The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Source Sat, 03 Dec 2016 09:00:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Things Mainers can do to combat climate change Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:17 +0000 What is one small thing Mainers can do in their everyday lives to help combat climate change? We asked our panelists that question. They overwhelmed us with good ideas, small and large. Try some. Or all. An edited list follows.

1. Put the names, phone numbers and email addresses of your newly elected state senator and representative on your refrigerator. Call or email this week to say hello or congratulations without asking for anything — that will make it 10 times easier to contact them on climate and clean energy issues in the coming months. – Dylan Voorhees, Natural Resources Council of Maine

2. Be a joiner. The most important single step you can take is to volunteer for and support grassroots organizations. – Glen Brand, Sierra Club Maine

3. Support environmental education in the schools and at the state level. Call your local principals and superintendents to let them know that learning about the environment is as fundamental to public schooling as math and reading. – Drew Dumsch, The Ecology School

4. Seek out and buy locally grown organic food. It’s grown in harmony with natural systems that preserve biodiversity and reduce human impacts on the environment. – Ted Quaday, MOFGA

5. Eat less meat. Eating meat generates 2 1/2 times more greenhouse gases than eating vegetables. – Cathy Ramsdell, Friends of Casco Bay

6. Stop using fertilizers, which can wash into the ocean where they can trigger algae blooms, leading to increased acidity in coastal waters.– Cathy Ramsdell, Friends of Casco Bay

7. Plant native plants, which make great habitat for Maine creatures. They also hold carbon, so it’s a two-for-one deal. – Ole Amundsen III, Maine Audubon

8. Drive less!– Cathy Ramsdell, Friends of Casco Bay

9. Unplug when possible. Don’t let the water faucet run. Bike or walk to work if possible. Use a lunch box and a reusable water bottle. – Andrew LaVogue, Environment Maine

10. Heat with Maine-grown wood pellets. – Kate Dempsey, The Nature Conservancy Maine

11. Take advantage of Efficiency Maine’s incentives to make your home more energy efficient. – Kate Dempsey, The Nature Conservancy Maine

12: Read your electric and heat bills to learn where your energy comes from. Change your provider if it’s hurting communities anywhere. – Rob Snyder, Island Institute

13. Vacation in the Maine woods. Visit the new national monument, or rent a hunting or fishing camp. Help our rural economies grow in a sustainable fashion and appreciate the great resources that our forests and rivers provide. – Ole Amundsen III, Maine Audubon

14. Talk with someone you know who doesn’t share your views on climate change. Listen. Help them understand how a changing climate affects their everyday lives. Be patient but keep at it. Ole Amundsen III, Maine Audubon

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Kalanchoes brighten winter days, but don’t overwater Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Kalanchoes are a bright-blooming houseplant that brighten up homes during Maine’s dark days of winter. The blooms are yellow, pink, orange, red or white.

You probably will end up with a kalanchoe because you or the person who gave it to you couldn’t resist the prolific blossoms in a garden-shop display and bought one. So, all you have to do at first is enjoy the blooms.

If you want to keep it alive, and even better get it to bloom again, it will take some work.

Kalanchoes like the low humidity of winter homes and will do fine if the temperature stays above 50 degrees, but they need the bright light of a south-facing window in winter.

Over-watering means death for kalanchoes. Allow them to get completely dry between waterings. You can put them outside during summer, but make sure they are under something – trees or other shelter – to slow the rain water before it hits them.

Kalanchoes naturally bloom in spring. If you want them to bloom in winter, you must stimulate the short days of winter by putting them in a closet with complete darkness for 14 hours a day and moving them out into bright light for 10 hours for six weeks. Water them even less during this period.

Once you see buds forming after the six weeks, bring them out into normal light.

If that is too much work, just keep them in a room you don’t use – where it will get the 14 hours of dark without you moving the plant – and it will bloom in the spring when it wants to.

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Under a Trump presidency, environmentalists must hang on to hope Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 “I hold one share in the corporate earth and am uneasy about the management.”

— E.B. White, “Sootfall and Fallout,” 1956

Not long after the election, I fell down a 5-foot rock embankment. Losing my balance may have been due to a bittersweet vine or a loose rock underfoot. But I suspect it had more to do with the profound sense of disorientation that has set in since this country lurched abruptly toward autocracy and climate chaos.

The shock and pain of the physical fall was mild compared to the vertigo brought on by the recent campaign and election. Many citizens of this one-time democracy are finding it hard to keep their footing and remain upright. The political quake and aftershocks have exposed gaping cultural chasms.

Even the ground beneath our feet and the air above our heads no longer constitute shared terrain, a reality we all can agree on. The White House soon will be occupied by a president and Cabinet members operating at odds with climate dynamics confirmed by scientists worldwide.

Stranger still, the president-elect – who boasts of great business acumen – embraces retro energy policies that flout inarguable economic realities. Industry analysts, for example, affirm that coal’s decline stems not from regulatory measures but from basic market dynamics: falling prices of natural gas and renewable energy as well as declining export markets.

In the months leading up to this election, it was fossil fuel corporations more than the voting public that clamored to turn the clock back to the bygone days of “drill, baby, drill.” Disgruntled voters sought economic stability, but few hold any sentimental attachment to dirty coal or oil. Who would not prefer a job manufacturing solar panels to one underground risking black lung disease?

The majority of those who voted in this election support renewable energy advances, the Clean Power Plan and federal actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even more Americans value clean air and water: Fully 74 percent affirm that the “country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”

The current disjuncture between public opinion and presidential convictions awakens flashbacks to when Ronald Reagan took office and Secretary of the Interior James Watt opened up public lands to coal mining and offshore regions to oil drilling. Watt was, as Time editors recall, an offensive “quote machine” who divided the nation into “liberals and Americans.” Forced to resign after a particularly severe gaffe, Watt claimed that his work had all been an effort to “restore America’s greatness.”

Top contenders in the incoming president’s Cabinet include an oil products industry executive; a billionaire CEO of a major fracking company; Sarah Palin; and Myron Ebell, a former tobacco lobbyist and property rights advocate who steadfastly refuses to acknowledge climate science.

Barring some collective epiphany, it’s clear that sustainability, renewable energy and conservation won’t be on their agenda. If Breitbart leader Stephen Bannon remains as the president-elect’s chief strategist, distorted information could spout forth from the White House like an oil geyser.

For the majority of Americans watching the clock ticking on climate change, pushing Earth ever closer to irreversible tipping points, this presidential transition evokes visceral angst. That fear is likely justified, but it will not serve us well.

Part of what made this campaign so rank and repulsive were the shameless efforts to fuel fear – fear of economic losses and fear of those whose backgrounds and beliefs differ from our own. We cannot stand up to this insidious culture of fear-mongering if we dwell with trepidation on potential disasters ahead.

Pope Francis, the most catholic (in the sense of all-embracing) pope ever, offered wise counsel just before this election, noting that “no tyranny can be sustained without exploiting our fears.” He spoke of how fear “weakens and destabilizes us, destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, numbs us to the suffering of others, and in the end… makes us cruel.”

To combat fear and transform the planet’s grim prognosis, we need hope – “the thing that is left to us, in a bad time” as E.B. White wrote. Hope can sustain an ongoing commitment to listen, pay attention, shed complacency, speak truth to power and stand with others in upholding civic decency, justice and equality.

We depend on hope to shelter each other and our beleaguered Earth. Grasp it like a lifeline, and hold it out to others.

Marina Schauffler is a writer whose work is online at

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For Christmas, give these books to the gardener/reader in your life Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 With the arrival of winter in Maine, gardening moves inside and into the realm of the imagination. Gardeners exchange rakes and hoes for books, and turn from cultivating gardens to cultivating their (horticultural) minds. It’s merely a coincidence that many of us enjoy receiving books as gifts.

Here are some of the gardening books I’ve read this year and can recommend.

 “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World.” By Peter Wohlleben. Greystone Books, 272 pages. $24.99.

1114315_781041 trees.jpgTrees are a social species. They intertwine their roots, sharing nutrients so that healthy trees can assist those that are ailing. Huge stumps of old trees may be fed by smaller, healthy nearby trees (the stump’s children, perhaps?), getting a bit of chlorophyl, which prevents them from rotting long after they really should have.

Trees warn their neighbors of trouble. When the leaves of an acacia are eaten by a giraffe in Africa, for example, that tree gives off a scent warning nearby trees it is in danger. The neighboring trees then send poisons to their leaves so the giraffe will leave them alone.

“The Hidden Life of Trees,” which contains these nuggets of information, is the most fascinating plant-related book I have read this year. In addition to describing trees’ social network, the book explains why old-growth, wild forests are healthier than planted forests, and it predicts how forests will react to climate change.

Author Peter Wohlleben is a forester in Germany, so the book concentrates on the beech forests where he works. But the principles are easily transferred to the oak-maple-pine-fir forests of Maine.

 “Heirloom Plants: A Complete Compendium of Heritage Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs & Flowers.” By Thomas Etty and Lorraine Harrison. Ball Publishing, 224 pages. $29.99.

“Heirloom Plants” is filled with drawings; it’s designed like an old-fashioned garden catalog. It is the kind of book that’s perfect to dip into when you want to look something up or spend a few minutes learning something new.

The book opens by defining what heritage plants are and presenting arguments for growing, saving and swapping the seeds of open-pollinated plants. Among the reasons you should, it says: by saving the seeds of plants you grow, you can create what are known as landrace seeds, which are precisely adapted to your specific garden.

 “All the Presidents’ Gardens.” By Marta McDowell. Timber Press, 236 pages. $29.95.

1114315_781041 presidents.jpgBecause the geography of America is so diverse, it would be impossible to write a history of gardening in the United States – a work like that would run to many volumes. Instead, Marta McDowell writes a history of the gardens of American presidents. She uses presidential gardens as a lens through which to examine gardening trends over the centuries and to give insights into the personalities of the presidents themselves.

Up to James Monroe (1817-1825), all of the presidents were serious farmers, and in the early years of our nation, the White House gardens provided food for the president and his family. Later on, flowers superseded vegetables in importance (although with First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden, the pendulum may have swung back), and a greenhouse was built on the grounds.

Over the decades, the head gardeners at the White House have changed less frequently than the First Families, and occasional conflicts have arisen between the gardeners and the families. Whether you approach “All the Presidents’ Gardens” from the perspective of gardening or history, you’ll find the book informative and entertaining.

• “Shakespeare’s Gardens.” By Jackie Bennett with photographs by Andrew Lawson. Frances Lincoln Press, 192 pages. $40.

1114315_781041 shakespeare.jpgBeyond some bare facts and the plays and sonnets themselves, scholars know surprisingly little about William Shakespeare’s life. But now writer Jackie Bennett has pulled together plenty of facts about the gardens he knew, lived in or created – many of which can still be visited in England today.

Naturally, those gardens have changed in the 400 years since the playwright’s death, changes that Bennett outlines in her totally entertaining book.

“Shakespeare’s Gardens” also addresses how Shakespeare described plants in his works – which he did often – and it explains the symbolism of those plants.

• “The Homebrewer’s Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare and Use Your Own Hops, Malts and Brewing Herbs.” By Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher. Storey Publishing, 224 pages. $16.95.

This is the second edition update of a 1998 book by two brothers who are organic farmers in Winterport. The book is in four parts: The first part details growing hops, from how to get started to dealing with hops pests, including the Japanese beetle. Next comes sections on herbs you can add to beer, malts you can grow and finally recipes. With the boom in Maine brewing, there could well be a home brewer in your life – this book would make a handy gift.

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

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After the excesses of Thanksgiving, be grateful for a nourishing Buddha Bowl Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Oryoki is an ancient Chinese, Japanese and Zen Buddhist eating practice that centers on a tidy bundle of nested lacquered wooden bowls; taking just enough food to adequately nourish your body at any given meal; and eating slowly, mindfully and with deep gratitude.

Having just participated in a gluttonous American Thanksgiving weekend that included two soup-to-nuts turkey dinners, I am intrigued by this practice for both my waistline and the lessons in sustainable eating it facilitates.

The largest of the nested bowls is called the zuhatsu, or the Buddha Bowl, because its deep, rounded shape symbolizes the Buddha’s head and depth of wisdom. Early Buddhist monks would use these bowls to beg for food, cultivating equanimity by gratefully accepting whatever was offered them.

More recently Buddha Bowls (also called Nourish Bowls, Hippie Bowls, Yoga Bowls, Glory Bowls) have been pushed along secularly on social media (seriously, check out #buddhabowl) as a great way to feed a body vegetable-forward meals as part of a leaner, greener lifestyle. The bottom of the bowl is lined with a healthy portion of chopped leafy greens and the top is an arrangement of colorful raw and roasted vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and a sprinkling of seeds or nuts. The dressings are simple, mostly vegan-compliant lemon- and/or tahini-based mixtures (see recipe).

While there is no strict formula for Buddha Bowl composition, a scan of over 100 recipes showed they generally include 50 percent vegetables and 25 percent each grains and proteins. To make these bowls green as well as lean, use seasonal vegetables (for us in Maine that means hearty winter greens, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, cauliflower, beets and winter squash), local grains (wheat, rye or spelt berries all available from Maine Grains or directly from a growing number of Maine farms) and sustainable proteins (organic legumes, local eggs, roasted pumpkin or winter squash seeds, pastured chickens or responsibly harvested seafood).

Much in the same way that a basic omelet, pasta sauce, soup or pizza base can be a creative way to repurpose leftovers, a Buddha Bowl is a great place for your roasted potatoes from Sunday lunch to coexist with the black beans from Taco Tuesday and the greens that came attached to the beets that went into your borscht on Thursday. Taking the time to arrange these elements artfully in a bowl for a satisfying meal that you savor slowly will make you very grateful to be sitting and eating in that moment.

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

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To get to college, Alex Pine drove from California to Maine in his biodiesel-fueled car Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Alex Pine is the director of outreach and technology at Maine Standard Biofuels, a Portland-based company that manufactures biodiesel from used cooking grease from restaurants around the state and beyond. He started as a customer of the company, signed on for an internship, worked as a summer employee and, after graduating from College of the Atlantic, joined the company full time.

FILL ‘ER UP: Pine is from Torrance, California, where he says he was not unusual in having a car in high school. But it was a 1987 Mercedes that ran on biodiesel. “I still have it. I don’t drive it anymore, but it is in a secure location.” When he drove it across the country to start school at College of the Atlantic, he wasn’t sure where he’d be filling up. Wasn’t that risky? “I had all the equipment for stockpiling fuel in my trunk,” he explained. “A little hand pump, cans.” He stopped at Maine Standard Biofuels to fill up. Then he kept coming back, fueling up in more ways than one. “Being a city kid, Bar Harbor kind of got to me after a few months.”

FAMILY BUSINESS: How does a college freshman get so comfortable with biofuel? Pine’s family founded a consumer cooperative for biodiesel in nearby Los Angeles when he was in middle school – inspired by a burning resentment over a sports car. OK, burning is probably too strong a word. Pine’s mother drove a sports car until she got pregnant with him. “My dad said, ‘It is not practical anymore, let’s sell it.’ ” His mother never stopped missing the car. “When I got to middle school, her minivan died, and she said, ‘I am never going back to a mom car again.’ ” They opted for a biodiesel VW Bug, but they didn’t know where they’d get fuel for it. Which inspired their connection – and partnership – with a group looking to start a cooperative. Pine started working there in middle school.

NATURAL FIT: His work at Maine Standard Biofuels includes giving tours and reaching out to the community to build awareness. “We’re really trying to change the paradigm of fuel here.” In any given week, he might work with students from the Collaborative School in New Gloucester or show around a group of volunteers from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Or he could be talking to some far-flung customers. “We have one guy who comes from Jackman and a handful of people who actually come from Boston because it is hard to get fuel there.” Right now, Maine Standard Biofuels is the only commercial biodiesel manufacturer in the state.

FINE DINING: The company picks up from more than 900 restaurants all over Maine and as far south as Connecticut. How does that work? “We have a 55-gallon drum at the restaurant. They fill it up and then they call us. We’ve got a vacuum truck that sucks out all the oil.” Then it’s back to the plant for purifying and a chemical decanting process that allows the company to separate oil that is better suited for making soaps and cleansers (which it also makes). What’s left goes through a triple-state purification process, “and from there it is ready to be sold.” They deliver by truck to customers that include Oakhurst, Casco Bay Lines and Casella, which blend the biodiesel with petroleum.

Purified cooking oil that will eventually be turned into biodiesel and other bio-based cooking oil products at Maine Standard Biofuels.

Purified cooking oil that will eventually be turned into biodiesel and other bio-based cooking oil products at Maine Standard Biofuels.

FRENCH FRY FUEL: We’re always hearing that biodiesel smells like french fries. True? “Our exhaust smells like barbecue and Chinese food. I’m not quite sure why.” Pine says biofuel reflects whatever kind of oil it was made from or what the oil was used for. He remembers a bumper crop of walnut oil in California one year that led to some nutty-smelling cars traveling the freeways.

HEAD OF THE CLASS: What were the highlights of his education at the College of the Atlantic? “One which is very topical was our history of agriculture in Maine as seen through the lens of apples.” (That’s professor Todd Little-Seibold’s class.) Then there was the sustainable food systems class where he helped built a root cellar (things they don’t have in Torrance). That class continues to echo in his life. “I think there is an intrinsic tie between the energy we use to fuel our bodies and what we use for transportation.”

SURPRISE: Since Pine retired the Mercedes, he’s been experimenting with other forms of transportation. He rides his bike to work when he can, and the rest of the time he drives a leased electric Smart car. It’s a two-seater and costs him about $20 a month in electric bills. “It is kind of like my winter bicycle in a way,” he said. “It holds just about as much, but it keeps me out of the weather.”

LONG HAUL? Will Pine stick with the biodiesel business? “I don’t know. I am not one to plan ahead too much.” He’s happy where he is and enjoys his work, but in a broader sense, “I want to work on something that is benefiting the world, which is not just a 9-to-5 job. My passion really is for transportation and energy.”

Sounds like he’s in the driver’s seat.

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Notes from the field: Maine students come up with food system innovations Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 BRUNSWICK

Students win challenge with plans for businesses that reduce food waste

Two teams of students won the college track of the Maine Food System Innovation Challenge with plans to create businesses that would divert wasted food into usable products.

The College of the Atlantic students proposed [Re]Produce, to use farm surplus or imperfect corn, broccoli, kale and potatoes to create frozen vegetables for sale to consumers.

A team from Bowdoin College, where the challenge was hosted, proposed Spent, a company that would make flour from spent brewery grains.

The teams took home $2,500 prizes.

“It seems so contradictory that in Maine, 40 percent of our food goes to waste every year, while the state is the 12th most food-insecure state,” Grace Burchard, part of the College of the Atlantic team that included four students and professors Kourtney Collum and Jay Friedlander. “As a society we need to shift our cultural perception of ‘perfect’ looking food and respect the farmers who grew the produce by giving them a fair wage.”

[Re]Produce will join the college’s incubator, The Hatchery, this spring to test the business plan and the team hopes to soon start production at Fork Food Lab in Portland.

Providence, R.I.

Three farms receive grants to help them shift to renewable power

Rhode Island has awarded its first grants to support energy efficiency projects at farms and help farmers transition to renewable power.

The state’s Department of Environmental Management says it awarded a total of about $52,000 to three local farms to help “green” their operations to save energy and money.

The recipients are Harmony Hills Farm in Glocester, Red Planet Vegetable Farm in Johnston, and Pat’s Pastured in East Greenwich.

The awards were provided through the new Rhode Island Farm Energy Program.

Harmony Hills and Red Planet each plan to install a solar photovoltaic system.

Pat’s Pastured is upgrading its refrigeration and freezer system.

Staff and wire reports

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Trump has been elected, so what’s next for sustainability? Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The next president of the United States has long denied that climate change is happening, let alone is a problem caused by humans. For people who have dedicated their lives to studying climate change, reducing its impact or adapting to its effects – or for anyone who cares about these issues – that is a scary statement. Source asked leaders within Maine’s sustainability movement how they and their organizations plan to respond to a Donald Trump presidency.

None were celebrating, but we found a thread of hope in their answers, largely because they say much can be done on a local and state level to combat climate change.

The national outlook is dark. Trump has called climate change “pseudoscience” and a Chinese plot (he later claimed he was joking) and, in the midst of the frigid, snowy winter of 2014, tweeted the question, “Is our country still spending money on the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX?” Just last week he seemed to soften his stance, telling the New York Times “right now … well I think there is some connectivity” between climate change and human activity, but he said the nation’s response “depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies.”

Meanwhile, the planet is on track to have experienced the hottest year recorded in human history. For the third year in a row. The vast majority of the world’s climate scientists – more than 97 percent – agree the planet is warming and the cause is human activity. The majority of the people Trump will be governing also disagree with him. About 70 percent of Americans believe in climate change, according to one 2016 poll, and a March Gallup poll put concern about it at an all-time high in the United States, with 64 percent of those surveyed saying they worry “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about global warming.

Trump’s plans for his administration include tearing apart the Environmental Protection Agency (the transition is being led by climate change-denier Myron Ebell) and he has repeatedly said he would pull out of the historic 2015 Paris agreement to set targets for carbon emissions, though he told the Times last week that he has “an open mind” about it. One hundred and ninety-five nations participated in the December 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, agreeing to develop plans to combat climate change, a show of unity that was celebrated worldwide.

Maine sustainability leaders did not mince words in responding to our questions, starting with the critical one: How do you, and the collective we, move ahead with a president-elect who denies that climate change exists? To borrow a line from Kate McKinnon, playing Hillary Clinton, in the first “Saturday Night Live” episode to air after the election, they’re not giving up and they hope you don’t either.

Their insights, shared with us by email, are edited for length and clarity below:


Ole Amundsen III, executive director, Maine Audubon

The work we and other conservation organizations are doing has never been more critical. We move ahead by doubling down on our efforts.

One thing no one can deny is that we are experiencing increasingly severe weather events. Elected officials have to respond to these events, and communities have to anticipate, plan for, and recover from them. These weather events have significant implications for infrastructure, which may in fact be a priority area for the new administration.

This is a potential opportunity to find common ground. Maine Audubon works actively to support installation of Stream Smart road crossings, which replace old culverts and provide safe passage for wildlife under roadways. These crossings also dramatically reduce road flooding during severe storms, which lessens both the hazard of flooded roads to citizens and the cost of repair to communities.

This is also an opportunity to focus on building our rural communities’ capacity to act as effective stewards of Maine’s environment. Conservation and stewardship are primarily local efforts; if we want to protect special habitats like the Maine woods, we need strong rural communities. Growing entrepreneurship in rural Maine is critical.

Even amidst discouraging signs at the federal level, we continue to make progress in our communities. In this same election, Topsham passed ordinances addressing plastic bags and Styrofoam containers. They join a growing number of communities in Maine and around the world taking proactive steps to protect wildlife and the environment.

Progress is slow. Look at how many people wear seatbelts today, or wear helmets while playing sports. Look at the changes in how society views cigarette smoking compared to previous generations. These changes didn’t happen overnight, and each experienced major setbacks. The fight goes on.

Glen Brand, director, Sierra Club Maine

1114336_39069 sourceGlenBrand.jpg

Glen Brand

Sierra Club is preparing with our allies an unprecedented effort to stop Trump’s administration from undoing the progress we’ve made on addressing climate disruption and other issues. Despite the election results, we know that the vast majority of Mainers and Americans still want to move away from dirty fossil fuel dependence towards 100-percent clean, renewable energy in the next generation, and they also want to preserve our nation’s clean air and water safeguards.

Sierra Club Maine is scaling up our Climate Action Team (or CAT) program. The CAT program – active now in 10 communities including Kezar Falls, Dover-Foxcroft, Brunswick, Portland and Bangor – supports citizens to organize with their neighbors around town-based climate solutions, like community and municipal solar projects, energy efficiency, waste reduction and much more. These efforts demonstrate that when people come together, they not only improve their communities, but they also provide models for other towns and build public support for statewide solutions.

The election results cannot stop the clean energy revolution, which is underway everywhere, and Trump cannot prevent states and cities from advancing the clean energy economy and sustainable policies. But it’s true that we are in uncharted territory. I take strength from the fact that we successfully stood up to George W. Bush’s anti-environmental agenda and, with our supporters’ help and by building broad, diverse coalitions, we are going to stand up to Trump.

Kate Dempsey, state director, The Nature Conservancy Maine


Kate Dempsey

We are at a critical moment in the evolution of America’s energy infrastructure where we can seize the opportunities created by innovation to advance cleaner, more reliable energy. I am still hopeful that President-elect Trump’s position on climate change can evolve, but Mainers should take heart that, regardless of what happens at the federal level, states will continue moving the ball forward.

We’ll be focusing this legislative session on polices to incentivize wider adoption of solar power. We’re also working with partners to scale up energy-efficiency programs for Maine cities and towns to benefit more people at lower costs, and we’re taking part in collaborative efforts to diversify our forest economy, which serves to keep forests as forests and ensure an important carbon sink remains intact.

