The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Source http://www.pressherald.com Wed, 29 Jun 2016 11:30:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.4 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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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/rift-over-sustainability-leads-to-cancellation-of-maine-seaweed-festival/feed/ 29 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/943994_222692_20080206_gavinhood02.jpgMon, 27 Jun 2016 09:26:27 +0000
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 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/ 7 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/939872_189638-20160621_PolandSprin.jpgMon, 27 Jun 2016 08:43:12 +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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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/meet-daniel-vitalis-a-founder-of-find-a-spring-an-online-community-for-water-foragers/feed/ 1 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/daniel-vitalis.jpgMon, 27 Jun 2016 08:30:08 +0000
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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Your photos of #gardens on Instagram http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/17/your-photos-of-gardens-on-instagram/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/17/your-photos-of-gardens-on-instagram/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:32:18 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=931409 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/17/your-photos-of-gardens-on-instagram/feed/ 0 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/575130-garden2.jpgFri, 17 Jun 2016 12:34:13 +0000 Portland council considers trash, recycling options http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/13/portland-council-considers-trash-recycling-options/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/13/portland-council-considers-trash-recycling-options/#comments Tue, 14 Jun 2016 01:31:01 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/13/portland-council-considers-trash-recycling-options/ A majority of Portland city councilors signaled their interest Monday in a new solid waste program that would introduce larger covered recycling carts but retain the city’s pay-per-throw trash program and keep waste collection with city employees.

But some councilors would like to examine using carts for trash and recycling, similar to the system from a private company used by South Portland.

The City Council’s Energy and Sustainability Committee is expected to examine the matter further and bring a recommendation back to the council. Officials are trying to include the new system in next year’s budget.

Updating Portland’s solid waste program has been discussed for years. The city has curbside pickup for trash and recyclables, and residents are required to buy purple bags for household waste.

The debate comes as the program has drawn complaints and criticism about litter from no-lid recycling bins, rising prices for the city-required trash bags and public works employees who were caught on video dumping trash and recycling into the same garbage truck.

Officials say pay-as-you-throw provides an incentive for recycling and provides revenue to offset the cost of trash and recycling operations.

But residents and officials have long complained that the open-topped recycling bins provided by the city are too small and materials easily blow out of them, creating a litter problem.

There appears to be a strong consensus on the council that Portland should keep pay-as-you-throw and replace its inadequate recycling bins.

“People are used to it,” said Councilor Ed Suslovic, referring to the city’s trash bag program. “They grumble about it, but they are used to it.”

In a presentation to the council Monday evening, sustainability coordinator Troy Moon said the staff recommend providing residents 64- or 96-gallon lidded recycling carts and keeping the city’s purple plastic bags. The city would buy three side-loading trucks that would be semiautomated to pick up the carts, and city employees would continue to collect waste, according to the plan.

Considering Portland’s many narrow streets, the staff thought it would not be feasible to use fully automated trucks to collect carts of trash and recycling with mechanical arms, said City Manager Jon Jennings. Maneuvering automated collection trucks through streets lined with cars and snow piles in the winter would be “very challenging” and maintenance for automated vehicles can be intensive, Jennings said. Automated trucks could work in areas of the city off the peninsula, Jennings said.

Although the recommended program would keep trash and recycling with public works, Jennings said he is “very interested” in seeing what solutions the private sector could offer.

According to city figures, the recommended system would cost $271,574 a year, after revenue from the sale of Portland bags. It would require a $1.07 million up-front investment in trucks and equipment, although Moon said he is very optimistic that grant funding could cover the cost of recycling carts.

Most of the council voiced support for the recommendation as a way to solve the problem of inadequate recycling while keeping a pay-as-you-throw model and limiting costs. Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who serves on the Energy and Sustainability Committee, said he likes large recycling carts for multi-unit buildings and wants to keep trash and recycling as city programs.

“I like the idea that we do it in the city,” Thibodeau said. “Private doesn’t necessarily mean better.”

Councilors Belinda Ray, Justin Costa, Nicholas Mavodones and Jill Duson also signaled their inclination toward the city recommendation, for similar reasons.

Councilor David Brenerman, while not opposing the proposal, said that paying for plastic trash bags is one of the leading complaints he heard from voters when he was campaigning for his seat. He would prefer to see carts for trash and recycling, and wants to issue a request for proposals to find out how much a private system would cost.

According to city figures, a private system using carts for trash and recycling would cost $3.1 million after counting revenue from bag sales, but Jennings said the amount is based on estimates from local hauling companies.

Jon Hinck, chairman of the Energy and Sustainability Committee, said he agrees with keeping pay-as-you-throw but isn’t convinced that keeping plastic bags is the right move, considering their environmental impact.

The city had put out a plan that included plastic bags without fully researching an automated cart system that has been used in many other American cities, Hinck said. He wants to see a system that works toward that goal, unless he could be shown that bags are more effective at convincing people they should recycle, he said.

“I wouldn’t be inclined to sign off on the bag system without being convinced that bags are superior than carts,” Hinck said.


Correction: This story was revised at 11:27 a.m., June 13, 2016, to correct the spelling of Portland City Manager Jon Jennings’ name. A previous version of this story had an incorrect spelling.

 

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Notes From the Field: Maine consumers willing to pay more for local seafood http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/notes-from-the-field-4/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/notes-from-the-field-4/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=918741 Seventy-five percent of Maine consumers would willingly pay more for sustainably harvested food according to an ongoing study by researchers in the University of Maine School of Economics. In the case of seafood caught in Maine waters, 30 percent said they might be willing to pay more. But often, especially in the case of seafood, confusion about its sources stymies consumers from making informed choices, researchers found.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 Maine citizens this spring as part of a Maine Sea Grant research project called Seafood Links. The goal was to study consumer perceptions of seafood and learn more about how Maine businesses source their seafood.

According to Caroline Noblet, and assistant professor of economics at UMaine who collaborated on the research with Teresa Johnson, associate professor of marine policy, Mainers do care where their food comes from, and they might have preferences for choosing local fish. But restaurant owners surveyed said tourists are far more likely to ask about where seafood comes from than locals.

Interviews with chefs and restaurant owners at 15 restaurants in Bangor and Portland suggest a substantial gap between how the inland and coastal cities represent seafood to customers. While Bangor restaurants say they have ready access to local eggs, cheese, milk and beef, chefs there referred to the city as “the end of the food line” when it comes to seafood.

But in Portland, many of the restaurant owners and chefs purchased seafood directly from fishermen or have formed partnerships with suppliers.

Part of the problem, according to researcher Laura Lindenfeld, a former UMaine professor, is with seafood labeling. In some cases, Maine-caught seafood is processed in Massachusetts, and thus labeled as a product of Massachusetts.

“It makes it confusing,” Lindenfeld was quoted as saying in the release. One potential solution identified by the researchers is a business that would distribute seafood from the coast to inland cities and towns like Bangor – an idea restaurant owners say they would welcome.

“We really want to help chefs in Maine’s inland areas, especially, know what kinds of incredible resources there are, and help them make better choices about what seafood they source, where they source, and know that these alternative sources are really wonderful options,” Lindenfeld said.

Root maggots! Flea beetles!

Maine is being bugged

It’s springtime, almost summer, meaning its time again for the often charming field records from the USDA’s weekly Crop Progress & Condition report. Around New England in the week ending June 5, as farmers cut hay, weeded, planted and fertilized, they also noticed, noted and contended with pests. Here’s a list of creepy, crawly things from that report: plum curculio, striped cucumber beetles, root maggots, three-lined potato beetles, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, European corn borers, gypsy moths, and tent caterpillars.

In better news, Mainers got some much-needed rain. Or, as recorder Gary J. Raymond, from Franklin County put it, “Ahhh… the sound of rain on the roof, especially when needed. Haying is in full progress. You could see a real jump in growth and green color from the rain. Planting is on a roll.”

PORTLAND

For 409 Cumberland, green

kudos come naturally

409 Cumberland, an affordable rental housing development that was designed to foster healthy and environmentally sustainable living, has been named a winner of the 22nd annual Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Awards, according to a press release. The development, which is in Bayside, won in the Green category.

The awards are presented in Washington, D.C. to the “most outstanding” Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties in the country by the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition, a trade organization.

The awards celebrate the “developments at the forefront of creating stronger, healthier communities” nationwide, the press release said.

409 Cumberland, which has 57 apartments, was designed to reflect environmental principles from basement to roof, including its insulation, heating, paints, plumbing, lighting and appliances. The complex also has rooftop gardens and a greenhouse, where residents can grow vegetables year-round, and a Healthy Living Center, where they can learn how to cook with their harvest in the demonstration kitchen.

The press release quotes both Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Chellie Pingree offering congratulations.

“This development is a key piece in the ongoing revitalization of Bayside that provides seniors, young adults, families, formerly homeless individuals, and adults with special needs a safe and healthy place to call home,” Pingree said.

Bristol Seafood partners give

$10,000 to UNE marine program

Bristol Seafood, a seafood processor and distributor in southern Maine, has announced that its partners gave $10,000 to the Center for Excellence in the Marine Sciences at the University of New England.

“We are pleased to have an opportunity to support the Center for Excellence in the Marine Sciences as it continues to help its students in the areas of ocean studies, marine conservation and restoration, marine entrepreneurship, and sustainable aquaculture and fisheries,” Peter Handy, President & CEO at Bristol, was quoted in a press release as saying.

“These funds will be instrumental in helping our talented faculty, staff and students continue the research that will expand the marine economy both in Maine and around the globe,” Barry Costa-Pierce, director of the Center for Excellence in the Marine Sciences at UNE, is quoted as saying.

Bristol Seafood is located on Portland Fish Pier. In 2015, it shipped more than 6 million pounds of cod, haddock, mussels and scallops.

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No more ups and downs with the Cowboy Yoyo http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/no-more-ups-and-downs-with-the-cowboy-yoyo/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/no-more-ups-and-downs-with-the-cowboy-yoyo/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=918753 It might seem odd that any product with “cowboy” in the name would be made in Maine.

But the Cowboy Yoyo is named in honor of Cape Elizabeth resident Teddy Stoecklein’s uncle, David Stoecklein, whose cowboy credentials are solid: Last week, he was inducted posthumously into the Idaho Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Teddy Stoecklein, who is executive creative director at the VIA Agency in Portland, was very close to his uncle and considered him a role model. David Stoecklein was a well-known photographer who lived on a ranch in Idaho and documented the western way of life. He took advertising photos for Marlboro, Chevy, Jeep and Stetson, and he authored or shot the photographs for several books on the cowboy lifestyle.

About 20 years ago, David Stoecklein gave his nephew Teddy something called a “Cowboy Yoyo” to play with, but Teddy Stoecklein could never master it. This is no ordinary up-and-down yoyo. Stoecklein’s yoyo was born around a campfire, invented by bored cowboys looking for a way to pass the time. It’s a wooden ball attached to a rope, and its raison d’etre is to do rope tricks.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. The standard trick is to flip the rope in such a way that it ties itself into a knot.

“Most people have never heard of it, but you can find antique versions of it, handmade versions of it,” Stoecklein said. “It’s kind of a cult thing.”

Stoecklein’s own Cowboy Yoyo languished in the back of a closet until his uncle died. Then Stoecklein’s father found it and suggested he try again. Stoecklein practiced his rope-tossing skills while his wife watched one of her favorite shows, “Dancing With the Stars.” It took him three episodes to master the toy, which he likens to a puzzle.

“It requires a little bit of practice, a little bit of dexterity and some patience because it can be very frustrating – in a very good way,” Stoecklein said. “It’s fun to watch people try it. It’s not for everybody, though. Some people, after five attempts, give up on it and never touch it again.”

Stoecklein wanted to give Cowboy Yoyos to all of his employees, but he needed 100 of them and couldn’t find them for sale anywhere in those numbers. So he decided to make them himself at home. The wooden balls come from a Maine lumber mill, and the rope from a Maine company that makes sailing line. It’s perfect for playing with around a back yard fire pit.

“If you’re hiking,” Stoecklein said, “it’s the perfect thing to throw in your backpack.”

Although Stoecklein hopes to get Cowboy Yoyos into retail stores, for now they are sold only online at <URL destination=”http://cowboyyoyo.com/”>cowboyyoyo.com, where you can also see Stoecklein performing basic Cowboy Yoyo tricks.

They cost $21 for one, $39 for two, or $99 for a “six shooter.” A portion of every purchase is donated to the David R. Stoecklein Memorial and Educational Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to preserving the Western way of life through fine art and literature.

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Maine scallop farmers borrow from Japan in test to expand fishery http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/maine-scallop-farmers-borrow-method-and-machinery-from-japan-in-a-test-to-expand-the-states-scallop-fishery/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/maine-scallop-farmers-borrow-method-and-machinery-from-japan-in-a-test-to-expand-the-states-scallop-fishery/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=918765 Maine sea farmers are taking a page from Japan (again), an industry titan, to test a new method of farming scallops they hope will grow larger mollusks, and grow them faster than current methods do.

The experiment, in which sea scallops are pinned in pairs to vertical ropes suspended in the ocean water, exposes the animal to more water flow. That, in turn, causes them to open and close their shells more often to feed and helps their adductor muscle, the part that Americans eat, grow larger through exercise during the scallops three-year seed-to-harvest cycle. Farmers hope the “ear-hanging” method will allow them to develop their test farms into commercial-scale operations, which are needed to keep up with rising consumer demand.

And they hope that three scallop pinning, drilling and cleaning machines that a Maine-based investor is bringing to the state from Japan will help them rein in the high labor costs of ear hanging, so they can turn a bigger profit.

The state has granted a handful of limited leases to test the potential market, tapping into the small, tight-knit network of farmers who already raise oysters, clams, and mussels in leased state waters up and down Maine’s 3,500-mile shoreline. These demonstration projects will help scientists determine which husbandry methods, nutrient mix, hanging heights and water temperature grow the biggest, fastest, and healthiest scallop meats, and if it’s profitable enough to become a commercial aquaculture fishery.

Dana Morse of Maine Sea Grant checks on ear-hung scallops tied to an anchor chain on a mussel raft floating in the Damariscotta River.

Dana Morse of Maine Sea Grant checks on ear-hung scallops tied to an anchor chain on a mussel raft floating in the Damariscotta River.

A bonus? The new method is said to do less damage to the ocean floor.

But the funding agency that is bankrolling the purchase of the $70,000 worth of ear-hanging machinery knows that the business model has to be as sustainable as the scallop fishery.

“That is why we’re stepping in here, to take some of the risk out, to see if what works in Japan will work here,” said Hugh Cowperthwaite, fisheries project director with Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), an investor that specializes in spurring rural economic growth. “We want to rebuild this industry, because to us it is a sustainable source of good protein for a population that is clamoring for it. But for a start-up business in Maine, a small oyster or mussel farmer, we know the economics have to be there, too.”

HARD TIMES TO HUSBANDRY

A decade ago, Maine’s scallop fishery was on its death bed, with commercial landings at their lowest in decades and the state enacting rolling closures of fishing zones in hopes of helping the species rebound.

The fishery bottomed out in 2004, yielding just 54,000 pounds of scallop meat, state statistics show. At prices hovering about $4 per pound, Maine fishermen netted just $218,000 from the sea scallop harvest that year.

The fishery had fallen hard and fast from its peak in 1981, when Maine fishermen landed 3.8 million pounds of scallop meat and earned some $15 million. To stabilize the fishery, the state began surveying the stock and closing zones. They also capped licenses.

Fishermen chipped in, too, using methods developed in Japan to collect wild scallop seed, or spat, in mesh bags suspended in the water where young scallops could grow until they were big enough to release into the wild, thus helping to build up the population.

As a result of these efforts, the Maine sea scallop fishery is rebounding. It has grown from 175,116 pounds in 2011 to 452,672 in 2015, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The value of the scallops themselves has grown even faster, from about $1.7 million in 2011, or about $9.98 a pound, to $5.7 million, or $12.70 a pound, in 2015.

Despite higher harvests, though, the supply of fished scallops has been unable to keep up with demand. To fill in the gap, aquaculture advocates have again turned toward Japan.

“We see this as an opportunity to add another species to what Maine growers are already offering,” said Mark Green, co-owner of the Maine Scallop Company of Portland, which will work with CEI to test out the Japanese ear-hanging machinery. Green is also a professor of natural sciences at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish and a licensed Maine oyster farmer.

TESTING 1, 2, SEA

Growing scallops in the traditional manner, in trays and cages on the ocean floor, takes time, as much as three years to reach legal size, and lots of labor to keep the shells free from what’s known in the industry as “biofouling,” like barnacle growth, which can prevent the scallop from fully feeding; and predators, like starfish, that like a scallop dinner as much as we do.

Aquaculture researcher Dana Morse checks ear-hung scallops, which are pinned to ropes suspended vertically in ocean waters, about 10 feet below the surface and not too near the bottom. That keeps them safe from bottom-feeding predators.

Aquaculture researcher Dana Morse checks ear-hung scallops, which are pinned to ropes suspended vertically in ocean waters, about 10 feet below the surface and not too near the bottom. That keeps them safe from bottom-feeding predators.

Due to the risk of toxin buildup within the scallop organs, scallops must also be shucked at sea. Only the toxin-free adductor muscle can come ashore. The rest of the scallop, like the shell and guts, are tossed overboard. Sea farmers would like to find a way to sell whole scallops to restaurants for that freshest sea-to-table dish when wild scallops are out of season, but that would require regulatory changes and expensive testing.

According to the latest Japanese methods, vertically pinned scallops are suspended about 10 feet below the surface of the water yet not too close to the bottom, where predators lurk. Because the water – and all of its nutrients – flow freely, the sought-after adductor muscle grows faster than with the less active tray-grown scallops.

Ear hanging is easier on the ocean floor, the primary habitat of the state’s cash cow, the lobster, than wild scallop harvesting, which often comes under fire for disturbing that habitat with their near-shore trawling methods that rake the ocean floor.

There is a catch, though: Hanging requires even more labor than the tray method. To anchor the scallops to the line without damaging the meat, plastic pins must be pushed into the vertical lines and through tiny holes drilled into the hinge of the shell. Unlike many other shellfish, scallops can swim away.

Fortunately, various Japanese machines mechanize much of this labor, from machines that sort juvenile scallops by shell size (which guides hole placement) to the hole drilling itself, from pushing pins through the line and pulling them out again to cleaning the shell.

scabox

RISE OF THE MACHINES

CEI was recently awarded a $134,000 Maine Technology Institute grant to purchase $70,000 worth of line-pinning, ear-drilling and vessel-mounted shell-cleaning machines and to study their effectiveness on a farmed scallop fishery.

