The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Source http://www.pressherald.com Sun, 24 Jul 2016 12:56:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.5 Open Book: Two new books explore the intersection of faith, farming and animals http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/open-book/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/open-book/#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=980155 Two recently published books with a similar theme have got us thinking about the intersection of faith, farming and animals.

IN THE SLIM, approachable “Vegangelical: How caring for animals can shape your faith,” author Sarah Withrow King makes the biblical case for veganism. In the first half of the book, she lays the theological groundwork, beginning with the beginning: “From the first days of creation, animals and humans were intimately connected. Genesis 2 tells us that Adam named the animals, an act that denotes intimacy and familiarity … God’s covenant is with humans and animals.” In the second half, King, who has a masters in theological studies, describes how animals in today’s world are treated whether as pets, food, clothing or for research, and she asks readers to consider, “Are these practices compatible with my faith?” For her, though she is never judgmental or strident, the answer is an unequivocal no. Every chapter of “Vegangelical” (Zondervan, $16.99) ends with discussion questions, emphasizing that the book is meant to stimulate debate and, perhaps, a transformed diet.

SOURCE READERS may be familiar with third-generation farmer and writer Joel Salatin, whose farm was spotlighted in Michael Pollan’s bestseller “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and who has been featured in several food/farm documentaries. His latest book, his 10th, “The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God’s Creation” (FaithWords, $25) opens with the divisions and tensions he feels between his Christian and his environmentalist beliefs. In a book he says he aimed at Christians, he makes an impassioned and provocative argument that America’s food system should reflect Christian spiritual truths.

In a characteristic section, Salatin describes driving through the countryside and seeing “field after field receiving soil-harming chemical fertilizers, being continuously grazed and overgrazed, plowed and pillaged, my heart breaks. To see God’s creation abused, rejected, and raped is no less tragic than seeing people abused, raped and pillaged… Remember how you care for God’s physical stuff reflects how you care for his spiritual stuff.”

Writing with similar heart throughout, Salatin covers a lot of territory, from home-schooling, confinement dairies and GMOs to chemical fertilizers and junk food. About that last, he writes, “While preachers rail against bringing junk into our homes via TV, the Internet, and pornographic literature, few bat an eye at a home stashed high with high-fructose corn syrup, potato chips, and Pop-Tarts.”

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Aroostook County native takes reins of Maine Grain Alliance http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/meet-tristan-noyes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/meet-tristan-noyes/#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=980164 When the 10th annual Kneading Conference kicks off in Skowhegan this week, attendees will be introduced to Tristan Noyes, the new executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance. When it’s not hosting the wildly popular artisan bread fair, the alliance works to preserve and promote grain traditions, including bringing heritage wheats back into production in Maine. Noyes is an Aroostook County native who runs a lettuce farm called Gromaine in the County with his younger brother. We called him up to find out what lettuce has to do with grain and what his plans are for the organization.

SERENDIPITY: Noyes said he learned about the opening while developing his own plans for expanding wheat production on his family farm. “I found this organization serendipitously,” he said. “I was searching for information online about increasing our grain production. We’re trying to develop a five-year plan.” As he explored Maine Grain Alliance’s site, he saw the posting for a part-time executive director. “I thought, this just relates to me on so many levels.”

THE INTERVIEW: During the interview, he had a hard time containing his excitement. “I was already getting ahead of myself, thinking about the things we could do together.” Noyes is on the board of the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society and has been working closely with the group on projects to help extend Maine’s growing season. Before starting Growmaine, he served as director at EF Education, an international education company. But he has to fill some pretty big shoes: He’s replacing Amber Lambke, the powerhouse who started the organization and will be focusing instead on her company, Maine Grains at the Somerset Grist Mill. “Luckily, Amber has decided to not go far and will continue to be a really strong ally for Maine’s grain economy,” Noyes said. He sees a commonality between them. “She had a vested interest in promoting the success of Maine grains. I hope to do the same from a grower perspective.”

ROOM TO GROW: The family farm is in Woodland, just north of Caribou. His parents grew potatoes and flowers, which they still sell at Noyes Flower and Plant Shop in Caribou. “My poor mother has had to work every single Mother’s Day for 40 years,” he said. “But at least she was working with family.” Evolving the family business is a tradition. “It seems to be that each generation has done something slightly different agriculturally.” Adding grain to the lettuce mix is a no-brainer for the Noyes brothers. There isn’t enough grain in production in the state to satisfy the needs of Maine brewers. “One of the benefits of farming in Aroostook County is we have quite a bit of land,” he said. “Not even close to all of it is in production for us, and I think that is true for quite a few farms in The County. We see (grain) as a nice addition, and I don’t think it will detract at all from the core of what we do.”

DIVISION OF LABOR: Jon Noyes runs the operation in Woodland while Tristan, who lives in South Portland, runs the sales operation. He also drives a delivery truck full of lettuces, picking up in Woodland and dropping off in multiple spots all the way to Kennebunk. Skowhegan doesn’t seem like such a stretch then. “The beauty of it is that I am on the road already.” How many miles does Noyes drive in a week? “I lived in Boston for a long time so I think of it more in terms of hours.” Books on tape? “A lot of NPR, podcasts. But recently I have been enjoying the quiet. Because an hour of quiet is so rare.”

FULL CIRCLE: Gromaine does work with distributors, such as Crown O’ Maine, but Noyes likes the personal touch, especially when delivering to restaurants. “It gives us that much more of a personal connection.” His stops change weekly but include places like Houlton, Bangor, Brewer and Brunswick, where he brings lettuces to his alma mater, Bowdoin College. He graduated in 2005, and while he was at Bowdoin helped found the organic garden, then located at Crystal Spring Farm. Now the organic garden is in a dedicated plot on campus, and Noyes recently got a tour from the assistant chef. “I feel like I have come full circle.” But is the garden he started going to compete with Gromaine for Bowdoin’s business? “Luckily, they like to move a lot of lettuce.”

GOAL SETTING: As executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, Noyes hopes to secure funding to create a feasibility study for a shared grain storage and drying facility; the Noyes brothers aren’t the only farmers in Aroostook County interested in getting in on the growing grain trend. He wants to look for more technical assistance grants for Maine businesses that want to get into grain processing as well as production. Also on deck: helping spread the word about heritage grains with crop potential in Maine. The list includes sirvinta from Estonia, of which the Maine Grain Alliance will produce 10 acres next year, and Fort Kent golden corn. “That is in danger of not being around anymore because of dangerously low seed supplies,” he said. Noyes is already giving it a try in The County. “I literally had an envelope of it handed to me.” Another possibility is einkorn, the ancient wheat that is proving digestible for many with gluten allergies. “There are challenges with growing it in Maine, but we think it could still be a viable resource.”

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Colorful fish art is the catch of the day http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/colorful-fish-art-is-the-catch-of-the-day/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/colorful-fish-art-is-the-catch-of-the-day/#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=980173 Artist Lydia Webber could take the easy way out – pick a color, paint a fish, and move on to the next one. But, perhaps inspired by the diversity of ocean life so near her Cape Elizabeth home, she just can’t bring herself to do that. Her fish are painted in bright, multi-colored patterns and designs that would make Mother Nature proud, and each one is different.

“They’ve sort of evolved,” she said. “I started with mostly just circles and stripes, and now it’s paisley ones and plaid ones. It’s like ‘Ooh, what can I try next?'”

Webber, perhaps best known for her painted glassware, makes decorative fish out of old picket fence posts, whose pointy ends resemble a fish head. Her carpenter finds older scrap fencing for her, which she prefers because the pickets are thicker and have a bit of a curve to them. “The new ones are thin and flat, and don’t have the character,” she said.

The fish fins are made out of old milk jugs.

To Webber, each picket is an individual canvas. Some customers buy several of them to group together so they have a school of fish swimming on their wall.

Webber often finds herself staring at real fish in the market a little longer than most other customers, looking for distinctive markings and other details she can borrow for her picket fence fish.

Once she turns the top part of a picket into a fish about 22 inches long, Webber’s carpenter cuts up the scraps so she can make “baby fish” that are about 6 inches shorter.

Webber makes about 300 fish a year – enough to fill a small lake, anyway. She sells them at SummerHouse, the South Portland gift shop she runs with her daughter, as well as at Maxwell’s Pottery in Portland and House of Logan in Boothbay Harbor.

The large fish cost $48 each and the smaller ones are $36.

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Skip the AC; here’s how to keep yourself – and the planet – cool http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/sea-change-skip-the-ac-heres-how-to-keep-yourself-and-the-planet-cool/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/sea-change-skip-the-ac-heres-how-to-keep-yourself-and-the-planet-cool/#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=980179 It has been a summer to savor – with an abundance of sunny days, dry air and invigorating breezes. The searing heat waves afflicting other parts of the country and globe can seem like shimmers of a distant mirage.

But the heat will find us. It would be naive to assume that Maine will remain exempt. Globally, we’ve now broken the record for hottest year nine times over, according to a recent story in The Guardian newspaper.

When we use air conditioning to cope with heat, we exacerbate the problem. Mechanized cooling systems drive more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, further aggravating global warming. What scientists term a “positive feedback loop,” most of us would simply call a “vicious cycle.”

That cycle is gaining momentum worldwide as more and more people in fast-growing nations like India and China acquire and use air conditioners. The power consumption of computer data centers, which demand round-the-clock cooling, quadrupled from 2007 to 2013. Within the next three decades, the energy used worldwide in cooling could overtake that used in heating.

Nearly 90 percent of U.S. buildings now have air conditioning, sending electricity use soaring during warm months. Stan Cox, author of “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World,” observed in 2010 that the United States uses as much electricity for air conditioning as the 930 million residents of Africa consume for all purposes. Our nation’s air conditioning generates about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, and costs consumers upwards of $11 billion a year.

One other major drawback to air conditioning receives little press. Many people recall the unnerving realization that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in aerosols and refrigerants were eroding Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer. That crisis led to signing of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in the late 1980s, a successful international treaty that has helped the ozone layer recover.

But as often happens, the “new and improved” substitute now used widely in air-conditioning systems – hydrofluorocarbons – generates a different concern. While not depleting ozone, HFCs trap atmospheric heat up to 10,000 times more effectively than CO2. Further international action by amending the Montreal Protocol is needed now to limit release of HFCs.

While air conditioning can be a lifesaver during three-digit heat waves, most warm spells in New England can be tolerated without 24/7 air conditioning. If we design and manage buildings for passive cooling and adopt some creative coping strategies, we can beat the heat without further pummeling the planet.

COOL DESIGN

Everyone knows that sound insulation makes a building more comfortable and efficient in winter, but fewer people recognize how beneficial insulation can be in the dog days of summer. Added insulation helps on the hottest days – particularly if occupants open windows wide at night and close them in the day to trap cooler air inside.

Solar shading can greatly reduce the radiant heat absorbed through windows (particularly on south and west sides), and architecture in tropical regions often accommodates this through overhangs, porches, shutters and awnings.

Fewer houses in Maine have these features so we’re left to improvise. My family’s home has a south-facing overhang that shelters some windows, but for others we’ve devised an implausible but effective system involving bubble wrap. On the hottest days, we slide sheets of “double reflective insulation” – which we custom-cut from a long roll – between the window glass and screen, helping to reflect radiant energy. This technique, combined with nightly opening of windows, keeps the house 5 to 10 degrees F cooler.

Solar shading works even if you’re a renter (as long as windows can be opened; avoid hermetically sealed units). And homeowners can opt for a long-term strategy with a far nicer aesthetic – planting shade trees on the south and west sides of the house. Even before they begin the work of shading, these trees will be doing their part to absorb greenhouse gases.

DON’T GENERATE HEAT INDOORS

You can’t squelch the heat generated by your refrigerator during hot weather, but you can give your clothes dryer a sabbatical. Hang laundry outside and you’ll save on expenses, get free solar bleaching services and keep the indoor temperature cooler. Think twice, as well, about baking and stove-top use during hot spells. If you haven’t already switched to LED lightbulbs, they generate far less heat than incandescents – and save on electricity over the long haul.

DRESS FOR THE WEATHER

Many professional offices are overcooled, with air conditioning set to keep those in business suits comfortable. The solution couldn’t be simpler: Have employees dress for the weather – permitting short-sleeved shirts and tailored shorts on the hottest days of the year. Tell your clients or customers that this is a variant of “Casual for a Cause” – only this cause is keeping a livable planet.

ABOUT THE WRITER

MARINA SCHAUFFLER, a freelance writer and editor, is online at www.naturalchoices.com.

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Aaaah! Kohlrabi! A cook learns to conquer her fears http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/green-plate-special-aaaah-kohlrabi-a-cook-learns-to-conquer-her-fears/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/green-plate-special-aaaah-kohlrabi-a-cook-learns-to-conquer-her-fears/#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=980191 I saw a kohlrabi bulb the size of a cantaloupe at the market last week. It brought back frightening memories of trying to force-feed my family all the kohlrabi included in my CSA share about 10 years ago – the farmer still had a lot to learn about crop diversity. The fear must have registered on my face as a fellow shopper wondered aloud how anyone could face using in its entirety a Brassica that big.

When I’m at the farmers market, I gravitate toward the extraordinary items. Bring on the ground cherries, shishito peppers, tatsoi and zucchini blossoms! That said, the three vegetables I still balk at bringing home are kohlrabi of any size, with or without its leaves; gnarly celery root; and huge, warty Hubbard squash.

But armed with a very sharp, 10-inch chef’s knife and a copy of Cara Mangini’s “The Vegetable Butcher,” I am determined to conquer my vegetable fears, starting with kohlrabi and moving onto the other two as the seasons progress. At the same time, I hope to pick up tips on how to select the best, waste as little as possible while prepping these thick-skinned vegetables, and serve them in dishes my family will eat happily.

Kohlrabi, in season for at least six months between late spring and early winter, shouldn’t be any scarier than its workaday cousins like broccoli, kale or Brussels sprouts in shredded raw slaws, steamed slices, roasted medleys and baked gratins, Mangini writes. I cross-checked the list of ingredients she pinpoints as good culinary kohlrabi companions with a similar one offered by Deborah Madison in “Vegetable Literacy.” Both agree that ingredients like chives, cumin, curry, dill, garlic, ginger, mustard and/or parsley suit kohlrabi dishes.

The huge kohlrabi I saw in the market was likely a Kossack, which are known for their girth and their ability to withstand long-term cold storage, thanks to an outer skin and a tough inner membrane. Both those layers need to be trimmed to reach the lightly colored, crisp flesh. To do that, Mangini instructs, take a thin slice off both the top and bottom of the bulb, rest it on the broadest cut end, and working from top to bottom, following the curve of the kohlrabi, slide the knife under the skin to remove it. From here you can slice, shred or dice the bulb according to your recipe’s instructions.

But Madison explains that it’s the young, small, tender kohlrabies (less than 4 ounces each) that you really want because they don’t need to be peeled at all.

Kohlrabies come in either white or purple and with leaves (which can be treated like any hearty green) or without. When choosing them, make sure they are firm to the touch, heavy for their size and have crisp, dark green leaves. That’s good advice for many a winter vegetable.

To store kohlrabi, Mangini advises separating the leaves from the bulbs as soon as you get home. Unwashed leaves will last in the refrigerator in an open plastic bag for four days while the bulbs can sit in the crisper drawer for as long as 10 days. Knowing that I can keep them around for that long before I need to use them up makes the prospect of doing so a little less scary.

ABOUT THE WRITER

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: cburn1227@gmail.com.

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Portlanders reap camaraderie, ocean views as well as veggies at community garden http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/maine-gardener-at-the-citys-newest-community-garden-portlanders-reap-vegetables-as-well-as-a-sense-of-community/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/maine-gardener-at-the-citys-newest-community-garden-portlanders-reap-vegetables-as-well-as-a-sense-of-community/#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=980200 Like any garden, the garden plots at Casco Bay Community Garden on the Eastern Promenade in Portland vary by the desires and experience of the gardeners. On a mid-July visit, I noticed some gardens packed with a profusion of plants and already producing cucumbers and summer squash, while others were just getting underway.

Casco Bay, named by the gardeners in part for its great views of the bay, is the newest of the nine community gardens that the nonprofit Cultivating Community manages for the city. The garden opened late last summer after a no-mow area was converted to rich soil through sheet mulching.

These new garden spaces – and the ones being created at a 10th garden in Libbytown – are in high demand, according to Laura Mailander, an urban agriculture specialist with Cultivating Community. About 200 people are on a waiting list for community plots. The city has 380 existing plots, many of which are tended by multiple families, Mailander said.

Gardeners I met spoke of harvests of kale, lettuce, spinach, beets and cucumbers, but added that the gardens have more going for them than vegetables. At Casco Bay, gardeners plant, water and weed with views of sailboats on blue waters. And a sense of community develops among the people gardening together, they said.

Until three years ago, the city managed most of the community gardens. Now, it contracts their management to Cultivating Community, a group that runs farms and gardening programs around the state.

The people who rent the plots come from the entire spectrum of the city’s population.

“One of our gardens in Kennedy Park, which was started by Cultivating Community and folded into the city gardens, is mostly new Americans, and a lot of them are low-income,” Mailander said. “There is a garden in Brentwood, near Evergreen Cemetery, that is mixed-income – everyone from the upper-class to lower-income. It really runs the gamut.”

It costs $50 a year to rent the standard plot, which measures 10 feet by 15 feet. Half-plots cost $35. Families who qualify as low-income pay only $15 per year. Generous-minded gardeners may pay more than the rental fee to support lower-income gardeners.

Since several of the gardens were built with Community Development Block Grants – designed partly to improve the health and nutrition of low-income families – those families get priority, Mailander said.

At the start of every season, the city brings in compost for the gardeners. It also provides tools, and has installed and maintains a 4-foot fence around most of the gardens.

All the gardens are organic. Each has a list of permitted treatments, and gardeners must ask before using anything that is not on the list. “It’s my philosophy that if you start with healthy soil, you will have healthy plants,” Mailander said. “And if you have healthy plants, you don’t need to use anything on them.”

Renters of plots range from rank beginners to experienced gardeners – education is integral to the Cultivating Community program. Mailander, who grew up on a farm in Colorado, teaches workshops and works with some gardeners directly.

Some gardeners who grow more vegetables than they can use donate the extra to programs like the Root Cellar and Harvest for the Hungry – which is part of what makes the city gardens a community.

ABOUT THE WRITER

TOM ATWELL is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: tomatwell@me.com.

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What has happened to Maine’s once thriving recreational sailing culture? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/what-has-happened-to-maines-once-thriving-recreational-sailing-culture/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/what-has-happened-to-maines-once-thriving-recreational-sailing-culture/#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=980212 Lauryn Smith had been in Maine about four years when she got the itch to buy a boat. Having grown in up in New Mexico and lived for a decade in Wyoming, she considered herself a woefully “landlocked girl.” Now here she was living in Portland, with the whole rocky coast in front of her, and she wanted access to Casco Bay.

With a budget of $5,000, the e-commerce consultant debated the choice of a used powerboat or a used sailboat. The former could be trailered, so mobility was easier, both on and off the water, but then there was the steep price of a future replacement motor ($15,000 at minimum) and fuel to consider.

“For the most part, if the wind is in your face,” she said, “you are spending money on fuel.”

Smith opted for wind power instead, picking up a 25-foot Catalina she found on the listing site Yacht World. She calls the Catalina “the Honda Civic of sailboats,” simple and sturdy, with a bare necessities toilet, or in nautical jargon, head. Ten hourlong lessons from Sail Maine in Portland and she was competent enough to set sail. She keeps track of her days on the water and proudly reports she went sailing 86 days in 2015. By mid-July this year, she’d already logged 34 days.

Smith made a very green choice. The wind was in her face many times last year, but she spent only $40 on fuel. Yet she is something of a rarity today, a new boater on the near side of 50 (she’s 37) who has chosen sail over power.

Once a staple of the Maine summer – and Maine’s boatbuilding industry – sailboats are still the stuff of bad office art and good tourism brochures, but their numbers are dwindling, along with people with the passion for this most sustainable form of recreational boating.

Unlike powerboats, they’re quiet when underway, which marine animals appreciate.

(Our increasingly noisy oceans have been shown to interfere with whale, dolphin and fish communications, creatures that use sound to find food and mates and to protect themselves.) While the Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to reduce boat motor emissions up to 90 percent through implementation of the 2008 Clean Boating Act, those engines still contribute significantly to air pollution. Then there are the spills from careless boaters, not to mention the broader environmental issue of oil production that serves purely for fun.

From Casco to Penobscot Bay, boaters and fishermen report seeing far fewer sailboats on the water than they used to. When Matt Minson, who was raised on Verona Island in a sailing family (his father is Butch Minson, who used to coach the sailing team at Maine Maritime and single-handed to Florida just a few years ago) is out on the water in his Lindenberg 28 he sees maybe 15 other sailing vessels. A decade ago, “It would be nothing to see 40 boats,” Minson said. “It is very depressing to me.”

Experts suggest a variety of reasons for the drop-off, including generational and parenting shifts and an American lifestyle that puts a premium on expediency. It’s hard to quantify what the biggest factor is. But industry statistics bear out the fact that observations of less sailboat traffic such as Minton’s are not just longing for some illusionary golden past.

“Sailboat sales are about a quarter of what they were 15 years ago,” said Thom Dammrich, the president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

During the recession, all sales of new boats dropped off, he said. Then as the financial crisis eased, sales of powerboats ramped back up. “They have been growing for the past five years,” Dammrich said. “In the last 12 months, they’re up 9 percent. This has been a good year.”

Not so for sailboats. Sailboat sales encompass only about 2.5 percent of all new boats.

“2009 was a dagger in the heart of sailboat building,” said Bentley Collins, vice president for marketing and sales for Sabre Yachts, the Raymond-based boat builder. The company produces plenty of powerboats but stopped making sailboats about 10 years ago when the market for them fell off. It’s not that they’d refuse to build you a new one. But the used market has more than enough supply to meet the current demand (Smith covets Sabres and saw plenty when she was shopping, but felt the Catalina would cost her less in the long run).

“For us to even attempt to compete with the used boat market would be folly,” Collins said.

MARTHA STEWART STYLE

This doesn’t mean sailboats aren’t getting built in Maine. However, Jon Johansen of the state’s boat building trade association, Maine Built Boats, can pretty much count them on one hand.

Hinckley Yachts, once known for the elegant sailboats it built on Mount Desert Island, now puts out a steady stream of powerboats. The success of its picnic boat, a sleek powerboat introduced in 1994, which counts the likes of Martha Stewart as fans (and an owner), put sailboats on the back burner. Hinckley has a few sailboats under construction this year, including a Bermuda 50, an updated model of one of its classics, but for years the company had virtually shut down its sailboat division.

At Lyman-Morse in Thomaston, boat builders are working on a 65-foot cold molded sailboat (a fiberglass skin over wood) for a private client. That sailboat, the Anna, will take a year and a half to complete.

“We’re lucky to have one build,” company president Drew Lyman said, referring to sailboats. “A lot of times, it is more service work.”

Their other projects this year include two power boats. Lyman-Morse also has a 70-foot sailboat that remains unfinished; the client they were building for “pretty much lost all their money” in the downturn, he said. As a company, Lyman-Morse has a dedication to green boatbuilding; nine years ago they constructed an energy-efficient, solar-equipped service building, where they build and repair boats in their Thomaston yard. The yacht builders used to divide their business about half and half between sail and powerboats, but that’s no longer the case (recently they diversified and got into the luxury – and green – hotel construction business, building 250 Main in Rockland, which bills itself as “a luxury yacht on Main Street”). It’s not that their sailboat building business has gone to China or other countries, Lyman said. Again, it’s just a matter of dropping demand in the U.S.

Not all of Maine’s boatbuilders have made the shift from sail to predominately power. There are small shops, boutique builders, scattered here and there. In 2015, the vaunted Brooklin Boat Yard, known for its wooden sailboats, which Johanson points out are the greenest boats to build, launched a spectacular 74-foot daysailer, Foggy, built for Frank Gehry, based on the famed architect’s own designs. But at other yards, staff is no longer on site who are trained to build sailboats. Not that the skills can’t be relearned when it comes to fiberglass production.

“You can teach anybody to lay fiberglass out,” Johanson said. “But putting a plank on a boat and planning that down? That takes talent.”

JUMP ABOARD

In many ways, this is a perfect time to do as Smith has done and buy a cheap used sailboat. They are everywhere, experts say, and they are great deals. Smith’s $5,000 got her a boat plus six life jackets, a new radio, GPS, everything she needs to be safe. “All I needed to buy were cupholders,” she said.

“I could have a million sailboats right now, for free or less,” said Michael Chasse, who founded his Freeport business, Northeast Sailboat Rescue, 12 years ago. He’s been buying abandoned sailboats from boatyards around the state, restoring and selling them. Back when he started Northeast Sailboat Rescue, he said he could sell 200 boats a year. So far in 2016, he’s sold none. (He’s planning on retiring soon and moving to some good-sized Maine lake. To sail.)

“I know boatyards where you can say, ‘How much is that sailboat there?’ and they’d probably say, ‘Take it.’ ” Johanson said. “If there is a sailboat still under cover, that means they can’t get rid of it.”

Absolutely true, agreed Celia Knight of Knight Marine Service in Rockland. “We have a ton of them,” she sighed. “You will get people coming through, walking through the yard and they will say ‘Do you have any cheap sailboats?’ I say, ‘Hey, just look at them.’ I will sell some of them for like $500 or $1,000. Sometimes it works out.”

And sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s when she has the abandoned boats hauled away to an off-site lot she calls “the boat graveyard.” An unmaintained boat exposed to the elements deteriorates rapidly, and eventually it is worthless. While fiberglass lasts a long time, it still requires upkeep. Knight said some of the boats are owned by people who can’t afford to pay their storage fees or maintenance and are too embarrassed even to take Knight Marine’s phone calls. She offers some carcasses to the fire department for training exercises, but it’s too hazardous for them to handle burning fiberglass. (Fiberglass is so complicated to dispose of that it regularly inspires how-to threads on boat-related online forums, although Chasse believes a market could and should be developed for recycling it; “It is a wonderful, inert subject.”)

“It makes it really hard on us,” Knight said. “They take up valuable jack stands. It is becoming more and more of a problem.”

It’s not just money that is an issue, either. “Fifty percent of them I would say the owners got really old or died. They got too elderly to use the boat and care for it.”

Those who purchase new boats tend to be baby boomers, according to Dammrich, of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. As that population ages, their interest in sailing declines.

“They moved to trawlers or powerboats because they love being out on the water, but they can’t do the physical part anymore,” he said. Putting up the sails, cranking the winches, being on constant alert.

“The challenge for sailing has been and continues to be bringing young people into sailing,” Dammrich said.

SAIL MAINE, PLEASE

That’s precisely what organizations like Sail Maine in Portland are trying to do, offering courses for young people and holding fundraisers to raise money for scholarships. Alex Agnew, founder of Tall Ships Portland, the group that brought El Galleon and other tall ships to Portland last summer, has been instrumental in arranging a summer program with the brigantine Fritha to take Maine students for five-day cruises on the Fritha from Portland to Fairhaven, Massachusetts. (Spots are still available for children aged 13 to 18 on the August trips.)

