side of vines is that they usually need to be cut back to the ground, if not yearly, at least when they grow too far from their starting point and get top-heavy or thin at the bottom.

One way to cut the cost of the screen might be to share it with your neighbors. Collaborate on the plants, with half on the neighbor’s property and half on yours.

It could also be a way to get to know them better.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

]]> 1, 03 Sep 2016 19:37:11 +0000
Andrew Mefferd carves a career out of his 2 loves Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Andrew Mefferd is the new editor and publisher of Growing for Market, a national magazine written specifically for direct market farmers, i.e. those who grow to sell at markets and/or CSAs (community-supported agriculture) or farm stands. He’s also a farmer – he and his wife run One Drop Farm in Cornville. When we called him up to ask how he ended up running a venerable (it’s been around since 1992) magazine from Maine, he warned us that it was a “bit of a long story.” Just exactly the kind of story we like to hear.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Growing up in Falls Church, Virginia, Mefferd’s plan was to become a journalist. He came from a family with such inclinations; his grandfather had studied journalism and his mother was a librarian. After getting a graduate degree in the field from Concordia University in Montreal in 2001, he took internships at various publications in the Washington, D.C. area, expecting that they “would lead up to a respectable career in journalism” with a specialty in environmental issues. But it wasn’t all that fun. “I was just sitting at a desk all the time and that was kind of chafing.” (Agreed; chafe city.)

FAMILY FARM: Up in Pennsylvania was a sizable farm that had been in his family for close to 85 years. His grandfather, who grew grains, hay and row crops, had died. “My grandma was living there all by herself.” No one else in the family was interested in taking it on, but it intrigued Mefferd. In general, agriculture intrigued him. A columnist he encountered at a Maryland newspaper had a farm on the side and suggested Mefferd come spend a season there. “And I never looked back.”

WEEDS AND WEDDINGS: For one thing, “I met my wife working on that farm,” he said. Ann Mefferd had been trained as a geologist and was working for an environmental remediation firm when she decided to take a break herself and try farm life. “We realized that we liked each other, and we liked what we were doing.”

WALKABOUT: Together they embarked on what he calls the farm apprentice circuit. They roamed the country, working on an organic olive farm in Bangor, California – “There were these big old gnarled trees that you would expect an orchard to look like from Italy” – and then up to Washington state to work on an organic farm with about 100 acres, a 35-member farm crew and a lot of farm equipment. “That is where we learned to drive tractors.” Among the lessons the Mefferds picked up? Olive oil can and will be used for lube on tools at a olive farm. And they never wanted to have a really big farm. “We decided never to even strive for that. We wanted to keep it more family-scale.”

They also did stints on Virginia Tech’s research farm and on a family farm in Blacksburg, VA. Then they felt ready to go out on their own, back at his grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY: They had one good season, trucking their vegetables to farmers markets in the Washington, D.C. area, well worth a two-hour drive. “You’ll see vendors from all the surrounding states there. It’s a good market. People have jobs and money, all that kind of stuff.” They intended to be there for the rest of their lives. “What do they say about the best-laid plans?” His grandmother was ailing and part of his family wanted to sell the farm, part didn’t. While awaiting a final decision, he and Ann went back on the apprentice circuit, learning animal husbandry near Ithaca, New York (major revelation? Keeping animals meant endless fertilizer for vegetable fields) and finally, arriving in Maine for a gig at HorsePower Farm in Penobscot.

“We learned a ton there,” he said. They decided to stay. “We loved Maine. It seemed like the situation in Pennsylvania was never going to resolve itself to our advantage.”

REAL ESTATE: In 2008 the young couple hooked up with Maine Farmland Trust and started looking for the right farm to buy, settling for one in Cornville. The land was beautiful, and nearby Skowhegan, with its thriving farmers market, Kneading Conference and Maine Grain Alliance, was a natural draw. The Mefferds had already seen enough of agriculture to understand that other sources of income were important, so both of them took call center jobs at Johnny’s Selected Seeds that first winter.

CUB REPORTER: While Ann focused on the farm, Andrew stayed on at Johnny’s in a research position. “I started as a generalist doing trials on tomatoes, but I was getting more and more interested in greenhouse growing.” He’d get a lot of the same questions over and over again from customers, and it occurred to him he could put that journalism degree to use. And, “I always thought I would want to have a story in Growing for Market,” he said.

The magazine was based in Lawrence, Kansas, and spoke to his farming experiences. Mefferd’s first successful pitch to then-editor and publisher Lynn Byczynski was about choosing tomato varietals. “Every year I’d have a couple of articles.” His writing is frequently driven by a saying at farmers markets: “Time to make a sign.” That is, if enough people are asking the same question, it’s time to make a sign with the answer. Or a story. Or a book.

EDITORIAL CONTROL: When Byczynski told him she was ready to move on, she asked him to take over Growing for Market. He already had a book deal in the works. “The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook” is due out from Chelsea Green early next year. And he really liked working at Johnny’s. But he had two young children (now 3 and 5) he barely got to see.

“Somebody offering you (the chance) to take over your favorite publication?” he said. “That is in the kind of opportunity you are not going to get very often.” After working out the finances with a bank, he rented a truck in Kansas “and literally put every asset of the magazine into it,” then drove it back to the new home office in Cornville. In March, he put out his first issue. “I have never been busier in my whole life,” he said. “It has been exhilarating and terrifying.”

SEEDLING BUSINESS: This year, the Mefferds got another new opportunity, taking over a nursery business from Amy LeBlanc at nearby Whitehill Farm. LeBlanc has had something of a reputation as “the tomato lady,” based on the massive number of varietals (200) she was coaxing from seed to seedlings in greenhouses, but she too wanted to step away from a business, and the Mefferds seemed like the right fit.

Except for the book and the magazine and the farm chores. “I said, ‘Honey, I don’t know how much time I can devote to this,’ ” Andrew said he told Ann. So the tomato business is in her hands, and for the first time in years, the two of them are no longer growing for a retail market.

BUT STILL GROWING: Mefferd’s dedication to Growing for Market is so fierce he missed book deadlines. “I felt like if I messed the business up, it might not come back. And I figured I could always beg for forgiveness from my editor at Chelsea Green.” Growing for Market had a subscriber base of a little over 5,000 and it’s growing, slowly. It comes out 10 times a year, and while it is possible to subscribe to it online only, he said the print edition is here to stay. “I still personally like to read things on paper.”

Even with all the hard work, Mefferd said he’s honored to have the magazine in his hands. “I am young enough that I still have a lot of good years ahead of me of doing it.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 3:51 p.m. on Sept. 6, 2016 to correct the name of Mefferd’s book.

]]> 0, 06 Sep 2016 15:52:11 +0000
Life can be a bowl of fast-ripening, foraged or cultivated husk cherries Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I am a ground cherry evangelist.

It was four years ago, after we’d relocated to Maine, that I found my first pint. They’d been foraged, and were sitting by themselves next to the cash register at The Rockport Marketplace. They looked like tiny, pale reproductions of the bright-orange hanging fruit of the Chinese Lantern stems I’d placed in my freshly painted, gray-and-white living room for a pop of color.

The clerk let me taste one. I pulled back the papery husk and found a fruit looking like an under-ripe sungold cherry tomato, which set the stage for what I thought they might taste like. I was wrong. The shiny skin of the berry popped to a sweet but earthy front-end flavor (kind of like really ripe pineapple) that finished with the slight acidity of their nightshade family cousins, the tomatillos, and a crunch of lots of seeds, like you get with strawberries.

Called Physalis pruinosa by botanists, and husk cherries, ground cherries, husk tomatoes, Inca Berries (they are native to Peru), and Cape Gooseberries (South Africans transplanted them wildly) more colloquially, the berries are really just prolific weeds. They go from seedling to dropping fruit in under 80 days, an indication that the cherries are ripe and ready to eat. At that point, the husks should be dry and the fruit yellow-orange.

1040478_360039  20160830_GreenPla#5.jpgIt was two years before I found my next pint. Whatley Farm in Topsham started selling them, grown from seeds purchased in the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog. I could buy them by the quart come mid-August: eating them as I walked home from the market; keeping a bowl on my counter for all to try; serving them as palate cleansers at dinner parties; incorporating them into favorite dishes (see Cornbread recipe); and unabashedly telling fellow shoppers I didn’t even know, “You’ve just GOT to try these.”

No agency is tracking sales numbers of ground cherries, not yet anyway, but I’ve spotted them at farmers markets in Brunswick, Portland, Boothbay and Yarmouth this summer alone, ranging in price from $3.50 to $5.50 per pint. All of which made me wonder whether it is a sustainable practice to take a previously foraged food item and eat it like it’s going out of style.

Here’s the problem with foraging: when an item becomes popular: People overharvest it so the wild species diminishes or disappears, said Jason Lilley, sustainable-agriculture professional with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Falmouth. Think ramps. “Fortunately for … your love of ground cherries, I see no concerns in cultivating this delicious crop,” he added. Ground cherry seeds are distributed by seed companies across the country, he said, which means both that a lot of the species is around and also that growers can select varieties that taste best and resist disease.

In a forum on this topic posted on The Resilience Hub’s site, Maine mushroom forager David Spahr wrote that ground cherries you find at the market in this area are more likely to be cultivated than wild. He suggested collecting wild seeds and using those to start the species in your garden, as they’ll grow better than cultivated varieties, need little maintenance and typically produce more fruit. No harm done to the wild species, he said. Another forum participant warned that each wild-to-cultivated species, especially if they are prolific and self-renewing, should be evaluated individually for their effect.

So while I’ve got the green light on ground cherries, I’ll yield to the yellow-light warning before evangelizing my next farmers market find until I know it’s safe to do so.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at:

]]> 0, 02 Sep 2016 15:27:32 +0000
Simple steps to save, for you and the planet Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A recent skim of the book “365 Ways to Live Cheap!” made me realize that, without ever trying, I have mastered the art of being a cheapskate. That long list of tips sounded all too familiar.

Like most confirmed cheapskates, I prefer the term frugal for the practice of prudent money management. It carries more connotations of Yankee thrift than of Scroogelike stinginess or unhealthy compulsions. Living “cheaply” suggests either a resistance to spending anything or a focus on low-value bargains that rarely prove durable.

Frugality is less about clearance sales and coupon-clipping and more about values. It invites us to reflect on what kind of world we support with our expenditures.

The word frugal derives from the Latin term for “enjoying the produce of.” It invites us to weigh whether our purchases are truly useful (or even necessary) and whether they justify our hard-earned dollars.

Frugality offers a counterpoint to mindless consumption, tacitly challenging the cultural assumptions that newer/bigger/faster somehow equates to better and happier. For that reason alone, frugality may be one of the most essential tenets of sustainable living.

Fortunately, frugal living doesn’t require adopting 365 practices. It takes only a shift in mindset – seeing money not merely as a currency, but as a resource for shaping a better world. Whatever our income level, more deliberate spending choices can help us conserve funds and direct dollars toward businesses and causes that we believe are worthy.

Here are some key tenets of frugality that can enhance savings and sustainability – psychological, financial and environmental.


Better directing your dollars toward purchases that nourish you and the larger community depends on knowing exactly where your money goes. Tracking expenditures helps to identify not just the dollars expended but the value you derive from what you spend. Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, authors of the classic “Your Money or Your Life”, advocate translating prospective purchases into “life energy,” assessing expenditures in terms of one’s “real hourly wage,” which factors in all the associated costs of working, from clothing and commuting to recuperation time.