I really do believe there is so much momentum behind clean energy and climate change mitigation that our state and nation will continue making progress on that front despite the increased potential for destructive policies. At the same time, we must continue working hard to defend the progress we’ve made, including defending our longstanding laws and regulations governing clean air, clean water, wetlands, endangered species, etc. The good thing is, there are many groups that will continue working toward solutions in the next four years, including The Nature Conservancy.

Drew Dumsch, executive director, The Ecology School

Drew Dumsch

Drew Dumsch

The best way forward is to fully embrace the idea of community resilience, that no matter what climate changes happen, all of us in Maine can work together to anticipate and prepare for those changes to keep our economy strong and our society vibrant and healthy.

The Ecology School has already been completely focused on teaching the science of ecology and the practice of sustainability for the past 20 years. We will continue to work with thousands of children and adults in our program to study local ecosystems and use that important knowledge to provide the inspiration needed to create sustainable food systems and land use.

The amazing thing about the science of ecology is that it gives us a clear picture of how everything is connected. Using ecology as a lenses to view the world can give us the hope and the help we need to make deeper connections to the environment, through both knowledge and emotions, and then act on that as engaged citizens.

Andrew LaVogue, campaign organizer, Environment Maine

We organize. We engage our friends, family, local elected officials and community groups to pressure our local, state and federal senators and representatives so they know how the state of Maine feels about a climate denier taking office. It is amazing what people can do when they come together on an issue. Organize local town halls, lobby visits and always write your concerns to your local paper in the form of letters to the editors and opinion pieces – your opinions are valuable and you hold incredible power.

Along with the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Conservation Voters, we hosted a “Post Election Thought Leader Forum” in Bangor on Nov. 16. We discussed what Maine can do about renewable energy jobs, and what Maine has do to combat climate change from here on out.

All across the country there have been demonstrations, of the kind not seen since the ’60s, and they are going to continue. So although there are very real challenges ahead with a Trump presidency, people are already voicing their opposition. That includes opposition to what he means for the issues we care about, like climate change.

Don Perkins, chief executive, Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Don Perkins

Don Perkins

GMRI is non-partisan. We believe policy discussions should be based on evidence, and in the case of climate change, the science is clear. As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen, the temperature of the earth has gone up, exactly as predicted by scientists in the early 1980s. Science institutions like GMRI play an important role in helping educate citizens about climate change – and that work will continue no matter who is in the White House over the decade to come.

Our scientists and their colleagues have shown that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than almost any other ocean region, so we have a tremendous opportunity to develop local solutions to a global challenge. With that in mind, we’re focused on working with fishermen and fishery managers to increase the resiliency of fisheries in the face of climate change. We are also working with coastal communities to help them adapt to these changing fisheries, as well as rising sea level.

Over the last 30 years, the majority of meaningful action on climate change has come from states, municipalities and citizens – not the federal government. Regardless of who is president, the same group of dedicated organizations and individuals will continue to approach the challenge of climate change head on. We know a warming ocean has both ecological and economic impacts, and we expect that the solutions we develop will continue to come from thoughtful citizens of all political persuasions.

Ted Quaday, executive director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association


Ted Quaday

We must up the political ante in the face of climate change deniers like Donald Trump. That means our voices must rise stronger tomorrow than they do today. Already business and environmental leaders across the country are sounding the alarm about Trump’s vow to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Strong voices at every level are needed to prevent steps backward in the crucial effort to build a low-carbon economy.

Our work in support of organic farming is part of the climate solution. We continue to bring new organic farmers into the production system. We also support federal research to identify organic production methods that will sequester more carbon in woodlands and in soil.

In the past MOFGA has highlighted climate change challenges in workshops and public gatherings. We intend to continue talking about the challenges all farmers face as unstable climate intensifies weather events here at home and across the globe.

While reassurance is difficult as we contemplate leaders who refuse to accept clear scientific evidence, we continue to believe that ultimately, a populace united to push for positive action to slow greenhouse gas emissions will make a difference.

Cathy Ramsdell, executive director, Friends of Casco Bay

1114336_39069 Ramsdell.jpg

Cathy Ramsdell

Whether we have a president who denies climate change or not, science is science. We are seeing changes and climate chaos already on both the global and local scale. Have you noticed how we are having fewer rain storms but when it does rain, we are being inundated by more intense storms? Our data show that the chemistry of Casco Bay is changing – there has been a downward trend in pH over the past 15 years and an uptick in temperature locally. We must work together in our local communities to tackle these issues.

(Friends of Casco Bay is) working with other research institutions and policymakers to move forward on addressing ocean acidification, sea level rise and Portland’s stormwater management plan. We offer a course for teachers on the local impacts of climate change in our estuary and in the Gulf of Maine. Education is critical, not just to our members who are pretty familiar with the threats of climate change, but for those who haven’t given it much thought.

If you are deeply concerned, get deeply involved – and locally involved. There are ways everyone at every level can help have an impact on mitigating and adapting to this looming issue.

Rob Snyder, president, Island Institute

Climate change remains an issue regardless of what the president-elect thinks. Our fisheries leaders believe in it, and many of our community leaders do, too. Denial will not slow down a warming ocean, sea level rise, or increasing ocean acidification. We move ahead by continuing to educate ourselves about the impacts on our communities, and getting to work so we’re ready for what is coming.

We don’t need the President to move our agenda. On islands, people are forced to live within environmental boundaries and have always relied on each other to get by. This way of thinking and living is an example for the nation. We will continue to support local leaders along the coast and on the islands that embody these commitments.

People should be deeply concerned and focus on working in communities and with the private sector. We can still get a lot done.

Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy project director, Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Dylan Voorhees

Dylan Voorhees

The Natural Resource Council of Maine is completely prepared to do what is has always done: stand up to politicians or special interests who threaten our environment. Donald Trump can’t change the fact that Americans and Mainers want clean energy solutions and action to deal with climate change. Here in Maine, 60 percent of voters say climate change is already negatively affecting the state.

In terms of federal policies and rollbacks on climate, we’re fortunate that we have two U.S. senators – including one from the president-elect’s party – who accept that climate change is a problem that we should address. We expect Maine people and businesses will stand firm in expecting and supporting their continued defense of sensible action on climate and clean energy, whether that is the Clean Power Plan, renewable energy tax credits or international cooperation.

We won’t be waiting around for the federal government to move forward. Maine and the Northeast have long been leaders on clean energy and talking climate, and we will redouble our efforts to extend that leadership. It is past time for Maine to adopt effective policies for solar power and the region can continue to lower power plant carbon emissions.

State legislators in Maine remain extremely accessible and responsive to the ideas and opinions of people in their districts. Your voice matters most when it is exerted locally.


]]> 3, 28 Nov 2016 14:34:44 +0000
Write your holiday thank-you notes with Maine style Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Along with all of the gift, party and dinner invitations that arrive during the holidays comes the need for thank-you notes. This year, forgo the treacly greeting card sentiments and send a note that screams “Maine.” It will add a personal touch, and be better for the planet, too.

1114308_263264 mainecards1.jpgSabrina Thiemke-Greene, who lives in Limerick, designs cards with hikers, snowshoes and honeybees surrounded by the shape of Maine. Other cards feature fiddleheads in Mason jars, dandelions and herbs. Each card is made of recycled kraft paper silkscreened by hand and decorated with an environmentally friendly ink. They’re packaged in a compostable plastic sleeve.

The card paper comes from a paper-making company that relies on hydropower and windpower, Thiemke-Greene said, “so not only are the cards recycled, they’re using sustainable ways to make the cards.”

Thiemke-Greene started her business, Think Greene, just after graduating from college about eight years ago. She deliberately developed it in a sustainable direction because “My business is a reflection of the way I live my life, and making designs and products that represent my values and being able to share that with the world is what keeps me motivated each day.”

Thiemke-Greene loves to hike and snowshoe, thus the cards featuring those activities. Her next designs, she said, will highlight kayaking and yoga “because those are a big part of my life.”

She uses some of the same designs on tea towels, handkerchiefs and other products.

The cards cost $4 each. A list of businesses that sell them can be found on Thiemke-Greene’s website, They can also be purchased online at the same website.

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2016 08:09:06 +0000
Phyllis Austin, prominent Maine environmental journalist, dies at 75 Tue, 22 Nov 2016 04:03:04 +0000 Phyllis Austin devoted her career to writing about environmental news that affected Mainers, becoming one of the state’s foremost authorities on the subject by immersing herself in the places that she reported on.

Austin, who died Monday at the age of 75, would spend days hiking the woods, mountains and remote locations she wrote about.

Her colleagues, editors and friends said her knowledge and understanding of the wild places shone through in her work.

“She was a great environmental journalist, probably the best Maine has ever seen,” said Doug Rooks, who served as her editor at the former Maine Times. “She was the most-thorough, the most-dogged and the most-methodical reporter I ever met.”

Austin died at her home in Brunswick, said her partner, Ann Dellenbaugh.

Rooks said that Austin began working as a writer for the Maine Times in 1974 and stayed until the publication went out of business in 2002.

“The material she produced was awe-inspiring. She knew her subjects better than anyone I ever met,” Rooks said.

After leaving the Maine Times, Austin needed an outlet for all the stories she hadn’t had a chance to write. That’s how she met Will Sugg, the editor of an online publication called Maine Environmental News.

Sugg said Austin was a prolific writer, reporting on a wide range of topics related to the environment, from the May 2005 article about Canada lynx getting accidentally trapped in devices set for other animals to a September 2006 story about Roxanne Quimby managing land bordering Baxter State Park as a nature sanctuary. She worked for Sugg from 2002 to 2006.

“A true Maine conservation hero, an exceptional journalist and a great person,” Sugg wrote in a message posted on his Facebook page.

Edgar Allen Beem of Brunswick worked with Austin as a writer at the Maine Times. Beem said her health had been failing for some time. He last spoke with her two weeks ago. She asked him if he would be willing to speak at her memorial service.

“Phyllis was probably the best environmental journalist Maine has ever produced,” Beem said. “She spent more time in the woods and mountains than anyone I have known in my lifetime.”

Her first-hand experiences in Maine’s outdoors produced investigative pieces that were thorough and thought-provoking, Beem said.

Jym St. Pierre of Brunswick, the Maine director of Restore: The North Woods, was a close friend of Austin. He wrote a remembrance that he sent to friends and family on Monday.

St. Pierre said Austin covered the State House for the Associated Press from 1969 to 1973. In 1972, Austin was named the Associated Press’ first environmental writer in New England.

“Phyllis may have reported more stories about conservation issues in Maine than anyone,” St. Pierre said. “It was not just the extensive breadth of issues Phyllis wrote about, it was her approach that stood out. Always thorough in her reporting, she was respected by virtually everyone she covered, whether or not they agreed.”

An avid hiker, she trekked the Himalayas in Nepal and in the Scottish Highlands. Her last piece “On Reaching the End of the Trail” was published in the November-Decmeber 2016 issue of AMC Outdoors.

“She told us that would be the last piece she would write,” St. Pierre said.

In the article, Austin talks about her love of hiking and the freak 1984 cross-country skiing accident that nearly killed her.

After the accident – she was impaled by a stick – she kept hiking realizing that her hiking days would eventually come to an end. She had to give up hiking last year after undergoing surgery related to the skiing accident.

“I had already concluded that I could never satiate my love of hiking, no matter how long I lived,” Austin wrote. “The beautiful and rough wild found in the mountains, especially the very remote, won my heart at first sight. That was where I understood my place on earth and where I was spiritually replenished.”

A memorial service is planned for early 2017.


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Turning Black Friday to green is a radical idea for outdoor retailers Mon, 21 Nov 2016 20:58:15 +0000 The Conversation
While shoppers scramble for Black Friday bargains this year, outdoor retailer REI is closing its 145 U.S. stores. This is the second consecutive year the Seattle-based company will ignore the frenzy that traditionally marks the start of the holiday shopping season. REI’s nearly 12,000 employees will get a paid holiday and will not process any online orders. Instead, REI exhorts workers and customers to get outside with family and friends. It has even coined a Twitter hash tag, #OptOutside, to promote the event.

Some observers have praised REI for mixing business savvy with crunchy acumen. Its #OptOutside campaign is an example: By encouraging customers to reject Black Friday-style excess, the promotion burnishes REI’s reputation as a progressive retailer.

But how did REI and other outdoor companies align themselves with conservation? How do they square selling expensive apparel and promoting carbon-spewing tourism with their customers’ love for the outdoors? And how radical is “Green Friday,” especially if the OptOutsiders are carrying backpacks stuffed with the latest gear made from precious petroleum, rare metals and pricey fibers?

The answer is that shoppers have long expressed their affection for nature in what they buy. Consumption and environmental concerns, past and present, fit together as snugly as a foot in a beloved hiking boot.


The paradoxes of modern outdoor retailing have deep roots in the American conservation movement. In the late 19th century, early conservationists such as John Muir grew alarmed as they saw wildlife decimated, forests denuded and scenery despoiled. Among the loudest protesters were affluent outdoorsmen, such as Theodore Roosevelt, founder of the Boone and Crockett Club, and William Temple Hornaday, first director of the New York Zoological Society.

President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, 1906.
Library of Congress/Wikipedia

By calling to protect nature, these conservationists also protected their own hunting and fishing entitlements. They attacked the rural poor, immigrants and minorities, who Hornaday once called the “regular army of destruction” because they took fish and game for subsistence or sale. They used their money and power to license hunters and anglers, limit harvests and ban equipment. Some of these measures protected nature (and still do), but they also intentionally reserved nature for those who could consume it properly by the standards of wealthy conservationists.

Class differences pervaded other forms of outdoor recreation too. People with means vacationed at posh resort hotels. Middling Americans took more rustic routes. Outdoor groups such as the Appalachian Mountain Club, founded in Boston in 1876, and The Mountaineers, founded in Seattle in 1906, taught woodcraft to middle-class urbanites who yearned for authentic escapes.

Others chafed against even these austere types of play, seeing outdoor recreation as an costly privilege. They mobilized leisure as political protest. Seattle’s Co-Operative Campers, launched in 1916 as a cheaper alternative to The Mountaineers, pledged to “make our mountains accessible through co-operative camps” for the city’s blue-collar citizens. Socialist activist Anna Louise Strong was the Co-Op Campers’ first president. She and the Co-Op Campers often clashed with The Mountaineers over politics and camping techniques until the club disbanded during the 1920s Red Scare.

REI took root in this contested consumerist soil. Lloyd Anderson, REI’s founder, conspired with other members of The Mountaineers to promote riskier activities, such as rock climbing. He quickly learned that they did not have the requisite gear. Influenced by other local co-ops, Anderson organized REI in 1939 to pool members’ annual fees so the group could purchase quality equipment from Europe at affordable prices.

As costs for lightweight materials such as aluminum and nylon fell after World War II, REI attracted a burgeoning following locally and nationally. And it continued to trade on its founders’ cooperative and environmental vision. In 1976, a year after opening its first retail store outside of Seattle, it launched an environmental grants initiative, and in 1989 the firm cofounded the Conservation Alliance, a group of outdoor businesses dedicated to environmental protection.

Gunstock Campground and Recreation Area, Guilford, New Hampshire, 1961.
Eric M.Sanford/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Yet REI’s #OptOutside campaign can seem superficial compared to more radical stances. Patagonia, founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard as a spin-off from his self-named climbing equipment company, has promoted recyclable clothing, and applied tough sustainability standards to its global supply chains. In its 2013 “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign, Patagonia even encouraged customers to make do with less.

Critics have accused Patagonia of playing the snob card and promoting chic travel to imperiled and faraway places. Chouinard himself freely accepts these accusations. As he cynically admitted in a recent New Yorker profile, “everyone’s just greenwashing,” because “growth is the culprit.”

In this context, REI’s Black Friday campaign can look like an unabashed marketing ploy that ignores the fundamental source of our environmental problems: humans’ overuse of the earth’s resources. Other businesses have deployed similar devices to entice earnest consumers, with mixed results, from fair trade coffee, which may not be economically viable, to sustainably sourced seafood, which may not be that sustainable.

Maybe Chouinard is right: we are all being greenwashed.


But is this a bad thing to admit? Perhaps. To deny the inherent contradictions of Green Friday is to ignore how affection for nature collides with our longing to consume it. By asking customers to think about what they are buying, Patagonia tries to foreground the environmental and social ethics of buying a new fleece jacket. REI, by contrast, asks us to take a one-day shopping holiday to help the planet. At best it is a lighter green vision.

However conservation-friendly they may be, REI and its competitors are businesses, and none of these efforts supersede retailers’ bottom lines. Moreover, enlisting environmental concerns to drive sales or political change is nothing new. Greenwashing is just the latest term for an old phenomenon: tethering consumption to environmental values. In turn, consumers have proclaimed their environmental values through purchasing power since the dawn of the conservation movement.

The L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as truly green consumption. Take the alternative to Black Friday: Cyber Monday, just after Thanksgiving, when retailers seek to entice consumers to spend online with early holiday discounts. Is internet shopping better for the environment than driving to the nearby mall? It may keep us off the road, but online shopping does not eliminate environmental costs – it just diverts them to the data warehouses that power retailers’ mail order divisions, and the planes and trucks that deliver the goods to consumers.

This Thanksgiving, while arguing politics over holiday spreads, take time to remember the late biologist Barry Commoner’s famous aphorism: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.The Conversation

Matthew Klingle, Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies and Director, Environmental Studies Program, Bowdoin College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Saco council considers banning plastic shopping bags Mon, 21 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The Saco City Council is considering a proposal to ban single-use plastic shopping bags and require a 5-cent charge for paper bags.

Supporters of the bag ban say plastic is not biodegradable, creates litter and is especially harmful to sensitive marine ecosystems, but other councilors say they don’t want to rush into a decision without first learning about how it would affect residents and businesses.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a first reading Monday on the proposal, followed by a public hearing two weeks later and a final vote in mid-December. If Saco approves the ban on single-use plastic bag, it will become the fourth Maine community to do so.

York in 2015 became the first community in Maine to ban single-use plastic bags altogƒether. Freeport and Kennebunk followed suit, approving bans this year. Voters in all three communities overwhelmingly supported the bans. Other municipalities – including Portland, South Portland and Falmouth – have adopted fees for single-use plastic and paper bags.

“Other communities are taking action along these lines regarding trying to stem the flow of plastic bags,” said Bob Hamblen, Saco’s city planner. “We think that Saco should follow suit.”

The idea to pursue the ban was brought up by Councilors Eric Cote and Roger Gay. Cote said Saco is known for being environmentally friendly and the ban is an important step for a coastal community. He said plastic bags – which don’t break down easily – get into the water, causing problems for the ecosystem and wildlife.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit grocery stores such as Shaw’s and Hannaford from using single-use plastic bags and would require them to charge 5 cents for paper bags. Those restrictions would not apply to restaurants or smaller stores, including gas stations and drugstores, Hamblen said. Violations would be punishable with a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for the second and each subsequent violation.

In September, the city approved a ban on polystyrene, or Styrofoam, products.

Cote, who has used reusable shopping bags for years, said it is important for Saco to protect the environment and encourage residents to use reusable bags when they shop.

“They’re bigger and stronger and easier to use,” he said of reusable bags.

Councilor David Precourt said he supports the idea of banning plastic bags, but worries about the cost for small businesses.

“It’s not business-friendly to be banning stuff without looking at the big picture of how it’s impacting small businesses and the economy around here,” he said.

Precourt said he but does not want to add a 5-cent fee for paper bags and will offer an amendment to remove that requirement.

“We’re a state of trees and paper mills,” he said. “To basically take that renewable resource out of the scheme of things is not beneficial to the state of Maine or the local economy.”

Councilor William Doyle said the ban on plastic bags is “an admirable goal for the city” but wants to look at the issue further before supporting it. He said he currently is “not necessarily opposed” to the ban but is looking forward to hearing input from residents and business owners during the public hearing.

“As Saco tries to move forward to be a destination community and bring more business, is this the right move at this point?” he said. “I think all of us feel the goal is admirable, but what the impact is going to be is something we really need to look at before going forward with a feel-good vote.”

Hamblem said a public hearing on the proposal likely will be scheduled for Dec. 5, followed by a final council vote on Dec. 19. If approved, the ordinance would take effect 30 days after the final vote.

“From a staff perspective, I think this is a great suggestion on the council’s part,” he said. “It’s clear that products like Styrofoam and plastic once had their place in American society, and I’m pleased that some communities are taking notice that they don’t want to see these nonrecyclable materials in their waste stream and are willing to make changes.”


]]> 22 Mon, 21 Nov 2016 15:02:30 +0000
High school junior Oliver Curtis is working on an invasive species cookbook Sun, 20 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Oliver Curtis, 17, has been taking classes at the Telling Room in Portland since he was about 10. This fall he started a project with the nonprofit writing center for youth that will culminate next August with a published book. He’s writing a cookbook that attempts to address the proliferation of invasive species, plant and animal, with recipes for ways to eat the invaders. When we heard what Curtis was up to, talking to him sounded like exactly the sweet solace everyone in the sustainability community needs right now. That turned out to be just the case; this teenager is focused on ways he can contribute to society.

WHY A COOKBOOK? Curtis’ older sister Maddie has also been an active participant at the Telling Room – she published a collection of short stories through the program. He knew he wanted to follow in her footsteps and do his own book. Green crabs were definitely part of the inspiration, too. In middle school at the Friends School of Portland – he’s at Baxter High now – teachers used the Mackworth Island setting to teach marine biology, and Curtis spent some time on the beach, counting both green crabs and native crabs. Guess who dominated?

THE UNDERSEA WORLD: This was not an onerous task for Curtis. He’d been swept away at around age 10 by the subject of Jacques Cousteau. “I read a couple of biographies about him and his films, and I really found it very cool. And I began to watch some of his movies that he made back in the day and found them to be very interesting.” They were in French, but that hardly mattered because they were “about the amazing world we don’t get to see.” Sometimes Curtis thinks he might go into marine biology as a career. But there’s also cooking to consider. And writing. The cookbook is a way to combine them.

GREEN CRAB STAR: He’s already got ideas for 27 recipes, illustrated with photos. “I am going to give a wide spectrum of invasive species from different parts of America,” he says, “but from mostly Maine.” The green crab will be well featured, with at least three recipes. When Curtis started planning the book he realized he needed to get a license to catch green crabs, even if they are invaders. He paid his $12 and now he’s legit. And he’s got 24 green crabs in a tank at home, just waiting for the recipe-testing sessions. “We don’t quite know when we are going to cook them but we know how.”

HOME COOKING: Who is “We”? Curtis is getting an assist in recipe formulation from his mother, who has some restaurant cooking experience. “She taught me how to cook.” How old was he when she started? “Maybe 5. She began with the sweet things, the cookies, the cupcakes, the cakes, and as a kid I really, really wanted to make cake.” She inspired a deep interest in the topic that extended to screen time. “I grew up on the Food Network.” That included Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay. “And I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain, I think he makes great TV shows.”

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RAMEN: They’ve already experimented with some deep frying. Which was good, although a fair amount of work. “There is kind of a tiny amount of meat, but it is still very much worth it.” Also in the works is a green crab ramen, with the meat steamed. “I’m also thinking of doing sushi because I am a big fan.” Something along the lines of a California roll. “That would be a very good twist.” There will be a crab cake, too.

KNOTWEED VENDETTA: The cookbook, as yet untitled, will include recipes for Japanese knotweed. “It’s something I have been working against since like, fifth grade.” Come again? Friends School of Portland got the student body out chopping at the bittersweet and the knotweed.” He’s had it in for the stuff from an early age. “I’m thinking like a pie or a cake,” capitalizing on its rhubarb-like quality.

LION’S PRIDE: One of the invasives he wants to fillet hasn’t quite made it to Maine yet but could as climate change marches onward: lionfish. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began a campaign urging people to eat the invader from the Pacific in 2010. Curtis thinks some recipes might help.” I am definitely going to photograph so that I can make people actually want to eat it.”

REPORT CARD: Does he get credit for this? “It’s an independent study almost. I am not getting credit, but I am getting the chance to publish a book, which is amazing.” He’s getting an assist at the Telling Room from Molly McGrath, the director of publications, and Patricia Hagge, the artist in residence.

JUST DESSERTS: “I am hoping to kind of rejuvenate the conversation about invasive species,” he said. “The whole conversation about what we are going to do with these invasives and how we are going to make sure we maintain our great ecosystems is kind of going flat. But recently I’ve been noticing chefs locally and otherwise have been trying to shake things up.” He wanted to join in. What does the future hold, besides some steaming bowls of green crab ramen? What about a Food Network series on cooking invasives? That would be cool. “I am not like an amazing biologist and I am not like an amazing chef right now, but I would like to study more about these subjects. The more I do, the more I will be able to contribute to society.”

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Old Town man takes things from nature to make pens Sun, 20 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 With one of Stuart King’s Nature of Maine pens in your pocket, you can carry a piece of Maine around with you always.

His handmade ballpoint pens (they take Cross and Parker refills) are sleek and elegant, though they are made from natural debris like moose droppings, deer antlers, pine cones and mussel or clam shells. King, a retired teacher from Old Town, sells his pens all over the country and the world; they’ve even made their way to Russia, China and South Korea.