It can be an uphill battle though, getting young people into sailboats. “I try to give them away to kids,” said Michael Chasse. “You know what it is? They are not interested in going outside. Unless it is to play Pokemon Go.”

Chasse tells a story about selling a sailboat to a pair of 19 year olds and then having them return the next year, begging him to buy it back. They were daunted by ownership and the skills it required.

That’s a common problem, whatever the age.

“I think people saw it as a thing where it was challenging to be a good sailor,” Johanson said. “It is not difficult. But it is a lot more than turning the key and hitting the switch and going.”

Dammrich searches for politic words; after all, he is the president of a national trade association devoted to all things boats.

“I love being on a sailboat,” he said. “I think sailing is a fantastic way to be on the water. I just haven’t had time to learn to sail.”

TIME … IS IT ON YOUR SIDE?

Time is an enormous factor in the decline of this elegantly sustainable hobby. Even at its fastest, sailing isn’t likely to look alluring to generations raised on smartphones and video games.

“It looks like it is very slow-paced,” admits Matt Minson. He organizes weekly races through the Centerboard Yacht Club in South Portland. “You can be going 10 miles an hour and feel like you are about to die. But most people don’t know that. They see people out there and think they are going slow. But it is quite exciting.”

When Drew Lyman was a kid, a month of cruising with his family was the norm. Heading up a boatyard, he doesn’t lack for sailboats. But now that he is raising his own family, he feels lucky to find two days together to go sailing with his own children, who are 3 and 5.

“Americans don’t take a lot of vacation time,” he said. “It is hard for my generation to even get out… I just don’t think the younger generation is latching on to that kind of life.”

Today’s family time is simply different, said Collins of Sabre Yachts.

“I think what has happened to sailing is what has happened to so many things,” Collins said. Namely over-scheduled kids and their parental chauffeurs. “School athletics don’t just get done on Wednesday evening anymore.”

He knows. He’s got grandsons. Sailing is a wonderful pastime, Collins said. But that’s not what he does with his grandkids. He turns a key. They go fast. They see more stuff.

“I don’t sail anymore,” he said. “I’m strictly a power boater myself.”

There will always be loyalists, though. And innovators.

Take Alex Agnew, who publishes Ocean Navigator magazine (Tall Ships Portland is something he does in his spare time). About 15 years ago, he joined his first boat partnership, essentially a time share for sailboats that allows partners to share in the upkeep.

“I thought it would be great to have an affordable way that didn’t put too much burden on family time to be involved in an ocean-going voyage,” Agnew said. He’s made a trans- Atlantic crossing and competed in nine races to Bermuda since. He’s also found partners for other new (used) boats since and is part-owner of four sailboats. Annual shares in one of those boats costs about $3,000. “It has been a perfect solution. It has been inexpensive and fun, and I never work on the boat by myself. And when there is a repair bill, I only have to pay a quarter of it.”

It can be frustrating fighting against a tide that has seemed to turn against sailing. But he believes the key is getting people out for that first sail, baiting the hook as it were.

“That’s going to be the future of the sport,” Agnew said. “We are going to have to invite them along.”

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Grow: Good time to start growing Brussels sprouts http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/grow-brussels-sprouts/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/grow-brussels-sprouts/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970192 Brussels sprouts work best as a fall crop, so now is a good time to start them. You can find seedlings at a local garden center because the proprietors, naturally, realize they do best late in the season, but you also could plant seeds directly into your garden.

Have you planted brassicas before? If so, wait four years before planting them in that same area again. They are susceptible to insects and disease, and rotating your crops in your garden cuts down on pests.

If you are seeding them directly in the garden, loosen the soil and plant seeds about a half-inch deep and 4 inches apart, thinning to about 18 inches apart. If you are using seedlings, plant them 18 inches apart. Fertilize lightly, water immediately and make sure they get about an inch of water a week.

Brussels sprouts will stand a hard freeze. In fact, they get a bit sweeter and tastier if they have been frozen. You can break the sprouts off the lower part of the stalk early in the season, but if a long, hard freeze is coming you should cut off the entire (dramatic-looking) stalk and store it in your refrigerator.

This fall, if you’re feeling decadent, you could try deep-frying the Brussels sprouts, a side dish that lately seems to be on the menu of every restaurant in Portland.

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Open Book: Recommendations for the house and garden http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/open-book-green-reads-in-brief-4/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/open-book-green-reads-in-brief-4/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970222 Two books have come across our desk in recent months that offer plenty of projects and hours of fun for home and garden.

185087 Modrn cover“Forgotten Ways for Modern Days: Kitchen cures and household lore for a natural home and garden” speaks to those of us who long to clean ourselves with gentle natural tonics and creams and our (presumably sunlit, well-organized) homes with products that smell “of happy days strolling through a forest, crunching pine needles underfoot.” Which, it so happens, is writer Rachelle Blondel’s description of her Forest-Fresh Floor Cleaner.

As linen-toned and cleanly designed as the natural lore it touts, the book (TarcherPerigee, $25) is divided into four sections: House and Home, In the Garden, Natural Health and Natural Beauty. It wanders hither and thither, offering instructions and tips for steeping caraway tea for an upset stomach, repurposing a lamp shade into a laundry basket, producing homemade paint (really) and keeping chickens. About that last, “Handle your hens regularly – your chance to get a hug and check their well-being at the same time.”

“Forgotten Ways for Modern Days” would make a charming gift for the green-inclined hostess with a Martha Stewart skill set.

ANYONE WHO grew up in the 1970s has tried her hand at growing an avocado tree from the byproduct of a guacamole-making session, but a passionfruit? A peanut? An olive?

185087 pits cover“Plants from Pits: How to Grow a Garden from Kitchen Scraps” by Holly Farrell is a little book (6-by-8½ inches, 144 pages) with a little premise. As the very first lines state, “How often have you looked at a pile of fruit pits and thought ‘I wonder if they would grow?,’ before consigning them to the trash can? The truth is, they probably would grow – and more easily than you think.”

What follows is sets of basic step-by-step instructions for a range of plants, each graded by Easiness, Patience and Type (perennial or annual; bush, tree or vine). Every plant gets an attractive photograph or two, and sweet, childlike illustrations are sprinkled throughout the book like so many seedlings. While Farrell recommends growing from pits as “a brilliant means of introducing children to the outdoors and the science of plants,” their efforts will likely require some adult oversight. Blueberries and cranberries, for instance, want “ericaceous” compost, while figs require a somewhat complicated sequence of flesh mashing, floating and scraping in order to extract the pits.

“Plants from Pits” (Octopus Books, $14.99) includes general information on containers, equipment, diseases, pests, pruning and repotting. It’s a cheerful little book, which seems apt for the cheerful hobby of watching things grow.

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Little Bee Honey Ice Cream is making life in Portland a little sweeter http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/homegrown-little-bee-honey-ice-cream-is-making-life-in-portland-a-little-more-sweet/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/homegrown-little-bee-honey-ice-cream-is-making-life-in-portland-a-little-more-sweet/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970234 Have you heard the buzz around Portland about the latest artisanal ice cream in town? It’s sweetened with Maine honey and often flavored with other local products, from Speckled Ax coffee to Wyman’s Wild Maine Blueberries.

It took Jenny Siler, who co-owns Black Cat Coffee on Stevens Avenue with her husband, Keith Dunlap, a year and a half of experimentation to develop Little Bee Honey Ice Cream. The honey replaces the corn syrup and artificial ingredients often found in mass-produced ice creams, and gives the treat a special taste. Her first flavor was Honey Sea Salt ice cream made with honey from The Honey Exchange, which is just down the street from the coffee shop.

“One of the things we discovered using the honey was not only does it take the place of corn syrup and those other ingredients,” Dunlap said, “but also, because it’s sweet, we can use a little less sugar, and the subtler, more sophisticated flavors can develop.”

As an example, he cited a flavor I tried: Speckled Ax Coffee Malt. The ice cream has a strong honey undertone, but it doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors.

“If it was too sweet, you wouldn’t taste the subtle interplay between the coffee flavor and the malt flavor,” Dunlap said. “And at the same time, you can taste the honey hovering in the background – pardon the pun.”

Other flavors where the honey is clearly discernible but not overpowering include lavender and London Fog – the latter contains Earl Grey tea.

All told, Little Bee makes 12 flavors – 11 ice cream and one sorbet. Dunlap says they try to make something for kids (Cherry Pie), a few offbeat flavors (think Cardamom and Thai Tea) and classics like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.

The ice cream costs $3 for a single scoop, $4.25 for a double and $2.50 for a kiddie size. The largest container is 12 ounces, which goes for $5.25.

Restaurants have started to take notice. Woodford Food & Beverage on Forest Avenue, Kamasouptra at the Portland Public Market House and Salty Sally’s Bar & Grille on Congress Street all serve Little Bee Honey Ice Cream.

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Lisa Moore is diving into seaweed farming http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/meet-lisa-moore-is-diving-into-seaweed-farming/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/meet-lisa-moore-is-diving-into-seaweed-farming/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970246 For four seasons, Lisa Moore and her boyfriend, Donnie Freeman, have been harvesting the wild seaweed called digitata in the waters of Casco Bay in the months when they aren’t lobstering or scallop diving. But now she’s going into seaweed farming, with plans to sell to Ocean Approved once she gets a lease. The company, which literally wrote the book – OK, manual – on how to grow seaweed, recently raised $500,000 to expand its processing capacity, thus opening the door for purchasing agreements with more farmers like Moore. We talked to Moore about some of the other jobs she’s had (hairdresser!), eating seaweed and why aquaculture feels like the future to her.

IN THE PIPELINE: Moore called from the wharf at Bailey Island’s Mackerel Cove, where Freeman keeps his boat, and explained that she’s a farmer without land, so to speak. She’s still working on getting a lease from the Maine Department of Marine Resources to grow sugar kelp. “It is like an eight-month process,” she said. “There is a pre-application to the application and then you have meetings. I have to scout my area, and you have to make sure it is the right depth.” Which would be? About 18 feet. Paul Dobbins, one of the founders and owners of Ocean Approved, is helping her. “Without Paul I’d be like ‘What am doing?’ ” Moore said.

HORSEPOWER: Meanwhile, she bought herself a boat, a 39-footer without an engine. She’s working on the engine she plans to put in it. Motors aren’t new to her. “I love mechanics as a hobby,” she said. “I work on my own truck. I used to race cars. I used to race at the Wiscasset Speedway. I land in very interesting places.”

NOT HER FIRST SEAWEED RODEO: She’s also practiced by putting in hours working on Ocean Approved’s farm off Chebeague. She even tried processing. “The kelp wraps, for sushi. It’s hard. You can’t break them.” A door started to open, mentally, where she could visualize making a business for herself out of this. “I realized, after so many years, I am never going to be a lobsterman,” she said. She’s Freeman’s sternman, but the wait time for a license is too long – it took Freeman 10 years to get his. “All your fisheries are just closed off,” she said – except for seaweed. “I knew they were trying to get more people into aquaculture, and I thought this would be very cool for me.”

HAIR CARE: Her mother grew up in West Point in a family of lobstermen. Her father’s father was from North Bath and had a farm. “My grandfather farmed his own food, from his meat to his vegetables to apples. I say I am combining both of my family heritages.” Other jobs she’s had? Hairdresser. “I had my own shop, LJ’s Hair Shop. I opened it up because I am raising my son alone and I said, ‘I need a day job where I can have him.’ I am a girl that loves a project. After going to hair school and taking that on, I made sure I was there every day. Some girls take a day off, but I was there every day.”

MEET CUTE: How does one get from cutting hair to pulling traps and shucking scallops? She knew Freeman through friends and saw him when he worked the door at a favorite bar. One day he called her up and asked if she had any available appointments. He had “gorgeous long hair,” and she wasn’t sure what to do to improve it. “I said, what about a sun highlight, like when the sun bleaches out your hair?” He was pleased enough with the results to offer her a tip and a dinner invitation. “The rest is history. We make a good pair.” She started going out on the water with him regularly and a year ago took on the job of selling his scallops. She gave up her hair salon and hasn’t looked back. “People wonder, when I go lobstering, they say, ‘Isn’t that hard on your back?’ But it’s not as hard as standing all day, and going out on the water gives you such a mental peace.”

LIFE LESSONS: When they harvest the wild kelp, digitata, together, Freeman dives for it, fills up the bags and sends them up to her. She shakes off snails and does a quality check before packing it in coolers. “I am the inspector of the kelp. I look at every plant that goes in.” Her hope is that she’ll be able to teach her 11-year-old son the business when she starts farming. He’s going to the Harpswell Coastal Academy next year, and Moore aims to make a connection between the charter school, which does extensive gardening, and her seaweed farm. “I love the education (aspect) of it.”

ON THE MENU: There’s always a story of the fisherman who doesn’t eat his catch, but that’s not Moore. Both the digitata and sugar kelp are now a part of her diet. “We like to dry it up and grind it up and put it on our food, kind of like a spice.” Or as with salt and pepper, something automatic she reaches for. When friends express surprise, she asks them, “Do you take a multivitamin?” Seaweed is her version of a vitamin. Her son is a picky eater, but she’s sneaking it into his food. “You could sneak it in anything with a darker color to it. I put it in chili one day.” Everyone loved it. “Where if I told them, they probably would not have eaten it.” She’s brewing up some ideas for marketing dry kelp on her own. And still slightly surprised by this turn of events. “I never, ever thought of eating seaweed. You know how, if it is not something you grow up with …” But as she’s learned, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow old with it.

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Put those pea pods to good use http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/green-plate-special-peas-please/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/green-plate-special-peas-please/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970276 I am coming late for dinner as far as garden-variety English peas are concerned.

While area farmers tell me I’ve only got one more week, maybe two, to buy these highly seasonal gems, I am just now answering the question I ask myself every time I spend an hour – sometimes meditatively, sometime begrudgingly – liberating an always disappointing number of peas from their voluminously fibrous pods. What can I do with these spent cases besides using them to fill my 5-gallon compost bucket? Though I’ve woken up to the wonders of composting, it still seems like a waste of good produce.

If I were a kitchen apprentice in a luxe restaurant in the south of France, in addition to breaking the stem of the pod, pulling the strings down the length of its sides, pressing the pod between my thumb and forefinger to open it, and pushing out the individual peas, I might then use a razor-sharp knife to carve out the pod’s vellum, the tough, parchment paper-like inner lining of the pod, before blanching the pods so they can once again be used to carry peas – these ones cooked in a butter sauce – to lucky eaters.

But I am in my own midcoast Maine kitchen and the shelling of said peas has already tried my patience, so my pea pod options are various forms of liquification. I can make a broth to provide sweet, mossy green undertones to dishes like Triple Pea Risotto (see recipe); an army-green chilled soup for hot summer evenings; or an emerald-green puree that adds a pop of color to anything from ricotta cheese bruschetta to trendy summer cocktails.

Like the peas themselves, which start to lose their sweetness the moment they are plucked from the vine, the pods should be either used or frozen within hours of shucking for best flavor.

To make broth, place the pods, strings and stems into a large pot. Cover them with cold water. Place the pot over medium high heat until it starts to boil. Reduce the heat, simmer for 30 minutes, cool, strain and store as you would vegetable broth.

To make soup from the pods from 2 pounds of purchased English peas, sweat 1 finely diced sweet onion and 3 chopped garlic cloves in 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pot. When the aromatics are soft, add 1/4 cup of dry white wine, the pods and a teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring until the pods are bright green. Add 4 cups of broth (pea pod if you have it) and 3 sprigs of thyme. Simmer the soup for about 30 minutes until the pods are soft. Use an immersion blender to partially break down the pods. One ladleful at a time, push the soup through a food mill or a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. At this point, Julia Child would stir a bit of cream into the soup – follow her lead if you like. Chill the mixture completely before seasoning with grated nutmeg, black pepper and a drop or two of hot sauce.

To make the puree, blanch pods in batches in boiling salted water until they are bright green (30 to 60 seconds). Use a standing blender to puree the pods with a bit of the blanching water and strain the solids. Chill the puree immediately to preserve its eye-popping color.

With any of these solutions, the solids still end up in compost bucket, but the volume will be reduced by more than half and the pods’ flavor preserved for future use.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: cburn1227@gmail.com.

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Collaborative works to enforce Maine laws for cyclists and drivers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/collaborative-works-to-enforce-maine-laws-for-cyclists-and-drivers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/collaborative-works-to-enforce-maine-laws-for-cyclists-and-drivers/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970291 MANY CYCLISTS AND MOTORISTS want stronger enforcement of Maine bicycling laws. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Law Enforcement Collaborative is working to make that happen. The collaborative includes police, transportation officials, cyclists, attorneys and bicycle safety educators.

LAST MONTH, the collaborative released a new reference guide that helps officers determine whether motorists and cyclists have violated Maine laws. The collaborative also organized traffic enforcement details in Portland and several nearby communities that focused on those laws.

OVER THE COURSE of one day in mid-June, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and police in Portland, Scarborough, South Portland and Yarmouth issued 28 citations and 51 warnings to motorists. The most common offenses were speeding and distracted operation.

DURING THAT SAME TIME, officers issued four citations and eight warnings to cyclists for offenses such as not stopping at a stop sign, riding on the wrong side of the road, going the wrong way on a one-way street and failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

LT. FRANK CLARK of the South Portland Police Department said the collaborative hopes officers throughout Maine will use the reference guide to enforce bicycle and pedestrian laws on an ongoing basis.

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Leg Work: Motorists want cyclists to wear bright clothes, follow traffic rules, pay attention http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/legwork-motorists-would-like-cyclists-to-wear-bright-clothes-follow-traffic-rules-and-pay-attention/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/legwork-motorists-would-like-cyclists-to-wear-bright-clothes-follow-traffic-rules-and-pay-attention/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970294 Twice in the past year, Patrick Moody says he came inches away from hitting cyclists who were biking at night in dark clothes. Once, Moody was turning onto Portland’s Forest Avenue when a cyclist on the wrong side of the road headed straight at him, weaving from the bike lane into traffic.

“He looked like he was not with it,” said Moody, who is manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England. Moody had only a split-second to react. “That scared the hell out of me,” he said.

Cyclists who startle drivers and risk their own safety by darting in and out of traffic, riding in the wrong direction and otherwise acting unpredictably were a major concern expressed in my recent, informal survey about bicyclist-motorist interactions. About 40 people throughout Maine responded to the survey. Most drive a car and ride a bike, so they see roadway issues from both perspectives.

“It seems like some bicyclists have taken on the attitude that they have more rights to the road than those in cars,” Leslie Ohmart III of Brewer wrote. “They ride on sidewalks, ignore stop signs, run red lights, cross lanes with little or no signal and generally act like traffic laws do not apply to them.”

Another major concern expressed in the survey was that cyclists antagonize drivers by taking over the whole roadway, forcing motorists to wait patiently in order to pass. Such behavior contributes to the image of cyclists as arrogant jerks, says Brian Edwards of Raymond.

In my last column, I passed on advice for motorists about how to improve safety. Here is advice for cyclists from those who responded to the survey:

Know bicycling laws and follow them. Ride with traffic rather than against it, and go the correct way on a one-way street. Obey traffic signals.

Be consistent and predictable. “Don’t weave through traffic, on and off sidewalks,” Bob O’Brien of Portland said. “Ride confidently, and in a straight line.”

Communicate with drivers by signaling, making eye contact and/or waving. “Don’t assume that motorists see you,” Rick Harbison of Portland said, “or know what your intentions are.”

Ride without distractions. That means no earphones or texting while biking.

Be visible, especially at night. Wear bright clothing (ideally, fluorescent colors) and use lights. Scott Vlaun of Norway is a bicycle-pedestrian advocate with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Community Spokes program. He says cyclists in rural areas should be visible from at least a half-mile away.

Even if you’ve been biking since childhood, consider taking a course such as those offered by CyclingSavvy to become a more confident cyclist.

Those responding to the survey stressed the importance of cyclists acting politely on the roads, both as a basic courtesy and as a way to improve relations with motorists.

“I always wave thanks when a driver waits at an intersection for me to ride by or waits until an open and clear section of road to safely pass me,” Andy Mazer of Yarmouth said. “By being friendly, riding mindfully and showing consideration for motorists, cyclists can defuse some of the tension found on today’s roads.”

Most of those surveyed also recommended being judicious about taking over the main travel lane, even when cyclists have a legal right to do so.

“At one point in my life, I frequently found myself in one of those masses of spandex-clad ‘sport’ cyclists,” Nathan Miller of Portland said. From inside the group, he said, it makes sense to do things like get all riders through an intersection at once. But Miller added, “I can see how infuriating it could be for a driver to be stuck behind a self-righteous group out on a back country road, wondering why they won’t just get out of the way.”

Vlaun, the Norway bicycle advocate, says his rule of thumb is to “never ‘take the lane’ unless it is necessary for safety.”

When cyclists experience problems with motorists, Jim Tassé, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, says cyclists should do “all they can to protect their safety and rights,” including filing a report with authorities. But he cautions against doing anything in the moment that will escalate tension.

“When in doubt, back off,” agreed Peter Hall, a Falmouth cyclist. “You cannot win a confrontation with a car, even if you were in the right.”

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

 

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Feed yourself more healthfully and protect the planet at the same time http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/feed-yourself-more-healthfully-and-protect-the-planet-at-the-same-time/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/feed-yourself-more-healthfully-and-protect-the-planet-at-the-same-time/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970300 Later this month, a group of Maine health professionals will gather for a meat- and dairy-free feast. On the menu? Everything from alternative proteins to vegan wine and beer.

But these doctors and nurses are not pushing a prescription for losing weight or lowering cholesterol, although those benefits could be byproducts of following such a diet. They are concerned with the health of the planet.

The Maine chapter of the nonprofit Physicians for Social Responsibility is joining other health care professionals around the world in focusing its attention on the public health risks of climate change. Rather than talk about the spread of mosquito-borne viruses or the impact of giant hurricanes, the group is using food as a way to engage the public in a difficult discussion about a complicated topic.

Similarly, Health Care Without Harm, a broad nonprofit coalition of health care workers, has already tackled the transformation of hospital menus (including some in Maine hospitals), in an effort to make them more healthful and more locally sourced. The group is now trying to expand the conversation around climate and food through its “Climate-Healthy Menu” program, a partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The program targets food service companies, urging them to offer less red meat and more produce and legumes to their customers – be they hospitals, businesses or colleges and universities. The idea is that if people make better food choices, it will not only benefit their health, but the planet as well.

Karen D’Andrea, executive director of the Maine Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, which has about 2,000 members, said her group wanted to find a way to “get people thinking about climate change in a new and different way.”

“You often hear about how food supplies are connected to climate change,” she said, “but not often about how what we eat impacts climate change.”

Later this month, the group will hold a food festival to focus attention on food and climate change. D’Andrea sees Taste for Change: A Celebration of Food, Climate and Environment as a way to connect with Mainers on the subject of climate change through a topic many already love – food.

“We can’t really talk about fracking in Maine,” D’Andrea said. “We don’t have a fracking issue. It’s hard for us to talk about coal-producing plants because we don’t have (any major) coal-producing plants in Maine. When we can talk about issues that Mainers can relate to, I think that’s what becomes important.”

Physicians for Social Responsibility, founded in 1961, has a long history of fighting nuclear testing and speaking out against pollution. Its work on slowing the arms race won the organization the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.

D’Andrea, who is a vegetarian, emphasizes that, while the Taste for Change event will feature an all-vegan menu, the organization is not trying to convert people to veganism. It went with all-vegan, she said, in order to highlight the wide variety of meat and dairy alternatives that are available today. To make the point, vegan chefs will demonstrate cooking fast vegan meals that are healthy, easy to make and good for the environment.

But Physicians for Social Responsibility is asking people to consider eating less meat, especially red meat. Part of that request is strategic – giving people who might be overwhelmed by the very idea of climate change something they can do themselves to attack the problem. Also, environmentalists have seen that asking people to conserve resources has worked in other arenas – why not try it with food? D’Andrea said.

“Cutting back can and does make an impact,” she said. “We have asked people to do things like cut back on your energy consumption. When we do that, people start turning off the lights in their house. They start buying energy-efficient light bulbs. They start bundling the trips with the vehicles. They buy smaller cars that consume less gas. That’s, I think, what’s happening with food now. You don’t have to jump in all at once and say ‘I’ll never eat meat and dairy again.’ Here’s a piece that you can rip off and chew on.”

While food and climate change are often linked together through statistics, say, the miles a tomato has traveled before it reaches your kitchen, or the amount of pesticides that were used to produce a crop, it’s not often people make a link between what’s on their plate and the issue of climate change.

But that’s beginning to change. As people see their own health decline, as well as the health of their families and communities, “they’re starting to make connections about what’s causing that, including contributions from the environment around them and how their food is produced,” said Stacia Clinton, national program director for Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Program.

People are starting, for example, to connect increases in the price of food with droughts and other weather-related events, she said.

Through its Climate-Healthy Menus program, Health Care Without Harm, the National Resources Defense Council, and Johns Hopkins serve up some of the statistics that show the climate footprint of our dietary choices.

Raising animals for meat causes as much climate pollution as all the tailpipe emissions from the world’s vehicles combined, they say, so even small cutbacks in red meat consumption can have an impact. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating no more than 1.8 ounces of red meat per day, the actual average consumption in the United States is 3.1 ounces. (The three activist groups define “red meat” as that coming from cows, sheep, goats and pigs.)

If Americans ate 30 percent less beef, it would be like taking the tailpipe emissions from 10 million cars off the road each year, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.

The Maine chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility is tackling climate change through food at the suggestion of Dr. Bob Gould, president of the San Francisco chapter and immediate past president of the national group. (The Oregon and Washington chapters are also trying out the idea.)

Gould has been working on the issue for years, viewing it as an effective way to teach doctors and medical students about climate change. “We have, in my view, a lot of demonstrable success in engaging people on this.”

Gould and a colleague, for example, published an editorial and an article in the medical journal American Family Physician on how being climate-friendly could have direct patient benefits. The article illustrated how doctors can talk to their patients in under 15 minutes about eating less red meat. And at the University of California, Gould said, the focus on food and climate change was one factor that led to a redesign of the medical school curriculum to include issues of environmental health.

It all fits together under the broader umbrella of the sustainability movement, he said. Talking about food and climate change “opens a conversation that leads very naturally to the broader understanding we all need of the larger ecological frame.

“That’s really what our challenge is,” Gould said, “is this whole industrialized system that has eroded our natural systems and the natural resilience of the planet.”

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A teenager goes meatless in Monmouth http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/meatless-in-monmouth/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/meatless-in-monmouth/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970327 Alyssa Thompson, a 17-year-old senior at Monmouth Academy, began eating a vegetarian diet when she was a freshman in high school.

It was her third attempt – her first was in third grade, and her second in seventh grade, when she lost too much weight and had to stop. Freshman year, she decided to do it as her New Year’s resolution, and it stuck.

Initially, she simply wanted to give up meat. But as she began researching and watching documentaries like ‘Vegucated,’ she learned about “factory farming and the impacts that it has. So I thought vegetarian is a really good thing to be.”