When you earn or receive money, financial advisers often suggest that you “pay yourself first,” putting a chunk into savings. Not only is this wise counsel, it’s positively counter-cultural. A recent survey found that a third of the Americans surveyed have no retirement savings, while another quarter have less than $10,000. (Women fared particularly badly, with two-thirds having less than $10,000 in retirement savings.)


With the average American household saddled with more than $90,000 in debt (racking up thousands in interest fees each year), borrowing more may sound like bad advice. But borrowing stuff – books, DVDs, tools and vehicles (such as Zip cars and rental bikes) can be a strategic way to minimize expenses. My absolute favorite resource here is Maine’s beneficent Interlibrary Loan System, ILL to its friends.

With no more than a library card number and internet connection (or help from a librarian), Mainers can access the collections of 200 libraries within the state. The system offers all the convenience and instant gratification of online shopping at no personal cost. This exchange of materials is “not free by any means” for participating institutions, my local library director assures me, so consider directing some portion of what you save on avoided purchases back to your local library as a charitable gift.


If it doesn’t work to borrow items like seldom-used tools or appliances (think food dehydrator or, in our house, an iron), look for quality used items. This is an especially valuable strategy for kids’ clothing and equipment, saving money, resources and aggravation when items get damaged or go missing.


When looking at tips for lower-budget living, it’s hard to escape the obvious overlap with actions that reduce environmental impact. Skip the drive to the gym, opting for self-propelled exercise close to home, and you can breathe cleaner air while you work out. Downsize your house or car to cut expenses, and your carbon footprint shrinks. When you forfeit disposables and single-serve food items, you help save trees as well as dollars. Telecommute and you score a three-way gain, saving money, petroleum and time.

Our consumer-driven culture often portrays frugality as a miserly approach to life or a puritanical practice of self-deprivation. In fact, it allows us to live more fully and generously, directing hard-earned dollars toward what enhances life. Cutting back on mindless consumption helps free us from the earn-and-spend treadmill, buying more time to savor life.

Marina Schauffler, a freelance writer and editor, is online at

]]> 1, 04 Sep 2016 21:05:28 +0000
Orchard at Thompson’s Point will be a work of art Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The four small trees at Thompson’s Point in Portland are collectively known as the “Tree of 40 Fruit,” though they do not yet have 40 different varieties of fruit growing on them.

In recent weeks big, beautiful plums have drooped from their branches – plums with fanciful names like Ersinger Fruhzwetschge and Prune D’ Ente.

Sam Van Aken, the man behind this arboriculture-as-art project, couldn’t be more pleased.

“I’ve been impressed by how much they’ve grown,” said Van Aken, an associate professor in the School of Art at Syracuse University in New York. “It’s sort of crazy. I didn’t anticipate having them set so much fruit so early.”

Van Aken uses grafting to get 40 different fruits to grow on the same tree. It’s a common horticultural technique, but Van Aken uses it as a sculpting tool to transform a tree into, as he puts it, a piece of art, a research project and a form of conservation at once. As art, the 40 varieties on each tree bloom in a symphony of pink, white and crimson in the spring, then produce a multitude of fruits over the course of the summer. As research, they could provide some insight into pollination. And as a conservation project, they will help preserve native and heirloom varieties of fruit for future generations to enjoy.

Van Aken had already grafted 20 varieties of stone fruits onto the trees before he planted them at Thompson’s Point. Van Aken visits the little orchard twice a year to graft on more fruit, and will continue to do so through the third year of the project, he said, adding cherries next summer. Otherwise, others check on the trees for him, and Thompson occasionally sends Van Aken photographs so he can check for bugs or disease.

The fruiting is as orchestrated as the spring blossoms. Cherries come first in July, followed by apricots. The first of the Asian plums fruit at the end of July and European plums start showing up in August. Peaches arrive with the European plums, but last longer into the season.

Van Aken has planted individual trees around the country, but the Portland project is his first grove. The Thompson’s Point peninsula is slated to get more trees, as soon as the next renovation project – 35,000 square feet of event space – is completed, says developer Chris Thompson, “so as the project grows, the grove grows with it.”

Van Aken and Thompson were surprised when the trees produced “many dozens of pieces of fruit” last summer, Thompson said. Not enough to schedule a public tasting or use in any significant project, but enough for the creative folks at the Open Bench Project – a shared space for artists, makers and other creative types at Thompson’s Point – to bake hand pies. And Thompson did a little sampling himself.

“There’s this phenomenal plum that’s green on the outside and bright red on the inside,” he said. “It’s just absolutely amazing, really delicious. And the yellow plums are incredible. They’re really sweet.”

Van Aken identified the green-and-red plum as a satsuma.

Next year, Van Aken plans to graft more native Maine varietals of fruit onto the trees. He’ll graft a McLaughlin plum, an “excellent fresh eating plum” that originated in Bangor. He’s also working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find a “Downeaster peach” that used to grow in South Portland; Van Aken said he expects to find that heirloom fruit through genetic material stored in the USDA archives.

To put together his list of varietals for the Thompson’s Point trees, Van Aken went through all of the Maine Agricultural College annual reports from the 19th century. “With plums,” he said, “there’s thousands that taste very, very differently, and they were bred for different purposes.”

“The Plums of New York,” published in 1911, has been another research guide. “It had all these varieties from Maine,” Van Aken said, “and the interesting part was that in that book it says that the state of Maine could produce enough plums for the entire country, that it had the climate and soil for it.”

Thompson hopes that, once all of the trees are producing lots of fruit, the brewery and distillery at Thompson’s Point can use it. Van Aken wants to hold public tastings, letting everybody taste a bit of history through the heirloom fruit.

Thompson recalls marveling at a 14th-century French plum he bit into: “You’re thinking to yourself, ‘I’m experiencing a taste that is centuries old right now and, but for efforts like this, could easily be lost.'”

]]> 3, 03 Sep 2016 19:08:08 +0000
Mainer Caitlin Shetterly takes on the topic of GMOs in new book, ‘Modified’ Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 About five and a half years ago, a Yarmouth allergist suggested to writer Caitlin Shetterly that her collection of chronic health concerns – rashes, digestive issues, a constant head cold and perhaps worst of all, inexplicable body aches and pain – might be symptoms of an allergic response to the proteins in genetically modified corn. That is, the proteins that make the corn both pest-resistant and able to survive glyphosate, the pesticide sprayed to kill weeds.

She was dubious but also fairly close to desperate. She’d spent three and a half years sick and searching for solutions. Batteries of tests at Massachusetts General Hospital had yielded no answers. Her toddler had similar health problems, so she went cold turkey. No more corn for her entire family.

Cutting corn from an American diet is even trickier than trying to separate teenagers from smartphones. Corn is everywhere, and most corn grown in America (90 percent) is from genetically modified seeds. As Shetterly puts it in her new book, “Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future,” it was her “Waldo, popping up everywhere” as an ingredient, even when it wasn’t clearly labeled as such (like, say, dextrose, a sweetener derived from corn).

To avoid corn, she and her husband, Dan, became hard-core farmers market shoppers and dedicated supporters of CSAs. They baked their own bread, canned their own food, ate a diet that was 100 percent organic and 85 percent locally sourced.

Shetterly felt better. Her son felt better. She could hardly believe her luck.

Yet here she is, on a hot morning in late August, standing in a cornfield at a Brunswick farm not far from the town where she lives. Corn has been the seeming bane of her existence. The only corn she has knowingly consumed in years is that grown by farmer friends up the coast, who swear their fields are 60 miles from any GMO corn fields, too isolated to be tainted by the genetically modified corn seed sold by Big Ag giant Monsanto. But Shetterly was not only game for being interviewed in this location, she suggested it.

It’s logical though, because her relationship with corn is neither black nor white. She believes, but can’t be dead certain based on the available science, that she was and is allergic to the GMO corn. When Shetterly waded, journalistically speaking, into the highly controversial topic of genetically modified foods, she found it full of gray areas, reflective of “the squishy gray nuance of me.” Whether she was riding a tractor in Nebraska with a young farmer who swore by the GMO corn he grew or visiting the founders of the anti-GMO group Food Democracy Now!, there were no easy, obvious villains or heroes.

“Look at those beautiful tassels,” Shetterly says as she gazes skyward. Her toenails are painted yellow, the very yellow of a kernel of good corn.


“Modified” won’t be released until Sept. 20, but it’s already garnered glowing blurbs from fellow Maine writers, including Kate Christensen, Lily King and Michael Paterniti, as well as bestselling Vermont writer Bill McKibben. Both Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly gave it starred reviews, and it’s on Publisher’s Weekly’s most anticipated fall books list.

Five and a half years ago, it started simply as notes to herself. She’d filled a journal labeled “Sic(k)” (writer humor) with her thoughts and questions about her illness. At the time she wasn’t looking for a new book topic. Her memoir, “Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home,” had just come out, and she was digging into writing a “domestic” novel she was excited about. But the diagnosis she’d received from Dr. Paris Mansmann, and her resulting food “cure” was an intriguing story, and she kept going, trying to learn more. She writes in “Modified” that she had known somewhere in “the crunchy granola part of my brain that ‘GMO’ was a term to regard suspiciously,” but she didn’t know exactly why. That’s common for those who distrust GMOs; marrying the genes of a salmon and a tomato seems too weird to be safe.

Her research led to a first-person story in Elle Magazine, published in August of 2013, which ignited a controversy. Shetterly found herself instantly under attack. One of her most vocal critics was Jon Entine, a self-described contrarian and a senior fellow at the World Food Center Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy at the University of California-Davis. He questioned both her premise and her integrity in a piece for Slate, even quoting one of her sources calling the article “ridiculous.” A week later Entine was back, writing this time on that the Elle story had been “shoddy and misleading” and accusing her of setting out to “evangelize her experience of salvation.”

But with the controversy came attention from the publishing industry. Shetterly’s experience might have represented the extreme of questions being asked about genetically engineered seeds and Monsanto, the chemical company that invented glyphosate and made most of the important breakthroughs in GMOS, but it also represented anxieties and suspicions of people nearly everywhere. Keep in mind that since the spring of 2013, anti-GMO activists have held regular March Against Monsanto rallies all around the world.

It was a “completely surreal” time, Shetterly said. “I was thinking, I don’t even want to do this.”

But also that she had to.

“I started to peer into this closet, really wanting to work on my novel, and I was like, oh (expletive) this is like a story that has got all sorts of different angles and meandering paths and lies,” she said. “On both sides.” The temptation to slam the closet door shut was high. But the desire to throw it open was greater.


She interviewed editors and/or marketing teams with eight publishers. Most wanted to push her toward writing “the most inflammatory thing, the thing that was going to make the biggest headlines. They didn’t want a discovery. They wanted a smoking gun.”

But Shetterly couldn’t promise that. Maybe, she thought, the diagnosis of an allergic response to GMO corn was wrong, and she’d pulled through her illness while eating a very healthy diet. She warned the editors she had to be open to all possibilities.

“I may discover that GMOs are fine or I may discover that there is something else about GMOs that I don’t like that has nothing to do with me personally,” she said.

Caitlin Shetterly contemplates corn in a Freeport cornfield. Derek Davis/staff Photographer

Caitlin Shetterly contemplates corn in a Freeport cornfield. Derek Davis/staff Photographer

Kerri Kolen, executive editor at G.P. Putnam, was fine with ambiguity. “She said, ‘This is why I want this: I want you to be open. I want you to look at both sides.’ ” Kolen didn’t require a neat bow on the story – a good thing, since Shetterly didn’t put one there.

