The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Source Tue, 25 Oct 2016 19:07:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Hardscaping newbies have to read, try and maybe try again Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 From first frost – which usually has happened by now even in most of southern Maine – until first snow is the best time to tackle your nonplant gardening projects.

Knowing I will be trapped inside from mid-December until the snow melts in March or April means that over the next couple of weeks I look for all sorts of projects I can do outside right now. In the landscaping profession, those projects are called hardscaping.

Do you want to add a patio where you can sit on warm summer days? Maybe you’d like a gazebo. How about a shed to keep your garden tools closer to the garden and out of the weather?

Do you need a fence to keep your pets from leaving or people from coming in? What about benches? Do you have a pile of rocks you dug out of your garden that you could turn into a rock wall?

I am not a trained carpenter or stonemason, but over the years I have laid a driveway, patio and walkways with recycled brick, built a garden shed that has lasted 20 years and still looks sound, built simple benches and installed a fence.

The secret to doing things you are not trained to do, I have found, is to read as much as you can before you start, figure out how much time you expect the job to take and then double it, be willing to walk away from it for a couple of days if it isn’t going well, and accept that sometimes you have to take apart what you have done and start over.

If all that has failed, figure you can do without whatever you were trying to build or hire a professional.

Hardscaping projects are useful; beyond that, they serve as focal points in the garden. A shed, bench, wall or arbor attracts the eye and serves as a visual contrast to the softer textures of leaves and flowers. If you really want to attract the eye, paint them colors that you don’t often find in nature.

This column won’t give you detailed plans about how to build anything: There isn’t enough space, and I don’t have enough technical information. It is just to give you ideas about what you may want to build. Once you decide, check online or go to a building-supply store to pick up detailed plans.

Our first hardscaping projects – extended over four decades – were creating walkways and a patio with recycled bricks. Paving projects are a good place to start, because while they might be physically challenging, they are technically easy. And the project is at ground level, so you know it isn’t going to collapse. Well, it may collapse but it won’t fall far.

The biggest mistake we made in the first patio and walkways we built was placing the bricks too far apart. We thought they should look like mortared bricks, with a half an inch between each brick. That arrangement meant rainfall splashed sand on top of the patio and walkways, so they had to be swept after each rainfall. Not fun.

In retrofitting the work over the years, we have put the bricks much closer together. If you are buying new bricks, get ones that are half as wide as they are long, so they fit closely together when you follow basket-weave or herring-bone patterns.

A patio requires digging out six inches of soil where you want it to go, filling in with sand or stone dust, packing it down hard and laying the bricks, using a rubber-headed mallet to pound them in place.

Start small, because you can always add on to a ground-level patio. We built ours in sections, whenever we accumulated enough bricks.

We liked bricks over pavement or concrete because it looks natural, and water seeps through the cracks rather than running off to street drains. Plus, if there is damage of some sort (for example, you’re cutting down a big tree branch and it lands on the patio, leaving a 2-by-6-foot dent), you can remove and replace the damaged bricks or raise the patio a bit by adding more fill before replacing the bricks.

Sheds just look good in a garden. If done right, they look like little woodland cottages, welcoming you to visit. With a shed, you don’t have to look at the wheelbarrows and snowblowers when they are not in use. In addition, you can grow vines up them, which always look good from a distance, or you can add window boxes or plant cottage gardens around the shed.

While you can buy pre-built sheds and have them delivered, you will feel like you have accomplished more if you build it yourself. Ours has concrete blocks as a base, three-quarter-inch plywood as the floor and inexpensive studs for the framing. It took about two weekends, and you do need two people to do the job.

If you want to grow vines but don’t need a shed, consider building a trellis or arbor. These are fairly small and complex, so you might want to make them an indoor winter project.

When we had our house built on a farm field many years ago, a short section of stone wall already existed. Over the years we dug up many stones in planting gardens and building patios, and we extended the wall with those stones. It makes our gardens look almost ancient.

My wife, Nancy, doesn’t like the look of most inexpensive store-bought fences (she doesn’t like those pointy pickets that give picket fences their name) so she had me build some out of two-by-fours and inexpensive lathing. It probably cost more than the lowest-priced box-store stockade fencing, but it fit our purposes better.

These are just a few ideas for things I have done. We don’t have room for a gazebo, and it looks complicated – so my advice is to try some smaller projects before you tackle that one.

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

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Cutting down the volume of household trash begins at the grocery store Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a monthly four-part series about a group of professors at the University of Maine at Augusta undertaking the Zero-Waste Challenge. Can they live without generating any trash for the landfill or incinerator?

I’m in the grocery store frowning. A group of professors at the University of Maine at Augusta – me among them – are going for zero waste this semester, trying to reduce our garbage as much as possible, to zero if we can manage it. But such an effort starts long before it’s time to throw stuff out, I am learning. It starts at the grocery store.

I’m no stranger to hard work, but I like things to be easy – everywhere, including the kitchen. Lately, I’ve been so busy that easiness is even more valuable. When I have time to spare, I prepare meals from scratch – food made out of food, with minimal packaging. Who doesn’t love that? When I have the time, it’s easy to make the effort.

But now, in the second month of the fall semester, I’m busy. When I get busy, my meal plans aren’t so much “plans” as “I put whatever is near my face inside my face.” Busy food. Quick food. Prepackaged, prepared food made out of frozen or dried or canned food – as well as preservatives and chemicals I’d ordinarily rather not ingest. When I get busy like this, I buy fresh produce and then procrastinate prepping it until it’s rotting in my fridge, not my compost bin. When I have no time, it is hard to spend effort.

So here I am, frowning in the grocery store. I have purchasing choices to make that have left me warring with myself. On the one hand, I want to buy only items in which all of the component parts can be eaten, recycled or composted. On the other hand, I want to buy items that I can put inside my face when I remember to eat, but that will “keep” if I forget to eat them for three months.

Which brings me to the issue I want to talk about: This isn’t some “holier than thou, look how I’ve done all this, aren’t you ashamed you’re not doing it, too?” article about how easy it is to adopt what at our university we’ve dubbed the UMA Zero-Waste Challenge. Instead, this is us talking about and seriously considering the choices we have to make for real and lasting change in our lives – and more importantly, how we make those choices.

As a psychologist, I’ve learned that it takes about two months to turn a new action into a habit. I typically start no more than one or two new actions at a time if I want them to persist. If I make too many changes too quickly, I’ll probably fall back on previous habits once I get busy.

My first zero-waste choice was simply to get started. I took steps to put a system in place in my home. I started composting. I stepped up my recycling. This took time, but it was summer and I had time. Just from these initial efforts, our household garbage went down by about one-third. Thanks to my summer efforts, and a few handy guidesthat provide recycling and compostinginformation, these baseline changes have become sustainable for my husband and me.

But then what? I decided that I needed to pay attention to my life and my garbage in order to figure out the next steps I needed to make. Over the past month, I’ve been watching my garbage to identify the things I buy regularly but cannot recycle or compost. Noticing, just noticing, was actually an important next step, and has led to many easy changes in my shopping.

For example, I stopped getting the cashew milk I like because the carton was a cardboard and plastic composite that can’t be recycled or composted; it’s just waste. The almond milk I like a little less comes in a recyclable plastic container, making it an easy step toward zero waste. I traded this soap in cellophane for that soap in cardboard, this pasta in plastic bags for that pasta in boxes. Choices like this, noticing and making substitutions, are easy choices that build up over time.

But now I’m frowning in the grocery store because I’ve come to a harder decision. I’ve made every easy substitution I can, yet still in my garbage I notice composite materials and plastic bags. And what do they contain? In my house, these are the garbage containers of my “busy” food. My “stick it in my face” food. My “this can sit in my pantry or freezer for months” food.

Busy-ness and easiness are warring with zero waste. This next choice I have to make is a lifestyle change. This is hard.

I can’t yet say how this story will end, because I’m still in the middle of it. But I can say how I’ll take this next step. I am breaking this lifestyle change into its component parts. Each week, I will spend a few minutes frowning in the grocery store, choosing a zero-waste alternative for one item of busy food. Changing my entire eating practice while I’m busy won’t work for me – I won’t do it, or it won’t last. Making one adjustment at a time is doable.

Slowly, and persistently, I’ll make this change.

Kati Corlew is a community and cultural psychologist, a researcher on the psychology of climate change, and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Maine at Augusta.

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Annie Tselikis runs the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Annie Tselikis (it’s pronounced Sill-eek-us) is the executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association. That’s her part-time gig; her full-time work is as the marketing director for Maine Coast, a York-based wholesaler of lobster and seafood. We called the Cape Elizabeth native up to talk about Maine’s largest fishery, just as the European Union announced that it would reject Sweden’s request to ban Maine lobster from sale. (Phew.) Our conversation moved swiftly to about a dozen other topics; Tselikis is only 34 but she has packed a great deal into her career already. Starting with her deckhand days.

TALL ORDER: We reached Tselikis by cell phone as she was driving to Boston for a meeting about Tall Ships Boston, scheduled for summer of 2017. What do lobster dealers care about such things? “The tall ships are tying up on the Boston Fish Pier.” That’s where Maine Coast, as well as a lot of other dealers, have offices. “There are trucks on and off that pier from 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. every night.” It’s going to be a shipping nightmare, but obviously, a beautiful spectacle, so Tselikis is plotting a reception for her Maine Coast customers. “This will be the biggest Tall Ships festival ever,” she said. “Then on top of that, I am going to make things worse for our Boston facility. Those guys are going to hate me.”