Thompson’s first year as a vegetarian was hard because she wasn’t sure what to eat. She consumed too much junk food and gained weight, “and was really not any more healthy and probably not eco-friendly. But now I’ve learned what my options are and can actually cook.”

In the last year, primarily because of her concerns about climate change, she has considered becoming vegan, but her parents balked at the idea so she has decided to wait. But her concern for the planet has convinced her a vegan diet is in her future. “It’s actually incredible how many animals have not been slaughtered because the demand for meat is going down,” she said.

Thompson is already getting practice being vegan. Usually her mother will cook her a vegetarian meal to go along with whatever the rest of the family is having, but sometimes Thompson takes over and makes a big pot of vegan soup or stew – and her parents join in, shrinking the family’s carbon footprint even more.

“Through my journey as a vegetarian, it’s definitely opened up my parents more,” she said. “My mom eats significantly less meat than she used to.”

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Falmouth’s use of herbicides to fight invasives proves to be a thorny issue http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/maine-gardener-falmouths-use-of-herbicides-to-fight-invasives-proves-to-be-a-thorny-issue/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/maine-gardener-falmouths-use-of-herbicides-to-fight-invasives-proves-to-be-a-thorny-issue/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=970540 As soon as I saw the June 28 Press Herald story on the town of Falmouth using glyphosate to combat invasive plants, I knew reaction would be strong.

Glyphosate – the prime ingredient in Roundup (which is made by Monsanto) and other widely used herbicides – has been linked to health and environmental problems. The World Health Organization has said glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic.” Other studies have linked it to kidney and liver failure, promoting the growth of cancerous cells in breasts, premature aging, reproductive failure, immune system failure and birth defects.

Invasive plants – multiflora roses, bittersweet, honeysuckle and Japanese knotweed – are also seriously problematic. Because they come from distant lands, invasives have no local enemies (i.e., animals that eat them), so they spread quickly. They crowd out native plants, which have developed locally over thousands of years to support the complicated web of animals, birds and insects that together make up the local ecosystem. The consequences can be dire, among them:

Native species can’t find enough food or the right food, nor can they find suitable places for dens and nests to raise their young;

Monarch butterflies starve; and

Native pollinators sicken, infected by diseases carried by invasives.

All of which raises the question: Is the cure (glyphosate) worse than the problem (invasives)?

After talking with a handful of experts and several involved in Falmouth’s spraying program, my own answer is a qualified no. Used conservatively and applied by people who follow label directions, herbicides – even Roundup – have their place, such as when communities are faced with invasive and ever-expanding jungles.

‘THE PROBLEM ISN’T THE CHEMISTRY’

Jessica Shade, director of The Organic Center, which monitors studies of links between health problems and many different chemicals, said the links between glyphosate and health problems are mostly statistical, with no studies showing how the pesticides cause diseases. Most of the studies look at people who have eaten genetically modified Roundup-resistant crops. And even those studies recommend that more studies be done.

“The problem isn’t the chemistry,” said Bob Shafto, Falmouth’s outdoor ombudsman who oversees the town’s spraying program. “It’s the way (the herbicide) is being used in agriculture, where they’ve got miles and miles of fields of corn being sprayed instead of cultivated, and the spray kills all the sources of food for pollinators.”

Jeff Taylor of Vegetation Control Services, the company that applies the herbicide for Falmouth, says that his workers follow all label instructions, avoid areas near homes where residents don’t want spraying, use an anti-drift method of spraying, and stop if the wind rises. The town is applying Rodeo – a glyphosate product that, unlike Roundup, can be used near water safely – as well as an aquatic-approved surfactant to help the chemical stick to plants.

The state agencies charged with managing invasive plants and pesticides defend the Falmouth program.

Spraying with glyphosate “can be an appropriate treatment for dealing with invasive plants, depending on the goals of the property owner,” said Nancy Olmstead, invasive plant biologist for the Maine Natural Areas Program in the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

As for the Board of Pesticide Control, which under board policy answers questions only by email, it said that Falmouth’s methods are appropriate as part of a program to remove invasive species, as long as the areas are replanted with species that will survive there.

LONG-TERM EFFECTS UNKNOWN

There is plenty of disagreement on that point. Just because government agencies find the chemicals appropriate for use doesn’t mean they are safe, The Organic Center’s Shade countered.

“A lot of the chemicals haven’t actually been used that long, and there haven’t been a lot of broad-scale studies,” she said. “A lot of these chemicals don’t have an immediate effect, so who knows what happens over time? They used to spray DDT throughout neighborhoods and think it was safe.”

And Eric Sideman of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association noted that glyphosate is toxic by definition, and people should avoid using toxic substances. “Roundup is essentially a labor-saving device,” he said. “We would hope the people on their own property would continue mowing, cutting or hand pulling the invasive plants” rather than use toxins.

You cut down the invasives and keep cutting them so that they neither produce seeds nor grow more than 4 inches tall. The plants will expend energy sending up shoots, but the leaves will not bring in enough energy to feed the roots. Eventually, Sideman said, the roots will use up all their stored energy and the plants will die.

People have eliminated poison ivy using this methods, he continued – although poison ivy, while an evil plant if you ask me, isn’t an invasive; it’s a native.

GOING TO THE GOATS

Last winter, I attended a talk on removing invasives without using chemicals given by Lois Berg Stack, an ornamental horticulture specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service. She admitted that when she first moved into her home, she used Roundup – but said she wouldn’t do so again if she were moving in now.

I have used Roundup in my own garden, but I don’t plan to ever do so again either. I am increasingly concerned about pesticides, plus the invasives in our garden are under control (and we are never moving!). Setting my own yard aside, cutting out invasive plants and killing them by continued cutting is well within the ability of homeowners. However, dealing with giant invasive patches along roads in communities may be a different question. It involves worker safety and tax dollars. Life is a balance of what you want to do and what you can do.

And now there are goats. During her talk last winter, Stack recommended goats, who cheerfully munch on, and eliminate, invasives. At that time, there was nowhere to rent a goat in Maine In a July 6 Press Herald story, though, I read that a woman has launched a goat-rental operation.

Now we’re making progress.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: tomatwell@me.com.

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Growers find ways to weather this summer’s lack of rainfall http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/16/growers-find-ways-to-weather-this-summers-lack-of-rainfall/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/16/growers-find-ways-to-weather-this-summers-lack-of-rainfall/#comments Sat, 16 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=973144 The way Bill Spiller sees it, the drought could be worse.

With little rain in recent months and no significant rainfall on the horizon, the Wells farmer has been relying on his irrigation system to keep his crops of raspberries and vegetables healthy.

“Things are quite dry, but the crops aren’t looking too bad yet,” Spiller said. “Back in 1963 and 1964, things were ungodly dry.”

According to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, over half the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with an increasingly large percentage of York County seeing moderate or severe drought.

By comparison, last year at this time, only about 22 percent of the state was abnormally dry.

Since January, Portland has recorded 21.02 inches of rain, almost 4 inches less than average, according to the National Weather Service.

The drought conditions may be perfect for tourists looking for sunny beach weather, but the lack of rain forces farmers and nursery operators to rely more heavily on irrigation systems to keep their crops growing.

And it appears there won’t be relief any time soon.

“You don’t get into a drought overnight and you’re not getting out of drought overnight,” said Eric Schwibs of the National Weather Service in Gray.

“You need a good soaking rain over several days so it can soak into the ground. That’s not going to happen soon. It may not be until fall that we see significant relief.”

Much of the Northeast is also seeing drought conditions, with sections of New York and Massachusetts among the driest.

The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that western New York, the state’s Finger Lakes region, and much of central and northeastern Massachusetts are experiencing severe drought conditions along with southern New Hampshire and southwestern Maine.

Several towns in Massachusetts have instituted mandatory water restrictions.

“Severe” is the third most serious of five grades of drought.

Most of the rest of New England as well as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are considered either abnormally dry or under moderate drought conditions.

Spiller, who has been running Spiller Farm for decades, said the upside to having less rain is that he’s seen less disease in crops than usual.

“The quality of what we’re growing is very good this year,” he said.

The dry weather is forcing the owners of Broadturn Farm in Scarborough to make heavier use of an irrigation system to keep the produce and flowers grown on the 13-acre farm healthy. The system was installed several years ago using funds from a state bond to support agriculture, said farmer Stacy Brenner.

“When we first started farming and didn’t have irrigation, it was stressful,” she said.

“Now it’s a little like farming in California. With the assurance of being able to put water on our crops, it’s not as stressful. It’s much harder on folks without (irrigation).”

Tom Estabrook, vice president of Estabrook’s in Yarmouth and Kennebunk, said the moderate drought conditions in Cumberland County and severe drought in York County haven’t affected the garden centers’ plants, although employees have been doing a little extra watering on hot days. Customers, however, haven’t been having as easy a time, he said.

“We haven’t seen a major shift in sales, but we’ve certainly seen an increase in phone calls from customers who are having problems with plants in their yards,” Estabrook said. “People have questions about how to care for plants and get them through this dry spell.”

Estabrook said he’s been telling people to water their yards and gardens more frequently, especially before thunderstorms move through the area. If the ground is too dry, the rainwater runs off instead of soaking into the ground.

“Get out there and water, water, water,” Estabrook said.

In Ogunquit, where people have been crowding the beach for relief from the heat, town officials are thinking about both fire safety and caring for new plants and trees along Route 1.

Mark O’Brien, the town’s fire chief, said highway department crews have been busy watering the new vegetation planted as part of the $14 million Route 1 reconstruction project.

Normally the trees and plants would only need to be watered every few days, but crews have been out daily, he said.

The town has not been told of any restrictions on water usage, he said. Ogunquit is served by the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District.

O’Brien said the fire department is not issuing burn permits on days with class 3 or higher fire danger, including Friday.

Fire crews have been called in recent weeks to multiple grass and woods fires, but so far haven’t run into any major wildfires. He is asking people to be extra careful if they’re using sparklers and to refrain from using fireworks or floating lanterns, which are not allowed.

“It’s very dry out there,” O’Brien said.

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Bill passed by Congress to require GMO labels on food falls short, critics say http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/14/critics-say-congress-passed-bill-to-require-gmo-labels-on-food-falls-short/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/14/critics-say-congress-passed-bill-to-require-gmo-labels-on-food-falls-short/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2016 01:41:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/14/critics-say-congress-passed-bill-to-require-gmo-labels-on-food-falls-short/ Despite being opposed by Maine’s entire congressional delegation, a bill to create a national labeling policy for foods containing genetically modified ingredients is headed to President Obama’s desk after a decisive 306-117 vote Thursday in the House of Representatives. The White House has said Obama will sign it.

The bill, the third piece of GMO labeling legislation to come before Congress in 2016, will pre-empt the Vermont law that took effect July 1. It also will essentially toss Maine’s hard-fought – and tougher – labeling law, signed by Gov. Paul LePage in 2014 but on hold because it required all surrounding states to be on board, into the dustbin.

“It’s a huge disappointment, clearly,” said Ted Quaday, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, known as MOFGA, which was instrumental in getting the 2014 law passed. Congress was “hoodwinked,” Quaday said, by lobbyists for the big food companies, biotechnology companies and trade associations.

Groups like MOFGA have been fighting for decades to require transparent labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms. GMOs are plants or animals that have had genes copied from other plants or animals inserted into their DNA. While farmers have always selectively bred plants, this manipulation is done in a lab, speeding up the process and creating certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides, and potential for higher yields, although recent research has suggested the latter is in question.

The Food and Drug Administration’s position is that these foods are safe, but the majority of consumers still want to know if their food contains GMO ingredients.

The food, farm and biotech industries – which includes GMO giant Monsanto – have spent $192.8 million to influence federal GMO labeling legislation and for other issues since 2013, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group, which favors labeling. More than half of that has been spent in the past year alone. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food manufacturers, has hired 34 lobbyists since 2014 exclusively to advocate for anti-GMO-labeling legislation, the group found.

The end result, critics said, is the just-passed bill that is confusing and less stringent than legislation proposed by 17 states. Groups like the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers Association favored the bill, as did the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which called it a “win-win” and praised its bipartisan nature.

“Republicans and Democrats found consensus on the common ground that a patchwork of different state labeling laws would be a costly and confusing disaster for the nation’s food supply chain,” Pamela G. Bailey, the association’s president and CEO, said in a written statement.

But Maine’s delegation – Sen. Angus King, an independent, Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep Bruce Poliquin, both Republicans, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, found consensus in opposing it.

Before the House vote Thursday, Pingree spoke against the bill, calling it “a complicated solution to a simple problem.” One of her chief complaints is that manufacturers have the choice of using a quick-response digital code on a label that would require consumers to scan it with a smart phone to find out specifics about which ingredients are derived from GMOs.

“An average 12-year-old will tell you this is an obsolete technology,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the labeling advocacy group Just Label It and also chairman of Stonyfield Farms. “Really, all consumers want is a simple disclosure.”

Pingree called for a list in “plain English” that would be available to all consumers, the way labeling is handled in other countries, including most of Europe, Japan and “even China,” she said.

LABELING FLEXIBILITY QUESTIONED

Critics also say the federal legislation allows food manufacturers flexibility on labeling. In addition to text or the digital code, an as-yet-undetermined symbol would be allowed.

The Vermont law requires that items be labeled “produced with genetic engineering,” and many manufacturers have begun making the transition to text on the labels. Whole Foods, a major player in the upscale supermarket arena, set a goal in 2013 for full GMO labeling by 2018.

Even as Congress has debated labeling and lobbyists have worked against it, Campbell’s Soup Co., General Mills, Mars, Inc., Kellogg and ConAgra are introducing or have introduced labeling on packages of products containing GMOs. Dannon will label all GMO ingredients in its yogurt products by December 2017.

That may mostly be a response to public demand. In multiple polls, conducted on behalf of groups such as Just Label It and independent studies for publications such as Consumer Reports, more than 90 percent of respondents said they believe foods with genetically modified ingredients should be labeled as such.

Hirshberg thinks that “smart and responsible brands, the ones that don’t want to get into trouble with consumers,” will move ahead with text labeling.

He also said there may be a “silverish” lining to passage of the bill.

“The fact that we got anything at all is a sign of progress,” he said. “Commercial agricultural interests still control much of our (food) policy.”

Lawmakers from rural states overwhelmingly supported the legislation, including some Democrats up for re-election in contested races. Republicans were overwhelmingly for it, siding with agriculture groups that said it was needed to bring more certainty to farmers who grow genetically modified corn and soybeans.

RULEMAKING PROCESS TO BEGIN

Now that the bill has passed, critics are gearing up for the next phase in the GMO saga, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture begins what will be a two-year rulemaking process.

“People are not going to give up and walk away just because Congress passed a goofy law,” said Quaday, the MOFGA official. “There is a long rulemaking process ahead and we will do everything we can to engage in that process.”

The federal legislation encompasses some foods that were exempted from the Vermont law, but it also allows the USDA to determine how much of a “bioengineered substance” must be present to require a GMO label. If that threshold is high, advocates are likely to be further disappointed. But Hirshberg, who plans to be back in Washington next week to continue his work with Just Label It, takes a philosophical approach.

“Even I have to admit, our state bills still exempted 42 percent of food. They weren’t perfect. The truth is, we had a solution that was only covering about half the food,” he said.

The food industry says 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients, most of those corn- and soy-based. The bulk of the nation’s genetically engineered crops are eaten by livestock or made into popular processed food ingredients such as cornstarch, soybean oil or high-fructose corn syrup.

Soda contains massive amounts of corn syrup, but would not be labeled under the legislation. Most sugar beets grown in the U.S. are also genetically modified. Only a handful of genetically engineered fruits and vegetables are available in the produce aisle, including Hawaiian papaya, some zucchini and squash, and some sweet corn.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg contributed to this report.

 

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Luigi Del Conte sauces spice up a hot summer night http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/luigi-del-conte-sauces/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/luigi-del-conte-sauces/#comments Sun, 10 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=959924 Summer is the time when many Mainers eagerly put produce from their garden or the local farmers market to good use.

But if you’d rather take a hike or go on a bike ride than stand over a hot stove making sauce with homegrown tomatoes, check out the four varieties of jarred sauces Louis Del Conte has been quietly making in Down East Maine since 1996, when he started selling quarts of his Country Style Marinara out of the kitchen at Little Luigi’s, his Bar Harbor restaurant. Fast forward a few years to his next restaurant, Bella Mare in Southwest Harbor, where he developed three more sauces: another tomato-based sauce called Spicy a la Vodka Sauce; a white sauce, Carribeano, that contains spiced rum, citrus and coconut milk; and a second white sauce made with Sambuca.

In 2014, at the urging of his customers, Del Conte started bottling his sauces, first in his own kitchen and later in a commercial kitchen in Ellsworth. Last October, as sales increased yet again, Del Conte moved production to co-packer Pemberton Foods Inc. in Gray.

Del Conte uses local wine in the red sauces, a Barbera from Bar Harbor Cellars. Most of the produce he uses comes from Native Maine Produce, the cream from Hood, and the vodka is Barton Vodka, bottled in Lewiston. The sauces contain no preservatives.

I tasted all four at a food show a few weeks ago and was impressed by how fresh they tasted. Later, I picked up a jar of the Sambuca sauce. This sauce – sweet, but with a little kick to it – would be perfect with mussels; Del Conte told me that’s exactly what he made it for, originally. But I went with a kind of seafood smorgasbord – a handful of shrimp, a few scallops, a lobster tail chopped into bite-sized pieces and a halibut fillet. I quickly seared the scallops and fish, threw them into a baking dish with the lobster and shrimp, gently tossed the seafood with the sauce and baked it for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F. Serve with grilled vegetables and rice, and you have an easy dinner.

Del Conte initially got his products into a couple of stores in Ellsworth. From there, they quickly spread to 27 stores throughout the state. Today, he sells them in Florida, North and South Carolina, and Boston, and has just signed on with Associated Buyers, a specialty food distributor that reaches all of New England and part of New York. In Portland, the sauces are in LeRoux Kitchen, Rosemont markets, and Whole Foods Market, where Del Conte does demonstrations Tuesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

On the Del Conte website, a 16-ounce jar of the marinara sauce costs $6.99, the vodka sauce is $7.99, and the cream-based sauces are $9.99. I bought the Sambuca sauce at Rosemont on Brighton Avenue, which was charging $10.99 – a bit steep, but maybe worth it for a little extra time in the summer sun.

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Anne D. Burt relishing role as climate change activist http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/meet-anne-d-burt-climate-change-activist/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/meet-anne-d-burt-climate-change-activist/#comments Sun, 10 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=959927 Anne D. “Andy” Burt has been a fixture in the state Legislature and at environmental gatherings around Maine for years, spreading the idea of social, economic and environmental justice.

For 15 years, she was the environmental justice coordinator for the Maine Council of Churches, helping Mainers shrink their carbon footprints. She also put herself on the line personally, protesting political decisions she believed would harm the planet. In 2011, Burt, who is a Quaker, was arrested at the White House for peacefully protesting the construction of the Keystone Pipeline.

In December, she left the Maine Council of Churches in order to throw herself full time into climate change activism. In a new film, “Down to Earth Climate Justice Storytelling Project,” she and videographer Charlie Hudson interviewed 13 Maine climate justice activists. “I wanted to find out, where do you see hope and what is the history of your values?” she said. “Where does who you are as an activist come from?

“I love the fact that it is a Maine-grown project that features Maine people living their values, willing to take risks on a lot of issues,” she said.

Here’s what we love: Burt tells us she’s saved every single edition of Source since the section was launched in 2014.

MAINE HOMECOMING: Burt grew up in Lawrenceville, N.J., daughter of a stay-at-home mom and a civil engineer who worked on the George Washington Bridge and the Holland Tunnel. She and her husband, Stephen, moved to Maine in 1969 as part of an earlier back-to-the-land movement. Stephen found work building boats and digging clams, and they bought 18 acres in Edgecomb. “It had been a hunting camp,” Burt said. “We actually moved out onto this land with a 2-month-old baby and camped and put up a timber-framed little cabin that we used in the summers for a long time. And then we would house-sit and do other things in the winter.”

The couple left Maine in 1972 so Stephen could study astronomy in graduate school – but they hung onto their land. They moved around over the next 17 years, living for a time in Indiana, Michigan (where Burt founded a homeless shelter) and Vermont. They returned to Maine in 1989, after their middle child – one of three – graduated from high school.

ROOTS OF HER ACTIVISM: One of Burt’s earliest memories of fighting injustice occurred in elementary school. She was part of a youth group at a Presbyterian church and wondered why her African-American friends attended a different church on Sundays. “I asked the minister why,” she recalled, “because it seemed like from everything I was being taught in the literature of the church that that should have been what we were doing. And he couldn’t give me a good reason. I got very disillusioned with religion.”

Burt wrote her senior thesis in high school on the black Muslim movement, and engaged in the anti-war movement of the 1960s. She “came back to the faith community” after watching Quaker friends take anti-war stands and work on social justice issues. In the 1980s, Burt worked for the American Friends Service Committee in Indiana, a Quaker organization that promotes peace and justice as an expression of faith, helping political refugees flee Central America.

“That was one of the places where I most profoundly understood how a story could really change people’s hearts and minds,” she said. Despite the state’s politically conservative atmosphere, “a number of churches reached back to their roots” in the Underground Railroad to inspire a modern-day sanctuary movement “that helped oppressed people from Central America to flee. A whole Salvadoran family lived in our meetinghouse.”

FAITH AND FOOD: When she went to work for the Maine Council of Churches, Burt created several educational programs about climate change that were designed to link people more closely with their impact on the planet. For “Be a Good Apple,” Burt worked with the late Russell Libby of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to create a “foods covenant program” that encouraged families to pledge spending at least $10 a week on local food. More than 100 congregations in the state participated.

“Maine Bean Suppahs” were just that – except participants were asked to use only locally grown ingredients in the traditional dishes. “Fishes and Loaves” connected Mainers with fishermen and created a study guide on ocean acidification and working waterfronts.

A STEP TOO FAR? At one point, Burt tried to convince Maine churches to use only local foods for communion. Only Maine grains should be used for the communion bread, she argued. Burt found a farm willing to make local grape juice, but there wasn’t enough to go around – so Burt pushed for switching to apple cider. The idea didn’t go over well. Neither did her suggestion that churches forgo the imported palm fronds on Palm Sunday for Maine pine boughs. “Ahh, heretic,” she said, recalling the general reaction. “A number of congregations did do it. I don’t think anybody ever used cider. That was a little too far. But I like to push the envelope.”

DOWN TO EARTH: Burt’s first Down to Earth film focused on divestment from fossil fuels and will soon go up on her new website. An 8-minute excerpt of the hourlong climate justice storytelling film is already posted. Burt says that in working on the project, she’s been struck by how the climate justice movement appears to be multigenerational and has been embracing other movements, such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Idle No More,” the mass protest movement of indigenous peoples in Canada.

“I also have a sense that the spirit of the early church is very much alive in the movement,” she said. “Even in the face of tremendous challenges to overcome what is happening to the earth’s environment, there is this sense of joy. It’s bringing out this human community that is really exciting. It sort of echoes back to the Civil Rights movement and the Red Power movement. In those movements, it was the young people who were really able to take the biggest risks, who said, ‘We need to ride into Mississippi on the Freedom buses.’ I see that very much in the climate justice movement, that it’s young people looking at what their future may or may not be and saying, ‘We need to act.’ ”

PRACTICING WHAT SHE PREACHES: Burt and her husband have state-of-the-art solar technology at their Edgecomb home. They heat with wood and drive a Prius. But she’s not a saint. Her guilty pleasure? Travel. While the Burts have friends who refuse to fly anymore because they don’t want to contribute to the CO2 emissions that cause climate change, the Burts still fly to Florida once in a while. “One of the pleasures my husband and I have had the last few years is going to the Everglades to do photography,” Burt said. “It is a pleasure, at age 71, to experience a little warmth.”

WHAT’S NEXT? Burt is working with two other women to gather stories for another film, this one featuring activists who live in Maine but promoted change elsewhere. “They are stories where people have played a role in history, but it is not something their neighbors know about,” she said. Another project will showcase “climate solutions” that are happening around the state.

WILL SHE EVER RETIRE? An emphatic no. Burt would like to go out of this life like her Aunt Evelyn, who was making lunch for a group of friends and went out into her garden to cut some greens. “She was 89, and they found her there lying in the garden, face up,” Burt said.

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Try microgreens when you want to have a little fun http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/green-plate-specialsometimes-green-do-gooders-just-want-to-have-fun/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/green-plate-specialsometimes-green-do-gooders-just-want-to-have-fun/#comments Sun, 10 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=959936 So many things related to eating sustainably are just so darn severe. Avoiding pesticides by seeking out organics; making sure the fish you buy is underutilized, the beef is grass-fed, the pork is pastured and the chicken free range; calculating overall food miles and the carbon footprints of individual ingredients; avoiding excess packaging; buying into composting; and, of course, remembering your reusable bags before you’re in the checkout line.

Sometimes an eater just needs a little more whimsy and a little less earnestness. Take microgreens for instance. Aren’t they just as cute as kid goats, or what?

These tiny, vitamin-packed greens are produced by growing garden-variety vegetables in soil only to the point at which the embryonic cotyledon leaves and a pair of partially developed leaves reach up toward the light (between one and four weeks). At that point, they are cut and eaten. They differ from sprouts in that those are grown in water, in the dark, conditions that are also ripe for bacterial growth. Where sprouts are highly regulated for food safety issues, microgreens are not.

Chefs have been showering dishes with microgreens for over 15 years because of the bursts of color, flavor and texture they bring to the white-tablecloth dining experience. And now they are starting to crop up in farmers markets and specialty food stores around Maine for home cooks, too, to sprinkle over their weekly soups, salads, sandwiches and side dishes.

Most of the local chefs to whom Micromainea Micro Greens owner Judy Hughes of Westport Island sells her products prefer to buy single varieties of greens. She sells about 20 regularly, including arugula, Asian mustard suehlihung, fennel, garnet mustard, purple kohlrabi, red amaranth and sweet corn shoots and pea tendrils.

But Hughes is having the most fun creating, naming and taking requests for the microgreen mixes she sells at the Bath and Boothbay summer farmers markets. The “Real Men Eat Greens” mix sold around Father’s Day includes pepper crest, pea tendrils, fennel, arugula blossoms and purple kohlrabi. The more recent East Shore mix comprises arugula, pea tendrils, broccoli and purple radish.

Microgreens have a sustainable story for sure, says Hughes. She grows hers year-round (outside in the brighter months, inside under low-energy lights in the darker ones), in organic soil she sources from Living Acres in New Sharon, from non-GMO seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, without the use of pesticides.

She delivers her greens in recyclable (but not technically reusable) deli-type containers so they stay fresh. Hughes acknowledges that since the seed densities in her flats are higher than they would be if a farmer were planting them to produce the vegetable crop, and further, that since microgreens don’t typically go to seed, questions could be raised about the long-term sustainability of the seed supply.