“Off the bat, I fell in love with Caitlin’s writing and was drawn to the fact that she was able to take a topic like this that is so very complex and write about it with easy and beautiful prose,” Kolen wrote in an email. “Readers and consumers of food desperately need more unfiltered and practical information about this topic and I do think that ultimately, that becomes our collective agenda in writing and publishing this book – to not only provide a framework for the basic and underlying information but to underscore the need for transparency when it comes to gathering that information.”

In the end, “Modified” does end with uncertainty, scientifically. Shetterly lists off the reasons for her suspicions of GMOs, including the lack of independent studies and animal testing that is available to the public and then writes “…I feel confident that most GMOs are probably dangerous.” Of her own health, she said, “I have come to believe that it is likely GMOs do disrupt our immune systems…” Note the “probably” and “believe” and “likely” – these aren’t certainties.

And they can’t be. The science isn’t there. It’s about hunches. In the book, Shetterly interviews a scientist named Simon Hogan who ran a study on genetically modified peas that showed the peas triggering immune responses in mice. She describes Hogan’s “as still the only sound study out there I know of that indicates a possible danger with GMOs.” But even Hogan is dealing in uncertainties. He tells her he believes “that evidence is probably there,” but it hasn’t been found yet.


Shetterly has brought a breakfast picnic to the interview. This is not a complete ploy to ingratiate herself with a journalist (although her wild blueberry hand pie is seductive). It’s practical; she can’t eat out easily because of her dietary restrictions. Although she doesn’t know for sure that an allergy to GMO corn caused her problems, she also doesn’t know that it didn’t. So she’s full steam ahead with the diet. But the picnic is a handy means of answering the questions about what she can and does eat. There’s olive oil on a green pepper from her own garden, Maine sea salt, that hand pie, some tomatoes, local cheese, gluten-free crackers and a thermos of tea.

Not long after setting the picnic out, Shetterly spots the farmer who owns the field. He’s pulling out of his driveway and she walks over to greet him. They talk for a few minutes and she comes back, laughing. She says she’d told him that she’s going to bring him a copy of “Modified,” and he asked if he’d still like her after he read it. They talked Trump and Clinton and yet managed to shake hands.

In the pages of “Modified,” you’ll see Shetterly having these kinds of interactions with people of widely varied viewpoints. She visits one beekeeper in Munich and another in Portland. She harvests potatoes with Jim Gerritsen, Maine’s most famous opponent of GMOs, in Aroostook County. Then there’s Zach Hunnicutt, a young farmer in Nebraska. He grew GMO corn and popcorn and had taken to Twitter to help correct the modern-day vision of what a farmer is, specifically what a GMO farmer is; Shetterly goes to see him on the farm. She then takes a detour to interview Richard Goodman, a former Monsanto scientist whom she quoted in her Elle piece. (Goodman condemned it as “just ridiculous” to Entine.) This week, Goodman said by email that he plans on reading “Modified” and continued talking to her after the Elle piece because “I try to talk to anyone who will listen and seems interested.”

She’s by no means fearless – she shares her anxieties about exposing herself to Karen Silkwood-style harm throughout the book – but these potentially awkward encounters were essential to her mission to be fair and balanced.

About that. Did she hear the voices of critics in her head? Were they perhaps even helpful in some way?

“Here is the good and bad thing about me,” Shetterly said. “I am terrible on social media. I’m not at all interested, and I just don’t have time. I mean here I am, raising two children (her younger son was born just as she was sending in her first draft of “Modified”), making most of our food from scratch. We have an old money pit of a house …” Friends and family protected her from the worst of it.

“I knew those voices were there, but you know what?” she said. “All it made me do was work harder to tell the truth, to be open, to be honest and to look at the nuance, to look at the gray area. And to be fair, to someone like Zach? If I was going to go into this, hell bent on my position, Zach and I wouldn’t have even liked each other. I had to know that there were people out there that would dismantle every damn thing I said.”

Her most vocal and vociferous critic, Jon Entine, declined to be interviewed for this article. Writing in an email he said, “I feel for her but she’s misguided,” but that he did not want to be part of publicizing “distortions about science.”


Coming under critical fire also made Shetterly an obsessive fact checker. She said six months were devoted to the process, and she hired an independent contractor to help in addition to Putnam’s staff. “We’ve been making changes all summer,” she said. “We even went to a fourth pass.” (Typically an author gets a first pass on an early, bound version of her already edited manuscript. After changes are made in it, “the first pass,” then you’re done.)

But the last-minute changes weren’t just about checking her work. The GMO landscape is changing constantly. For instance, a GMO labeling law passed in July, negating Maine’s 2014 law about labeling foods that contained genetically modified ingredients. (Maine’s law never went into effect because it depended on other states passing similar laws.) That piece of news, which has done nothing to settle the GMO debate because many food activists found the new law too protective of manufacturers, did not make it into the book. Shetterly was still worrying about a tidbit about GMO presence in Africa during the picnic lunch, even though the finished book was already being boxed up and sent out.

GMOs are a hard topic to cover. Emotions run high on both sides of the argument, and the science needs to be explained over and over, yet it remains hard for many to grasp. (Like, they really use a gun to shoot DNA into plant material? Yes.) It’s both controversial and dry. As a counterpoint, Shetterly deliberately kept her tone light, and self-deprecating in places, and included drawings she’d made of yes, that gun, as well as woodcuts by her husband, Dan. There’s even a sketch of a corn borer, the pest that set the GMO wheels turning in many ways, on the back pages, done by her older son, now 7. It’s charming. Much of the book is charming. But Shetterly hopes it’s also ruthless.

Two of the scientists she meets in the book have done controversial research, one a scientist from the University of California Berkeley named Ignacio Chapela, who published a paper connecting GMO corn from the United States with the contamination of Mexican landrace corn. Shetterly says she held Chapela’s feet particularly close to the fire.

“I had to check him backwards and forwards,” she said. “People have said they were surprised (reading this) that I was as ruthless with the anti-GMO people as I was. But, she continued, “I refuse to be an activist who is just whitewashing this version of this story just to fit my own particular version of dogma.”

Is she an activist?

“I don’t think I am an activist. People are going to say I am.” She paused. It doesn’t, she insists, really matter. Nor will the criticism she’s expecting.

“With my last book, I was so emotionally rocked by a positive or a negative thing,” she said. “I wanted to know what everybody thought of it. But it’s so weird, here I throw myself into this national debate that’s huge, and bizarrely, I have like, no skin in the game. I almost feel so Zen about this.”

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Farm leftovers to be used to feed 5,000 in Portland Tue, 30 Aug 2016 21:00:00 +0000 On Oct. 7, a coalition of groups concerned about hunger will feed stew made from left-behind produce to thousands in Portland.

At harvest time, farmers and food lovers celebrate the season’s bounty coming out of the fields. But often, too much of that bounty is left behind in the field, wasting food that could feed the hungry.

Now a large coalition of Maine groups concerned about hunger is bringing attention to the issue by organizing volunteers in southern Maine to glean produce from local farms. Their efforts are intended to ensure that fresh produce can get into the bellies of the people who need it instead of rotting in the field.

Produce is often left in farmers’ fields because mechanical harvesters cannot pick up all fruits and vegetables; also, pick-your-own farms may have leftover fruits because customers don’t pick trees and bushes thoroughly.

On Oct. 7, the coalition of groups plans to serve thousands of bowls of free hearty stew to the general public in an event called Feeding the 5,000. Some 2,500 bowls will be dished up in Monument Square in Portland, with the remainder going to schools, local companies and hunger prevention programs that serve people who rely on donated food for their meals.

The event, the first of its kind in Maine, is part of a global campaign spearheaded by Feedback, an organization based in London that has held similar events in more than 40 cities around the world.

In the last year, the issue of food waste has received much attention both nationally and internationally. In the United States, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has proposed a bill intended to eliminate food waste in part by changing sell-by labeling laws.

“We’re the smallest city to do this by far, so getting 5,000 people to eat our food is going to be a lot more challenging,” said Sarah Lakeman, the Sustainable Maine project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The event is intended both to educate the public about food waste and to create an organizational structure for future gleaning efforts. The meal won’t use any food destined for local food pantries and soup kitchens.

Local organizers of the project include the Cumberland County Food Security Council, Healthy Acadia, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Garbage to Garden, which has been recruiting volunteers for a Food Recovery Crew that is part of the Maine Gleaning Network. Other participants include the Portland Food Co-op, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the city of Portland and Maine Farmland Trust.

In addition to feeding people in Monument Square, Lakeman has been speaking with schools and companies such as L.L. Bean, Unum and Idexx about taking a pot of stew to serve their students and employees. Any leftover stew will go to Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, which feeds the hungry.

Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth is among the local farms that has agreed to let volunteer gleaners pick their fields. Most farmers simply turn unharvested produce (which, if imperfect, supermarkets frequently reject) back into the soil, “but I think their preference as well as ours is that it get eaten,” said Jim Hanna, executive director of the Cumberland County Food Security Council.

“There is no coordinated gleaning effort in southern Maine at this time,” Hanna said. “Right now most efforts are through the Cooperative Extension, and they don’t have the volunteers they can mobilize at the spur of the moment.”

After the produce is gathered and two days before Feeding the 5,000, more volunteers will peel and chop produce for the stew at a “disco chop party” at the new Fork Food Lab in West Bayside. There, speakers and guest chefs will talk about the issue of food waste and do cooking demonstrations.

Among those who have signed up to help are David Levi of Vinland and Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honeypaw. Others! coffee shop in Monument Square has offered to make a sorbet out of melons or other fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste.

To learn more about the event, or to volunteer, keep an eye on the Feedback website,

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Mussel population loses strength in Gulf of Maine Sun, 28 Aug 2016 23:35:31 +0000 New England is running out of mussels.

The Gulf of Maine’s once strong population of wild blue mussels is disappearing, scientists say. A study led by marine ecologists at the University of California at Irvine found the numbers along the gulf coastline have declined by more than 60 percent over the last 40 years.

Once covering as much as two-thirds of the gulf’s intertidal zone, mussels now cover less than 15 percent.

“It would be like losing a forest,” said biologist Cascade Sorte, who with her colleagues at the university conducted the study and recently published their findings in the Global Change Biology journal.

The Gulf of Maine stretches from Cape Cod to Canada and is a key marine environment and important to commercial fishing. Blue mussels are used in seafood dishes and worth millions to the economy of some New England states, but are also important in moving bacteria and toxins out of the water.

“It’s so disheartening to see (the loss) in our marine habitats. We’re losing the habitats they create,” Sorte said.

Disheartening, and also sometimes a smelly nuisance. Thousands of dead mussels washed up last week on the shores of Long Island, New York, and a Stony Brook University professor said the die-off could be attributable to warm water temperature.

The Sorte study focused on 20 sites along the gulf, using historical data to compare today’s mussel populations to those of the past. She said the decline of mussels isn’t from just one factor – warming ocean water, increases in human harvesting and the introduction of new predatory invasive species all appear to play a role.

The marine environment will suffer, she said, if they continue to decline, and it’s possible they could become extinct in some areas.

Scott Morello, a researcher who has studied mussels with The Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research & Education in Maine, said Sorte’s work reflects observations that people who work on the water have made in recent years.

“It’s not just scientists,” he said. “I can tell you that most residents I’ve talked to, most fishermen I’ve talked to, will point out the same dramatic decrease in mussels.”