RESUME: When Tselikis was a student at Connecticut College, she studied photography and documentary and spent the fall of her junior year at Maine’s SALT Institute. Fisheries hadn’t entered her mind. Maine never left it though, and she decided after college to join friends who were working for Casco Bay Lines as deckhands. She ended up staying two years. Her parents might not have been thrilled, but the economy wasn’t great in 2004 and money was steady on the ferry. Also, fun. “There were days in the summer time where it sort of felt like camp for grownups,” she said.

FISH TALK: That’s where she started to get a sense of the complex world of Maine’s fisheries. “I would hear fishermen talking about what was going in the industry,” she said. “Until that point, it just didn’t register with me that natural resource management was a thing.” That’s how most people are, she says. “They just see boats, they go to Harbor Fish and they buy lobster,” without a sense of the many moving parts involved (a partial list: buyers on the wharf, dealers with the trucks, holding tanks, processors, transportation everywhere from Portland to Hong Kong).

DOING DOWN EAST: In 2006 she applied for (and received) an Island Institute fellowship, a program that places young people in coastal communities “whose way of life and identity face many challenges” to help build sustainabilty. Her assignment was in Stonington, the lobster capitol of Maine, where she worked at the Opera House and on the community’s economic development committee. Among other things, she helped develop a website to encourage shopping local. “We were trying to build up Stonington as a destination.”

STAYING IN STONINGTON: When the fellowship wrapped up, Tselikis stayed on to work with Robin Alden at Penobscot East Resource Center, a nonprofit that works to help make Maine fisheries sustainable and innovative. Tselikis’ role was to serve as liaison between policy workers and the industry. “There is a real disconnect between those groups. We have made great strides, but it is still a real us versus them mentality at a number of different levels.” For Tselikis, being embedded in the heart of lobster country was game changing, career wise. She has never been a fisherman, but now she understands their work.

NEXT STOP, PORTLAND: Her next gig was at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). Wait, she’s worked there too? She laughed. “I have worked for pretty much everybody but DMR (the Department of Marine Resources) at this point.” She took two leaves from GMRI, one to work for Eliot Cutler’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, the other for a conservation exchange program sponsored by the Quebec-Labrador Foundation. She traveled to Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, studying resource management. It was an eye-opening experience and an education in water and waste management. “There was one area of the West Bank that was in the running to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” she remembered. Mar Saba monastery, which is built into a cliffside, was one of the most beautiful sights she’d ever seen. “But there was literally a river of brown sludge running under it.” When the fellows from the Middle East joined her in Stonington to study lobster resource management, she was struck by the incongruity between her trip and theirs. “You’re traipsing around Maine where it is very lush and green and thinking about going to the Middle East, where you are going through checkpoints constantly. It sort of feels ridiculous talking to people about lobster management.”

BALANCE BEAM: In between Cutler’s campaigns, Tselikis “ran around the state” working for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “It connected me with the lobster dealers for the first time.” She’s worked for two now, Garbo’s Seafood in Hancock and Maine Coast, giving her a chance to observe close up how hard the off-the-water business of the fishery is. “They work six and seven days a week. Most people only close their operations on Thanksgiving day. You’re dealing with live animals, and it is a very difficult product to deal with.” In other words, it has to get where it is going in a refrigerated hurry. How does she balance a full-time and part-time job? Lots of hours at night. “It is a fair amount of juggling, but I am very passionate about this industry.”

IS THAT SUSTAINABLE? What impact does being on the supply side have on her view of conservation? “I think about it both in terms of economy and ecology. In this industry, without a sustainable lobster resource, we will struggle to have sustainable coastal economies.” She gives a lot of credit to the Maine Department of Marine Resources for effective resource management. “Without good enforcement – the men and women of the Maine Marine Patrol – you cannot have effective management. We are very lucky that many of the laws in place today have been in existence for over 100 years. They have helped to provide us with the sustainable resource we are looking at today.”

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Expos in Portland, Orono aim to help food providers scale-up production Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Local farms, fisheries and food processors interested in supplying University of Maine college campuses are invited to attend information expos in Portland and Orono in November on how to scale up production.

The one-day Scaling Up expos, to be held Nov. 1 and 3, are sponsored by food service giant Sodexo and the University of Maine. The events are intended to “help Maine-based farms, fisheries, and other businesses understand how they can extend their market reach,” according to a press release.

Maine’s local food advocates have pushed hard to get more Maine-grown food served in the schools’ dining halls. Earlier this year, the University of Maine System awarded its new dining service contract to Sodexo, citing in part the company’s commitment to source 25 to 30 percent of its food locally; previously, Aramark held the contract.

“We want people to walk out of the room informed on how to take the next step in selling to an institution like Sodexo or the University of Maine,” Maeve McInnis, director of The Maine Course by Sodexo is quoted as saying. The Maine Course is the name of the Sodexo initiative on local sourcing.

The Portland Scaling Up expo is scheduled for Nov. 1 at the Abromson Center on the University of Souther Maine campus; the Orono expo is at the Wells Conference Center at the UMaine Orono campus; both events run from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. To register or for more information, go to Registration ends on Monday.

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Small-batch cheese spread with a big taste Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I was driving back to Portland from South Berwick a few weeks ago when I stopped at a cute roadside orchard, just because.

Inside its store was the usual selection of Maine apples, cider, farmstand vegetables and cider doughnuts. A freezer held local meats. What caught my eye that day, though, were the tiny containers of spreadable cheese. Priced at $1.99, they came in flavors like horseradish, garlic and herb, and olive and pimiento. There were medium and large containers, too, for $3.99 and $5.99. The label said the spreads were made in Maine.

Curious, I took some home.

I expected them to taste like all the other “pub cheeses” found in the grocery store that have been whipped into a frenzy. I was pleasantly surprised. Though the cheese glides over your tongue so smoothly it’s almost like you’re eating flavored air, at the same time the spreads are not too light.

The creators of Squire Mountain tub cheese, Paul and Deanna Meserve, started making the cheese 20 years ago, I learned, when they had trouble finding a spreadable cheese that wouldn’t break the cracker they were trying to put it on. At the time, they ran a country store in Bridgton, “and the out-of-staters, before they’d go back home they’d buy everything on the shelf,” Paul Meserve said.

Production has moved to Standish, and the couple have taken on a business partner, Jake Hansen. They have six flavors – original cheddar, port wine, garlic & herb, horseradish, olive & pimiento, and bacon cheddar – and it’s all made in small batches. Small, Meserve said, or the recipe won’t work.

Sales, though, have been big. Meserve estimates that in 20 years the company has sold 1.5 million tubs of cheese. Hannaford carries a couple of flavors, but Meserve says smaller, independent supermarkets and farm stands like the one I visited tend to sell more because they carry all sizes and flavors. You can find a list of Maine and New Hampshire stores that sell Squire Mountain at

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Maine used to be the ax-making capital of the world, and now vintage has its value Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Alex Koch swung the Emerson Stevens Victory ax, made around 1934, over his shoulder and down into a birch log with a craaack, splitting it into pieces just big enough for a wood stove.

This is the sound of autumn in Maine. Homeowners are splitting and storing firewood for coming winters, often using an ax that seems to have been in the tool shed forever.

Koch, 32, is an ax collector from Unity who delights in using restored vintage axes. Koch and other ax experts in Maine say they’ve seen a renewed interest in vintage axes over the past five years, especially among young people who are trying out homesteading or farming or otherwise working with their hands.

“People are tired of the throw-away culture,” Koch said. “They want things that will last, and vintage axes will do so.”

This year, for the first time, the Common Ground Country Fair hosted an Ax and Saw Meet-up, where ax junkies could gather and swap stories. Koch, who refurbishes old axes, is getting emails from as far away as Europe and Australia from collectors asking about vintage Maine axes. Ax fans have Facebook pages, including a group called “Axe Junkies” with nearly 18,000 members.

It’s especially satisfying to see this resurgence here, as in the 1800s and early 1900s, Maine had a thriving ax manufacturing industry. It was tied, not surprisingly, to its thriving lumber industry. The town of Oakland, especially, was the “scythe and ax manufacturing capital of the world,” Koch said.

He estimates that over a 100-year period 18 ax manufacturers plied their trade in Oakland, or West Waterville as the town was previously known, including such well-known makers as Spiller and Dunn Edge Tool. They made ax patterns with names that today sound almost romantic: the Maine wedge, the Rockaway, the Ship’s Carpenter, the Georgia Long Bit, the Lumberman’s Pride and the Cock of the Woods.

Smaller manufacturers were located in towns scattered around the state, including but by no means limited to Skowhegan, Belfast, Bath, Westbrook, Greenbush and Kingfield.

Koch and other ax fans estimate Maine had as many as 300 ax makers between 1800 and 1960, both larger manufacturers and simple blacksmiths. Ax makers supplied the state’s many lumberjacks and its many shipbuilders.

“There were people everywhere making axes,” he said.

Many of them can be found in “Ax Makers of Maine,” a self-published list of ax manufacturers that was started by a Mainer, the late Donald G. Yeaton, and is now regularly updated by Art Gaffar, a tool expert who lives in South Portland. Koch treasures his reference copy, along with a large collection of beautiful vintage ax labels he has preserved in a big binder.

In the next 18 months or so, the list may get an additional name.


Five years ago, Scarborough school psychologist Steve Ferguson went shopping for an ax to give to his godson, who was going to forestry school. He wanted to get the young man a classic ax from Snow & Nealley, which had been making axes in Maine since 1864. But Snow & Nealley’s production, he soon discovered, had been outsourced to China. His reaction was immediate and strong: “How can there not be an ax company in the state of Maine?”

(An Amish family in Maine has since purchased the company, according to the online blog Lehman’s Country Life, and Snow & Nealley axes are now made in the United States again.)