“But I think of it as sustaining the livelihood of the seed growers, of supporting the community at large,” said Hughes, who is also planning to save some of the seed pods from the greens she allows to go to flower, to see if they can be cultivated into microgreens next year.

A second supplier of microgreens, Cultivation Works Farm in Saco – which markets them as Teenie Greenies – is an outgrowth of the Portland-based social services organization, Creative Work Systems, which provides supported employment opportunities for people with disabilities. According to Mary Jo Marquis, director of social enterprises at the agency, growing microgreens enhances employees’ skills both in terms of producing a quick, sustainable crop and practicing marketing talents as they also deliver the reusable flats of still-growing basil, carrot, celery, cilantro, kale and spicy mixed greens in organic soil to chefs from Portland to Kennebunkport. The outfit recently received a $15,000 grant to construct a greenhouse on the farm to produce enough Teenie Greenies to meet wholesale and retail demand.

Seems to be that everything about microgreens is growing fast.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: cburn1227@gmail.com.

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Organizers of sailing regattas make a wind-powered sport even greener http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/sea-change-organizers-of-sailing-regattas-make-a-wind-powered-sport-even-greener/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/sea-change-organizers-of-sailing-regattas-make-a-wind-powered-sport-even-greener/#comments Sun, 10 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=959948 When Atlantic Cup contestants raced into Portland last month, ending their 1,000-mile journey from South Carolina, eyes turned to the sleek boats, huge sails and podium winners. Few spectators noticed that one of the biggest winners in this year’s race was not even a formal contestant; it was the ocean and coastal environment.

Thanks to concerted efforts by the nonprofit Sailors for the Sea, races like Atlantic Cup have become “Clean Regattas” – no longer generating a damaging wake of discarded water bottles, picnic debris and toxic cleaners. Atlantic Cup, at the forefront of this trend since its formation in 2010, proudly calls itself “the most environmentally responsible sailing race in the U.S.”

Being wind-powered, sailing has an inherent advantage over many sports in terms of environmental impact – but it can still generate plenty of waste and pollution. To address this challenge, Sailors for the Sea was launched in 2002. Its sustainability director, Robyn Albritton, says that recently its “message has really begun resonating with the (sailing) community.” More than 900 Clean Regattas have been held to date, and 150 more are registered for this year.

Motivation can come, Albritton says, when sailors witness marine pollution first-hand and realize that their sport depends on a healthy ocean. Nowhere is this more evident than in the 2016 Summer Olympics, being held in August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

News reports there, following water tests that revealed levels of viruses and bacteria from human feces that measured up to 1.7 million times higher than what would be deemed hazardous at a California beach. More recent news reports confirm that the 1,400 athletes competing in sailing, canoeing, swimming and rowing in Rio could be at risk.

Sailors in Maine rarely face such extreme environmental threats, but many have witnessed more marine debris than they care to recall. Clean Regattas offers a chance to turn that tide.

DISPENSING WITH DISPOSABLES

Molly MacMillan White helps run two Maine races – the Downeast Regatta and the J/24 North American – out of the Portland Yacht Club in Falmouth. Both races have made marked changes in recent years. In the past, White says, they generated a “huge amount” of waste, with countless disposable water bottles and five or six oversized garbage bags from each picnic or lobster bake.

Now each participant receives a single reusable cup for the event and can resupply that from water stations at the dock. Clearly marked containers encourage recycling, and picnic leftovers and compostable dinnerware are hauled off by Garbage to Garden – so trash generated from lobster bakes is down to about a tenth of what it once was. Each boat is given a Clynk bag to collect returnable bottles used while aboard.

Sea Bags Mobile Truck is on hand at the regattas to collect spent sails, keeping them out of landfills or incinerators. And participants are encouraged to join in a shore cleanup.

OFFSETTING CARBON GENERATION

Many yachts now rely on solar panels or hydro-generators to charge batteries, and some race organizers – like Atlantic Cup – require contestants to use renewable energy. Atlantic Cup does its part by supplying race boats with a 50 percent biodiesel mix to get from the docks to the race course, a practice that has been followed for four years without any mechanical issues.

Atlantic Cup achieved the highest “Platinum” level among Clean Regattas in part by committing to a completely carbon-neutral event. Organizers and participants track the carbon footprint of all their race-related activities, such as attendee travel and hotel stays. This process has proven educational not just for the sailors but for the communities where regattas are held. Before reaching Portland, Atlantic Cup racers had a stop in New York City, where organizers found that their trash traveled an average of 272 miles to reach a landfill!

When total carbon use has been tabulated, the Atlantic Cup purchases carbon offsets – this year through We Are Neutral. To compensate for the 2016 race’s carbon expenditures, this nonprofit will plant trees, help landfills capture methane emissions, and perform free energy retrofits on homes of low-income families.

ENCOURAGING OTHERS

Katie Hatch, executive director of SailMaine in Portland, runs regattas involving high school sailing teams, and sees more “peer-to-peer education” happening all the time. There’s even a group of high school seniors who reach out routinely to coaches and parents, educating them on the why and how of greener regattas. “The kids have become the messengers,” Hatch says.

Molly MacMillan White has found that most participants at their regattas embrace the new practices, and some return home motivated to make changes where they live. White is preparing a how-to manual to make it easier for race organizers to adopt more sustainable practices. “The whole point of this,” she says, “is to have it spread.”

Marina Schauffler, a freelance writer and editor, is online at www.naturalchoices.com.

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If you have a garden, you probably have a shade garden http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/maine-gardenerif-you-have-a-garden-you-probably-have-a-shade-garden/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/maine-gardenerif-you-have-a-garden-you-probably-have-a-shade-garden/#comments Sun, 10 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=959954 People often talk about shade gardens as if they are a specialty. For most gardeners, though, if you have an ornamental garden, at least part of it will be a shade garden.

In my wife Nancy’s and my garden, only two areas have full sun: the center of the vegetable garden and a small area next to the road. Most of our plants have to tolerate, if not prefer, shade.

The reason for all the shade is that gardeners like their trees.

“The trees have to be looked on as the biggest plant in your garden,” said Rick Sawyer, who with his wife, Denise, owns and runs Fernwood Nursery and Gardens, which bills itself as “Maine’s shadiest nursery.” “In very dry periods, the water goes to them before the other plants, and they get all the light.”

Shade plants often are the native plants you notice when you take a walk in the woods, and those natives are the ones Sawyer first learned to love. They include ferns, bloodroot, hepatica and wild orchids like lady slippers and trillium.

“These are plants that are sort of not in your face,” Sawyer said. “You have to get down on hands and knees and really pay attention to what it has to offer as a horticultural wonder.”

It is not just the flowers that draw his attention, but also the structure of the plant when it is not in bloom.

While the plants Sawyer mentioned as favorites are natives, Fernwood, located in Montville just inland from Belfast, also sells many imports that will grow in the same conditions, most of which are propagated on their own property.

They grow a lot of hostas, the first plant many people think of for shade gardens. Hostas have big leaves that draw the eye with their deep textures and varied colors, and many have attractive blossoms. They are a favorite food for deer, but can be protected with fences and various deer-repellent sprays.

After talking with Sawyer, I took a walk around our yard to assess some of the shade plants with which we have success – and we have lots of them.

I’ll start with shrubs.

Azaleas and rhododendrons thrive in shade, and by choosing your varieties well you can have blossoms from early April through late July. Viburnums are another winner, with white blossoms in May and June and berries on some varieties from late summer through the winter. Hollies have white flowers in late spring, while their red berries brighten the winter – and many Christmas decorations. While yews thrive in dense shade, a prettier evergreen is the native hemlock. The tree grows 90 feet tall, but some smaller versions are just 15 feet tall and may have white tips or golden needles.

People keep pushing hydrangeas so much that I am getting bored with them, but the arborescens such as “Annabelle” and some macrophyllas produce stunning blossoms in dense shade, and they last from July until you cut the dried blossoms off the following spring.

Some of my favorite perennials are shade lovers. Rodgersia has huge pink to white blossoms, but the plant’s prime attribute is its foliage, which is deeply textured and changes colors from green to bronze with tinges of pink, depending on the variety.

Peonies are wonderful, but they are mostly sun lovers. The Japanese woodland peony, as its name implies, grows underneath trees and blooms about a month earlier than other peonies – although the blooms go by way too quickly.

Solomon’s seal – both the shorter variegated version and plain green taller one – are architectural statements in the garden. Our aruncus produces a cloud of creamy white blossoms in the corner of our lot while fighting off the roots from the Norway maples on one neighbor’s property and a huge hemlock on the other neighbor’s land. Bleeding hearts thrive in shade, but we aren’t fans, so we don’t grow them.

We have both the truly perennial foxglove, which is yellow and we know where it will come up each year, and the biennials, which move around because they seed themselves. (Biennials produce greenery in their first year, flowers and seeds in their second and then die.) Daylilies produce brighter, bigger blossoms in full sun but do flower in quite a bit of shade, too, although they get lankier.

Ferns are considered a shade-loving plant, but Sawyer said that, depending on the variety, they will grow anywhere – full sun, dense shade, boggy soil and dry soil. Although they don’t flower, they do come in many colors and create a sea of color when a breeze blows through them.

Lily of the valley is the standard shade-loving groundcover, and its fragrance is strong and sweet. Vinca also works well. Some less-used but strong groundcovers are Canada mayflower and sweet woodruff, which is dainty with a small white bloom and with the added benefit of being an ingredient in May wine.

I’m sure I have omitted many excellent shade plants – leaning as I always do to the ones I like. But I have heard too many people over the years say that they can’t grow a garden because they have too much shade.

You now know there is never too much shade to prevent your creating a beautiful garden.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: tomatwell@me.com

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An ancient tool, the scythe is also a fit for modern times http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/splendor-in-the-grass/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/splendor-in-the-grass/#comments Sun, 10 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=959963 Jason Hawkins was barefoot, sleeves rolled up, swinging his way through the grass. He’d brought his own scythe to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s Farm & Homestead Day in June and was busily “mowing” through some thick grass at MOFGA’s Common Ground Fairground in Unity.

Not because anyone had told him to, but because the grass looked so temptingly tall and the scythe felt so good.

“I’m just getting some exercise,” Hawkins said as he moved smoothly along, no huffing, no puffing, just a relaxed swinging that looked natural and easy. “You kind of get into a meditative dance.”

Jamie Huntsberger of Unity sharpens his scythe at the Common Ground Fairgrounds in Unity.

Jamie Huntsberger of Unity sharpens his scythe at the Common Ground Fairgrounds in Unity.

That’s the word they all use – meditative, or centering – and it makes you want to join the growing cult of modern-day scythe users, with their strong, supple backs and peace of mind, free from the whine of the weed whacker.

Scythes have been around for centuries – the Romans used blades like these – and in some undeveloped parts of the world they’ve never gone out of style. But Maine has seen a steady resurgence in scythe use over the last decade, and not only farmers, but also by those like Hawkins who want to keep the lawn looking trim.

That’s in part because so many people are drawn to the artisanal and traditional these days, but also because one of America’s main suppliers of scythes, Scythe Supply, is based in Perry, Maine. Staffers from Scythe Supply were at Farm & Homestead Day, fitting prospective customers to scythes, explaining the intricacies and lingo of the scythe world to novices, from “peening” (sharpening) to “snaths” (the tool’s long handle), as well as giving hands-on instruction in a field left purposefully overgrown for the event.

“This guy here is a first-time mower,” said Diane Cashore, one of five employees of Scythe Supply, gesturing to another man working on the opposite end of the field. He’d had just a few minutes of instruction and then taken off, lost in the motion. “And he’s doing a beautiful job.”

John McIntire of Unity walks barefoot while working with a group to scythe-cut a field at the Common Ground Fairgrounds.

John McIntire of Unity walks barefoot while working with a group to scythe-cut a field at the Common Ground Fairgrounds.

She likens mowing with a scythe to being on a boat; just as you get sea legs after time on the boat, you develop scythe rhythm. And once you start, it can be hard to stop.

The appeal is multifold. There’s the green component, obviously, involved with mowing by hand. There’s the usefulness of the “product,” which Cashore demonstrates by picking up part of the windrow left in the wake of scythe mowing. It’s the perfect density to mulch the garden. Or to give to chickens or turkeys for bedding. For permaculture practitioners, the scythe is a natural choice.

“It is definitely a great tool that is consistent with permaculture design ethics,” said Lisa Fernandes of the Resilience Hub, whose entire family, including her 9-year-old son, is outfitted with scythes. “You are really stacking functions…It’s also a time-tested tool that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.”

Then there is the exercise aspect. Don’t tell Gwyneth Paltrow, but scything is an excellent way to strengthen the back while whittling the waist.

“It’s the best kind of yoga I have ever done,” Fernandes said. “It just feels so great on my back when I am stiff.”

SCYTHE SALESWOMAN

Scything is far from being merely a Luddite’s delight, Fernandes said. But there is a sense of going back in time, to when things were simpler, or at least, when we like to imagine they were simpler. It’s part of the same anti-mechanical fervor that drives Maine farmers using horses to till their fields.

John McIntire of Unity, right, shows Terry Yarmoluk of Clinton, left, his Canadian-made scythe at the Common Ground Fairgrounds in Unity. Kenneth Copp of Thorndike looks on at center.

John McIntire of Unity, right, shows Terry Yarmoluk of Clinton, left, his Canadian-made scythe at the Common Ground Fairgrounds in Unity. Kenneth Copp of Thorndike looks on at center.

“Maine has been very much one of the leaders in bringing back the scythe because farming in Maine is in a time warp,” Carol Bryan said with a mischievous smile. She runs Scythe Supply from her farm in Perry. She wasn’t exactly kidding: With its plethora of small, diverse farms, Maine has many practitioners of traditional agricultural methods, even as they embrace hoop houses and other means of extending the short growing – and thus profit, season.

Farmers who use scythes, like Ken Hahn, who has farmed at Buttermilk Hill Farm in Belgrade (he’s relocating to Fairfield soon), say that sometimes the old ways have unexpected benefits. He likes the “lush” aesthetic of a scythe-mowed lawn, and mulches his garden beds with the cut grasses. When he moves sheep from paddock to paddock, he uses the scythe he got for Father’s Day three years ago to clean up ragged clumps of grass left behind by the four-footed mowing machines. “It encourages the lower stuff to grow in,” he said. “And by the time the sheep come back around to it, it is at a height that they like.”

At events like the annual Agricultural Trade Show or the Common Ground Fair, Bryan sets up a booth and never has to implore anyone to stop by. Everyone is curious about the tools with the brightly colored blades (U.S. Sen. Angus King was spotted trying one out in January at the trade show). And not everyone makes Grim Reaper jokes. Also, the scythe has the distinction of being part of the Maine state flag.

At MOGFA's Farm & Homestead Day in June, scythe users tackle a grassy expanse.

At MOGFA’s Farm & Homestead Day in June, scythe users tackle a grassy expanse.

Bryan never intended to run a scythe business. But her partner, Elliot Fishbein, became passionate about scythes after an aunt gave him a copy of “The Scythe Book” by David Tresemer. Fishbein was a woodworker and a sign maker and eventually, a snath maker. It was he who found the factory in Austria that makes the blades for Scythe Supply and he started marketing them. It was almost an evangelical calling for him; he wanted to bring that simplicity and joy to people. The company still uses his ode to the scythe on its website, including this line: “It is a tool perfectly suited to its task. This competence makes the scythe a pleasure and a friend.”

But only a year after he’d got the business up and running, Fishbein was killed in a car accident. Bryan decided to keep the business going, with help from friends, including snath maker Richard Scott.

The basic outfit starts at $190 and includes a handmade snath proportionally tailored to the user. Scythe Supply takes three measurements from customers, their height, length from ground to femur and the distance from elbow to the tip of the middle finger, or cubit. “It’s a biblical term,” Cashore explained. A sharpening, or “peening” kit is included. The shaft is made with native white ash and the handles are birch. That doesn’t seem that expensive for hand-made, hand-fitted tool with a blade made by Austrians with 500 years of experience.

“Carol is interested in getting them out there,” Cashore replied when asked about the relatively low cost. “We always tell her she’s not a very good capitalist.”

MAKING HAY

Bryan may not be a great capitalist, but her sales are pretty impressive for a tool that was supposed to have been made obsolete by the advent of the lawn mower – invented in 1830 by Englishman Edwin Budding – and grain combine, also invented in the 1830s. Scythe Supplies’ annual sales have risen steadily over the years, from about 1,000 in 2008 to around 2,000 today. The bulk of sales are in farming states, Bryan said, such as North Carolina, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Washington.

“A minimum of half use it for farming,” she said, adding “but people use them for a whole range of things.” Like clearing around a pond, or getting under the branches of trees in an orchard. A ranger at Point Reyes National Seashore in California has ordered about 30 scythes from Scythe Supplies over the years. “They are very gung-ho,” Bryan said. There’s also a small percentage of people who use them for historical use, like at Williamsburg, Virginia. “We definitely have a living history crowd,” she said.

At MOGFA's Farm & Homestead Day in June, scythe users tackle a grassy expanse.

At MOGFA’s Farm & Homestead Day in June, scythe users tackle a grassy expanse.

In some places, such as a crane refuge in Louisiana, wildlife protections prevent use of motorized grass cutting, so the scythes fill in, Bryan said. The New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx, has a five-acre meadow it cuts with scythes from Scythe Supply.

As one might expect, late May and June, when the grass gets high, are Scythe Supplies’ busiest season. The new growth had brought Kayla Libby to Farm & Homestead Day to get fitted for a scythe. She and her grandfather, a former pastor, recently started farming in eastern Maine on land that had been neglected for 65 years, she said. They’d be taking it back bit by bit, and wanted to use scythes to do so. She’s been using her grandfather’s but was eager to get one fitted for her own frame.

“It’s our desire to really just bring people back to nature,” she said. “This is how it used to be.”

No noise but the subtle sound of the blade. Nothing to fix but the blade, which can be sharpened right there in the field (a real scyther keeps a whetstone at his or her waist at all times). No gasoline, no expensive battery to replace and no polluting emissions either. (The Environmental Protection Agency began regulating emissions from lawn mowers in the 1990s. One 2015 EPA study, described gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment as “a source of high levels of localized emissions that includes hazardous air pollutants, criteria pollutants, and carbon dioxide.”)

“These are what people are replacing their weed whackers with,” Cashore said.

Hawkins has 13 raised beds in his yard in Farmington and uses the scythe to work around their edges, in much the same way people use weed whackers. He too was doing a little casual shopping at Homestead Day.

“I want to get a bush blade,” Hawkins said. “Just to be more versatile when I go places.”

Scythe users may be virtuous and green, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy accessories. Scythes come with a basic grass blade, but there is also a ditch blade, good for taking down brambles and small saplings along with grass, and then that bush blade Hawkins was contemplating, which is sturdy enough to make a trail through many kinds of vegetation.

While nostalgia has something to do with those sales, the practicality and portability of the scythe cannot be denied. Take Monhegan, for example, where Bryan said she has regular customers. For the last two years, a scythe fan named Frederick Faller has led a trip to the island to do unto thy neighbor – namely make hay where the haying machine doesn’t go on shared community garden plots around Monhegan.

Monhegan residents consistently pay vastly more for their energy than other Maine communities (they rank in the unfortunate “top” 20 communities for electric rates in the nation) and so they are highly aware of waste. It can cost up to $15 a bale to get hay over to the island to use for mulch in these shared vegetable plots. So Faller rallies a team in late June to cut the fresh grass and deliver it to the collective of residents with plots. In this case, ancient methods are being used for the new sustainability.

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New England’s use of solar energy growing as Maine waffles http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/07/new-england-solar-use-growing-as-maine-waffles/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/07/new-england-solar-use-growing-as-maine-waffles/#comments Thu, 07 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=958618 Solar energy is expected to supply roughly 3 percent of New England’s power each year by 2025, and serve more than 20 percent of the demand during peak daytime periods in the spring and fall, according to the latest calculations by the region’s power grid operator.

Millions of solar modules, mostly on the roofs of homes and businesses, could trim the amount of power needed from conventional plants late on hot summer afternoons by 1,062 megawatts, ISO New England says. That’s the equivalent of some of the region’s larger generating stations. It’s nearly the capacity of the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire and more than the Wyman Station oil-fired plant in Yarmouth.

But lacking development incentives, Maine solar producers are not big players in this emerging landscape, even as state regulatory authorities examine how solar generators should be credited for their contributions to the grid.

Despite Maine’s minor contributions, this trend already has begun. ISO New England recently highlighted data from a sunny day in May of 2015, as an example, when the sun was displacing 900 megawatts of capacity that otherwise would have come from conventional power plants.

But as solar penetration grows, the ISO says, it will have the effect of pushing the period of peak demand later into the afternoon. That will create a problem because, as the sun sets and solar generation ebbs, power demand will remain high for a few more hours. To fill that gap, planners expect to turn on efficient, gas-fired power plants. They’re also creating financial incentives for factories to strategically turn off unneeded motors and lights. Future ideas include signaling electric water heaters to briefly shut down and tapping battery banks that store solar power during the day.

COMPLEX PICTURE OF SOLAR’S ROLE

The new solar reality poses a challenge to keep New England’s lights on.

Unlike natural gas flowing from a pipeline, sunshine can be variable. And unlike a large power plant directly connected to the grid, the millions of solar modules scattered from Maine to Connecticut can’t be seen or contacted by ISO control room operators.

“The biggest challenge is trying to understand how much power all those solar farms are producing,” said John Norden, director of operations at ISO New England. “Because I can’t see them, I don’t know how much conventional generation to bring on.”

To help make that call, Norden and his team are using sophisticated weather forecasts that calculate solar irradiance, a unit measure of power from the sun. It’s easier on a clear day, and trickier when the sun darts in and out of the clouds.

This new and complicated picture of solar’s role in the New England energy mix is emerging just as the Maine Public Utilities Commission is opening a case to review what’s commonly known as net metering, the rule by which utilities credit small customers who generate power and feed it into the grid.

The PUC inquiry will consider potential changes to the rate that customers now get for this power, whether existing customers should be “grandfathered” from any changes, and whether solar-electric panels should be treated differently than other eligible resources, such as small-scale hydroelectric dams.

The PUC hasn’t set a date by which it will decide the net metering case, but has asked that comments be filed by July 22.

In one early response, a group of 28 parties has asked the commission to conduct a narrow review that makes no changes to net energy billing, in order for lawmakers and solar advocates to take up the issue next year in the Legislature. The group includes several solar installers, small businesses and clean-energy advocates.

ISO New England doesn’t take a position on state energy policies, and the PUC process isn’t meant to address energy supply issues. But in various reports and studies underway, the grid operator is planning for solar to play an increasingly important role in the region’s energy mix. For that reason, its latest solar forecast adds some context to the ongoing political and social debate in Maine over net metering and the value of energy from the sun.

Democrats and clean-energy advocates say solar is a cost-effective alternative that diversifies Maine’s energy mix and contributes to economic growth. Their effort to pass a sweeping solar-energy development bill last spring was narrowly defeated by Gov. Paul LePage and Republican allies, who argued that the current net metering credits given to homeowners with solar panels are too high and a burden to other ratepayers.

These viewpoints are likely to resurface in the PUC proceeding, but they won’t change the overall solar trends in New England.

“The ISO is having to respond to aggressive solar policies in other New England states,” said Tim Schneider, Maine’s public advocate. “And that’s going to happen, regardless of what Maine does.”

The growth of solar in New England is being driven in large part by policies that promote renewable energy in Massachusetts and, to a lesser extent, Connecticut. Roughly 1,774 megawatts of solar currently are installed in the region and 1,241 megawatts of that are in Massachusetts. Connecticut trails with 273, and Vermont is third with 154. Maine has by far the least of the six states, at 20 megawatts.

In its 2016 PV (photovoltaic) forecast, ISO analysts use various assumptions to fine tune their projections. These include the impact of federal tax credits for solar installations, along with state incentives such as net metering. For Maine, the forecast accuracy was discounted because of “the high degree of uncertainty associated with possible future expansion of state policies and/or future market conditions required to support PV commercialization in the absence of policy expansion.”

“Other states are making big bets on renewables,” Schneider said. “Because we’re part of the regional grid, we’ll be going along for the ride.”

ADJUSTING FOR SOLAR’S VARIATIONS

The public advocate said the impact of solar’s growth on Maine utility rates is complex and evolving. To the extent that solar can displace expensive power plants at peak periods, that’s a good thing. But the cost of filling the gaps after sunset remains unclear.

One consideration is that New England has different solar potentials at different times of the year.

In the winter, when the sun sets early, solar can’t help meet peak demand because that period occurs after dark. But the ISO has determined that solar can reduce the need for natural gas to fuel power plants on sunny winter days between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Because solar has no fuel cost, it can help trim wholesale natural gas prices that drive up electric rates, said Norden, the ISO director. If clouds suddenly block the sun, however, operators need to ramp up quick-start power plants, at a time when gas supplies could be tight and expensive.

As solar penetration grows, clean-energy advocates will push for policies that encourage efficiency over new power plants to fill the gap.

“Solar can do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of total energy production and lowering the daytime peak,” said Fortunat Mueller, co-founder of ReVision Energy in Portland. “That leaves the remaining work to do as something that is more manageable.”

Mueller, whose company is Maine’s largest solar installer, favors policies and market forces that will encourage short-term energy storage and shift demand to times when power is less expensive.

“It isn’t at all hard to ramp up batteries or turn off a bunch of water heaters for an hour or two,” he said.

 

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Invasive species got your goat? So does Kennebunk woman’s new landscaping business http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/06/invasive-species-got-your-goat-so-does-this-new-landscaping-business/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/06/invasive-species-got-your-goat-so-does-this-new-landscaping-business/#comments Wed, 06 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=957614 Burnt out from a job as a mental health counselor, fresh off a couple months on the Appalachian Trail, Heather Lombard was looking for a way to get into farming, even though she doesn’t live on a farm.

The 36-year-old Kennebunk woman had once trained as a veterinary technician, and had run dog-walking and pet-sitting businesses out of her home, but she wanted something more.

She laughed when a friend suggested over coffee last year that she consider goat herding, but the more she thought about it, the more interested she became. She found an article about a group of Massachusetts women who were renting out goats to get rid of brush and invasive species, like jewel weed or multiflora rose or goldenrod, and thought, yes, that’s it, I’m going to get myself a goat herd.

Heather Lombard checks in on her goats while they clear unwanted vegetation at a Kittery home. Lombard's business, Scapegoats, brings the voracious herd on site to rid customers' yards of overgrown weeds. "It's a natural alternative to herbicides and gas-guzzling equipment," she said.

Heather Lombard checks in on her goats while they clear unwanted vegetation at a Kittery home. Lombard’s business, Scapegoats, brings the voracious herd on site to rid customers’ yards of overgrown weeds. “It’s a natural alternative to herbicides and gas-guzzling equipment,” she said. Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“It’s perfect,” Lombard said. “I’m working with animals. It’s a natural alternative to herbicides and gas-guzzling equipment. The goats do a good job of getting rid of harmful, hard-to-kill plants, and they make everybody smile.”