The nationwide value of wild blue mussels has reached new heights in recent years, peaking at more than $13 million at the dock in 2013 – more than twice the 2007 total.

They were worth more than $10 million in 2014, when fishermen brought nearly 4 million pounds of them ashore.

Maine and Massachusetts are by far the biggest states for wild mussel harvesting, and many are also harvested in Washington state. They are also farmed in aquaculture operations. The vast majority of the mussels that people eat are farmed, and most that are available to U.S. consumers are imported from other countries, such as Canada.

Mussel farming is dependent on wild mussels, which produce the larvae needed for the farmed shellfish to grow.

Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, said the loss of wild mussels is troubling for aquaculture because if wild populations decline further, it could constrain the growth of the industry.

Pershing also said Sorte’s study shows there is a need to get better data about the abundance of mussels and how they are affected by warming waters and commercial harvesting.

“If we had a record of how mussels changed from year to year, it would be possible to see whether declines were more pronounced during particularly warm years or are related to some other event or process,” he said.

]]> 3, 30 Aug 2016 12:53:28 +0000
Grow: Rose of Sharon goes from ungainly to gorgeous Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Rose of Sharon is an odd sort of plant that can be tricky to grow. Why bother then? Because for a few weeks each year it can be absolutely stunning.

The botanical name for this woody plant – either a small tree or a large shrub, depending on how you prune it – is Hibiscus syriaca. Not to be confused with the hibiscus perennial (common name mallow), or the tropical hibiscus, which is gorgeous in its own right.

Most of the year, rose of Sharon looks twiggy and ungainly. It may die back in extreme winters and heavy snows can bend or even break it.

But in mid- to late August, the hibiscus produces a profusion of large blossoms that brighten up an otherwise dull time in the garden. The most common color for rose of Sharon is in the lavender range, but they come in many other colors, including white, peach, pink, near red and almost blue. For that brief and glorious spurt of color, they are worth all of the problems.

You can plant them from now until October. They want full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

Pick a location with lots of space because Hibiscus syriaca can be quite wide and you don’t want to lose your blooms by pruning to keep the shrub small.

Dig a hole as deep as the root ball is tall and at least twice as wide. Add a little compost if the soil is poor, but don’t fertilize.

Water heavily when planting and at least every other day until the ground freezes. And get ready for a vibrant show in August when most other trees and shrubs are green or brown.

]]> 3, 27 Aug 2016 22:44:23 +0000
Abbie Sewall cultivates a passion for elderberry on her Freeport farm Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Mainers who love history or photography or both may already know who Abbie Sewall is. The fine arts photographer is the author of “Message Through Time: The Photographs of Emma D. Sewall 1836-1919,” a book of and about her great-great-grandmother’s work, and “The Voice of Maine,” a book of photographs and essays on Maine characters co-authored with Bill Pohl.

But after she retired from a job teaching photography at North Yarmouth Academy, she jumped into a new career in agriculture, starting Bailey Farm, a certified organic elderberry and Aronia farm in Freeport. We called her up to talk colds, antioxidants and reinvention.

HARVEST MOON: We caught Sewall just as her harvest was kicking into high gear. “Last night I harvested about 13 pounds.” And she’s just getting started. “It’s typically mid-August through all of September,” she said. And onward. “By October I am usually tearing my hair out.” Her 285 elderberry bushes are indeterminate, which means they continuously bloom and produce fruit.

SEXY BERRIES: At this point in the conversation, we profess our utter ignorance of the topic at hand, which Sewall assures us is perfectly normal. “You are not alone! There are so many people in American who don’t know what elderberries are and what they do.” We’re all used to what Sewall calls the “sexy berries,” i.e. blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

While consumers have largely learned that blueberries in particular are filled with antioxidants, those natural chemicals that benefit health, elderberries, which Sewall said pack an even higher antioxidant punch, don’t get the publicity they deserve. That’s partly because they aren’t nearly as easy to consume. “You have to work to get them into your body.” Like baking them into muffins or making a sauce, syrup or tincture. Elderberries are tiny, about the size of a wild blueberry, and are filled with crunchy seeds. Raw “they don’t taste all that great,” but toss them into a peach pie or any sort of muffin and it’s a different story.

ROYAL BERRIES: The same is true of Aronia, which Sewall grows in smaller numbers but says is easier to cultivate. “The berries are bigger and you can pull a clump of them off.” Their skin is leathery and – bonus – the birds don’t like them. But when she makes a shrub out of Aronia, it tastes to her just like elderberry. There’s no commercial market for it (yet). She tends to keep quiet about the Aronia she grows. “It’s a challenge because there is so much of a learning curve about elderberry. If I also add in Aronia it is just too much information.” In her book though, they’re both royalty. “I call Aronia the king of antioxidants and elderberry is the queen.”

GETTING HERE FROM THERE: How did Sewall get into growing obscure berries? About 15 years ago, when she was teaching at North Yarmouth Academy and exposing herself to every winter cold and flu her students had, she started trying various holistic methods to boost her immune system, starting with mushroom compounds made into pill form. Even with sniffling students in the closed space of the darkroom, she suddenly felt protected. “I thought I had armor around my body,” she said, laughing.

Her husband traveled for work, but she started sending him off with tinctures. (Turmeric is a favorite, along with elderberry.) Their daughter, who struggled with sinus infections, stopped getting them. Everyone in the family felt better.

SPREADING THE WORD: “The idea of living an intentional life as opposed to just reacting to life hit home for me at age 48,” she said. “I realized that I was about to turn 50 and didn’t have a clue about how to live.”

Sewall’s interest continuted to grow as she took a year-long health coaching and nutrition course at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. And so did her desire to share what she was learning. “At a certain point in your life you have to decide how you are going to live your values.”

Her perspective became, let’s take back our health. “Let’s only go to the doctor if we have a broken arm or cancer.” She was, she said, either going to become a health coach or be a farmer. “They are all under the same umbrella.”

FINDING THE FARM: She got serious about becoming a farmer around 2007, when she and her husband found a three-acre, south-facing field in Freeport. “I couldn’t believe that such a thing would exist that wasn’t part of a development.” She only uses about a quarter of an acre for the berries. “You don’t need a lot of land to grow your food and your medicine.” She’s got a grape arbor too, partly because she wanted grapes, but partly as a sacrificial plant for the Japanese beetles to feast on.

GROWING BUSINESS: Her first harvest, four years ago, was a lone pound. “The second year was 400 pounds, and the third year 703 pounds. This year I am estimating between 800 and 1,000.” Although she makes tinctures for herself and her family, she has yet to make a value-added product to sell. “If I were in my 20s or 30s, I would probably be making a shrub.” But as is, she said, “it’s all I can do to farm. I am a single-person farm here!”

Her elderberries go to a few private buyers, including beer makers and Urban Farm Fermentory, where elderberries are used for kombucha, but you won’t find Sewall selling berries at farmers markets. “Occasionally I get a customer who comes in and wants to buy a small quantity to make a shrub or a tincture and I’ll weigh them out.”

WHAT NEXT? “I realized at age 64 that I am a project person,” Sewall said. “I get fired up by taking on a challenge.” She’s got at least one book idea, related to elderberries, and in the future she plans to get back to her first art, photography, which has evolved so much in her lifetime.

“I’m so old that I started in black and white film and spent half my life in a darkroom.” She loved the magic of the darkroom, but she’s happily adapted to digital photography, particularly in the ways in which it is more sustainable. “I am thrilled that we no longer have to use chemicals and water.”

MISSION STATEMENT: Sewall’s mission is this: “The most important political act I can make is to grow my own food and plants for medicine and try not to be preachy but to share my experience of taking back my health.” And like another Maine lady with a penchant for planting – albeit lupines – she thinks in terms of a gift to the world. “Like Miss Rumphius,” she said. “I think, what is my last gift to the world? If I had to put my life into one word, it is healing.”

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Savor corn three ways – on cob, in soup and in water-saving Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Editor’s Note: Christine Burns Rudalevige will return with next week’s Green Plate Special.

One blueberry muffin or panzanella or quiche recipe is pretty much like another. But occasionally, you stumble on a recipe so clever, it rises above the cacophony that constitutes today’s frenzied food world. The website Food52 has a term for those: genius recipes.

Earlier this summer, I was thumbing through “Mr. Todiwala’s Spice Box: 120 Recipes from Just Ten Spices,” a new Indian-Western fusion cookbook that arrived in the mail, when my eye was caught by his recipe for Spiced Corn on the Cob. It wasn’t merely the surprising idea to cook the cobs in a spiced milky broth – though that in itself struck me as unusual and smart. It was writer Cyrus Todiwala’s further suggestion that home cooks then use the spiced (and now corn-inflected) broth to make soup.

Genius! A friend of mine more modestly praises such thinking as Depression Era cooking, the waste-not-want-not mentality. Or you could label it The New Sustainable Cooking.

I set Todiwala’s recipe aside and waited patiently for corn to arrive at the farmers market. Now it has, so last week I got to work in the kitchen. Not much work, truthfully, as both parts of this recipe are fast and easy.

I served some of the spiced, broiled corn on the cob to an unexpected lunch guest. I shaved the kernels off the two remaining cobs to add back to the soup, which I enjoyed for lunch all week.

The original version purees the soup and garnishes it with croutons. I took Todiwala’s concept but adapted his recipe, turning my version into a sort of Indian-spiced corn chowder, using the corn kernels I’d held back, green beans, carrots and potatoes.

Both the spiced corn and the soup were fragrant and tasty.

The corn-on-the-cob cooking water did not go down the drain as usual at a time when southern Maine is experiencing a drought, and I am feeling especially conscious of water waste. The cook – me, this is – felt both well-fed and virtuous.

]]> 0, 26 Aug 2016 09:05:33 +0000
More uses found for Mason jars Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Throw a stick just about anywhere these days, and you’re liable to hit a Mason jar.

Hipsters drink from them. Restaurants set tables with them. And, of course, gardeners use them to preserve the season’s harvest. Amanda Walton turns them into wall-hanging vases.

Walton, who lives in Standish, gathers wooden pallets tossed away by businesses and uses the wood to create a mount or shelf for the jars. She strips the wood, paints it with non-toxic paint and distresses it in her home woodworking shop near Sebago Lake. Then she adds the glass mason jars.

1030001_292109 Mason2.jpgSome of the jars are clear glass, others are painted with chalk paint in colors such as ocean blue, coral peach, white and yellow. (The painted jars are not dishwasher safe.)

Walton said the people who buy her jars use them for flower bouquets, as planters for herbs and other plants, as toothbrush holders and art organizers.

She also makes beautiful shelves that can be used to display the mason jars, hold wine bottles or bottles of olive oil.

Walton’s business is called Revamped and Revived. She sells the hanging jars and her other handmade products only through her shop.

The jars vary in price, starting at $18 and going up to $48 for a set of three.

Walton will exhibit a range of her work in October at a contemporary folk art show at the WREN Gallery in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. WREN stands for Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network.

]]> 1, 26 Aug 2016 09:05:40 +0000
Fedco bulbs grown locally benefit Maine farmers and buyers Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When I peruse the various Fedco catalogs – for seeds, trees and bulbs – one of the first things I look for is the number of producers from Maine. It is part of my slow-but-steady shift toward buying local.

I’m making that shift both to help the state’s farmers and also because I know that if Maine seeds and bulbs are available for sale, obviously those plants have already flourished in Maine, at least once.