1111321_399175 Pens Crushed Lobster.jpgKing says it took him 10 years to figure out how to make the pen barrels, as each substance he uses must be treated differently because each reacts differently to the process he’s developed. He gathers the materials himself, except for the moose droppings, which make a nice-looking chocolate brown pen.

“I’ve got friends and family, they’ll carry a little plastic bag with them and when they come across the moose droppings they’ll pick it up for me,” he said, and bring him “an occasional booty of scat.”

King’s two-toned Deer Hunter pen is half deer droppings, half deer antler.

Sometimes people mail King substances, asking him if he can make a pen out of them. He’s received geoduck clam shells from Seattle, and Dungeness crab shells. The owner of an Angus beef ranch in Montana sent him cattle droppings, asking for pens for his foremen. And he recently made pens out of buffalo scat he got at Yellowstone.

“I’ve made pens out of human ashes before,” he said.

King likes to experiment with new materials, and said his next pens will be made of blueberries and sea urchins.

At this season, King’s pens are sold at just three stores. During the summer, his products are in eight seasonal stores along the coast. Find them now at The Lupine Cottage in Belfast and Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine stores in Portland and Bath. They cost $31 to $38, depending on where you buy them.

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Brighten your winter with spring bulbs Sun, 20 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Have you got tulip, daffodil or other bulbs left over from your fall buying spree? Bulbs that you still haven’t planted? Now is an excellent time to pop them in a pot for some late-winter indoor blooms.

1111324_hyacinth.jpgThe simplest idea is to put all of the same type of bulb in a shared pot, but if you want to get creative you can put many different bulbs in one pot. Daffodils, tulips and hyacinth, for example.

You can use about anything as a growing medium – potting mix, pebbles or colored glass. Barely cover the bulbs, which should be closely packed but not touching.

Water them well and stow them someplace where the temperatures will be below 45 degrees but not below freezing – like a garage, an unheated attic or a cellar bulkhead. You could even put them in a trench outside, covered with leaves. If you don’t have a garage or cellar, put your well-watered pot into a tightly closed plastic bag in your refrigerator. Leave them in the cool area for at least eight weeks.

After the eight weeks, bring the bulbs inside – where it’s at least 60 degrees – and the bulbs will bloom in a few weeks. The gardening term for this is “forcing bulbs.”

Once they’ve gone by, you can replant the bulbs outside. They won’t bloom the first year, but should after that.

]]> 0, 17 Nov 2016 18:44:06 +0000
Plants can be just as beautiful inside as out Sun, 20 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Some plants are even more beautiful when brought inside as decorations than they are outside in their natural environment.

For starters, when you bring flowers, a branch, fruit or other plant parts inside they stand by themselves without the surrounding garden competing for attention. Also, if you provide a background of contrasting colors, the plant material stands out that much more.

From spring until first frost, people bring flowers inside, but decorations during the holiday season depend more on bare branches, evergreen foliage, berries, seeds, pods and so on.

A typical Christmas decoration is a wreath made with needled evergreens such as balsam fir. They are easy to make by wiring branches to a wreath form you can buy at most garden centers.

If you want a more organic, sustainable wreath without ties to a specific holiday, skip the form and cut stems from flexible plants such as willow or dogwood. Twist the branches around each other while forming a circle, adding more by forcing the thicker ends of the branches into the circle and wrapping them around the rest. Keep adding branches until it is the desired thickness.

Decorations can include viburnum berries, holly, greens, leaves, grasses or cones.

My wife, Nancy, does most of the decorating at our house because she is good at it. She is a flower show judge certified by the National Garden Club. To get that title, she had to enter dozens of design competitions and win a few of them. I would no more arrange flowers at home than I would cook a meal for David Turin or pinch hit for David Ortiz.

In our kitchen stand some 5-foot-tall curly willow stems with many side branches, painted a glossy black, stuck in a pin holder, a common device for flower arranging (see box). Nancy decorated the branches with strings of LED purple lights and put a few tall dried grasses, white cimicifuga blooms and orange, yellow, bronze and maroon chrysanthemums at the base. It looks more like a sculpture than a typical flower arrangement, and it is eye-catching.

Spray paint is a big help in creating designs. Nancy regularly paints allium blossoms to create decorations. But you can paint anything you bring inside – branches, leaves, blossoms, cones, thistles, seeds and nuts. She keeps cans of spray paint in a box in the cellar. Frequently, she zips into the cellar, and I hear the spray can and smell the paint. A few days later, something weird comes out of the cellar and ends up as a house decoration.

Don’t forget flower blossoms – even though they are past their prime. Blossoms from hydrangeas, especially the Paniculata grandiflora, keep much of their color, even this late in the season. Other blossoms, such as astilbe, maintain their shape but are mostly brown. They can be added to many arrangements – but may benefit from a bit of spray paint.

One of the reasons bittersweet is an invasive and has become such a problem is that people used to create outdoor wreaths and other decorations with it in the fall, displaying its bright orange berries. Those berries contain the seeds that spread the plant – so don’t use them. Don’t even put them into your compost bins: the squirrels and birds will eat things from your compost bin and spread them around the neighborhood.

Other berries can be used, however. The native winterberry – a deciduous holly that sometimes grows in slightly soggy roadside ditches – has bright red berries that can be added to wreaths, used in stand-up flower designs or just by themselves. The traditional evergreen holly, which is not native, can be used in wreaths, arrangements, swags and many other kinds of decorations. It might be trite, but it is trite because it works.

In the spring, viburnums are a great shrub for their flowers and architectural branching. Many also produce berries in the fall that, depending on the variety, can be red, black, yellow or pink. The berries are softer than holly berries but still work well in many sorts of winter arrangements.

Ornamental grasses look good outside all winter, and we never cut them down until the snow melts in spring. But if you need plant material, head outside, cut some and bring it in. They serve nicely as greenery to go with flowers you buy in bunches at a supermarket or florist.

You see cones from evergreens on wreaths all the time, but they also look good in an attractive basket, bucket or bowl. Picture a fruit bowl with pine cones instead of fruit. That is so easy to put together that I might do it without any help from Nancy.

Speaking of fruit bowls, use them to display fruit or vegetables. Did you buy or grow apples, winter squash, colored onions or potatoes? Set them in a fruit bowl on a table in the kitchen to show off the bounty of your garden. If you want to cook with them, you won’t have to head down to the root cellar.

For Thanksgiving, arrange your produce in a bowl or low basket and use it as a centerpiece. You might add a few flowers by sticking them in small water-filled containers; empty brown pill bottles work well for this.

I always recommend that people walk around their yard, even when temperatures are cold. It’s good exercise, provides fresh air and gives you a chance to look at something other than the four walls of your house. While you’re out, look at your plants. If something looks attractive, snip off a bit and see how you can use it inside. It’s a chance to show off the too-often hidden artistic part of your being.

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

]]> 1, 18 Nov 2016 12:40:15 +0000
New pyramid points to ways we can stop wasting food Sun, 20 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 As my kids moved through their middle school health classes, I followed the USDA’s transition from the food pyramid to the MyPlate illustration as the tool of choice for teaching young eaters – and all Americans – about the building blocks of a healthy diet.

But it wasn’t until last month’s Feeding 5000 event in Portland that I learned about another triangular paradigm, this one championed by advocates of reducing food waste. Mark King of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection introduced the concept to me at the event, where hundreds of volunteers fed thousands of eaters with food gleaned from Maine farms.

The Food Recovery Hierarchy, developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is visually represented by an inverted pyramid. The triangle provides a framework to help municipalities, institutions, corporations and restaurants decrease the amount of perfectly good food they now toss into trash cans. As King explained the hierarchy’s layers, I mentally scaled them down to fit my own kitchen.

King said the most effective way to reduce waste is at the source. For us home cooks, that means buying only what we need and have plans to use immediately. If you can, buy seconds – ugly or bruised produce that may not look perfect but is perfectly edible – so that waste isn’t pushed further down the pyramid.

If you buy too much in spite of your best efforts not to, the next step in the hierarchy lies in diverting edible food to food banks and rescue programs. While individuals can readily hand off surplus canned goods, donating fresh, more perishable food is complicated by food safety issues.

Instead, home cooks can process perishable goods – vegetables into pureed soups or extra dairy items into macaroni and cheese – that can feed hungry, shut-in neighbors. Have a look around. There are more neighbors in need than you may think.

When feeding people is not possible, feeding animals is the next best option. I can offload a few bits of leftover people food to my black Lab and hound mix, Theo, but only as an occasional treat, not as a solution to curb my family’s overall food waste. If you’ve got chickens or pigs, you’ve got a more reliable outlet at this level than I do.

Commercial kitchens can tap into a growing number of services that turn food scraps into biogas and spent cooking oil into biodiesel fuel. A household biogas system, like those sold by HomeBiogas, runs about $1,000 and converts food waste and animal manure into enough clean gas to cook three meals and produce 10 liters of clean natural liquid fertilizer daily.

Mainers can tap into Maine Standard Biofuels’ biodiesel conversion program by dropping off used cooking oil at its Ingersoll Street location in Portland, checking with a local transfer station to see if it supports the service, or putting the oil out with a Garbage-to-Garden curbside compost bucket for home collection.

The last step in the hierarchy is composting. With much ado, last spring I gave into decades-long pressure from my in-laws to compost, joining the WeCompostIt! fold.

Before I took up composting, I was very diligent about adhering to what I now know to be the higher levels of the food waste hierarchy. But since, I’ve been more lax, pitching usable scraps into the bucket before first considering how to repurpose them.

Thanks to King and his explanation of the Food Recovery Hierarchy, now I have a better visual of where composting should fit into my own efforts to waste less food.

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

]]> 0, 19 Nov 2016 13:51:58 +0000
When the time comes, what new heating system will you choose? Sun, 20 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 There is at least one cold truth about your heating system; it will never die at a convenient time. While it would be nice to have the leisure to thoroughly research all the latest technologies before buying, Murphy’s law of Maine winters suggest your boiler is most likely to be pronounced terminal in late November, just as the last leaf floats to the hardening ground.

That’s why this guide to the most common sorts of heating systems (and a few up and comers) is designed to help you if you have to move fast.

But even if you have more years left in your system, it’s never too soon to start thinking about the next – and greener – means of making it through a Maine winter. (Did you hear the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a cold, wet one?) This isn’t a statistic we like to boast about at Source, but Maine already lays claim to the highest per capita energy usage in New England, according to the U. S. Energy Information Administration.

Ideally a heating system lasts 20 years, so these aren’t choices one should make lightly, or with the short term in mind. If you’ve had an oil system, the temptation to stick with it might be high from a price perspective. It’s not good for the environment, but it’s familiar, and right now, heating oil costs just a smidge over $2 a gallon, almost half what it was in March of 2014. But will it stay cheap for long? It has already crept up from $1.88 in September.

“That’s not really a bet I’d make,” said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy project director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. He conceded that cheap oil means “the math gets trickier” when comparing systems.

There’s a caveat though, as Voorhees points out. “Heating systems are a really important part of your heating equation, but it is important to look at the whole house, particularly if you are thinking about making a large investment. Switching from one fuel to another could have important environmental benefits. But it is not a green choice if you are still wasting a lot of it.” In other words, before you bother to upgrade weatherizing with air sealing and insulation is crucial.

Here are some of the pros and cons of the main methods of heating available today. File it away, because you’ll need it one of these days.


Renewable? No

1111336_857603 oil.jpgFor decades, Mainers have relied on fuel oil No. 2. As recently as the winter of 2005-2006, 80 percent of us heated with it, making it the old reliable. But slowly, steadily, we’ve started to shift away from it. The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey have 61.7 percent of Mainers reporting that they use oil to heat their homes. “Where has that 20 percent gone?” said Lisa J. Smith, senior planner with the Governor’s Energy Office. “Not to just one fuel source.” Electric, propane and wood have all seen bumps as a result.

Price has most often been the driver, but heightened environmental awareness – and a desire to get off foreign fossil fuel imports – have certainly had an impact. Sales of oil furnaces in the U.S. dropped radically in a ten-year period ending 2012, to about 30 percent of what they were in 2002. And as climate change continues to affect how we live and consumers seek more sustainable sources, those sales are expected to continue to drop.

PRO: Oil burns well, which is to say, hot. If you shop for a new system, you’ll hear a lot about Btus. That stands for British thermal unit, and it refers to the amount of energy (heat) generated per gallon. The higher the Btu number, the more heat generated per gallon. Heating oil produces 138,500 Btus per gallon. By comparison, propane systems produce 91,333 Btus. Stands to reason that your oil heat is better, right?

CON: Wrong. Oil systems are less efficient than propane, although the newer and better the equipment, the better oil will perform, up to 80 percent efficiency on new systems and even 85 percent on Energy Star. The rating is known as AFUE, an ungainly acronynm for annual fuel utilization efficiency. What does that mean, precisely? It means that 80 percent of the fuel is actually heating the house; the other 20 percent is lost (up the chimney and out into the air for instance).

THE LOCAL INDEX? No oil, or petroleum, is produced in Maine, although the United States is producing more crude oil than in the past and is expected to continue to do so in the next few decades, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

THE MYTH: Many of us reassure ourselves that at least oil doesn’t involve fracking, which is associated with problems all over the United States, including earthquakes in areas like Ohio, not hitherto known for seismic disruptions. But the picture isn’t that clear. “When you talk about the environmental costs of digging oil and natural gas out of the ground, they are also pretty similar,” Voorhees said. “The extraction of oil and gas and propane are really closely bundled together.” These fossil fuels tend to be found close to each other in the ground and thus fracking produces oil as well as natural gas.


Renewable? Kinda sorta.

1111336_857603 heatpump.jpgThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) loves geothermal heat pumps, which are clean, cost effective and the most energy-efficient means of controlling temperatures, but they can’t run without some electricity.

Ten feet below the surface, temperatures are consistently between 50 and 60 degrees (Siberia, an exception, Fort Kent, not). Geothermal heat pumps transfer that heat into a building. While this is a great technology, geothermal heat pumps, and actually just heat pumps in general, rank high on Ctu scale. That’s the Confusion per thermal unit, meaning how puzzling it is to most of us that transferring soil (or water) temperatures somehow warms up houses. (We made that up, by the way.) It’s challenging to gauge how many Mainers are using geothermal heat pumps since this is not a category surveyed by the Census Bureau. Its 2015 estimates show 11,000 households in the state heating with “other fuels,” with geothermal falling into that catchall category. “It is a tiny slice of the pie right now, but it is growing,” Voorhees said. Notably, “other fuels” included only 2,700 households in 2005, so use of alternative energies is growing in the state.

PRO: They also function as air conditioners in summer. Why don’t we all have them? See below.

CON: The upfront expense is the biggest. You are digging a very large trench in the ground, and putting in some serious infrastructure. You can’t pick this system up at Lowe’s. “It is cost prohibitive unless you are building a new home,” Smith said. Retrofitting a drafty old Maine house to the degree where geothermal makes sense is daunting. “I have been told it just isn’t a feasible thing,” she added. But for new construction, geothermal is the bomb.

THE MYTH: It’s too cold for geothermal in Maine what with the frozen ground and all. Not true. It’s not Siberia, at least not 10 feet down.


Renewable: Mostly.

1111336_857603 airpump.jpgThe principle of an air source heat pump is very similar to a geothermal heat pump, but more electricity is involved in running them (as with air conditioners). The cleaner your electricity source, the better you can feel about your heat pump. “A heat pump is a really good choice,” Voorhees said. “The only thing better than using a heat pump is using a heat pump while running solar on the roof to drive the electricity for your heat pump.”

If your neighbor is jawing on about his heat pump, it’s most likely an air source system, whereby thermal heat from the air (even when it is cold, yes, that’s confusing, but trust) is transferred through a heat exchanger and warms the house.

Heat pumps have been “transformative in Maine’s market,” said Smith of the Governor’s Energy Office. The increase in their efficiency over just a few years has been “phenomenal,” Smith said. Famously, Gov. LePage is a fan, and as he’s demonstrated with solar, he’s not usually one to embrace alternative energies wholeheartedly. But last year, he installed heat pumps in Blaine House.

PRO: “They sell themselves,” Smith said. One person in a neighborhood gets them and then talks them up. “That is how the success of them has moved forward.” They rely on electricity, but “the source of electricity in Maine is very clean,” said Dana Fischer, residential program manager for Efficiency Maine. “It’s one of the cleanest states.”

CON: While there is an almost magical aspect to how they work, extracting heat from the air, heat pumps do require electricity to run. (On the other hand, “everyone has electricity and it’s not like another type of fuel has to be delivered,” Smith said.) Some people complain of a “draft” around the heat pump itself, due to the movement of the air. A backup system, whether it’s a pellet stove or a fossil fuel-run furnace, is generally necessary.

THE MYTH: Cold places aren’t suitable for a technology that depends on air transfer. “That was the general opinion of Mainers,” Smith said, until quite recently. “That was my reaction – ‘What, are you kidding?’ ” Now homeowners all over the state are putting them in. “Even near the Canadian border. As long as it is calibrated correctly, the heat pump takes the load and then the furnace is the backup,” Smith added. Another myth: that heat pumps will freeze and stop working, provoking a terrifying and chilly disaster. Not so, said Fischer, who uses a heat pump in his own home. “It is not like anybody is going to freeze,” Fischer said. “It is just that the house goes down to the mid-60s.” A boost from one of his other heating systems gets it going again.


Renewable? Yes

1111336_857603 solar.jpgThe sun keeps on shining and if someday it doesn’t, we’re all dead anyway. It’s the ultimate renewable energy. How can you use it to heat your house? Mainly, build a Passive House, with super thick walls and the kinds of windows that trap the heat. Then you’d need a supplemental heat source only to get you through the chilly days. Photo voltaic panels on the roof could even generate the electricity to run say, a heat pump. It’s the green dream, really. “Then you get an electric car too and you have enough panels to run it from them and that is the future,” Voorhees said.

Plenty of Mainers have joined the sunshine wave sweeping through Maine, installing solar panels or joining in solar farms. Statistically speaking, they’re probably using solar power for electricity or to heat hot water rather than to heat their homes. Solar can heat ordinary homes (not just Passive Homes); in what is called an active solar heating system, it warms a fluid (water, antifreeze) that circulates through a home – the most common way would be a radiant system. It’s an expensive conversion and again, more suitable for new construction. As of 2015, only 604 households in Maine heated with solar power, according to U.S. Census surveys, up from 451 the year before. It’s a confusing category because it doesn’t distinguish between radiant solar heat and Passive Houses. Smith of the Governor’s Energy Office couldn’t make the distinction, either. Maybe in the future the Census Bureau can add Passive House to your questionnaire.

PRO: Endless.

CON: It’s not cheap – until you factor in your heating costs, or lack thereof. And because the technology is still fairly new to America, only a handful of local architects and builders are working on Passive House models. But those who are, like Ecocor of Searsmont, keep their materials green and local wherever possible (like Maine wood).

MYTH: What about those short days in the winter? “We don’t even have seven hours of daylight in the winter!” Smith said. Doesn’t matter; passive solar construction can work around that.


Renewable? Yes

1111336_857603 wood.jpgIn the 1940s, wood was still a major heating source across the country, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and the South, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than half of Mainers (53.5 percent) heated their homes with wood then, but by 1950, as fuel oil became more commonplace, that number dropped to just half that, and fuel oil rose to 50 percent.

Wood has made a comeback in recent years, probably due to the advent of high-efficiency wood pellet stoves, and modernized cordwood stoves that use catalytic combustors to reduce emissions. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of Mainers who reported using wood as their heat source nearly doubled, up to 71,000 households.

PRO: It’s home grown, mostly, and if sustainably harvested and burned in efficient equipment, a far greener choice than fossil fuels. And the energy burned in producing cord wood is minimal, even less than the energy used to mill wood pellets.

CON: Although the EPA does publish a list of stoves certified to meet emission limits for particulates, no efficiency standards exist yet, which makes them slightly less user friendly for shoppers who want to go green. Still, “an EPA-certified wood stove is much cleaner than what you could get in your parent’s generation,” Voorhees said. “It can be a good choice.” (He takes issue with some Maine power plants that burn wood; “they are really inefficient.”) Cordwood stoves require chimneys to vent combustion gases, which typically add costs to the systems.

THE MYTH: Trees take a long time to grow, so how can nature possibly keep up with human demand? That argument could hold water somewhere, but not in Maine, which has moved in and out of first place in U.S. Forestry Service surveys of the most wooded states in the union.


Renewable? Yes

1111336_857603 pellet.jpgYou don’t get much more local than this form of fuel, with four manufacturers producing wood pellets in Maine, using mostly Maine-grown wood. The Energy Information Administration reports sales of pellet stoves grew rapidly between 2005 and 2008, which is when most of Maine’s pellet mills came on line.

PRO: Require much less care and feeding than a cordwood stove and burn with greater efficiency. “You have to fill your fire box three or four times a day” with cordwood, said Matt Bell, the past president of the Maine Pellet Fuels Association, and owner of Northeast Pellets in Ashland, the first pellet mill built in Maine, in 2004. “With pellets, you fill your stove once a day.” Can be vented directly outdoors.

CON: Supply and demand issues can be even more pronounced than with other fuels. Mainers often have multiple heating systems. “As I say, they run their own little hedge funds,” Lisa Smith said. They go back and forth among several different types of heating systems, burning whatever is cheaper at the moment. “They look at the prices and they say, ‘I’m going to buy more oil this year’ to try to minimize their heating costs.” When that happens, the pellet industry takes a hit. The state’s pellet manufacturers have seen their fortunes rise and wane on the backs of oil prices. Case in point, Corinth Pellets in Corinth, which let nine workers go last January and cut shifts to three days a week from seven.

“Wood heat is in the renewable basket,” Voorhees said. “Although unlike solar, it does have important emission effects.”

THE MYTH: When it comes to heating with wood, a lot of Mainers have been stuck in a 1970s and ’80s mentality, namely that the emissions contribute heavily to air pollution. “Acid rain is actually the result of coal burning in the Midwest and that coming our way, versus burning wood,” Smith said. Moreover, the increased efficiency of pellet stoves means far fewer emissions. But this is still a relatively new technology. “When we started in 2004, it seemed as if I spent more time educating people on what wood pellets are and how they worked than I did actually making them,” Matt Bell said. “We have made a lot of progress there, but there is still a lot of ground to cover.”


Renewable? No

1111336_857603 propane.jpgThe percentage of Mainers using propane, which is extracted from natural gas or refinery gas streams, has increased in recent years but is still relatively low, 9.3 percent, according to Smith of the Governor’s Energy Office. “It has gone up a little as heating oil has gone down a little.” Put it this way, about 17,000 more Maine households were using propane as a heating source in 2015 than there were in 2005.

PRO: Propane is a cleaner fuel than heating oil, emitting lower units of carbon per unit of heat. It can also reach people in rural areas the way natural gas can’t.

CON: In terms of Btu, propane doesn’t have the oomph of fuel oil. “The thing about propane is that it fluctuates at least as much as the rest of the commodities and tends to be more expensive because it doesn’t have as many Btus,” Efficiency Maine’s Fischer said. And Smith recommends “a little more due diligence with propane,” because the price is not regulated. “The market price is the market price. It pays to shop around.”

THE MYTH: The tanks. They’re not pretty and they make a lot of people nervous. Like that they’re-going-to-go-boom nervous. “Do you see propane explosions in Maine?” Smith asked. “No you don’t.” Here’s the thing, Fischer said: Heating oil is a carcinogen, yet people regularly keep 275 gallons of toxic liquid in their basement. “It is a little bit of pick-your-poison.”


Renewable? It’s complicated

From a sustainability perspective, this category is hard to parse for two reasons. The New England grid includes distinctly non-sustainably run power plants (like coal and natural gas). Also at this point, heat source surveys don’t reflect what proportion of households use electricity to run heat pumps, base board or even space heaters. Mainers heating with electricity represent a small slice of the overall population according to the latest Census figures, but it’s on the rise, up more than a percentage point to 6.4 percent in 2015. (That bump could be directly attributable to the new users of heat pumps, like LePage.)

PRO: Generally speaking, what Maine contributes to the New England power grid is fairly green, although we operate as a region, with all states feeding into it. (If you’d like to support green electric power production in Maine, you can request the Maine Green Power option when ordering electricity. Visit the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s website for more information.)

CON: The price. Efficiency Maine estimates that the annual heating cost for a home warmed by electric baseboards is more than twice that of oil and, at current prices, about $1,000 more annually than the next most expensive heating source (a propane furnace).


Renewable: No

In most cold parts of the country, natural gas is the dominant heating fuel. Not in Maine. While it might seem as though half the people you know made the switch to natural gas in recent years, when it was relatively cheap and oil was expensive, that’s not true. According to the most recent census surveys, about 38,000 Maine households out of 545,000 use natural gas.

The difference between burning oil and gas is something Voorhees gets asked all the time. “We are not in the position to tell people that switching to gas is a greener choice,” he said. Nonetheless, “The direct emissions from your boiler or furnace are going to be lower from gas.” He’s lumping propane into this equation as it too is a gas, albeit a wet one. “The emissions from propane and natural gas are really similar.”