But Ferguson had spotted an opportunity. Eighteen months ago, he formed a partnership with his brother, Mark, a Portland attorney and software company owner; and Barry Worthing, a nurse at Maine Medical Center. The three launched Brant & Cochran, a company aimed at bringing handmade axes back to Maine.

They might seem an unlikely trio for the task. None of the three is a longtime ax expert. Rather it was their love of history that drew them to axes, and they are figuring it out as they go. To learn about the industry’s history and the market for craft-made axes, they visited craft fairs, outdoorsman shows, historical societies and the New York State Woodsmen’s Field Days. They tapped local forgers as mentors.

Now, in his spare time, Steve Ferguson can be found at the company’s workshop at Thompson’s Point in Portland, refurbishing family heirloom axes for people from all over the country.

“Some of these take you 20 minutes. Some take you two hours,” he said on a recent weekday afternoon as he used a spokeshave to shape and smooth an ax handle made of Tennessee hickory.

So far, Brant & Cochran – named after the tool supply business the Fergusons’ grandfather once owned in Detroit – focuses on restoring vintage axes. But this winter, the partners hope to team up with local blacksmiths and begin forging new ax heads. At the same time, they are searching for a partner who can mill Maine ash for the handles.

Mark Ferguson estimates the company is a year to 18 months away from having a brand new, Maine-forged ax ready to market. Their first ax will be the Maine wedge, which hasn’t been made here since ax maker Emerson Stevens went out of business some 50 years ago.


If you’re interested in old axes, the place to go is the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum, which has a vintage collection of about 50 axes, some of which date back to the 1800s. The axes were donated by Mainers and were made in Maine and Canada. In recent years, Executive Director Rhonda Brophy has noticed visitors taking more of an interest in the collection.

“They’re just amazed at how things were manufactured that many years ago and how they were able to making a living with an ax,” she said. “What would it be like to work in the woods all day? The amount of calories they had to consume was probably huge.”

Back in the day, fathers taught their children how to use axes to prepare them for working in the woods as adults, she said.

When Brophy met the Brant & Cochran partners, she told them about a stash of 30 to 40 old ax handles in the attic that had been donated to the museum. The company bought 20 of them to use in their restoration work, including some rare – though not especially useful – Adirondack handles with a double bit and curved handle.

“No one knows why they decided to make these (curved) handles,” Steve Ferguson said. “One side has really good ergonomics, and the other side is kind of goofy and backwards.”


Though they were business competitors, the ax companies that once flourished in Oakland often worked together, according to Koch. “Companies would jointly order shipments of steel to get a better cost,” he said, “and occasionally would share employees,”

In the end, though, cooperation couldn’t save them. Ax manufacturing in Maine went into decline, victims of the Depression, World War II – when the best steel went to the war effort – the suburbanization of America, foreign imports and the advent of motorized chain saws.

Though early chain saws were huge and some required two operators, they were “still easier than wielding the ax all day,” Brophy explained.

But if the heyday of ax making in Maine is long gone, vintage axes from that time are back in demand – not just for collections, but for daily use. People appreciate how well they were made.

“The quality of Chinese- and Mexican-made axes that you get is quite frankly rather terrible,” Koch said. “There’s just no way to compare those to the quality of a vintage ax from Oakland or anywhere else in the United States.”

Vintage axes, on the other hand, “should last forever if they’re taken care of,” Mark Ferguson said. His company charges $75 to $95 for ax restoration. So far, customers range from outdoors people, camp owners and young people in the forestry industry to those who find their great-great grandfather’s ax in the attic and want to preserve it so it can be handed down to a new generation.

The partners in Brant & Cochran have become ax evangelists. They hope their small efforts to educate people will help jump start the industry. Because Maine without an ax industry just isn’t right, Mark Ferguson says.

]]> 13, 23 Oct 2016 16:23:59 +0000
Talk about death with your loved ones before you think you have to Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “I could see that they were slowly leaving the sphere of TV commercial old age… and moving into the part of old age that was scarier, harder to talk about, and not part of this culture.”

– Roz Chast, “Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?”

It’s a topic we avoid at all costs: the inevitable descent each person makes from that American ideal of youthful independence to frailty and death. Fearful of following that path ourselves, we resist discussing it – even as loved ones venture closer to that inescapable end.

In recent decades, American culture has opened to permit candid conversations about many topics once off the table – from gender identity and racism to addictions and disorders. But when it comes to end-of-life discussions, there’s still strong resistance. Those who seek to live sustainably can find that challenge enough, without facing what it might mean to die with integrity.

Many societal undercurrents reinforce our resistance. With urbanization, ties to the natural world have grown tenuous and we witness the life-death cycle less frequently. When we do, it’s often on screen – far removed from our daily reality.

Countries like Mexico and Poland hold collective rituals that help normalize the inevitability of death, but Americans prefer Memorial Day picnics, parades and summer-season sales. Our commercial culture worships youth and novelty, while portraying old age as a protracted talk with your doctor about pharmaceuticals.

Advances in medicine lend hope that we might keep death at bay, an illusion many doctors reinforce. “Our decision making in medicine has failed so spectacularly,” surgeon Atul Gawande writes in Being Mortal, “that we have reached the point of actively inflicting harm on patients rather than confronting the subject of mortality.”

Our cultural resistance to discuss life’s end causes widespread suffering for the dying, depriving them of what Gawande calls the right “to end their stories on their own terms.” Pressured both by medical personnel and by family members, patients can spend their final weeks in Intensive Care Units, swathed in tubes and surrounded by strangers. Even though 80 percent of Americans would prefer to die at home, only about 20 percent today do.

Denying dying people the chance to take what control they can has far-reaching repercussions for family members – who can struggle for years with the death’s emotional, spiritual and financial aftershocks. Many of them experience a sense of lingering regret over lost opportunities for connection in the final days, and some cope with debilitating medical bills. A quarter of households in one study had medical expenses in the five years before a member’s death that exceeded their total household assets.

Costly late-life medical interventions drive up health care costs, straining the budgets of families, businesses and government. Roughly 30 percent of all Medicare expenditures go to the 5 percent of patients in their last year of life.

We cannot afford to continue along this path; it is not sustainable by any measure.

Fortunately, the culture is starting to shift – aided by Gawande’s book and resources like The Conversation Project and Death over Dinner. These efforts address the gap between the 90 percent of Americans who acknowledge they should have end-of-life discussions and the meager third who do.

Columnist and author Ellen Goodman was among those who launched The Conversation Project in 2012 after realizing she’d never had those crucial value discussions with her own mother while there was time. People postpone these talks, Goodman told me, “feeling it’s ‘too soon.’ What we’ve learned is it’s always too soon until it’s too late.” The opportunity is lost once someone lands in the Emergency Room, ICU or Alzheimer’s care facility.

People envision end-of-life talks primarily with elderly parents, but they should occur among all adults. Despite initial reservations, many people find that these dialogues lead to warm exchanges and what Goodman calls the sharing of “deep family stories.”

Even in close-knit families, the responses of loved ones may come as a surprise. People often express desires “besides simply prolonging their lives,” Gawande writes, prioritizing concerns like avoiding suffering, bonding with family and friends, and remaining mentally alert. Contemplating the end of life can help us clarify what matters most – not just when time becomes short, but every day.

Ideally, these heartfelt exchanges lead to completing paperwork that can help guide family members and medical practitioners. The Conversation Project recommends that individuals authorize a medical decision-maker; complete an Advanced Health Care Directive (templates can be found online), and discuss end-of-life wishes with their health care provider. Medicare recently began compensating doctors for time spent having these discussions. Those who are at a late-life stage may also wish to complete and post a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form.

One of the many benefits to initiating these dialogues early, Goodman notes, is that it can help family members agree to back the patient’s wishes. Absent that consensus, relatives can unwittingly make the process harder for a dying person through their own resistance to letting go. Roz Chast captures this poignant dynamic in her graphic memoir, portraying how her mother – facing her husband’s impending death – challenged the “defeatist attitude” of hospice and asserted “I told Daddy he was coming with me to 100 if I had to drag him kicking and screaming!”

The prospect of death – whether our own or that of a loved one – is inescapably fraught with fears and uncertainties. It’s easy to see how we’ve drifted into a kind of denial, and slipped into medically managing the end of life despite crippling personal and societal costs.

We owe it to ourselves and each other, though, to discuss what matters most in our waning days. Having that dialogue with loved ones could help us remain authors of our lives through the closing chapters.

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

]]> 0, 16 Oct 2016 09:22:05 +0000
Grow: Tulips will boost your spring Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Tulips would be the perfect plant for Maine if they weren’t so tasty to mice, squirrels, chipmunks, deer and woodchucks. They come in a wide variety of colors, heights and bloom times; love cold winters; and produce reliably.

You should plant them between now and Thanksgiving. I prefer to plant them late, so pests have less time to dig up and dine on them before the ground freezes.

1094350_483493 tulips2.jpgTulips prefer areas with full or afternoon sun, so choose a fairly open site. They also prefer well-drained soil. If Maine’s drought continues, you will want to water them this fall – but not next spring. Tulips don’t do well in places with irrigation systems.

Plant tulips about 8 inches deep – but loosen the soil even deeper than 8 inches – and 6 inches apart. The Farmers Almanac says you can put thorny or prickly stems such as holly or roses above the bulbs to deter pests, and you also can use chicken wire.

Deer love the just-sprouted shoots, so if you have deer in your garden, spray deer repellent after planting and watering your bulbs.

Tulips look best in groupings, so plant at least three and as many as 50 of one color and mix them in with other tulips or spring-flowering bulbs.