The organization is working with Maine Scallop Company, a joint venture of Green and mussel farmer Peter Stocks, to test the custom-made machinery it is ordering on 1,500 lines in Casco Bay over the next two years.

For example, a team of five people would need about 21/2 hours to drill holes in 300 scallops, Stocks said, while the machine, which can drill two scallop hinges per second, can pierce that same amount in fewer than two minutes, Stocks said.

“It’s the equivalent of going from tilling the soil by hand to tilling soil with a tractor,” Stocks said.

That is the speed and efficiency required to work a farm of several hundred thousand scallops, he said. He and his crew, and even his wife, have pierced their test lines by hand, but that has essentially capped their production scale at about 10,000 scallops.

“That’s not going to grow enough scallops, and generate enough gross revenue, to pay wages for our staff, our insurance and our licensing fees,” Stocks said. “But the Japanese have been amazingly good at creating efficiencies needed to succeed in the market.”

If Maine Scallop Company demonstrates rapid, healthy shellfish growth and profitable returns using the Japanese machines, CEI will explore the concept of a machine-sharing agreement with other shellfish farms, Cowperthwaite said. Neither CEI, the state, Maine Sea Grant or the farmers know what to expect, or if they will have the answers they need to evaluate the viability of the ear-hanging technique and the effectiveness of the machinery here in Maine, under a different government and a different economic regulatory structure.

SISTER LOVE

Cowperthwaite has been spreading the gospel of ear-hanging scallop farming ever since he visited Aomori, Japan in 2010 as part of a commercial fishing tour of Maine’s sister state. This area, which has a climate similar to Maine’s, is heavily dependent on fishing.

The state established a sister relationship with the northern prefecture in 1994, but Maine has had ties to the area dating back to the wreck of the Cheseborough, a Bath-built ship that fell victim to a typhoon off its coast in 1889. Of the 19-man crew, only four survived, but they forged a strong bond with locals that remains today, some 125 years later.

That relationship has led to exchanges of students and technology, including the visit that got Cowperthwaite hooked on ear-hanging scallop farms. This fall, he will lead a tour of Maine sea farmers to explore all facets of the Aomori ear-hanging scallop industry.

Dana Morse, an aquaculture researcher at Maine Sea Grant, visited Aomori back in 1999, and came back with the belief that scallop aquaculture would offer the state fishing industry much needed economic and species diversification. Morse is now studying growth rates, biotoxin accumulation rates, biofouling, and yield and market value of ear-hung scallops at several state-sanctioned lease sites around Maine, including near the Darling Marine Center on the Damariscotta River.

“Since early March of this year we are already seeing very strong growth rates with scallops,” Morse said. “We’re very optimistic.”

Damariscotta is the heart of the state’s shellfish aquaculture industry, where mussels, oysters, and even smaller-scale fisheries, like clams and urchins, are cultivated in state-leased waters. Of Maine’s 110 commercial aquaculture leases, 28 can grow scallops.

But according to Cowperthwaite, only a handful actually do so. He views that as a missed opportunity to grow the state’s aquaculture industry and add jobs, but also to diversify a major state industry that mostly rests on a single species.

“Sea farmers and fishermen are looking for ways to diversify their income and continue to work on the water,” he said. “It’s no secret that Maine’s wild-caught fisheries continue to decline and as an industry we are very dependent on the lobster.”

Green, at least, has been quick to see the potential.

“If the (ear-hanging) project goes as planned, scallops will offer a new way to diversify and firm up the economics of my business,” he said.

Stocks noted that 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is now imported.

“People who live on the Maine coast need to understand the value of aquaculture,” Stocks said. “Scallops clean water. Farming them doesn’t disturb the ocean floor. They are a clean, healthy, nutritious, highly regulated food source. We need them, not just for jobs, but for food.”

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Colorful visiting birds add a lot to your garden http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/maine-gardener-invite-colorful-visitors-to-hang-out/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/maine-gardener-invite-colorful-visitors-to-hang-out/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=918783 Birds add a lot to a garden. They bring color, movement and – excepting crows and a few others – a pleasant soundtrack for you to enjoy while doing garden chores or, if you have time, simply enjoying the view.

People thrill at seeing the first robin of spring, the darting red of cardinals and the yellow of warblers and goldfinches. Catching sight of a hummingbird hovering around the bee balm is always a delight.

So how do you attract more birds to your garden? It’s a two-step process, according to Eric Topper, education director for the Maine Audubon Society in Falmouth.

The first, short-term step is to feed the birds.

“In June when birds are moving around, you want to have multiple feeders with some diversity,” Topper said. “You always have black oil sunflower seeds and suet, but this is the time to add hummingbird feeders and fruit to the menu.”

An advantage of the feeders is that, by placing them close to the house, you can get a good view of the birds as they come to eat.

While free food will get birds to show some interest in your garden, you have to do more to get them to stick around. That means insects.

“When we get into summer, they are thinking not only about their own diet but the diet of their chicks,” Topper said. “When they are settling down, your yard and neighboring yards have to have enough caterpillars and other insects.”

Because while adult birds eat quite a bit of fruit, seeds and suet, they eat even more insects – and the babies eat almost nothing but insects.

And not just any insects. Birds want to eat the insects with which they have evolved. The caterpillar stages of moths have to be available the same time that chicks are born, providing food for these hungry babies.

These native plants, birds and animals have all evolved together and depend on each other.

“The long-term recommendation is that as people are preparing to plant in their yard, they should always ask for native species,” Topper said.

Native plants feed birds both directly and indirectly. Directly by providing fruit and seeds that birds are accustomed to eating and indirectly by providing homes to the insects that the birds can eat.

As an example, an oak tree that will grow 75 feet tall will be home to more than 500 different kinds caterpillars and other insects.

“It is all part of a food web that is lost when we start clearing out areas and replacing the plants with European grasses and shrubs that come from the Midwest or southern United States,” Topper said.

In addition to providing homes for the insects that birds like to eat, the native trees and shrubs provide shelter and a place for birds to build their nests.

When a suburban development is all lawns and non-native perennials and shrubs, it is like a wasteland to native birds.

In addition to oaks, plants that birds like include several types of maples and ashes, pines, junipers and hemlocks, according to the Birdzilla website. Good shrubs include serviceberry, several viburnums, blueberries, pussy willows, chokeberry, American hazelnut and native dogwoods. Perennials good for birds include asters, Joe Pye weed, milkweed and jack in the pulpit.

Another assist in attracting birds is to leave a part of your property a bit messy. If you don’t rake up all of the leaves and twigs from the yard, birds will have material for their nests.

Another requirement is water. Bird baths are of some help, but birds prefer moving water – so consider adding a bubbler to the bird bath.

Topper noted that the interrelationship between birds, insects and native plants was put forth by Douglas Tallamy in his 2007 book “Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.” Tallamy will be making a swing through Maine, including a stop at Maine Audubon, later this month.

My wife Nancy and I have never purposely tried to attract birds to our yard – dating back to the days when we had seven cats who freely roamed our gardens. We have no bird feeders, although we do have two bird baths and a small garden pond, mostly because we like the looks of them.

But we do have lots of birds – cardinals, robins, warblers, chickadees, orioles, the occasional hummingbird, others that I can’t put a name to – and the many crows that wake us up too early too many days with their raucous caw-cawing.

Maybe all these birds just like our collection of plants and the insects they harbor.

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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Supermarkets reject imperfect produce that could be eaten. Crazy! http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/sea-change-supermarkets-reject-imperfect-produce-and-just-throw-the-food-out-crazy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/sea-change-supermarkets-reject-imperfect-produce-and-just-throw-the-food-out-crazy/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=918795 Who is not amused by a two-legged carrot or an eggplant with a ski-jump nose? Gardeners don’t expect perfection or uniformity, especially when growing organically. Yet supermarkets claim they can sell only flawless produce that meets strict standards for size, weight, color, surface appearance and even “curvature” (no comment).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets standards for most fruits and vegetables, but the guidance is fuzzy and subjective. What exactly constitutes a “fairly well-formed” tomato?

Supermarket chains may adopt more stringent guidelines than the USDA, and can turn away produce that doesn’t pass their tests. Key concerns for retailers, Rochelle Bilow writes in Bon Appétit, are looks, longevity and transportability: “taste and nutrition don’t even make the list.”

Many farmers find that some of what they grow – as delectable as it may be – doesn’t fit the supermarket ideal. In the documentary film “Just Eat It” there’s a scene in which a grower – holding a fresh nectarine – says he can’t sell that fruit in the supermarket. The camera shifts to a huge funnel channeling a torrent of perfectly edible “reject” fruit into a dump truck. “As a grower,” he says, “that is heartbreaking.”

Who knew that so much culling occurred before produce ever reached the stores? The USDA does not track waste at the front end of the food system but anecdotal evidence suggests the volume is huge. By one estimate, more than half of the fresh fruits and vegetables grown in North America are never consumed. Individual farmers report that anywhere from 10 to 70 percent of their harvest goes to waste simply due to irregular shape and size or mild blemishes.

In a nation where 1 in 7 people don’t have reliable access to nutritious food, this practice defies reason. Tossing out millions of tons of edible food due to cosmetic imperfections “isn’t just bonkers,” chef Jamie Oliver observes, “it’s bordering on criminal.”

Rather than feeding hungry people, the “reject” produce is typically composted on site, plowed under or dumped in a landfill, where it decays, generating methane – a potent greenhouse gas. Transportation and timing challenges make it hard for growers to donate non-conforming produce to food banks or to sell it for processing or livestock feed.

Enterprises like Food Cowboy try to link suppliers with those who can convey produce to people in need but with perishable produce, matches must be made quickly.

Tristram Stuart, author of “Waste,” gathers produce for communal “Feeding the 5,000” meals with chef-led cooking demonstrations to show how delicious salvaged food can be. His nonprofit Feedback and other social media campaigns are elevating public awareness and pressuring stores to promote produce differently.

In 2014, the French grocery chain Intermarché began marketing Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables, unabashedly heralding the “ridiculous” potatoes, “ugly” carrots, “grotesque” apples, and “unfortunate” clementines that customers could purchase at a 30 percent discount. Store traffic increased by 24 percent, and the Inglorious items routinely sold out.

Now other chains are following suit, stocking and promoting these items as Produce with Personality (Giant Eagle), Naturally Imperfect (Canada’s Loblaws) and even Wonky Veg (UK’s Asda).

Just last month, Whole Foods and Hannaford announced pilot programs to market more homely produce – but not yet in Maine stores. Whole Foods is testing the concept in several California stores, and Hannaford in stores around Albany, New York.

Eric Blom, Hannaford’s external affairs manager, says the Misfits “product line” could reduce farm waste by giving growers a market for “less than perfect-looking” produce. He reports that the effort, while still new, has been “well received so far.” (The Misfits line will not affect Hannaford’s tradition of routinely culling its produce sections and sharing those items with regional food banks and pantries.)

Aesthetic challenges make fruits and vegetables more affordable and hence accessible – which could prove a big win for public health. As the film “Food Stamped” points out, junk food prices have declined while fruit and vegetable prices have spiked (a trend exacerbated by the California drought). Steeply discounted produce could encourage more consumers to make healthier food choices.

Relaxing the aesthetic standards for produce represents low-hanging fruit in the ongoing quest to eliminate food waste. There’s far more work that producers, retailers and consumers must do, much of it spelled out in U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s proposed Food Recovery Act.

But for starters, let’s serve up wonky veggies. Eating imperfect produce could bring us closer to a perfect world where no one goes hungry.

Marina Schauffler is a writer who runs Natural Choices (naturalchoices.com).

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Selecting proper dishwashing soap can help protect lakes and rivers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/green-plate-special-come-clean-about-washing-dishes-to-protect-lakes-and-rivers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/green-plate-special-come-clean-about-washing-dishes-to-protect-lakes-and-rivers/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=918804 I have certainly failed at stuff in my life. Skiing, for example. Or remembering people’s names. I’m rubbish at that. And that time I was waiting for a whole beef tenderloin to hit 115 degrees Fahrenheit with the meat thermometer set for a Celsius reading was a big fiasco.

But I’ve never actually gotten a big, fat F on anything. Well, until I looked up the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning eco-grade on my dishwashing soap, that is.

In my line of work, I go through a lot of the stuff. A typical recipe development session takes four or five tries to get right and three subsequent tests to make sure it works as written. That makes for a lot of dishes. I run through a 28-ounce bottle of dishwashing liquid a week.

Turns out I’ve been dipping my hands in formaldehyde and washing polysyllabic preservatives down the drain that don’t get completely filtered out of the water by sewer treatment plants or septic systems and can cause problems in lakes, streams and rivers.

Dishwashing soap is one of those little things that adds up, so I can no longer ignore that there are better choices.

All modern dish soaps are different from the plain old natural soap my great-grandmother used because they are surfactants, meaning that the fat molecules in them have been altered to make bubbles and cut grease in order to get dishes squeaky clean. They can originate from natural ingredients like coconut oil, but because of the laboratory alteration, they are not naturally occurring.

Whether these soaps are harmful or safe for a body or the environment depends on the process by which they are made and what else is in the mix.

The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, GoodGuide.com and the Innovation Institute’s Cradle-to-Cradle Certification all rate dish soaps, but all weigh the hazards differently. For example, GoodGuide.com gives Method Foaming Dish Soap its highest mark because it contains no ingredients that raise health concerns for them and the company’s environmental and social policies and practices place it among the best 5 percent of companies rated by GoodGuide.

But the Environmental Working Group’s Guide pans Method Foaming Dish Soap because it contains multiple polysyllabic preservatives that can cause “acute aquatic toxicity.”

To use these guides, you must understand how the ratings add up. The Environmental Working Group is big on ingredients and their effects on the environment. It also hits producers hard if they aren’t 100 percent transparent about ingredients and is fighting with Congress to make chemical reporting more mandatory than it is now.

GoodGuide is easier on the ingredient marks, but digs deeper into corporate environmental and social practices. And Cradle-to-Cradle weights sustainable production practices as well as product packaging decisions heavily.

Seeing as no one product gets perfect marks in all categories, you need to know which aspects of responsible product purchasing mean the most to you to use these tools effectively.

I have started washing dishes with The Honest Company white grapefruit dish soap. It’s not my great-grandmother’s soap, but I still follow her dishwashing rules – always use a dishpan, only enough soap to get a skim coat of suds on the water and never hand back a dish to the dishwasher with a speck if you can wipe it off yourself with the towel in your hand – as they are indeed environmentally sound, even if she didn’t refer to them in those terms.

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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Kevin Kelly’s a scallop counter for the Maine Department of Marine Resources http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/meet-kevin-kelly-scallop-counter-for-the-maine-department-of-marine-resources/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/meet-kevin-kelly-scallop-counter-for-the-maine-department-of-marine-resources/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=918819 Kevin Kelly has been at the Department of Marine Resources for almost 32 years, working on the groundfish and lobster fisheries before being assigned to scallops about nine years ago.

He’s very fond of the fishery and the tough souls who making a living from it during Maine’s toughest season. “It’s dwarfed by lobster of course, but to the people that do it is a really big deal, especially with the loss of some of these other fisheries,” he said referring to shrimp and groundfish. We called him up to talk methods, marine resources and menus.

DISSECTING HISTORY: Despite the expertise he’s developed, he’s not a scallop biologist. “My own kids probably think I sit at a desk and stare at scallops all day. But I deal more with the fishery and assessments than with the organism.” Was it part of his grand plan to spend his whole career at the Department of Marine Resources? He chuckled. “That was a long time ago. I can’t remember my plan.”

QUILTING SEA: The Department of Marine Resources divides sections of the coast into chunks, then divides the chunks into three pieces, which rotate through being open and closed to scallop fishing. It’s a patchwork mapping system. “We refer to it as the quilt,” he said. “The idea is to rebuild the resource and allow a certain amount of fishing to take place.”

When the department estimates that 30 percent of the harvestable biomass has been removed, the area is closed to give the scallops time to recover.

QUICK RECOVERY: It works, Kelly said. When Whiting Bay in Cobscook was closed in 2009, the harvestable biomass of scallops was about 8,000 pounds. “The first survey we did, a year later, the resource had already increased to 45,000 pounds.” After three surveys, it reached about 90,000 pounds. “Then it reopened, but under a controlled amount of fishing for the year.”

THE BIG PICTURE: Maine scallops have a great reputation for flavor and freshness, but on a national scale, the fishery is small potatoes. “We may land 600,000 pounds in a season and at the peak of the federal fishery, it was probably in the 50 million pound range.”

Maine scallops are special, though, in that scallops come to land and to the marketplace typically in a day; those massive hauls in the federal fishery are caught in federal waters, much farther out. “We’re really the only state that has a significant scallop fishery.”

INCONVENIENT TRUTH? We asked Kelly whether Maine scallops are showing any impact from climate change. There have been reports that scallops in the broader New England region could be affected, Kelly said, but no indication of an impact in Maine. Yet. “We don’t have any direct evidence that anything is really going on or has affected the amount of our scallops.” Scallops are found across a fairly broad range of temperatures, “as far south as North Carolina,” Kelly said. “So they can withstand warmer waters.” Some scientists fear that ocean acidification as a result of warming waters could affect survival of the shellfish in its larval stage, or its growth.

HOW TO: Just how does one survey scallops? To a certain extent, by imitating fishermen. Kelly said they catch scallops using a New Bedford-style drag equipped with 2-inch rings, half the size of the legal ones used by scallop fishermen; this way they’ll catch the smaller scallops so they can assess potential harvests.

Scallops do move, but not nearly at the rate fish do, so it’s possible to get a fairly accurate count for any given area. Unlike fishermen, the Department of Marine Resources sticks around in the areas where the scallops aren’t plentiful. “We can’t just survey the really good areas. We have to map out all the potential scalloping area.”

‘TIS THE SEASON: The surveys are usually done in the spring, with an eye toward predicting the size of the scallop population when the season opens in December. If an area does need to be shut down temporarily, the department has time to make the necessary management adjustments and to give fishermen advance notice.

“The only one we still do in the fall is Cobscook Bay,” Kelly said. “That is our most intensive survey.” That’s because Cobscook is the richest scallop ground in the state, and accordingly attracts the most boats (between 120 and 130 every season, Kelly said) and requires more regulation. “It has got more limits than other areas.”