After working as an apprentice with the Massachusetts company for a few weeks last fall, Lombard started building up her herd. She bought four Alpines, two Nigerian dwarfs and an Oberhasli. She bought a goat trailer and a portable electric fence, and a very unusual insurance policy that covers possible mishaps such as traffic accidents or damage to a neighbor’s yard caused by escaped goats.

Ray, one of the seven Scapegoats, nibbles on a leaf while working in Kittery. The animals love attention from their host families, but they also bleat and run after their owner's truck when she leaves them at a site.

Ray, one of the seven Scapegoats, nibbles on a leaf while working in Kittery. The animals love attention from their host families, but they also run after their owner’s truck when she leaves them at a site.

This spring, after raising $1,700 through her online crowdfunding page, Lombard launched Scapegoats.

Lombard believes Scapegoats is the first goat-for-hire operation in Maine. That means she has the market to herself, but it also means she spends a lot of time explaining how it works.

While farmers have always known of goats’ appetite for shrubs and brush, rental businesses like Scapegoats are unusual in New England. The practice, however, is much more common in the West, where so-called “prescribed grazing” employs livestock to clear new pastureland as well as manage vegetation at parks, universities and airports. Goats were used to clear brush at Google’s California headquarters, Lombard notes.

WHAT YOU GET FOR $500 A WEEK

Clients can rent the Scapegoats herd – Bernadette, Cleo, Gertrude, Molly, Ray, Sawyer and Zephyr – for $500 a week. They can clear a quarter- to a half-acre a week, depending on the density of the growth. The herd will not trim the unwanted growth right down to the ground – “after all, they’re goats, not lawnmowers,” Lombard said – but they will eat the plants, strip most shrubs down to woody stalks and trample the brush into material that will be a lot easier for a property owner to clip and haul away, saving hours, if not days, of hard labor.

Standing in heavy vegetation, Zephyr, center, and Sawyer, right, eat leaves at a home in Kittery, clearing unwanted vegetation.

Standing in heavy vegetation, Zephyr, center, and Sawyer, right, eat leaves at a home in Kittery, clearing unwanted vegetation.

And what they leave behind – goat droppings, deposited about a dozen times a day per goat, trampled into the ground by their hooves – creates a good fertilizer for the homeowner’s next planting, Lombard said.

“They’ve got these little triangular mouths that crush whatever they eat, so the seeds they eat don’t get passed on through the droppings,” Lombard said. “Most machines only make the next crop of invasives worse.”

BUT THEY CAN’T EAT EVERYTHING

Lombard transports the herd to the property, sets up the fence and goat house, and checks on them every day, but clients have responsibilities, too. They must put out fresh water twice a day and check the voltage of the fence. If the fence needs to be moved during the week, Lombard charges an extra $75. The rest is up to the goats, who tend to work hardest in the early morning and midafternoon, in between short naps.

Ray, one of Heather Lombard's seven goats, eats pine needles from a small tree at a home in Kittery on Friday.

Ray, one of Heather Lombard’s seven goats, eats pine needles from a small tree at a home in Kittery.

They love attention from their hosts, especially the children, but they do miss Lombard when she leaves, often chasing after her truck, bleating loudly, as she drives away.

While they love most invasives, as well as unwanted plants like poison ivy and oak, they can’t eat everything. Lombard has to turn down jobs where the lots to be cleared have rhododendron, mountain laurel and chokecherry because the goats will eat those plants even though they make them sick. Lombard also has to wrap the trees or shrubs that property owners want to protect in burlap, or install extra fencing, to shield them from the goats’ voracious appetite. The one thing that goats don’t like? Grass.

Lombard has fielded a lot of phone inquiries, including several state parks, but has only worked a handful of jobs so far. She wants to stay within a half-hour drive of Kennebunk to conserve fuel, and make it easier to check on the goats, but she has booked a few far-ranging gigs, including a large property in Bath with owners who were just too excited about the goats to turn down.

Cleo, a six-year-old goat owned by Heather Lombard, rests in a penned in area at the home in Kittery where Cleo and six other goats were put to work clearing unwanted vegetation last week.

Cleo, a six-year-old goat owned by Heather Lombard, rests in a penned in area at the home in Kittery where Cleo and six other goats were put to work clearing unwanted vegetation last week.

She said the interest level has been high enough for her to consider the possibility of doubling her herd for next year, so she can do two jobs at once, but she also will start milking her goats and making goat cheese.

Bethany Moulton is renting out the Scapegoats herd to clear the corner of her 6-acre Kittery lot that is overrun by bittersweet. After hearing about the startup from a friend in Kennebunk, she decided to give it a try, hoping it would be a more environmentally friendly way of solving her problem. Her family already has chickens, and her children have been asking to keep goats, too, so she thought that Scapegoats might let her give the “goat thing” a test run while solving her landscaping problem.

“Why wouldn’t you want goats at your house?” Moulton said. “You could use chemicals, hard labor or cute little goats. Which would you choose? The kids love it, and we love sitting here watching them, too. They’re hilarious.”

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State asks public to help monitor bat colonies amid widespread die-off http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/05/maine-seeks-help-tracking-bat-colonies-as-die-off-continues/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/05/maine-seeks-help-tracking-bat-colonies-as-die-off-continues/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2016 21:33:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/05/maine-seeks-help-tracking-bat-colonies-as-die-off-continues/ Maine wildlife biologists are asking for the public’s help keeping track of bat colonies in the state as a fungus continues to take a toll on bat populations throughout the Northeast.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has launched an online survey page where individuals can report information about current or historic bat colonies in attics, barns or other locations. Biologists will then use the data and the public observations to monitor several species – in particular, the little brown bat and the big brown bat – that have been affected by white nose syndrome, a fungus-caused disease that affects bats as they hibernate over winter.

White nose syndrome has killed millions of bats across the eastern portion of North America, including more than 90 percent of Maine’s population of the once-common little brown bats.

“The scientific community is still questioning whether the decline has bottomed out … or is the population so small that it is difficult to quantify” the changes, said Cory Mosby, a wildlife department biologist who works with bats.

Participants in the survey, which is available through www.maine.gov/ifw, will be asked to provide the location and current size of the bat colony as well as whether they observed any dead or dying bats. If possible, participants will be asked to provide information about the size of the bat colony in previous years for comparison purposes. And some willing participants will be asked to collect samples of bat guano, or feces, for testing. Biologists may ask to visit some colonies, Mosby said.

White nose syndrome was first documented in Maine in 2011, five years after the first cases appeared in a New York cave. The syndrome – so named because of the white appearance of the muzzles of affected bats – is caused by a fungus that thrives in the cold, humid conditions in caves where bats hibernate. Bats afflicted with white nose syndrome often burn off their fat reserves during hibernation, causing them to starve or to leave their caves – also known as hibernacula – in the middle of winter in an unsuccessful search for insects.

White nose syndrome has now been found in more than two dozen states in the eastern U.S., as well as in Washington state and several Canadian provinces. Researchers, meanwhile, are scrambling to learn about the disease and exploring theories for how bats can combat the fungus, either naturally or with human help.

Maine does not have many of the large hibernacula found in states such as New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania. However, the state has lost as much as 98 percent of some bat populations that fill a major ecological niche and are among nature’s best insect-control agents.

Little brown bats, which often seek out warm attics, barns or tree hollows in summer months to raise their young, are now relatively rare in Maine and are listed as an endangered species in the state. Big brown bats are now more common than little brown bats and appear somewhat less vulnerable to white nose syndrome. But less is known about big brown bats’ roosting locations, Mosby said, so the data provided by the online survey tool will help biologists keep track of them.

Mosby said the online survey is modeled after a similar website in Vermont that has proved successful.

“This online survey tool will help us locate existing bat colonies and give us more insight into the health of Maine’s bat population,” Mosby said.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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A thirst for raw water from Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/a-thirst-for-raw-water-from-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/a-thirst-for-raw-water-from-maine/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=950417 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series on Maine water. Read part 1: Poland Spring reaches high water mark

HARRISON — The label on Summit Spring’s bottled water from Maine, priced at $46.57 for a 50-ounce case on Amazon, practically screams the word: RAW.

The more demure text below (“Pure Natural Untouched”) doesn’t include an explanation of what “raw” water is, nor why it costs so much.

For that, it’s best to go to the source itself in Harrison, where Summit Spring’s owner Bryan Pullen hovers protectively over both the past and future of his prize, a hilltop spring that has been a commercial operation on and off for over a century. Pullen, a pilot who makes his living flying for American Airlines, entered the bottled spring water market in 2003 and has been working with mixed success to build his spring’s boutique brand ever since.

His pitch is that Summit Spring’s product is true spring water, bottled as it comes out of the ground – “raw” because it isn’t treated, true spring because no pumping is involved – and produced in what constitutes tiny batches, especially compared to its much better-known Maine neighbor in the bottled-water business, Nestle-owned Poland Spring.

His business, Pullen claims, is also far more in tune with sustainability, an issue that dogs the bottled-water industry. Even as bottled water is poised to surpass carbonated beverages as the most popular beverage in America, likely later this summer, environmental groups and citizens groups decry it as wasteful, particularly in its packaging, as well as a questionable use of the groundwater resource.

“Nobody is more sustainable than us,” Pullen said. “We’re only taking Mother Nature’s overflow.”

If owner enthusiasm were the primary means to achieve business success, Summit Spring would already be the best-selling boutique spring water in the land.

“He’s vociferous,” said Daniel Vitalis, who co-founded a website called Find a Spring that keeps track of public springs. He connected with Pullen about eight years ago and the two of them, with their shared interest in water, hit it off. “He’s boisterous. And he’s a teddy bear. When it comes to water, and when it comes to that spring in particular, it is like he is a bear and that’s his cubs.”

Pullen radiated that excitement on a recent tour, issuing an invitation to climb into his pickup truck where he immediately pulled out a binder to show off his Summit Spring ephemera. He’s got multiple reproductions of vintage photographs of the long-gone Summit Springs Hotel, which had 55 rooms, three stories, a wrap-around deck on the second floor and amenities that included a nine-hole golf course.

He backed up the pickup and repositioned it. “See that?” Pullen said, pointing to an undistinguished lump of rock with plants growing out of it. “That’s the remains of the chimney.”

Names tumble out of him. Nathaniel Burnham (“Buried right there”) was the first Anglo-Saxon steward of the spring – that’s Pullen’s phrase, and he considers himself its fifth steward. Francis Whitman, who traded his farm in Norway with Burnham’s for the Summit Spring location, was the first to ascribe medicinal values to the waters and start selling it. Whitman left in 1888, the year the Summit Springs Hotel opened (one timeline places construction in 1884).

The hotel, not to be confused with the Summit Spring Hotel in South Poland, was advertised in the Boston Evening Transcript in July 1889 as home to “the celebrated Summit Mineral Springs, whose waters have won so wide a reputation for the cure of kidney and dyspeptic troubles, nervous prostration, insomnia, etc.” Visitors drank it and bathed in it.

Finally, Pullen drives the car down to the springhouse, built by L. Franklin van Zelm, who bought the hotel in the 1930s and lived there with his family for some years, treating it as a manor rather than a hotel. “The famous cartoonist,” as Pullen calls him, Van Zelm had two strips that ran regularly in the Christian Science Monitor.

‘LIKE A LIVING CREATURE’

“There is a lot of energy in this building,” Pullen said as he unlocked the stone and brown-shingled springhouse. A sweet, simple building, it has views out over the green hills of nearby Paris and Norway. The entryway is lined with old Summit Spring bottles – like one labeled “Natural Alkaline Water” from the mid-20th century, long before Pullen acquired the land and started calling it raw. A metal cover shields the original collecting pool, and Pullen unlatches and peels it back reverentially.

“It’s like a living creature,” Pullen said.

The water below is 3 feet deep, but so clear it looks half that. In the corner, the sand moves as the water bubbles up and spreads into the pool. The sand around the spring takes on a circular shape; you could imagine some small sea creature rising out of it. But it’s just water, albeit it very clean water coming out of the ground at what Pullen says is a consistent 46 degrees.

Down the hill from the springhouse is the bottling facility Pullen built after he acquired the property in 2003. It operates on the simple principle of gravity. No pumping. The flow rate is such that the spring yields 3.5 million gallons of water a year, he said. Summit Spring bottles 300,000 gallons a year. (By comparison, Poland Spring bottles 800 million gallons of Maine water annually.)

The Amazon truck arrives every Monday to pick up orders (that $46.57 covers shipping costs as well). Pullen has tried selling it locally, including at Hannaford and Rosemont Market, but Summit Spring water is most readily available through internet sales. How does he reconcile his interest in sustainability with the environmental impacts of shipping water from Maine to regular customers as far away as Hawaii?

“There is always a carbon footprint,” Pullen said. “Unless you grew it in your backyard. But we’re going by gravity.”

Pullen dipped a stainless steel ladle into the pool and held it out.

“Maine water is the best in the world,” he said. And his is the best of the best, he believes.

TASTE OF THE WILD

This water tastes like nothing and everything simultaneously, empty but satisfying. It’s almost soft. A spokesman for the Maine Drinking Water Program – part of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention – which regulates bottled-water production, confirmed that Summit Spring water is tested regularly for more than 70 contaminants to ensure it meets the same quality standards as a community water system. But it is untreated, which Pullen is very proud of, considering this a hallmark of its purity.

The Maine Drinking Water Program declined to be interviewed for this article. In an email, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman John Martins wrote that no requirement exists in Maine for a water bottler to install treatment. “However, all do except for Summit Spring.”

“This water is the purest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth in your life,” Pullen boasts. It does taste pure, and fresh, in fact so much so that raw doesn’t seem like the right word to brand it with; it sounds too messy and unsettled for something that feels so finished. (Not to mention its association with sewage.)

But raw is the word Pullen likes. And he gets to call it what he likes because this is Pullen’s water, literally. In Maine, rights to groundwater are determined by absolute dominion, i.e, the wishes of the person who owns the land above the water.

He could bottle every ounce that comes out if he wanted. He could drill wells into the aquifer. That’s what Poland Spring, the biggest bottled-water producer in the state and the best-selling brand in America, does to maximize its water production.

Until this point, Pullen hasn’t had the customer demand to warrant expansion.

That could change soon, however. That very morning he met a Pine State Trading Company tractor-trailer that had pulled up to the unmarked gate. The driver was there to pick up a new brand of water coming out of Summit Spring: Tourmaline Spring. Same water, new identity.

POLISHING THE GEM

“I’m my own worst enemy sometimes,” Pullen shrugs. Like when he wanders off on a tangent about how the composition of all surface water in the world changed after the nuclear bomb detonation in Hiroshima. He stops himself after noticing his visitor’s eyes glazing over.

“All of the stuff I am telling you sounds crazy, but it is true,” he said, shaking his head and then redirecting the conversation.

He resents it when Mainers ask him why his water can’t be as cheap, if not cheaper, than Poland Spring. After all, they’ve never heard about it, except from him. He gets irritated when locals ask him to donate water for events, because as he says, in the 12 years he has owned the spring, he has yet to make money from it.

There was that time he went to see executives at Via, the Portland-based advertising agency, and they suggested he consider changing his label from the uber-masculine eagle-on-top-of-a-mountain artwork he’s been using. He was indignant; that eagle pays homage to van Zelm, who introduced it to the brand, and also has a personal connection to Pullen. He said he flew F-15s in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, a plane known as the Eagle. He and Via quickly parted ways. “I walked out,” Pullen said. For a while, Pullen sold his water in a glass bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. “The Sugar in the Raw people tried to sue me,” he said ruefully.

That was four years ago, but in May, a bottle of the stuff was still on the shelf at the Port Clyde General Store. The price was $6.49 for a liter, which may explain why it was still on the shelf.

Although there is a growing market for “super-premium” high-end domestic bottled water, according to Gary Hemphill, managing director of research for the Beverage Marketing Corporation, it can be challenging to brand.

“After all, water is something that you could, at the end of the day, say is just water,” Hemphill said.

But Pullen has a new partnership with one of Vitalis’ friends, Seth Pruzansky, who approached him about a year ago with an offer to give the water a more distinctly Maine image. They agreed on a rights deal. Pullen would still sell his raw water, Pruzansky and his partners would market the water – the same water – under the label Tourmaline Spring.

Tourmaline is the Maine state stone, and Pruzansky has been hobby mining for tourmaline for years.

“I just said, ‘Bryan, let me brand it in a way that is going to get people’s attention, make them realize this is the state’s true gem,’ ” Pruzansky said. “I believe I can make it a national brand.”

Pruzansky negotiated with Pine State Trading Company, and Tourmaline Spring water is now in 100 stores, Pruzansky said. The subhead on its label is “Sacred Living Water,” and the packaging is biodegradable (it takes at least three years). The branding is definitely more touchy-feely than Pullen’s, but Pruzansky is quick to give Pullen the credit. “I am riding off the back of Summit Spring and what Bryan has done to preserve that source.”

Pruzansky has a background in all-natural marketing, having cofounded the raw foods snack company Living Nutz. He also has had a recent life-changing experience; in 2015 he was released from prison after serving three years of a five-year sentence for marijuana trafficking. “For me it was an extended meditation retreat,” Pruzansky said. “I spent every day of almost three years meditating and really coming to terms with what I had done.… What were the patterns in my life that would cause me to make these decisions?”

He said he’s embarrassed and horrified by the impact his arrest had on his family. His path to redemption? “I just decided I am going to create goodness and do goodness.” He sees his involvement with Summit Spring as part of that “purification” process.

Pruzansky and Pullen are birds of a very different feather, the clean-cut airline pilot with the military background and the reformed hippie with a record. But they are united by their fervent belief in the waters of Summit Spring.

“It is literally like a national treasure,” Pruzansky said.

Before Pullen locks the spring up for the day, he gulps several ladlefuls. How does he survive those multiday trips when he’s flying, after he runs out of the bottled water he brings from home? His gaze is straight, his eyes sincere.

“I suffer,” he said.

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Creating unusual irises adds a beautiful facet to jeweler’s life http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/maine-gardener-creating-unusual-irises-adds-a-beautiful-facet-to-jewelers-life/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/maine-gardener-creating-unusual-irises-adds-a-beautiful-facet-to-jewelers-life/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=950351 Dean Cole loves creating small, beautiful objects. It is his career, crafting jewelry that he has sold since even before he and his wife, Denise, opened D. Cole Jewelers on Exchange Street around 1981. It is also his prime hobby, hybridizing Siberian irises at his Gorham home.

During a recent visit to the family home, I asked Dean if he sees a connection between his career and his hobby. At that moment, Denise was walking by with their 2-year-old granddaughter, who had just spent her first overnight with them. Dean couldn’t think of a connection, at first.

“He likes the fine details in things,” Denise said helpfully.

“I just like creating things,” Dean added after a minute.

Cole began growing irises in the early 1990s, working first in a partnership with Jeff Dunlop of Windham. Although they are still friends, they now work separately. His teacher was celebrated rheumatologist Dr. Currier McEwen, who was dean of the New York University School of Medicine before he moved to Harpswell and launched a second career as a hybridizer of Siberian and Japanese irises. (McEwen died in 2003 at age 101.)

McEwen created the first tetraploid irises, which Cole said have extra chromosomes and therefore deeper and more varied colors, stronger stems and larger flowers than diploid irises, the original species.

Cole grows almost entirely tetraploids, which are more difficult to hybridize. He went into irises because it is an attractive plant, with a lot of variety and – at least when he started – the number of hybrids on the market seemed reasonable. At that time, only 1,600 named iris varieties existed, compared to about 40,000 for daylilies, he said.

Cole’s garden is not a traditionally beautiful landscape, although the area right around the house is attractive. But the iris gardens themselves have a business-like precision, planted in rows of beds with plants all the same age sharing a plot.

The beds are mulched several inches thick with ground-up leaves, which landscaping companies deliver to his property each fall. He grinds them up with a lawn mower, then uses the chopped leaves to suppress weeds, retain moisture and provide organic matter to the plots; he applies only a minimal amount of fertilizer.

Cole does about 750 crosses a year, down recently from about 1,300.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “You have to dig each of them.”

He does the hybridizing entirely by hand. He takes pollen from one plant’s anthers, then returns the next day and, using a small white stick that looks like a cross between a Q-tip and a toothpick, puts it on another plant’s anthers.

He wears a magnifying glass attached to his cap to help him see what he is doing, and he writes the crosses on a small tag he puts near the blossom and in a book. Then he covers the blossoms with a plastic cup to protect them from rain.

By the end of the season, each pod will produce about 50 seeds, which he will cold-condition over the winter before planting them in the spring. Each seed will produce a different type of flower.

“They are a lot like children,” Cole said. “You can have five kids with the same parents, and they all look different.”

Hybridizing is not for a person who is afraid of failure, Cole said. About 97 percent of the seedlings are trash.

It takes about a decade from a cross to get to a plant he thinks is worth registering with the American Iris Society. At least three of those years are needed to decide if the hybrid is worth continuing to grow. And then he has to dig and divide the hybrids enough so that he has enough rhizomes to market.

So far, he has brought eight or nine irises to market – he can’t quite recall the number. His favorite is the first one he ever introduced, My First Kiss, which his daughter named. Close behind is My Girl Emily, named for his daughter.

One of his new introductions is Pool Party, a name he picked because the blossom’s blue color resembles a swimming pool.

It isn’t enough for the new plants to be beautiful; they also have to be different. While walking through the garden he pointed to a large, lavender blossom that, while highly attractive, would be useless as an introduction because it resembles so many that are already available.

The original iris species has one bloom on one stem, and lasts about 10 days. Cole showed me one iris he is working on that had several stems with branches, and on the end of one branch was a flower in full bloom as well as two other buds in different stages of growth that would eventually produce blossoms. Such a hybrid could expand the usual bloom time for several weeks.

The size and shape of the blossoms is also important. Larger flowers are better, and it is good to have ruffles, unusual edges and other distinctive features.

Color plays into it, too. Breeders are looking for deeper yellows and multicolored blossoms.

Irises that are called red in catalogs are actually maroon, brown or even purple. A true red iris may be unachievable, Cole said, but breeders are at least working to get closer to that red.

And if he does develop a hybrid with a beautiful and unusual flower, if the stem fails to hold the blossoms above the foliage, it probably won’t please the judges who rate the introductions – even if ordinary gardeners loved it.

“Doc (McEwen) told me early on you have to decide if you want to please the judges or the people,” Cole said.

He sometimes goes with the people.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at tomatwell@me.com.

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A hurricane helps whet a Unity College student’s appetite for water work http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/meet-rae-ann-maclellan-hurd-winner-of-a-50000-fellowship-for-her-environmental-research/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/meet-rae-ann-maclellan-hurd-winner-of-a-50000-fellowship-for-her-environmental-research/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=950366 Last fall, Rae-Ann MacLellan-Hurd found out she was one of 34 students nationwide to win an Environmental Protection Agency fellowship for environmental research in the physical, biological, health and social sciences. The rising college senior will be using the $50,000 in part to fund a research project on Lake Winnecook, near the Unity College campus, that she began as a freshman. She’ll also pay down some of her tuition. We called her up as she was heading home from her summer job at the EPA’s regional laboratory in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and talked about everything from the way Hurricane Katrina shaped her academic interests to the horrors of student debt and why Lake Winnecook is so mucky.

FRESH FROSH: When MacLellan-Hurd was a freshman, a friend asked her to join in on a research project at Lake Winnecook, which Unity students regularly use for their studies. It’s a very shallow lake, and in the summer is subject to very severe algae blooms. “You can barely see like a foot into the water,” MacLellan-Hurd said. “You can put your hand in it, and it is completely green.” The lake’s declining water quality – or more technically put, its phosphorus loading – which she said began about 10 years ago, is a regular topic of conversation at Unity. “Everyone is aware of it and pretty concerned.” Lake Winnecook is the fifth most impaired water body in the state, she said.

COMMON CAUSE: That’s cause for concern not just because no one wants to go swimming. “The algae takes a lot of the dissolved oxygen out of the lake,” she said. “It can make it hard for some fish to breathe. It has a huge impact on the whole ecosystem.” This happens about two or three months out of the year “when it is really hot.” MacLellan continued to be intrigued by the lake’s problems, and kept researching it during her sophomore year, looking more deeply into what happens in the sediment-water interface, where the gradients between the water and the lake’s natural sediments meet. She’s got three sites where different sources feed in or out of the lake, and she’s taking samples at each to track changes. The way she’d explain this to the guy on the barstool next to her? “I just say I am trying to determine what is coming in and and out of the lake. Right now everyone is speculating about what is in there. Through this project I’ll actually be measuring it. We’ll be able to see what is really going on and have a map of it.”

MAPPING THE SLUDGE: Her sampling process entails entering each river that feeds into the lake to measure the discharge levels – either by wading or via kayak – and taking water samples from near the river bank and from the middle. Once a month she’ll take sediment core samples. In the future, other Unity students can continue to plug in similar data. But she hopes the implications of her work will extend beyond the shores of Lake Winnecook. “It can be used as a case study for other areas that are having algae blooms, especially other shallow lakes.”

WHY WATER? Was her interest in water quality born at Unity College? More like elementary school in Mississippi. “I lived through (Hurricane) Katrina,” she said. “I was like 10 at the time.” One of the wings at her school was badly damaged. “I was lucky in that my school wasn’t completely torn down.” Were students evacuated? Yes, and “we weren’t allowed back for a couple of weeks afterward.” Her family went to Florida in their camper. “We had a few days warning,” she said. “It was standard drill by then. It wasn’t like the family’s first hurricane outing.” The devastation changed her, although she didn’t realize it until much later. “It shaped me to go into water quality.”

FINDING UNITY: All through high school she planned to study environmental science. When a brochure arrived from Unity, she felt she’d found her match. “It is just, like, a one-of-a-kind school,” she said. “I just kind of felt connected to it.” She’s not limiting herself to staying in Maine after commencement next spring, however. “I want to go and travel as many places as I can.” MacLellan-Hurd said she’ll go on to graduate school, possibly to get her master’s in environmental engineering. This summer she has an internship with the EPA’s North Chelmsford lab, studying river quality, both from the lab and on the water. “We are going to be deployed on the Merrimack in a few weeks.”

GET OUT OF DEBT FREE? Will that $50,000 help fund graduate school? More likely it will just go to pay down some of what she already owes. “I have debt from my first two years at Unity,” she said. How about her parents, were they proud? “They were all pretty excited,” she said. Her mother “kind of got bug-eyed.”

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For summer baking, let your grill take the cake http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/green-plate-special-for-summer-baking-let-your-grill-take-the-cake/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/green-plate-special-for-summer-baking-let-your-grill-take-the-cake/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=950372 So I baked a cake on the grill. Not because my oven was broken, but because I am never keen to crank up my oven when the outside temperature breaks 80 degrees and was wondering if the grill might help keep my kitchen cool as my husband’s birthday approaches.

My grill is powered by propane gas and my oven by natural gas, both of which sit at the lower end of the carbon emissions scale than charcoal and electric grills as well as electric ovens.

The difference in environmental cost of using them on an hourly basis is negligible. But since I typically fire up the grill most summer nights anyway, turning on the oven seems redundant. And preheating the grill takes less time than getting my oven to reach 350 degrees F. And since as the oven bakes the cake it heats the house – a condition I value highly nine months out of 12 – I am always tempted to spend more energy on the electric fans to cool it down.