Once they are done blooming, cut off the spent flowers but let the leaves turn yellow or brown before removing them, and you should have blooms for many years to come.

]]> 0, 16 Oct 2016 15:12:26 +0000
Despite drought, peppers turned very red, carrots came on strong Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The drought dominated this year’s garden season. It began with a light snowpack and below-average rain for every month except June. The rain in June didn’t do much good, though; it came mostly in one hard storm, so much of it ran off instead of soaking into the ground. September, when we normally get fall rains, was the driest of all.

My wife Nancy and I watered our entire garden property – vegetables, flower beds and lawns – four times. In addition, we hand-watered the newly planted blueberries and asparagus and most of the vegetables regularly, using water from the rain barrels as well as water we saved from the kitchen sink.

Watering added a lot of work – and time – in the garden.

But mostly it was a good year.

My prime goal this year was to grow carrots successfully – and I did. With the first two plantings – one in April and the second in May – I used pelletized Mokum seeds in our new cold frame. The pelletized seed prevented me from planting the seeds too close together, and the cold frame kept insects and other pests from eating the newly sprouted seeds.

We finished eating the last of those carrots about a week ago, and are now picking from an early July planting – with traditional seeds because I’d used up all the pelletized seed. We’ve a healthy-looking August planting coming along, too. Using the pelletized seed for the first two crops drove home how carefully I need to spread the seeds to get a good crop.

The drought and warm temperatures actually helped some vegetables. More of our sweet peppers ripened to a full red than ever before, and we still have a lot of green ones on the plants as of October 6, when I am writing this – with no immediate frost expected along the coast where we live. The tomatoes were plentiful until about a month ago – then they just stopped, even though we grew indeterminate varieties (the type that produce, or should produce, tomatoes until the frost comes). But we started picking in mid-July and for 10 weeks ate all the tomatoes we wanted. We still are harvesting some Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, which produced both the first and last tomatoes we had all year. They are a favorite, even though about a quarter of them split before they ripen fully.

The black beans did well. I planted both Coco Noir and Mitla. The Coco Noir I bought from Fedco two years ago and, after interviewing seed-saving guru Will Bonsall, saved enough beans so I could plant them again this year – which was good because they were not available from Fedco this year. The Mitla was back in the catalog after an absence of several years. For me, the Coco Noir produced better, but I am looking forward to doing a taste-test.

The blueberries and asparagus we planted in a new section are growing well. I let about 15 of the blueberries ripen on three of the 10 plants, and we should be able to pick a few more next year. I think I didn’t time the dormant oil and Bt spraying on the winter moth caterpillars well enough to get berries on the older plants (the moths eat the blooms and small leaves off the bushes before pollination takes place). When state entomologist Charlene Donahue spoke to the Cape Elizabeth Garden Club I learned that the dormant oil should be sprayed fairly late in winter and the Bt should wait until the first leaves come out on the blueberries. I’ll follow her instructions next spring, which should help our blueberry blooms last long enough to be pollinated.

The asparagus is standing tall and healthy. According to instructions, we didn’t harvest any this year. Next year, according to some sources, we should be able to harvest a couple of spears from each plant – and I probably will, but only if I see a second sprout beginning.

I know I still have to get through winter, but am already looking forward to eating asparagus daily from mid-May until the peas come in early July.

Our strawberries didn’t do as well as I would have liked, and it is only the third year on the bed, so I am fertilizing, weeding and mulching to bring the bed back. The raspberries were prolific and tasty.

Our back lawn is being taken over by violets (both white and purple), which I don’t mind. It’s the bare spots that bother me. A month ago I spread compost over the bare spots, seeded those sections and watered regularly. Some seed is sprouting already, but it isn’t as thick as I would like. I’ll see how it looks come spring and may seed again. I’m not looking for perfection, but would like to get rid of the naked spots. Maybe I just need to be patient and the violets will spread more.

Our flowers bloomed well, but because of the heat and drought the bloom time for many of them was shorter this year.

After setting up a small copper trellis made with leftover piping, I planted some nasturtiums that were supposed to climb. The flowers produced well, but declined to climb the trellis – instead they wandered through nearby hops, coreopsis and other plants. A nice cottage-garden effect but not really what I had in mind.

I think the drought was tough on the “Endless Summer” series of hydrangeas, but the PeeGee and Annabelle varieties were as reliably productive as ever – as were the daylilies.

So, as always, I enjoyed spending time in the garden. There were a few failures and more successes.

And it kept me thinking about things other than politics.

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

]]> 0, 15 Oct 2016 21:09:05 +0000
Horse-powered farms aren’t old-fashioned anymore Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Lizzy Koltai recently relocated Helios, her horse-powered farm, from leased land in Bowdoinham to her own land in Gouldsboro. While she prepares long-fallow agricultural fields there for cultivation, she’s taken another job to generate income on a nearby farm – a typical move for a new farmer. She sometimes drives a tractor on that farm, and you might think she’d be happy to get a chance to zip through plowing duties on mechanized equipment.

Not so.

“Every time I am on a tractor I am so grateful that most of the time I am behind a horse,” Koltai said. She ticks off the reasons: “Horses are quiet. There is no motor. There is no diesel smell. It is a completely different work environment.”

From an outsider’s perspective, running a horse-powered farm might seem akin to using a vintage letterpress instead of a laptop, a quaint representation of the past that looks charming but requires more manual labor, not to mention repairs that cannot be solved with a trip to Staples.

But more Maine farmers are turning to horse power, and they’re not doing it to be sweetly old-fashioned. (Or for religious and cultural reasons, like the Amish communities in Unity, Smyrna and in the Fort Fairfield area.) To them, it’s a new modern: sustainable, smart and soulful. They cite reasons ranging from economics (and not just because horses cost a lot less upfront than a tractor) to environmentalism.

“Horses are truly solar-powered,” said Koltai, who is on the board of the Draft Animal Power Network, a national organization with 400 members. “Grass is a very good renewable.”

They’re also a way of connecting to farming on a different level.

“It’s just a different give-back,” said Kate Del Vecchio of Tender Soles horse-powered farm in Richmond. “It feels much more emotionally connected.”

The horses aren’t pets, by any means, but Tony and Jesse (both geldings, or castrated males) are part of the farm family.

“They love to be with us, and they are curious,” Del Vecchio said. “If we are working near them, they come and watch us.” She and her partner Rich have a new baby daughter, Samara, who is 5 months old, and, “they love her. They will stare at her and try to figure out what she is.”


The membership in the Draft Animal Power Network might not be vast, but Donn Hewes, the group’s president, said it is growing. By way of example, he points to Horse Progress Days, an Amish-run promotional event that started in 1993 and features demonstrations of new equipment. It moves to a new location every year and regularly draws crowds of 20,000.

Hewes came to draft animals by way of mules, and now farms in Marathon, New York, with three mules and three horses. “It is one of the deepest relationships you can have with an animal,” he said.

His group does not track numbers for farming with draft animals in Maine specifically, and neither does the state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry. Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association doesn’t have figures either, although agricultural services director Dave Colson sees a trend. “I definitely think it is increasing,” Colson said.

Mary Quinn Doyle, author of “Unique Maine Farms,” said she’s visited 200 of Maine’s over 8,000 farms, 17 of which were at least partially horse-powered, and Adrienne Lee of New Beat Farm, who has been working with horses for 10 years, knows of at least 25. She described Waldo County, where she and husband Ken Lamson farm, as “a hot spot for horse-powered farming.”

Lee started her own farming career on small-scale farms that used tractors. It hadn’t even occurred to her to farm with horses. “I grew up riding a little bit, but I never imagined that people were using horses to actually do production farming,” she said. “Besides the Amish.”

Then she was exposed to farms where it was working at the scale she wanted to farm on (New Beat has 4 acres in production) and started to see the possibilities. She found mentors in Earle Mitchell and Penny Savage of Bowdoin’s Mitchell & Savage Farm, whom she spent time with on the weekends, filling in the “missing link in my education.” (She studied sustainable agriculture at the University of California Santa Cruz.) They remain close, and “we call them when we have questions about the horses.”

What appealed to her primarily was that horses offered a way to create an ideal farm ecosystem.

“You could equate it to a closed loop,” she said. “We were trying to find a way that we are not relying on things that are not coming from off of our farm.” They minimize their reliance on fossil fuels by not using motorized equipment – that’s the day to day – but they also aren’t participating in the economy that uses vast amounts of energy to create “these giant new tractors.”

All of that was appealing. So was the relatively low cost of horses compared to tractors. Lee spent about $4,000 on her first team, whereas even a used tractor can cost $15,000 and a new one might start at $50,000.

For a new farmer, horses have a built-in bonus. Farmers say acquiring the equipment needed to work the horses is surprisingly easy, and cheap. They go to Uncle Henry’s, antique shops (Koltai picked up a plow for $30 at one). They can see what’s been left next to the stone wall on their own properties, and they can rely on the kindness of strangers.

“When I start talking about using the horses, people perk up and say, ‘Oh, I have this thing on my land, would you be interested?’ ”

“Keeping my upfront costs low was definitely a factor,” Koltai said. “But it was more of a benefit than a deciding factor.”


It takes Lee and Lamson a full day to plow 2 acres behind their horses. Undeniably, the farmers next door with motorized equipment move much faster.

“Our neighbor will plow 30 acres in the time it takes us to do two,” Lee said. “But then again, we’re not in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt on giant equipment that helps us work that fast. At the end of the day, I don’t think there is that much difference there.”

But whereas a farmer can leave a tractor in the field and head in for supper, the horses need to be fed and put to bed. Typically, Del Vecchio of Tender Soles said, that adds an extra hour to the day. And while the work is being done, there’s no slacking off.