UNTAPPED MARKETS: As Kelly points out, the only part of the scallop that is landed is the abductor muscle. The rest of the shellfish gets tossed at sea. “It is a lot of waste of the organism,” he said. It takes about 2,000 scallops to yield 90 pounds of scallops for the marketplace. One thing that could be salvaged from the waste is roe. “There is a tiny market for that,” Kelly said. “It’s not really my cup of tea.”

ON THE MENU: Does a scallop surveyor get sick of eating scallops? Apparently not. “I love almost any seafood, especially Maine scallops.” Favorite recipe? “Sometimes I will grill them or make something like a carbonara sauce. But more often than not, I’m just frying them with a little butter and caramelizing them a little bit. The key is not to overcook them.”

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Don’t take a vacation from your green kitchen principles http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/green-plate-special-dont-take-a-vacation-from-your-green-kitchen-principles/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/green-plate-special-dont-take-a-vacation-from-your-green-kitchen-principles/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=907316 Whether you’re heading to a cabin near one of Maine’s forested parks or a cottage at the beach, packing a few essential kitchen items can be the key to making cooking in the rented kitchen a sustainable-eating joy instead of a big waste of time, money and food.

In my case, the green kitchen stuff fits into a couple of reusable shopping bags and a baby beer cooler. If the item won’t come in handy once a day, it stays home.

One sharp, utilitarian knife – in its guard for safe travel – is packed first. A wooden cutting board saves my knife’s edge and doubles as a cheese plate. A peeler, or even a tri-pack of peelers – straight-edge for potatoes and fat asparagus bottoms, julienne-edged for turning summer vegetables into noodle-like sauce carriers or easy slaw side dishes, and serrated to remove the fuzz from peaches and the skins from tomatoes used in quick-cooking seafood dishes like Smokey Mussels with Thyme, Tomato and Cream – get wrapped in a dish towel (never enough of those in a rental!) and tucked in next.

It’s heavy, but a seasoned cast iron skillet works for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so it’s worth its weight. A large baking sheet (17 by 11 inches) facilitates warm peanut butter cookies for that one (hopefully it’s only one) cold, rainy afternoon when everyone is sitting around reading. It doubles as the lid for the cottage’s topless pasta pot and triples as a heat buffer set on the bottom rack if the oven runs hot.

I pack several lidded Mason jars with local grains, flours and sweeteners that I won’t likely find at the quaint, but not well-stocked, corner store near the cabin. The empty jars can be used to emulsify salad dressings, mix vacationland cocktails or house treasures found during long walks on the beach.

My husband tends to buy local beer at any destination, so the cooler he’ll use to transport his finds to subsequent picnic spots is first employed as a condiment carrier. Stacked, half-pint canning jars of olive oil; champagne, balsamic and rice vinegars; soy sauce; mustard; tomato paste; capers; and a few spices travel safely in it. These jars may also contain a few ready-made snacks for the ride .

Two seemingly extraneous items that make it into the bags, room allowing, are my 40-year-old Tupperware popsicle forms and a Bundt pan. The former reduces packaging for kids’ treats but also come in handy when there are leftover adult beverages to be frozen for later. The latter works for blueberry cakes for dessert and breakfast monkey breads and a well-roasted chicken (stand the bird on the tube for crispy skin all the way around). It’s also the perfect vessel to catch the kernels you’re removing from the cob (stick the cob’s end in the tube’s opening and run your knife along it so the kernels fall into the pan, rotate, repeat).

Most of the rentals we’ve hired come kitted out with enough plates, bowls and utensils for at least the four of us. Still, it’s awfully tempting to use paper and plastic – you are on vacation, after all – and washing up is bit of a drag. But unless you’ve sprung for the new, biodegradable plates made from sugarcane, bamboo or other plant starches, these disposables are typically coated with petroleum wax, cannot be composted and are destined for the local landfill.

When washing the dishes in your rental, which could very well be located in an environmentally sensitive spot, use a soap certified to be free of toxins that could harm nearby waterways.

Recycling bins in vacation rentals are commonplace but composting amenities – whether a pile maintained by a facility’s staff or a service included in the rental fee – are just beginning to show up as part of greener summer accommodations.

“Our guests love the compost bucket, especially for lobster shells,” said Stephanie Dunn of portlandmainevacation.com, which offers vacation and long-term accommodations on Munjoy Hill in Portland and provides Garbage-to-Garden composting services to all renters.

I can’t claim to be a completely green eater on vacation (my herbs travel in Ziploc bags; I bring along tin foil for cooking fish, potatoes and leftovers on the grill; and don’t ask me to leave behind good chocolate and French wine), but I can pull off these measures while still leaving myself plenty of time to relax.

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

Cooking essentials from home make the trip with the writer to a rental cabin: Sharp knife, cutting board, vegetable peeler, jars of olive oil and seasonings, even fresh herbs. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Cooking essentials from home make the trip with the writer to a rental cabin: Sharp knife, cutting board, vegetable peeler, jars of olive oil and seasonings, even fresh herbs.
Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Kevin B. Schneider, Acadia’s new leader of the park http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/meet-kevin-b-schneider-acadias-new-leader-of-the-park/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/meet-kevin-b-schneider-acadias-new-leader-of-the-park/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=907340 It’s always challenging to start a new job, but can you imagine arriving at work on the eve of your employer’s biggest event of a century? Kevin B. Schneider took over the post of superintendent of Acadia National Park and the Saint Croix Island International Historic Site in January, so he at least had the winter months to settle in before Acadia’s centennial festivities begin in earnest.

We talked to Schneider about his career in the National Park Service, his hopes for Acadia and that fateful time he met a woman from Bangor in a pub in the west of Ireland.

RESUME: Schneider came to Acadia from Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, where he was deputy superintendent for five years, as well as acting superintendent for a six-month stint. Before that he’d been the superintendent of White Sands National Monument, spent five years as park planner at Yellowstone and was management assistant at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

His exposure to national parks was limited as a teenager growing up in Chicago, but after a friend mentioned an interest in working as a volunteer with the Student Conservation Association, Schneider got curious himself and wrote them a letter. “This was before the Internet,” he said. The summer he was 17 he spent a month volunteering with the group in North Cascades National Park in Washington state, maintaining trails, camping out and falling in love with wilderness work. What started as a lark “was transformative for me.”

ON THE AGENDA: Thus promoting parks to young people is a specific goal of his. “These kinds of programs are personal for me because I am a product of one of them.” At Acadia, youth volunteers, many of them from Mount Desert Island, participate in a similar project. “Getting youth outside and into nature is really, really important. We know from studies that kids aren’t spending enough time outdoors and there are so many benefits to it. That’s really one of our objectives.” As Schneider points out, every fourth-grader in America is eligible for a free pass into our national parks and waters (thanks to a program established by President Obama).

THE FIRST TIME: While he was a student at Colorado State University, he drove across country with friends to take a backpacking trip in Maine. The focus was Baxter State Park, but of course they had to swing by Acadia. “We camped at Blackwoods,” Schneider remembers. And drove up Cadillac, “but it was one of those foggy days.” (Which feels like an Acadia rite of passage.) He was 19 or 20. “The park spoke to me then.”

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: It still speaks to him. Last summer Schneider camped out at Blackwoods again, with his wife and two young children (they’re 6 and 3). They rented bikes, ate lobster, went to Jordan Pond House and had a great time. The very next week, back in Grand Teton, Schneider heard the news that Sheridan Steele was retiring from the position of Acadia superintendent and the job was open. It didn’t take long for him to throw his hat in the ring: “It was a pretty quick conversation.” he said. “Frankly, there weren’t many places I would have left Grand Teton for.”

DARE TO DREAM: The funny thing is, Schneider had nearly put a hex on his job chances at Acadia way back in 2003. He was traveling in Ireland when he walked into a pub owned by the Chieftains’ flute player Matt Molloy and met a young woman from Bangor named Cate. She was in Ireland to run a half marathon with girlfriends. They hit it off and got serious fast. During their discussions of how unrealistic a long-distance relationship would be, Schneider said he gave her a warning about the potential for ending up in Maine. “I said to her, ‘There is only one national park in Maine, and it is very unlikely that I am going to get to work there.’ ” Sometimes it is good to be wrong.

DAUNTING? The couple have just bought a house in Bar Harbor and are moving in, while trying to also make time for trips to Sand Beach and such on the weekends. Meanwhile, Schneider is working to coordinate what promises to be the park’s biggest year ever (“I think we are going to top 3 million visitors for the first time”). Is it nerve-racking to take on a job this big in the middle of a party this big? “It is humbling,” he said. “To be here with our centennial and to see the celebration this park is getting from this community. I have never seen anything like it. People are very proud of Acadia.”

NO DESK JOB: His goals include addressing issues of congestion (like the parking problems at Sand Beach) and balancing the park’s ever growing popularity with quality experiences for all. He also wants to make sure he spends time in the outdoors himself. “I remind myself that my job isn’t about being stuck in an office all day long. It’s important to be talking to folks in the community. Honestly, some of the best conversations you can have with people are on a trail. Being outside leads to increased creativity.”

TRAIL MIX: He hasn’t settled on a favorite hike in Acadia yet. “I am building that sort of personal knowledge of the park,” he said. “Frankly, it almost doesn’t even matter which one you take. Once you get up there and start seeing the views, whether it is from Cadillac or Parkman or Champlain. And then there are the carriage roads.” Can you tell he loves to hike? “If I could do one thing for the rest of my life, it would be hiking.”

 

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Maine’s parks are fertile places for research http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/beyond-recreation-maines-parks-are-fertile-ground-for-research-on-everything-from-invasive-species-to-air-pollution/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/beyond-recreation-maines-parks-are-fertile-ground-for-research-on-everything-from-invasive-species-to-air-pollution/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=907367 While you’re hiking and melting s’mores over your campfire, scientists at Maine parks are taking samples, studying wildlife and discovering new species.

Maine Forest Service entomologist Colleen Teerling picks her parks very carefully. Whereas the average camper might chose their destination based on which Maine park has the prettiest campsite or best lake to cool off in, Teerling is partial to parks that might be favored by Midwestern tourists, say Camden State Park, or Lake St. George.

Colleen Teerling, an entomologist with the Maine Forest Service's Insect and Disease Lab, strips the bark from an ash tree at Lake St. George State Park in Liberty to investigate whether the destructive emerald ash borer has reached Maine.

Colleen Teerling, an entomologist with the Maine Forest Service’s Insect and Disease Lab, strips the bark from an ash tree at Lake St. George State Park in Liberty to investigate whether the destructive emerald ash borer has reached Maine.

That’s because she’s choosing her parks to lay traps for an invasive species called the emerald ash borer, a green beetle from Asia that has already devastated Midwestern forests and has spread to most eastern states. Not Maine yet, but it has been found in New Hampshire and Massachusetts and scientists fear it’s only a matter of time before it begins to chew through Maine’s ash trees. By monitoring likely entry points, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation hopes to get a jump on managing any infestation of the emerald ash borer (or EAB as entomologists typically refer to it).

Teerling’s research involves finding an ash tree, as she did on a hot morning at Lake St. George State Park earlier this week, relatively close to campgrounds or visitors centers, then stripping away the bark in a one-foot belt around the trunk, a process called girdling.

“That stresses the tree out,” Teerling explained.

A weakened tree should attract the beetles if they’re around. In the winter foresters will cut the tree down, peel more bark back and look for signs of an EAB infestation. “We’d find little galleries under the bark,” Teerling said, referring to the tunnels the beetles literally bore in the tree trunk. If so, they’d quarantine the area and work to combat the destructive beetles.

Why pick state parks that tend to attract out-of-state visitors, particularly those from the Midwest? Because firewood transported into an area from an already infected region is believed to be the primary way the emerald ash borer has spread so fast. It was only discovered in 2001, in the Detroit-Windsor area (likely it came in through the port on a boat), but is already in 27 states. Campers tend to bring firewood with them, even when warning signs tell them not to, so Teerling expects that if and when the emerald ash borer arrives in Maine, it will have tagged along with a visitor from out of state.

Although most of us view parks as a resource for recreation, a look behind the scenes at parks around the state reveal how often our public lands are used as a resource for researchers. There are 65 to 70 active research projects in Acadia National Park alone every year, according to the Schoodic Institute, which manages collaborations between scientists, educators and citizen scientists in the park. Whether they be national or state-run, Maine’s parks are fertile ground for researchers tracking endangered or invasive species, botanists looking for rare or undiscovered plants and biologists tracking birds. More often than not, campers and hikers never know the research is going on, but sometimes the public not only overlaps with environmental scientists working in the park, they actually help them.

DRAGONFLIES AND DATA

Sarah Nelson, an associate research professor in the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine, began researching mercury and acid rain chemistry as a masters and then Ph.D. candidate. As her research progressed, she started sampling the larvae of dragonflies in Maine streams and waters for mercury, getting an assist from high school students. In 1998, she began sampling within Acadia, where 80 species of dragonflies can serve as bio-sentinels for mercury pollution.

Emerald ash borer specimens.

Emerald ash borer specimens.

They are an easy insect to catch as larvae and, when ground up back in a laboratory, to test for the presence of mercury that may have traveled on air currents and ended up in water sources as rain. To the non-scientific brain it might seem as though a national park in a relatively pristine part of Maine is a strange place to look for signs of air pollution, but Nelson says it is just the opposite.

“Most people think of national parks as pristine, but they really are not,” she said. Yes everything within the park is wild or barely developed in theory, but the wind knows no borders. “It doesn’t really matter if there is a line around parks. The air is the same.”

Moreover, there is a greater chance to gather accurate data on a long-term basis because the level of development doesn’t change. “You know you will be able to come back in 20 years and be able to get to the same site,” she added. “We don’t have those confounding effects like there is suddenly a mall in the middle of a site.”

Not only are dragonflies less complicated to test for mercury than say, fish, they stay close to the aquatic ecosystems where they were born, making the samples more useful for linking data to specific locations.

The Schoodic Institute got involved in 2011 and the program within Acadia has proved so popular, with citizen scientists happily signing on to contribute to the research by gathering dragonfly larvae in the park, that Nelson began working with other scientists to expand it to other national parks. In 2013, the National Park Service funded the expansion of the mercury study to 25 parks. Now they’re up to 71 parks, including Denali in Alaska and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Acadia is a particularly rich resource for Maine-based researchers. Ongoing projects by UMaine professors include studies of bird migration on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic peninsula, bird use of rockweed, ecosystem response to climate change in Acadia and even studies in forest recreation management by students in the University of Maine’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism program.

A dragonfly adult next to its shed exoskeleton. Dragonflies serve as bio-sentinels for mercury pollution and are easier to test for contamination than, say, fish. Courtesy Ed Lindsey

A dragonfly adult next to its shed exoskeleton. Dragonflies serve as bio-sentinels for mercury pollution and are easier to test for contamination than, say, fish. Courtesy Ed Lindsey

BUNNIES AND BUGS

Teerling has already girdled ash trees in eight state parks and will add Cobscook and Lamoine state parks to the are monitoring list this spring. Other state parks with ongoing research and monitoring programs include Crescent Beach and Kettle Cove, where scientists are researching New England cottontail rabbits, listed as an endangered species in Maine since 2007. Then there are the piping plover and least tern programs at various state-run oceanfront parks, like Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg.

But Baxter State Park is particularly rich research territory. Nearly 210,000 acres, 75 percent of which are managed as wildlife sanctuary, it has been spectacularly untouched since it was acquired by Gov. Percival P. Baxter beginning in the 1930s. This was Baxter’s gift of purest Maine to the people of Maine, and as such, he made it a mandate that the priority be resource preservation.

That’s both why it is such great research territory and why it’s not easy to get permission to conduct research within the park. “He was very clear about what his priorities were, and we work for those priorities,” said Jean Hoekwater, the park’s naturalist.

Hoekwater is a member of the committee that reviews research requests. “We say no sometimes to perfectly sound science,” she said. “The stories I could tell you about research that was proposed that didn’t happen.”

Once the committee turned down a prestigious forestry school’s request to research the fir waves, a natural phenomena on the slopes of Katahdin, where a die-back zone of balsam fir affected by the prevailing winds creates wavy grey stripes following the slope’s contours.

“We denied the application despite the prestige because they wanted to put fertilizer in the zone,” she said. “That was an artificial input.” (Hoekwater would neither confirm nor deny that it was Yale.)

Colleen Teerling strips the bark from an ash tree at Lake St. George State Park in Liberty. The section of tree will be examined to see if the insect is in Maine.

Colleen Teerling strips the bark from an ash tree at Lake St. George State Park in Liberty. The section of tree will be examined to see if the insect is in Maine.

“It is not an easy thing to get permission,” said Beth Swartz, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife who conducted the research that tracked the rare and elusive Roaring Brook Mayfly deep in the wilds of Baxter. The mayfly had been named for the Maine location where it was first spotted in the 1930s, but only one true specimen of it existed and that was in a museum.

“It had been over 60 years since that specimen had been collected,” Swartz said. She spent the better part of a summer searching and found many mayflies in two of the brook’s tributaries. The state was able to move the insect off the endangered list on the basis of that research. But it remains a species unique to a special place, and the very fact of how unusual it is points to the ecological value of high elevation headwater streams, she said.

“These little tumbling streams come down off of the mountain tops and are fed by melting snow and rainwater,” Swartz said. “These are the birthplaces of all those other streams that end up feeding into our rivers, streams that often go unprotected because they are so small.”

LEAVE NO TRACE

Among the other research in Baxter in recent years was a study of marten populations by a University of Maine PhD student who set up game cams and traps to catch hair from the animals. A 2013 tornado that blew through the northwest corner of the park within the Scientific Forest Management Area (a zone designated for study of responsible forestry management) created the opportunity for a multi-year study on beetles and how they responded to a blow-down situation over 400 acres.

“Virtually all the trees were uprooted or blown over,” said Shawn Fraver, a professor in the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine. “That type of wind damage is really unusual in Maine.”

Outside the park it might have been a disaster, but within its confines, it gave scientists a chance to look at nature’s recovery process.

Hoekwater said Baxter frequently has to turn down request for research that involves collecting samples – removing plants from their natural habitat. But in an effort to put together a comprehensive guide, “The Plants of Baxter State Park,” it has welcomed researchers and volunteers armed with cameras to photograph more than 700 species of plants that grow within the park’s boundaries. The finished guide, a multi-year effort to compile, is expected back from the printers soon.

Alison Dibble, an assistant research professor with the University of Maine’s School of Biology and Ecology and one of the authors of the guide, has spent many days over many years leading volunteers on plant quests, pushing through dense thickets of young trees to remote bogs untouched by man or paddling by canoe into areas reachable only by water. Even if park visitors never spot these species tucked in remote corners of the park, they have been recorded for posterity.