My expectations vary by product. In the Moose Tubers section of the catalog – devoted to potatoes – I expect almost all the offerings to be from Maine. But for such exotic plants as peonies and daffodils, I am surprised that there are any Maine producers at all.

Typically, when you buy tulip and daffodil bulbs, they are coming from a long way away – often the Netherlands. In Washington state, Skagit Valley has a growing industry producing flower bulbs. (Several years ago, my wife Nancy and I attended the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, where we saw acres of muddy fields – it was raining hard – filled with gorgeous blossoms.) A lot of seed production comes from the Midwest, too, and from major agriculture states like Florida and California, where the warm weather helps.

The Clinton-based Fedco Bulbs catalog – with a fast-approaching deadline for ordering this coming Friday – features a surprising number of Maine growers.

“We like buying from as many Maine growers as we can,” said Kip Penney, Fedco’s bulb division coordinator. The seed cooperative operates out of Clinton. “We are always trying to increase the farming population in Maine.”

Growing seeds for catalog producers is a small but significant source of income for some Maine farmers. The number of Maine growers in Fedco’s catalog varies from year to year, Penney said. “That’s the nature of the small-volume grower in Maine,” he said. “For many, they like it for a while, and then they don’t. And then they discover that they can’t do it for a reasonable price.”

For Allen Reynolds of Green Garden Farm in St. Albans, located about 40 miles west of Bangor, selling wholesale to Fedco works out well – mostly because trucking one big order to a single customer is convenient for him. He has sold a variety of bulbs to the seed catalog since 2009, when he attended a program on the subject at the Common Ground Fair.

“That’s where I met Kip (Penney), and he just happened to have 60 pounds of German Extra-Hardy garlic seed,” Reynolds recalls. “It was already late in the season, so I bought it, and that’s where it started from.”

With more than two tons sold a year, garlic is the biggest seller in the Fedco bulbs catalog, although this year’s drought may limit production, Penney said. Garlic sales have been growing steadily, up from about 1,500 pounds a decade ago.

The beauty of garlic is that it is fairly easy to grow. Reynolds plants his in late October or early November and harvests it in late July. He sells most of what he grows to Fedco, and attributes about 90 percent of Green Garden Farm’s income to garlic.

In the remaining 10 percent is a more unusual bulb, colchicum, also called fall crocus. Reynolds got a head start in colchicum production by buying all the stock from a colchicum grower who was going out of business.

“It comes up in spring with a beautiful bright green foliage, very vivid,” Reynolds said. “In mid-summer the leaves die back so you can’t even see them, but in the fall all these flowers burst out of the ground and put on a huge show.”

It takes about seven years for colchicum bulbs to grow enough to be divided for sale. While home growers won’t have to dig and divide them that often, Reynolds divides the ones he plans to sell every two or three years so they won’t get crowded.

Green Garden Farm also grows an acre of peonies that it sells to consumers as cut flowers, and it has a few varieties that it sells to Fedco as root stock; Fedco, in turn, sells the root stock to consumers to plant in the fall.

Reynolds has recently started selling a variety of double daffodil that does well in Maine to Fedco.

The bulbs do not have to be inspected or certified before they can be sold to Fedco, Reynolds said. But the fact that Green Garden Farm is certified organic does help sales, he said.

Although he makes money from the farm, Reynolds said he earns significant off-farm income working as a landscaper with a specialty in stonework, mostly in Connecticut.

“Growing bulbs is my retirement income,” he said. “I’ll probably be going out in my wheelchair and pulling garlic.”

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

]]> 0, 29 Aug 2016 08:29:47 +0000
A fig tree grows in Maine Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 SCARBOROUGH — Ten years ago, Don Endrizzi planted a fig tree outside his home, which sits a long stone’s throw from Maine’s largest salt marsh. Beach plum, cord grass, quack grass, foxtail barley, chaffy sedge, glasswort, poison ivy and cattails – also mosquitoes – call the marsh home. Fig trees do not.

Home is the Mediterranean, where the fruits of the fig grow large and plump and voluptuous. Scarborough, it hardly needs saying, is a long way from the Mediterranean. Figs are thought to have arrived in America with Spanish missionaries in the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson brought cuttings of the Marseilles fig to Monticello.

Over the centuries, fig trees happily took to hot places with sluggish, lingering summers. Places like Texas and South Carolina. Scarborough is not especially hot and the summers march along briskly. Tragically so.

None of this entered Endrizzi’s gardening calculations when he got a fig cutting from his then-85-year-old father a decade ago.

Endrizzi, 59, is a first-generation Italian-American who grew up in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Like many Italian and Greek immigrants who settled in Brooklyn and Queens, his maternal grandfather planted fig trees, tenderly swaddling them in burlap and protective buckets each winter because New York City, like Scarborough, is many miles north of the tree’s natural habitat.

Just five houses away, his paternal grandfather did the same. Years later, his father inherited one of the houses – and with it, the fig trees.

Endrizzi had fond recollections of his 1960s fig-filled Brooklyn boyhood, and they fueled his – some might say quixotic – attempts to grow his own tree in Maine.

“We looked forward to the figs every year. Once the figs were ripe, we were so excited about it,” he said. “There was nothing like going down to the garden and walking to the tree and finding some ripe figs and just picking them and eating them. And that’s what we did.”

Endrizzi and his wife, Peggy Pennoyer, already grew more typical Maine produce in their Scarborough garden. They had a raspberry patch, an asparagus bed and high- and lowbush blueberries. But although Endrizzi can comfortably toss off and competently define terms like “apical meristem,” for him the quest to grow figs wasn’t really about gardening. It was about family.

“My father had a tree and his father had a tree, and I just wanted to keep that tradition going,” said Endrizzi, himself a father of three.


Endrizzi’s paternal grandfather came to America from the Trentino region of the Tyrol in the 1920s, perhaps earlier. He worked for a time, earned money, returned home – where, Endrizzi adds wryly, he got his wife pregnant – then traveled back to the States to repeat the pattern. America beckoned for the obvious reason, for the reason immigrants have always been drawn here: because life in the old country was hard and life in the new held promise.

A 4-foot by 1-foot panoramic photograph hangs in the Endrizzis’ dining room. Hundreds of men, women and children dressed in their Sunday best stand facing the camera. In the bottom corner, the scene is identified in precise, even handwriting: “The general mass meeting of friends and members of the United Mine Workers of America, Osage, West Virginia, May 17, 1931.”

Pennoyer singles out a man near the back. He is smoking a pipe and neatly dressed in a fedora, jacket and tie. That’s Donato Endrizzi, then a carpenter and a mineworker.

By 1936, Donato Endrizzi had earned enough money to bring his family to America and settle here for good – his wife, his four daughters and his 15-year-old son, Santo Endrizzi. They moved to Bushwick, a place Don Endrizzi jokingly describes as the “Tyrolean ghetto.”

Around 1929, Don Endrizzi’s maternal grandfather, Pietro Facini, also arrived in America from the Tyrol, his wife and two children, including 5-year old Ida (named for the opera “Aida”), in tow.

He, too, moved to Bushwick and he, too, worked as a carpenter, helping to build one of New York City’s most iconic landmarks – either the Empire State Building or the Lincoln Tunnel. Don Endrizzi’s other grandfather helped build the other. “I can’t for the life of me remember which one did which,” Endrizzi said.

Santo Endrizzi learned English, though he never finished high school. He played the accordion at resorts in the Catskills. During World War II, he fought for his new homeland, the United States, against his old homeland, Italy. At some point, Santo Endrizzi and Ida Facini fell in love and in 1954, they married. They had three daughters and one son, and they named the boy Don Peter Endrizzi, after both of his grandfathers.

When Don Endrizzi was in high school, his father returned to high school, too. GED in hand, Santo Endrizzi gave up the saloon he part-owned and secured a job with the New York City Transit Authority. He retired from the agency 28 years later.

Now 95, Santo Endrizzi still grows figs, and he still plays the accordion as a member – the oldest member – of the Long Island Accordion Alliance. His son, Don, too has played the accordion since boyhood, and he hoped to add figs to his life CV.

The fig doesn’t fall far from the tree.


Don Endrizzi chose a protected spot between the garage and the house for his fig tree. It had nice southern exposure, so lots of sunshine, and he thought the high retaining wall of sun-absorbing concrete at the tree’s back would shield it from the worst of Maine’s snowy, frigid winters. Even on cold days, the wall feels warm to the touch. In this micro-climate perhaps his little fig sprig would survive and thrive.

Each year for the next six, Endrizzi conscientiously cared for his tree. He watered it during especially dry spells. He fertilized every growing season, and he topped it off with a little compost to encourage it to flourish.

Bugs never seem interested – maybe they couldn’t even recognize the southern interloper? But mostly, Endrizzi fretted about the cold.

So one year he wrapped the tree in burlap for the winter, like he’d learned to do as a boy in Brooklyn. Another year, he wrapped it in burlap, then added a layer of bubble wrap. His theory was that the sunshine would heat up the cells in the bubble wrap, which, combined with the burlap, would keep the tree comfortable.

When that failed, he tried enclosing the fig tree in a Plexiglass greenhouse he rigged up himself.

“I don’t know how well thought-out these attempts were,” he admitted.

Each winter but one it was the same story: The tree died back to the ground and the next summer would expend so much energy putting out new leaves and branches, it had none left over to set fruit.

One especially mild winter, the tree survived, and the following summer it grew “at least 7 or 8 feet tall,” Endrizzi recalls.

As the tree grew sizable, Endrizzi grew hopeful. But did he get a fig crop that year? Did he get a fig crop any year?

“Never,” he said.


Endrizzi asked for and got a new cutting from his father.

The original fig tree remained in its protected spot near the garage, where each subsequent year it has continued to leaf but not fruit.

He planted the new cutting in a pot, and he overwintered it, wrapped, inside the shed. In the spring, it emerged scrawny and unsightly, with just a few brown leaves clinging to its trunk. Even the shed was too cold for the Mediterranean migrant.

So Endrizzi scaled back his ambitions. He moved the potted tree inside for good and decided to grow it as a decorative house plant – the leaves are pretty, after all – a living reminder of his roots in Brooklyn and Italy.

To disguise its homeliness that first year, Pennoyer draped it with a string of Christmas lights. “I protested against that,” Endrizzi said. Unsuccessfully. The lights still hang on the tree.

Soon, things began to turn around. The new cutting grew. Endrizzi had to move it to a bigger pot, and then a bigger one yet. Summers, the tree stayed in the living room, near the baby grand piano and a bank of windows. Winters he kept it in the kitchen for sun and for warmth.

“The angled light in the winter is just great here,” Pennoyer said, pointing to the spot. “It’s drenched in sun.”

A couple of years ago, Endrizzi was watering the tree and inspecting it as he does every day “to make sure it’s doing okay” when he noticed something lumpy underneath one of the branches – “these little bulbous shoots coming out. Little figs!!!” as he wrote in an email. Four figs to be exact.

He took photographs. He sent them to his three grown children. He sent them to his father. And that January, he harvested his first crop. Think about that: Fresh local figs. In Maine. In January.

Earlier this summer, the couple contributed a cheese platter with fresh figs to a potluck party in North Yarmouth. Their own, Maine-grown, hyper-local figs. Pennoyer jokingly introduced her husband to another guest as “my husband, the fig farmer.”

In actual fact, he is an orthopedic surgeon and she is an allergist and immunologist.