“There is no zoning out,” she said. “At least not to the extent that you can on a tractor. You are constantly watching your step. And if the horses are getting tired, you have to give them a rest. I think it is a lot more work.”

Del Vecchio and her partner apprenticed at New Beat before starting Tender Soles, and she still remembers the first time working with horses clicked for her.

“It was this beautiful summer day, and Ken (Lamson) and Rich and I were working with the horses. We were out there plowing and I felt comfortable for the first time. It felt so good and rewarding and so connected, all five of us.”

The connection, Lee said, means that there are windy days when the horses are miserable and the humans are miserable.

“It’s not all roses. We love working with horses but the flip side is, you are also working with a living being.” At New Beat they have three mares, and when those mares are in heat, “They are not so easy to work,” Lee said. “You are working with a lot of emotions, and that can affect how the day goes for you.”

Most of these horses work in the woodlots, skidding out logs, but they do get winters off. Springtime can be a challenge. “The first month when you are out there can be kind of a struggle,” Lee said.

“You can’t be distracted, because the horse knows,” Koltai said.

Do those fast-plowing neighbors look at the New Beat farmers as those crazy hippies with their horses? Lee laughs. “To some degree maybe, but our town has been an agricultural town since its inception and all of the farmers around here have seen just about everything. I think they respect what we do and they know we work hard.”

Koltai went to Williams College, where she was a physics major on a pre-med track. At a certain point she had to break it to her parents that not only was she not going to be a doctor, but she was going to farm in 19th-century style. They rolled with it, thanks to a certain bestselling author.

“They read Michael Pollan’s books and that helped,” she said with a laugh.


Hewes, of the Draft Animal Power Network, said farmers who use horses do have to tailor their economic expectations to their situation. That might mean having an off-farm job, and it almost certainly means “selling high-price items to higher-income people” who appreciate what they’re doing.

While Lee and other horse-powered farmers say they don’t charge more for their products than a typical organic farmer – who is able to command a premium – they do get a leg up from their horses when it comes to marketing. They run an 18-week summer CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share that incorporates goods from three other horse-powered farms (Tender Soles, Sandy Meadow Farm in Unity and Wild Miller Gardens in Palermo). Lee drives the CSA’s vegetables down to Portland, where they have a customer base content to pay $400 for a share that feeds two adults.

The horses do give these farmers a leg up with certain customers.

“There are so many CSAs out there,” Del Vecchio said. “People might choose our CSA because of the horses.”

They definitely attract visitors.

“We get people just stopping to take pictures,” she said. “People bring their grandkids and kids to the farmstand because they might get to see the horses.”

Many farms use their draft horses in the winter for sleigh rides, and Del Vecchio said Tender Soles is considering adding that to their farm economy. They’re in their second year of farming in Richmond and have about 2 acres in cultivation with vegetables and flowers. “We’re going to extend a little bit more, but we’re going to do it slowly.”

That’s sensible; growth is the area where horse-powered farms need to move with caution, Hewes said. While he does know of some 20-acre operations that rely on horse power, farmers with 5 to 10 acres are more typical. Going beyond that is hard to manage; the man hours spent versus the returns don’t make economic sense.

“People face the economic reality when they try to grow the farm business,” Hewes said. “And some people will choose to give up the horse.”

The biggest hurdle is when they want to add employees, he added, in part because wage employees require consistency. If it’s just him and his immediate family working the farm, it’s not such a big deal if things move slowly. “When I work on my farm, I can have moments when I am making a dollar an hour and moments when I am making $50 an hour.” It evens out. But add wages into the equation and everything becomes more urgent.

It’s not just younger farmers who tend to be drawn to horse power, he said. “It’s people with a young mindset.”


Here’s a sure sign that working with horses is catching on. Goranson Farm, a well-established organic farm in Dresden that has long relied on motorized equipment, has added horses to the mix, courtesy of the younger generation. Carl Johanson returned to Maine from Bennington College a few years ago and told his farmer parents he had an interest in working with horses for environmental reasons.

At Bennington he studied agro-ecology. “I was trying to find a way to produce food and reduce carbon emissions. I did a bunch of research on biodiesel and that sort of thing.”

Biodiesel was fine, he said, but horses won out over chemistry labs. The soil benefits are considerable, starting with the excellent manure fertilizer they provide (organic rules prohibit putting fresh manure on a field in production; the manure needs to rest for a minimum of 120 days). Another advantage? The tractor compacts soil, whereas horses aerate it with their hooves.

Johanson is now on his fifth season of integrating horses into his parents’ farm.

“We’re working a lot of land,” he said. “To many folks it would be counterintuitive to try to integrate horses on a farm this scale.”

He started by using his first horse to cultivate between tomato and asparagus plantings, as well as bringing grain to the pig. His parents have been supportive.

“They are totally there for me and definitely willing to give me the time to figure out the horses,” Johanson said. He appreciates their patience, because “If we were trying to make money, I really shouldn’t be working horses at all. But I am constantly playing with it, trying to create systems that would allow me to integrate the horses into a system that is built around motorized equipment.”

That includes going beyond the old equipment that other farmers are using. He recently worked with an Amish builder – if you want new horse-drawn farm equipment, the Amish are building it – to design a cultivator.

“He custom-made it,” Johanson said. “It allows us to cultivate corn and squash with the same efficiency of a tractor.” He can take his work with horses to a larger scale then.

Goranson Farm is unlikely to ever give up their tractors, but the two kinds of farming can co-exist in a way that makes both generations of farmers, old and new, happy.

“There is a deliberateness to working with horses that I love,” Johanson said. “I love the fact that I have to plan, and I have to be more aware. Selfishly, as an individual, I think it is helping me grow.”

]]> 5, 17 Oct 2016 13:40:18 +0000
Sore neck and back? Tight shoulders? Try a Maine-made herb-stuffed therapy pack Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Leaves are carpeting the lawn quickly now, and Mainers are more likely to spend weekends with a rake in their hand, dealing with fall cleanup chores, than walking a chilly beach. But there’s a price to be paid for all of this industriousness, and we don’t mean missing the next Patriots game.

1094334_940095 Comfort-pack.jpgSore muscles and creaky bones need soothing before bedtime, and heat/cold therapy packs can help. (Maybe that’s why you see so many of them at fall crafts fairs.) Julia DiStefano’s version is made in her shop, The Chickadee’s Nest in Farmington, and stuffed with dried corn and dried herbs grown on her own farm. She makes three varieties that sell for $18 each: lavender, lemongrass and eucalyptus. Each “Comfort Pack” comes in the color of the herb that’s inside.

DiStefano has been growing and wild-gathering herbs and flowers for 20 years. She sold dried flower wreaths until the popularity of craft wreaths began to fizzle. Now she’s making a lot more bath and body products.

“Now people are more conscious of what they’re putting on their body,” she said.

The Comfort Packs have different properties, depending on which herb is inside, DiStefano said. Lavender is calm and relaxing; lemongrass is uplifting; and eucalyptus is more medicinal, “really good for sore muscles.” The packs can be heated in the microwave, or tossed into the freezer.

DiStefano sells them at craft fairs and farmers markets, but the easiest way to purchase one is through The Chickadee’s Nest website,

Happy raking.

]]> 0, 16 Oct 2016 15:10:55 +0000
A mishmash of strange flours lurking in your cupboard? Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Christine Burns Rudalevige prepares Asian noodles with flour she was trying to use up from her cupboard. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Christine Burns Rudalevige prepares Asian noodles with flour she was trying to use up from her cupboard. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

I was searching for the semolina flour I could have sworn I had in my cupboard. I use it when making pizza because the coarse grind of durum wheat helps the dough slide off the peel and onto the hot stone.

I didn’t find the semolina. But I did find 21 other flours stored in variously sized glass jars in the dark, cool cupboard. Yes, 21. And yes, I realize that is abnormally high. My staples are almond, all-purpose, cornmeal, white whole wheat, white rice, semolina (typically, that is) and unbleached cake flours.

Recipe development work has brought 00 (an Italian flour used to make pasta), acorn, buckwheat, bleached cake, coconut, bread, chickpea, einkorn all-purpose, gluten-free all-purpose, spelt, rye, whole wheat and whole wheat pastry flours into my kitchen, as well. I honestly can’t remember how I acquired either the barley or sorghum flours.

Even for someone who believes a well-stocked pantry is crucial to virtuous waste-not, want-not cooking, having this many flours borders on a (mostly) glutenous vice. I had to figure a way to use them or lose them to rancidity or flour moths.

I turned to noodles. Oodles of them.

DIY noodles differ from homemade pasta in that they require neither eggs nor a specialty pasta rolling machine. All you need is flour, hot water and a rolling pin.

To make interesting noodles using any of the flours in the cupboard, combine 1 cup of flavorful flour (acorn, buckwheat, barley, chickpea, coconut, rye or sorghum) and 1 cup predictable workhorse flour (all-purpose, spelt, einkorn all-purpose, or 00). The flavorful flours are tasty but don’t contain enough gluten to hold the noodles together, which is why you need another flour in the mix.

Combine the flours in a bowl. Stir in ¾ cup hot water and knead the dough in the bowl with your hands to get a rough, slightly crumbly dough. If there is still flour in the bottom of the bowl, add water one tablespoon at a time until all the flour is incorporated. If the dough feels sticky, add more workhorse flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough is workable.

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead by hand for 3 to 4 minutes until it becomes smooth. If the dough cracks at all, add more water to it by kneading it with wet hands. Once the dough is smooth, shape it into a flat rectangle. Sprinkle the work surface and the top of the dough with a dry flour like semolina or rice flour to prevent it sticking to the counter or the rolling pin. Roll the dough from the center of the rectangle outward, shaping the edges as you go until you get to a rectangle that is 1/16 of an inch thick.