“It was a privilege to me,” Dibble said. “And I think the volunteers were feeling this way too, that it is really special that the parks wants us to do this and needs us to do this.”

As a researcher, Dibble has had a long relationship with Baxter. Her first foray into Baxter to study plant species was in 1989. Over a five-year period starting in 2001, she self-funded annual five day trips to Katahdin to work with a team studying the lichen of Katahdin. The team identified alpine lichens that had not been found in the United States before. That survey, published in 2009 in The Bryologist, the publication of the American Bryological and Lichenological Society, established a baseline of research that could prove particularly useful to those studying climate change.

“With climate change, the advance of the treeline up the slope will mean that there will be less habitat for unusual lichens than there is now,” Dibble said. “The alpine ecosystems are under increased threat. That is just one of the dilemmas of global warming.”

For all these scientists, it’s not just parks and recreation.

 

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Mussel shells and other gifts from the sea http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/homegrown-mussel-shells-and-other-gifts-from-the-sea/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/homegrown-mussel-shells-and-other-gifts-from-the-sea/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=907250 Janet Lockhart never expected to be supporting herself with her mussel shell mirrors.

“I took a class in ’81 to make cheap Christmas presents for my family,” she said. “I never expected anything else. And I’ve been making money at it ever since.”

Lockhart collects the shells herself on the Pemaquid Peninsula, where her family has lived for 400 years on land granted to them by the king of England. She solders the shells onto the mirrors with the aid of copper foil tape, which she uses to edge the shells, as well.

“I like doing a little decorative soldering,” she said. “It makes it pop.”

The mirrors are sold in three galleries: Salt Water Artists Gallery on Pemaquid Point, and Ironbound Gallery in Rockport and Northport.

A 4-by-6-inch mirror sells for $75, and a 4-by-12-inch costs $110.

She will also be doing two shows this year – the Round Pond Schoolhouse Association’s annual Arts at the Schoolhouse Show and Sale on July 23, and the Designing Women show in Portland Dec. 9.

Lockhart also decorates mirrors with Maine slate, and others with various items from the sea. In addition to mussels, the mirrors might have sea urchins, oyster shell, sand dollars, even sea glass.

“I’m very lucky I do what I love and people give me money,” she said.

— MEREDITH GOAD

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Leg Work: Kids ready to ride, thanks to Monmouth school’s 3rd-grade tradition http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/leg-work-kids-ready-to-ride-thanks-to-maine-schools-third-grade-tradition/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/leg-work-kids-ready-to-ride-thanks-to-maine-schools-third-grade-tradition/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=907262 Third-grader Charlie Dufour had barely begun the longest bicycle ride of her life when she hit the first hill. Bumping down it, she cried out, “This is harder than I thought!”

Charlie pedaled on, a favorite stuffed animal bouncing in her bike basket. She was one of about 45 children from the Henry L. Cottrell School in Monmouth who were biking 6.5 miles to the town beach and back on a recent morning.

The third-grade bike trek has become a beloved tradition in this rural Kennebec County town. Younger students at Cottrell School cheered on the third-graders as they rode out of the school grounds. Down the road, students from the middle school and high school hooted and clapped as the elementary kids cycled by.

About 15 parents and grandparents chaperoned the ride, hauled lunches to the beach and helped in other ways.

Principal Deborah Emery launched the trek eight years ago as a special event for third-graders before they graduate to middle school, which starts in the fourth grade. She wants to encourage them to learn how to ride bicycles. Emery considers that an important skill that gets them outdoors.

“It’s great exercise and it encourages kids to develop a healthy habit that they can continue with long after the day of the trek,” said Melissa Michaud, a Cottrell third-grade teacher. Students also find out what it’s like to tackle a big challenge. At the end of the ride, “Most (children) feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment,” Michaud said.

Planning begins months in advance, to ensure that every child can participate in some way.

Teachers survey parents in March to find out who has a bicycle and whether children know how to ride. Parents are encouraged to start practicing with their children in a school parking lot as soon as the snow melts.

Jenora Schultz, the school’s physical therapist, works with youngsters who have difficulty riding because of disabilities. This year, one student rode on a balance bicycle with no pedals that the school got from Special Olympics Maine, powering it with a running stride.

Some children take a short route, walking part of the way. The few who are unable to ride at all help the police direct traffic and then join their classmates at the beach.

Families donate helmets and bicycles for students who need them. Workers at Monmouth’s transfer station notify the school when bicycles in decent condition are dropped off.

Bob Bruce, a bicycle safety educator for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, checks all of the used equipment to make sure it’s road-worthy. He also gives students an hourlong safety class to teach them hand signals and other rules of the road.

When the big day arrived in late May, Emery had every detail arranged.

All the third-graders wore green T-shirts made for the trek. Ride leaders donned bright yellow safety vests. Bruce tightened brakes, pumped tires and checked each child’s helmet to make sure it fit securely.

After a round of photos in the school parking lot, we headed off in groups of five or six. Students rode single file, just as they’d been taught.

Monmouth is hilly, so biking is no small feat. When we hit steep inclines, some children hopped off their bikes and pushed them to the top. Bruce encouraged one child by chanting over and over, “I think I can, I think I can.”

By the time my group reached the beach, a big crowd of students was waiting to cheer our arrival. Then it was our turn to clap and whistle for those behind us. “Let’s go, Monmouth, let’s go!” the children yelled.

Laurie Gifford, a grandmother who volunteers as the trek photographer, recalled one year when a child rode a bike with training wheels. “She was the last,” Gifford said, “and the entire class was out cheering for her.”

Once everyone arrived, the children waded in the lake, pumped on the swings and gobbled their lunches. They wrote names on each other’s T-shirts to remember the special day. Then it was time to hop on their bikes for the return ride.

Principal Emery was ahead of her time when she started the trek in 2009. While many Maine schools provide bicycle safety education, I haven’t heard of another that tries to get every child to learn how to ride a bicycle.

But that idea is catching on elsewhere. Last fall, the public schools in Washington, D.C., began bicycle instruction for all second-graders. Wouldn’t it be great if more Maine schools picked up on the idea?

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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Editor’s letter: Maine’s many parks truly a gift http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/editors-letter-maines-many-parks-truly-a-gift/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/editors-letter-maines-many-parks-truly-a-gift/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=907301 People more musical than I mark chapters in their lives by the songs they listened to at the time. I’m more of an outdoors kind of gal, and I often remember the places I have lived by the neighborhood parks where I walked and wandered, watched birds and bats, and picnicked and problem solved.

In Houston, it was the lovingly restored Buffalo Bayou, complete with the mind-blowing nightly Mexican bat emergence from Waugh Bridge. In New York, the incomparable Central Park – what else? I lived by the tranquil, romantic Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, designed in 1848 as part of the nation’s garden cemetery movement. And over my lunch break in Tokyo, I ambled on the serene paths of the exquisitely coiffed Imperial Palace East Gardens – the gardens of the emperor no less!

These days, I am lucky enough to live in what often feels like the Land of Awesome Parks. When it comes to parks, we Mainers have an embarrassment of riches. I pinch myself that I can pop over to spectacular Popham Beach State Park any old day. That I can bike to quintessentially Maine Fort Williams on a whim and commute to work by bike on the Eastern Promenade trail. The fascinating Fore River Sanctuary, where history and bird life both tug for my attention, is practically in my backyard.

But 7.4 billion people now call this planet home, crowding out the fragile flora and fauna that we share the place with and that we depend on for our own existence. When I went to the lovely Acadia National Park last week for the very first time, it felt like most of that number were there, trying to park (the verb, not the noun) and loving the place to death. As the world population continues to soar, as mega-cities proliferate, as the pressure on open, livable space intensifies, we will need our parks like never before.

Even in southern Maine, a comparatively unpopulated place, sometimes I fret that my home sweet home has transformed itself; once a land of magnificent mountains, vast prairies and “broad, exuberant, mantling forests,” as naturalist and parks advocate John Muir put it, much of the United States is now one of housing developments, strip malls and hectic roads. When that feeling discourages me, I recover my equanimity with a walk in a park.

 

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Grow: Dill http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/grow-dill/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/grow-dill/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=907304 Dill is an aromatic herb that adds a flavor to seafood, soups, pickles and other foods.

But in your garden it’s more than that – it attracts beneficial insects including pollinators, lady beetles, syrphid flies and parasitic wasps that will attack damaging insects such as aphids and Japanese beetles.

Also, once it has gone to seed, it is attractive in flower arrangements.

Dill is an annual that does not transplant well, so it’s best to seed it directly into the garden. Plant the seeds about a quarter of an inch deep and gently rake them into the soil. The seeds will sprout in about two weeks. Two weeks after that, thin them so they are about a foot apart. Dill likes full sun, well-drained soil and plenty of water.

You can harvest dill leaves as soon as they appear. Once the flowers appear, you can cut down and dry the entire plant.

If you like, let some of the flowers go to seed and you should get some volunteers in your garden the following year.

— TOM ATWELL

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New guide helps you figure out what’s blooming in Maine’s woods and fields http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/the-maine-gardener-a-new-guide-helps-you-figure-out-whats-blooming-in-maines-woods-and-fields/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/05/the-maine-gardener-a-new-guide-helps-you-figure-out-whats-blooming-in-maines-woods-and-fields/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=907307 Some of my favorite parts of vacations are spent walking. Luckily, all over Maine, state and federal parks, as well as land trusts and nature preserves, offer trails up mountains, next to rivers, across fields and through forests.

You can enjoy these walks for the exercise, the beautiful views and the fresh air. But you may enjoy them even more if you know what you are looking at. That’s where a field guide comes in handy.

For flower lovers, “Wildflowers of New England,” written by Ted Elliman, a botanist and plant ecologist for the New England Wild Flower Society, and published earlier this year, is a great tool that can enhance your enjoyment of the outdoors.

It is based on “Flora Novae Angliae,” a much larger and more technical manual written by Maine resident Arthur Haines and published by the New England Wild Flower Society, a Massachusetts-based plant conservation organization.

“The point of my book is to present (the Haines book) to a more general audience,” Elliman said in a recent telephone interview. Elliman focuses on herbaceous plants and some small shrubs; he doesn’t include trees. As a point of comparison, the Haines book details 3,500 plants, while Elliman’s offers 1,100.

Elliman describes the plants in clear, concise language. Like his prose, the photographs offer clear close-ups that aid in identifying plants.

A six-part key also helps people identify plants in the field, namely color, shape, number of petals, type of leaf, arrangement of leaves and type of leaf margin or edge.

Drawings in the book illustrate various leaf shapes and margins. The plants are grouped by color, which appears on the page edges, making the book especially user friendly.

“It is a pretty easy key to use,” Elliman said. “Over the last couple of weeks I have been teaching some introductory courses, taking people out and using the book to identify flowers, and they are doing well.”

Say you’re out on a walk in late summer and you see the New England aster (but you don’t yet know its name). It’s a native wildflower – everywhere in Maine at that season – that for some reason the taxonomists now call symphyotrichum.

The flower is bluish-purple, so you would turn to the blue section of the book; purple is considered a subset of blue. You note that it has seven or more flower petals and the leaves are simple, growing alternately along the stem, with entire (or smooth) edges. So far, 12 flowers in “Wildflowers of New England” fit that description.

Now you’d check the pictures included with each plant against your specimen or look at plant height and other details to determine which of that dozen you have found. The descriptions also tell you what type of habitat suits each plant, another useful clue. (Identifying plants when the flowers are not in bloom will be more difficult.)

The guide includes any plants you might find in your walk in the woods in this region – even those that are sometimes deemed weeds and/or invasive. Non-native plants get asterisks next to their names; Elliman calls out the invasive plants.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some of the flowers included in “Wildflowers of New England” are quite rare, and he hopes to bring appreciation to them. But Elliman says he has purposely avoided ranking some plants as better than others.

From a practical standpoint, the book’s laminated cover and highly glossed pages will prevent damage if it’s raining out when you are in the field. Even if you never take the book outside, it’s worth reading the front sections, which are packed with good information on landscapes and natural and plant communities.

I asked Elliman if he, or other wildflower experts, keep a life list of plants they have seen in the wild the way avid birders do?

“There are many more plants than birds, so I think that keeping a plant list would be harder to do,” he said. “I don’t keep a checklist of what I’ve seen or what I haven’t. I think I might go crazy if I did that.”

Elliman reminds readers to look but don’t touch. Acadia National Park and most state parks prohibit digging up and picking wildflowers. Also, many such plants require specific habitats and won’t survive transplanting.

As he writes, “Take photographs, make sketches, observe and appreciate the plant, but leave the flowers, and the habitat, in the condition in which you found them. As the adage goes, plants grow by the inch but die by the foot.”

I’m sure my own copy of “Wildflowers of New England” will get some good use when I go fishing this summer. If I don’t catch any fish – often the case – at least I’ll have the satisfaction of identifying a few new wildflowers.

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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Maine Farmland Trust leader named head of national organization http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/01/maine-farmland-trust-leader-selected-for-national-organization/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/01/maine-farmland-trust-leader-selected-for-national-organization/#comments Wed, 01 Jun 2016 16:03:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/01/maine-farmland-trust-leader-selected-for-national-organization/ After a decade leading the Maine Farmland Trust, John Piotti is leaving the group to head a national farmland preservation organization.

Piotti, 55, of Unity, has been working on farming issues in Maine for the past 20 years, and admits that it’s bittersweet to leave the state to become president and CEO of the American Farmland Trust in Washington, D.C.

“It does hurt a little bit,” Piotti said in an interview. “But at the same time, there is a lot of work that needs to occur outside of Maine.”

The trust takes a three-prong approach to advocating for farmers: preserving working farmland, providing future farmers with access to land and supporting economic viability for Maine agriculture.

Under Piotti’s tenure as president, the trust has protected 40,000 acres of farmland and provided services to more than 480 farm families in the state.

“It is not enough to protect the land; it is about making sure that what is occurring on the land is helpful for the local economy,” Piotti said.

There is no official connection between the Maine and American farm trusts, but the national organization helped create the Maine group in 1999 and the two take the same three-pronged approach, but on different scales.

Since it was created in 1980, the national trust has protected more than 5 million acres of farm and ranch land and worked with farmers on sound environmental and other agriculture practices.

“I think the American Farm Trust strategy makes a lot of sense,” Piotti said. “Farmers are good stewards of the land, but they are challenged on multiple fronts, like prices, easy access to land and economic development that eats up good farmland.

“There is no need to change the strategy, but we need to do the work more aggressively in the future. We need our farmland and our farmers and we are sadly losing both.”

One critical difference between Maine and other parts of America is the partnership that has developed between farmers and conservation activists, Piotti said. In Maine, farmers follow good practices and the environmental community generally regards the local food movement, after generations of decline in farming, as positive. The same can’t be said for some American farming communities in the Midwest and West, Piotti said.

“In a lot of the country, the conservation community and agricultural community are at loggerheads,” he said.

Piotti has worked on Maine farm issues since the early 1990s. He was director of the Maine Farmland Project, a marketing program, from 1995 to 2006; and a board member and then president of the Maine Farmland Trust since 1999. He served in the Maine House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010 and was elected House majority leader. As a legislator, he helped create the Maine dairy stabilization program and worked on incorporating Katahdin Lake into Baxter State Park.

“No one has done more to advance farming in Maine in the last 20 years than John Piotti,” Taylor Mudge, the trust’s board chairman, said in a statement. “We are going to miss him terribly, but at the same time, we are thrilled that he will be bringing his special skills to other parts of the nation that need his talent and energy.”

Of the hundreds of projects he worked on at the Maine trust, his favorites were those that furthered the trust’s trio of goals, such as the recent purchase and protection of the former Weeks dairy farm in Windham. The farm was then sold for a price reflecting its agricultural value to four young farmers who own the Bumbleroot organic farm in Buxton, which will relocate to Windham for the 2017 growing season.

“Those are my favorite projects, when we hit the triple bottom line,” Piotti said.

Piotti starts his position at American Farmland Trust in July, but will remain at the Maine group through October to help with the transition period, during which the group will find a new president.

 

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Maine scientist seeks keys to how sea urchins avoid aging process http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/01/maine-scientist-seeks-keys-to-how-sea-urchins-avoid-aging-process/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/01/maine-scientist-seeks-keys-to-how-sea-urchins-avoid-aging-process/#comments Wed, 01 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=904481 Sea urchins don’t appear to age, and researchers from Maine and Bermuda are trying to find out why.

The answer might help unlock the secrets of how to slow the aging process in humans, scientists say.

“We don’t really know how (long) sea urchins can live,” James Coffman, a scientist at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, said of the spiky ocean floor dwellers. “They may be living hundreds of years.”

But when they do die, it’s not of old age, according to Coffman’s research.

That’s because sea urchin cells do not degrade, like the cells in humans or most other creatures.

“A lot of things can kill you. Old age is just one of them,” Coffman said.

He and Andrea Bodnar, a scientist from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Studies, recently published an article on their research, “Maintenance of Somatic Tissue Regeneration with Age in Short- and Long-lived Species of Sea Urchins,” in Aging Cell, a scholarly journal. The research was funded by a two-year, $275,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Coffman and Bodnar studied the differences between red sea urchins, which can live to be more than 100 years old; the purple sea urchin, with a lifespan of about 50 years; and the green sea urchin, which dies after four to five years of life. Bodnar said the sea urchin lifespans are based on observations by fishermen.

The sea urchins used in the study were collected from waters off Bermuda, San Diego and British Columbia, and were kept in recirculating sea water or aquariums. Their ages were estimated based on shell diameter.

What Coffman and Bodnar discovered was a surprise.

“These animals continue to defy us,” Bodnar said.

They had believed that the shorter-lived sea urchins’ cells would show signs of aging and that the creature would start losing its natural ability to regenerate damaged tissue. But the green sea urchin’s cells did not degrade. The scientists found instead that their cells remained robust throughout their lifespan, nearly identical to what happens with the longer-lived purple and red sea urchins. Also, the green sea urchins’ regenerative abilities remained strong throughout their life.

“What we found was completely contradictory to our expectations. We just accepted that the green sea urchins were dying of old age,” Coffman said.

So how do sea urchins die?

“It’s a mystery,” said Coffman, who received a doctorate in zoology from Duke University in 1990 and has spent his entire professional career studying sea urchins.

Coffman said further research will examine how they die – possibly through predation, infections or accidents – as well as other aspects of sea urchins, including what role the immune system plays in their aging process.