How is the fig tree pollinated if it lives inside? The question stumps Endrizzi. Pennoyer, who grew up in Portland and got her first taste of a fresh fig when she was dating Endrizzi, googles it. It turns out figs can self-pollinate.

Since they’re online anyway, they call up Google Earth and locate the Endrizzi and Facini homesteads in Bushwick, swooping in to peer at the backyards where Endrizzi played as a boy. Small as they were, his grandfathers’ gardens teemed with tomatoes, green beans and bell peppers. The yards are asphalt now, and the fig trees are gone.

Had Endrizzi’s grandfathers smuggled fig cuttings from Italy in the bundles they carried to America? Many Italians who settled in Brooklyn and Queens did just that, planting themselves and the cuttings in their adopted home and hoping to grow strong roots. Don Endrizzi can’t answer that question, either. But he knows who can.

Seconds later, he is on Facetime. “Hi Dad!” Endrizzi says, excited and jolly. “Are you busy? Got a minute? I have questions about the figs.”

Santo Endrizzi’s eyes are merry, his manner is lively and sociable, and his round cheeks look like he is hiding nuts in them. After 80 years in America, his accent remains thick and as warm as sun-ripened figs. For several minutes, father, son and daughter-in-law chat and laugh. Affection and love spill from the phone.

This habit of fig-growing and fig-eating, it turns out, dates back just three generations. The Tyrol region is in the Alps, Santo Endrizzi reminds his son. In Italy, the family lived 868 meters above sea level. Like Maine, it’s far too cold there for fig trees.

It was southern Italian immigrants in New York City who introduced the Endrizzis and the Facinis to the fruit. “I never had (figs) until I get to America,” Santo Endrizzi tells his son.

The families started a new tradition in a new country.


This year, his second as a successful fig farmer in Maine, Don Endrizzi has harvested a crop “just slightly into double digits,” he says, standing by his one productive and (it must be said) merely shrub-sized tree. “In fact, this one looks about ripe, so I’m going to pull it off. Feel it. It’s so soft. Yeah, we’ll eat that one today.”

“Look at this,” he says, proudly counting out the 10 figs ripening on just a single branch.

Back in the kitchen, he pulls out a small, well-used cutting board that once belonged to his paternal grandparents. He quarters the fig and shares it.

Fresh figs from Whole Foods or Hannaford, available in Maine seasonally, are neither this yielding nor this sweet. They can’t evoke boyhood or Brooklyn or the immigrant experience, either.

The youngest Endrizzi, Doug, who is 28, lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where he is studying for his doctorate in physics. Average temperature in winter? 20 degrees. Not fig country.

But Doug Endrizzi loves to grow things. As an undergraduate at Yale, he helped run the university’s farm. He is hunting for a house of his own now, and his mom says the houses he has looked at barely seem to have registered. What has excited him is the size and situation of the potential garden.

Doug Endrizzi’s “grandpa” gave him a fig cutting recently. Like his dad, he planted it in a pot. He keeps the tree outside in the summer and moves it inside when the temperature begins to fall. Earlier this month, he phoned his parents with some news.

“Dad,” he said, “I got figs on my tree!”


]]> 5, 27 Aug 2016 19:20:15 +0000
Gleaned beans feed the hungry Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Under an August sun, 13 volunteers crouched in a field pulling bean plants out by their roots.

The process is called gleaning – gathering any produce that remains in the field after the main harvest. The idea has its roots in the Old Testament, but has recently become popular as a way to combat food waste and feed the hungry.

In this case, the beans – flat, yellow and classic green – were bound for Maine food pantries.

Garbage to Garden, a curbside composting service, provided most of the volunteers. The beans were offered by Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth.

The work and distribution were organized by a coalition of groups – the Maine Gleaning Network, Maine Cooperative Extension, Healthy Acadia and the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program.

In two hours, the group gathered more than 250 pounds.

If you are interested in gleaning opportunities in Maine, contact Hannah Semler at

]]> 0, 27 Aug 2016 22:45:32 +0000
On trip to Greenland, Sen. King finds effect of climate change ‘amazing and scary’ Fri, 26 Aug 2016 02:09:00 +0000 Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King returned from a fact-finding trip to Greenland on Thursday determined to push for more icebreakers to clear emerging Arctic trade routes, some of which could be built in Maine.

The United States has only one working heavy icebreaker capable of clearing shipping lanes through Arctic waters as the ice sheet there melts, while Russia has at least a dozen, King said. Icebreaking abilities are essential in a warming world, he said.

Arctic trade could play a big role in the Maine economy, with Maine ports being the first ones reached by ships traveling east through the Northwest Passage, King said. So icebreaking is important to the state’s economic future, as well as America’s, he said.

U.S. and Danish defense and meteorological delegations survey an iceberg array off the western coast of Greenland. Maine's U.S. Sen. Angus King took part in the three-day fact-finding mission.

U.S. and Danish defense and meteorological delegations survey an iceberg array off the western coast of Greenland. Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King took part in the three-day fact-finding mission.

President Obama has set aside money for another heavy icebreaker to be built in the future, but by the time it is done, the existing ship will probably need to be retired, still leaving the United States with just one, King said.

King spent three days touring the massive, mostly icebound island, meeting with government officials to learn about impacts of warming Arctic waters. He visited Greenland’s largest glacier and surveyed the increasing number of icebergs.

“What’s happening there is amazing and scary,” King said of Jakobshavn Glacier. “The glacier has moved as much in the last 10 years as it has in 100 years before. That summarizes what has been happening as a result of climate change.”

When the Greenland ice sheet melts – and all science says that it is doing just that, it is just a question of how fast, King said – the sea levels across the globe will rise by 24 feet, King said. Scientists predict the sea will rise about a foot in the next 15 years or so, he said.

“A foot doesn’t sound like that much, but if you add a foot to high tide surge or a storm it really makes a difference,” King said, citing Portland’s Old Port, which was built on fill, as a prime example of a port in need of infrastructure improvements to cope with climate change.

Sen. Angus King, Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft and Danish defense and meteorological officials work Monday during a three day fact-finding mission to Greenland, examining the environmental and security implications of the warming Arctic climate.

Sen. Angus King, Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft and Danish defense and meteorological officials work Monday during a three day fact-finding mission to Greenland, examining the environmental and security implications of the warming Arctic climate.

Speaking at the Portland International Jetport after getting off a plane, King said he wasn’t certain exactly how much the trip cost. The Coast Guard was going anyway, he said, so the only cost to taxpayers was lodging for him and two staff members.

King was the only member of Congress to participate in the fact-finding mission. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was supposed to go, but had to cancel, King said. Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul F. Zukunft also attended.

King said he talked with Zukunft about a pending $10 billion contract for Coast Guard cutters, which is due to be awarded in the next month or two, but he didn’t learn anything new. Bath Iron Works is a finalist for the contract.


]]> 9, 26 Aug 2016 13:14:53 +0000
Q&A: New rules for beekeepers who use antibiotics Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:01 +0000 Why is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulating the use of antibiotics in honeybees?

The new rules are designed to fight antibiotic resistance to drugs that are used in both agriculture and human medicine. They target all food-producing animals, which includes honeybees as well as cows, poultry, pigs, sheep and goats.

What do the new regulations mean for Maine’s beekeepers?

Previously, beekeepers who discovered disease in their hives could purchase antibiotics over the counter, through their local farm store or bee supply shop. Now a veterinarian must diagnose the bees and then approve of all treatment with antibiotics.

What antibiotics do beekeepers use?

Oxytetracycline (Terramycin); lincomycin (Lincomix); and tylosin (Tylan).

Are there antibiotics in the honey I eat?

No. According to former Maine State Veterinarian Don Hoenig, antibiotics used on bees must be used several weeks before the honey flow starts in order to keep any residues out of the honey.

Can’t beekeepers just stock up on these drugs before the new rules take effect?

They could, but the antibiotics have expiration dates. They could also get in trouble with the FDA after the new rules kick in on Jan. 1.

If bees are treated with antibiotics, can their honey be labeled organic?

There are no USDA standards for organic honey.


]]> 0 Fri, 19 Aug 2016 13:19:07 +0000
Homegrown: Whimsy marks Maine bottle opener Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Tired of searching in that cluttered kitchen drawer for the lost bottle opener? Chris Davis has your back.

Davis’ quirky bottle openers mount on the cabin wall, the refrigerator, hubby’s man cave, or even a tree. Each one is decorated with humorous words and graphics, such as “Thirst Aid,” which comes with a Red Cross design, “Beer Season,” which includes a silhouette of a beer bottle with antlers growing out of it, or “Catch A Cold One,’ which has a drawing of a fish.

1020272_172049 Bottle opener 2.jpg“Chillin Like a Villain” – a bottle opener featuring Darth Vader downing a beer – is only a year old but has become wildly popular with Star Wars fans. It’s one of the company’s top three sellers, Davis said.

Three years ago, Davis was working as a graphic designer for a sign company when he noticed a lot of reclaimed wood being tossed aside. He doesn’t like waste, so he started using the wood to make a few small signs. One day he attached a bottle opener to one of the signs, and it wasn’t long before his part-time project became a new business called “Say It Don’t Spray It” (, based in Arundel. His products are now in more than 50 stores, including 18 in Maine, and are sold on Amazon and Etsy. Customers also custom order them for weddings and other events, Davis said, and breweries order openers that feature their logos.

Davis had to stop using reclaimed wood because hidden nails were constantly breaking his equipment. But he still uses eco-friendly pine wood grown and harvested in Maine. All the paints and finishes are water-based and nontoxic.

The wall-mounted openers cost $24.99. The refrigerator openers cost more ($30) because they have an extra magnet attached that captures the bottle caps before they hit the floor.


]]> 5, 19 Aug 2016 13:34:32 +0000
New map depicts Washington County Farmers’ Market Trail Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 We know of cheese trails, beer trails and wine trails, but this is the first we’ve heard of a farmers market trail. The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets has just published a handsome illustrated map of what it’s calling the Washington County Farmers’ Market Trail. Should you be so inclined, you could pick up duck eggs at the Lubec Market, a rutabaga at the Milbridge Farmers’ Market and fiddleheads at the Calais Farmers’ Market – though admittedly it’d be hard, probably impossible to hit all the markets in a single day.

On one side, a map pinpoints the location of several Down East farmers markets. On the other, six markets get a street map detail, a brief description, watercolor illustrations by Machias artist Nicole DeBarber and a list of possible free nearby activities. After you’ve finished your grocery shopping in Machias, for instance, you can watch eagles fish near a roaring waterfall; in Eastport, you can take a self-guided historical walking tour that covers 100 years of American architectural styles.

“For anyone who loves fresh, local food, and loves to explore Maine, these markets are perfect destinations to start or cap off a day trip Downeast,” touts a blurb on the map.

The maps, which are free, were funded by the Quimby Family Foundation and designed by cartographer Margot Carpenter of Belfast-based Hartdale Maps.

Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, said that in addition to letting tourists and daytrippers know about the markets, she also hoped to spur collaboration among Down East markets and to help the markets play larger roles within their communities.

“Those markets are further apart from one another than those in central and southern Maine,” she said. “It’s harder for them to network with one another. We want more people to remember the markets are there with fresh food that is relatively uncommon in Washington County, to get people to think of farmers markets as an important part of their community. Here’s a tool to help do that.”

Hallett says the Washington County Farmers’ Market Trail was a pilot project. Interest in doing a similar project elsewhere in Maine is high, and the federation is already discussing how to organize future maps – county by county? A coastal trail?