Christine Burns Rudalevige prepares Asian noodles, far left, with flour she was trying to use up from her cupboard. The beauty of DIY noodles, she says, is that to make them, you need only flour, hot water and a rolling pin. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Rudalevige prepares Asian noodles, far left, with flour she was trying to use up from her cupboard. The beauty of DIY noodles, she says, is that to make them, you need only flour, hot water and a rolling pin. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Spread a generous handful of semolina or rice flour over the dough. Then fold the top third of the dough down over the middle of the rectangle and sprinkle the top with more semolina or rice flour. Fold the bottom third of the dough upwards, like you would fold a letter, and coat the top one last time with semolina or rice flour.

Work your way across the folded dough, cutting into ¼-inch strips with a sharp knife. Toss the cut noodles with a little more semolina or rice flour so they don’t stick together. At this point, you can freeze the noodles for up to three months.

If you want to use them immediately, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and drop in the noodles. If you want chewier, ramen-like noodles, add a tablespoon of baking soda to the boiling water before dropping in the noodles. Cook the noodles for one minute, drain them, and rinse them under cold water immediately to remove the starch and separate any that may have clumped while cooking.

At this point, pat yourself on the back because you’ve turned your excess flour into interesting noodles to be used in hot, cold and room-temperature dishes at will.

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

]]> 1, 14 Oct 2016 12:58:46 +0000
Leg Work: Bicycle and pedestrian friendly policies are good as far as they go Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 For years, Dr. Mark Wheeler feared for the safety of cyclists braving a stretch of Route 1 in Woolwich.

“Number one, the cars went too fast,” said Wheeler, a retired physician who works part time at Bath Cycle & Ski in Woolwich. Although the speed limit is 35 miles per hour, he said, monitors installed by the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department showed that most drivers go faster – as much as 72 miles per hour.

Cyclists headed north had to squeeze into a very narrow strip of roadway, thus adding to the danger. The shoulder went from 2 feet down to a mere 2 inches, Wheeler said.

When Wheeler and other cyclists learned that the Maine Department of Transportation planned to repave the road last year, they organized to push for improvements. About 60 people showed up for a meeting at Woolwich’s Town Hall to discuss plans with the DOT staff. As a result of those efforts, DOT reconfigured the section of Route 1 between the Bath bridge and the Taste of Maine Restaurant to eliminate one of the two northbound lanes. The additional roadway was used to widen the shoulder, so that northbound cyclists now have four feet of space.

“It’s much, much safer for the cyclists,” said Wheeler.

That change is an example of how the department’s Complete Streets policy is making a difference. Rather than planning roads only for motorists, the policy requires that DOT also consider the needs of cyclists, pedestrians, people with disabilities, seniors, children and all other users.

Maine’s Complete Streets policy took effect in 2014. At least 32 other states and the federal government have enacted similar policies. Portland, Scarborough, Yarmouth, Bangor and Fort Kent are among a growing number of Maine towns and cities that have local Complete Streets policies.

But the policies don’t have an impact unless two things happen: local advocates push to implement them, and officials work to find funding.

Patrick Adams, Maine DOT’s bicycle and pedestrian program manager, likes to cite the Woolwich project because it didn’t cost the state any extra money. Plans already were underway to repave that stretch of Route 1, so the state had to redo the lane striping.

But most bicycle and pedestrian improvements do cost money. And that’s why it’s so important to have people working at the local level to garner support.

Sue Ellen Bordwell of Yarmouth is one of those people. Since retiring from L.L. Bean six years ago, Bordwell has devoted a lot of her time to advocating for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. A former president and board member of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, she now chairs the Maine State East Coast Greenway Committee. She also served on the committee that helped design the new Martins Point Bridge between Falmouth and Portland.

Bordwell often cycles on Route 1 to get to the Yarmouth library, the grocery store and other places in town. But she knows that many residents don’t feel safe doing so, especially if it means riding on the Route 1 bridge that crosses Main Street in the middle of Yarmouth. The bridge has narrow shoulders, and navigating the exits and entrances makes for “extremely dangerous” conditions, she said.

In 2014, DOT notified the town of plans to replace the bridge. Bordwell was appointed chair of an advisory committee that is working on plans for the new bridge.

Initially, Bordwell said, the state offered a “plain vanilla bridge” as a replacement that would not have solved most of the safety issues for those on foot or bicycle. Moreover, she said, the bridge would have acted as a barrier, discouraging people from walking or biking to churches, restaurants and other places in the downtown area.

The advisory committee recommended building a multi-use path on one side of the bridge that would connect to an existing trail, and adding a path on the other side that would provide a way for cyclists and pedestrians to reach Main Street.

Bordwell said the town convinced DOT that those improvements were needed in order to comply with both state and local Complete Streets policies. Plans also call for a flashing warning light in a crosswalk to help cyclists and pedestrians safely traverse the bridge’s southbound exit.

The bicycle-pedestrian improvements will cost almost $1 million. The town is sharing the costs with DOT and the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System. Work on the new bridge is expected to begin next year.

Both Route 1 projects came about because advocates made the effort to attend meetings and speak out for bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

Bordwell says that everyone benefits from roads that are safer for bicycling and walking. As she points out, they make for a “healthier, safer, cleaner, less congested town.”

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


]]> 26, 16 Oct 2016 15:11:38 +0000
Ellen Griswold wins yearlong fellowship with Maine Farmland Trust Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Ellen Griswold was lucky enough to land Maine Farmland Trust’s very first Wang Fellowship, to be given annually to “a young professional of great promise” with a commitment to improving our environment and our food system.” Named in honor of philanthropists David and Cecile Wang, it comes with $22,500 stipend, as well as office space and coverage for some expenses. During our conversation with Griswold about her plans for the next year we wandered onto to a few other topics, including the horror of Aunt Jemima’s Lite “syrup” and how her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s helped inspire a career switch.

BACK STORY: Griswold graduated from Brown in 2001 and went on to get her law degree from Georgetown in 2007. She practiced in Washington, D.C., working mostly on federal energy regulatory law. “I learned a lot and had great colleagues, but it never felt like just the right fit for me.” Then her mother, who lives in New Jersey, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and Griswold started reading everything she could about the disease. As she put two and two together, it seemed obvious in hindsight that her mother’s odd behavior in the previous years was Alzheimer’s-related. Like so many, she’d been frustrated and confused by that behavior, such as when after Griswold’s first child, a daughter who is now 6, was born and her mother couldn’t, or wouldn’t, get on the train to come visit. “I thought, that is so weird.”

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: One thing that she read about Alzheimer’s particularly intrigued her. Some researchers believe there is a connection between the modern diet, with its overwhelming content of highly processed foods, the corresponding spike in insulin and the plaque that builds up in the brain as a result of the insulin overload. “I just don’t think I was fully aware of diet-related diseases in this country, and I started reading a lot more.” She also started eying the elementary school across the street from her family’s home in Washington, observing the kinds of foods that were served to the students. Again, more highly processed foods. “All of these things were coming together as I was just thinking ‘What is this setting them up for in terms of their health?’ ”

HOME COOKING: Did she grow up eating a lot of processed foods? Are we talking TV dinners and such? “Yes. I would say that my husband, being the New Englander, still cringes that Aunt Jemima Lite is what we used. We never used real maple syrup. My mom was always focused on dieting.” And to be fair, Griswold’s mother was following the dietary guidelines of the time. “She thought she was doing the right thing. Everything was fat-free and had a lot of sugar.” Cooking for her own family, Griswold had already taken a different approach, even before delving into the research that would change her life. “Good solid produce just tastes better, right? I was starting to cook more and more with it and then it was this whole sort of movement that was catching on.”

THE LIGHT BULB: Her fascination with the subjects led to a decision to go back to school. She’s currently enrolled (as a distance student) in the Masters of Laws in Food and Agriculture Law Program at Vermont Law School. Her studies include national agricultural policy, global food security issues, and the regulation and policy of local food systems and the associated public health implications. And the family also relocated to Maine.

SHAKE IT UP: OK, that’s a lot of big moves. Why Maine? “My husband has always been in love with Maine.” He spent summers here growing up, went to Colby and has relatives in Dresden and in Portland. “We were coming to Maine a lot to visit them and every time we came, we thought, why don’t we live here? Portland is a really dynamic city with access to the outdoors, which is really important to us.” By this point she had a second daughter (who is almost 3), and it seemed like the time to make the leap. Her husband telecommutes to his branding and marketing work in D.C. And now Griswold has a fellowship. How did that come about?

OFFICE SPACE: Maine was calling. She loved the program at Vermont Law School, but felt a disconnect between where she was living and the emphasis on national issues at school. “Maine is a really interesting place for these issues because food and agriculture and fishing is such a cultural part of the state, but at the same time it is a state with high food insecurity and high rates of some of these diet-related diseases (like type 2 diabetes) … I really started to feel like I wanted to do something very Maine-focused.” Then she went to the opening of Maine Farmland Trust’s Portland office and met Amanda Beal, now the executive director of the nonprofit. Beal listened to Griswold talk about her background and interests and suggested she apply for the fellowship. Which she started a few weeks ago. “It all feels so lucky and random.”