While humans and sea urchins may not appear to resemble each other, they share pre-dinosaur ancestors, from 600 million to 700 million years ago. The embryos of sea urchins and humans contain useful similarities, which is one reason why scientists study sea urchins.

Gene sequences of humans and sea urchins also have similarities, Coffman said.

“We are more closely related to sea urchins than we are to flies and worms,” he said.

Because the cells of sea urchins don’t degrade, Bodnar said it would be interesting to find out what happens to sea urchins when they are placed in a controlled environment, such as an aquarium, and studied for a prolonged period.

Bodnar said because sea urchin lifespans are based on fishermen’s observations, it’s impossible to say with certainty how long they live, especially in the case of red sea urchins.

“For instance, for a certain species of clams, we thought that they lived for 200 to 300 years. Then we found one that had lived 400 years, and most recently, 500 years,” Bodnar said. “So we keep learning about the outer edges of their lifespans.”

Scientists are studying long-lived animals besides sea urchins, such as turtles, rockfish, whales, clams and sponges, to determine why they have such long lifespans and whether anything scientists learn about their longevity could be applied to humans.

“We may have to rethink theories on why aging occurs,” Coffman said.

 

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Light your way with small paper nautical lanterns http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/homegrow-light-your-way-with-nautical-luminaria/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/homegrow-light-your-way-with-nautical-luminaria/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=897315 Betty Kelley had been making hand-painted luminaria (small paper lanterns) in her Jonesport workshop for the Center for Maine Craft when she stumbled across a fresh idea.

“I have this extraordinary view of the ocean from my work space,” she said. “We had a bunch of old nautical charts lying around. I’m in the process of making these luminaria, and I thought, ‘Wow, I wonder what a chart would look like folded up?’ ”

She grabbed a chart and folded it into a piece she liked so much she kept it on her desk.

Later, when people dropped by her studio to Christmas shop, “Everybody who came in just immediately zeroed in on this little chart piece,” Kelley said.

So she started making them to sell. She uses outdated NOAA charts she finds in yard sales, antique shops and knick-knack stores, and she focuses on charts that depict Casco, Penobscot and Frenchman bays and other places that tourists might visit and that show lots of islands and coastline.

“It makes interesting pieces because you see all these place names like Smugglers Cove, and you think ‘Ooh that’s so cool. How’d they get that name and wouldn’t you like to visit there?’ Fog Island and Green Ledge. There’s even one called Drunkard Ledge.”

Kelley takes special orders from coastal homeowners who “want their little cove to show.” Because of the way the luminaria are folded, those can be challenging, she said.

The luminaria are shipped in a sturdy box filled with shredded parchment paper, and come with a battery-operated candle. A small, single luminary costs $18, and a box of three is $40. A single large luminary is also $40.

Find them through her Etsy.com shop and at the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner; Archipelago, the Island Institute store in Rockland; Woodwind Gallery in Machias; and The Commons in Eastport.

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Sara Rademaker is letting little eels get big in Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/letting-little-eels-get-big-in-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/letting-little-eels-get-big-in-maine/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=897327 SOUTH BRISTOL — “They are like little torpedoes,” Sara Rademaker says, looking down at a tank full of year-old eels in a feeding frenzy.

Her tone is fond, almost as if the eels wiggling in and out of a submerged laundry basket were a basket of lively kittens, but this is all business. Rademaker is doing what no one has tried to do in Maine before – grow out elvers to eels for the commercial food market.

Rademaker is a young woman, but has 12 years of farming and aquaculture experience. A graduate of Auburn University in Alabama, she’s worked with subsistence farmers in Uganda as part of a U.S. AID project and farmed tilapia in Ghana. She’s taught middle school students how to farm tilapia and lettuces.

Three years ago she began studying European and Asian systems for growing elvers into eels in contained areas, asking herself the question, why not here in Maine, the biggest source of American baby glass eels in the country?

Although she’s just starting her third year developing her eel aquaculture system, she’s gearing up to bring her first eels to market this summer, with plans to tap into the local sushi market to begin with.

“She’s already so far ahead of anyone else in the state,” says Dana Morse, a UMaine Cooperative Extension associate professor and researcher based at the Darling Marine Center. “It’s impressive.”

Earlier this month Rademaker bought 4 pounds of elvers. The price was $1,500 a pound, which sounds like a lot, but down from a high of about $2,200, it was something of a deal. Her dealer didn’t blink at the tall redhead buying fish that would normally be bound for Asia; she knows what Rademaker is doing. Namely trying to get Maine a bigger bang for its buck, eel wise.

It’s not rocket science that caused Rademaker to start working with eels; she was casting around for a new aquaculture project and she saw an opportunity, both for Maine and herself, with eels.

Maine is lucky enough to have an active elver fishery (in the United States only South Carolina does as well, and that is much smaller, with more limited licenses) and plenty of creeks and streams in which to catch the baby American eels (Anguilla rostrata) on their way from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea to inland rivers and lakes. There many of the species grow to adulthood before repeating the journey in reverse.

Although they arrive in droves, intrepidly making their way on an astonishingly long commute to what will be their adult habitat, American eels were deemed “depleted” by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s technical committee in 2012. They also are listed as endangered in Ontario and the Maritime provinces.

Eels like this one, at left, grown from elver size by Rademaker, have already been used in sushi by chef Matt Howe at Sushi Maine in South Portland. He says he’ll take more when they’re ready. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Eels like this one, grown from elver size by Sara Rademaker, have already been used in sushi by chef Matt Howe at Sushi Maine in South Portland. He says he’ll take more when they’re ready.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Worldwide, other species of eels haven’t fared well, either; Europe shut down exports of its baby eels due to dwindling numbers. In Asia, where eel is a much more important part of the cuisine than it is in the States, their native eel, the Anguilla japonica, has declined radically.

Hence the interest in Maine elvers, which are flown to Asia, where dealers sell them to fish farms in multiple countries, including China and Korea. A single elver – remember, they’re tiny, almost weightless – is sold for about $1. In those farms, they grow rapidly in size, thanks to a richer diet than they’d find in the wild, and even more so in value. When harvested at about a year old, they’re worth between $8 and $12 a pound.

While Mainers harvested eel in the 20th century, both as a food source for ethnic markets and as bait, the flavor of the wild eel is not appropriate for say, the sushi market, where its flavors are considered too muddy and wouldn’t command that kind of price. There’s also the question of long-term food safety, because of toxins wild eels might have acquired in their decade or so in lakes, streams and such.

That potential for toxicity is one of the reasons most of the eel you see on menus at sushi restaurants is not wild-caught American eel. The eel you eat when dining out was most likely grown in ponds and processed in Asia. (It could even have been caught in Maine originally, meaning that eel did a vast circuit around the world).

Maine elvers are typically flown to Asia, where dealers sell them to fish farms in multiple countries. When harvested at about a year old, they’re worth between $8 and $12 a pound. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine elvers are typically flown to Asia, where dealers sell them to fish farms in multiple countries. When harvested at about a year old, they’re worth between $8 and $12 a pound.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine isn’t the right place to set up the Asian-style fish farms, because it would be cost prohibitive to keep the outdoor ponds warm enough. (As Maine’s resident eel expert, University of Maine marine sciences professor Jim McCleave has explained, the eels wouldn’t die, but they wouldn’t grow to market size fast enough to be financially practical.)

But when Rademaker started getting the itch to set up a commercial project in Maine, she came to elvers from a different angle, using a recirculating aquaculture system that could be all indoors and still raise a commercially viable number of fish. Ultimately, if the approach works – and she says it’s going well so far – this would be a means of keeping the long-term profits of the elver business in the state.

“Eels already have a connection to Maine economically,” Rademaker said. “It doesn’t make sense to ship them over and grow them out there.” That’s why she “dove in.”

Another reason, although there’s a big element of the unknown to it – it could be five years or it could be 10 – is that eventually Japan will master reproduction of eels in captivity and when they do? The market will likely fall out of the Maine elver fishery.

MAINE’S GAIN

Rademaker grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the youngest of three. Her father is a veterinarian, her mother an avid hunter, fly fisherwoman and breeder of bird dogs. One of Rademaker’s brothers is a ranger at Glacier National Park, the other is a veterinarian who has taken over their father’s clinic. It’s an outdoorsy, animal-oriented family.

When Rademaker applied to Auburn University in Alabama, she thought she’d be a veterinarian herself, maybe with some sort of focus on fish. But as she studied, that path seemed too oriented to dealing with fish diseases. “Ultimately I wanted to work with live fish,” she said.

She found her way to Maine via an Internet posting. She was looking for the next thing and wanted to find work that combined aquaculture and teaching. A job came up with a nonprofit that fit that description. She’d never been to Maine and she’d never heard of the Herring Gut Learning Center, an alternative education school in Port Clyde. The instructor job was supposed to last 11 months, but Rademaker arrived in 2009 and stayed three years, helping build the program into what it is.

Eels grown by Sara Rademaker at the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center in South Bristol. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Eels grown by Sara Rademaker at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center in South Bristol.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

She’s still involved at Herring Gut; on a recent May day, she volunteered with a class of middle school boys attempting to breed tilapia for the first time and needed help sexing and sorting the fish.

The boys hunched over a fish wrapped in a wet towel. They dropped green dye on its underside, trying to distinguish whether it was male or female. Rademaker confirmed their diagnosis: female. But not bulging, so maybe not ready to spawn. “You’ll have to decide if you’ll put her back,” Rademaker said.

The room was humming with the sound of the recirculating system, tilapia in one room, pipes leading out to a greenhouse filled with pristine lettuces in various stages of growth. This is the system Rademaker constructed for the school.

“The parts were all here,” said Ann Boover, lead teacher at Herring Gut. “She just said, ‘Can I change this around so it will work?’ ”

At the end of the lesson, the boys had successfully herded their breeding team into a separate tank, where four females were being hotly pursued by a male tilapia. Only one fish had been dropped on the floor, briefly.

“That’s another reason to work with tilapia,” Rademaker said, smiling. “They are very tough fish.”

A MATTER OF TASTE

When Rademaker started her first batch of elvers, it was in her basement in Thomaston. She did that with a small Sea Grant ($1,000). Then with a grant from the Maine Technology Institute of about $20,000 she was able to rent space at the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center at Darling. She’s also had help from UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin.

“Little things like that have been so key to doing this in Maine,” she said.

“Everyone I have encountered in the state has been really supportive of the effort, from DMR (Department of Marine Resources) to the dealers to Darling,” Rademaker added.

At Darling, she’s even found some taste testers for her first full-grown eels. She recently served eel smoked, in cream cheese and on top of a cracker to Mike Horst, who is working on a lobster-related project in his own rented space at Darling.

“It was delicious,” Horst said, his eyes widen for emphasis.

Rademaker said she is not typically a fan of “fishy” fish (“ironically,” she said) but this had a very clean and distinct flavor. “There’s nothing like it, which is great,” Rademaker said. “You can’t replace it with something else the way you can with so many white fish.”

She’s already run it by Matt Howe at Sushi Maine, who made rolls with her homegrown eels and told her he’ll be ready for more as soon as she’s ready, which should be this summer. After that she’ll be reaching out to restaurants, like Miyake, famed for its sushi. There’s also some interest in non-sushi restaurants, including Slipway in Thomaston.

In the meantime, there is another batch of babies to tend to, with late-night feedings and all that those entail. These new eels are fresh from some midcoast streams or inlets, although she’s not sure exactly where. As the business grows, she plans to be more specific.

“I want to be able to say, they are from this or that river,” Rademaker said.

Spoken like someone with the fish farm-to-table instinct.

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Farmer Jonathan Tibbetts is taking over the family business http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/meet-jonathan-tibbetts/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/meet-jonathan-tibbetts/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=897348 Jonathan Tibbetts is in the process of taking over the family farm in Lyman. He’s doing that while juggling the duties associated with a diverse family farm, from making compost in bulk to planting sweet corn. We called him up to talk horse manure, food waste from schools and the trick his father played on Jonathan and his siblings to get them interested in farming.

PLANTING THE SEED: Tibbetts’ father, John, and mother, Elaine, purchased the farm in 1985. At that point John was working full time at Prime Tanning in Berwick, but he’d been a dairy farmer before and wanted to get his kids interested in working the land. He set up a self-serve vegetable stand and told his two sons and his daughter to fill it up with vegetables. The earnings would go to them.

“It was a way for us to pay for football cleats and summer camps,” Jonathan Tibbetts remembers. “It was a way for him to give us a little bit more responsibility.”

GO BIG OR GO HOME: The kids met the challenge. Their thumbs were green enough so that soon they were selling their own plants from the stand. “It got to the point where we either needed to go full time or scale it back,” Tibbetts said.

Their father took his severance package and used it to buy the kind of equipment they needed to jump-start the operation. That included starting to haul manure from horse farmers in the region (they pick up from 30 other farms now and use the manure as the base for a rich compost they call Barnyard Blend). Tibbetts enjoyed the work but said he never thought that one day he’d be buying the place.

“I don’t know if I actually had that much vision then,” he said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh eventually I’ll own all this.’ ”

WHY NOW? The transfer isn’t final yet – “we’re just kind of waiting on the banks” – but Tibbetts’ father has already started his transition. “He wants to kind of relax a little.” Not to golf or drape himself over a couch, though. The elder Tibbetts sucessfully ran for selectman in Lyman and does the work around the farm he loves best, like tending to the animals (they have beef cattle and pigs) and growing the sweet corn.

“He wants to be done with the day-to-day of chasing the money and making decisions.” (Us too.)

HORSE FEATHERS: Spring compost season has been in full swing since April, which means the family has been making deliveries of Barnyard Blend around the area. They also sell through their own greenhouse and wholesale to landscapers.

They’re constantly cooking the next batch of compost – fall is the other big season for compost sales – and turning the piles.

The Barnyard Blend recipe owes a lot to horses, but also to schoolchildren; Tibbetts picks up food waste from schools in Kennebunk, Sanford and sometimes at Bonny Eagle, all of which collect the discarded food in 55-gallon totes.

Elementary and middle school food waste is the best. How so? “Because they are better at sorting the food. At that age you can tell them what you want them to do and they’ll do it. They are not stubborn yet.”

SAY WHAT? Wait, children not stubborn? Tibbetts credits the good sorting habits to the teachers, who make the whole thing an educational venture. “The children are really interested in it,” he said. “They see the food waste that they are throwing away, and they end up getting back some compost, and they can say, ‘This came from our school.’ ”

Another benefit to incorporating school waste? The temperatures during the school year. “We don’t have the problems with the flies or with the smell. And those are the months that we are usually a little slower, so it works pretty well for someone to take a day and go pick it up.”

DIVERSIFY, DIVERSIFY: The work is all seasonal. In the winter, the Tibbettses operate snowplows. In the spring, they move on to compost, then vegetables in the summer. They hay as well. A growing herd of about 25 head of beef cattle rounds out the operation. Diversification keeps them financially stable. “If we have a bad compost year, we can make it up with a good snowplow year.” And what is a bad compost year? The kind where the seeds don’t cook out or a wet spring prevents the compost from drying out.

NICE NICHE: What’s the Tibbetts family’s niche? Probably sweet corn, in yellow and white varieties. “Most of the other growers around here only grow bicolor. We wanted to do something a little different.” In the beginning, they handed out samples to customers who came to the stand looking for bicolor corn. “We converted a lot of people.”

FARMER’S FAVORITE: Sweet corn is not the younger Tibbetts’ favorite crop, however. “Corn is very stressful. It is very easy to have it all ready at once, but it is very hard to have it ready every day. We plant almost every five to eight days in the spring and summer.” He likes watching tomatoes grow, but they’re not easy either. “Pumpkins are probably my favorite, because I like picking them.”

ELECTING OUT: His father’s retirement – how’s that going, especially with the responsibilities of being a selectman? It was a means to detach. “It gives him something to have his attention on, other than whether or not I talked to the lawyer or banks today,” Tibbetts said with a laugh. He gets that. And also why his father would still want to grow sweet corn or tend to the animals. It’s the business end of farming that makes farming hard. “If I could just sit on my tractor, I would be happy all day.”

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Time has come to care for water like it’s precious http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/sea-change-care-for-water-like-its-precious/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/sea-change-care-for-water-like-its-precious/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=897354 Even in a spring dry by Maine standards, it’s hard to envision how parched some places can become. Water scarcity is increasingly coming to define landscapes and lives. By the start of 2015, NASA calculated that California had reached a water deficit of 11 trillion gallons (roughly 93 times all the water used annually by Maine households).

Global thirst will only grow as the world warms. A new World Bank report, High and Dry, warns that water scarcity – aggravated by climate change – could lead to economic losses and heightened conflicts.

In the northeastern U.S., climate scientists tell us to expect longer dry spells and more frequent heat waves, punctuated by high-intensity precipitation.

Rain arriving in the form of downpours is inherently problematic, causing flooding and erosion. Clean water that might have served to replenish wells and revive plants mutates into contaminated runoff pollution.

Anticipating a future with less predictable and less abundant clean water, we need to acquire the habit of conservation.

Without a dire crisis, though, it can be hard to adopt water-saving practices – as anyone who has tried to shorten shower times can attest. Measures seen as an inconvenience or deprivation rarely succeed for long.

Fortunately, there are places to begin where conserving water can actually improve the quality of our daily lives.

POINTLESS DRIPS

No one benefits from the annoying drip of a leaky faucet or from a running toilet, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests that a staggering number of us ignore chronic sources of water waste.

I know this to be true. Not only has our outside faucet been leaking intermittently, but the connection point between two hoses has become a mini-sprinkler. What might seem like mere drops – hardly worth the bother of fixing – adds up.

The leaks in an “average household,” EPA reports, can lead to more than 10,000 gallons of clean water wasted annually. Nationally, that amounts to a loss of 1 trillion gallons – enough to meet the annual household needs of more than 11 million homes.

Household leaks rarely require expensive fixes. They just take a change in mindset.

I’ve made that mental switch with other environmental practices. Having composted food for years, I’m uncomfortable now in settings where that’s not an option.

Vegetable peelings and food scraps no longer seem acceptable to “waste”; they’re a valuable source of soil enrichment that should be put to good use.

Why is it that we don’t all grow up with a similar intuitive sense for the supreme value of clean water – recognizing it as the lifeblood of our bodies and ecosystems?

We speak of house maintenance and yard care responsibilities but never of “water care.”

Banishing drips would be one simple way to demonstrate that care.

REPOWERING THE SHOWER

Showering uses an estimated 1.2 trillion gallons of water each year in the United States, atop the energy required to heat that water.