PRO: It does burn cleaner. “It has a lower carbon footprint when you burn it, compared to oil,” Dana Fischer of Efficiency Maine said. “But some people are concerned about fracking, so they don’t want to go with natural gas.” As Voorhees pointed out, oil and propane are also often associated with fracking.

CON: “It’s all dirty, and it is all contributing to a warming climate, and we need to move off those fuels,” Voorhees said. “If you are looking to move toward sustainability, then picking between dirty fossil fuels is the wrong question to ask.”

THE MYTH: Haven’t we all heard that natural gas pipelines are mere blocks away from us and will soon be available to us? Not so. For the majority of Mainers who live in rural areas, natural gas is never going to be an option because it doesn’t make economic sense for the natural gas companies to lay pipelines to rural areas.

]]> 16, 21 Nov 2016 11:39:58 +0000
Gardener isn’t the boss of a cat or the coming winter Sun, 20 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: Writer Danielle Walczak, 24, contributed this piece about her battle with a neighborhood cat for control of her kale crop. She lived in Orono at the time, but has recently returned to Westport Island after an extended bike tour. She works for several food and agriculture organizations.

A lot of cats hang out in my neighborhood in Orono, each with a distinct personality but also an ability to permeate personal barriers. The other day the black-and-brown cat with a red collar from across the street jumped into my housemate’s open car window. I once had to run away from the gray cat, who tried to follow me inside. But it’s the tabby cat who is eating my kale.

Rosa Jay/

Rosa Jay/

This morning, he stared at me through my foggy kitchen window. Past decrepit spider webs and squashed-fly fingerprints, we locked eyes. His green, like the color of my kale currently being digested in his stomach.

I planted late in the season. In August, I spent a day ripping plants as tall as I am out of the ground just so I could give a few food-bearing ones a chance to produce by frost. I planted beets and a few potato eyes, which had grown their straggly arms out of the bag where I left them in my basement – reaching for the few remnants of sunlight that found their way in through the damp stone foundation. Lastly, I planted kale – a cool-weather crop durable enough to withstand at least a few cold mornings, if it matured.

But the cat began eating my kale.

There’s something about a small, domesticated animal decimating the crop a nibble at a time that seems to reflect the changing season. I can’t control the cat, and I can’t control the onset of winter. I’ll soon forfeit even my grasp of day and night and of the color palate of the tree line and the grass. More songs will make me sad, or nostalgic – most of the time I can’t tell which. My routines will take on a new rhythm: waking, checking for cat damage and new growth, watering, repeating. I practice it each morning, enough to become habit by snowfall.

In the morning my nose is cold, the butter is firmer and harder to spread. In fall, I grow tired of speaking in metaphors, but the added distancing of analogy is, illogically, the only way I get closer to anything, or anyone. As winter comes, I feel more guarded yet yearn for connection. The wind is fleeing the winter to dance in the trees – a wave. We can observe the seasons’ properties, but have no control over what will crash upon our deciduous shores. I want a quiet, slow morning to melt butter in my pan. Instead, I wonder what will kill my kale first, the cold or the cat.

]]> 3, 18 Nov 2016 12:41:10 +0000
Agreement calls for dam removal, fish passage on Presumpscot River in Westbrook Wed, 16 Nov 2016 15:48:08 +0000 Sappi North America is seeking approvals to remove a dam and make other changes along the Presumpscot River in Westbrook as part of a historic agreement to restore fish populations and enhance recreational uses in the upper river.

Parties involved in the agreement, announced Wednesday, hope it will help revive fish spawning runs and fishing opportunities, as well as attract whitewater kayakers and additional tourists to Westbrook. It also marks the latest stage in a decades-long effort to clean up and restore a heavily industrialized river running through one of Maine’s most populous areas.

“We are pretty confident that Mother Nature is going to like the result here,” said Sean Mahoney of the Conservation Law Foundation, one of the organizations involved in the negotiations. “We’ve seen elsewhere that if you improve fish passage and remove dams, the fish will come back.”

The proposal calls for removing two dam spillways, or headwalls, on either side of an island at Upper Saccarappa Falls and installing a ladder-like fish passage system around Lower Saccarappa Falls. Sections of the river bottom around the upper falls – which has been heavily altered over the past several hundred years – also will be reconfigured to allow fish easier upstream passage.

The agreement was filed Tuesday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the authority to approve Sappi’s application to surrender its license to operate the Saccarappa hydroelectric facility.


The changes are aimed at improving access to the upper river for sea-run fish such as river herring or alewives, American shad and Atlantic salmon. River herring and alewives are a staple food for bald eagles, osprey and striped bass, which are now a popular game fish in the lower Presumpscot.

Sappi or future owners of the dams above Saccarappa would be required to take additional steps to improve fish passage on the upper dams once a certain threshold of spawning fish is achieved. The company received a 10-year license extension for those dams with FERC, delaying a costly and oftentimes contentious process.

1110667_339514 PresumpscotDams1116.jpg

The agreement is subject to approval by FERC, the city of Westbrook and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Other parties to the agreement include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Friends of the Presumpscot River and the Conservation Law Foundation.

A Sappi spokeswoman said the company declined to comment on the agreement.

Michael Shaughnessy, president of Friends of the Presumpscot River, said the plan will help return a 5-mile stretch of river to conditions not seen in roughly 300 years since the first impoundments were built.

“It is an agreement we can all be very proud of,” Shaughnessy said in a written statement. “When the dams are removed and fish passage finally constructed, we will have a wonderful result for the river and for the people who live in the Presumpscot’s watershed. It will open up the longest and cleanest stretch of riverway in the most densely populated area of the state, and it will greatly enhance the economic and recreational value of the river.”

The elimination of the upper spillways and reshaping of the river bottom would result in lower water levels in the pools immediately above the falls, as well as in upper stretches of the river, which could prove controversial with some riverfront landowners, boaters and fishermen.


The Presumpscot has been the subject of regulatory, legal and environmental battles for more than 20 years.

In 2002, the Smelt Hill dam – reportedly the river’s oldest impoundment – was removed near the mouth of the Presumpscot in Falmouth. But that still left eight dams farther upstream.

In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Maine DEP’s ability to require fish passage and minimum water flow standards around the Presumpscot River dams – then owned by S.D. Warren Co. – as part of water quality certifications required for federal relicensing.

The eastern spillway, or dam, and the western spillway on the Presumpscot River in Westbrook could be removed as early as 2020 under an agreement that also calls for a fish passage and a reshaped river bottom to make it easier for fish to swim upstream.

The eastern spillway, or dam, and the western spillway on the Presumpscot River in Westbrook could be removed as early as 2020 under an agreement that also calls for a fish passage and a reshaped river bottom to make it easier for fish to swim upstream. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Three years later, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife ordered Sappi to build a new fish passage system around the Cumberland Mills Dam. That system became operational in 2013, and since then the company has been working with Westbrook city officials as well as conservation organizations on an agreement to provide fish passage around Saccarappa Falls.

Per the agreement, passage around the lower falls would be provided by a “double Denil” fish ladder, and Sappi also would install a fish-counting facility at the exit of the system. The company has until 2024 to begin operating the counting facility.

The upper falls are more complicated because there are actually two dams, or spillways, separated by an island. The agreement states that Sappi will remove both spillways and work to allow fish passage via a two-channel system that also seeks to re-create a more natural topography on the river bottom. The dams could be removed as early as 2020.

The total cost to Sappi for the design and construction of all projects is capped at roughly $5 million.


In 2013, Westbrook officials and representatives of the conservation groups had supported Sappi’s request for an extension of the deadline to install fish passage at Saccarappa Falls in order to find a solution that mimics the natural river bottom. Sappi had initially proposed retaining one of the two dams at the falls and installing a concrete fish ladder to get fish over the dam.

“The whole site has been altered so much over the past 150 years that it is hard to know what it looked like,” Shaughnessy said. “But we do know from historical records about the fish that passed there. … There is great habitat for herring and shad, and there is also some habitat for salmon as well.”

1110667_339514 SaccarappaDamWtbrk11.jpg

Westbrook officials could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. However, city officials have said they hoped a more natural-looking river would be aesthetically pleasing to local residents, workers and visitors. The removal of the dam spillways also could draw whitewater kayakers to the fast-running water and rapids created by the river’s 29-foot drop in the Saccarappa Falls section.


If approved by federal regulators as well as Sappi officials, the Presumpscot River dam removals would be the latest in a series of river restoration projects in Maine that have drawn international attention.

In 1999, Edwards Dam was removed from the Kennebec River in Augusta, reopening a 17-mile stretch of the river to alewives, striped bass, sturgeon and other sea-run fish.

But the most ambitious work has taken place on the Penobscot River, where an unprecedented agreement between a hydroelectric company, conservation groups, the Penobscot Nation and government agencies led to the removal of two large dams in 2012 and 2013, as well as construction of a bypass around a third dam. More than 1.2 million alewives, 7,800 American shad and nearly 1,600 striped bass were counted returning to the Penobscot this year.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat whose district includes the Presumpscot River watershed, praised the agreement with Sappi.

“The renaissance of this once highly polluted river has driven robust economic development in Westbrook and other communities in recent years. This project will keep that momentum going,” Pingree said in a written statement. “I applaud Sappi and all the other project partners for reaching this historic agreement. It’s a testament to how we can work together to support both Maine industries and our natural resources.”


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Appleton family’s house of straw is one for the books Mon, 14 Nov 2016 03:23:25 +0000 When Chris Grigsby and his wife, Kat Richman, think about how they want to live, they consider what type of world they want their 13-year-old son to grow up in.

“It’s important to think about those things, in regards to taking what you need and leaving the rest,” Grigsby said.

He says that ties in with his work at organic cooperatives and now as incoming director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Certification Services LLC. He and his wife both focus on saving energy and being sustainable, and when they decided to build a home, they chose an uncommon design for Maine: a straw bale house.

The idea to build such a house came from a walk more than a decade ago through the Common Ground Fair in Unity. The couple talked with Noah Wentworth, who represents the Evergreen Building Collaborative and had built about 10 straw bale buildings by then.

“We just got behind the concept of utilizing a natural resource for insulating a house,” Grigsby said.

One of the few downsides to choosing to use straw bales for the house was that construction took a little longer than he would have liked, Grigsby said, but they moved into their new home in Appleton by 2007.

The home is like a traditional post-and-beam, two-story house, but it uses large, tightly compacted straw bales for insulation. The bales, bought from eastern Canada, are up to 4 feet long and cost the couple about $8 or less per bale, Grigsby said. While he couldn’t recall the exact number of bales they used, he said it was probably a few hundred. The total cost of the house was about the same it would have been if they had used a completely traditional model, he said.

There are many positives to building a house using straw bales, Grigsby said, and, for him, few negatives.

While a house made with straw would seem a likely fire hazard, the straw bales are actually fire-retardant. The bales are packed so densely that there is not enough oxygen to keep a fire alive should it come near the house, Grigsby said. The fire would smolder when it reached the house, causing some damage but dying out.

Builders also use straw over hay because it has no protein or nutrient value, so it doesn’t attract mice or rodents.

Some insurance companies don’t cover straw bale structures, but the couple didn’t run into that situation. They got a construction loan through Wells Fargo without a problem, as well, he said.


Grigsby works at Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative as the director of operations, which distributes locally grown produce to clubs, restaurants and retail stores across Maine, but he will be leaving soon to join MOFGA.

On Nov. 3, it was announced that he would be the new director of MOFGA Certification Services LLC., an offshoot of the organic advocacy nonprofit focused on supporting farmers. MOFGA Certification Services certifies farms as organic and has about 520 client operations.

Grigsy has been on the organization’s certification services management committee, which oversees the business that certifies farms as organic, for the past two years. He is stepping down with the announcement of his new position.

As director of the certifying arm of MOFGA, Grigsby will serve as a point of communication between the LLC and the nonprofit organization.

“There’s been a big sort of uptick in farmers wanting to (become organic),” he said, accrediting much of that to MOFGA’s role in supporting farmers and helping them through the process.

The work that MOFGA does is about much more than farming, and the ethos of being organic influences how he tries to live, Grigsby said.

“Part of being a certified organic farmer is you have to have a farm plan,” he said, explaining that organic farmers have to write how they are going to put the nutrients they take from the soil back into it.

His straw bale home’s walls are at least 18 inches thick and create a “thermal mass” protecting the inside of the home from the weather outside.

The couple use a wood stove as their sole heating source. In the winter, Grigsby said, it can be 68 degrees inside without heat and, after a cold night, they can wake up to a 64-degree house.

Similarly, the house never gets above 75 degrees in the summertime.

The couple also bought energy-efficient appliances and a solar hot water heater, which collects solar energy to heat up water so the boiler tank doesn’t have to work as hard.

“We were willing to invest a little bit upfront to save in our utility bills,” Grigsby said. Now they spend about $40 monthly on electricity.

They also created a homestead, living out the idea that people should try to make what they can at home.

While he and his wife both work full time and lead busy lives, they do what they can to be self-sufficient. They grow blueberries, have a 40-by-40-foot garden and raise chickens for their eggs.

“My work and career is really a lot around local food,” Grigsby said. “What’s the most local food you can have? It’s coming out of your garden.”


When Grigsby and his wife started looking at building a home and saw what they could save with a straw bale house, they thought, “That makes a lot of sense,” he said.

But it’s difficult to find how many other people have thought the same thing. The International Straw Bale Building Registry collects data about straw bale construction all over the world, but it says its numbers are probably inaccurate because builders and owners list the buildings on a voluntary basis. Actual numbers are probably 10 times more than what has been reported to the registry, its website says.

According to the registry, there are 778 straw bale buildings in the United States, nine of which are in Maine, though Grigsby’s home isn’t listed among them.

Straw bale homes date back to the Paleolithic era in Africa and up to 400 years ago in Germany. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, people in the Nebraska Sandhills started using straw bales to build because of a lack of other building materials.

Grigsby said while the style isn’t popular in Maine, a lot of homes in the Southwest were constructed with straw bales.

He hopes the choices he and his wife have made about their lifestyle will serve as an example for at least his son, he said.

“There are different ways to live a comfortable life,” he said. “We can live a little bit differently and we can have a little less impact on the environment … if we can all sort of have a little bit of an understanding on what the impact is.”

Grigsby said he understands that life is hectic, and there are days he’ll come home from work and just heat up mac and cheese for his son before soccer practice, but for the most part he tries to “lead by example.”

“There’s a movement there that I don’t think is a fluke or any kind of a one-off, at least not in Maine,” he said.

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This good-for-you chocolate bar tastes good too Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 You know how some people will try to convince you to eat something that’s good for you by telling you it tastes good? Disappointment usually follows. But in the case of MarthaBars, they really are both healthy and delicious.

The MarthaBar doesn’t claim to be low in calories or fat. It’s got 250 calories, about the same as a regular candy bar, and 35 percent of the recommended daily amount of saturated fat.

1108064_543092 Martha Bar.jpgBut it’s made with all of the good-for-you individual ingredients that you hear about in the news, the stuff that scientists are studying for potential health benefits – almonds, peanut butter, honey, cranberries, coconut oil, chia, hemp protein powder, flax and cinnamon. All of that is draped in a thick, luscious coating of dark chocolate.

Martha Carton of Freeport created MarthaBars with the help of a nutritionist friend. She was inspired by her three sons – they went off to college, and she worried about what they were eating. Her youngest, who still attends the University of Maine at Orono, regularly asks for the bars to be included in his care packages, she says, telling his mom to “make sure to put in enough for all my roommates and my Frisbee team.”

Carton says she thinks much of the appeal is that it’s a chewy bar. “A lot of bars with healthy ingredients can be dry or grainy,” she said.

The bars are made in a commercial kitchen in Brunswick. Carton markets them as energy bars to active people – runners, cyclists and hikers. But parents like them too, she said.

She is working on new versions of the bar – one with sunflower butter instead of peanut butter for people with peanut allergies, and perhaps a version without the chocolate coating. Athletes, she said, “don’t want the chocolate. They just want the energy part of it.”

Locally, MarthaBars are sold at Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Portland, the Bay Club and the Portland Food Coop for about $3.50 a bar, depending on the store. They can also be purchased online for $3 a bar plus shipping.

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The dish on bar soap: It’s less popular but more sustainable Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Bar soap is in trouble. Sales are down 2 percent just since 2014. The old cake of cleanliness is losing the marketing battle to liquid soap and bath gel/body wash. According to a 2016 study, almost half of American consumers believe bars of soap collect and retain germs. Soap, the stuff that elimintates germs.

Right now you may be thinking, “And I should care, why?” And what is up with Source, has its staff writer lost her mind?

Well, it has been a stressful week, but hear me out. There are environmental reasons why this small thing matters, why it represents how convenience, or perceptions of convenience, lead us to make consumer choices that make little to no sense and end up overtaxing the earth’s resources pointlessly.

This story is meant as a persuasion. After you read it, maybe you’ll reconsider that old standby, bar soap, maybe even a handcrafted version from a Maine soapmaker. The Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild lists 12 Maine soapmakers, but Tammy Knight of Maine Made, the state’s 30-year-old Maine Products Marketing Program, estimates there are closer to 75.

“It really has become a new little cottage industry,” Knight said.

That’s due in part to influence from the state’s farm-to-table movement, she said. “Many of these are homesteaders who are working with goat’s milk and using different ingredients that they have on their farms.” (Home Brewed Soaps in Rockland even uses its own craft beer to make soap.)


The idea for this story came to me out of a series of cranky Andy Rooney moments that began in various showers-not-my-own as I paid overnight visits to friends and family this summer.

At midlife, I need my glasses just to distinguish the shampoo from the conditioner. Soap though, I do not generally have a problem recognizing. But several times this summer, I found myself in showers with no bar of soap in sight. Instead I was surrounded by bottles, all of them a sea of fine print. For the naked, practically blind woman, these could be shampoo, they could be body wash or they could be Agent Orange.

All were extremely packaged plastic bottles with plastic pumps. Pumps that don’t always last as long as the soap inside, rendering the alleged convenience of the product a joke. My favorite, everyday glycerin soap from the Body Shop comes unwrapped. Often, so do the soaps I pick up at farmers markets or in lovely stores where I can’t afford anything else. Maybe there’s a band of paper or a piece of ribbon, nothing or little to recycle.

Somewhere in my shower-hopping period, I ended up at Stonewall Kitchen, which was proudly debuting new scents of their liquid hand soaps, with names like “Maine Woods” and “Coastal Breeze.” The colors were pretty, and I had Airbnb guests due. Anyone who rents a house out knows that small touches like a fresh sponge – still in package, naturally – go a long way toward good reviews. I always put out fresh soaps (which after a good lather, I reuse myself) but maybe I needed to get with the program. I forked over the $9.95.

I’ve been looking at that bottle with a vague sense of resentment ever since. Why had I succumbed? Didn’t there have to be a difference, sustainability wise, between bar and bottle?


Other writers have been asking the same question, in places as diverse as InStyle’s website and Scientific American. Many articles referred to the findings of a study on the carbon footprint of bar soap versus liquid soap by a pair of Swiss researchers, Annette Koehler and Caroline Wildbolz, who were at that time at the Swiss Insitute of Technology.

Both have gone on to other work, and only abstracts were available, but Koehler sent the full thing along and explained in an email that their research had focused on nine different personal care products and household cleaning agents, which they studied from cradle-to-grave.

“We wanted to shed light on the aspects that really matter,” she wrote.

They found that bar soap has an overall smaller carbon footprint than liquid soap, but that surprising consumer choices in their use influenced the equation. While the production of liquid soap has a far greater environmental footprint, about three times that of bar soap, hand washers tend to use more water, 42 percent more, when they’re lathering up with a bar of soap. But they use less of it per wash than liquid soap (0.35 grams to 2.3 grams for every handscrubbing). So more water, less product. Or less water, more product.

But besides the water usage issue (controllable by the aware consumer), the main ding against bar soap in terms of sustainability is that it typically uses vegetable oils, and thus the agricultural impact of producing and transporting those oils must be considered, even though at the end product state, the plastic, liquid-filled bottles are far weightier to transport – and recycle – than a bar of soap.

Peter Digirolamo of Rockland-based Trillium Soaps readily admits that he and his wife, Nancy, couldn’t make their bar soap without products from all over the world. “Olive, coconut, palm oil – none of those come from the United States,” Digirolamo said.

But using those whole oils tends to make for a more wholesome product, he said, one that is easier on the skin. The chemicals required to process soap into a liquid form tend to be harsher, he and others said. He has no plans or interest in making a liquid soap. “We don’t even go there,” he said.

Ultimately the Swiss study found that liquid soap has a 25 percent larger carbon footprint than bar soap. Is the liquid soap you’re buying that much more pleasing? Not to me.

Or to Shannon Grauer of Casco Bay Soap Co. She makes soap in her Durham home, uses food-grade ingredients and incorporates Maine ingredients like cornmeal or oatmeal from Fairwinds Farm in Bowdoinham. She eschews wrapping whenever possible, tries to keep prices to $4 a bar and believes she’s making a pure and healthy product. After nine years, she’s now selling only wholesale, including – gulp, to L.L. Bean’s Home store – she’s found a recipe for success. But no, she won’t be adding a liquid soap to her line either, although she understands why consumers have latched onto it.

“My sister uses it because she has got young kids,” Grauer said. With bar soap, she said, “they make a mess. They leave it in a puddle of water.”

“I think a lot of people moved away from the bar when everybody started getting nervous about germs,” she said. “There is really nothing wrong with a bar of soap. It doesn’t hold onto dirt and germs.”

What sticks in my craw – I did say this was an Andy Rooney rant – is the marketing that created a whole other variety of soap that costs consumers and the environment more. And we bought it.


I suspect the real reason we shifted to liquid soap has more to do with fear of someone else’s “cooties,” e.g. pubic hair. (Let it be noted that the public transition to bath gels and liquid soaps coincided with the popularization of “The Brazilian” bikini wax, as introduced to wider society by “Sex and the City”‘s Carrie Bradshaw circa 2000.)

According to Mintel, a marketing research firm that released findings on the soap market earlier this year, younger consumers, aged 18 to 24, were particularly negative about bar soap, with 60 percent of them believing that germs from one user sit on a bar of soap, ready to leap onto the next.

Studies don’t support that. Soap suspicion dates back at least to 1965, when studies were seriously quaint. Ten panelists (Did Don Draper just call in the secretarial pool?) had their hands inoculated with Serratia marcescens, a bacterium that thrives in bathroom settings (if your shower tile is looking pinkish, that’s probably what it is). They washed their hands and the soap was then passed to 10 more panelists, who duly washed their hands and were tested for the Serratia marcescens. None could be found.

In 1985, another study was conducted at the Dial Technical Center, the home of Dial soap, clearly, a vested interest. The panel was extended to 16 people, and this time the researchers soaked the germs – including E. coli – into the test bars of soap. In the end, the study concluded “that there is little, if any, risk of cross contamination from washing with previously used soap bars.”

“Yes, studies show that in home-type settings, bar soap does not spread germs,” said Dora Anne Mills, former Maine State Health Officer, now vice president for clinical affairs at the University of New England and director of its Center for Excellence in Health Innovation. (In an email, she said she uses liquid soap in the kitchen for convenience and bar soap in the bath.)

The unfounded fear of superpowered germs gave rise not just to liquid soap, but a whole new category of “antibacterial soap.” Most big soap companies, including the Dial Corporation, have been churning out these antibacterial products for years, even though washing with plain soap has been shown to be quite effective.

After several years in the proposed rule-making process, the United States Food & Drug Administration in September announced it was banning over-the-counter antibacterial soaps, which typically contain triclosan and triclocarbon, from the marketplace because they have not been proven to be safe to use over a long period of time. “Also, manufacturers haven’t shown that these ingredients are any more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illnesses and the spread of certain infections,” the FDA says.

FDA doesn’t weigh in on issues like carbon footprints, so liquid soap isn’t going anywhere – unless consumers see the value in something old-fashioned that also shaves even a tiny bit off the relentless, quickening march toward an unsustainable world.


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Steven Finn’s a teacher, writer and consultant who is fighting waste Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Steven Finn used to work in the distribution sector, running the financial side of industrial supplies (literally nuts and bolts he says). He spent a lot of time on the road globally, focusing on numbers, control and efficiency, but after 25 years he started thinking about what was missing.

He’d always had an interest in the environment, but sustainability caught his attention, and although he already had an MBA, he went back to school for a master’s degree in organizational dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania, where he concentrated on global food waste.

“I became enamored with the triple bottom line,” he said, referring to a corporate philosophy that prioritizes social and environmental responsibilities as well as profits. “Why aren’t more organizations trying to do good in addition to making money?”

Now he’s teaching, running a sustainability and change consultancy called ResponsEcology, and as a recent transplant to Maine, diving into local food issues. (You might have spotted him serving food at the recent Feeding 5,000 event in Portland.) We called him up to find out what lured him to Maine and learned about everything from dumpster diving to what our big fridges say about us.