Given these factors, the greener option for my summertime baking is on my patio rather than in my kitchen.

If you’ve not thought about using your grill to bake, you’ve plenty of company. According to a study conducted by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, only about 4 percent of Americans have used their grills or smokers to make desserts regularly in the past five years. And the study doesn’t discern s’mores from grilled peaches from triple fudge brownies.

But Eric Davis, the organization’s spokesman, was upbeat about the future of grilled desserts. “The rule of thumb is simple: If you can bake it in your indoor oven, you can bake it on your charcoal, gas, electric or wood pellet grillor smoker,” said Davis. The only difference between the oven and the grill, he argued, was that the latter will give you a better flavor.

Armed with Davis’ enthusiasm, I whipped up a vanilla cake batter (my husband Andy’s birthday cake is always a Boston cream pie) and gave it a go. It worked, sort of.

The cake was lopsided, with a burnt bottom and a slightly beefy finish.

Given the output, the lessons learned from my al fresco baking experiment are many.

Firstly, don’t skip the prep. Clean the grill really well with a wire brush before you switch from savory to sweet. While most times you won’t be cooking directly on the grates (unless you’re trying to bake biscuits on the grill), the grill top is down while the baked goods cook to completion and the flavors from barbecued chicken and seared steak left on the grates burn off as the cake bakes. Those smoky flavors circulate and get locked into the goods for better or worse.

Secondly, take the grill’s temperature. Mine has a handy thermostat on the outside of the cover. I used a second meat thermometer lowered through the vent hole to make sure the outside sensor was accurate.

If your grill’s like mine, whose flame tends to creep up, check the temperature a couple of times as your dessert bakes to make sure it hasn’t also crept up, and adjust the gas flow accordingly.

And finally, diffuse the heat further so that the bottom of your baked goods are not charred before the top is set. I have a three-element setup on my grill, so I can turn the middle one off to even out the heat around the pan rather than have it directly beneath. Davis says for two-burner gas grills or charcoal ones, it’s best to concentrate the heat on a single side, and place your baking pan over the other.

There are purpose-built grill diffusion plates on the market that help to further spread the heat evenly, but I don’t bother with those.

Instead, I lay an old aluminum baking sheet across the grill. It does the trick as long as I understand that it will be unfit for baking future cookies in the oven or on the grill.

With a better handle on the nuances of grill-baking, this year’s birthday Boston cream pie is going to be the coolest yet.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: cburn1227@gmail.com.

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Leg Work: Cyclists would love drivers to go slower, pay attention, signal http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/leg-work-cyclists-to-maine-car-drivers-please-go-slower-pay-attention-and-signal/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/leg-work-cyclists-to-maine-car-drivers-please-go-slower-pay-attention-and-signal/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=950393 Relations between Maine cyclists and motorists vary from cordial to contentious, depending in part on where you bike in Maine. That’s one thing that I learned from an informal survey of cyclists over the past month.

More than 35 cyclists told me about their experiences with motorists and their ideas for improving safety on Maine roads. While many live in greater Portland, I also heard from people in Bar Harbor, Bethel, Norway, Auburn and several other communities. Most of them both bike and drive a car, so they see issues from the two perspectives. This column addresses motorists’ behavior. My next column will focus on cyclists’ behavior.

Drivers in the Portland area are, for the most part, patient and polite, according to those who wrote to me. Perhaps one reason is that they are used to seeing cyclists on the road.

Bill Hall of Peaks Island has commuted to work by bicycle (and ferry) for 16 years. He said drivers often stop to let him cross an intersection where there is no traffic light, or to make a left turn in front of them. “I have had very few instances of rude or dangerous behavior from motorists,” he said.

But other cyclists, particularly those riding in rural areas, encounter more challenging conditions.

Angela King of Pownal has tried bicycling with her son to his elementary school a mile from their home. She says it is “nerve-racking,” adding, “People drive way too fast!”

Julie Daigle of Fort Kent describes relations between motorists and cyclists in her corner of Maine as “not a happy marriage.”

Stephen Smith of Portland says problems seem worst on curvy roads with narrow shoulders, or none at all. That forces motorists to slow down for cyclists. In those conditions, he says, he’s encountered “close passing, engine revving, honking, yelling.” He’s even had objects thrown at him.

I assume people who fling beer cans at cyclists are not reading this column. But for the many well-meaning people who aren’t aware of how their driving affects people on bikes, here are some requests from those who wrote to me.

First, slow down. James Tassé, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, says that’s the simplest way to make roads safer.

Please pay attention. We see into your car windows, and we know how many of you are using devices. That scares us, because we are so vulnerable riding next to heavy machines.

Jeff Welt of Brunswick says he frequently encounters distracted drivers while cycling. His wife, Joyce, was hit twice on bike. Both times, she was injured badly enough that she had to go to the hospital.

As in any relationship, things work best when there’s lots of communication. That means using signals to tell cyclists when you plan to turn, and looking or waving at us at intersections to communicate your intentions.

But don’t give us special treatment, because it could backfire.

“You don’t need to ‘baby’ us,” says Bob O’Brien of Portland. “Stopping abruptly or unexpectedly to yield your right of way to a cyclist is more hazardous than driving though. Other drivers get aggravated or confused.”

Please be very careful when passing cyclists. While Maine law requires you to give 3 feet of clearance, try to leave even more. On just a thin set of wheels, we may have to dodge potholes, debris and other obstacles that you don’t notice in your very stable car.

Joshua Howe does most of his bicycle riding near Auburn. “People pass too close and too fast and try to squeeze past when there’s really not enough room to do it,” he says. “It’s frightening to have someone come from behind at 50 miles per hour and less than 2 feet away.”

Remember, you are allowed to cross the yellow line to pass us, as long as no car is coming toward you. But sometimes, the only safe way to pass cyclists is to slow down and wait for a break in traffic.

“Don’t rev your engine or honk to let us know you are there and would like to get by,” says Nathan Miller of Portland. “Believe me, cyclists can tell if there is an impatient vehicle behind us just fine, and we don’t want to intentionally keep you from where you are going. If we are making it hard to pass, there is probably a good reason.”

One of the most common ways that you can cause a crash is by taking a right-hand turn in front of a cyclist. If you pass someone on a bike, look back before turning right to make sure you don’t collide with him or her.

Driving with your headlights on makes you more visible to a cyclist. Getting an annual eye exam ensures that you can see well enough to drive safely.

We’d love to have you try bicycling so that you better understand the conditions that we face.

“When you’re driving in a car,” Rick Harbison of Portland says, “you don’t realize how loud it is, or intimidating it can be, when passing a cyclist even at slower speeds.”

If bicycling isn’t possible, then please remember that we belong on the roads, just as much as you do. And treat us as patiently as you would a beloved family member.

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

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Dogwoods provide a colorful, four-season addition to any Maine landscape http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/grow-dogwoods/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/grow-dogwoods/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=950396 Dogwoods, a wide-ranging group of plants that include small trees and shrubs, are a colorful, four-season addition to any Maine landscape.

Many dogwoods are native to New England, but some of the most popular landscape plants are imports.

The botanical name for dogwood is Cornus, and the native species include Cornus florida, Cornus alternifolia and Cornus sericea. Non-natives include Cornus kousa, from Japan and Korea, and Cornus mas, from Asia and Europe.

Cornus florida, or flowering dogwood, is a spring beauty, growing 25 feet tall with wide-spreading branches and a short trunk, is covered with white flowers followed by red berries, which birds love. According to Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home,” Cornus florida hosts more than 100 moths and butterflies, compared to six for Cornus kousa. Unfortunately Cornus florida also is susceptible to powdery mildew, anthracnose and the dogwood borer.

To fight these diseases, plant in an open area with acidic soil that is moist but well-drained, full to part sun and good air circulation, so the leaves dry quickly.

Cornus alternifolia, or pagoda dogwood, is smaller with an ultimate height of 15 feet. One of the best varieties is ‘Golden Shadows,’ which has striking gold margins to green leaves.

Cornus sericea is even smaller, 5 to 8 feet, disease resistant and often grown for the winter interest of its bright red or yellow stems.

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Moxie Jelly has become a bestseller http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/moxie-jelly-has-become-a-bestseller/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/moxie-jelly-has-become-a-bestseller/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=950411 If you’re on the love side of the love-hate relationship that Mainers have with Moxie – the soda that tastes like it came out of someone’s medicine cabinet – then you’re going to love this.

Next weekend, at the annual Moxie Festival in Lisbon, the maker of Moxie Jelly will be teaming up with a local baker to make Moxie Jelly-filled doughnuts.

Shannon Bissonnette, the owner of Better Than Average Jams, Jellies and Sauces, created Moxie Jelly on a lark a few years ago when she was invited to the Moxie Festival. She made about a dozen cases of jelly out of the bitter-tasting soft drink as a publicity stunt: Buy one of my jams or sauces, she told customers browsing her display, and you’ll get a free jar of Moxie Jelly. But word got out, and soon a line of Moxie fans stretched down Main Street. So Bissonette started charging for it. “We sold it for $5 per jar or something – I don’t even remember the price – and they sold out within minutes,” she said.

That got the attention at the folks at the Moxie Beverage Co., which is owned by Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Northern New England, who asked her to make more. They gave approval for Bissonette to use the Moxie logo on her labels, and she made 20 cases of jelly – each case holds a dozen jars – for the Fryeburg Fair. That batch sold out in one day, so Bissonnette had to go on a scavenger hunt for more Moxie soda at local stores so she could make more. She ended up selling 20 cases of jelly a day for the next six days. “Isn’t that crazy?” she said. Yes, it is, especially if you’ve tasted Moxie.

At the time, Bissonnette and her husband owned a little cafe in Mechanic Falls, and they started using her Moxie Jelly on their pulled pork. Put a pork butt into the crockpot, Bissonnette advises, add a jar of Moxie Jelly and let it cook all day. Another tip: Frozen meatballs in the crockpot with a jar of Moxie Jelly and a jar of Moxie BBQ Sauce, which Bissonette also makes.

“You will have unbelievable meatballs,” Bissonnette said. “People who don’t even like Moxie will still like it.”

Bissonnette buys Moxie soda by the pallet now because Moxie Jelly has become her bestseller, flying off the shelves faster than her Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam or her Zesty Apple BBQ Glaze.

“We’re in about 350 stores right now,” she said.

For a list of Maine stores, visit the Better Than Average website. Most stores charge $7.95 to $9.95 for a 9-ounce jar.

Alas, Moxie Jelly is no longer being made in Maine. Bissonnette had to move her kitchen to Barrington, just across the New Hampshire border, when her husband got a new job there. But Homegrown gives it a pass because Moxie soda was created by a physician who grew up in Union, and in 2005 it became the official soft drink of Maine.

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Advocates for organic foods criticize Collins and King for votes on GMO labeling http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/01/mofga-hits-collins-and-king-on-gmo-vote/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/01/mofga-hits-collins-and-king-on-gmo-vote/#comments Fri, 01 Jul 2016 21:46:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/01/mofga-hits-collins-and-king-on-gmo-vote/ The Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association is leveling criticism against both of Maine’s U.S. senators for their votes this week that could lead to a federal law that would overturn a Maine law requiring labels for foods made with genetically modified organisms.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King joined 65 other senators Wednesday in a vote to take up a bill aimed at creating a federal GMO labeling law.

The association contends that the proposal, which is being touted as a compromise by its sponsors, is far weaker and less transparent than laws approved by state legislatures, including Maine’s.

The Maine law passed in 2014 would require labeling on GMO products once five contiguous states have passed similar legislation, with the law taking effect in 2018 if the five-state threshold was crossed. So far, only Maine, Connecticut and Vermont have enacted a labeling law. Vermont’s law went into effect Friday. New Hampshire lawmakers voted down a GMO labeling measure in February.

“It is tragic that Collins and King are defying the unanimous sentiment of Maine’s State House of Representatives, Maine’s State Senate, Maine’s Governor, Maine’s Attorney General, and 95 percent of Maine citizens who support Maine’s labeling law,” association officials wrote in an alert urging their supporters to contact King and Collins to voice their displeasure.

Heather Spalding, deputy director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, said in an interview Friday that King and Collins previously voted to support Maine’s labeling law, and their members were “very disappointed” by Wednesday’s vote.

“We are hoping that they will change course and defend Maine’s GMO labeling law and support the consumer’s right to know,” Spalding said.

Representatives for King and Collins said Friday that the two senators had not made up their minds on the bill yet, and that Wednesday’s vote was largely procedural.

“As Senators Collins and King continue to review the proposed compromise bill, they will take into account the concerns of all interested parties and arrive at a decision that they believe is best for Maine businesses and consumers,” Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, and Scott Ogden, a spokesman for King, said in a joint statement. “The vote on Wednesday was a procedural motion that simply allows the Senate to debate this legislation. The vote was not a statement of position.”

NO DIRECT DISCLOSURE

The bill requires labeling with either a logo, a QR or “quick response” code that can be scanned with a smartphone, or a toll-free number for consumers to call. It doesn’t, however, require a direct disclosure on the package of GMO ingredients. In the case of the QR code, it would require the words, “scan here for food information.” The bill also prohibits companies from collecting, selling, analyzing or keeping any personal consumer information.

“For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in a prepared statement. The bill’s other sponsor is Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.

Critics such as the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, a nonprofit organization of about 150 Maine farms and food producers along with 5,000 individuals, say the Stabenow-Roberts bill lacks transparency in that it doesn’t call for clear food labels and instead would require a consumer to call for information or scan a special image on the food’s packaging with a smartphone that would then display the information about any GMOs used in the food’s production. The legislation would also change the language around GMOs, instead calling them “bioengineered” ingredients.

Spalding said all of those provisions are problematic for consumers, especially in states without strong broadband systems.

“One of the big concerns is in rural Maine oftentimes you don’t have a connection,” she said. She also said both King and Collins are usually advocates for state’s rights, but in many ways the Stabenow-Roberts bill “would undermine, overturn and preempt the existing laws in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.”

She said that while some have argued there’s no scientific evidence GMOs pose health dangers, people have varying reasons for wanting to know what’s in their food. She said everything from food allergies to religious concerns factor into the reasons people want GMOs in food identified.

The Stabenow-Roberts bill does have food-industry supporters in Maine and nationally, including the national Organic Trade Association, which represents about 8,500 organic businesses in all 50 states.

“If you consider what the opponents of GMO labeling proposed, and what the voluntary and state-by-state options would have offered, it’s hard not to see how this mandatory federal legislation is a constructive solution to a complex issue,” a statement from the OTA read.

PROPOSAL ‘A COMPROMISE’

Shelley Doak, the executive director of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association, a trade organization representing most of the state’s grocery stores and food wholesalers, said that organization also supports the Stabenow-Roberts proposal.

Doak said the association also worked to reach a compromise on Maine’s law, which she described as “a beacon shining a light on Congress to please address this issue to develop a federal standard, a federal system that is broadly acceptable by all the market elements.”

State-by-state labeling laws create a “patchwork quilt” system for food producers and distributors that would likely be costly to maintain, Doak said. She understood some of the concerns being voiced by MOFGA, which she said was a cooperative partner in developing Maine’s law.

“But I appreciate the proposal is a compromise and that means that all interested parties came to the table and didn’t get everything they wanted,” Doak said.

She said proponents were urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which would administer the new federal labeling law were it to pass, to build on Vermont’s law, which took effect Friday.

“We will be encouraging the USDA to recognize the work, the significant work, the state of Vermont has done to establish its own program and there are thousands of companies doing business in Vermont that are impacted by their legislation and we hope that there will be a strong recognition that there is a structure system already in existence and perhaps build on that with a federal system,” Doak said.

If the bill does pass the Senate, labeling still faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives, which earlier this year passed its own GMO labeling law. Critics describe that as even weaker than the bill now before the Senate. The House bill calls for largely voluntary disclosure and includes no mechanisms for enforcement.

 

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Rift over sustainability leads to cancellation of Maine Seaweed Festival http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/rift-over-sustainability-leads-to-cancellation-of-maine-seaweed-festival/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/rift-over-sustainability-leads-to-cancellation-of-maine-seaweed-festival/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 14:45:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/rift-over-sustainability-leads-to-cancellation-of-maine-seaweed-festival/ SOUTH PORTLAND – The Maine Seaweed Festival is a dream day for New England’s natural food lovers, who spend the day munching on seaweed granola and schmoozing with kelp harvesters at a daylong party astride sun-splashed Casco Bay.

But this year, it’s not happening, and a rift between the event’s organizers and some seaweed harvesters is the reason why. The planners of the popular festival, located in the country’s biggest seaweed state, said they are canceling the event this year over concerns about lack of sustainability.

Organizer Hillary Krapf, who runs a seaweed products and education company called Moon And Tide, said Maine’s seaweed industry has been besieged by a “Gold Rush mentality” that threatens sustainability as seaweed grows in popularity. New players are getting involved in Maine seaweed farming before there is anywhere near the infrastructure needed to sustainably process and sell it, she said.

“I would like to see more regulation and accountability. We can feel good about what we are promoting and make sure we are doing right by the ocean and its resources,” she said.

Maine overtook California as the country’s largest producer of seaweed about a decade ago. The Maine Seaweed Festival, held in South Portland, has sprung up along with the growth as an annual chance for the state’s seaweed producers to show off products and celebrate all things related to sea vegetables.

The seaweed festival started in 2014 and doubled in attendance to about 3,000 last year. The rise in attendance coincides with growth in Maine’s seaweed industry, which quadrupled its harvest from 2004 to 2014.

Krapf declined to single out companies in the seaweed industry that she believes are threatening the sustainability of the crop, which is used to make snacks, soap, dog food, nutritional supplements and many other products. The number of wild-seaweed harvesters in the state has held steady at around 150 to 170 for the last few years, and there are a handful of aquaculture seaweed farmers.

Paul Dobbins, who heads a Portland seaweed products company called Ocean Approved, said there are about 20 applications in the pipeline to open new seaweed farms. His company uses about half wild and half farmed, and it plans to move to 100 percent farmed.

Dobbins disagreed that Maine’s seaweed industry has a sustainability problem, but added that a lot of new faces are getting into the business.

“We see the market expanding dramatically for domestic seaweed,” Dobbins said. “Almost all seaweed in the U.S. is imported, and consumers are looking for a product from waters they can trust.”

But Shep Erhart, president of the Maine Seaweed Council and founder of Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, doesn’t paint so rosy of a picture. He said the state is experiencing a “seaweed bandwagon,” and this is a good time for the festival to take a year off.

“We can’t meet demand without overdoing it,” Erhart said. “We want to make sure we can meet this demand that Mother Nature is supplying us. We need to step back and slow down a bit.”

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Poland Spring reaches high water mark http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/water-world/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/water-world/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=939872 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series on Maine water. Read part 2: A thirst for raw water from Maine

Sometime in the next couple of months, when America is at its hottest, bottled water is expected to become the most popular beverage sold in America. Not in dollar value, but in terms of volume and consumption. It will finally surpass carbonated beverages in this category, representing a triumph of healthy H20 over the big bad bubbles of sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Bottles of Poland Spring water Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Bottles of Poland Spring water at the company’s processing plant in Hollis. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Passing this sales landmark also represents a triumph of marketing, as bottled water is merely a different version of something that every American connected to a municipal water system already gets for free. To drive home the point, imagine that milk flows from the tap in your home. It varies in quality depending on where you live, but nonetheless, it is free, or part of the same municipal service you pay to flush the toilet or shower. Yet you willingly pay for another kind of milk, especially if it is either organic or just sold in a bottle appealing enough to somehow make it seem special. Sometimes you even walk out your door, away from the tap where you could fill a glass with nice cold milk to drink, and within minutes, stop at a store to buy a bottled version of that milk.

Maine is a water-rich state, loaded with sand and gravel aquifers that provide a natural filter. From them, water can bubble up to the surface in springs, locations that Native American tribes knew well and early European settlers happily embraced and sometimes exploited. There are doubtless secret springs we haven’t even found yet, bubbling away in Maine’s undeveloped, rarely visited lands.

Because of this, Maine has long been a place that others considered a perfect source for good-tasting, “fresh” drinking water. The state is also home to a remarkably successful brand of bottled water, Poland Spring. With a distribution arm that reaches throughout the Northeast, Poland Spring, which is owned by the Nestle Corporation, is now the No. 1 selling brand of bottled water in the nation.

As what Poland Spring calls “the 100 days of summer,”

i.e. its boom sale days, commence, Source reports on the homegrown bottled water industry through the lens of sustainability. This week we look at the ever expanding Poland Spring, its efforts to run a sustainable business and its critics. Next week we look at a fledgling boutique water company hidden away on a hill in western Maine.

800 MILLION GALLONS

In 2015, Maine lobstermen and women pulled 121.1 million pounds of lobster from the ocean while farmers dug 1.6 billion pounds of potatoes from the earth. Meanwhile, Poland Spring bottled about 800 million gallons of water – the equivalent of some 6.7 billion pounds – taken from Maine aquifers.

Packaged bottles of Poland Spring water on a conveyor belt in the Hollis plant Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Poland Spring, which is owned by the Nestle Corporation, is the No. 1 selling brand of bottled water in the nation. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Clear, calorie-free and for all but the most discerning water palates, flavorless, water is the state’s biggest consumable product by volume. Yet it doesn’t get nearly the attention of lobster, potatoes or wild blueberries (104.4 million pounds in 2014, the most recent year crop figures are available for) as a product sourced in Maine.

But Poland Spring water is ubiquitous throughout the Northeast, so much so that its UPC code is the No. 1 scanned item in New York City. “It surpassed cigarettes,” said Heather Printup, community relations manager for Poland Spring Bottling.

As a subsidiary of Nestle, Poland Spring’s geographic reach extends to Pennsylvania, where another label, Deer Park, also fills bottles for Nestle. But because Poland Spring has a certain cachet, it sometimes shows up at retailers willing to pay more to ship it farther, to Florida, California or even farther. “I found it in Mexico,” Printup said during a recent press tour of the Poland Spring Museum.

Her pride in Poland Spring is evident. “To be part of an industry that has been around for so long resonates so deep,” Printup said, standing in the museum, a former bottling factory. She’d just opened the door of a glistening all-white bathroom to show off the original glass tiles Nestle salvaged during a $3 million restoration of both the Italianate spring house and the old factory. “We have employees that actually worked in this factory.”

Printup came to work at Poland Spring in 2001 fresh out of college and her knowledge of the tumultuous history of the original spring, which was first commercialized in 1859, is as impressive as her dedication to what the company is today: three bottling facilities, 860 employees and plans to expand, finding even more Maine water that suits the Poland Spring profile of fresh water drawn from sand and gravel aquifers.

“We need that same composition under the ground,” she said. “We’re selective about where we go and we want to stay in the state. We’re constantly out looking for new spring sites.”

The likely location of Poland Spring’s next expansion is in the Rumford area. If Poland Spring, which is Maine’s 49th largest employer, finds suitable springs there, it would tap into the springs via wells as it already does in locations in Fryeburg, Poland, Denmark, Dallas Plantation, Pierce Pond Township and St. Albans. Long gone are the days when the spring water flowed, simply via gravity, directly into a bottling plant.

As a traditional mill town, Printup notes, Rumford has faced considerable job losses (the unemployment rate there in 2015 was nearly twice that of the state overall).

“That would be a good story for us,” Printup said.

WELL WISHERS (OR NOT)

In the bottled water business, good stories and good public relations are a particular necessity. No sooner did the Nestle subsidiary make public its interest in Rumford’s water than questions arose from a citizenry already concerned with just how much Maine water goes into Poland Spring bottles. This Tuesday, a group of activists will host a free 6 p.m. screening at the Rumford Public Library of “Tapped,” a 2009 documentary about the bottled water industry, focusing on PepsiCo and Nestle.

A forklift operator moves bottles of water at the Poland Spring facility in Hollis on Tuesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A forklift operator moves bottles of water at the Poland Spring facility in Hollis. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“Tapped” features footage from Fryeburg, where Poland Spring began tapping into water supplies in 1997, much to the dismay of some residents, Nisha Swinton, a senior organizer for Food and Water Watch who is based in Portland, will be on the educational panel that follows the movie. She’s well used to going up against Nestle and Poland Spring; Food and Water Watch’s appeal to limit Poland Spring’s long-term rights to pump water in Fryeburg, which extend 45 years, was shot down by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in May. For Swinton, her opposition to the bottled water industry as a whole is firmly rooted in issues of sustainability. There’s the oil and energy required to produce bottled water – 2,000 times the energy cost of producing tap water – then the problem of dealing with all those plastic bottles in the waste stream. According to Food and Water Waste research, about 75 percent of empty plastic water bottles in the U.S. end up in the garbage instead of a recycling bin. (For the one-quarter that do make it in the recycling bin, energy will be required to turn them into something useful.)

But Food and Water Watch has one sustainability concern that doesn’t involve a statistic, mainly because no statistics are available. What happens to the environment when a company extracts water from an aquifer at such enormous levels? Gary Hemphill, managing director of research for the industry consultant, the Beverage Marketing Corporation, said the bottled water industry produces “north of 11 billion gallons” in the United States alone. That’s a lot of water being moved around.

“One point I always like to make is that when bottled water companies are tapping into water supplies, they are not replenishing what they pump out,” said Alison Grass, senior researcher for Food and Water Watch’s water program. “They are just taking it and putting in a plastic bottle and selling it. That differentiates it from something like agricultural use,” which ultimately recharges the system.

Maine is a wet place, this year’s dry spring notwithstanding. Rainfall totals for Maine in 2015 were 43.23 inches, nearly 10 inches more than the national average in a particularly wet year. Food and Water Watch’s Swinton doesn’t deny that. “The whole Northeast is very water rich,” she said. But she’d still like to know the larger environmental and ecological implications of taking far more water from the ground than any previous generation did. “I personally would love just an in-depth, independent study done that is monitoring our groundwater resources,” she said.

She and others also see Maine as particularly vulnerable to those who want to exploit that richness. The law around extracting groundwater in Maine is one of absolute dominion, which means that landowners are entitled to extract as much water as they please from their property.

“Absolute dominion means I can own a quarter block somewhere and as long as I have the biggest straw, extract as much as I want from under it,” Swinton said. As groundwater demands increased in the latter part of the 20th century, the absolute dominion doctrine went out of favor and many states moved to placing groundwater under the same form of protections that surface waters are held under, or a modified form of absolute dominion that allowed for “reasonable” use. While Maine maintains the absolute dominion doctrine, the “absolute” is not truly absolute in that groundwater is subject to regulation by the state in order to protect public safety, health and welfare. The state Department of Environmental Protection, for instance, sets limits on how much Poland Spring can extract from the aquifers it pumps from.

But from Swinton’s perspective, Nestle, via Poland Spring, has the biggest straws in Maine and doesn’t have to be accountable to its neighbors.

BAMBI’S WATERING HOLE

Mark LaPlante, Poland Spring’s natural resources manager, is a hearty, outdoorsy guy with a ready smile and a warm, friendly manner. He drives a big red truck, offers a big hand to shake and produces an icy cold bottle of Poland Spring water within seconds of meeting you. But he looks truly anguished when the topic of sustainability comes up.