REPORT CARD: Griswold has two projects going, one of which will look at institutional purchasing (schools, hospitals, nursing homes). “We’ll be looking at policies and programs in other states and seeing whether they could be replicated in Maine.” The other is creating a report on the state of Maine’s agriculture and fisheries, geared toward policy makers and legislators, but “accessible.” And yes, she knows there are already a lot of reports about Maine’s food economy. An example of how this will be different? The most recent farm census shows a big spike in poultry production in Maine (1,506 farms reported raising poultry in 2007; 2,260 in 2012), Griswold is trying to find out what caused the spike. If it was a policy change, is more growth something that could be encouraged with more of the same? “To me that is what is really exciting about this report, looking behind the numbers and collaborating with people” to get a fuller picture.

SO, GOOD MOVE? Is she happy to be in Maine? “Half the time I am driving around with my jaw open because I just can’t believe what a beautiful state this is.”

]]> 14, 16 Oct 2016 15:09:58 +0000
Drought a sticking point for Maine beekeepers as honey production falls off this fall Sat, 15 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Erin MacGregor-Forbes normally harvests 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of honey in the fall. This year she got none. Photos by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Erin MacGregor-Forbes normally harvests 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of honey in the fall. This year she got none. Photos by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Wells have run dry. Lawns have turned brown. Vegetables are smaller and fewer. Alongside these victims of this year’s drought, add another: the fall honey crop.

“Basically, the fall crop was a bust,” said John Cotter, who has just wrapped up a season of contract work as bee inspector for Maine’s Department of Agriculture.

Beekeepers – from hobbyist to mid-size to commercial operations – report fall honey harvests down anywhere from half to total production, though several added that good spring flows helped even out the year. The problem is most severe in southern Maine, specifically York and Cumberland counties, which have suffered from extreme drought conditions.

Portland beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes, who sells honey from her 150 hives under the label Overland, says she’d typically harvest 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of honey in the fall. This year? “No fall harvest at all,” she said, a gross loss she estimated at $20,000.

According to the Maine Department of Agriculture, there are 8,500 hives and 1,000 beekeepers in Maine. The state’s largest commercial beekeepers – and there aren’t many – are in the north, so the good news is that Mainers are unlikely to run out of local honey before the next extraction, next summer.

Not so fast – fans of local honey are often geographically exacting, seeking out honey made in their own county, town, even on their own street. Such hyper-local supplies may well run short.

The state doesn’t keep data on the total honey harvest, and federal numbers reveal little in a state largely made up of small producers, according to Lincoln Sennett of Swan Honey in Albion, Maine’s largest retail honey producer. “There’s not really any data to go to,” he said.

Sennett’s own hives in central Maine yielded just half the honey of a normal year, some 40 pounds per hive. But his hives in northern Maine made up for that, he said, “so overall we are OK.”


To make honey, honeybees gather nectar from flowers, bring it back to their hives and evaporate out the water by fanning their wings. The bees use the resulting honey for food, generously sharing any leftovers with humans. This year, there was a hitch: The drought slowed flowers’ nectar production to a trickle.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes points out the queen in one of her hives as the bees prepare for a long Maine winter.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes points out the queen in one of her hives as the bees prepare for a long Maine winter.

Maine beekeepers typically remove honey from their hives twice a year. They harvest the spring honey in July, the fall honey in mid-September. The taste varies by season; spring honey is mild and pale, while fall honey – coming mainly from goldenrod and aster – is dark and robust.

“July was a great harvest. Everybody was just thrilled,” said Meghan Gaven, who owns The Honey Exchange in Portland with her husband, Philip. “And then it stopped raining. Plants need water to produce liquid. Without water in the ground, plants can’t produce nectar and without nectar, bees can’t produce honey.”

Typically, the fall honey crop in Maine is the larger by far, Philip Gaven said. This year, the reverse was true.

The couple keep 20 hives themselves, a few in Portland, most in Willard Beach in South Portland, where they live. Their honey take this year was 100 pounds total, “significantly less than half of what we would expect in an average year,” Philip Gaven said, “and an average year is only about half of a good year.”


Setting aside honey-loving humans, what did the drought mean for the bees? In short, it made it harder for them to prepare for winter. Bees need about 80 pounds of honey on a hive to survive the long Maine winter. If the nectar shortage meant they couldn’t make enough, or if beekeepers removed too much honey before realizing the extent of the drought, then the bees are facing a food shortfall. Which is why many beekeepers in Cumberland and York counties have been feeding their bees sugar syrup since late summer.

Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes checks the level of sugar water in the hives on her Rosemont property. MacGregor-Forbes has had to supplement the bees' food with syrup because of this year's drought.

Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes checks the level of sugar water in the hives on her Rosemont property. MacGregor-Forbes has had to supplement the bees’ food with syrup because of this year’s drought.

“It’s not as good for them as nectar, but it’s better than starvation,” said Karen Thurlow-Kimball of New Moon Apiary, which keeps 59 hives in Yarmouth, North Yarmouth, Freeport, Durham and New Gloucester. Her own fall crop was down by at least two-thirds.

Thurlow-Kimball has been raising bees for 40 years, so she’s comfortable making adjustments for whatever Mother Nature sends her way. But she and others said it’s not so easy for Maine’s new beekeepers. There are a lot of those – the number of beekeepers has more than doubled in just the last decade, according to figures from the state Department of Agriculture.

“Beekeepers that don’t have that experience, if they are going by the book – feed now, take your supers (boxes that hold excess honey for human consumption) off now – they’ve missed the boat,” Thurlow-Kimball said, “because you can’t standardize beekeeping.”

She’s had several calls from new beekeepers just this week asking her how to rescue starving bees. She fears it’s already too late. “Starvation happens way before you notice it,” she said. “If you notice it, it’s beyond bad.”

Even less drastic scenarios spell trouble. Hives that don’t head into winter with strong, stout bees probably won’t make it to spring.

How was her own season? “I call it a good year because my bees were healthy. They all survived,” Thurlow-Kimball said. And her honey take? “It was poorer than usual, or I’ll be poorer than usual,” she laughed.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes ignites pine needles for her bee smoker. The smoke is used to calm the bees before she inspects the hives.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes ignites pine needles for her bee smoker. The smoke is used to calm the bees before she inspects the hives.

Sennett said something similar: “The bees seem to be fine. They just didn’t make as much honey for me.”

For honey producers, the loss is threefold. They have less honey to sell. They need to pay for sugar, and feeding the hives requires extra work. Will the price go up to reflect these complications? It depends whom you ask. Yes, no and maybe.


Honeybees haven’t had it easy in the last decade. The threats they face include colony collapse disorder; pesticides; habitat loss; and invasive plants, which out-compete the natives that make for more nutritious forage. Add to these, the drought.

So longterm, should we be worried?

“The short answer is yes,” said Peter Richardson, a hobby beekeeper with nine hives who teaches beekeeping in Falmouth for the Cooperative Extension. “I’m not a scientist, but when you have a huge change in weather patterns, which seems to be happening in our world, it’s upsetting to every wild organism. Honeybees have a lot more stressors than they did 20 years ago, then to add something like this on top of it just makes it a lot more challenging.”

Richardson got no honey this year.

MacGregor-Forbes, who is board president of the Eastern Apicultural Society, spoke precisely and eloquently about the challenge the drought posed not only to the honeybees but also to the many wild pollinators – butterflies and wild bees among them – that can’t rely on sugar syrup handouts when the nectar stops flowing. She fears the drought is linked to climate change. She hopes she’s wrong.

“Hopefully,” she said almost wistfully, “this is a fluke.”

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or:

Twitter: @pgrodinsky.


Correction: This story was updated at 9 a.m. Oct. 15, 2016 to correct the location of Willard Beach.


]]> 22, 16 Oct 2016 15:09:15 +0000
Alexandria Brasili is an aquaculture teacher with a goal Sun, 09 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Alexandria Brasili is a marine science and aquaculture educator at Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde, where she works with hundreds of students a year, introducing them to the marine sciences, training them in aquaponics and helping them run their own small businesses. We called her up to learn about her path to Port Clyde and got sidetracked talking about octopuses, the gossip center of the St. George Peninsula and the care and feeding of sea urchins.

HOW TO GET THERE FROM HERE: After college, Brasili applied for the Island Institute’s Island Fellow program, and, as part of that program, in 2010 she started teaching at Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde, which was founded in 1999 by Phyllis Wyeth, the wife of painter Jamie Wyeth and a long-time summer resident of the area. But last time we checked, Port Clyde was not an island? “It is a remote coastal community; that is how they slipped it in.”

She lived smack in the middle of Tenants Harbor in an apartment right on Main Street. “That forced me into the middle of the community, so to speak.” On Saturdays, she volunteered at the library, where the town gossip was free-flowing when residents dropped by, and as the youngest volunteer, her help with computers was much appreciated. She liked what she was doing at Herring Gut so much that she decided to stay after the fellowship ended.

Alexandria Brasili is a marine science and aquaculture educator at Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde.

Alexandria Brasili is a marine science and aquaculture educator at Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde.

TEACHER, TEACHER: This fall marks her sixth year teaching at Herring Gut, which Wyeth started to provide the community’s children with career options in the face of the decline of wild fisheries, like groundfish and shrimp, Brasili said. “She was really pretty visionary in 1999 to be thinking that way.” Brasili’s duties encompass the education programs from marine sciences to aquaponics, including teaching groups of alternative education middle school students who spend three days a week at the learning center. The shorter, multiday programs have drawn students from other towns in the region, including Camden and Waldoboro, and Herring Gut offers one-day field trips, too, which students from all over the state can attend. The grand total of students who visit Herring Gut in the course of a year? A thousand.