STATE AND MAINE: His teaching gig is at UPenn and the class he typically teaches is called Global PENNovation, a “deep dive into a major sustainability topic, like food, or water security.” From Portland to Pennsylvania seems like a very long commute; why move to Maine? Finn said he came for a gig at composting giant Casella, but internal disagreements over how to prioritize sustainabiity initiatives cut that short. “It’s enabled me to get back to the food-to-people piece of the hierarchy.”

SEMINAL MOMENT: When Finn was traveling in Sweden, he was struck by a refrigerator in the window of an appliance store. It was the size of a fridge a college student in the U.S. might have in her dorm room, but it was intended for the average home. It spoke, he said, to a concept the Swedes have, of having “just enough,” that Americans aren’t used to. One of the people he met in Sweden remarked to him, “You Americans do everything big” and attributed that quality to the U.S. having won the war and saved the world. “You had swagger, and you did everything big,” he recalled them saying. This gave him serious pause. “It made me think about myself as a parent. What do we all want for our kids? We want to create a better world for our kids.” After World War II, Americans re-created the world as one ruled by abundance, he said.

“It is amazing to me just how fast that transition occurred,” he said. “It’s all around us, on a 24/7 basis, we can get any variety of food at any time. And there is a great cost to that.”

PRESCRIPTIVE: “We need to shift that, to recognize that we simply can’t go on wasting all of this.” And by “this” he means not merely cleaning our plates, but understanding that it’s not just food that gets wasted, but the energy that was used to create it. He looks at it from an opportunity costs perspective. “If you think about what else we could have done, all the human capital, the human labor – if we put that into social enterprises, if we put that into some positive environmental action.”

Finn has a blog, foodforthoughtful, which he uses mainly as a creative outlet and place to collect the latest news on these issues. “I look at it as providing a resource for learning more about food waste and food insecurity.”

ARE YOU GOING TO EAT THAT? Finn is a dedicated user of the PowerPoint presentation, and he features photos he’s taken himself, including one of a pile of roasted chickens. Like, a big pile. He has a habit, he said, of documenting egregious examples of food waste at restaurants and markets. “I sometimes swing around to the back and see what I can find.” In that particular case, at a supermarket, “It was a January or February day and I could smell these chickens. It was like Thanksgiving. It smelled tremendous.” The chickens were still warm. “There was absolutely no reason they couldn’t have been eaten.”

He encourages shoppers to ask their retailers what they do with their excess food. There has to be a better place for chickens an hour past their sell-by date to end up than the dumpster.

KITCHEN TIPS? Since he’s the waste expert, what tips does he have for getting the most out of a load of groceries? “Use your freezer.” Plan better. “Shop your pantry.” And maybe dedicate a day every week to using up leftovers. “Maybe it’s a stew or a quiche, somewhere where you can put a lot of foods together.” Soup and pizza are popular vehicles for leftovers. “Shepherd’s pie is another example. My kids (he has four, two still at home) love that because of the mashed potatoes.”

Then there’s taking, let’s say, a more considered view of the sell-by date on food. “So many of us think you pull that milk out of the refrigerator and you better dump it all because it is past the date.” Stopping food waste is an important step in the fight against climate change, he said. “We ought to be talking more about it.” At this point we had to ask, is he acquainted with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s work on this very issue? Yes. “Ironically, I moved right into Chellie Pingree’s district.”

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Living a zero-waste life when you have small children presents special challenges Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a monthly four-part series about a group of professors and staff at the University of Maine at Augusta undertaking a Zero-Waste Challenge. Can they live for a semester without generating any trash for the landfill or incinerator?

When I accepted a colleague’s invitation to participate in the University of Maine at Augusta’s zero-waste initiative, I implicitly signed up my entire family for major lifestyle changes. As a parent of a 4-year-old (Iris) and an 18-month-old (Arlo), I am used to making unilateral decisions about playdates, family vacations, meal plans and more. The decision to attempt zero waste – a group of 32 professors and university staff have set that as our collective goal for the fall semester – seems bigger than most of these things, though, as it affects all members of my family every day.

Attempting zero waste with young children has many special challenges. Many times over the past two months, exasperated, I have thought to myself, this would be so much easier if I lived alone! (Just planning and baking a week’s worth of snacks for the kids can take up much of my weekend.) On the positive side, zero wasting as a family also comes with specific rewards and opportunities.

A favorite book in our house is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” a whimsical story about Chewandswallow, a town where people benefit from ready-to-eat meals that fall from the sky until the food falling from the sky becomes unappetizing and dangerous. The town’s residents have to set sail for a new home, settling in a place “where they found it odd that the food was kept on the shelves, packaged in boxes, cans, and bottles.”

Since my 4-year-old is an invested participant in zero wasting this fall, the book has prompted conversations around food choices and waste. We discuss how receiving food from the sky is both like and unlike getting food from our garden and farmers market, as well as how getting used to packaged food is both like and unlike getting used to going without packaged food. Connecting our zero-waste project to what we read and observe helps the family be conscious of our consumption choices, while we also work to understand that having such choices is a privilege not afforded to everyone.

The zero-waste choices we have been making of late all fall under one of the five tenets of zero waste: refuse, reduce, re-use, recycle and rot.


The zero-waste action of refusing provides a way to avoid unnecessary consumption. This is, perhaps, a tenet of parenting in general, as it sets precedent for answers to questions like “Can I please have 10 puppies?” and “Can I have that stool? I need to climb up to the very highest bookshelf.” Refusal is nothing new for parents.

Zero-wasting refusal takes that to the next level, though: no more cheap plastic toys, no more hair accessories, no more restaurant take-out, no more bendy plastic straws and no more 10-cent candy from the corner market, either. I’m still not a perfect refuser. I looked the other way when my family bought plastic Halloween window decorations, but I know that next year we can try window paint instead.


One thing that I cannot refuse but instead try to use less of and then recycle is paper. As a 21st-century parent, I am aware that digital screens too often suck my attention away from engaging with my children. Even when I glance at my smartphone for just a second to find a recipe or consult my shopping list, I get drawn into texts and emails that seem to need immediate answers. To limit my screen time, I print out recipes and handwrite shopping lists. I am able to reduce the amount of paper I use by writing mostly on scraps (receipts that snuck into bags, junk mail envelopes we never returned to sender, the margins of preschool worksheets), after which I toss the scribbled sheets into the recycling bin.


The tenent of reuse has not been particularly difficult for us, but it is time consuming. Before joining the zero-waste initiative, my family was casual cloth diaper users; we relied on disposables overnight and when we were traveling. We used disposable wipes. Now, we use cloth diapers exclusively, as well as cloth wipes. Along with the piles of diaper laundry, we scramble to keep up with laundering cloth napkins, cloth paper towel alternatives and handkerchiefs.

Also time-consuming is consciously working to reuse food storage containers. A child’s leftover dinner can no longer just be cling-wrapped and slid into the refrigerator: transferring between place settings and food storage containers generates lots of dirty dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher.

Still, it is embracing these practices of re-use that brought our average trash from 25 pounds a week to only five pounds.

To some extent, reusing has become our family’s “cheat” category of zero-wasting. We have embraced the idea a little too fondly, vowing to use plastic packaging and other waste we generate for “arts and crafts projects.” But how many yogurt containers can one family really use, make that re-use, for crafting? Still, I’d argue that repurposing package waste into kid-friendly crafting is, to a point, an authentic zero-waste move. Our creative projects may not turn out as Pinterest-worthy as if we purchased new materials like construction paper and sequins, but the projects are still fun to do and the kids are still proud of their work: They are certainly willing to use their imaginations to make up for any end product deficiencies.


Young children pose special challenges for following this tenet, which refers to composting organic materials. For instance, a cucumber slice that soaked in a puddle of store-bought ranch dressing (we recycle the glass container) for an hour is perhaps less compost-friendly than ordinary produce trimmings. Also, baking mistakes – like when I get too confident about how much kale I can sneak into a batch of muffins and nobody eats them – often include oil or dairy, and so are not ideal to add to a home-based compost pile.

Still, rot is hands down the favorite zero waste tenet in our house. For kids, composting is an on-going science experiment that has a thrillingly high “yuck” factor.

Elizabeth Powers is an assistant professor of English at the University of Maine at Augusta.

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Don’t bag up your leaves for the city to collect Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 No doubt you’ve seen people raking and otherwise removing leaves already this fall, but in my opinion it’s a waste of time. While I don’t stare at the trees waiting for the absolute last leaf to fall, I am only going to rake once – and the right time begins about now. Any earlier and more leaves will fall to mess up the lawn and any later you risk snow or ice trapping leaves on your lawn until spring.

Removing leaves is the most onerous job in gardening. I know people who love weeding, mowing, tilling, planting, harvesting and deadheading. I have never heard people say they enjoy raking or – even worse – running ear-splitting leaf vacuums and blowers.

You have to deal with those leaves, but maybe you don’t need to spend as much time with them as you have in the past.

You do have to get the leaves off your lawn – if you have a lawn. If you leave your leaves (the homonyms have different sources, according to an online etymological dictionary) on the lawn, they will smother the grass and kill it.

Elsewhere in your yard, you can let the leaves stay where they fall. In natural forests, where trees are healthiest, no one rakes. The leaves slowly decompose where they fall, creating a soft forest floor of humus, which over time provides food to the trees that dropped them in the wonderful self-sustaining cycle of nature.

In the less wild home garden of small trees and shrubs, rotting leaves could provide the same benefit of putting organic matter in the garden. They serve as an organic mulch, preventing weeds and retaining moisture. Some people, however, think the leaves look messy in the domesticated areas of yards.

Raking provides more benefits than just removing leaves. It also removes dead thatch, which if left in place will form a mat and prevent water and nutrients from reaching the roots of the grass.

Using a leaf blower does nothing to remove thatch. In addition, the blowers are the noisiest machines homeowners use and, let’s face it, you know your neighbors hate hearing them. So, to keep your neighborhood neighborly, rake don’t blow. It may give you blisters on your hands and pain in your back, but it is quiet.

Now, what to do with the raked leaves? Most people let their local municipality take care of them. In Portland and neighboring municipalities with trash pickup, homeowners are asked to put leaves in compostable paper bags, which the public works department picks up and takes to a central facility, where they are composted.

Steve Earley, interim operations manager for the Portland Public Works Department, said it is impossible to figure out how much the city spends on picking up leaves. The budget allots $11,250 for overtime payments for that task, but that figure doesn’t include extra costs such as fuel and vehicle maintenance. And leaves that people illegally rake to the curbs to be gathered by street sweepers are collected on straight time, so it’s impossible to calculate the impact on the budget for that. In Westbrook, the leaf-collection figure in the budget is $20,000, said Eric Dudley, director of Engineering and Public Services. You can see that your city or town is spending your money to collect your leaves.

Sustainable gardeners don’t let the city get involved. They use their leaves on their own gardens. Leaves are so valuable that some people actually import them.

Dean Cole, a jeweler and iris hybridizer who lives in Gorham, has commercial leaf-removal companies dump leaves near his iris beds so he can chop them up and put them down as mulch between his rows of irises.

In Cape Elizabeth, where people who don’t hire leaf-removal companies must take their own leaves to the town recycling center, I have seen people – including Gary Wnek, a daylily hybridizer – loading leaves into pickup trucks and SUVs to bring home.

But most people will want to deal only with leaves that fall on their own lawn. You can process them in several different ways. If you don’t have many and you have a good mulching mower, chop up the leaves by mowing through them several times and leave them on the lawn, where they will compost by spring.

You also can create a compost bin and fill it with leaves. You won’t be able to create true compost because you want have enough green matter like grass clippings to create the proper mix for compost. But you can create leaf mold. The leaf mold should be ready for you in the spring, when you can use it as mulch in your gardens rather than buying someone else’s chopped up tree bark.

What I am going to do this year is to modify Cole’s method. I’ll rake the leaves, haul them into the vegetable garden and mow them until they are in tiny pieces that will easily decompose.

I’d done a bit of that before, dumping in the leaves I mowed early in the fall into the garden. They decomposed well. The whole leaves I put into the garden didn’t decompose enough and often blew back onto the lawn.

So this year, after I dump the leaves into the garden, I am going to mow over them several times to chop them up. I use an electric mower, which isn’t as noisy or polluting as gasoline mowers, so I won’t be bothering my neighbors much.

The soil test we had done on our garden last fall said we could use more organic matter, so this is how we will get it.

I’m not saying I will enjoy dealing with these leaves, but I am looking forward to seeing how this all works out.

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

]]> 1, 11 Nov 2016 08:28:41 +0000
Is Portland, or any place, a place to avoid climate change? That’s a dream Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 “The man who is often thinking that it is better to be somewhere else than where he is,” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “excommunicates himself.” The same might be said for those who ask, as Jonah Engel Bromwich did in a recent New York Times article featuring Portland, “Where should you live to escape climate change?”

Searching for a dream town where one can “escape the brunt” of climate impacts feeds the complacency and denial that got us to this dangerous threshold. It’s easy to fantasize about cities portrayed as climate pageant winners, particularly when – like Portland – they offer great restaurants, scenery and schools.

Far harder is the real work that awaits us. How can we mobilize our own communities, changing habits, energy systems and municipal infrastructure?

To answer that, we’ll need to forfeit illusions of finding safe havens in a warming world. Those are mere mirages that recede rapidly upon closer inspection.

Bromwich names Portland a “solid option” for climate resilience due to some high topography and its projected resistance to “systemic drought.” While Portland’s charisma and beauty have earned it a place on many “best city” rankings, this recent designation as a “better bet” for climate change disturbed some residents.

“I don’t want to be distracted discussing whether we’re better off than others,” notes William Needelman, waterfront coordinator for the city of Portland. “I’m worried about our neighborhoods.”

The city’s bustling Old Port, much of it built on fill, is highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm surge. Parts of the gateway Bayside neighborhood are even lower in elevation than the Maine State Pier along Portland’s waterfront. King tides periodically fill Bayside intersections with briny water. Scientists, engineers, city officials and local residents are meeting to decide what can be done in this vulnerable neighborhood that was once tidal wetland.

Portland has not been at the forefront of adaptation planning, Needelman acknowledges, but it’s now trying to learn from other cities like Boston and New York that are national leaders in climate change planning.

Sea-level rise is just one of many climate-related challenges facing Portland. Lyme disease from blacklegged (deer) ticks has become a serious threat, and the region’s rich fisheries face an uncertain future. Warmer waters are driving Maine’s iconic lobsters toward Canada, and ocean acidification is disrupting marine ecosystems.

The confident assertion in Bromwich’s article that Maine won’t face “systemic drought” already rings hollow. The entire southern coast of Maine experienced an “extreme drought” earlier this fall, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and remains in a severe drought.

When rain does come, it’s often in a deluge. A single rainstorm last fall delivered 5.63 inches, leaving both the Bayside and Old Port neighborhoods awash.

The climate challenges that Portland faces are shared by countless other communities – including the other pageant contestants Bromwich promoted.

Relocation is a harsh reality that some people will face as sea levels rise, but encouraging the privileged to undertake elective moves could undermine communities – leaving fewer committed residents to devise local strategies for climate adaptation.

Smaller municipalities face particular challenges, notes Cameron Wake, professor of climate and sustainability at the University of New Hampshire. “They are unlikely to get much federal or state support as the lion’s share of those resources will be focused on big urban centers,” Wake says, and they may lose significant tax revenue as valuable waterfront properties succumb to repeated flooding.

Stepping into a leadership void, some municipalities already are making plans and paying for adaptation measures, recognizing that those investments can forestall more costly outcomes.

Along the low-lying coast of New Hampshire, for example, the Coastal Risks and Hazards Commission recently reached what Wake describes as a “bipartisan consensus that it’s time to start getting prepared for this,” releasing a set of recommendations to help towns and cities minimize risks and increase their resilience.

When it comes to climate change, there are no winning cities. “No one is fortunate in this situation,” Needelman says. “We all have work to do.”

Marina Schauffler is a writer whose work is online at

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As climate shifts, Bean’s customers warm to lighter jackets Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 FREEPORT — Like shrinking Arctic sea ice, sales of jackets at L.L. Bean are an indicator of warming winters.

Ten years ago, the best-selling jacket at Maine’s flagship outdoors retailer was a heavily insulated parka rated for temperatures between 10 degrees and minus 40. Today, the top seller is an ultralight down jacket rated between 25 and minus 25.

Coming on strong is a down sweater that weighs almost nothing and is rated between 30 and minus 20.

A warming climate might be hotly contested by some, but the appeal of a lighter winter jacket isn’t. It’s an industry-wide trend driven by consumer demand, not science or ideology.

“It has been the biggest shift in the outerwear business in the past five years,” said A.J. Curran, product director for outerwear at L.L. Bean. “We call it seasonal versatility. People can use (these jackets) through a normal winter day, what has become the new normal.”

1109353_970266 BeanJackets1116.jpg

Behind the new normal in outerwear is a string of warmer-than-average weather readings.

Globally, the top 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1998, according to federal weather-tracking agencies.

In the United States, last winter was the warmest since record-keeping began in the late 19th century. New England was warmest of all the regions, with Maine 8.6 degrees above average. Yes, everyone was bundled up during the polar vortex in 2014, but clothing makers don’t design for one extreme year. Overall, they’re shifting to season-straddling winter wear that’s comfortable over a wider range of temperatures.

The trend is well documented in specialty publications.

Women’s Wear Daily previewed this fall’s line of men’s outerwear by Woolrich, calling them “transitional pieces that can be worn at different temperatures.” Those include field jackets in stretch material for easy layering, Gore-Tex jackets with thin padding and – a first for Woolrich – an Arctic parka without fur.

Outside magazine interviewed analysts and manufacturers who were reporting a shift from heavily insulated jackets to mid- and lightweight. A 7-ounce down jacket is the top seller now at Mountain Hardwear, while a similar garment is topping sales at Eddie Bauer. The magazine noted how textile makers Polartec and PrimaLoft now offer thinner “active insulation” to replace down and bulkier synthetic fill.

That synthetic insulation, called PrimaLoft Gold, is inside Bean’s $139 Packaway jacket. It’s designed to provide comfort at 35 degrees with light activity, ranging as low as minus 15 degrees with moderate motion.


Susie Jiles of Boothbay has one. She was wearing it last week, standing at a special display of Downtek water-repellent goose-down jackets that greets customers as they walk through the Bean store entrance next to the giant boot.

Jiles was looking at an Ultralight 850 down jacket. It’s rated at 25 and minus 25 degrees and sells for $199. She was comparing it to a $189 Ultralight 850 down sweater, which is rated at 30 and minus 20 degrees. Weighing just 10 ounces, the sweater can be stuffed into its side pocket, shrinking to the size of a grapefruit.

“I might wear this right through the winter,” she said.

That’s what Fran Walker plans to do.

Walker was visiting from Greenville, South Carolina, and wanted to replace a heavier ski jacket. Greenville is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and winter nights can go below freezing. But daytime temperatures can rebound above 50 degrees, so Walker said she wants something more versatile. Besides, she said, Greenville doesn’t seem as cold as it used to be. She remembers skating on a local pond in college, decades ago.

Walker tried on and bought a black Ultralight down sweater.

This is a common buying trend in parts of the country with moderate winters, Curran said. He was in New York City two weeks ago, and it seemed as if half the people on the street were clad in light down.

“Lighter-weight jackets are becoming the uniform,” he said.


Bean sales reflect the transition. Ten years ago, the biggest seller was the Rugged Ridge Parka, which features a waterproof nylon shell and a generous filling of synthetic insulation. Rated at 10 degrees and minus 40, the $189 coat is still for sale. But you have to walk through a multicolored forest of down jackets at the main store here, or scroll down into the Bean website, to find one.

The same is true of the $249 Baxter State Parka, the warmest coat Bean sells. Packed with goose down and featuring a faux-fur hood ruff and waterproof shell, it’s rated at 5 degrees and minus 45. Field-tested in extreme winter conditions in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the ad copy brags.

Sales jumped for the Rugged Ridge and Baxter State Parka two years ago during the polar vortex, Curran said. But the demand for lightweight jackets didn’t slow, he said, evidence of a true market shift.

The extreme up and down of the past couple of winters has made it tricky for retailers to know which jackets to carry, according to John Reny, president of the Maine-based R.H. Reny department store chain. His buyers have to make plans soon to order outerwear for the winter of 2017-18.

At Renys, the best-seller for men is a Carhartt cotton duck work jacket. It’s heavy and flannel-lined. But clothing technology – such as higher fill power for down, which traps more insulating air pockets – means a jacket can weigh less and still be warm. And special features, like the reflective lining in Columbia’s Kaleidaslope II, claim to reduce heat loss. It’s the most-popular jacket for women at Renys.

But if a warming world has grown-ups lightening up, the trend has been slower to take hold for kids’ jackets, Reny said. Maybe it’s because parents can’t help but worry about their children being cold.

“They squish a jacket, to see if it’s thick enough,” Reny said.

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Have no fear of getting the most of a monster squash Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 I know how to use all the bits of a 25-pound Thanksgiving turkey. That’s easy. You let the dozen or so 6-foot-plus men and boys in your life have at it and then you simmer the picked-over carcass for soup. But a 25-pound Blue Hubbard squash? For a cook concerned with not wasting food, that’s a more menacing monster to slay for the holiday buffet.

“The Hubbard is the dinosaur of the squash world: big, primordial and ungainly, with a swollen middle,” Deborah Madison writes in her book “Vegetable Literacy.” But despite its warty, grayish diplodocus-like appearance, this giant’s deep orange starchy flesh is “fine textured, sweet and rich,” she writes, making it a great ingredient for everything from soup to cheesecake (see recipe).

Unless you are feeding a strictly vegetarian army with one of these squashes, which range in size from 8 and 40 pounds, it’s best to take the cook-once, use-many-times approach I espoused last year to use up a whole Hubbard.

When you pick out any winter squash, look for one that is rock hard and free from bruises or soft spots. You want it to be heavier than it looks, an indication that the flesh is supple and not dried out. And the stem should be attached, so bacteria does not have an opening to invade the flesh should you be spurred to buy one by this column, but run out of time to execute the following process and have to store it in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months. It will only get sweeter as it sits until you have the time to deal with the beast.

Cracking open an enormous Blue Hubbard can seem daunting. You can soften the skin a bit by pricking the squash and baking it for 10 minutes in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven. To make the first cut, set the squash on a towel-lined cutting board to prevent slippage. Knock the stem off with the dull side of a heavy chef’s knife.

Then, starting with the tip of your knife set in the center of the squash, cut lengthwise through half of the squash. Rotate the squash and cut through the other side. Scrape the seeds and stringy bits away from the flesh.

Mix the pulp and seeds in a pot with 3 cups of water and simmer for 10 minutes (longer could make the mixture bitter) to make a broth to flavor soups, risottos and salad dressing (1/2 cup squash broth plus 2 tablespoons each of tahini, honey and olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, makes a good one). The seeds can be rinsed, separated easily from the stringy pulp – which gets composted at this point – and roasted using your favorite pumpkin seed recipe.

Cut the squash into 2-inch wide strips and roast them, flesh side up, in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven until you can easily send a fork through the thickest part of the thickest wedge, 45 to 60 minutes. I typically roast the squash naked (the squash, not me), so I can use it in either sweet or savory recipes. Cool the roasted wedges for 20 minutes and then scrape the flesh into a bowl and mash it until smooth.

From here, you can have your way with the puree. Swap it into a sweet potato roll recipe, stir it into a soup as an interesting thickener, combine it with butter and cream and whip it up as a decadent side dish, or pack it tightly into containers to be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.

My little 10-pound Blue Hubbard yielded 31/2 cups of mash, 3/4 pound of roasted seeds and 2 cups of broth while leaving less than a pound of skin and spent stringy bits to toss into the compost bucket. So I’m no longer afraid of these monster squashes.

But if you are still wary, try a Baby Blue, a family-sized Hubbard cultivated to weigh in between 4 and 6 pounds. The same preparation techniques apply, but cooking one of these little guys is not nearly as fun as slaying the monster squash and having the spoils of victory for pie.

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

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Maine’s depleted shrimp fishery to remain closed for another season Thu, 10 Nov 2016 22:38:53 +0000 The Maine shrimp fishery will remain closed in 2017, but the amount that shrimpers can take during scientific surveys and then sell has more than doubled.

Interstate fishery managers at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted Thursday to keep the shrimping moratorium in effect for the 2017 season on the advice of its science advisers. The popular winter seafood had been a favorite throughout New England before the population collapsed in 2013 despite several years of increasingly stringent fishing restrictions, such as trip and trap limits, and smaller landings.

The increase in the amount of shrimp that can be hauled for research work will mean this hard-to-get regional delicacy will once again be available over the winter, albeit in very limited batches, which will probably delight restaurateurs who like to serve up this sweet, pink protein in a saute, a skillet or a salad. Buyers paid a record $4 a pound for Maine shrimp at a research set-aside auction at the Portland Fish Exchange in 2015.

Scientists say the status of the small crustacean “continues to be critically poor” with the stock’s overall numbers, including the shrimp that can be harvested and could spawn new generations, at unprecedented lows for five consecutive years, according to the latest shrimp stock assessment report.