Bottles of Poland Spring water stacked up at the Hollis facility Tuesday Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Ricker family controlled Poland Spring until the 1940s, when it began going through a series of owners. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I take it personally when I hear we’re not sustainable,” LaPlante said. “Maine is my home.”

He said this as he stood about three feet away from the best visual attached to the company’s water source in Hollis, the Shy Beaver Trout Hatchery, where wooden walls set into wetlands create a sort of long, narrow, spring-fed swimming pool. The hatchery long predates Poland Spring. In fact, its original hatchery building is on Hollis’ listings of “Historic Public Buildings,” and it continues to operate even as wells around it extract 237 million gallons of water from the aquifer annually.

The banks around that hatchery are green and lush and if Bambi stepped out of the forest for a drink, he’d look perfectly at home. LaPlante has seen plenty of wildlife around: bear, deer, owls, porcupines. “You name it,” he said. (And ticks; the one element of his job he doesn’t like.) The buildings that house the wells and controls would not look out of place in a national park; they’re tasteful and almost sweet from the outside, like cottages built for fairy creatures, although the interiors are lined with machinery, control panels and high-tech security equipment.

But just down the dirt road LaPlante drove in on, and across Killick Pond Road, is Poland Spring’s Hollis bottling plant, one of three it maintains in the state. It’s the biggest bottled water facility in North America and the second biggest in the world. The parking lot is so vast tanker trucks look small in it, and even on a Saturday, it’s lined with cars. In the 100 days of summer, bottled water moves quickly from ground to grocery shelves. It’s filtered and hit with a UV treatment in the factory to make sure no bacteria gets through, but otherwise unchanged, according to Poland Spring.

“You could get a bottle of Poland Spring that is 24 to 48 hours out of the ground,” LaPlante said.

LaPlante started at Poland Spring in 2000, as the Hollis site was coming on line, a process he said takes three or four years, and in the days since then he’s never once got the word from the Department of Environmental Protection to back off on pumping; water levels have not dropped to the point that would warrant that. “It’s critical to our business that we maintain spring flow,” LaPlante said.

One of his first jobs at Poland Spring was as the official well wisher for neighbors of the vast Hollis project, visiting seven or eight of them once a month to check on their wells for any impact from the Poland Spring operation. (Because wells pull water in, there can be legitimate concerns that a big straw in the collective glass might alter what comes up in a smaller straw nearby.) He said no problems were detected. “After a few years they said, ‘We really don’t need to see you every month, Mark,’ ” LaPlante said.

THE RICKERS OF POLAND, MAINE

You could see why Poland Spring managers would be sensitive about public relations. In her 2008 book, “Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It,” author Elizabeth Royte opens with a scene in Hollis and then drops into Fryeburg. Royte refers to Poland Spring as a water “Juggernaut,” a term few outside of Trump Enterprises would welcome (you can still find Nestle’s rebuttal to her book on the company’s website). And she asks if it is even ethical to be selling water in the first place.

Which brings us back to the origins of bottled water sales in Maine.

The Ricker family settled in the Poland area in 1794, acquiring the hilltop farm where the original Poland Spring bubbled up in a land swap with the Shakers. It took two generations and one bad stomach to discover the spring water; Hiram Ricker noticed his farmhands disappearing into the woods for drinks, tried the water himself and believed himself cured of his acid reflux. By 1859 he began selling it commercially as a health tonic. Printup listed off some of the more outlandish claims made about the water – including a disabled person being able to walk again – in the indulgent tone one uses with small children telling tall tales. Certainly the water didn’t hurt anyone.

“Nowadays if we go to the doctor they always say drink a lot of fluids,” Printup pointed out.

Poland Spring had its own train cars in those days, a move the modern-day version of Poland Spring is now mimicking as a means to lower its carbon footprint, although currently only in small increments and on the weekends. “Ideally, we’ll get up to taking 5,000 truckloads off the road,” she said.

The Rickers controlled Poland Spring until the 1940s, when it began going through a series of owners. It was in bankruptcy when it was purchased by Perrier in 1980 (Perrier was subsequently bought by Nestle). It wasn’t until 1998 that the bottled water craze really took off, Printup said, sending Poland Spring’s sales went through the roof.

“We couldn’t even keep up,” Printup said.

The very next year, 1999, Natural Resources Defense Council came out with a study about the merits and safety of bottled water. It found no assurance that bottled water is cleaner or safer than tap, and that an estimated 25 percent of bottled water is merely tap water in a bottle, albeit sometimes further treated. The study was such a “massive undertaking,” according to the council’s health program’s senior attorney Mae Wu, that the environmental group hasn’t updated it.

“But bottled water is still fundamentally taking water out of one place and putting it another,” Wu said, with all the resulting environmental impacts of packing and transport. “Meanwhile, water that comes out of the tap is pennies on the dollar. Fundamentally, things don’t change on that level.”

But what about the disastrous lead contamination of the municipal water in Flint, Michigan, a scandal so terrifying that one has to wonder whether it may be at least partially responsible for driving bottled water sales over the carbonated beverages mountain, as it were? And suggestions that Flint is just the beginning, since our water infrastructure is generally a disaster?

“Our infrastructure is falling apart,” Wu agreed. “We lose billions of gallons of water a day just from leaking pipes underground.”

But she argues that tap water is far more stringently independently tested than bottled, falling under the more comprehensive jurisdiction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whereas bottled water inspections are handled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are far more limited in scope.

Even the revelations of the Natural Resources Defense Council study didn’t damage water sales. Aside from a slight dip in 2008, likely as a result of the recession, Gary Hemphill, the research manager for the Beverage Marketing Corporation, said sales have climbed steadily.

The industry’s main customer purchases a single-serving bottle of water, he said, and demographically consumers skew slightly more female and also younger. Although not all bottled water has an affiliation with a spring (the marketplace is jam-packed with filtered, distilled and mineral water as well) source is key for consumers, Hemphill said. And for companies who want to do well in the business. It’s no surprise to him that Poland Spring is so successful.

“Ideally, you would like to choose a place that has an image of health and clean, outdoors living, that’s pristine,” Hemphill said. “I don’t have specific research, but I think intuitively Maine has that kind of image with a lot of people.”

But to skeptics, like Swinton of Food and Water Watch, bottled water remains “an amazing scheme.” Fryeburg resident Nickie Sekera of Community Water Justice, who will also be on that June 28 panel, says our “culture of convenience” has adapted to something that should be reserved for emergencies.

“What did we do for the first 100 million years anyway?” she added. Bottled water companies, she said, “have the best scam on the planet. Back when Hiram Ricker first started selling it, he was laughed at because people thought, who is going to buy bottled water?”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/water-world/feed/ 8 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/939872_189638-20160621_PolandSprin.jpgFri, 01 Jul 2016 09:13:59 +0000
Daniel Vitalis’ Find a Spring provides online community for water foragers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/meet-daniel-vitalis-a-founder-of-find-a-spring-an-online-community-for-water-foragers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/meet-daniel-vitalis-a-founder-of-find-a-spring-an-online-community-for-water-foragers/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=939875 About eight years ago Daniel Vitalis and his business partner LeighLon Anderson created a website called Find a Spring, which listed off-the-grid springs they already knew about. They invited people all around the world to contribute information on these unofficial water sources.

We’re talking about the kind of funky roadside springs you typically need to live near to know about, with no more signage than say, a pipe coming out of the ground.

Find a Spring has become a large-scope project, listing springs around the world, including nearly 600 in the United States and 16 in Maine, New Hampshire-raised Vitalis’ adopted state. We called him at his home office in Bridgton to talk about the project and also learned why he won’t drink tap water, what foraging means to him and how he got involved in what he calls “rewilding,” putting his primitive skills to work.

WHO WHAT WHERE WHY: The site started as a “grassroots passion project of mine,” Vitalis says, but he never expected it to grow as much as it has. “We had 173,000 unique visitors to it this year, which is kind of incredible to me.” It has been a low-maintenance effort – “I keep the plate spinning a little, but it is largely the users” who have made it what it is. He was inspired to create the website because this is the water he wants to drink. Not tap, not filtered or treated and bottled, but water straight from the ground. “This is the other option that not that many people know about.”

IN THE BEGINNING: The first spring he remembers going to as an adult was one in Springvale, where he used to live. “It wasn’t because I had all this developed ideology,” he says. “It was just that there was something so beautiful about walking there with my bottles. There was something so Zen about that. It made me feel really connected to the landscape.” He decided that the “earth’s filtering mechanism is on a scale so much grander than a Brita.”

The Springvale spring has since been capped, which Vitalis regrets deeply. Towns tend to be afraid of unregulated springs, he said, and so they get shut down. “There are so many towns in Maine whose names relate to the springs that are there. It’s especially sad when we’re at that point in history where people need springs more than ever before.”

TAPPED OUT: What does Vitalis have against municipal water sources? “The water infrastructure for the country is exceptionally old and it is breaking down.” He’s not a fan of drinking some of the additives that might be used in treating municipal water, like chlorine, fluorine (or fluoride) or sodium hydroxide (to raise pH levels to neutral) or something like phosphoric acid, which is used to keep pipes from clogging up with minerals. Thus he opts out whenever possible, and frequents the springs on his website.

SAFETY FIRST: Users of the site update it with information about flow rates, fees, access, the number of total dissolved solids, pH and temperature, although since the record keeping is entirely volunteer, there’s no guarantee that the postings will include that information. “I have done this now for eight years,” Vitalis says. “And aside from a couple of times where people have not made a good distinction between a creek and a spring, no one has ever reported getting a pathogen (from one of the springs).”

HOW DO YOU GET HERE FROM THERE? How did Vitalis become such a proponent of extreme natural living? “I just followed my interests where they led. I come from a pretty busted-up home and a less than savory sort of childhood.”

Some of his peers ended up in jail, or using, but Vitalis’ effort to take care of himself led to a very different life.

“Through a lot of serendipity I slipped through all those nooses and came out the other side as a kind of a counterculture person … I ended up being fascinated by human wildness.” He didn’t feel like he fit in anywhere, and certainly not in a white-picket-fence world. “To me nature is the place where everything felt serene and safe. The human world was chaotic and my mom didn’t do a good job equipping me for the world. I was like a little Mowgli I guess.”

SHOW ME THE MONEY: Vitalis doesn’t make money off Find a Spring; he makes his living primarily from his internet company Surthrival, where he sells nutritional supplements, medicinal foods and gear for a rewilding lifestyle. He says “probably the weirdest thing” he sells is made with the velvet from elk antlers, which he describes as acting “like a natural steroid.” The velvet “gets sold sometimes in really hokey ways,” he says. “Like on pornographic sites. There are a lot of unsavory folks in that world. But we’re very clean and reputable folks.”

He doesn’t source that from Maine, but on a spring day, he might be found out gathering chaga, a tree fungus that grows on birches and is used for strengthening the immune system.

ON AIR: He also has his own website, which features his Rewild Yourself magazine and podcasts. There he writes about his life and interviews others who are experts in various forms of human wildness. “My guests range from people who are pretty counterculture to New York Times best-sellers. My specialty there is just to get those people to start opening up and sharing.” The common thread? “They all know that humans divorcing themselves from ecology is the main root of our problems.”

THE BIG PICTURE: Does he have a vision for Find a Spring? He’s just brought on three volunteers to help “pour some new energy into the site.” And he hopes more Americans discover the joys of foraging for their own water.

What he’d love to see is communities treating their springs as monuments to be proud of, pointing to the way Manitou Springs in Colorado has celebrated its natural springs by literally building monuments around them. “All of them come out of these statues now. And all of the shops have little maps showing you where all the springs are.”

But in the water-starved future, he said, springs will eventually get their due: “At some point, springs will be world heritage sites,” he says. “We are headed to that ‘Mad Max’ world.”

 

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Prospect Harbor Soap makes scents – and great lather http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/washing-away-that-summer-stink/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/washing-away-that-summer-stink/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=939881 In 1993, Alexis Souders made her first batch of soap, hoping to find something that would be gentle on her son’s skin.

Her son, Ben, was a baby then. Regular soap “would make him very dry and itchy and flaky,” Souders said. “He’s a screaming redhead and everything affected his skin.”

That first 5-pound batch was a disaster. “It did make soap, but it was so harsh you could have scoured the concrete with it,” Souders said.

She kept experimenting, using hypoallergenic avocado oil that is high in oleic acid thus good for the skin. After three years, she came up with a formula she liked – a hard (and thus long-lasting) soap that was mild but made a great lather – and she founded the Prospect Harbor Soap Co. Now she makes the soaps in scents such as lavender, rosemary mint, tart lemon and Acadia pine, using avocado oil and a blend of other oils.

“Each oil imparts its own characteristics,” Souders said. “For example, you use coconut oil because it makes great lather, and rice bran oil is higher in antioxidants than vitamin E, and palm oil creates a hard bar, a long-lasting bar.”

A version of the soap targeted to gardeners contains exfoliants to help scrub off dirt and odors. (Lemon-Cornmeal Soap is the company’s bestselling product.)

The soaps are sold on the Prospect Harbor Soap Co. website, on Etsy.com and on Amazon.com. The bath soaps cost $5.50 for a 4-ounce bar; the gardeners’ soaps are $5.50 for a 5-ounce bar and $9.50 for a 9-ounce bar. She also sells them in shops all around Maine; see her website for a complete list.

Souders has expanded her line to include a variety of other products, including a “hunter’s soap” that uses anise essential oil to mask the human scent. Her “Foot Freshies” – cotton bags filled with cornstarch, kaolin clay and lavender and peppermint essential oils – absorb the nasty odors that build up in your stinky shoes.

She’s now expanding what she calls her “manly man” line of beard balms, mustache waxes and shaving kits. She tests those products on members of a hirsute barbershop chorus in Boise, Idaho.

— MEREDITH GOAD

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Hit pause on a Maine sustainable farming seal of approval http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/sea-change-hit-pause-on-a-maine-sustainable-farming-seal-of-approval/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/sea-change-hit-pause-on-a-maine-sustainable-farming-seal-of-approval/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=939890 Certifying farms for sustainability is an appealing idea. The bureaucrats in Augusta who hatched this plan for Maine undoubtedly envisioned nothing but positive outcomes. A state seal of approval for sound agricultural practices could reward farmers who manage their land well and could reassure consumers that growers were practicing good land stewardship.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is eager to promote its brainchild, after giving it – predictably – an acronym: the Maine FARMS (Farm Agricultural Resource Management and Sustainability) Program. The department recently issued a request for proposals for a communications, marketing and public relations plan for its new program.

Within a year, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry envisions having – at a cost of $40,000 to $80,000 in taxpayer dollars – “recommendations for brand rollout,” results of focus-group testing, an eye-catching logo and “media platforms that will help to launch the (FARMS) brand.”

Amid the marketing lingo, there’s just one missing ingredient: a substantive plan for certifying farms.

John Bott, the department’s communications director, acknowledges that the agency is still working to determine where this effort “could, should or might go.” Ashley Sears, program lead for Maine FARMS, is gathering input from farmers and says that the request for proposals is designed to get consumer feedback.

Marketing programs typically do begin with consumer research. Environmental certification programs do not. Department staff members could have learned this by consulting with the state’s foremost authority in agricultural certification – the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. MOFGA serves as the USDA-accredited certification service for more than 450 organic growers in Maine and has been certifying farms for decades.

Although planning for the Maine FARMS program started eight months ago, few details have been shared with MOFGA, the Agricultural Council of Maine, the Maine Farm Bureau, Maine Farmland Trust or the state office of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Sears says those conversations will happen after the farmer and consumer research.

But wouldn’t it make sense to engage those with the most expertise in agricultural sustainability from the outset? “Transparency is fundamental to sustainability,” says Andy Whitman, who works on agricultural certification as director of Manomet’s Sustainable Economies Program. “When you don’t have transparency, you don’t have trust.”

Unless consumers have confidence that a certification process is inclusive and based on rigorous standards, the label is meaningless – or worse.

“Anytime you take a really good agricultural concept and turn it into a marketing program, you create problems,” notes Lauchlin Titus, president of the Maine Vegetable and Small Fruit Growers Association. An agency charged with promoting agricultural products may not be seen by consumers as a credible judge of sustainability standards since it has a vested interest in making all Maine farms appear scrupulous.

Organic certification has earned the confidence of consumers because it is backed by USDA standards – set through an open public process – and it involves third-party verification. Its standards, which prohibit most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, provide some assurance about seed sources, soil health, and weed and pest management practices. But they offer no guarantee of sustainable practices in areas such as water conservation, wildlife habitat protection or greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainability, a notoriously ill-defined and amorphous term, can easily elude the sort of rigorous criteria that lend credibility to certification. “There are tons of concepts around sustainable certification,” says MOFGA Executive Director Ted Quaday, but few materialize due to the costs and complexities involved.

Because of the need to verify agricultural practices, certification programs represent a substantial time investment on the part of certifiers and participating farmers. Many Maine farmers complete inches of paperwork each year for organic certification,USDA GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification, and/or commodity-specific certification programs like the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program. A state-level certification would only add to that pile.

While Maine FARMS certification might yield some economic and ecological benefits, the potential burden on farmers, cost to taxpayers and confusion for consumers could be substantial.

Short of certification, there are many ways to support agricultural sustainability, says Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservationist Juan Hernandez, noting that “this is what we (at NRCS) do for a living.” For farmers who want to improve wildlife habitat, compost waste, practice crop rotation, conserve water or transition to organic, existing programs offer both financial and technical help – through the NRCS, Cooperative Extension and others.

Maine farmers already receive support promoting their locally grown products through the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s own “Get Real, Get Maine!” campaign. A new FARMS brand would compete with the agency’s own label, further confusing consumers.

While the idea of fostering more sustainable farms holds undeniable appeal, the reality requires an extended and expensive commitment. Rigorous criteria developed collaboratively should drive the certification process, not consumer research or the desire for new marketing venues.

The department claims that part of the vision for Maine FARMS is “to enhance the transparency of food production and agricultural practices.” It should begin by making its own planning process more transparent and inclusive, and by putting marketing and consumer research on hold until its vision for certification is better grounded.

MARINA SCHAUFFLER, a freelance writer and editor, is online at www.naturalchoices.com.

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Contest inspires a sandwich that’s better for body and environment http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/green-plate-special-contest-inspires-a-sandwich-thats-better-for-body-and-environment/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/green-plate-special-contest-inspires-a-sandwich-thats-better-for-body-and-environment/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=939812 Arnold’s Bread, a brand owned by the Pennsylvania-based Bimbo Bakeries USA (yes, really), earlier this month launched its third annual America’s Better Sandwich contest in which chefs and home cooks can submit recipes (using Arnold’s whole wheat breads, of course) that are better for a body than a corned beef reuben. The grand prize is $25,000, and the company is donating a loaf of bread to charity for every recipe submitted.

“Maybe I’d win” was my first thought. Then I tried to recall the last time I’d followed a recipe for any sandwich, let alone a “better” one, which in this case, means “better for me,” or healthier. Don’t you just use less corned beef and a single slice of cheese in that case?

My third thought went to expanding the reach of my “better” sandwich to take sustainable eating into account. The USDA Agricultural Research Service says the average American has one sandwich every other day. That’s not including burgers. If you count those, it’s a one-a-day statistic. So any green addition to your sandwiches will add up over time.

DIY bread from whole grains grown and ground locally cuts the transportation burden and controls waste, as you can make a loaf only when you need it. Yeah, I don’t bake bread either, so buying from a local baker is my next best option. I am not averse to buying commercial breads if ratings systems like Environmental Working Group and GoodGuide.com give them high marks for nutrition, sustainable production practices and social responsibility.

The meat in the middle is a matter of more concern. Store-bought lunch meats typically come from animals raised in feed lots and contain flavor enhancers like monosodium glutamate and preservatives like sodium nitrate. If you can’t forgo the beef, buy a larger than normal rump roast from a local farmer you trust, roast it for Sunday dinner, and slice the leftovers for sandwiches.

The same strategy applies for turkey, but since most of the birds bred for Thanksgiving are still poults at this point, you may need to search harder for a supplier that breeds them for year-round consumption, such as The Turkey Farm and Pine Tree Poultry, both located in New Sharon.

Local cheeses and farm eggs dressed up with everything from spicy Sriracha to tarragon mayonnaise can add more sustainable protein between the slices. But really, your greenest options are vegetables. Lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, onions and pickles are everywhere on the sandwich scene. And roasted red pepper, grilled portobello mushrooms and smashed avocados come and go like ’70s fashion.

Beyond those, though, I was hard-pressed to conjure up other sandwich-anchoring vegetables, so I went looking in my go-to vegetarian cookbooks.

“The River Cottage Veg Everyday” by Brit Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall offered up curried egg with lentils and parsley; and mushroom, watercress and blue cheese combinations. In Deborah Madison’s “Vegetable Literacy,” I found a cucumber-lovage sandwich with sweet onion and an open-faced number with spinach, caramelized onion and roasted pepper. Interesting combinations, but no new vegetables involved.

So I arrived back at my no recipe query and started tracking what made vegetarian sandwiches on local menus and across the internet to see what makes them invitingly delicious. There is always something nutritionally slatherable – like a highly flavored hummus – that holds the bits together when you bite into it. The crunchy bit is typically green and sliced ultra-thin. Anything able to yield an umami element – eggplant, beets and mushrooms – has to be cooked. And many of the good ones resemble a reworked version of old favorite, like a BLT with pan-roasted dulse replacing the bacon, grilled cauliflower standing in for the chicken in curried chicken salad, and salt-roasted beets anchoring my beloved reuben.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: cburn1227@gmail.com.

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Taking a field trip to see famed landscape architect’s Maine legacy http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/maine-gardener-field-trip-to-see-famed-landscape-architects-maine-legacy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/maine-gardener-field-trip-to-see-famed-landscape-architects-maine-legacy/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=939836 Beatrix Farrand, who spent much of her life in Bar Harbor, was among the world’s most celebrated landscape architects.

She was the only woman among the 11 founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects and designed many of the most highly prized gardens in the United States – including Dumbarton Oaks in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., at the White House during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency and parts of several college campuses including Yale and Princeton.

Farrand also designed the gardens at The Mount, home of her aunt (and novelist) Edith Wharton in Lenox, Massachusetts. Those gardens are being restored to be closer to Farrand’s original design.

“She broke a lot of new ground,” said Martha Harmon, former archivist/librarian for the Beatrix Farrand Society. The society is headquartered at Garland Farm in Bar Harbor, Farrand’s last home, which includes a small garden she designed for her own use and pleasure.

“She worked with the Olmsted brothers and studied with Charles Sprague Sargent, who founded Arnold Arboretum in Boston,” Harmon said.

Farrand took a garden tour of Europe before beginning her career, and admired two noted English gardeners, Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson, Harmon said.

I visited five gardens related to Farrand, including three designed by her, when I attended the Garden Club Federation of Maine convention in Bar Harbor earlier this month.

One of her best Mount Desert creations, the garden of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in Seal Harbor, wasn’t yet open for the season, so I couldn’t visit. But you can make reservations to visit – if any spots are still available.

Farrand created many gardens on Mount Desert Island, but many of them were destroyed by a massive forest fire in 1947.

In 1955, Farrand dismantled the gardens and buildings at Reef Point, her family’s longtime Mount Desert summer home, which she used as a headquarters, for a variety of reasons – including her inability to maintain the property as she would have liked. Many plants from Reef Point were transplanted to the nearby Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden, which are open to the public.

Touring Garland Farm, where Farrand lived from 1955 until her death in 1959, was a pleasure. The farm was the home of her property manager, and Farrand used many architectural items from Reef Point when she redesigned the property.

The Beatrix Farrand Society was formed in 2003 to purchase Garland Farm and return the 4.9 acres that remain with the property to its Farrand-era design.

The first task was to replace the roof and siding on the house, so the terrace garden wasn’t restored until recently. The garden is divided into three beds, with Farrand’s bedroom looking out on a bed of cool tones, while her caregiver/companion’s bedroom looked out on brighter reds and yellows. The middle panel, with heather and lavender, was designed to provide colors year-round.

Harmon said the Garland garden follows rules that Farrand adhered to in all her designs.

“She had a strict rule of colors, with hot colors at one end and cooler colors at the other,” Harmon said. “She loved single roses. She wasn’t a fan of double and multiple-petaled flowers, which were becoming popular, and she liked white flowers. As a teenager she went to Scotland, and was fond of heather and lavender.”

She also liked Asian influences, and has two bronze pieces from Korea in the terrace garden.

With that garden in good shape, the society now plans to work on the gardens in the front of the house, which haven’t really been touched since the society purchased the property.

The garden club got to tour a private Farrand garden in Bar Harbor that was spared by the fires. It was built from 1923 to 1930, with several garden “rooms” next to a simple farmhouse. The ornaments and gates selected by Farrand remain.

The Sunken Garden at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor was designed by Farrand as a rose garden, and the granite and other hardscape elements remain, but the plants of Farrand’s design are gone. A better-maintained garden at the college is the Turrets Seaside Garden.

The azaleas were in bloom for our Asticou visit, and it was gorgeous, while Thuya Garden had massive, rustic stone walls and stairways along the cliffs, but was much more muted.

My wife, Nancy, and I toured Dumbarton Oaks long before I started writing about gardens, and it is among the best-surviving Farrand gardens. It is a large garden on a hillside, divided into rooms, as do many of her gardens. It is a must-see for any gardener visiting Washington, D.C.

If you want to learn more about Farrand, read “Beatrix Farrand: Private Gardens, Public Landscapes,” by Judith B. Tankard, who regularly posts on the Beatrix Farrand Society Facebook page. Another book, not quite as good, is “Beatrix: The Gardening Life of Beatrix Jones Farrand 1872-1959.”

So many gardens to see, I am sure I will be back – especially if I get a reservation to see the Rockefeller Garden.

TOM ATWELL has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at tomatwell@me.com.

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Paul Jessen’s the man who helps Tom’s of Maine stay green http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/meet-paul-jessen-who-helps-toms-of-maine-stay-green/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/meet-paul-jessen-who-helps-toms-of-maine-stay-green/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=930144 Paul Jessen’s father once gave him a plate with the words “The King of Compost” on it. Maybe that doesn’t sound like the kind of gift you’d give a Yale School of Management graduate whose first post-business school job was a classic corporate gig, working with the Philips Sonicare brand in Stamford, Connecticut (yes, that would be the electric toothbrush). But his father’s gift, teasing though it might have been, is hardly out of context. Jessen has a deep passion for sustainability, and at Tom’s of Maine, he’s been able to bring that to his job as innovation manager. We talked to Jessen about everything from all-natural deodorant for the tween set to Tom’s of Maine’s progress toward making its headquarters in Kennebunk and its manufacturing facility in Sanford zero-waste.

IN THE BEGINNING: Jessen grew up in eastern Kentucky, and that’s where he began to develop an interest in the environment. His father was a Presbyterian minister. “So taking care of God’s creations was essential.” For his mother, that included growing vegetables and composting. “In terms of basic appreciation for things like gardening and the outdoors and sort of taking care of the environment, those values were definitely instilled by my parents.” Events like Earth Day and discussions about the hole in the ozone layer in particular made a big impression on him as a young boy. “That was so scary.” But there wasn’t a single event that triggered his sense of caring. “It is just growing up in this complex world, when you see the impact of all the poor decisions that mankind has made.”