In a quest to conserve, we initially tried a showerhead with a cut-off valve that could be used to save water while lathering. In a cool bathroom, the comfort tradeoff of this “navy” shower proved too high, and the valve was rarely used.

Shortening a daily shower by one minute can save up to 550 gallons per year, but it turns out that switching to a water-saving showerhead saves markedly more – on the order of 2,900 gallons annually.

But what if a low-flow showerhead fails to do the job? We’ve all experienced the frustration of anemic dribbles too weak to wash off soap.

I finally became convinced to try a showerhead with EPA’s WaterSense label after hearing a plug for one in a professional webinar. If a bureaucrat in a suit couldn’t resist gushing about the wonders of his showerhead, I figured, there must be something to it.

He was right. The new fixture vastly improved every dimension of showering – cover force (what’s needed to wash out shampoo), coverage (how much of your body gets rinsed) and flow (under 2 gallons per minute). Best of all, it felt better.

And the bonus prize? We saved on propane use, easily recouping within months the showerhead’s $21 cost.

GROWING SENSIBLY

Now, it’s time for the next life-improving, water-saving measure: drip irrigation for the vegetable garden.

As meditative as it may be to water the garden by hand, it’s a major water drain and time sink (and not all that contemplative in the midst of black fly season!).

Drip irrigation directs water at a slow and steady pace to plant roots, reducing fungal disease on leaves.

Less water is lost to evaporation so drip irrigation typically requires less than half the volume that overhead watering does.

THE NEXT FRONTIER

While care for water begins in our homes and yards, it must extend out to reshape community practices and design. With the prospect of more intense downpours, we need to find ways to direct rainwater into the ground – rather than having it flow into sewer systems and contaminate waterways with runoff pollution.

A wealth of resources now exist to help engineers, landscape designers, business owners and planners rethink how to manage stormwater – using techniques like rain gardens and materials like porous asphalt.

At the community scale, as in our households, caring for water takes some upfront investment.

But in the dry spells ahead, these measures will shower us in benefits.

Marina Schauffler is a writer who runs Natural Choices (naturalchoices.com).

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Go into growing melons in Maine knowing they’re needy http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/maine-gardener-go-into-growing-melons-in-maine-knowing-theyre-needy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/maine-gardener-go-into-growing-melons-in-maine-knowing-theyre-needy/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=897288 Cantaloupes and watermelons are common garden crops in warmer parts of the country, but we in Maine have to give the flavorful cucurbits a lot of help and tender care to get reliable production.

While most warm-weather crops can be planted outside this weekend, it is still too early to leave these sensitive crops outside on their own.

“I usually plant my seedlings inside around the first of June,” said Adam Tomash, who now lives in West Gardiner but is so dedicated to his melons that when he lived farther north in Bingham he figured out a way to grow melons there. Melon seedlings should be kept in a greenhouse or, if you don’t have one, on a heat mat inside. “I can only keep them in a pot for three weeks, and I don’t like to put them out before the third week in June,” Tomash said.

Because of Maine’s short growing season, you have to select varieties that mature quickly – 85 days or fewer, according to Mark Hutton, a vegetable specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“We in this area are actually very lucky because Dr. Brent Loy at the University of New Hampshire is one of the foremost Eastern melon breeders in this country,” Hutton said. Loy melons include “Sarah’s Choice,” “Halona,” “Passport” and “Diplomat.”

Tomash also likes “Maverick” from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and “Hannah’s Choice” from Fedco, as well as the Loy melons. For watermelon, he prefers “Blacktail Mountain.”

Because it is important to leave the roots undisturbed, Tomash plants his seedlings in half-gallon milk cartons, with both the bottoms and tops cut off – although large peat pots work as well. He puts the cut-off milk cartons in a planting tray, fills them with potting soil and plants his seeds. By the time he is ready to put the seedlings into the garden, the plant roots hold the soil together. He does pull the carton up a bit when he transplants the seedlings into his garden. It acts as a barrier for small predators, and he has written the seed name on the carton so it serves as a label, too.

Although Tomash transplants his seedlings later than Hutton does, the two agree on the methods.

It will take 17 to 28 days to grow your seedlings, and you want to transplant them at the two-leaf stage, Hutton said.

You need dark plastic mulch, and Tomash stresses that it be infra-red transmitting or IRT type, which Johnny’s catalog says was also developed by Loy.

Hutton stressed that you have to smooth the soil where you plant the melons so you can put the plastic mulch flush with the soil, which warms enough soil to enable your melons to grow well.

Melons need a lot of room to ramble. Put your transplants at least 3 feet apart so they won’t compete with each other.

Hutton stressed that you don’t want to fertilize melons heavily early in their growth stage or they’ll produce just leaves and stems rather than fruit.

Put half the standard amount of nitrogen in the soil when you prepare the bed – before the plastic mulch goes down.

To promote root growth, water the transplants initially with a planting solution that is high in phosphorus.

Tomash adds a mix of compost in the hole with his transplants.

Once your melons are planted, put floating row cover – also called spunbond polyester with the brand name Reemay – over the melons. It will both retain heat and protect the melons from insects.

In early July, when the melon plants are reaching the edge of the row cover, they also should be producing blossoms.

At this point, remove the row cover so the plants have room to grow and so pollinators can reach the blossoms. This is the time to add the second half of the nitrogen fertilizer.

Hutton said melons need about an inch of water a week – which is about the average amount of rainfall Maine gets during the summer.

But if a couple of weeks pass without rain, you’ll need to water.

Then watch your melons grow. Tomash recommends lifting the melons off the ground – with bricks or half cardboard milk containers (I’ve also seen plastic lifters for melons in catalogs) – to keep critters like mice from eating the fruit and to give them more sun.

Several hints tell you when the melons are ripe. A ripe melon will be heavier than an unripe melon of the same size.

With cantaloupes, the netting on the skin becomes more pronounced, and you get more of a melon aroma.

If the fruit is difficult to remove from the stem, it is not yet ripe. If it separates too easily, it is over-ripe. But if it separates with just a bit of a twist, it is perfectly ripe.

Watermelons are ripe when they turn yellowish where they touch the ground, the skin gets less shiny and it produces a dull, hollow sound when you gently rap the skin.

Just to fill you in, Tomash’s method of growing melons in Bingham, where the first frost often came in August, involved a 6-by-8-foot cloche or mini-greenhouse, which he lifted a couple of feet above the melons when frost was unlikely.

I decided to write this column to help me figure out if I wanted to grow melons in Maine.

I now know that I won’t do it this year – but next winter I’ll think about if I want to buy all that plastic and devote all that garden space to a crop I can buy easily at farm stands.

Still, maybe you want to try? If you do, let me know how it goes.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at tomatwell@me.com.

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Early in the growing season, expand your eating horizons and buy unfamiliar produce http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/green-plate-special-early-in-the-growing-season-expand-your-eating-horizons-and-buy-unfamiliar-produce-at-the-farmers-market/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/green-plate-special-early-in-the-growing-season-expand-your-eating-horizons-and-buy-unfamiliar-produce-at-the-farmers-market/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=897297 Fairwinds Farm of Bowdoinham came to the Brunswick Farmers’ Market recently with asparagus crowns and strawberry plugs in tow. These crowns (dormant plants that resemble a sea creature with roots for tentacles and a head in the middle from where the spears will eventually sprout) and plugs (small plants with their roots entwined in a bit of soil for easy planting) were on offer more out of Yankee sensibility than any green eating tenet. The farmers had simply run out of room on the farm to plant them and thought someone else could use them, the woman working the cash box explained.

I didn’t buy either, but I bring them up to make a point. A lot of weird and wonderful things are on offer at early outdoor markets in Maine.

Enterprising farmers present shoppers with overwintered items that got sweeter as they aged (spring parsnips that spent the winter months underground and, in doing so, metabolized some of their starch to sugar) or more interesting as they evolve (purple puffball chive flowers and the kale and spicy mustard green “rabe” Six River Farm sells after the plants they’ve grown all winter in high tunnels bolt and produce leggy flowers). They offer possibly new-to-you perennial herbs (like sorrel, lovage, lemon catnip) or present items foraged from the edges of fields (like the young nettle leaves Whatley Farm had bagged up for sale.)

Selling these out-of-the-ordinary items helps farmers bulk up their stands with offerings different from the hothouse greens and cellared root vegetables we’ve been blessed with (but maybe, too, grown a bit bored with) all winter long. And they help bridge the financial gap farmers experience between planting summer crops and reaping the income they will bring come July.

Nothing speaks to sustainable food production more noisily than putting your money where your mouth is to support the local farming community.

Market shoppers, be they old-fashioned cooks or trendy ones, snatch up the ramps and fiddleheads, the asparagus spears and rhubarb stalks. But the odder-ball offerings are many times left on vendor tables at the closing bell.

The farmers I spoke with tell me there is no exact scientific or economic formula for the out-of-the ordinary items they bring to market in early spring. “It’s more a conversation about all the things we’d like to try and then coming back to reality in terms of what we’ve got time and space to grow,” Ailish Kress of Whatley Farm said.

Consider bringing a bag, bunch or bundle of the weird and wonderful items home with you. It helps the farmer, and you might even enjoy the experimentation. If you get stuck in the kitchen with any of these extraordinary local food items, drop me a line. I’m happy to help.

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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Craft beer goes back to its Maine roots http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/craft-beer-goes-back-to-its-maine-roots/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/craft-beer-goes-back-to-its-maine-roots/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:18 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/craft-beer-goes-back-to-its-maine-roots/ In the world of wine, it’s fashionable to talk about terroir – that sense of place that local climate, soils and terrain impart to the taste of a wine. But craft brewers are now dealing in terroir as well, hearkening back to the days when beer was made by communities and not big corporations.

“Historically, brewers would have used ingredients that were available to them, which would have been local ingredients,” Rob Tod, founder of Allagash Brewing Co., said in a recent interview. “And that’s how you had different beer styles pop up in different parts of the world because they were much more restricted in the raw materials they could get.”

Allagash beer has always had a strong Maine identity, but Tod is taking things a step farther with “Sixteen Counties,” sold in 750 ml cork and cage bottles for about $9 at Whole Foods Market.

“We actually source all of our barley, wheat and oats from Maine small farmers,” Tod said. “And the barley, not only is it grown in Maine, it’s malted in Maine. There’s so much Maine in that beer.”

The malted barley comes from Maine Malt House in Mapleton and Blue Ox in Lisbon Falls. Aurora Mills Organic in Linneus provides the oats, and the unmalted wheat comes from the Maine Grain Alliance in Skowhegan.

The beer, according to Allagash, “opens with herbal hop notes, wheat-cracker, and citrus and ends with a balanced, dry finish.” I definitely detected the hop notes and citrus, as well as a strong taste of cloves that dissipated the longer the open bottle rested. It’s great beer for summer, but will be available all year round.

Allagash is donating some of the sales from Sixteen Counties to Maine organizations that support small, sustainable farming. More than $20,000 so far has been donated to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Maine Grain Alliance and the Maine Farmland Trust.

— Meredith Goad

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Organic conundrum: Farm-to-label path too rocky for some http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/organic-conundrum-farm-to-label-path-too-rocky-for-some/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/organic-conundrum-farm-to-label-path-too-rocky-for-some/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=888831 Each year the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes a multimillion-dollar fund available to help farmers and producers obtain organic certification. This year’s kitty for the federal organic cost-share program totals over $12 million and could defray as much as 75 percent of a farmer’s total certification costs.

But some Maine farmers who grow food using traditionally organic methods, or close to it, aren’t interested. In interviews, the reasons they cited include not being fans of government regulation, not wanting to spend the money – even with what amounts to a deep discount in the form of a rebate – or not wanting to deal with the annual paperwork. Like Bill Hinck of Meadowood Farm in Yarmouth, who gave up his organic certification a few years ago.

“It used to be like that,” he said, pinching his fingers together to pantomime a stack of paperwork about an inch high. Standing in front of his produce and flower truck at Portland Farmers’ Market, he said his partner Don Beckwith would spend a whole day filling it out every year when they were certified. Then when USDA established standards for organic growing and processing in 2002, that pile began to get bigger. “Now it is partway up to here,” he said, extending his fingers to indicate an imaginary pile 4 or 5 inches thick.

When they gave up their certification, Meadowood lost customers. “Some natural food stores and restaurants,” Hinck said. “Even though I wasn’t doing anything different.”

Hinck estimates they lost about $10,000 a year in annual sales, as a result, and not just in wholesale. “Are you organic?” customers ask him every single Wednesday and Saturday when he hits the Portland markets, where he has been a vendor since 1985. For 28 years, he was an organic farmer, but now he tells them no, he’s “all natural.”

Maybe they walk away, maybe not. The wholesale customers he lost offered to pay for his certification, which would be administered as usual by MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

He’s also aware that the government would happily pay for most of the costs associated with organic certification. But Meadowood Farm is done with that.

“We were tired of jumping through hoops,” Hinck said.

Yet Hinck and Beckwith remain members of MOFGA, which began certifying Maine farmers as organic back in 1972, using the Rodale Organic Garden certification guidelines. For many of these farmers, those certifications were the real deal. They remain loyal to MOFGA as an institution. “We believe in it,” Hinck said.

UNITY, ME - MAY 17: Joan Cheetham, a certification specialist with the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, reviews an organic farmer's renewal application at the MOFGA offices in Unity on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. Farmers have to renew their organic certification annually. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)

Joan Cheetham, a certification specialist with the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, reviews an organic farmer’s renewal application at the MOFGA offices in Unity. Farmers have to renew their organic certification annually. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE

If a farmer made between $60,000 and $100,000 annually, the fee paid to MOFGA, which does the vast majority of organic certification in Maine, would be $1,050. After the federal rebate, which takes about three months to come through, his or her annual cost would be only $300.

Why is the government so generous?

First and foremost, America needs more organic growers. It’s the biggest sector of growth in the food world, generating $39 billion in sales annually in the United States, according to USDA spokesman Samuel Jones-Ellard. Sales have tripled since 2005. But the acreage of organic farms hasn’t tripled. Less than one percent of U.S. cropland is certified organic. The same is true of U.S. pasture land.

“There are supply and demand issues,” Jones-Ellard said. “Consumer demand is certainly soaring.” One supply issue? Grains. You can’t raise organic beef or produce organic milk without organic feed for livestock during the winter, and not enough American farmers are growing that. “We are having to import a lot of that from other countries,” Jones-Ellard said.

Estimates of how much exactly vary, but the USDA reported total organic imports of $1.4 billion in 2013, including coffee, bananas and olive oil, from more than 100 other countries. The carbon footprint involved doesn’t exactly fit with the sustainability model that is so philosophically essential to organic production.

The USDA has been running the cost-sharing program for organics since 2002, but the 2014 Farm Bill authorized a doubling of the funds available nationally (Maine is one of 15 states to have access to an additional USDA funding source because the state has traditionally had such low crop subsidies). And USDA understands that it has a reputation for creating paperwork.

“We have, of course, heard a lot that the paperwork was burdensome,” Jones-Ellard said. In the past two years the agency has worked to streamline the process, creating videos and tip sheets to walk producers through it. “It has gotten a lot better in recent years, and hopefully that will bring more producers into the fold.”

It may well be working – between 2014 and 2015, he said, the USDA tracked a 5 percent bump in domestic organic operations.

A sign for produce at a Portland Farmers' Market booth is labeled certified organic. Farmers who choose not to be certified say they lose customers, even though they are farming the same way they did when they were certified.

A sign for produce at a Portland Farmers’ Market booth is labeled certified organic. Farmers who choose not to be certified say they lose customers, even though they are farming the same way they did when they were certified.

ROOM TO GROW

There doesn’t appear to be any major crisis of faith in organic certification going on; MOFGA’s interim director of certification services, Kate Newkirk, said the numbers of Maine farms going organic has been steadily increasing, about “7 to 8 percent” annually. Certification of organic processors is growing more rapidly. “We’ve seen a big boost in processors in the last year,” she said. MOFGA, which does the vast majority of organic certifying in Maine, hired another part-time staff member last year to handle the extra work.

But room exists for even greater growth of organic agriculture. In the most recent full Farm Census of 2012, Maine had 8,174 farms. In a 2014 survey specifically tailored to organics, 517 of Maine farms were either certified organic or exempt from certification (if your sales are under $5,000 annually, certification is not required), up from 379 in the 2008 survey. (Nationally there are 21,781 organic farms in the U.S.; in 2006 there were 11,904.)

No one knows exactly how many farmers follow organic processes but don’t bother with certification, or rather, at least not with the USDA designation for organic. Newkirk is well aware they’re out there.

“Usually it is a personal thing, and they are not interested in certifying,” she said. “They just don’t believe in it.”

Does that tend to be older farmers, who took part in the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and ’70s?

No, she says.

“I think it is across the board,” Newkirk said. “Nobody likes to do paperwork.”

In 2004, when she started at MOFGA, she admits, it was a lot of paperwork. Now s-he said, the majority of the 480 producers and growers MOFGA certifies are in a database that allows them to simply update last year’s numbers. Eventually, if they can fund the conversion, everybody could be online (except the Amish farmers who don’t use computers). But patience is required and always will be. To get certified is a three-year process and there will be plenty of paperwork.

“The first time is going to take you a while,” she said. “It is really a management plan.”

NEW BEAT, OLD DRUM

That’s how farmer Adrienne Lee of New Beat Farm views it. She and her husband, Ken, started their Knox farm in 2008 and always planned to be organic. And official about it.

“I feel like certification makes you be an accountable farmer,” she said. “Yeah, it is a little bit of paperwork in the springtime. But it helps keep you honest as a small-business owner.”

By way of example, she said, “you can always say you are going to rotate your crops or only buy organic seed, but when it comes to making those hard choices as a farmer, that’s an area where if you’re not held accountable, you might not.” As she points out, organic seed is twice as expensive. If it’s been a hard year, maybe you’d cut corners.

But the initial outlay for the certification has definite financial benefits. Studies indicate that organic farmers make better profits, even though they typically produce lower yields. Two Washington State University professors who crunched the numbers found in a study released last year that organic farmers are able to get a premium between 29 to 32 percent above non-organic farmers. Not that they’re making tons of money, but customers are, at this point, willing to pay more for organic.

For Lee, there’s another reason. She considers herself part of a movement, and she wants to stand up and be counted. “You want to have a mass of people if we are going to make a change,” Lee said.

888831_383291 mofgalabel.jpg

MOFGA began certifying Maine farmers as organic back in 1972.