Meanwhile, 5,000 of the Washington County maps were printed and have been distributed at the markets themselves, visitors centers, libraries and chambers of commerce. Should you be heading Down East, you can also request a map at and find information about the Washington County Farmers’ Market Trail at


]]> 0, 19 Aug 2016 13:34:30 +0000
Hussein Muktar nurtures understanding between cultures Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It takes a lot brainstorming, negotiating and planning to start any new farming venture. But factor in that the farmers are from another land, speak English as a second language (and even then, haltingly) and their financial backers and guides include multiple agencies, and complexities intensify.

That’s the case at New Roots Cooperative Farm, just formed by four Somali-Bantu immigrants who will start planting on 30 acres of fallow dairy land in Lewiston next spring. They likely couldn’t have done it without Hussein Muktar, who has served as translator throughout the process.

We called Muktar, a farmer himself, to ask how he found himself being the voice of his community, the responsibility entailed in translating and his own journey from Somalia to Maine. And we asked what presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent inflammatory words directed at Maine’s immigrants meant to him.

OLD ROOTS: His parents farmed in Somalia, growing crops year-round, from eggplants and zucchini to mangoes and lemons. His job as a boy was to guard the crops. “I watched for the birds. And the monkeys.” The family was driven from their home by civil war that erupted in 1992.

“There was no control. People come to your house and kill you or beat you and take whatever you have,” he said. “You have no power.” The violence had no rhyme or reason. “Sometimes they might say, ‘Oh, one of your tribe killed somebody in our tribe.’ ” Eventually, as violence closed in, he and his family set out walking toward the potential refuge of Kenya. He can’t remember whether he was 6 or 8.

THE LONG WALK: On the second day of a month-long walk, the Muktar family was robbed of the food and water they’d brought with them. “Then you know, people started eating the leaves on the trees,” he said. “Digging the roots to suck the water from the roots.” Muktar and his parents were lucky; they found people willing to give them food and water along the way, and they stayed strong enough to make it across the border.

CAMP LIFE: They lived in two different camps in Kenya over the course of a decade – this is where Muktar learned to speak English – before being issued papers to come to America. In the beginning, they lived in Atlanta, and while they were grateful to be in America, this place felt all wrong for the family. Overwhelming, from taking public transit to finding jobs. “It was life in a big city.” Farming was out of the question.

NORTHWARD: Muktar struck out on his own for about 18 months, moving to Burlington, Vermont, where friends had settled. He learned to drive. His eyes were opened to the possibility of a more satisfying, rural life in America. When his family moved to Maine, his mother immediately began looking for farmland, he said, and soon he decided to join them.

In 2006, he began working part time as a translator for Coastal Enterprises as the Somali immigrant community settled into Lewiston and began farming programs at places like the Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon. That evolved into a job with Cultivating Community, which helps facilitate programs for these displaced farmers. “I wear multiple hats,” Muktar said.

MAMA MIA: One of the four co-owners of New Roots is Muktar’s mother. “She is strong and has a lot of ideas about how we can come together as a community instead of as individuals.” Sharing costs for farm infrastructure is a key component of the New Roots philosophy; what they might struggle with individually will be easier together. “To do everything by yourself is to feel frustrated.”

NEW ROOTS: This new farm was purchased by Maine Farmland Trust in January, with a plan to transition ownership to the Somali immigrants eventually. These shared 30 acres, Muktar said, offer a chance to intensify that feeling of community he already experiences in Lewiston. He drives from one side of the small city to another, seeing friends all along his route. New Roots is an opportunity to feel united. The plan is to put up buildings on the farm – there is no real infrastructure there now – and they’ll have a farm stand there as well. “This will be bringing together the family and friends to feel like a home.”

For now, Muktar himself will continue to farm at Packard-Littlefield, on the acre he shares with his wife, but it is his hope that he will join the New Roots cooperative.

THE WEIGHT OF WORDS: During our conversation, Muktar paused several times to answer questions from colleagues, moving easily between English and his own Somali dialect, Maay, and the demands on him were obvious. As he was learning English in school in Kenya, he never planned to become a translator. But Muktar is uniquely qualified. He knows farming, he knows these farmers, and what their hopes, dreams and needs are. “If something goes wrong, I know how to fix it.”

This is not an easy task. “You are holding that accountability or responsibility,” he said. “A lot of people are counting on you.” And he knows that translation is imperfect, that things could be lost. “When you are changing one person’s language into another, it is not going to be the same.”

FUTURE FARMERS OF AMERICA? Muktar and his wife have seven children; the youngest is 8 months old, the eldest is 9. They too, are bilingual, speaking their parents’ mother tongue at home and English at school. “The easy language for them is English.” He’s learning from them, filling in those remaining gaps in his own English, including the colloquial American expressions that come so easily to them. “There is a lot things that I don’t know that they know.” Will they be farmers? Maybe, he says, but for now it is soon to tell.

DREAM LANGUAGES: After all these years of going back and forth between languages and dialects, what language does he dream in? “Not in English,” Muktar said, laughing. “I don’t think it will happen.”

TRUMP THAT: When Donald Trump visited Portland earlier this summer, he made a point of stirring up fear of Maine’s immigrant population, particularly the Somali. Muktar says he himself is not political. “I sometimes listen on the radio.” But hearing about Trump’s speech, which led to a rally the next day in support of Somali immigrants, was unavoidable. Muktar chose to ignore the hurtful words. “Because that is what a crazy person is saying.” Trump can keep talking, Muktar said, but, “I’m thinking and I’m hoping he will not be our president.”


]]> 6, 19 Aug 2016 13:34:31 +0000
Let your garden grow wild and it’ll surprise you Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Gardeners love surprises.

A classic design technique is to create a spot where a visitor turns a corner and sees something – an unusual plant, a sculpture, a bright piece of furniture – that is totally unexpected.

At a class at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens earlier this month, writer Larry Weaner described the problem with this technique: “For the owner of the property, there is no mystery anymore,” he said. “The owner has already come upon that spot 100 times.”

But Weaner, co-author with Thomas Christopher of the just published “Garden Revolution: How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change,” has a solution: “But if you plant a landscape that changes over time, you will have some new plants that just come up and provide you with a new experience.”

Weaner, teaching at a sold-out six-hour class, has expanded on the ideas of Doug Tallamy, who wrote the native-plant treatise “Bringing Nature Home,” and Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, authors of “Planting in a Post-Wild World.”

Tallamy outlined how native plants are needed to support the native habitat; Rainer and West wrote about the best ways to arrange the plants for the good of the environment, Weaner explained, while he (and Christopher) emphasize how native landscapes develop over time, usually beginning when the soil is disturbed.

In the book he notes that one of the first plants to sprout in disturbed soil is often the cardinal flower, or lobelia. It seeds quickly, but is eventually taken over by longer-lived meadow perennials, such as black-eyed Susan, aka rudbeckia. Because the northeastern United States is naturally forested, the landscape will go through a shrub stage with plants such as viburnums and then eventually fill with trees, such as oaks, pine and maples.

The book describes how gardeners can direct that natural progression.

“You will accept that the garden never stops evolving, that it will always be a work in progress,” Weaner writes in the introduction. “Your role as the gardener will be to watch, interpret, understand and, at critical moments, give a push to direct the landscape into a path that you can enjoy.”

Many of the gardens Weaner shows in the book – and that he created through his Pennsylvania landscaping company – are meadows. He brings in plants and allows others that he wants to sprout. All the while he eliminates, through high mowing or cutting, the succession plants such as shrubs or trees that he does not want. Some other gardens are shrublands or woodlands, and on larger properties, homeowners can have some of all three.

While many of the pictures in the book are of large gardens, Weaner has incorporated the techniques at his own home, which sits on just one-third of an acre in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

He said that most properties of that size have a small traditional garden, with ornamental plants separated by mulched soil, and the rest of the property a lawn. What he suggests people do is eliminate half of the lawn and create his kind of natural, evolving garden – keeping it in scale with the property.

Because of all the weeding, fertilizing and mulching that would be required, a traditional garden that size would require too much work to maintain. But with a natural garden, which covers all of the soil with plants and where the evolution of the garden is encouraged, after a while, it would be much less work. And less stress, too.

“You have to go through a period of much higher maintenance when you are just starting out,” Weaner said, so he recommends that you make the changes incrementally.

And, he believes, the change is definitely something homeowners can do by themselves. If homeowners hire a traditional landscaper, they will end up spending a lot of time teaching the professional what they want, he said.

Weaner stresses that the garden does not have to be all native plants. If you want a vegetable garden, which is mostly non-natives, go for it. If you love roses, grow a rose garden on part of the property. Right next to the house, you can include a lot of exotic flowering plants just because they are pretty.

But if you have an evolving natural garden that you maintain by letting the plants you like to grow and expand while eliminating the ones you don’t mostly through mowing or using a string trimmer, you will have a beautiful, ever-changing, low-maintenance garden that is full of mystery.

Who doesn’t want that?

TOM ATWELL is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

]]> 3, 19 Aug 2016 13:18:51 +0000
Maine’s apiarists are all abuzz about new federal rules Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Every year Tony Bachelder mixes up a big batch of antibiotics he buys at a local farm store, adds powdered sugar and sprinkles it on his 600 beehives to ward off disease that could wipe out his colonies. He sells whatever he has left over to hobby beekeepers, many of whom have only a few hives and find it easier to pay Bachelder a buck a hive for the medicine.

But last spring, Bachelder had to tell them that his little bee pharmacy is closed. Starting in January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require that beekeepers needing antibiotics to keep their hives healthy must hire a veterinarian. That’s right, the honeybee will now be getting its health care needs met in the same way as the family pet or farmer’s cow.

The new regulations have beekeepers and veterinarians, well, buzzing.

“Beekeepers are going to need a veterinarian now,” said Don Hoenig, co-owner of One Health Veterinary Consulting in Belfast and former Maine state veterinarian. “That’s the bottom line. There’s still a lot of issues to be sorted out.”

Some of those issues are pretty big ones. Most veterinarians know as much about bees as they do about Bigfoot. How will they be trained?

“For the most part, they don’t want anything to do with bees,” said Tony Jadczak, who just last month left his job as state apiarist and bee inspector. He laughed: “You know, bees sting people.”

Even with training, are there enough knowledgeable vets to cover the nearly 10,000 registered hives in Maine? Will vets have to inspect all of a beekeeper’s hives to find disease that needs treatment, or just a portion of them? Bachelder worries about having to pay a veterinarian to inspect every one of his 600 hives.

Bee farmer Tony Bachelder, of Tony's Honey & Pollination Service, tends to his hives.

Bee farmer Tony Bachelder, of Tony’s Honey & Pollination Service, tends to his hives. Photos by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“It takes me three weeks to go through my operation,” he said. “So if I have to hire a vet for three weeks to go with me to check every hive…”

The clock has been ticking on these new federal regulations since 2013. The rules, a new weapon in the war on antibiotic resistance, are targeted to antibiotics used in agriculture that are also used in human medicine. The primary goal is to curb any use of these drugs in animal feed for growth promotion so that the bacterial infections they target don’t develop resistance to antibiotics, which would be harmful for both animals and humans. Under the new regulations, the drugs can be used only for prevention, control or treatment of disease, and their use is allowed only with the approval of a veterinarian through a prescription or an order called a veterinary feed directive – no more over-the-counter medicines.