The scientists blame the “poor prospects for the near future” on rising temperatures in the Gulf of Maine.

The latest stock assessment report did have some good news, however – the number of northern shrimp that had survived the first year of life in 2016 was the highest it had been in six years, although still below the long-term average. These shrimp wouldn’t be considered harvestable for another two years, and not spawn for at least another year after that.

The shrimp board overwhelmingly voted down Maine’s attempt to reopen the commercial fishery on a small-scale experimental basis, allowing 200 metric tons of catch split up between trawlers and trappers with strict limitations meant to protect the species from going over that limit, according to Terry Stockwell, director of external affairs for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, who sits on the shrimp board.

“There is some hope for the future,” Stockwell said. “We tried to crack the door open, but the other states aren’t quite ready yet. I did get the sense from the discussion that in another year, when the 2013 shrimp can spawn a second time, increasing the number of recruits one more time, that they’ll be ready to reopen the fishery, on an experimental basis.”

But the board agreed to increase the amount of shrimp that can be caught for scientific research and then sold at auction. In 2016, the fishing vessels that were tapped through a lottery system to fish for shrimp – to test for their abundance, the health of the catch and the spawning process – were allowed up to 22 metric tons of shrimp. In 2017, they will be allowed to harvest and then sell 53 metric tons.

That will allow 10 trawlers and five trappers to fish for eight weeks, Stockwell said. All the trappers would be from Maine, able to fish 40 traps and catch no more than 500 pounds a week. Eight of the 10 trawlers would be from Maine, with one each from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and they could catch up to 1,200 pounds per trip, Stockwell said. The fishermen would be chosen by lottery, with preference given to those who had fished before 2011.

“I really wanted to increase the (research set-aside) to expand the survey work, of course, but also to try to gain some industry support for the science by involving more of them in it,” Stockwell said. “But unlike in past years, we will not pay the fishermen to shrimp. The shrimp itself is the compensation. It should be more than enough.”

Even at its height, when fishermen landed $13 million worth of shrimp about two decades ago, this fishery represented a small part of the state economy, but it represented an important source of additional income for Maine fishermen, from lobstermen to ground fishermen, during the winter months. In years past, a lot of Maine fishermen held state and federal licenses to fish for multiple species.

Despite the continuing moratorium, the commission’s northern shrimp board is working on a plan on how to manage the fishery if the population ever rebounds, trying to come up with ways to reopen it slowly so that the pent-up fishing effort doesn’t send the stock back into collapse. The high prices of research shrimp sold at auction have left Maine shrimpers eager to return to work, with traps still seen piled up on Maine docks.

Canada and Greenland fishermen still fish for Maine shrimp in their colder waters, although their numbers have fallen there, too, managers say.

The increasing number of fish that prey upon northern shrimp, including spiny dogfish and red fish, may also play a role in declining numbers, they say.

]]> 2, 11 Nov 2016 11:46:12 +0000
The green design issue: Adding sustainability in the kitchen, garden, home Sun, 06 Nov 2016 09:00:32 +0000 0, 04 Nov 2016 13:06:49 +0000 Front-pocket wallets fit like a glove Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Rogue front-pocket wallet story started a little over a decade ago, when Michael Lyons went to the chiropractor to get help for his lower back pain. The chiropractor told him the wallet in his back pocket was putting pressure on his sciatic nerve and throwing his back out of alignment. Lyons ditched the wallet, and his pain went away.

“He was doing the laundry one night and realized that the front pocket for a man’s pair of pants has a curved shape to it,” said his son, Wells Lyons, “and he thought a wallet ought to really fit that contour.”

Father and son joined forces to design such a wallet, patented their design, and Rogue Industries was born. Their wallets and other products – their women’s line includes phone wallets, tote bags and card cases – are in 200 stores around the country, as well as in Germany and the United Kingdom. Rogue wallets are manufactured in Lewiston and Standish, and the design studio is on Fore Street, where the Lyons work on prototypes for new products.

The wallets are made of various leathers, including cowhide and bison leathers that are a byproduct of the meat industry and might otherwise go to waste. Salmon leather, one of the oldest leathers, is sourced from aquaculture facilities in Iceland. “Archaeologists have found 1,000-year-old salmon leather,” Wells Lyons said.

Rogue’s moose wallets – here’s a disappointment – are made from Pacific Northwest animals, not Maine moose. “It’s really hard to find a good moose leather supplier,” Wells Lyons explained.

Moose is the best seller, and bison is popular too. “I think it’s really part of the American idea of toughness and nature,” Wells Lyons said of the appeal of bison. “It’s a unique leather and very durable. All of our wallets are built to last, but the bison ones can really take a beating.” (Lyons once lost his bison wallet at Shawnee Peak, and it was discovered a few months later, still in good shape.)

For sports fans, the wallets come in the same leathers used to make footballs and baseball gloves.

The wallets cost $40 for salmon leather or cowhide and $50 for a wallet made of moose or bison leather. Buy them online, or use the Rogue Industries store locater.

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On our way to better cycling and walking around Maine Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re sad to report that with this story Leg Work columnist and avid cyclist Shoshana Hoose is turning in her keyboard.

Though I’ll still be walking and cycling around Greater Portland, this will be my final Legwork column. I’ve enjoyed introducing you to some of the people working to improve bicycling and walking in Maine and highlighting those efforts throughout the state.

To say goodbye, I’d like to offer a few ideas of my own to keep Maine moving forward:


Create a bold vision for Maine as a bicycling and walking destination. Communities elsewhere in the United States and abroad have had the gumption to set goals that may have seemed far-fetched or even impossible at first – and then they pulled them off. We can too.

I love the example of Bogotá, Colombia. More than 40 years ago, activists there won approval to close a main street in the middle of the city to automobile traffic for a day.

“Over 5,000 people came from all over to ride their bicycles down the middle of Bogotá,” Jaime Ortiz Mariño, an organizer, told Bicycling magazine last year. “Housewives, hippies, executives, the young, and the old.”

That event launched Ciclovía, now a beloved local tradition. Bogotá closes more than 70 miles of streets to cars every Sunday. More than a million people take to the roadways to bicycle, skate, stroll with their families or participate in yoga classes in the parks.

Cities around the world have picked up on the idea. Portland’s closing of Baxter Boulevard to car traffic on summer Sundays is a modest example.

I see an opportunity for Maine to put itself on the map by making towns and cities more accessible to elders. We have the oldest population in the country, and a growing number of people aren’t going to be able to drive. We need to find ways for them to navigate our communities on foot, in wheelchairs and by using public transportation.

I commend AARP Maine and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine for working on this effort. We need state and local officials to make it a priority.


Focus on improvements that matter, not just what’s affordable.

Many Maine communities have spent time and money building bicycle parking. It is a relatively inexpensive and visible way to encourage more people to bike.

But how much difference does it make? Will people ride their bicycles to a destination to use the parking if the routes there aren’t safe?

For the same reason, I have mixed feelings about bicycle lanes. It costs a lot less money to paint bicycle lanes on a road than to build a bicycle path. But many people will never use bicycle lanes because they don’t feel safe cycling next to cars.

We need a lot more paths where bicycles are separated from traffic.


Road maintenance matters. When crosswalk markings fade away, pedestrians are at risk. When street shoulders aren’t swept regularly, cyclists are more likely to get a flat or even crash.

Sidewalks need to be plowed or shoveled soon after snowstorms. Traffic signals should be in working order. It behooves all of us to contact our local public works departments or the Maine Department of Transportation to report maintenance problems.


Ramp up enforcement of bicycle and pedestrian laws. That includes nabbing motorists who are driving while talking on their cellphones or otherwise distracted. It means ensuring that pedestrians cross at crosswalks whenever possible.

And it means ticketing cyclists who blow through traffic lights or ride on the wrong side of the road.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Law Enforcement Collaborative is working to make that happen. It organized a day in June when police and sheriffs in the Portland area targeted enforcement of bicycle and pedestrian laws. We need more, and more regular, enforcement statewide.


Let me end with an update on an issue that I wrote about last year: the safety hazards posed by Portland’s brick sidewalks. I questioned why a city policy requires brick sidewalks on many streets when new concrete products have been developed that look like bricks but are much safer.

After that column appeared, many readers shared their horror stories about brick sidewalks with me. I also heard from Portland City Manager Jon Jennings. He told me his staff was working on proposed changes to the sidewalk policy.

I am happy to report that the Portland City Council recently approved changes calling for new concrete sidewalks, rather than brick ones, in the fast-growing Bayside neighborhood.

“We think that concrete, well-installed, is a high quality and attractive material that should be used in many cases,” Jeff Levine, director of Portland’s Planning and Urban Development Department, wrote me in an email.

That still leaves brick sidewalks in most of downtown Portland. However, Levine said the council also gave city staff more flexibility to determine what materials are used in specific locations.

That’s progress, and I hope it continues.

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

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Open Book: A green house handbook for the rest of us Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 With “The Pretty Good House,” Volumes I and II, structural engineer and Bowdoin resident Helen Watts has written, illustrated and self-published books – notebooks really – intended to help ordinary Maine homeowners run greener homes. “Not Net Zero or LEED Platinum,” she emailed us about them, “but a house for the rest of us.”

1104491_661220 House books.jpgThese slim, fact-packed booklets take often hard-to-understand information on dense topics like grid parity, energy recovery ventilators and R-value, and try to make it accessible, even fun, to the layperson. They are filled with uncomplicated line drawings, bad puns (air leaks with an illustration of leeks, air seals with a illustration of a seal), smiley and frowny faces. “Green – it’s the new black,” Watts writes on the cover of the second book, which she published this year; the first came out in 2013. And on its last page, she reminds homeowners who are Googling information online that “anything older than 2010 is geriatric old antique.”

The books cover a lot of territory, offering simple guidelines on topics that include windows, operating loads, heat pumps, insulation, solar hot water and landscaping. For those of us with homes and good, green intentions but no talent for the structural, environmental problems posed by home ownership, Watts’ spoonful-of-sugar approach to efficiency has strong appeal. Ditto for those of us who can’t start from scratch and build a perfectly efficient new house but just want to do better with the one we have. As Watts writes encouragingly, “The Pretty Good House” “could be your present house, with a few strategic changes.”

You can download both volumes from Etsy for 99 cents each, or you can buy printed copies at Performance Building Supply in Portland for $5 apiece.

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Updated kitchen, or even old one, can easily be greener Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I spent three years in my early 30s, when my husband was in graduate school, living as a resident tutor in a suite of dorm rooms with no real kitchen.

In the corner of our main living space was a 48-inch bank of Formica laminate cabinets, an apartment-sized refrigerator, a microwave oven and a two-burner hot plate. The kitchen sink was in the bathroom.

The only cooking I did was my then-toddler’s favorite – broccoli scrambled eggs and Hidden Vegetable Bolognese on the hot plate.

Since we took most of our meals in the dining hall, I spent little time on food prep or cleanup and, therefore, had plenty to spend sitting in the guest room – also known as the pull-out sofa – sipping tea and formulating my dream kitchen. Back in 1998, my vision wasn’t very green.

Three kitchen renovations later, what I’ve come to understand is that designing a green kitchen relies on the same principles as building a diet centered on sustainable food: buy local, minimize chemicals and energy use, use up what you already have and avoid putting waste into the landfill.

For tips on how to translate those tenets into green kitchen design, I first turned to Catherine Weiland, principal of Balance Design Studio at Portland-based Performance Building Supply. Here’s her advice in a nutshell:

 Pay attention to the environmental impact of big ticket items – cabinets, countertops and appliances – as they are made, travel to your home and are in use once installed.

 Buy energy-efficient refrigerators, ranges and dishwashers. “There are good, greener choices at all price points,” she said.

 Donate any working appliances you are replacing to any number of charitable organizations that will find them an appropriate home. Don’t, in other words, throw them out.

 Reconsider granite. While popular, it’s often mined in Brazil, India, Spain and Italy, and its environmental travel footprint is big.

 Consider composite countertops made of recycled glass, paper or bamboo (if they are not traveling from China). Look for surfaces made from sustainably sourced wood, locally fashioned concrete, and Maine-made composites of shell and glass like Beachstone in Portland.

 Research the emissions policies of the manufacturer of the cabinets you are considering. To avoid harmful off-gasses seeping into your kitchen, look for cabinets made with formaldehyde-free wood and water-based paint.

Steve Prescott, owner of Fiddlehead Designs, a custom cabinetry company in Brunswick, obviously agrees with Weiland about sourcing local, chemical-free cabinets like the ones he makes. But he says his best advice for sustainable kitchen centers on the power supply. His kitchen – like his workshop – is solar powered.

“Serious cooks like gas, but I’d argue an electric induction cooktop gives you the same level of control over the heat source, and you can harness the power to run it from your roof without fossil fuels in the mix,” Prescott said.

Induction cooktops are more energy efficient than traditional electric ones because they heat pans instantly.

Using small appliances – a toaster oven, for example, rather than the oven, an energy-efficient electric tea kettle rather than the stovetop – is also an easy way cut back on energy use.

Making toastable crumpets.

Making toastable crumpets.

But such appliances tend to draw electricity while plugged in but idle. So try this: plug them into a single power strip and when they are not in use, shut down the strip with the flip of one switch.

It’s an easy green measure to take whether you are designing a new kitchen or making due with the one you’ve already got.

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


]]> 0, 04 Nov 2016 11:16:24 +0000
Christmas cactus an easy plant to grow that’s ready for the holidays Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The so-called Christmas cactus is an easy plant to grow and propagate, and it blooms around the holidays. Not necessarily the Christmas holidays, though. Why, if it’s called Christmas cactus, does it usually bloom closer to Thanksgiving?

In fact, you may have a Thanksgiving cactus. They are two different plants, but Thanksgiving cactus is often mistakenly sold as Christmas cactus. You can tell the two plants apart because the Thanksgiving cactus has pointed claws or teeth on each of its leaf segments while the Christmas cactus leaf segments are scalloped and lack teeth.

With both plants (botanical name Schlumbergera), the bloom is initiated both by a drop in temperatures to about 55 degrees and the shorter periods of daylight. If you provide heat and leave the lights on in a room containing these plants in early to mid fall, you will delay the bloom.

Propagating either plant is simple. Find a healthy leaf, cut off three segments at the narrowest point, let it dry out for six to 24 hours, then stick it into moist potting soil. Keep the soil evenly moist and give the pot lots of light. After three or four weeks, tug gently on one of the leaves. If it comes out, stick it back in the soil but if it resists, that means it’s rooted. Once the leaf roots, you’ve got a new plant.

The blooms are so pretty, you’ll enjoy it, no matter when it blooms.

]]> 0, 04 Nov 2016 08:09:52 +0000
Saving water and energy at heart of growth at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 This winter, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay embarks on an expansion that encompasses a new parking lot and visitor center and eventually a conservatory. Five years hence, when garden visitors park, pay their entrance fees and stroll among the beautiful plants, they probably won’t be aware that much of the design that underpins the expansion is as green as the plants themselves.

Architects, engineers, builders and landscapers are incorporating features – both visible and invisible – designed to use water and energy as sparingly as possible.


It takes a lot of water to run a botanical garden, so water conservation is paramount, of course, especially after a dry summer like the one we just had.

In a forest, 90 to 95 percent of the rainfall soaks into the ground, replenishing aquifers and hydrating plants. Its planners want Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to be as efficient as a forest.

To accomplish that, water conservation will be built into the new visitor center and parking lot.

The visitor center, for instance, will have a 150,000-gallon cistern collecting rainwater from the roof. That water can’t be used for drinking, but it can be used to wash dishes at the garden’s restaurant, to flush toilets and to irrigate.

For its part, the parking lot will be built with an unusual permeable-paving system.

With traditional paving, the water runs off into retention ponds and from there into septic systems; such systems require a lot of land. To minimize the land required, the garden will employ a system in which asphalt will be put down in a grid so rainfall will flow through it and into septic systems right under the parking lot.

The septic systems remove pollutants, and from there, the cleansed water goes into the aquifers that feed the garden’s wells.

Another upcoming project is construction of a bridge over wetlands and a half-acre pond, which will be able to contain 300,000 gallons of water. The bridge will lead into the new conservatory.

“That pond will be recharged with runoff from the conservatory and other hard surfaces and used for irrigation,” the garden’s Executive Director William Cullina said in a recent telephone interview about the expansion, “and, God forbid that we need it, fire suppression.”


Energy efficiency is an equally important aspect of green design at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. The existing Bosarge Family Education Center, for instance, is a net-zero, LEED platinum building. An energy audit a few years ago found that it creates 40 percent more energy than it uses, Cullina said.

The new visitor center will be built to almost the same standards, with high-performance insulation; highly efficient heating, cooling and lighting; and a narrow footprint to take advantage of excellent natural light.

Unlike Bosarge, however, the new building will not have solar panels, as the site doesn’t lend itself to those, Cullina said.

He hopes to make up for that when Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens builds a farm and plant-propagation facility, also called for in the five-year plan.

More solar would be installed then, and possibly a system that tracks the sun as it goes across the sky, much as the flower heads of sunflowers and similar plants do. The solar panels in such systems are placed exactly perpendicular to the sun’s rays, so they get the full force of the sun, adding to the building’s energy efficiency.

The start of construction on a new conservatory is planned for mid- to late-2017. At first glance, the very idea of a big, glass-walled conservatory in wintry Maine seems to go against the concept of energy efficiency and green design. But Cullina said every effort is being made to reduce its energy use.

Unlike many conservatories, it will not recreate a tropical rain forest; instead, the nighttime temperature will be allowed to drop to a comparatively chilly 45 degrees. The roof will be made with energy-efficient acrylic that prevents heat loss; a shade blanket system is planned that can be pulled across the roof to improve energy efficiency; and a high-tech ventilation system should obviate the need for air conditioning come summer.


I asked Cullina if the garden plants themselves can contribute to eco-conscious design. In reply, he outlined a research project still in its early stages that will evaluate and rank how much specific plants contribute to the ecosystem.

“What I like about it is that it strips away arguments about whether it is native or a cultivar but just tests the quality of food for birds and animals, the length of time it is available for pollinators, if it is a food source for butterflies and moths, and whether it is nitrogen fixing,” he said. “Those are the greatest things to have when you look at the sustainability of plants.”

One day, when people design eco-friendly buildings, they may be able to cultivate greener-designed gardens in tandem.

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

]]> 3, 04 Nov 2016 08:09:38 +0000
Green home design takes off in Maine Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 SEARSMONT — What’s coming off the assembly line at Ecocor looks a bit like a really fat, firm box spring, 18 inches thick, swathed in high performance fabrics, framed with wood, so solid that even the princess couldn’t feel a pea through it.

But these are building panels, walls for prefabricated homes, very different from the kind of prefabricated homes we’re accustomed to, the single-wide rolling slowly down the highway. These walls are for homes certified to Passive House Institute standards – that’s the German energy efficiency movement founded in the late 1980s – which means they’ll be 90 percent more efficient than traditional construction. With solar panels on the roof, Ecocor’s houses can even be net positive, i.e., producing more energy than they consume.

Ecocor founder, owner and technical director Chris Corson built his first Passive House in 2010 in Knox and has finished about 35 since then, all over the Northeast. After years of flying under the radar, he is ready to talk about making houses like his commonplace, and in so doing, helping fight climate change. Because it’s not just freeways clogged with cars that are heating the planet.

“The built environment is responsible for approximately 50 percent of global carbon emissions annually,” Corson said.

Some might see that as a defeating statistic, but for Corson, it’s a motivator. He’s 44 and grew up in a drafty cobblestone Tudor with “almost no insulation” to protect its denizens from the chill winds of western New York state. While he’s not technically an architect, he’s studied architecture, interior design and fine art. By the time he was 19, he was managing commercial properties on Chicago’s North Shore.

“I was a scrawny kid who was motivated and worked and put myself through college,” he said. There weren’t many courses of study around sustainability, but the issue was in his mind even then.

“The concept that our entire civilization globally runs on fossil fuels, which is a finite resource, has always seemed asinine to me,” Corson said.

The Ecocor home combines thick walls with precise marriage joints, heat recovery ventilation, triple-glazed windows and doors and efficiencies throughout that mean little actual heating fuel is required, even in a Maine winter.

Scott Lee checks cellulose insulation he is blowing into a wall panel at Ecocor in Searsmont. The company builds prefabricated passive homes, which use 80 percent less energy than a conventional home.

Scott Lee checks cellulose insulation he is blowing into a wall panel at Ecocor in Searsmont. The company builds prefabricated passive homes, which use 80 percent less energy than a conventional home.

“Ultimately the more buildings we build, the better off the world is,” he said.

He’s not blowing smoke.


Corson definitely doesn’t have to go far to work on changing the world through housing. Maine’s housing stock is old. In surveys, it’s consistently one of the nation’s oldest; according to a 2015 study for the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, 31 percent of Maine housing units were built before 1950. It’s also notoriously dependent on fossil fuels. The U.S. Census Bureau tracks households by their heating sources. In 2015, surveys of Maine’s 545,000 occupied housing units showed 336,000 used fuel oil or kerosene, a decline from approximately 423,000 households in 2015. The biggest shift in that decade, about 35,000 households, was to wood, the rest to the natural gas or propane.

How many Maine households are net zero or close to it? It’s tricky to calculate because there’s no category for Passive House or other high-performance energy efficiency homes. The Census Bureau includes a “no fuel used” category, which has doubled to just over 1,500 in the last 10 years. Solar gets its own category, and that nearly tripled from 2005 to 2015, but still has only 604 households. There’s also a category for “other fuel” (not wood, oil, propane, natural gas, coal, coke or solar), and which shot up to 11,000 in 2015 from 2,700 in 2005. (For the Census Bureau to add a category for Passive House to its questionnaires would require a mandate from Congress; there’s an idea.)

But the movement is making progress inside Maine, and the state with the energy-inefficient homes is gaining a reputation for trying to change that. Earlier this fall, Naomi C. O. Beal, a photographer who serves as the director of passivhausMAINE, was on a panel at the American Institute of Architects New England annual meeting titled “Why is Maine, a small rural state, a national leader in energy-efficient design?”

Beal started thinking about a group like passivhausMAINE after spending a year in Germany. She returned to Maine in 2010 and founded the group, along with her architect friends, including Corson and Jesse Thompson of Kaplan Thompson Architects in Portland, which builds a line of high-performance homes called BrightBuilt. PassivhausMAINE organizes monthly site walks and hosts an annual forum (coming up this week, November 9 and 10). It’s far from typical for a state to have its own Passive House organization; there are only 12 state or regional groups in the North American network.

“Maine is way ahead of a lot of other places when it comes to how active this Passive House movement is and how many builders and architects are pursuing it,” said George Penniman, an architect from Connecticut who hired Ecocor to build his family a new house in Harpswell. While Ecocor offers nearly a dozen models of its pre-fab Passive Houses, Penniman chose to design his own (and had the finish work done by Creative Carpentry of Georgetown). He was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to find someone to build him a Passive House.

Adam Smith cuts an I-joist on a Randek saw at Ecocor, a company in Searsmont that builds pre fabricated passive homes. A home that meets the passive house building standard means the house uses 80-percent less energy than a conventional home. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Adam Smith cuts an I-joist on a Randek saw at Ecocor, a company in Searsmont that builds pre fabricated passive homes. A home that meets the passive house building standard means the house uses 80-percent less energy than a conventional home. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“It’s funny that you have two of the best firms in New England within 15 miles of each other,” Penniman noted, referring to GO Logic, the Belfast-based architecture and construction firm that builds high performance homes (and bigger projects, like TerraHaus at Unity College, the first Passive House-Certified student residence hall in America).

Maine is also the site of one the largest Passive House developments in the country, the just-opened 48-unit Village Centre affordable housing project in Brewer. It’s the largest to be built in what’s classified as a cold climate. Cordelia Pitman, director of preconstruction services with Wright-Ryan Construction, the company that built Village Centre, said adhering to Passive House standards took some juggling. “We are constantly balancing,” Ryan said. As in, these triple-glazed windows are absolutely necessary, but where can we trim elsewhere to be able to afford them?

But they succeeded. Close on the heels of Village Centre is Bayside Anchor, a Portland complex with 45 affordable units designed by Kaplan Thompson, due to open later this month. The project is funded through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Maine State Housing Authority; qualified low income tenants at Bayside Anchor will pay rent on a tiered system according to income. With 10-inch thick walls, triple-glazed windows and high efficiency air transfer, residents can expect “miniscule heating bills,” with the savings being shared between the building owner and its tenants.

Jesse Thompson, the architect at Bayside Anchor, said it will take about a year of operation to figure out the actual cost of those utilities. But buildings like this one are “economically safe,” he said, that is, the building won’t be subject to swings from say, a big bump in the price of say, oil or natural gas.

Those behind these impressive big projects hope they inspire.

“Maybe it will makes people in other parts of the country think, ‘If they could do it in Maine, then maybe we can do it here,'” Ryan said.

Perhaps the presence of companies like Ecocor is less of an incongruity in Maine than a natural response to an impending crisis. This isn’t just a state with an aging housing stock, it has an aging populace, living on fixed incomes. The kind with little room to budge on heating costs. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Maybe a Maine winter is too.