NATURAL ALTERNATIVES

Organic certification is not the only seal of approval in the natural growing world. Others include Certified Humane, Biodynamic and Non-GMO Project Verified. There are five Maine farms or producers who have opted for the Certified Naturally Grown (or CNG certification). It was started in 2002 as an alternative to the USDA’s national program, a form of rebellion for organic farmers who didn’t want to pay the government for a seal they felt they already deserved.

For Plymouth farmer Carol Hayes, being CNG has been a far cheaper alternative. She and her husband, Bill, have 40 acres and five greenhouses, where they grow year round. “It’s like $110 now,” she said. “And that would be the suggested donation. They work with you if you can’t make the payment all at once.”

Her Dilly Dally Organic Farm was certified by MOFGA until about 10 years ago when they were audited by MOFGA’s certification team.

“We were selling some stuff we shouldn’t have been selling,” Hayes admits. She had a different partner then, and he was buying produce elsewhere and selling it at Dilly Dally. “They busted us on it,” she said.

They set things straight and switched to CNG and she stuck with it, even after she eventually sent the partner packing.

“We do the same things they do for the organic, we just don’t have the USDA organic certification,” she said. Customers don’t mind, she said. Recently she said, Dilly Dally got a letter from MOFGA asking if it wanted to be certified organic again.

“We talked and we just decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. Our customers know us and trust us.”

But what about the farm’s full name, Dilly Dally Organic Farm?

“No one has said anything about it,” Hayes said. “Back in 2000, we knew it (USDA regulation) was coming down the pike so we made sure we put it in the name.”

THE FOOD POLICE

Newkirk said it’s not uncommon for farms to leave the organic fold. “A lot of people use certification to start their markets,” she said. When they have a strong customer base, then they cease the certification process. MOFGA doesn’t serve as the organic police; that job falls to USDA’s National Organic Program.

“They can stop by and check on those guys,” Newkirk said. “They don’t normally, but they have looked at some operations in the state.”

That worries Hinck enough so that he avoids even using the word organic, fearful of penalties. Which are steep. Jones-Ellard said they start at $11,000. But a warning is issued before any enforcement.

“We would reach out to the company and educate them, and typically what would happen is they either get certified or they would stop making that claim,” Jones-Ellard said.

All it takes is a walk through a farmers market listening to the word “organic” flying through the air to see that some consumers do their own form of policing. Even when farmers have stands that bear the MOFGA emblem, they’re likely to be subjected to quizzing. And for the farms that merely say “natural” or nothing at all, there are more questions.

Mark Heidmann of Maple Springs Farm, who generally parks his truck a few over from Hinck’s at Portland Farmers’ Market, started farming organically decades ago. But he’s no longer certified.

“I believe in the ideals of the original organic movement, but as it got taken over and regulated by the government, some of what I thought were the most valuable parts of it got overlooked,” Heidmann said.

He’s happy to talk to inquisitive customers about his methods, which he calls “environmentally sensitive farming.”

But some of them give him lectures. Misinformed lectures that indicate how desirable but complex the word “organic” is in today’s marketplace.

“They tell me organic farmers don’t spray anything,” he said.

He shook his head. Because actually, organic farmers can and sometimes do treat their crops. From a list of natural and yes, even synthetic substances approved by the government.

 

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Grow: Zinnias http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/grow-zinnias/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/grow-zinnias/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=888855 Zinnias are of the most rewarding flowers to grow. They look great in the garden – with bright, daisy-shaped flowers – and make excellent cut flowers.

Zinnias do not like to be transplanted. They work best if seeded directly into the garden. If you do want to get a jump on the season, plant them in peat pots and plant pot and all.

They need full sun and well-drained soil. What zinnias don’t need is a lot of fertilizer.

Plant the seeds about a quarter-inch deep. Read the back of the package for how far apart to plant them; the most common distance is 6 inches apart, though taller varieties will need more room.

Zinnias attract butterflies and other pollinators, but they also attract Japanese beetles. Since the Japanese beetles were not as bad last year as they have been, we are giving zinnias another try this year.

– Tom Atwell

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When you’re lacking an ingredient, don’t dash to the store, make do http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/green-plate-special-when-youre-lacking-an-ingredient-dont-just-run-out-to-the-store-make-do/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/green-plate-special-when-youre-lacking-an-ingredient-dont-just-run-out-to-the-store-make-do/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=888882 ‘Mise en place” is a French culinary term that means “putting in place.” In professional kitchens, it refers to the cook organizing and arranging the ingredients she’ll use for the duration of her shift on the line. But the term translates well into the home kitchen, too, in that it’s always a good idea to read a recipe before embarking on it in part to make sure you’ve got all the ingredients on hand.

But what if you don’t? Say it’s your aunt’s chewy cherry-chocolate chip cookie recipe but you’ve only got dried cranberries in the cupboard? Do you hop in the car to get the cherries as a purist? Do you flop on the couch with the chocolate chips as a defeatist? Or, ever the pragmatist, do you dive into the recipe with the cranberries?

The couch potato may be the greenest option as he’ll spend neither human nor non-renewable energies making the recipe. But he won’t eat cookies either. The realist gets the best of both worlds.

Being a successful culinary substituter requires knowing how ingredients behave in recipes and understanding that all swaps change the result, even if only slightly. Knowing all dried fruits have low moisture levels and high flavor impact means a 1:1 substitution in the cookie example above would work just fine, though the cookies will have a tangier taste.

But say you had fresh cherries in the fridge? You could use those, too, if you make an allowance for the fact that they are moister than dried. You could either add a little flour to keep the batter tight or allow for a bit more spread on the cookie sheet, resulting in a crispy, not chewy cookie.

“What if I don’t have X?” is the most common question I get asked during my cooking classes. Over the past seven years, I’ve developed my Top Ten Ingredient Substitutions List.

If your recipe calls for kosher salt and you only have table salt, use half of the amount specified.

• One cup of self-rising flour equals 1 cup all-purpose flour plus 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of table salt.

• One cup of granulated sugar whizzed for about 90 seconds in a food processor or blender with 1 teaspoon cornstarch will give you 1¾ cups confectioners’ sugar.

• Maple syrup is sweeter than white sugar so use only ¾ cup when the recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar.

• When baking, reduce the liquid the recipe calls for (say milk or buttermilk) by ¼ cup and add a large pinch of baking soda to offset acidity.

• One cup of light brown sugar equals 1 cup granulated sugar mixed well with 1 tablespoon molasses; bump it up to 2 tablespoons if you need dark brown sugar.

• Take 3 tablespoons from 1 cup of fat-free milk, replace it with 3 tablespoons melted butter to get a good match for whole milk. )

• Stirring 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar into 1 cup of milk (at least 2 percent milk fat) is a good approximation for buttermilk.

• To get the punch 1 tablespoon tomato paste allows, add 3 tablespoons of tomato sauce and cut the liquid in the recipe by 2 tablespoons or, if the recipe allows, simmer the sauce to a paste.

• One tablespoon of prepared mustard will work in place of 1 teaspoon of dry if you also subtract 1 teaspoon of liquid from the recipe.

• One teaspoon minced jalapeño or serrano chili pepper equals 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce equals ¾ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes equals ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper.

While I don’t have substitutions for all ingredients in my head, I do have them at my fingertips in a dog-eared copy of “The Food Substitutions Bible by David Joachim.” This is an encyclopedic listing of over 6,500 food stuffs, their practical substitutions, and the replacement ratios by which your recipes will work just fine. Substituting in this way is deeply rooted in old school Yankee mentality. Throw in the CO2 savings of not running to the store, and the practice pulls double duty in the green eating category, too.

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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In radio, on film, Caroline Losneck’s stories teem with sustainable subjects http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/in-radio-on-film-caroline-losnecks-stories-teem-with-sustainable-subjects/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/in-radio-on-film-caroline-losnecks-stories-teem-with-sustainable-subjects/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=888897 We first heard of Caroline Losneck when “Diving for Scallops,” the mesmerizing film she and Christoph Gelfand made about a Maine scallop diver, popped up on the New York Times website as part of its Op-Docs series. Source had interviewed and photographed that same diver, Jamie Sewell, in a story about the sustainability of the scallop fishery. The film was lush with ambient sound, and the way it took viewers below the surface, both figuratively and literally, reminded us of the old adage about pictures being worth a thousand words. We called Losneck up to talk about her multimedia work – she produces radio pieces for Marketplace and MPBN in radio and makes documentary installations – and learned about how she lives the hustle as a creative type.

HOW SHE DESCRIBES HERSELF: It’s complicated. She’s not purely a filmmaker. Or purely a radio producer. “I work at the intersections of documentary radio, film and installation.” But rarely alone. “I’m fortunate and honored to have found creative (and inspiring!) partners …Working alongside other artists and filmmakers allows me to take creative risks I’m not sure I’d take if I were working alone.”

REELING THEM IN: How did she and Gelfand land the coveted spot on the New York Times website? “I had been kind of watching the Op-Docs series and really admiring some of the work that was coming out of there. … They didn’t seem like they would prohibit you from taking certain risks.” So she pitched, and editors there said they liked the idea. It took six months from then to get the film finished and up on the site.

A FISH TALE: She’s done pieces for public radio’s Marketplace on the Maine shrimp fishery as well as scallops (the latter led her to Sewell, who dives for scalloƒps even though he has only one arm) and co-partnered with Gelfand on an immersive documentary installation called Fyke Tide, which debuted as part of the 2013 Camden International Film Festival. For that, she spent some time with elver fishermen. It’s loaded with gems, including the fisherman who tells her he loves the profits but prefers cod and tuna fishing to elvers “because you get to kill them, gut them out, blood and guts.” One compared the highly regulated elvers to weeds in the garden, about which his father had said he’d never pull the last one. “There will always be another one, just like the eels.”

THREE ISLANDS: Losneck’s professional biography says she grew up in Cleveland on the shores of Lake Erie, has lived on three islands and “isn’t afraid to live on another.” We asked her to identify them. Vancouver Island (in British Columbia), Whidbey (in Puget Sound) and Peaks in Casco Bay. How did she land on the first? “In college there was a study-abroad program to study fisheries and forestry,” she said (her degree from Oberlin is in environmental science). “And I studied on Vancouver Island at the Huu-ay-aht First Nation Reserve.” Logging had all but destroyed the habitat of the native fisheries. “It’s not just the fishing. There is also so much cultural stuff that comes with the loss of the fisheries.”

IT’S ALL ACADEMIC: It was frustrating observing life on the reservation from outside it. “It was mostly 30 white kids in Gore-Tex coats studying with very little interaction with the reservation.” Eight of the group got a grant to stay longer and moved onto the reservation for the summer. Then Losneck stayed on for another year and a half. Was it that time studying Canadian First Nation fisheries that made her so open to Maine fish tales? Lately, she’s come to think it goes deeper, to the weekends she spent with her dad on his sailboat on Lake Erie. Back then, when they were getting up early and fishing for perch and dealing with the bait worms and her brother was annoying her, “I’d dread it.” But now she recognizes how soothing it was. “Looking back, I would die to have that opportunity again.”

SWITCHING COASTS: She came to Maine in 2000, on something of a whim. As a young person, she had started feeling isolated on the reservation; many of the tribe’s younger members had left to find work elsewhere. “As much as it was amazing, I was lonely for something.” Her brother was living on Peaks with a girlfriend, and she decided to join him. Her first job in Portland was with AmeriCorps/VISTA, working at the Maine Coalition for Food Security in the Peace and Justice Center, which at that point housed a number of nonprofits, including the Toxic Action Center. She also got to know her new city by delivering food for Federal Spice on her bicycle, “which was appropriate because I am still a bicycle commuter.”

ON NATURE’S SIDE: The outdoors lures her. “It doesn’t have to be Acadia,” she said. “It could be a walk I take into town and the sound of the leaves blowing. My outside time is when I feel the clearest. I understand that my mental health is really closely tied to being outside.” Everyone, she said, deserves that. “Whether you are rich or poor, it is an easy thing we should provide to everybody.”

MOVIE MAKING: It wasn’t until she moved to Maine that she began to explore the medium of film, taking classes from Kate Kaminski (founder of the Bluestocking Film Series) at the University of Southern Maine. One of her upcoming projects is an animated film “that involves climate change in Maine.” She’s loath to say too much about it yet. But it intrigues her the way the conversation about climate change rocks our emotional world. “We are a quick society so we have a quick answer for most things. But this is sort of an ongoing conversation that some people aren’t comfortable with, because they’re thinking, ‘When can we stop having this conversation?’ and the answer is, ‘probably never.’ ”

AMERICAN HUSTLE: None of this work sounds particularly profitable. How does she make a living? “It’s a bit of a hustle being 100 percent independent,” she said. “It is really hard. Every week is completely different. My schedule is wacky because I take jobs whenever I can.” That might mean painting houses or cleaning someone’s Airbnb rental. “I have little jobs scattered all over the place.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 2:43 p.m. on May 23 to clarify that Losneck studied Canadian First Nation fisheries.

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Dahlias take a little work, but they’re worth it http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/maine-gardener-dahlias-take-a-little-work-but-theyre-worth-it/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/maine-gardener-dahlias-take-a-little-work-but-theyre-worth-it/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=888915 Dahlias are one of my wife Nancy’s favorite cut flowers, with big blossoms in many colors and in 19 different shapes. While a perennial in warmer climates, they are not winter hardy in Maine, so they involve a lot of work. But they are worth it.

Judy Stallworth of West Bath grows dahlias because she loves them. As a side benefit, she cuts the blossoms to be used on the tables of the Portland restaurants owned by her son, Harding Lee Smith, so she grows more of them than most gardeners would need.

Stallworth, who is treasurer of the Garden Club Federation of Maine, and Suzanne Bushnell, the president of the club, spoke about dahlias for the Cape Elizabeth Garden Club in April. Though I attended, I forgot to take notes, so I telephoned her recently to refresh my memory.

Depending on where you live, you should plant your dahlias about now.

“You want to plant them after all danger of frost,” Stallworth said. “The soil should be 60 degrees.”

Dahlias grow from tubers, although they are sometimes called bulbs, that often sprout eyes during storage. Many people will plant tubers in pots indoors to get a jump on the season, and most local nurseries will have dahlia plants for sale now.

Stallworth says she buys locally whenever she can. One of her favorite bulb dealers is Endless Summer Flower Farm in Camden, and she will buy others as plants at local nurseries. Nationally one of the biggest dealers is Swan Island Dahlias in Oregon, and Nancy and I love the heritage bulbs sold by Old House Gardens in Michigan.

Stallworth said that some catalogs send you a clump of several dahlia bulbs, but Swan Island and Endless Summer send you just one tuber.

Dahlias need at least six to eight hours of sun every day and rich, well-drained soil. Stallworth gets a soil test done just about every year, and when the test says she is low on nitrogen, she adds cow manure. She does not add a lot of nitrogen during the growing season.

The tubers should be planted about 6 inches deep with the eyes pointing up. How far apart depends on how tall the dahlia grows. Bedding dahlias can be about a foot apart, while the tallest ones – some about 6 feet – should be planted about 3 feet apart.

“The secret is to plant them and don’t water them until they sprout up out of the ground,” Stallworth said. “A lot of people drown them by watering too early.”

But once the vegetation shows, dahlias need a lot of water.

Before you buy your dahlias, you must decide how you are going to use them. The huge dinner-plate blossoms are stunning in the garden, but they don’t work as cut flowers.

Catalogs usually will describe the dahlias as either being good as cut flowers or good in the garden.

Cutting dahlias actually gets the plant to produce more blossoms, and you have to deadhead the spent blossoms or the plant will stop producing.

Stallworth cuts the flowers early in the morning, placing the stems immediately in a bucket of hot water and letting them sit for a couple of hours before moving them to vases.

While some people treat dahlias as annuals, most gardeners will dig up the tubers and save them for the next year. This is where the hard work comes in, and it can be tricky.

You shouldn’t dig the dahlias until a week or two after they have been hit by a couple of hard frosts, Stallworth said. Otherwise the bulbs will continue growing once dug and then rot. After you get them out you have to shake the soil off and let them dry for a few days.

At this point, she says, it is important to separate the mother bulb from the children. The original bulb will not produce the same plant and flowers again, but the offspring bulbs will maintain the original character.

“The mothers all revert to orangey red and they don’t have strong stems,” she said. “If I get that orangey red, I throw that whole plant away because it is never going to get any better.”

She advises against procrastinating until spring, because it is easier to differentiate between the mother and children in the fall. The mother bulb will be fatter and darker, and maybe a bit wrinkled.

Some people hose the tubers down, leave them on a tarp in the garage overnight and bring them out in the sunlight during the day to dry out. It’s a good idea to write the variety (if you remember it) or at least the color on the tuber with indelible ink so you know what you have when you plant next year.

Once the tubers are completely dry, move them to a cool, dry place where they won’t freeze – and get ready to start the cycle all over again.

For now, though, I’m just looking forward to the blossoms.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at tomatwell@me.com.

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Legwork: Portland attorney’s tandem mission is to practice bike law, and push it, too http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/legwork-portland-attorneys-tandem-mission-practice-bike-law-and-push-it-too/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/legwork-portland-attorneys-tandem-mission-practice-bike-law-and-push-it-too/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=889104 Here’s proof that Maine has come of age as a cycling hot spot: We now have an attorney who focuses her practice on bicycle law. Lauri Boxer-Macomber of Portland is gaining a national reputation for her advocacy on behalf of cyclists, pedestrians and other so-called vulnerable users.

As chair of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s legislation and policy committee, Boxer-Macomber has helped craft proposals to improve Maine laws for bicycling and walking.

She played a crucial role in passage of a 2013 law that holds motorists accountable when they hit cyclists or roller skiers. The law says that doing so is “prima facie evidence” that they violated Maine’s requirement to give at least 3 feet of clearance when passing.

Maine is believed to be the first state in the country to pass such a law, and it is considered a national model, said Peter Wilborn, founder of the national Bike Law network.

The field of bicycle law has grown substantially in the past 20 years. Many states have passed laws spelling out the rights and responsibilities of cyclists and motorists so that they can safely share the road. A growing number of personal injury lawyers now advertise themselves as bike lawyers.

Since Wilborn founded Bike Law in 1998, he has fielded requests from about five Maine lawyers who wanted to join the network. He turned them down because they didn’t fit his definition of a true “bike lawyer” – someone who not only rides a bike and represents cyclists, but also cares passionately about improving cycling laws.

Wilborn said he invited Boxer-Macomber in January to become the first Maine lawyer in Bike Law because “she is a very, very unusual combination of a lawyer whose heart and brain are 100 percent aligned.”

“She is smart as hell, and she is a true believer,” Wilborn said. “She is going to be very influential on the national stage.”