The regulations apply to any food-producing animal, which includes poultry, cows, sheep, and goats. They also affect honeybees, which the government considers a “minor” food-producing animal. Hoenig, who gave two presentations about the rules earlier this month at the American Veterinary Medical Association Annual Convention in San Antonio, said the changes will probably have the biggest impact on the swine and poultry industries, where many of these antibiotics have been used in feed. But Maine doesn’t have huge swine and poultry industries, and Hoenig said he doesn’t think it will have much effect on the state’s beef and dairy industries, either. That leaves the honeybee.

“It’s a big change, not just for beekeepers, but this is a huge shift in policy for the FDA,” Hoenig said. “Agriculture has been criticized for so many years for overusing antibiotics. You read figures that say as much as 70 to 80 percent of the antibiotics used in this country (are used in agriculture). Meanwhile, agriculture is not responsible for the majority of the resistance problem, which is a physician-generated problem, and they realize that. But we’re administering a lot of antibiotics to animals over the counter, and that’s mostly going to go away. And that is a good change.”

Three antibiotics used to treat honeybees fall under the new rules. They are used to treat two diseases, American foulbrood and European foulbrood.

To abide by the new rules, beekeepers will have to set up and maintain a relationship with a licensed veterinarian; have the veterinarian diagnose the disease and issue the order for an antibiotic; and buy the antibiotics from a pharmacy, not a farm store or bee supply business.

According to the legal definition of a “veterinary client patient relationship,” the vet must assume responsibility for making decisions about an animal’s health, and must have sufficient knowledge of the patient through examination or visits – in this case, to the bee yard, where the vet must open a percentage (though no one has yet spelled out what percentage) of the hives to evaluate the health of the colony. In other words, no diagnosing or prescribing over the phone or via video, Hoenig said. He guessed such veterinarian visits might add from $50 to $500 to the cost of being a beekeeper, depending on the number of hives and how far the vet has to drive to get to the bee yard.


Richard McLaughlin, a master beekeeper and president of the Maine State Beekeepers Association, said Maine’s estimated 1,200 registered and unregistered beekeepers are confused and nervous about the changes.

“The veterinarians would have to become beekeepers in order to understand the diseases of the bees, and then validate that the bees have the disease and sell us the (antibiotics),” McLaughlin said. “And in that period of time, the disease can get significantly worse. In a week’s time, the disease can spread. It doesn’t usually kill a colony, but it can really set it back where the bees may not produce a honey crop that year.”

Tony Bachelder of Tony's Honey & Pollination Service tends to his hives. Beginning Jan. 1, beekeepers will have to hire a vet to administer antibiotics to sick bees. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Tony Bachelder of Tony’s Honey & Pollination Service tends to his hives. Beginning Jan. 1, beekeepers will have to hire a vet to administer antibiotics to sick bees. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

McLaughlin said it doesn’t make sense to lump in honeybees with large animal food producers. For one, honey is processed, not produced, by honeybees. Honeybees add enzymes to flower nectars that help convert sucrose into fructose and glucose – but that’s a lot different than getting milk from a cow, he said.

“Obviously,” he added, “we aren’t eating honeybees, so there’s no concern there.”

Some beekeepers worry that in all the confusion, beekeepers will slack off on their use of medication, or stop using it preventively, leading to a surge in disease. Jadczak, the former state apiarist, said European foulbrood already has been spiking in the past four or five years in several states including Maine. The disease used to be found in 1 to 1.5 percent of hives inspected annually in those states; now the disease rate can reach as high as 5 to 6 percent.

“We have a rapid response to a disease outbreak, so this (new rule) may slow the process down,” Jadczak said. “We’ll see.”


Though Bachelder has a veterinarian for his other animals, the vet is not trained in caring for bees.

“If you’ve got a problem,” he said, “you need to treat it then, you don’t need to wait. And how are you going to get a vet? To find one that knows what he’s looking for is going to be even harder.”

But Hoenig notes that vets have taken on new aspects of care before. When the aquaculture industry started to take off, many training sessions were held in aquatic animal medicine, and now plenty of vets specialize in the area. “Backyard chickens is another one,” Hoenig said. Veterinary schools are already thinking about adding bee care to their curriculums, and Hoenig said he’s been asked to speak at a meeting of Maine veterinarians in November.

Bachelder inspects his hives.

Bachelder inspects his hives.

Some veterinarians who are also beekeepers, like Hoenig, may already have a baseline knowledge of bees and be happy to take on the insects as patients, he said. And others may see this as an opportunity to expand their practice and earn extra income.

McLaughlin, who tends about 35 honeybee colonies with his wife, said his group hopes the FDA will change the regulation to exempt honeybees altogether. But such an exemption is “extremely unlikely,” Chris Cripps, a veterinarian and beekeeper from New York who has actively followed the issue, said in an e-mail. “A snowball’s chance in Haiti comes to mind.”

Cripps, who also gave a presentation at the national veterinarians’ convention, is one of three veterinarian owners of Betterbee, a beekeeping supply company in upstate New York. He and his partners are also part-owners of Humble Abodes, a Maine company that manufactures apiary woodenware.

Other than outright exemption, there may be wiggle room in the rule for the veterinary feed directive which, as it stands now, does not allow the veterinarian any deviation, even for minor species like bees. The directions on the directive must be exactly what is on the label approved by the FDA, and must be followed exactly.

But in the case of the antibiotic terramycin, the label says it can be used only “for the Control of American Foulbrood.” A vet would have to find actual cases of American foulbrood in the bees in order to prescribe the medicine, Cripps said, but most beekeepers use that drug as a preventive measure. In other words, the label runs counter to the overarching idea that the drugs may be used for prevention, control and treatment. But even addressing that small potential change “is still hotly debated in the FDA,” Cripps said.

McLaughlin has suggested that perhaps the rules could be amended to allow the 15 certified master beekeepers in the state to diagnose disease and advise that the beekeeper treat the hives. But Cripps said that’s not likely to happen, either.

“The FDA is very clear that the veterinarians with their broad training in disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment will be the group that is going to be the gatekeeper of antibiotics in animals,” he said “so the FDA can ensure antibiotics continue to work for people for as long as possible.”

To ease the transition, last week Cripps started a website,, that is kind of like a dating site for beekeepers and veterinarians. Vets can sign up if they have knowledge of bee health and are willing to add bee colonies to their patient list. Beekeepers can search for a bee vet in their area.

It’s a start. Only time will tell if these new relationships blossom.


]]> 30, 24 Aug 2016 16:33:06 +0000
Climate change makes hurricanes, and predicting them, more challenging, expert says Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 As a child, Kerry Emanuel was captivated by thunderstorms – planting himself by windows to watch them. He has followed that meteorological passion through decades of research and teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to become what one science reporter calls “arguably the world’s top expert on hurricanes.”

Most hurricane specialists are weather forecasters, tracking the path of tropical cyclones (the scientific term for storms with sustained wind speeds in excess of 74 mph). Far fewer engage in the sort of research Emanuel does – looking at how climate change may affect hurricane intensity and frequency.

Emanuel’s fascination with hurricanes extends well beyond modeling exercises in the lab. He wrote a book, “Divine Wind,” that weaves together meteorological science, historical storm accounts, artistic renditions and poetic accounts of what William Cullen Bryant called “the shadowy tempest that sweeps through space/A whirling ocean that fills the wall/Of the crystal heaven, and buries all.”

Emanuel met with me recently, overlooking the Maine harbor where his meteorological training began with childhood sailing lessons, to talk about storm forecasting, the chasm between science and policy, and how hurricanes offer yet another reason (as if we needed more) to rein in climate change.

“No natural phenomenon poses a greater challenge to forecasters than the hurricane,” Emanuel holds; some like earthquakes elude forecasting altogether while others are relatively predictable. Knowledge of hurricanes is always imperfect, Emanuel says, which generates great angst because inevitably there’s “an awful lot riding on human judgment.”

Asked about technological advances in forecasting, Emanuel winds the clock back to Sept. 21, 1938 – an overcast day in New England with gloomy newspaper headlines about growing tensions in Europe. The day’s forecast, buried in fine print, predicted “Rain, probably heavy today and tomorrow, cooler.” With no public warning, the Great Hurricane of 1938 slammed into Long Island and New England that day, killing 680 people and racking up damages that would total billions in today’s dollars.

At that time, there were few weather balloons, no Hurricane Hunter military flight crews sent into storms (both began in the ’40s), and no satellites (first launched in the ’60s and ’70s). Better computer simulations, an unsung advance, further refined hurricane forecasting in the mid-1990s.

Thanks to these innovations, Emanuel explains, a four-day hurricane forecast today is likely to be as accurate as a one-day forecast was 35 years ago.

Hurricane forecasts measured in days are life-saving; those measured in months (seasonal forecasts) Emanuel politely calls “inadvertently misleading.” The number of storms forecast for a given season has little bearing on how many make landfall and wreak havoc.

Seasonal forecasts that promise few tropical cyclones may engender a false sense of assurance. Hurricane Andrew, the most costly tropical cyclone to date when it struck Florida in 1992, occurred during one of the quietest hurricane seasons on record.

Emanuel would like to see the whole warning system for hurricanes revisited. The Saffir-Simpson scale that classifies hurricanes based on sustained wind speeds into Categories 1 through 5 is neither useful for public outreach nor especially scientific. (Emanuel jokes that scientists would never settle for something so simplistic as a 1-5 rating system.)

Currently, hurricanes can be downgraded and evacuations canceled, as happened temporarily with Superstorm Sandy, when storm winds drop below an arbitrary threshold.

Emanuel envisions a much simpler means for communicating a hurricane’s hazards – such as a basic “code yellow/code red” alert – based on projections for wind, rain (flooding) and storm surge. This change could reduce what he calls “the tension between public safety and commerce,” making it easier for officials to issue and stand by warnings – even in the face of outcries and threatened lawsuits from those concerned that hurricane warnings will hurt business.

More regrettable still, Emanuel believes, are the multiple policies that subsidize people (through insurance and the structuring of federal disaster relief) to live in flood-prone areas, putting “high-value, low-strength structures in harm’s way.” (Interestingly, a new report by the Congressional Budget Office, Potential Increases in Hurricane Damage in the United States: Implications for the Federal Budget, acknowledges the high societal cost of current practices and suggests reforms in both insurance and disaster relief.)

What’s ironic about the Great Hurricane of 1938, Emanuel observes, is that despite forecasting advances, just as many people might be lost if a similar hurricane struck today due to the intensity of coastal development and the flimsy construction of many modern buildings.

Concerns about flooding – both coastal and inland – will only grow with climate change since warmer air holds (and then releases) greater volumes of water. New England saw intense precipitation events increase by more than 70 percent between 1958 and 2010. Now, hurricanes that can deliver torrential rains may begin dumping even higher volumes.

Climate scientists predict that hurricanes will become more forceful as well, fueled primarily by warmer sea temperatures in the tropics. Since 1980, hurricane power (as measured by sustained wind speeds) has roughly doubled in the North Atlantic.

Most damage is done by Category 3 or higher hurricanes, and recent modeling by Emanuel and others strongly suggests that higher-category storms in the North Atlantic and elsewhere will become more frequent as the climate warms further. Factor in sea-level rise generating greater storm surges, and the scenarios do not look good.

Despite the ominous models, slow progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and political gridlock, Emanuel remains optimistic about tackling climate change – confident that “more and more people, particularly young people, get it.”

MARINA SCHAUFFLER, a freelance writer and editor, is online at

]]> 10, 20 Aug 2016 19:46:37 +0000