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS: After college Jessen worked as an officer in the foster care system in New York City, which was, unsurprisingly, an emotionally draining job. It made him realize how much he wanted to be making things, offering something to the world, “stuff that is of value to people,” and that led him to business school. How did he fit in there? “With the hard-nosed profit makers?” he said, jokingly. Just because it was Yale doesn’t mean it was a training program for hedge fund managers, he said. “It is different from a lot of business schools. It’s focused on placing people not just in the private sector but in the public and nonprofit sectors.”

HEAD NORTH: After a few years at Philips Sonicare, Jessen was ready to move his growing family (he has a soon-to-be 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son) closer to his in-laws in the Boston area, so he asked a head hunter to look for work there. “I always thought the dream would be to work for a company that made something meaningful and was a net social good. And was also a great place to work, where you are part of a values-based corporation and not just some cutthroat organization.” The head hunter told him about a perfect opportunity at Tom’s. Of Maine, where Jessen had never been. “To me it sounded like the Arctic Circle.” Though he started work at Tom’s just as winter was getting into full swing in 2012, he’s come to realize that Maine is hardly the North Pole. “We couldn’t be happier.” As innovation manager, Jessen’s directive is to improve the sustainability of Tom’s current products, whether with packaging or ingredients, and help the company create new products.

HOME FRONT: He and his wife and two children live in an 1850 farm house in Cape Elizabeth, where they raise backyard chickens and are reviving an overgrown garden. Their crops include vegetables and assorted berries, including more than enough blackberries to feed the family. Jessen is contemplating adding bees, but the chickens represent as far as he’s willing to go with livestock. “I think we’ll stop there,” although “periodically, my wife threatens to get a duck.”

BEHIND THE DESK: Jessen recently oversaw an eco-friendly renovation of the old mill on the Mousam River where Tom’s has been headquartered since the early 1990s. (He said about 90 percent of the company’s products are made down the road in the Sanford manufacturing facility; items like the bar soaps are made in Rhode Island). The company signed up with We Compost It!, installed a picnic table in the communal kitchen made from recycled plastic and participates in the TerraCycle program, which offers free recycling for tricky packaging, like toothpaste tubes. Tom’s set goals for achieving zero waste by 2020, and in many categories it is ahead of its goals, thanks to new elements like high-efficiency LED lighting with occupancy and daylight sensors, And the light fixtures? Made with upcycled toothpaste packaging.

WICKED COOL: In its more than 45 years in business, Tom’s has been known for its contributions (10 percent of profits) to nonprofits and organizations that support “human and environmental goodness.” The Sanford manufacturing facility has used wind power since 2007. “To some extent we all wear a sustainability hat,” Jessen said. “In my role, I get to look at it pretty concretely on a product-by-product level.” The popularity of Tom’s children’s toothpaste, with its all natural labeling, has opened the door for many other health products. Last year the company introduced a baby-care line (shampoo and lotion), plus a new line of “Wicked Cool” deodorant aimed at the 8-to-12 set.

COMES A TIME: And their parents, for when they hit what Jessen calls that “holy crap moment,” ie, when “you first realize you have to start talking about deodorants with your child, as awkward as their conversation is.” Tom’s aimed to create an all-natural option “that parents can trust and that the children will like.” Jessen worked to find a green replacement for the non-renwable, natural gas-based propylene glycol used in its deodorants, and found it in a vegetable-based propylene. Wicked Cool is available at the South Portland Target now, as part of a special program, and will roll out nationwide over the coming months. The boy’s version is called “freestyle” and has a citrus scent and the girl’s is called “summer fun” and smells like strawberries. Or like tween spirit.

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It’s easy to love daylilies so much you want to produce your own http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/maine-gardener-its-easy-to-love-daylilies-so-much-you-want-to-produce-your-own/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/maine-gardener-its-easy-to-love-daylilies-so-much-you-want-to-produce-your-own/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=930150 Daylilies can be addictive.

It starts simply enough. You want a plant that is hardy enough to stand up to Maine winters, will bloom for at least a few weeks each summer, has few pests, comes in many colors and is generally low maintenance. You buy one daylily, like it and then buy another. And another.

It’s an easy plant to hybridize, so you venture into that part of gardening. Your collection of daylilies keeps growing.

Gary Wnek of Cape Elizabeth has 715 different daylily varieties growing on his half-acre property. And that’s not even counting the seedlings he has coming along. He said his hobby began in 2001 when his wife became ill (she’s doing well now).

“I thought I’d stay by the house instead of playing golf all the time,” he recalled, “so I ordered a deal from White Flower Farm that was 50 daylilies for $50.”

After he planted those, he read about hybridizing and attempted that. Eighteen of his hybrids are now registered with the American Hemerocallis Society; you can find them at daylilies.org.

He does not sell any of his daylilies, and no catalogs have offered them for sale; he has given a few away, though.

Lisa and Paul Bourret of West Newfield also started growing daylilies as a hobby. By and large, they still treat it that way. They have 1,600 varieties on their property, which they call Rockhaven Daylilies, and usually open up a few weeks each summer to sell plants. This year, they won’t because they are heavily involved in the New England Daylily Society regional weekend being held nearby in New Hampshire.

“We’ll still be happy to have people come by and look, take pictures or paint, but we aren’t going to be selling,” Lisa Bourret said.

She said her husband, Paul, does the hybridizing and has developed many varieties that he likes, but he has yet to register any of them with the American Hemerocallis Society.

Now that you have been warned that daylilies can be addictive, I’ll tell you how to get started.

They aren’t fussy about soil, although it would be tough to grow them in pure clay. Much of the Bourrets’ property is wet, so they grow a lot of their daylilies in raised beds. To produce the best blossoms, daylilies like to have a reasonable amount of rainfall, but they will survive drought. A light feeding of fertilizer in the spring is sufficient.

The Bourrets prefer to buy locally because locally grown daylilies are likely to be hardy enough for Maine – and there are many specialty daylily growers in Maine.

Wnek often buys from online catalogs, where a newly introduced daylily can cost $125 or more, he said. Be patient, wait a few years, and the price for the same daylily will drop to about $30. Common varieties sell for just a few dollars.

Often, though, you can get free daylilies. The plants spread quickly and have to be dug and divided – which can be done in spring or early summer, although it is usually recommended to divide them after the plants are done blooming for the season.

To dig and divide, dig up the plant with a shovel or spading fork. Put the tool deeply into the soil about 6 inches away from the plant, and push back and down on the handle. After you have gone all around the daylily, the entire plant will pop out of the soil.

Once it is out of the ground, separate the long, fibrous roots with a garden fork or by hand – although the plant will survive if you cut the entire root system in half with a shovel. I know, because I did it many times early in my gardening career before I read about the proper way to do it.

If you decide to ignore my warning about how addictive daylilies can be and you want to create your own hybrids, it is easy if you are organized.

“They do hybridize by themselves – the bees and bugs do it,” Wnek said.

But you’ll want to know who the parents are and keep track of the lineage. So pollinate them yourself.

Each daylily has six stamens, which produce pollen, and one pistil. Daylily blossoms last only one day – even though plants can continue blossoming for several weeks. Once the pollen has become fluffy and dry, usually about mid-morning, you take the pollen from the stamens on one plant and put it on the pistil of another plant.

Wnek takes pictures and does a voice recording whenever he hybridizes, and later makes a computerized record of it.

You let the blossom of the daylily go past prime and drop off on its own. The pod that is left will then continue to grow, and at the end of the season you can harvest the pods, open them and save the seeds.

Wnek stores the seeds in small plastic bags, and plants them in the spring. Sometimes he plants them indoors under fluorescent lights, but they grow better in full outdoor light.

He then picks the plants he likes best to keep growing in future years. First he looks for scapes – the daylily stems that hold the flowers – that grow well above the leaves so they are visible. He wants several scapes on each plant, and many blossoms on each scape.

Lisa Bourret said that while daylilies look good from a distance, you have to get up close to truly appreciate them.

“That’s when you see the ruffles, the sculpted edges, the toothy edges and the different forms,” she said. “They are truly wonderful.”

So get up close and personal with some daylilies this summer – and just maybe give in to the temptation of hybridizing a few.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at tomatwell@me.com.

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Leg Work: Bike sharing lets travelers see more of cities at a lower cost http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/leg-work-bike-sharing-lets-travelers-see-more-of-cities-at-a-lower-cost/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/leg-work-bike-sharing-lets-travelers-see-more-of-cities-at-a-lower-cost/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=930156 If you are traveling to Boston, Montreal or one of hundreds of other cities this summer, consider trying the local bike share system.

Bicycling is often faster than driving in urban areas, and you can cover a lot more territory than you can by walking. You’re likely to save money on parking, even when you factor in the cost of the bike share. Many cities have bike share stations at public transit stops, so it’s easy to combine biking, buses and subways to get to your destinations.

But the best reason to try bike sharing is to see sights you’d otherwise pass by in a blur.

If urban bicycling conjures images of crazy bike messengers weaving through rush-hour traffic, here’s some good news: Cities such as New York and Minneapolis that have invested in bike sharing also are expanding their bike-path networks. With advance planning, you can chart your route to avoid roads.

I used bike sharing for the first time in Washington, D.C. I wanted to see the monuments honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and I had just enough time to do so early one morning.

I took the Metro from my hotel to the National Mall, and found several bikes waiting in a station right outside the subway entrance. I used a nearby kiosk to buy a day’s membership in Capital Bikeshare for $7. That entitled me to an unlimited number of rides of 30 minutes or fewer; I paid $2 for the next 30 minutes. (The system has since changed its pricing and now offers the option of paying $2 for a single, 30-minute trip.)

Like most bike share bicycles, mine was heavy, had upright handlebars and only three speeds. I wasn’t going to win any races. But the bike felt very sturdy, and it was in decent shape.

Bicycling made it a breeze to cover the distance to the monuments. I also circled the Tidal Basin and rode by the Capitol, staying on paths the whole way. As I passed clusters of joggers in intense conversation, I wondered what legislative deals were being cut all around me.

A couple of years ago, I took a more ambitious ride using New York’s Citi Bike, the largest bike share system in the country.

I downloaded two apps to chart my course. The first showed all of the bike share stations and told how many bikes were available at each. The second app showed the city’s bike paths.

Bike sharing is designed for short trips, usually lasting 30 to 60 minutes. The pricing structure climbs steeply if you keep the bicycle for longer periods. (If you plan a daylong ride, you’ll be better off renting a bike from a bike shop.)

While switching bikes every 30 minutes might seem tiresome, I treated it like a game.

I picked up my first bike in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, then followed the West Side Bike Path along the Hudson River, passing fields of lavender and roses in full bloom.

I was cruising along, happy as could be, but my first 30 minutes was nearly up. The Citi Bike app showed me a station a block away. I snapped my bike into a holder, unlocked another bike and continued to Midtown.

A half-hour later, I encountered my only problem of the day. When I stopped at a third station to swap my bike, none was available. A message on the kiosk told me how to request an additional 15 minutes so I could get to a nearby station, but that entailed biking on city streets. A huge truck snuggled way too close for comfort.

Rather than brave more city riding, I dropped off the bike and walked to my next destination: Central Park. I found another bike share station right outside the entrance. Bicycling is the perfect way to see the park. In less than an hour, I crisscrossed from one end to the other, passing a lake, a castle and the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon.

My final tally: 170 blocks covered over four hours, for a cost of $16. How else could you get that much entertainment for that little money in New York?

Bike sharing has caught on in a big way during the past decade. In 2014, more than 850 cities around the world had bike sharing. You can find a list of U.S. systems on pedbikeinfo.org.

Before your trip, look at the membership options online. You’ll also want to find out how many bike stations are available so you’ll know ahead of time how convenient the system will be.

One more tip: find out whether helmets are provided. While a few systems offer free helmets, many require you to bring your own.

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

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Hand-appliquéd bags and wallets are inspired by nature http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/homegrown-hand-appliqued-bags-and-wallets-are-inspired-by-nature/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/homegrown-hand-appliqued-bags-and-wallets-are-inspired-by-nature/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=930171 When Kate Prideaux thinks about her next design, she thinks about what people like.

And that’s what ends up on the hand-appliquéd wallets, bags and pocketbooks she makes under the name “Katrina’s Machine.” Made from upholstery fabrics and vinyl, the products are sold at the Portland farmers markets, The Merchant Co. and Pinecone + Chickadee, as well as through Prideaux’s Etsy.com shop.

“People like cats, so I do some cats,” she said. “And people like dogs. The nautical theme is kind of big right now, so I did a lot of anchors and octopus and jellyfish and lobsters and crabs and things like that. I try and keep it playful. I have some friends who go to a bluegrass camp, so I made them some fiddler crabs – a crab with a little fiddle in its claw.”

Prideaux majored in ceramics at the Maine College of Art and has been sewing for more than 10 years. The name of her company stems from a time when she worked in an “ethical sweatshop” with lots of Russian workers who called her Katrina. She now works as a preschool teacher when she’s not sewing.

Prideaux buys remnant fabrics at upholstery shops, and also searches through sales bins and flea markets. She tries to use vintage buttons and abalone buttons when she can. “If I can find stuff that I can recycle, I definitely use it,” she said.

She cuts all of the shapes by hand, making each piece one of a kind. Her octopus design was inspired by Inky, the octopus that made worldwide news when he escaped from his aquarium in New Zealand. Prideaux is working with a writer friend on a children’s book featuring Inky’s story. “They’re incredibly smart animals,” Prideaux said.

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There’s an alternative to white sugar in jam that is just as sweet http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/green-plate-special-alternative-to-white-sugar-in-jam-is-just-as-sweet/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/green-plate-special-alternative-to-white-sugar-in-jam-is-just-as-sweet/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=930180 My favorite way to eat local strawberries is straight out of the green, molded-pulp pint basket in which they are sold. Sometime they’re gone before I’ve left the market. When I’ve had my fill of strawberries in the raw, I whip up the jam my uncle and godfather (born Giacomo Luigi Piacquadio) taught me how to make 40 years ago as a means of stretching the summer berry bounty into the colder months.

But in recent years, I’ve picked up this twinge of eco-guilt in my gut each time I pour into the pot all the white, granulated sugar required to make his jam. After all, white sugar is from away (pretty far away, actually) and is very highly processed.

I started investigating the possibility of making my heirloom recipe with locally available and minimally processed sweeteners like honey and maple syrup to better understand how the substitution might cloud my treasured taste memory.

According to Kate McCarty, a food preservation assistant with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, you can’t just do a one-for-one swap for chemistry’s sake. Firstly, both honey and maple syrup are, ounce for ounce, sweeter than white sugar. She strongly suggests following jam recipes specifically developed for natural sweeteners. Secondly, McCarty, who will be teaching a class on low-sugar jams at the University of Maine Regional Learning Center in Falmouth on July 7, says a canner must have some pectin in the mix to get a good set so that his jam doesn’t roll off his morning toast. She’s quite partial to Pomona’s Pectin’s recipe for Honey-Sweetened Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam.

And finally, McCarty warns that while these preserves are shelf stable if properly processed in a water bath to seal them, once they are open, they go off faster than those made with straight white sugar as the latter is a stronger preservative. She advises eating them within two weeks of breaking the seal on the jars.

Canning cookbook author Marisa McClellan recently released “Naturally Sweet Food in Jars,” which contains 100 recipes for jams, jellies, butters and syrups sweetened with honey, maple syrup and sugar, agave, coconut sugar, fruit juice concentrates and dried fruit. As a consummate jammer, she worried about her sugar intake. While these sweeteners are all still sugary in one of its forms (sucrose, glucose, or fructose), they are certainly less refined. McClellan adapted some of her white sugar favorites, like tomato jam, to taste very similar but also developed other recipes, like apple date butter, to specifically show off the deep undertones of the natural sweeteners. She says preserves made with them are flavorful, hold their quality over time and are far more welcome in her diet than those made from white sugar.

I still don’t think I’m emotionally ready to muck with my uncle’s strawberry jam recipe. Perhaps I’ll just make fewer jars of it this year and in the process cut back on white sugar overall. And I’ll fill the remainder of the preserves shelf in the basement with something like McClellan’s Strawberry-Maple Butter.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: cburn1227@gmail.com.

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Grow: Key to roses is choosing right http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/grow-key-to-roses-is-choosing-right/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/grow-key-to-roses-is-choosing-right/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=930201 The first roses are beginning to bloom, and they mark the start of summer – even if the temperature has not cooperated.

Roses used to be a high-maintenance plant in Maine, with the upper/flowering part of the rose grafted on a hardier root stock to survive the cold. They required a lot of pruning and chemicals to fight fungus and insects. People often covered them with Styrofoam cones so they would survive the winter.

Roses today are much more self-sufficient. They grow on their own roots, no grafting required, and you can pretty much plant them and forget them – except when you want to enjoy their beauty or cut a few blooms for a vase.

The key is choosing the right rose, what is generically called a landscape rose; they bloom almost constantly from now until fall. The best known brand for these roses is the Knock Out series. Some other brands are Oso Easy and Easy Elegance. When you buy your rose bush, ask the dealer or read the label to make sure it is an easy-care variety.

At this time of year, roses will be sold in pots. Dig a hole twice as wide as the pot, plant the rose at the same level it has been growing at in the pot and water heavily. As with all plants, you should water heavily and regularly for the first year it is in the ground.

– TOM ATWELL

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Maine farmers make a splash with water buffalo http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/maine-farmers-make-a-splash-with-water-buffalo/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/19/maine-farmers-make-a-splash-with-water-buffalo/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=930216 APPLETON — Jessica Farrar approached the pen holding four water buffalo calves, all about 2 1/2 months old. Faith looked up with her big brown eyes, seeking affection.

Her ears are almost translucent. Her slick tongue, wetter than a cow’s, started licking a stranger’s arm.

The other calves – Hazel, Nutty (who has one brown eye and one blue eye) and Grug – are just as friendly. A fifth calf, Pearl, is in another pen, separated from the rest so she won’t inadvertently be hurt by their occasional roughhousing. Pearl is only 3 weeks old.

“I’ll see if I can get Brandt to come over,” says Jessica’s husband, Brian. “Brandt!” He whistles, and a huge bull (named after his father, Rembrandt) lumbers over in the rain from the field. Brandt looks intimidating – until he walks right up to Brian and starts licking him. “Good boy, good boy,” Brian Farrar coos to the animal, as if he’s speaking to the family dog.

This is life at ME Water Buffalo Co., the only water buffalo farm in New England, according to the American Water Buffalo Association. The Farrars have done so well raising the animals for their meat and milk that they are planning to expand. They’re searching for land where their herd can grow from 26 animals to 50. Fifty buffalo, they believe, is their sweet spot.

“I think more than that, you really start losing your personal touch with the animals,” Brian Farrar said. “We can go out into the field, and we know every animal. We know the personality of every animal. We know them by name. They know us. And I don’t want to lose that. It’s really important to me.”

That’s not all the growth their business is experiencing. Yesterday the couple opened their licensed creamery to the public so their products will be available at times other than the weekly farmers markets in Union and Belfast. Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the creamery will sell everything from buffalo-milk yogurt and gelato to buffalo steaks, burgers, sausages, bones and organ meats. The creamery will not be open on days the farm is haying, so the Farrars recommend checking their website or calling ahead to make sure they’re open.

“Some people get water buffalo confused with the African Cape buffalo, which you see on National Geographic as being really scary and fighting with lions and stuff,” Jessica Farrar said. “These are domesticated water buffalo originating in Asia. People use them for draft animals, and in Italy they’re well known for their dairy.”

That would be buffalo mozzarella, beloved by cheeseheads everywhere. Water buffalo milk, and products made from it, are prized for their creaminess. The milk contains 8.5 percent butterfat, compared with 3 to 3.5 percent in a Holstein cow, and it has 40 percent more protein than cow’s milk. Yogurt made from water buffalo milk comes out as thick as Greek yogurt. It’s good for thickening gravies and sauces because the extra fat means it’s less likely than cow’s milk yogurt to curdle when heated.

After they are slaughtered, the Farrars’ buffalo are processed at Luce’s Meats in North Anson. Water buffalo meat tastes similar to beef, but is very lean and lower in cholesterol. Because it’s so lean, it can be easy to overcook.

“If you like well-done meat, water buffalo steak is not going to be for you,” Jessica Farrar said.

Last year, the Farrars started sending some of their meat to Herring Brothers Meats in Guilford for smoking. Their “bufferoni” (water buffalo pepperoni) and “buffalami” (water buffalo summer sausage) have been “a huge hit,” she said.

THE S WORD

The downside of owning a water buffalo farm? Shipping animals that feel like pets off for slaughter. “You get very attached,” Brian Farrar said. “It’s sometimes hard.”

The Farrars deal with that issue by following a “no waste” philosophy of using the whole animal. They’ve recently added more products to their repertoire: They’re using the tallow to make soap and lip balm, and they plan to market the animals’ horns as well. Horns are typically used for dog chews, glasses frames, musical instruments and powder horns, which are still used by muzzle-loaders, historical re-enactors and for decorative purposes.

There are only 4,000 to 5,000 water buffalo in the United States, according to T.J. Olson of the American Water Buffalo Association, who owns the Turkey Creek Co. ranch in Texarkana, Arkansas, where he has been breeding water buffalo since 1985.

Olson says that estimate “might be a little high, but there’s a lot of people who have a few animals.” With 200 water buffalo, his ranch is considered a large operation, one of just five or six large farms in the United States, he said. Most people have 10 to 20 animals, just slightly smaller than the Farrar’s animal count.

Water buffalo in the United States are experiencing a small resurgence.

“We have quite a few people who are starting to milk them now,” Olson said. “One reason people with buffalo are doing well is they can get a substantial premium for the milk, and that’s really a tremendous benefit for the small farmer.”

A quart of the Farrar’s raw buffalo milk sells for $8, or $16 per half-gallon, compared with a price tag of $4.25 per half-gallon for certified organic raw milk sold in a Maine store.

THEN THERE’S THE NOVELTY

The ME Water Buffalo Co. has proven to be popular, drawing 300 curious visitors every Open Farm Day, some from as far away as Portland and Greenville. Open Farm Day, which will be held July 24 this year, is an annual event in which farms statewide open their gates to the public. The Farrars take visitors out into the field in a truck so they can view the animals up close and maybe get a “hello, there” licking themselves.

The Farrars did not get into the water buffalo business as a way to make quick money. Neither had any interest in raising large animals, even though both had grown up on farms. Then one day Jessica visited a farm that had a water buffalo – she was there to pick up a guinea pig for her youngest son – and it was love at first sight.

Stop the eye rolling. She means it. And, after meeting her herd, it’s easy to understand how that could happen. “Looking into their eyes,” she said, “there’s something looking back at you.”

BIG DOGS WITH HORNS

People who own water buffalo can’t help but talk about their personalities. They’re smart, inquisitive, affectionate. They thrive on attention. They put their tails up when they’re happy.

They’ll lie down in the pasture if you’ll scratch their bellies.

“They’re like big dogs with horns,” Brian Farrar said, adding that he often rides the big bulls.

Water buffalo don’t have as many sweat glands as cows, so they have to have water or shade to stay cool. Maine is relatively cool, but when the temperature hits the 80s and the sun is out, the Farrars’ water buffalo can be found in an existing pond that the buffalo have expanded with their horns, or wallowing in mud that protects them from bugs and the sun.

“They’ll go underwater and submerge their heads,” Jessica Farrar said. “It’s funny to see the calves – they’ll dunk their heads and blow bubbles.”

Brian Farrar was working as a heating technician in 2008 when his wife fell in love with water buffalo. That Christmas, Jessica’s father – a former dairy farmer who owns the property where the ME Water Buffalo Co. now resides – gave her a water buffalo as a gift. His name was Pablo.

The couple began doing research on water buffalo, and visited the herd manager at a Vermont dairy who has since moved to Canada. “By the time we left,” Jessica Farrar said, “Brian was on board. He was excited about this.”

By 2009, they were purchasing start-up stock. As with cattle, price is affected by factors such as age, gender, milking ability, bloodlines, and temperament, Brian Farrar said. Temperament is important because the buffalo are gentle and docile only if they are handled regularly. Many people have purchased animals hoping to start a dairy with them, Farrar said, only to discover they can’t be milked because they can’t be handled.

The Farrars decided to start by selling meat instead of dairy – the opposite of what most water buffalo farmers do, the couple says – because they figured that was the fastest way to pay for the upkeep of their animals. They separated out the females and slaughtered the males at the age of 2. When they were ready to start their dairy operation – they got licensed for milking in 2013 – they were milking females that they had raised, so the animals were easy to work with.

The couple’s three children – Aidan, Aislinn and Aniston – helped out whenever they could, especially the oldest, Aidan, who milks on the days his mother sells at the farmers markets.

GROWING AN ENTERPRISE

As the family added to their herd, they sold their home in Union and built a new home an eighth of a mile down the road from the farm. This is where the licensed creamery is located now.

The Farrar herd feeds mostly on pasture and hay; grain is a treat for “the girls” when they are being milked, and it’s used as a tasty tool when rounding up buffalo in the field.

“Water buffalo aren’t necessarily more expensive to raise,” Brian Farrar said, “but there are some other costs that go into raising them that you don’t have with regular cattle, such as winter shelter and having to create your own market for your product because there’s no milk truck to pick up your product.”

Creating a local market was one of the challenges the Farrars faced. When they were looking for a place to process their first animals, one processor wouldn’t even talk to them because he heard the word “buffalo.”

“Apparently a bison had torn their place apart,” Jessica Farrar said.

They went door to door, educating store owners about water buffalo meat so they would consider carrying the product.

Finding a vet was also a problem. An equine vet helped them initially, but then they found Dr. Peter Caradonna of West Gardiner, who has learned about taking care of water buffalo right along with the Farrars. “He’s been awesome to work with, and the animals really like him,” Jessica Farrar said.

Last year, the family took another leap. Brian quit his job to run ME Water Buffalo Co. full time and work on its expansion. In addition to finding a larger property, which means having a real milking parlor and a larger barn to provide more shelter for the animals in winter, he’s hoping to start pasteurizing dairy products so they can start shipping them out of state.

While Farrar misses having a regular paycheck, and he’s not getting rich, he says he is being paid in a different way – time with his children. Previously, he said, as a heating technician he might not see his children for several days at a time, especially in the winter. Now, he said, “we’re together all the time.”

Last year also brought its share of sadness. The family had to say goodbye to Pablo, who was just 6 years old. He was a steer, so he couldn’t breed, but he had gotten so big he became the dominant member of the herd and wouldn’t let the breeding bull anywhere near the cows. Jessica kept part of his hide and plans to have a purse made out of it.

The Farrars say they’ve discovered anew that farming means working a lot of late nights and early mornings. There’s a lot of stress, too. But at the end of the day, Jessica Farrar says, “it’s a good feeling.”

And there’s always a water buffalo nearby who needs a cuddle.

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