Boxer-Macomber is a lifelong bicyclist who commutes by bike from her Deering Highlands home to her downtown office most of the year. She earned a master’s in community development and a law degree in Davis, California; living in that bicycling mecca opened her eyes to the way that good infrastructure encourages people to use their bikes to get around.

Boxer-Macomber sees her work on behalf of safe walking and bicycling as part of a movement for social change. She notes that many Mainers don’t have cars because of their age, disability or low income, and she says they “deserve safe and affordable access to the roadways.” She also points out that promoting active transportation helps address problems such as public health and climate change.

Boxer-Macomber donates a lot of time to the cause. She has given talks about bicycle laws to everyone from trial lawyers to police and the Maine Biking Belles, a group of women, trans and femme bicyclists in Portland.

Boxer-Macomber practices law at the Portland firm of Kelly, Remmel & Zimmerman. More than a decade ago, she represented a teenage girl who was walking with her mother near their home in Maine when she was hit by a car and seriously injured. That case led to more referrals, and five years ago, Boxer-Macomber began concentrating her law practice on representing cyclists and pedestrians. She has had many cases where cyclists were hit at intersections by motorists turning left, or cut off by motorists taking right-hand turns in front of them. She’s also handled several cases of pedestrians injured in commercial areas such as parking lots.

If a cyclist crashes because of road conditions, municipalities usually have immunity. But Boxer-Macomber said that might not be the case if road crews fail to properly mark a hazard such as a big pothole. Or drivers could be at fault if their car or truck dropped something on the road that led to the crash.

Wilborn, the national bike law expert, has conferred with Boxer-Macomber on some cases.

“There is no one that I know of that is better than she is,” he said. “Her factual, legal, technical analysis of bike crashes is world class.”

Boxer-Macomber’s involvement with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine includes working with police to ensure enforcement of bicycle and pedestrian laws. She did research that helped lead to passage of Maine’s vulnerable users law last year.

Boxer-Macomber said she often meets lawyers who are surprised to learn that there are enough Maine cyclists and pedestrians being hurt to focus her practice on that area. In 2015, 182 cyclists and 276 pedestrians were involved in crashes with motor vehicles. Nineteen pedestrians died. Almost all of the cyclists and the other pedestrians were injured.

“We kind of accept that there are crashes,” Boxer-Macomber said. “We need people to stand up and say, ‘No, it’s not OK for anyone to be hit.’ ”

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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A new approach to community food systems integrates conservation-minded land trusts http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/sea-change-a-new-approach-to-community-food-systems-integrates-conservation-minded-land-trusts/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/sea-change-a-new-approach-to-community-food-systems-integrates-conservation-minded-land-trusts/#comments Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=877794 Nourishing food should be critical staple in every Maine kitchen, but it is not. One in four Maine children struggles to get enough to eat.

The number of Maine residents who cannot consistently afford healthy food is growing. Many of those facing food insecurity are working poor who contend with low and stagnant wages, chronic underemployment and costly basic expenses.

Food insecurity undermines both physical and mental health. Cheap, empty calories often take the place of wholesome foods, aggravating conditions like obesity and diabetes. Hunger can also undermine learning, sabotaging students’ capacity for concentration and cognitive development.

In an effort to free Mainers from food insecurity, Good Shepherd Food Bank – the state’s largest hunger relief organization – works with 600 food pantries, schools, churches and other social service providers. Now Kristen Miale, Good Shepherd’s visionary and energetic president, is expanding the circle.

“We’re starting to see worlds converging,” she recently told 400 attendees at the annual Maine Land Conservation Conference in a keynote speech on building community food systems. Maine has 90 land trusts that could revitalize local agricultural production, helping the state regain its former title as New England’s breadbasket.

In the coming decade, an estimated 400,000 acres of Maine farmland will change hands as aging farmers retire. For younger farmers to take over, they need affordable acreage. Land trusts can help facilitate this transition by purchasing agricultural easements.

Easements protect farmland in perpetuity while compensating farmers for the development rights they voluntarily relinquish. Funding through the Maine Community Foundation is helping more land trusts obtain grants to acquire farmland easements.

Lee Dassler is executive director of Western Foothills Land Trust, one of many local trusts benefiting from this program administered through Maine Farmland Trust. She’s excited to be working on two farmland easements, increasing “Maine’s capacity to feed itself.” Maine Farmland Trust has created “very sophisticated metrics to determine priority farms,” she says, keyed to both acreage and the presence of prime agricultural soils.

Kennebec Estuary Land Trust is completing its second farmland easement and has just begun managing an outdoor classroom garden adjoining a school in Bath. Working with Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and other regional partners, the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust established the Merrymeeting Food Council, a collective effort to support a resilient local food system. Looking at land in terms of food security, says the land trust’s executive director Carrie Kinne, “pushes the conversation. You end up talking about everything.”

“Everything” is precisely what Miale is working to manage, looking beyond food production to storage and distribution. Good Shepherd is converting a huge former newspaper printing plant in Hampden into a cold-storage facility for Maine root crops, as well as perishables like meat and dairy.

This facility will supply fresh foods to needy residents in northern and eastern Maine, while boosting local agriculture. Greater food production requires adequate cold storage, trucking and – most fundamentally – a reliable market. Miale wants to tap the extensive purchasing power of New England’s food banks to generate consistent demand for Maine farm products.

Good Shepherd already contracts with farmers to supply fresh produce for the food bank network. Its Mainers Feeding Mainers program guarantees a predictable revenue stream for farmers while offering flexibility (such as taking misshapen produce or a crop substitute). Last year, the program supplied 2 million pounds of local produce to Maine food banks, which Miale estimates is more than the volume of all of Maine’s farmers markets combined.

Beyond structural changes in production and distribution, Miale advocates approaches to hunger relief that go beyond providing basic food needs: “It’s not as simple as ‘go get a job,’ ” she says, when people are trapped in a web of circumstances that makes them feel devalued. People in poverty, like everyone else, need, in her words, to “feel safe, loved and have a sense of belonging.”

Engagement with the land can offer that sense of connection, Miale noted. Just minutes after her keynote ended, conference organizers presented an award to Tom Settlemire, who has helped his home community of Brunswick immeasurably through a property he was instrumental in saving – Crystal Spring Farm.

Under Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust ownership, this 320-acre property supports a vibrant farmers market, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation, and an organic community garden offering 80 plots and a solar-powered irrigation system.

The Tom Settlemire Community Garden has a plot dedicated to providing fresh produce – about 3,000 pounds each season – to the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program. Recently, the land trust created a scholarship fund that offers garden space, seeds, mentoring and even cooking advice to those in need who want to learn how to grow food.

The seeds that land trusts are planting to strengthen community food resilience could bear great fruit for Maine. “Convince me that you have a seed there,” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Marina Schauffler is a writer who runs Natural Choices (naturalchoices.com).

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Child’s first taste of gardening should be sweet http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/maine-gardener-childs-first-taste-of-gardening-should-be-sweet/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/maine-gardener-childs-first-taste-of-gardening-should-be-sweet/#comments Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=877728 Children are naturally attracted to plants. They pick dandelions and bring them inside, gather maple seeds and watch them helicopter to the ground and happily pick all kinds of berries as long as they can eat them right away.

Children also like to play in the dirt, digging holes and making roads for toy cars, damming up small streams and building hills or castles.

Since gardening combines the attraction to plants and to soil, it should be easy to get children interested in gardening.

But parents can make mistakes. My wife, Nancy, and I did with our own two children, and neither of them spend much time gardening now that they’re grown – although our son has shown a bit of interest in spurts.

Gardening is important for children. It gives them a connection to the earth and lets them know that everything is connected: soil, insects, earthworms, mammals, birds and the quality of air and water. Through gardening they can learn about pollination, pollution, nutrition, success and failure. A garden is a lesson in life.

The most important thing in getting children to enjoy plants is to give each child his or her own garden. It can be small, as little as one container with one type of plant for very young children. The child should have a say in what to grow but be led to something that is easy to grow. You don’t want them to fail in their first attempt. Also, if it’s food she wants to grow, plant something she likes to eat so she’ll be rewarded at the end of the work. If flowers, pick something dramatic like a sunflower. And plan for a garden where results are quick, like radishes and lettuce, which can be picked within a couple of months of planting, and nasturtiums, which bloom quickly.

A child’s garden should be prime space. It should have good soil, in full sun and as close as possible to a source of water.

The first mistake Nancy and I made was that we had one family garden, with no special plots for the children. Looking back, even when they went out to do an enjoyable task – picking peas, strawberries or raspberries, which they liked and they were allowed to eat as many as they wanted while picking – it seemed more like a chore.

I didn’t do a lot of gardening as a child, learning from Nancy after we had our own home. She did not have her own garden as a child, but the gardening she did was mostly with her grandmother – and that makes a difference. Parents are always around, telling children what they have to do and how to do it – so sharing a garden with them isn’t necessarily fun. Grandparents are, to an extent, an escape from the parents, people with whom children can share confidences and stories and, occasionally, tips from a wise elder – which can range from how to put up with their parents to how to grow great peonies.

We have tried to play that role with our grandchildren – although it has been easier with our first set of grandchildren than our second. The first set – both girls, one now a sophomore in college and the other a sophomore in high school – lived five minutes away and had a lot of alone time with us. We were the baby sitters of choice if we did not have other plans, and they visited one evening a week as a matter of course.

They enjoyed planting and picking vegetables and seeing the progress of the vegetables. They had their own wheelbarrow and a big red wagon for transporting tools. Having the correct tools is important when you’re starting. We still have their small pink rake, hoe and shovel. And there were all sorts of trowels, small shovels, pails and whatever you could use to carry water.

One granddaughter said she loved watermelon, and grew some successfully one year. We let her pick the largest to take home with her. The younger of the two always wanted to be involved when I put plants and fish outside in the garden pond in spring and took them inside for the winter. She is also the one who planted a patch of brown-eyed Susans next to our raspberry bed, which still grows well today. Both would gladly pick peas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries – and corn when we still grew it.

Our younger grandchildren, a boy in first-grade and a girl in third, live just outside Boston and visit us every month or two, so they can’t be involved in our gardening as much as the older set were. But we let them pick and eat all the vegetables and fruit they want, plant (if it is the right time for planting and if they’re interested) and let them enjoy and take home flowers and vegetables that they have picked or that we have picked for them.

All four seem to enjoy gardening to an extent. The college student has kept a dish of succulents alive the entire school year and in January put in Nancy’s care a bonsai Christmas tree that she hopes to use next year. The high school student is more into horses and other animals – but she enjoys plants, too.

The younger grandchildren enjoy our gardens and the gardens of their other grandparents, and when we take wilderness walks they like to look at the wildflowers we pass. The boy says he will eat lettuce and spinach, but only the baby ones. We keep some ready to cut when he is here, and we will plant some more then.

Most important – and at this we succeeded with our children, too – they know that the world is a living place with limited resources and that it must be handled with care.

And they buy local – even if local is not their own backyard.

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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Snack time is a good time to teach your kids better, and sometimes greener, eating habits http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/green-plate-specialsnacktime-is-a-good-time-to-teach-your-kids-better-and-sometimes-greener-eating-habits/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/green-plate-specialsnacktime-is-a-good-time-to-teach-your-kids-better-and-sometimes-greener-eating-habits/#comments Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=877737 I am practitioner of moderation parenting. It’s served both my kids and my sanity pretty well.

So when I sat down to write a column on growing greener kids, I was torn between conveying what I now know I should tell mothers newer to the job than I, and being honest about what I actually did to integrate sustainable eating practices into my kids’ lives at 6 months, 6 years and 16.

My sister, whom I sometimes call Saint Kathryn, made all of her son’s baby food. By doing so, she knew his strained peas were just that, and coincidentally avoided sending a good amount of packaging to the landfill. She was motivated more by greenbacks than green eating tenets, as she took a year off from teaching to be with her baby. Preparing his food from scratch fit her budget better.

When my son was in the baby food stage, we were doing double duty as university dorm parents. Our convenient rent-free apartment was inconveniently kitchen-free. I scrambled eggs (neither cage-free nor farm fresh) on a single-ring hot plate. I steamed California broccoli in the Massachusetts microwave inside plastic wrap. Organic baby food from Whole Foods went with him to day care, and I have no idea where the jars ended up. For dinner I’d feed him the mushiest option on the steam table in the dining hall, while he grew especially fond of the sugary goop flowing from the fro-yo machine. So what do I know about raising a green kid, really?

Well, at each stage in my kids’ lives, it was eminently clear that snack time provided a better teaching moment than mealtime. The latter serves as the day’s decompression session, and food is rarely the topic of conversation. But snack time is short and food-focused, and it happens two, maybe three, times a day. As a parent, you can apply Michael Pollan’s mantra on sustainable eating to snack time by using these breaks to teach your kids to eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

According to a recent study conducted by Harris Poll, paid for by Bel Brands USA, Inc., makers of The Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges and Mini Babybel Cheeses, 60 percent of 1,000 parents surveyed said they use snack time to teach children to eat healthy foods. Healthy is not always green, but it’s a good start.

Done even greener, snack time teaches kids about making good choices, eating in moderation, stopping to savor the food at hand and knowing how it got there. My top five green snack-time takeaways are:

Choice is good. Knowing you’re hungry is easy. Pinpointing what you’re hungry for takes practice. This skill, once acquired, curbs overconsumption and cuts food waste. Snack trays offering salty (popcorn), sweet (Fair Trade chocolate), sour (DIY pickles), crunchy (garden green beans) and creamy (local yogurt) options help kids understand what they’re in the mood for.

Juxtaposition is a tool. Kids have short attention spans and long memories. Offering them a side-by-side snack of local strawberries and ones shipped in from California will fix in their minds which one is better tasting and why.

Pairings are fun. My kids have always been happy to crunch on raw celery. Through snack-time trial and error, they’ve learned that peanut butter, cream cheese and hot sauce are palatable combinations but honey, whipped cream and chicken gravy are not.

Don’t underestimate the power of school snack-time comparisons. My daughter has convinced several friends to eat chopped fennel, my son swaps rides for homemade baked goods, and I’m still working to convince my kids that the best ramen is made with my stock and not with the yellow powder in the silver packet tucked inside 39-cent noodles.

Veer from the green path every once in a while. Who doesn’t love a good cupcake now and again? Anything taboo, at any age, is at the same time dangerously alluring.

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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Jessica Thomas helps new mothers cope with stress, fear http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/meet-jessica-thomas/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/meet-jessica-thomas/#comments Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=877755 By definition a doula is a woman trained to help another woman through childbirth, and possibly beyond, although that’s less typical. Portland-based Jessica Thomas is a postpartum doula. Her company is called Ballast & Buoy, and when we called her up to find out exactly what she does, she told us she is “there to keep the ship afloat” to sustain baby, mom and family in the often rocky weeks after a birth. From her we learned about lactation cookies (yes, really a thing) and how she helps soothe frazzled new mothers, including finding the right gear.

RESUMÉ: Thomas was a librarian for 15 years, working in public libraries in Boston and, for five years, at the Portland Public Library, where she was head of the Technical Services department. She loved the work and remains a librarian at heart. “I am very organized and literary,” Thomas said. “I am all about helping people find information.” But then she had children (her first son was stillborn and her second starts kindergarten in the fall) and she wanted more flexible work. A friend who had just been certified as a birth doula suggested she explore becoming a postpartum doula. To qualify, she needed to be certified in first aid and CPR for infants and children and to take a training course. “I happened to luck into one that was at Maine Med,” she said. She started her new career in late 2014.

SUSTAINING SHOULDER? For a rate of about $40 an hour (for multiple weeks and longer term engagements, the price typically drops), Thomas keeps the household going, including Target runs for supplies and some cooking. But she also offers emotional support. “Validation and normalization for the mom and to some extent the non-birth parent when the (stuff diapers are made for) hits the fan. Those early weeks and months can just be disorienting.” What does validation and normalization look like? “I try to help people understand that no matter how isolated or unusual they might feel their experience is, it is really within the normal confines of childbirth and afterwards.” It could be listening or guidance or making a referral to a therapist or a lactation specialist. Or on the nitty-gritty level: “It might involve cleaning out your fridge.”

COOKIES AND MILK: One of her services involves nourishment to help new mothers, including making batches of lactation cookies. Some foods – things like oatmeal and beer – have been shown to improve milk production. Thomas whips up cookies that contain flax meal, chia seeds, brewer’s yeast and other ingredients that help with lactation. Oh, and some chocolate chips. She admits that there’s no scientific proof her cookies help everyone, but “it’s a nice reason for a mom to have a treat.”

TAKING CHARGE: New parenthood is an “existential moment for people,” Thomas said. “There is that moment where you kind of go, ‘I can’t go back,’ ” and that can be cause for panic, especially for those without nearby family or friends. Other causes of panic? Figuring out which baby gear is best. She’ll bring in baby carriers, for instance, so parents can try out a bunch at the same time. “You really won’t know what carrier works for you until you have that baby and try it.” She’ll also help parents figure out what they don’t need. “There is so much cute baby stuff out there. In the age of Etsy, my God, you can have the cutest nursery. But you’ll only need one-tenth of it.”

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT: Parents who talk to her about baby gear tend to be anxious about it. Like plastics, for instance. “It’s one more way for parents to put pressure on themselves,” she said. But the trend she sees (undeniably among parents with enough disposable income to hire a postpartum doula) is toward greater awareness of sustainability issues. For example: “A lot of people are looking at cloth diapers as a way to cut down on their landfill waste.” But “if there is an area where I err on the side of convenience over the planet,” she said, it’d be the plastic funnels and tubing for breast pumps. She recommends multiple purchases, so new parents feel less pressure to constantly wash and sterilize. In general, she said, she sees Maine mothers and fathers “getting the absolute most use out of the stuff that they do end up with for their babies.”

WITCHING HOUR: You’ve heard about Twilight Barking for dogs (if you’ve read “101 Dalmatians”) but what about the witching hour for babies? “There is that stretch of time when you know the baby is going to be inconsolable for a few hours in the afternoon, and it is hard to imagine what you are going to eat for dinner.” Thomas provides a special service for this, called Witching Hour Housecalls. For about $60, she’ll come over and either take the baby or stay with the baby so the parent can have a rest.

BABY LOVE: So, has Thomas always had a thing for babies? Was she the babysitter in demand growing up? “I don’t know if I was in demand,” she said, “but there were always kids around at family gatherings, and I would be the one who played with the kids. I gravitate towards babies in a crowd.” Not to sound like a total curmudgeon, but … why? “I just like their energy.”

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