About that. Perceptions about weather are real road blocks; it’s hard for a lot of people to get past the idea that a place with cold, dark winters is inhospitable to Passive House technology. This makes Corson sigh a little.

“The reality is the amount of sunlight that we have through the course of the winter is more than sufficient to heat a home when combined with heat sources inside,” Corson said.


At Corson’s house in Northport, a 1965 Cape he retrofitted five years ago to Passive House standards, the climate is so well controlled that when his son, 8, and daughter, 6, get up in the morning, they have to check the weather station to figure out what to wear. Sentimental attachment keeps the family in the house – Corson would love a sleek modern home built from the ground up by Ecocor – and it wasn’t cheap to retrofit. “It was a labor of love, completely,” he said. “If you are 70 years old, no way it would make fiscal sense.”

Inside George Penniman’s Passive House in Harpswell. Penniman said he was surprised by how easy it was to find someone to build him a Passive House. “It’s funny that you have two of the best firms in New England within 15 miles of each other,” he said.

Inside George Penniman’s Passive House in Harpswell. Penniman said he was surprised by how easy it was to find someone to build him a Passive House. “It’s funny that you have two of the best firms in New England within 15 miles of each other,” he said. (ncob photo)

But now they spend about $400 a year to heat both house and water. The annual bills used to be about $4,200. That savings gets applied to the mortgage, and over time, is balanced out.

All of this may seem unattainable unless you’ve got a wad of cash to invest in a new home or retrofitting. But the more Corson refines his process (like directly importing triple-glazed windows from Poland), the more he says he can bring costs down. And work faster. A fancy new computerized saw helps Ecocor cut lumber at record speed. Ultimately, he says it is scaling up the business, that is, gaining more customers, that will allow him to bring costs down.

Asked if he could build a very small model (say, 1,200 square feet) for $200,000, Corson winced. “Not right now.” How about $300,000? “We’re getting toward the ballpark.”

The turnkey price for an Ecocor home is $236 a square foot, but that he says, “is with all state-of-the-art stuff.”

The joy of the prefab house is that it can go up in a couple of days – fitted together like Lego, Corson says – with cranes lifting the walls into place on a highly insulated slab. The finish work will take weeks or months, not days, but the house is weathertight nearly as soon as it goes up.

Ecocor has its own designs, but they’re happy to adapt their technology to the client’s specifications. It’s technology of these walls, the ones that look like really high quality box springs, is something special, Penniman says.

“He (Corson) is an innovator,” Penniman said. “He’s also a great advocate for spreading the word and thinking about the ways that this can be more readily available to people.”

Penniman’s Ecocor house looks like a summer home, a sweet, streamlined cabin with a water view, but because of its Passive House standards, can adapt to a year-round lifestyle as soon as he and his wife, a landscape architect, retire. They’ve left room for an addition. Before he retires, though, Penniman is intent on spreading the word about Passive Houses.

“I’m trying to educate people that this is something they should be considering,” Penniman. “Every day people are more conscious of it. The scary part of it for the typical client is diminishing.”

He’ll celebrate the holidays in Maine. And he will not be wearing a sweater indoors, unless it is a style choice.

“It’s so comfortable,” he said.

Correction: This story was updated on Nov. 14 to correct George Penniman’s primary state of residence. He lives in Connecticut, not Pennsylvania.

]]> 1, 14 Nov 2016 15:24:51 +0000
Lila Bossi’s a Maine teenager building a home of her own Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Every young person needs a good foundation. Lila Bossi spent her life savings on hers, quite literally.

The high school senior is building a tiny house using materials she’s gathered from friends, scraps from her father’s construction business and yard sale deals. But she paid about $3,000 (“my life savings”) for the custom-made flatbed trailer she’s building the movable house on. “I really didn’t want to skimp on that because it is going to be holding a lot of weight, and I figured it should probably be new.”

We called Bossi up to ask how she got the idea for this project and what she hopes to do with a tiny house of her own.

IT’S ACADEMIC: Bossi is a student at Maine Coast Waldorf School in Freeport (formerly known as Merriconeag). Her tiny house wheels started turning late last winter when the faculty there announced that rising seniors should come up with a big project. “I have always been intrigued by tiny houses, but I never thought about doing my own until we started thinking about our senior project for school.”

CURB APPEAL: Some students might do an oral history project involving great-granddad or take a crack at writing a novella or something. What appealed to her about a tiny house? Creating something with her hands, for starters. Bossi comes from a creative family – her father, Adrian, is a builder, her mother, Lisa, is a color specialist, designer and book illustrator – and she and her younger sister had a childhood of shared projects, “building little tables or very rudimentary dollhouses.” But on a deeper level: “The really simple minimalist lifestyle and the freedom to really take your home with you wherever you go.”

CONSTRUCTION CHALLENGES: The hardest part was conceptualizing the Scrap Shack, as she’s calling it. An architect who is serving as her mentor recommended design software, but the tool he suggested cost around $700, she said. “That scared me.” Instead she downloaded a $10 app. “I tried that and it was so frustrating, I decided, I am just going to go old school and take scissors to paper. And I found that incredibly helpful.” She’s let herself be led by the items she’s found or been given.

THE KITCHEN SINK: Such as? Pine boards for the flooring, a mini fridge from a yard sale ($10) and an oval sink, appropriately tiny, “that my neighbor showed up with one day.” The house features some very cute windows, “quite a score,” courtesy of a Marvin Windows and Doors salesman her father knows. He was upgrading his samples, which included a bright yellow model. “I don’t know how popular yellow windows are.” For the less intriguing beige windows he offered, she found some chartreuse paint in the basement, and her mother gave her the thumbs up. “She is really helping me in consulting and refining my ideas and telling me which paint is OK to use.”

WORK IN PROGRESS: Bossi makes a point to work on some aspect of the Scrap Shack every day, even if that means sanding one board. “It’s a good way to keep me motivated.” She has a ways to go on the interior of the house (you can follow her progress on her blog, although it is weatherproofed already. She’s working on a plan for heat. “I have been talking to people who are knowledgeable in that field and I’ve arranged to meet with one to come consult with me.” Propane is a likely fuel candidate, but she won’t need much. “We are going to try to insulate it really well.” She’ll also have to wire it herself.

THE ELECTRIC COMPANY: That sounds like a major challenge. She laughed. “The whole thing is a little daunting to me because it is all so new to me. It has been such a learning curve. Like way more than I have anticipated, but I have enjoyed that aspect of it. I feel so much connection to the project because I have got to work on it with my own hands.”

ON THE ROAD: Bossi would like to take the tiny house on the road at some point, including a trip to Brooksville to visit her grandmother, who raises goats and makes goat cheese on her Sunset Acres Farm (available at places like Whole Foods in Portland and Morning Glory in Brunswick). On visits, Bossi has watched her grandmother at her work, but she’s hoping to use some down time after high school to do more than just hang around in the cheese room picking up “little snippets.” “I think it would be really interesting to spend a month with her or something to really learn her trade.”

DORM LIFE: Her college plans are up in the air, but she knows she doesn’t want to go any farther than New Hampshire. What about the college down the street, Bowdoin, where her parents met? “I know that people say when you are at college it doesn’t really matter where you are, but it just seems a little too close to home.” When she gets wherever she’s going (she was off to an interview the day after we talked), will the house come with her? “At least for my first year of college, wherever I end up, I will want to live in campus housing just to meet people and not be the loner that is living in her own house. But maybe eventually?”

GRADUATE HOUSING: What happens to the tiny house post-college? “I really hope that it will be a place of my own that someday I can live in.”

]]> 1, 04 Nov 2016 08:17:40 +0000
Interactive map: Drought persists across much of New England Thu, 03 Nov 2016 18:24:57 +0000 Despite a wetter-than-usual October, drought conditions are hanging on across much of New England, according to reports from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

The Portland Jetport recorded 8.36 inches of rainfall for the month of October – considerably more than the monthly average of 4.87 inches. But the month of November has so far been slightly drier than normal, and severe drought conditions expanded in the past week across the center of the state.

Long-range forecasts from the National Weather Service predict that the region’s drought conditions will persist through the winter.

This interactive map shows the official drought maps for New England since its peak at the end of September. Click and drag the slider below to watch drought conditions change over the course of the fall.

*November rainfall to date, as of Nov. 17.
SOURCE: National Weather Service, University of Nebraska National Drought Mitigation Center
INTERACTIVE: Christian MilNeil | @vigorousnorth
]]> 0, 17 Nov 2016 14:48:04 +0000
Nurse transforms typewriter keys into jewelry Sun, 30 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Remember when just about everyone had an old black metal typewriter gathering dust in the attic? The machines have now gone the way of the Dodo bird, endangered by the electric typewriter, then finished off for good the day the personal computer was introduced to the masses.

Karen Foley, a nurse from Westbrook who has an interest in recycling, hunts down at garage sales, flea markets and through a dealer friend who cleans out houses, and creates jewelry from the metal keys she cuts off with a bolt cutter. She makes necklaces, bracelets, key rings and other pieces that spell out phrases such as “Love to Shop,” “Love to Dance,” “Maine,” “Lobster” and “Martini.” Necklaces with initials are a common request – A, M and L keys are in high demand.

“People ask, ‘How come you don’t do delete?’ ” Foley said, “and I say that’s because there was no delete” on old typewriters.

Foley uses metal keys. She has tried working with plastic keys from newer, electric typewriters, “but I just can’t make them look cute.”

Foley realizes that this is a business she’s not likely to be able to grow “because I can’t go to the mall and buy typewriters.” Friends help her find old typewriters, and whenever someone finds one for her she offers to make them something from a key or two as a thank you. Just when she thinks she’s running out of typewriters for good, her friend who cleans out houses will call her with the news that he’s found seven more.

Foley’s jewelry sells for $7 to $70. A key ring costs $7, pendants are $20 and a full bracelet is $70. She sells them at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine in Portland and Bath; Bittersweet Barn in Casco; and Full Circle Artisan’s Gallery in Cornish.

]]> 4, 30 Oct 2016 14:48:41 +0000
Chef Berry of Union at the Press Hotel gives his thoughts about farm-to-table cuisine Sun, 30 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In mid-October, Union at the Press Hotel in Portland cooked a farm-to-table dinner at Wolfe’s Neck Farm, one of a series of beautiful benefit dinners the Freeport nonprofit holds every summer. After the incredibly delicious meal, made using many ingredients culled from just steps away from the barn where we were seated, Union chef Josh Berry got up to tell diners why he does not, in fact, believe in “farm-to-table.” We called him up to ask him to expand on those ideas. Here’s what he said in his own (lightly edited) words:

WE’RE IN MAINE. Since the dawn of Maine cuisine, we’re so close to our farmers. When you think of San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, or any city – that’s where they had to source out these great farms. Those cities are sourcing out because they need to. But I have these guys right down the road from us. This is easy for us. Using the term farm-to-table for us… it’s like plastic. It’s not genuine. Of course we all buy local food!

The cuisine we do in Union, I like to call “enhanced local.” Our menu is very worldly, but like that chicken we served at Wolfe’s Neck? Local chicken. Local Swiss chard. The peppers are local. Everything is local. But we seasoned it with ras el hanout, which is a Moroccan spice. Now I’m adding that to my local products and just enhancing them with a different way of thinking.

When the farmers bring the food to us, they’ve got dirt on their hands, it’s so real. It’s that close. We have this bounty of not just farmers but also fishmongers right at our fingertips. It is a special thing, and we shouldn’t label it farm-to-table. That’s a word that’s used so frequently now. It’s so clichéd. To us, it’s just our way of life. It’s what we do.

When you have chain restaurants using it – Chipotle using this phrase. These larger conglomerate companies say, “How do we do that on a mass scale? How can we sell it to the masses?” It’s because it’s so diluted now that it has lost its meaning. Whatever phrase we are going to use, whatever is going to come, whatever is the next trendy thing, Maine doesn’t have to use it. We just have to build a relationship with our farmers instead of clutching onto a mainstream phrase.” o

]]> 0, 30 Oct 2016 14:47:37 +0000
Spruce up your garden and ditch the yellow daffodils and red tulips Sun, 30 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Planting spring-flowering bulbs in the fall is a sign of hope and faith that warmer times will follow the cold and snow. Sometimes it is more than that.

About 10 years ago a friend asked us to plant dozens of bulbs for her. She had just been diagnosed with cancer, and she wanted to think of those future flowers during the cold winter of painful treatments.

She saw the flowers the first spring, but she died before they bloomed a second time. Her husband told us that every spring when those bulbs came into bloom he had wonderful thoughts of his wife. A promise of future life is packed into each bulb.

Even under more ordinary circumstances, if you put so much hope and faith into your bulbs, you want the result to be more exciting than humdrum yellow daffodils and red tulips. The easiest fix is a mix: Instead of buying daffodils and tulips of a single color, buy 100 or so tulips or daffodils in a random mix and plant them together for a colorful display spread out over many weeks.

But I want even more variety.



My wife, Nancy, and I are planting some unusual bulbs this fall. Read on to hear about our choices and also a few we’ve planted in past years or are considering for the future.

Camassia is native to the United States but not to Maine, having been brought east by the Lewis and Clark expedition. They are deer-resistant, can stand up to half-shade, grow almost 3 feet tall, produce blue hyacinth-shaped (a spike with lots of florets) flowers on a taller stem and will multiply if you let the leaves grow until they start turning brown in mid- to late-summer.

Water them as soon as you plant them, and they are likely to produce a little foliage before the snow comes. And next spring you will have flowers that most people haven’t seen before. Remember where you plant the camassia, and this fall or next year add a few yellow daffodils, and you’re doing garden designing with color harmonies.


Freya/ Fritillaria


Fritillaria includes a wide-ranging group of nodding, bell-shaped flowers that come in many colors, many heights and many price levels. Small ones may cost just $6 for five bulbs, while larger ones could set you back as much as $20 a bulb.

The blossoms are usually mottled or splotchy, and though the catalogs may describe it as a checkerboard pattern, it’s not that organized. One bulb bloom is sort of brown, another is orange on top and yellow on the bottom. This plant is for bulb geeks – you either love the odd blooms or think they’re weird.

Anemone blanda

Anemone blanda

We also will plant Anemone blanda “White Splendor,” which we bought from Old House Gardens, a catalog company that specializes in heirloom bulbs. This spring bloomer has small, irregularly shaped bulbs that some catalogs advise soaking for five hours before planting. Old House says you can skip that step, as long as you water heavily right after planting.

They add that some people plant anemone bulbs on their sides because it is difficult to tell the top from the bottom of the bulb. We’ve had lavender windflowers for years and love them, so this was a natural addition.

Alliums, or flowering onions, are another bright, impossible-to-ignore flower. Some of them, like “Purple Sensation” have softball-size, bright balls on top of a 30-inch tall straight, green stem. They mingle well with shorter flowers to create a colorful mix. Put in more yellow daffodils with these for more garden color harmonies.




We have grown Allium “Schubertii” for the past three seasons, and planted eight more this fall. These grow about 18 inches tall, and have a foot-wide bloom with stiff spikes that resemble Sputnik satellites. The blossoms dry out if you leave them on their stems until the end of the growing season. You then bring them inside as dried flowers. If you spray-paint them silver or gold – as Nancy has done – they make great holiday decorations.

We are planting “Hair” alliums for the second time this year. These will grow 24 inches tall and the blooms look a bit like Albert Einstein’s hair – twisting in all different directions. The last time we grew them, passersby actually stopped to check them out. Either the “Hair” alliums don’t proliferate or we accidentally dug them up, because our first planting disappeared. Nothing ate them, I’m sure, because alliums are in the onion family and apparently chipmunks and deer don’t like onions.

We planted “Golden Fragrance” muscari near our back door. They are small and delicate and are a change from the more common blue muscari, called grape hyacinth. They smell good, too. We do have a lot of grape hyacinths in several colors because they are inexpensive and easy to plant. They slowly spread in a cultured manner, always a nice trait.

Leslie Grimschield of Scarborough emailed me an idea she uses for her lawn. In the fall, when using her Japanese gardening knife to weed the dandelions and plantain out of her lawn, she pops a crocus bulb into the hole the weed left behind.

Everyone loves crocuses because, while they are small, they are the first blooms of the season, often photographed with their blooms popping through spring snow. They bloom early enough that they have already gone by before the lawn needs its first mowing of the season.

When I contacted Grimschield to tell her I was going to borrow the idea for this column, she said she saw crocuses planted that way at Harrogate in England.

I see no reason we can’t appropriate it for our own use.

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

]]> 2, 30 Oct 2016 14:48:16 +0000
Marshmallow ‘fluff’ from bean water? Now we’ve heard everything Sun, 30 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 My Peep-loving husband was incredulous about my attempts to replicate his favorite candy using the viscous water that comes in a can of chickpeas. “Why would anyone want do that,” he asked, muttering something about mucking with perfection.

Waste not, want not. That’s why. I’d already sprung for the can of cooked chickpeas because I’d forgotten to soak the bulk-bin dried garbanzo beans the night before and I wanted to make hummus. I was attempting to salvage my daily green-eating quotient by figuring out how to use the aquafaba.

This magical “bean water” has whipped up excitement throughout the vegan community as it can replace eggs whites in everything from mayonnaise to mousse. The chemistry of aquafaba is still considered uncharted territory, but basically it mimics egg whites in that when mixed at high speeds, proteins get suspended in liquid to form first a froth, and then a stable, stiff-peaked foam.

Most legumes will leave these proteins behind in the water in which they sit, but chickpea water produces the foam that most resembles snowy whipped egg whites.

An Indiana vegan blogger named Goose Wholt coined the term in 2015 after using chickpea water to make eggless macaroons for his family’s Passover Seder. He’d gotten the idea from two French vegans who posted an online video on making a rich chocolate dessert with whipped chickpea water and vegan chocolate ganache.

For the home cook, experts in the Vermont-based King Arthur Flour test kitchen say aquafaba is best used as an egg-white replacement in baked goods where you are drying sugars (say a meringue) as opposed to setting proteins (as in flourless chocolate cake). Chef Joanne Chang, owner of Flour bakeries in Boston, says her team regularly uses aquafaba to make its vegan mayonnaise and salad dressings. Her team has also tested it in meringues but has had only limited success making the large batches required for her business.

Melissa Maidana, a vegan personal chef based in Arundel, had a few tips for the vegan meringue-baking home cook: Bake the meringues on a Silpat, allow them to sit for 2 to 3 hours before baking and always refrigerate them after baking and cooling or they may be too firm.

Since my can of chickpeas gave up only two-thirds of a cup of aquafaba, I didn’t have to worry about volume production. I’ve got plenty of egg white cubes in my freezer should I want to make meringues. But what I don’t keep in the house – because it’s a highly processed food, full of corn syrup and sugar as well as dried egg whites – is Marshmallow Fluff. I miss it dearly stirred into Rice Krispy treats, slathered into a fluffernutter sandwich on white bread or floating on top of my hot chocolate.

Aquafaba has emerged as the vehicle for my controlled fluff fix. From one can of beans, ½ cup of organic sugar and a bit of xanthan gum (it gives the bean marshmallow the right spring), I can make two cups of fluff (see recipe).

And since I know what you’re thinking, no, the confection, surprisingly, does not taste at all like beans. In my testing, though, I found it best to buy low-sodium beans so that the final result isn’t too salty.

Once all the ingredients are whipped, the marshmallow will become extremely thick and gummy. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Once all the ingredients are whipped, the marshmallow will become extremely thick and gummy. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The internet tells me I could use the water from cooked, dried chickpeas to make aquafaba-based sweets. But I had no luck making that happen. Even when I cooked the chickpeas in the water in which I had soaked them, the aquafaba frothed but did not form stiff peaks. My homemade aquafaba is more efficiently used in soup than confections. I’ll make this concoction only after I open a can of chickpeas – that way I’ll keep my energy use (you have to whip aquafaba in a stand mixer for as long as five minutes) and the fluff habit in check.

My husband was biased from the start, so he refused to accept either the faux fluff or my posing Peeps as a satisfactory substitute for what he considers the genuine article. In fact, the only part of this project he liked was the chickpea curry I made from the three cans and two batches of garbanzos I cooked during my little aquafaba testing project.

My daughter, though, said it was better than commercial fluff because it was neither as sticky nor as sweet. When I told her the ingredients, she just said “Ewww!”

All the more for me.

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

]]> 1, 30 Oct 2016 14:46:41 +0000
Maine native Kevin Concannon’s a top USDA official promoting healthier eating for low-income people Sun, 30 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Kevin Concannon is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. He’s also a native of Portland who spends time in Maine whenever he can get away from Washington; his official residence is in Scarborough.

Having served as director of state health and human services departments in Oregon, Iowa and Maine, Concannon knows a lot about health and poverty.

We had an opportunity to speak with him last week about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) just as the department was announcing up to $16.7 million in competitive grant funding aimed at helping SNAP-dependent families eat more fruits and vegetables. We also talked about his first job, in Portland, and what Maine’s reputation is nationally for supporting families in need.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS: The newest data from the USDA shows the lowest figures on record for food insecurity among children, with 7.9 million fewer people requiring SNAP benefits to feed their families nationally. Unfortunately, the numbers in Maine haven’t dropped. In fact, the number of children living in poverty has increased: The latest Kid Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows 6,000 more children in Maine living in poverty in 2014 than in 2008. Currently, Concannon said, 186,372 Mainers are using SNAP benefits. “We worry that we may be losing some ground,” he said. This pains him. “I am very mindful of Maine. I am very committed to Maine.”

HARVEST BUCKS: The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets added a staff person this year to try to get the word out to SNAP recipients about programs that enable them to get deals at farmers markets in the state. For one, Maine Harvest Bucks, which gives bonuses based on purchases. Ten more markets signed on to offer Maine Harvest Bucks this past season, bringing the total to 34. (Maine has 116 farmers markets spread over two seasons.) Other market farmers (CSA farms, co-ops and farm stands) participate as well, bringing the total to over 50. “That’s why the (Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive) grants are so important,” Concannon said. “It’s giving the opportunity to farmers markets or the coalition of market farmers to help stimulate further consumption of fruits and vegetables that are locally grown.”

PERSUASION: Numbers released earlier this year by the USDA show that the number of SNAP families shopping at farmers markets has increased 860 percent in the last five years. With incentives like Maine Harvest Bucks, why don’t even more SNAP families shop at farmers markets? Concannon said there is a lingering misconception that farmers markets, which used to be cash-only enterprises, won’t take EBT cards (which is how SNAP recipients receive their government money).

EBT cards started being accepted at farmers markets across the country in 2005 and more markets become EBT-user friendly every year. “Right now there are 7,000 farmers or direct market farmers across the United States that can process EBT cards.”

THE PRICE, IS IT RIGHT? There is also a perception that farmers markets cost more than the supermarket, Concannon said. Not true, he said, at least not in season. “They are very competitive. You can’t go out and try to buy a certain out-of-season product and expect to get a bargain price. But they are competitive.”

He said he pays attention to prices at the supermarket and always has. His first job was at the 20th Century Super Market in Portland. “I was a bag boy. Yeah, I remember carrying bags out, slopping through the snow. It was a great job so I have always had an interest in supermarkets.” And a program like Maine Harvest Bucks can turn fair prices into bargains, by doubling how much a shopper can spend.

In terms of connecting SNAP shoppers with local fruits and vegetables, he said, “I think we’ve made progress.”

BRING IN THE REINFORCEMENTS: How can we speed that up? It’s a win-win for Maine farmers and food producers as well as families who struggle to buy food. “I think part of it is reinforcement.” Everything is linked, Concannon said. He praised Maine markets, like the one in Augusta, for having nutritionists on hand (through a USDA-funded program) to advise shoppers on how to cook what they see at the market. “Because if I don’t know what to do with a squash or some other particular vegetable, then the likelihood of me purchasing it is about zero.”

Schools can reinforce the positive messages about vegetables by, say, giving cafeteria options kid-friendly names. Like “x-ray vision carrots.” Concannon saw that at a school cafeteria recently and thought, “What child could refuse that?”

BACK HOME: Concannon makes an effort to get back to the state, and not just for vacation. Earlier this month, he gave the keynote speech at a summit on childhood hunger at Colby College.

On a cafeteria visit to Bonny Eagle Middle School, he was pleased to see a boy in line in front of him reach for something green. “He said, ‘That is kale that we grow here.’ ” That’s another example of how reinforcement works, he noted. The child who helps grow kale is more likely to want to eat it. And if it isn’t grown in the school yard, chances are it was grown somewhere nearby. “The whole farm world in Maine has taken off.”

Concannon is a happy participant in Maine’s thriving food economy, shopping at the Deering Oaks farmers market and eating at local restaurants. “We love the restaurant scene.” A favorite? The Dolphin Marina in Harpswell.

BAD RAP: Gov. Paul LePage has called the SNAP program so “broken” that “I don’t want my name attached to it,” and he threatened to refuse to administer it unless there is a ban on soda purchases. He’s also imposed asset tests to strip Mainers with assets of more than $5,000 of the right to receive SNAP benefits. The state has pushed for food stamp recipients to add their driver’s license photo to electronic benefit cards. The LePage administration says this promotes security and deters fraud and waste.

Concannon disagrees. It doesn’t stop those he calls the “bad actors,” who try to defraud the system, and who he said are particularly rare in New England, but it hurts others. “It is just a burden on people.” Maine is developing an undeserved reputation because of actions like the attacks on SNAP beneficiaries, he said. “The over-the-top rhetoric is leaking out of the state and giving the impression that all of Maine is like that.” It’s not, he said. “I worry about the state’s reputation.”

]]> 12, 30 Oct 2016 14:46:59 +0000
In post-fact society, emotions and ideology increasingly squelch scientific evidence Sun, 30 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It’s been a long campaign season, and many of us are ready for a respite from barbed political banter. So let’s take a high-altitude look at what this looming election might mean – for our planet.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the planet rarely features in candidate debates or stump speeches. Political discourse tends to skirt substantive environmental issues and even sidestep empirical science.

For centuries, we’ve relied on evidence gleaned from observing and experimenting to guide policy-making and technological innovation. Yet increasingly, political rhetoric dismisses scientific evidence as if it were a capricious belief – or even “a hoax.”

We are seeing more and more instances, Frederick Rich writes in his new book “Getting to Green,” of ” ‘faith-based knowing’ replacing evidence-based reasoning.”

This phenomenon is spreading to such a degree that journalist Christian Schwägerl recently deemed it a “global contagion.” We’re entering what some call a post-fact society, where emotions and ideology squelch scientific evidence. Hence we have elected leaders and even a presidential candidate who claim not to be big believers in climate change.

Observatories around the world have tracked parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere for half a century, and several locations routinely record readings now over 400 ppm – a level the earth has not experienced in about 15 million years. This is quantifiable evidence of change, just as dropping a brick demonstrates that gravity is not a belief but a scientific phenomenon that we disregard at our peril.

The dismissal of science in political discourse is deeply disturbing, not only because it denigrates centuries of scientific advances but because that collective process of reasoned inquiry is a cornerstone of our democracy.

Author Shawn Otto explains it this way:

“If anyone can discover the truth by using reason and science … then no one is naturally closer to the truth than anyone else. Consequently, those in positions of authority do not have the right to impose their beliefs on other people. The people themselves retain this inalienable right. Based on this foundation of science – of knowledge gained by systematic study and testing instead of by the assertions of ideology – the argument for a new, democratic form of government was self-evident.”

Science offers a rational common ground where people of different beliefs and partisan views can reach consensus based on, well, reality. Absent that, we risk straying into the ideological la-la-land where some politicians now dwell – a delusional state that can devolve into decidedly undemocratic governance.

One need look no further than Maine’s governor – who wants political activists with whom he disagrees “to be jailed” – or U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, whose ongoing subpoena quest is eerily reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy.

To help voters who still value the role that science plays in understanding and improving our world, Scientific American has teamed up with the nonprofit to assess presidential candidates’ responses on 20 scientific topics.

A small sampling of these reveals the stark contrast in scores (where 0 is worst and 5 is best) between the primary party candidates:

 Developing a long-term energy strategy – Clinton 5, Trump 0

• Addressing climate change – Clinton 4, Trump 0

• Ensuring access to clean water – Clinton 4, Trump 0

• Improving ocean health – Clinton 4, Trump 0

• Protecting biodiversity – Clinton 3, Trump 0

The assessments are based on central tenets of the party platforms and statements made by both candidates. Trump’s scores reflect his expressed intent to lift moratoria on drilling in federal areas, revive coal (despite market forces favoring natural gas), rescind the Clean Power Plan, eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and “cancel” the Paris climate agreement – a move that 376 members of the National Academy of Sciences claim would produce “severe and long-lasting (consequences) – for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.”

As these scores signal, this election matters on a planetary scale, and not just for the next four years. “The 2016 presidential election can really be seen as the most important referendum on climate change and on positive action to make the planet a livable place,” University of California-Berkeley physicist Daniel Kammen recently noted.

More fundamentally, this election will decide whether we base policy on scientific evidence or on ideology. The current presidential race, the editors of Scientific American note, has taken “antiscience to previously unexplored terrain” – with a Republican candidate who has claimed that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.”

Such fact-defying rhetoric obscures a truth that Trump recognized before he placed ideology over science. Prior to that, in 2009, he signed onto a full-page advertisement in the New York Times with dozens of other business leaders affirming that our economic well-being depends on planetary health.

May their words echo in our heads when we cast ballots on Nov. 8: “Please don’t postpone the earth. If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.”

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

]]> 6, 30 Oct 2016 14:45:54 +0000
The value of rockweed is rising – as are tensions over its ownership Sun, 30 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Eddie Page found his first summer in his new waterfront home in Cundy’s Harbor noisy. The peace and tranquility he was seeking was interrupted in July by the fishermen in front of his house cutting rockweed. The sound of the mechanical harvester was so loud that Page felt compelled to download an app on his smartphone to measure it. “At times we had two machines on our property, and I got 75 decibels each,” Page said.

The retired accountant is a self-professed geek, so he also did some filming of the rockweed harvest. Being new to the area, Page did not understand that this is roughly the equivalent of putting your hand on the hilt of a sword. Things got heated and Page gave Brunswick-based Source Inc., the company that had hired the harvesters, a piece of his mind.

“I told them, you do not have permission to come on our property,” Page said.

This is where the matter of rockweed in the intertidal zone – a legal issue now making its way through Maine’s judicial system – gets very, very sticky. Does Page have the right to tell harvesters, not just “Get off my (seaweed) lawn,” but “Stop cutting it?”

Page believes that rockweed to be his. Like every waterfront property owner in Maine, he does own all the way to his low tide line. Those ledges are his. Based on a rule established in Colonial times – the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Colonial Ordinance of 1641-1647 to be precise – that gives him the right to say, build a dock in that low tide zone. But he must also give way to the public when it is engaged in the acts of fishing, fowling and navigation. The fish, fowl and navigate law is unique to Maine and Massachusetts, and it’s all business in a way; other states typically also allow the public to recreate below the high tide line.

People have been harvesting seaweed for a long time, but the scale is changing. Rockweed landings in Maine have doubled in the last 10 years, to 15 million pounds in 2015.

People have been harvesting seaweed for a long time, but the scale is changing. Rockweed landings in Maine have doubled in the last 10 years, to 15 million pounds in 2015.

It is highly unlikely that in protein-hungry Colonial times, thought was given to the matter of something as futuristic as rockweed nutritional supplements for both human beings and animals (Source Inc.’s major product) or seafood extracts from cooked down or dehydrated ground-up versions being used as organic fertilizer (some of the other products made by Maine’s small but thriving group of rockweed processors).

But it’s 2016. Climate change is changing how, where and what Mainers fish. Corresponding concern over sustainability is also changing how and what we eat and grow. And rockweed, that humble plant known in Latin as Ascophyllum nodosum and by nervous swimmers as the creepy stuff where the ocean boogie man hides, represents the clash of issues like nothing else. It’s always been a handy soil enricher.

“People have been dragging seaweed up off the beach as long as there has been people and beaches,” says George Seaver, vice president and general manager of Ocean Organics, a seaweed processor in Waldoboro.

But rockweed landings in Maine have doubled in the last 10 years, to 15 million pounds in 2015. It’s not a high cash crop – the price per pound averages to 4 cents – but as a value-added product it has become an industry with real potential, including uses that could reduce the amount of chemical fertilizers on agricultural crops. That’s good, right?

Generally speaking, yes. But as the fishery has grown, so have tensions over it, including whether or not it should even be a fishery.


Last December, Ken and Gary Ross, Pembroke brothers whose family has owned land on Cobscook Bay since the 1900s joined with an association of homeowners on Roque Island archipelago near Jonesport, in a suit against a Canadian harvester called Acadian Seaplants, the biggest rockweed harvester in the state. Their claim is that they own rockweed “affixed to and growing in the intertidal area.” The plantiffs aren’t looking for a cut of the cash; they are worried about the ecological impact of removing the rockweed, according to their attorney, Gordon Smith of Verrill Dana.

They’re not exactly outliers either. The Rockweed Coalition, which Gary Ross was at one time a director of, signed on 568 properties in 12 towns to a “no-cut registry” (it now goes by the name Save Our Seaweed).

The Ross family has worked closely with Robin Hadlock Seeley, a Shoals Marine Laboratory scientist who co-authored a 2012 overview of the sustainability of the rockweed resource in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Her report concludes that commercial-scale rockweed cutting presents a risk to both the coastal ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them. Meaning the fisheries.

But the lawsuit isn’t about the ecology per se. It’s about ownership, and that is a murky question, one that a former Maine attorney general, Steven Rowe, concluded lacks a definitive answer. The state’s courts have been “sympathetically generous” in interpreting what fishing is, Rowe wrote to Department of Marine Resources in 2008, but on the question as to whether seaweed falls within the public trust, it has been “inconsistent.”


Here’s how the seaweed story has unfolded since the Colonial Ordinance: When Maine became a state in 1820, the Massachusetts law came with it. Fish, fowl and navigate. Simple. But seaweed’s place in the fish, fowl and navigation pantheon has been questioned before. In 1843, a lawsuit over trespassing to take “sea manure” found in the favor of the landowner. So did an 1861 ruling, which said seaweed “does not come within the principles applied to aquatic rights.” Forty years later, in the case of Marshall V. Walker, the court seemed to reverse itself, saying of the flats that people “may dig shell fish in them, may take sea manure from them…”

Rhyan Blazek harvests rockweed in the mouth of the New Meadows River in Cundy's Harbor on Tuesday for Source Inc., a Brunswick company that makes seaweed-based nutritional supplements. Harvesters for Source Inc. rotate through their harvest areas every three years to allow the rockweed to regenerate.

Rhyan Blazek harvests rockweed in the mouth of the New Meadows River in Cundy’s Harbor on Tuesday for Source Inc., a Brunswick company that makes seaweed-based nutritional supplements. Harvesters for Source Inc. rotate through their harvest areas every three years to allow the rockweed to regenerate.

The back and forth has created a complicated legal picture, the kind that causes people anxiety about bigger ramifications. Like Greg Tobey, general manager for Source Inc.. He believes that if the suit is successful, everything in the intertidal zone would be off limits, including clamming.

“If the riparian land owners gain control of that, there is not many of them going to say ‘Yeah, get what you want,’ ” he added.

That lament is common, but unfounded, said Gordon Smith. Clamming, musseling, worming or winkling (periwinkles) clearly constitute fishing, the attorney said.

“Taking any of those resources from the intertidal zone is within the scope of the public trust doctrine,” Smith said.

But not, he said, rockweed.


To George Seaver, there’s no question. Rockweed might not be a fish per se, but he can come up with (a semi-tortured) walks-like-a-duck analogy to argue that it should be treated as one.

“These plants, growing on the rocks, they’re basically mussels with less personality,” he said. “It’s stuck in place by its holdfast. It gets all its nutrition from the sea.”

Maine statute defines fish as both a noun and a verb. Lobster, for instance, are not fish under the definition of the noun. But the verb “fish” is described as “to take or attempt to take any marine organism by any method or means.”

“So through the definitions, the taking of plants is included in the activity of fishing,” Jeff Nichols, the Department of Marine Resource’s director of communications, wrote in an email. Additionally, there is a statute that authorizes the commissioner to regulate the harvest of seaweed. (Of the 12 species of seaweeds harvested in Maine, rockweed constitutes about 90 percent of the annual landings.)

From Gordon Smith’s perspective, the statute doesn’t end the issue. “All that means is that the Legislature has, for the purposes of DMR regulation, said it considers fishing to include harvesting sea plants.”

That regulation is still in its infancy. A proposed management plan for rockweed, which divides the coast into sectors, was introduced in early 2014, and all things being equal, should be moving toward finalization. It includes input from other state agencies, including the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (which protects wildlife habitat for shorebirds) and the Department of Environmental Protection (rockweed sits in a coastal wetland). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weighed in as well, citing the poor recovery of the cod fishery and the importance of the rockweed to the fish in its juvenile stage.

But the proposed plan is on hold for two reasons – the staff member who would have taken it through the public hearing and review process left the Department of Marine Resources and hasn’t been replaced and Commissioner Patrick Keliher has said publicly that until the lawsuit is resolved, he plans no further action. “From his perspective, it would not make a lot of sense to invest a lot of additional department time and resources in more complicated management measures at this time,” Nichols wrote in an email, “since we expect that greater clarity on the issue of ownership will be forthcoming.” The department began imposing regulations in 2000 as the interest in harvesting rockweed commercially was growing. Permits are required, but the rules are incredibly simple. The holdfast, or base of the plant, is not to be disturbed. The haircut, as it were, must leave a minimum of 16 inches above the holdfast.

In 2014 the Department of Marine Resources estimated somewhere between 44 and 61 people were or had been harvesting rockweed in Maine, more than half of them by hand.

Rhyan Blazek lets go of a net bag of rockweed as Greg Tobey uses a gaffer hook to pull it to his boat in the mouth of the New Meadows River in Cundy's Harbor on Tuesday. The two work for Source Inc, a Brunswick company that makes seaweed-based nutritional supplements.

Rhyan Blazek lets go of a net bag of rockweed as Greg Tobey uses a gaffer hook to pull it to his boat in the mouth of the New Meadows River in Cundy’s Harbor on Tuesday. The two work for Source Inc, a Brunswick company that makes seaweed-based nutritional supplements.

Harvesters, except those in Cobscook Bay, where limits are imposed, could land more rockweed and in more locations than they do now. George Seaver points out that the harvest taken annually is only about 1.5 percent of the state’s rockweed biomass. “It is nowhere near what Mother Nature tears off with every ice scouring or storm every year.”

Seaver’s harvesters needn’t travel very far. They use a machete, rather than a mechanical harvester, and wait three years before returning to a harvested area. That’s not onerous because extraction process Ocean Organics uses doesn’t require bulk. “The last thing you are going to do is damage the resource within driving distance of your facility,” Seaver said. “Anybody who is a responsible business person is going to be utterly respectful of the health of the resource.”

The beauty of this fishery, he said, is that it’s always “right where you left it last year.”

It grows back, Seaver said, And thicker. Research in the Department of Marine Resources proposed management plan confirms this, as do other harvesters. Tobey recalls doing some serious rockweed trimming for his father, who was finding it tough to get his boat into his landing on Little Yarmouth Island because the weed was so thick. “Two months afterward, it doesn’t even look like we touched it. It comes back insanely.”

Which is why he and Seaver are frustrated by the accusation that they could be doing ecological damage. Source Inc. does not harvest during spring sporing season, for instance, and Tobey said he understands the rockweed’s significance.

“If you’re removing too much of the canopy, yeah,” Tobey said. “Crabs, fish, shellfish, they all definitely use the rockweed as habitat.”

But consider what happens when you mow your lawn, Tobey suggests. “You cut it down to four inches and the crickets, ants and bugs, they all scatter. But you come back an hour later and you’re going to find the same crickets, ants and bugs. They are all going to be there.”


Seaver jokes that Robin Hadlock Seeley is “our staunch-not-supporter.” She probably wouldn’t argue with this. But she would argue with some of the arguments put forward by harvesters. Like the thing about Mother Nature taking more of the resource annually than the fishery does.

“All of that is feeding the system,” Seeley said. “It’s not like it’s wasted so humans might as well go get it.”

She’s an eighth-generation Mainer who grew up in Freeport and spent much of her childhood on the water. In college she studied marine biology, focusing on an organism nearly as humble as rockweed, the periwinkle. While traveling the state looking for a kind of periwinkle she’d found fossiled in mortar on Appledore Island, she visited Eastport in the early 1980s.

“I hopped out of the car and there was the living form” of that fossil.

But as the invasive green crab traveled up the coast, the populations of periwinkles she’d been so excited about started to disappear. “It was like little lights going out around Cobscook Bay.”

Then, she said, she’d see seaweed harvesters come in and start to “hack away” at the rockweed, taking periwinkles, and other by-catch with them.

“Number one, it makes no sense, with everything that is going on in the marine environment, to start hacking away at the habitat,” Seeley said.

Number two, her research subjects were already in trouble. “I am studying the last few of these species and now they are disappearing into the bottom of the boats.”

Tobey said his mechanical harvester hardly brings in any by-catch at all. “Maybe an inch in the bottom of a fish tote.”

Seeley’s effort began with the periwinkle but she’s been tenacious about protecting the rockweed resource, rallying allies from a host of environmental and conservation organizations, among them Downeast Coastal Conservancy, Friends of Blue Hill Bay, and Schoodic Institute. Among the groups citing the importance of restricting the harvest on seabird nesting islands was the Audubon Seabird Restoration Program, which cited rockweed’s significance to Atlantic puffins and Arctic terns.

She’s also the main contact for the cause. Eddie Page, who started out annoyed by noise, poked around on the Internet and found Seeley. Now he thinks less about noise and more about nature.

“It’s a bit like me coming onto your property and sawing a limb off your tree and saying, ‘Oh, it will grow back,’ ” he said.

He’ll be rooting for that lawsuit to make its way to the Maine Supreme Court and prove, once and for all (or until the next appeal) who the weed belongs to. In the meantime, next time the harvesters come by, he can try asking them to move on.

“We’ll go around the corner,” Greg Tobey said. “In order not to be an idiot, or to be rude, we’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, I will do what I can to be quieter.'”

But even as he’s being polite, Tobey will be pondering one of those big-picture questions about Maine and its spectacular coast.

“You cannot deny the fact that waterfront homes are not owned by minimum wage earners,” he said. “By and large, most of the waterfront homes are not owned by Maine natives.”

And that, he says, creates a gap in understanding that goes beyond mere communication. If the view is the priority, waterfront owners aren’t going to be sympathetic to those who make their living in and around their ocean. And drive the state’s economy.

Seeley poses – and answers – a big-picture question of her own. “Why is seaweed being taken now? It is because of the decline of the fisheries higher up on the tropic level.”

To her, that seems short-sighted.

“The risk of doing the wrong thing is so great,” she said.

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A step-by-step guide to making leaf mold (for a better garden) Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:44 +0000 Starting Oct. 24, Portland residents have four weeks to bag up their leaves, set them on the curb, and poof, watch them vanish into the collection arms of the city’s public works department. Here’s a better idea: Turn the leaves into leaf mold and use it next spring (or maybe the one after that) in your garden; leaf mold is compost made wholly from leaves. Among the reasons to like it – it helps keep soil moist. A stash would have come in very handy this past summer.


1. Construct a bin from chicken wire. Sure, you could just make a big, messy pile, but then the leaves would probably blow away – maybe into your neighbor’s yard.


2. Rake – don’t blow – the leaves into a pile. Then shred them – smaller leaves decompose faster. You’ll need a mulching mower. Or don’t shred. Using a noisy, gas-guzzling mower seems counter to the idea of gardening sustainably.


3. Put the leaves into your chicken wire bin. The wetter the leaves, the better. Don’t overstuff the bin as the leaves need air circulation to decompose. Wait. If you like, water and turn the pile over periodically to speed things along.


4. In the spring, mix the leaves. Then use your DIY leaf mold to amend the soil in your garden.

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Using up Asian ingredients: Lots of hits and a few misses Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 One of the regular features in Delicious, a favorite food magazine of mine published in London, is a column called Loose Ends. On this single page, the editors give three or four uses for any out of the ordinary ingredients a recipe in that issue requires home cooks to have on hand.

It’s been an especially useful tool for me as I have grown to love homemade Asian food for its vibrant tastes and learned that those layered flavors are facilitated by a whole bunch of ingredients, some of which keep well, while others need to be used up or go to waste.

Back before Sriracha reached celebrity status, Loose Ends taught me to beat the chili sauce into my scrambled eggs and combine it with tomato paste for spicy pork ribs.

When a friend who’d done two tours of duty in Japan as a Navy spouse convinced me that yuzu juice should always be part of dipping sauce served with gyoza, Loose Ends showed me I could also shake it in a tall glass with tequila, triple sec and ice for interesting margaritas. And when I started dabbling in coconut milk curries, Loose Ends suggested I add the other half of the can of coconut milk to bowls of porridge, pans of rice pudding and a small pot to poach salmon.

When I bought a hunk of palm sugar to make a Thai spring roll dipping sauce, Loose Ends explained I could melt leftover bits into cream with instant espresso granules as an excellent ice cream base.

If I am looking to integrate multiple leftover Asian ingredients into one dish, though, I combine them in a flavored broth to serve with noodles, vegetables and a bit of cooked protein. Sometimes I follow a recipe, but most often I wing it with a ratio of 2 cups stock to 1 tablespoon of each of the earthy (tamari sauce, soy sauce, preserved umeboshi plums, fish sauce, oyster sauce); sweet (palm sugar, mirin, hoisin sauce, cinnamon, star anise, Chinese five spice powder); sour (Chinese black vinegar, brown rice vinegar, yuzu juice, lime juice); aromatic (lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger); or, depending on the intended eaters, spicy (chili paste, chili sauce, dried chilies) elements.

The ingredients don’t need much more time in the pot getting to know each other so the broth is pretty well rounded by the time the noodles are cooked.

My second go-to use of straggling Asian ingredients is a dressing that suits crispy slaws better than lettuce salads. A standard salad dressing combines 1 part souring agent to 2 or 3 parts oil. However, since Asian vinegars are both sweeter and deeper than western ones and Asian sesame oils highly flavored, I run with a one to one ratio, then round out the flavors with broth and season with soy sauce and chili flakes, replacing salt and pepper, respectively.

When I’m feeling adventurous, I experiment. My success rate on that front has been less than 50 percent. I now know that raw ginger will curdle a cow’s milk sauce; triple-concentrated brown rice vinegar is a bad idea for quick pickles; and Thai bird chilies are way too hot to use as a subtle flavoring for chocolate pudding.

But I hit a home run with Nutty Thai Granola Bars – for flavor and for using 10 Asian ingredients sitting in the larder that might otherwise have been wasted.

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

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Open Book: Dana Wilde’s new book is an ode to Maine’s seasonal beauty Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” ($16.95), newspaper columnist and Troy resident Dana Wilde focuses on a time of year when Maine has “the most gorgeous weather in the world.” The task he sets himself writing about this period is not easy, he writes: “Exposing the feel of an autumn day requires a delicate verbal balance that is never precisely struck. But the exact moment when summer breaks into fall is never precisely struck in nature, either.”

We’ve excerpted his essay “Notes from October.” “Summer to Fall” collects Wilde’s columns, most of which first appeared in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. It was published by North Country Press in August.

THIS YEAR the red maple beside the driveway burst into flame a couple of weeks later than the usual September schedule. Every fall it goes up in a great tree conflagration over a week or two, then casts off all its scarlet leaves at once, usually in leaf-stripping wind and rain. Brown and gold carpets appear on lawns up and down Route 9. The birches dropped leaves at the usual steady pace that begins in September and lasts into November, and the deck is disappearing under their brown and yellow litter. The first trees to get naked are the ash trees, in September. Come to think of it they’re the last to cover up in May, too, which might imply something about their libido. Probably not, that’s arboreal anthropomorphism. Still, they’re beautiful, plain and simple, and apparently needing more sleep than the rest.

The orb-weaving spider who moved in under the deck rail during August has curled up there and hardly moves any more. The conifer seed bugs are finding their way into the warmth of the house. I toss them out before somebody tries to kill them and causes a piney stink.

The birds in this particular autumn have been unusually sparse. In some Octobers we fill the feeders twice a day, but this year even the blue jays have shown up only occasionally to pilfer morsels from the cats’ dish. A hundred years ago our clearing on the hillside was a cow pasture, and now it’s enclosed by hefty pines, hemlocks and hardwoods, so our dooryard doesn’t usually harbor a large avian diversity anyway. Mostly chickadees flitting from tree to tree and blue jays bullying them off every perch. A few red-breasted nuthatches have turned up, but squads of mourning doves that often patrol the firs have this fall been absent. A barred owl haunted the woods all summer, asking the other ghosts who cooks for you? all night, but he hasn’t been heard since the eclipse. A few downy woodpeckers. Different sparrows, tufted titmice appearing and disappearing like foreign tourists. Crows overhead. One chilly morning what looked like a bear cub came barreling out of an oak tree and flapped across the driveway. It turned out to be a turkey.

A few juncos showed up in mid-October, hopping around on the ground and in the lower branches like tiny horizontal pogo sticks. Normally they blow through for a week or ten days going south and then again in late March headed north. But this particular fall there have been just that handful for a day or two. Maybe the warm weather in early October encouraged them to forage off the beaten paths. Still, you’d think the ever-slanting sunlight would tell them the tale of imminent cold.

We don’t rake leaves because we need all the dirt-making material we can get. So usually I mow them to create a sort of mulch I hope will decompose under melting spring snow and reinforce our ledgy slopes. Next week chopped-up maple, oak and birch leaves will be corrugating the grassy parts of the yard. Next year’s firewood is cut, split, stacked and permanently covered beside the Shed. Life goes on, and the seasons, and everything else.

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