LIFE LESSON: The alternative education students who study aquaponics are generally at-risk youth. “They have had some issue with school that has led them to have a disconnect with the traditional classroom.” Another group from the St. George school district is farming kelp. Middle schoolers; do they fight all the time? She laughs. “They all fight, but they get over it after five minutes.” One of the most important things Brasili (and the other educators at Herring Gut) tries to develop in students is a sense of confidence. “The whole idea is that the students are running a business. So we teach them to look people in the eye and shake their hand.” The feedback they get from impressed visitors (Source was one, and we were indeed impressed) is invaluable. “It gives them a boost.” The most rewarding part of Brasili’s job is seeing these kids engage with projects that dovetail with what they know from home. “A lot of these kids…have parents who are fishermen or lobstermen. A lot of them have boats.” There’s no guarantee that they’ll move into aquaculture careers. “But our hope is that it opens their eyes to the possibilities that the marine environment will create other ways to earn an income.”

EAT YOUR VEGETABLES: The aquaponics students grow everything from lettuces to herbs, and the students in the summer program also work raised beds to grow garden vegetables like peas, beans and cucumbers. They sell these throughout the summer and when the market wraps up in August, either the staff eats the vegetables or the kids bring them home. “What I have seen with the kids that I have worked with is that they have no idea what vegetables look like in the ground.” Teaching them how to grow and sending them home with the fruits of their labors (not literally, just vegetables) is a major step. “And we always do taste tests. I am Italian, so we have to taste everything.”

HARD SELL: Somehow this woman gets all of those children to try beets. They may never eat another one, but she swears they do try them. “It is a hard sell. I don’t know if I have converted anyone to beets, but they have definitely all tried them. They will try anything. It is really amazing.”

WHERE I COME FROM: Brasili grew up in Leominster, Massachusetts, and fell in love with Maine while vacationing here with her parents. When she was looking for colleges, “I knew I wanted to be in Maine.” Bowdoin’s Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island was a nice piece of bait on the admissions hook. While at Bowdoin, she did lab work on sea urchins, specifically how temperatures affect growth. She had tanks filled with water at varied temperatures, and 500 individually tagged sea urchins. Wait, how do you tag a sea urchin? “They each had their own basket, with a tag on it.” She ordered some of her sea urchins from a hatchery in Lubec and collected others herself from the Rockland breakwater. “You can reach in the crevices and just grab them.” What did she learn? It’s more like she confirmed the expected: “The ones in the coldest tank grew slower but to larger sizes.”

HIGHER EDUCATION: Brasili just finished a master’s in science education, online through Oregon State University. “I got it because in my undergraduate career I hadn’t taken any education courses, and I felt like my academic background was lacking.” She’d always planned on being a scientist, probably on the marine side. “I always loved the ocean.” But as she went deeper into research, she realized something: “What I liked most about it was talking to people about what I was doing and explaining the science.” Teaching made for a natural segue.

FACE RECOGNITION: What’s the last new thing Brasili learned? She just finished a book called “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness” by Sy Montgomery, a topic that particularly appealed to her from her student days as an intern at the New England Aquarium. “I learned that they can recognize people’s faces.” Would those octopuses in Boston recognize her again? “I don’t think I was there long enough. But I definitely remember vividly working with the octopuses. You have to interact with them because they are so intelligent. If you leave them without any stimulation they will go crazy.” What would that interaction entail? “I would get to hold their arms.” Whoa. Was that weird? “I would have all these hickey marks on my arms from them.” Soulmates.

]]> 0, 09 Oct 2016 23:03:48 +0000
At Bates-Morse Mountain, there’s a lot more going on besides sunbathing Sun, 09 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Bates College professor Bev Johnson and her students conduct climate change research in Sprague Marsh at the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation area in Phippsburg. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Bates College professor Bev Johnson and her students conduct climate change research in Sprague Marsh at the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation area in Phippsburg. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Recent Bates College graduate Cailene Gunn loves salt marshes. She just moved across country to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington for them. OK, for a job involving salt marshes – with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories – but still.

The Granby, Connecticut native fell hard for the coastal grasslands while studying at the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, 600 acres of coastal uplands and salt marsh in Phippsburg. The beachgoing public knows the marsh primarily as the place they walk past – swatting mosquitos – on the way to pristine Seawall Beach. But beyond preservation and limited recreation (the beach is accessible only by foot) the conservation area’s primary function is to serve as a research and educational laboratory for both Bates students and professors.

Those educational experiences can lead to jobs like the one Gunn just landed. She believes the fact that she was so enthusiastic (“chatty”) about her senior thesis on a salt marsh in Harpswell, damaged by human impact but now in recovery, is what prompted the lab to create a research associate position for her.

Gunn lived at the conservation area for a summer, at Bates’ nearby property Shortridge, and she and other classmates rave about having had that opportunity.

“I have got to say it was the best,” Gunn said. She’d put in eight hours of lab work, but the perks including kayaking, hiking and sunbathing. “We just have access to this beautiful beach and get to play outside all the time.” Just as valuable was being part of the greater coastal community in Phippsburg, she added. “They care about what is happening to the coast, and that is really special.”

The work Gunn did was an off-shoot of her geochemistry professor Bev Johnson’s research into the long sedimentary history of the Sprague salt marsh at Bates-Morse Mt., a project that has helped set international standards for blue carbon.


If you’ve never heard that term before, don’t worry, Gunn arrived at Bates knowing nothing about blue carbon either.

Here’s a primer. Our carbon output, i.e. emissions, is a key contributor to climate change. While President Ronald Reagan infamously blamed trees for pollution, the amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, they absorb is a net positive, environmentally speaking; they offset emissions from our factories, cars and other components of the developed world. What scientists have dubbed “green carbon” is the carbon absorbed by natural, biological processes. It can’t stop climate change, but it could slow it.

In the past decade, scientists subdivided that green carbon descriptor, recognizing the carbon captured in the oceans as “blue carbon.” Even more recently, they created an entirely separate category for the coastal blue carbon systems, that is, mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows. Here’s the part that relates to Gunn’s work as a student at Bates, as well as Johnson’s work as a member of the international Blue Carbon Scientific Working Group. The part of the ocean habitat that is vegetated, whether it be with mangroves, seagrasses or salt marshes, is astonishingly efficient at storing carbon. Such areas cover less than half a percent of the seabed, but scientists say they account for as much as 71 percent of all carbon storage in ocean sediments. Better than trees.

Beverly Johnson looks at sediment changes in a core sample at the Sprague River Marsh in the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation area. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Beverly Johnson looks at sediment changes in a core sample at the Sprague River Marsh in the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation area. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“Coastal blue carbon systems sequester roughly 15 times more carbon per unit area than the upland forests do,” Johnson said. “They are really good at it.” And because those sediments are free of oxygen, the carbon can remain stored for thousands of years if left undisturbed.

In other words, salt marshes, just by doing their thing, that is, growing reedy grass in peat that gets soaked by the ocean twice a day, are diligently capturing and retaining the carbon that we don’t want in the atmosphere. In Maine alone, approximately 73,000 tons of CO2 are sequestered in salt marshes annually.

Johnson likes to do the math in relatable numbers: that’s equivalent to the amount of carbon emissions produced by about 15,000 cars every year. Sprague Marsh alone sequesters approximately 900 tons of CO2 annually, or what’s produced by 200 passenger cars every year. Johnson knows that relatively speaking that’s not a big number. But, she says, “every little bit helps,” and that’s why these ecosystems are now part of the international carbon accounting system.

Salt marshes were already known to offer protection from rising seas, to prevent erosion, take up pollutants and provide nursery habitat for commercially important fisheries, as well as shorebirds. Now they’ve been shown not merely to help with the impacts of climate change, but to slow its pace. In theory anyway.

So Gunn loves those mucky, typically fairly smelly marshes for a reason: They’re our allies, albeit unintentionally, in fighting climate change.

The cloud on this sunny discovery is that they’re under siege from development.


Sprague Marsh and the surrounding land does not technically belong to Bates; it’s owned by a nonprofit corporation comprising the St. John family (the land’s original owners) and the general public. The Nature Conservancy holds conservation easements on the property while Bates, which has a 50-year lease, manages the area. Laura Sewall, whose teaching background is in eco-psychology, is the director of both the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area and the nearby Shortridge Coastal Center, a residential property where lucky students like Gunn might get to spend a summer while doing research on the land. It’s also her job to help facilitate research on the site.

Bev Johnson, center, with her student Kelsey Chenoweth, left, and Philip Dostie, assistant instructor in environmental geochemistry, at Sprague Marsh. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Bev Johnson, center, with her student Kelsey Chenoweth, left, and Philip Dostie, assistant instructor in environmental geochemistry, at Sprague Marsh. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Sewall has been at Bates since 2008, but her roots in the Phippsburg area go much deeper; her family has long been part of the nearby Small Point Association, which owns the beach so many hikers (about 20,000) access during the summer months. She’s always known the property was unique, but research by Bates students and professors has only heightened her sense of its importance.

“It is the largest undeveloped barrier beach in the state,” Sewall said. Barrier meaning that the dunes on the beach protect the marsh beyond it. “And we are very proud of the marshes because they provide so much ecosystem service, blue carbon being just the latest.”

The Maine Geological Service, a part of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, surveys the beach once a year, and according to the survey’s marine geologist Stephen Dickson, uses it, along with Reid State Park, as a bellwether for the whole state’s coastline. “What happens there is all occurring because of the forces of nature rather than the influences of people,” Dickson said. As a control, it helps them determine whether human development is causing problems in other areas. “But if everybody is eroding, including Seawall and Reid State, then the problem is much bigger.”

The information packed into the sediments of Sprague Marsh dates back several thousand years, he said. “It’s a wonderful natural laboratory that is really rare in Maine.”


Bates is by no means the only college with a research facility right on the coast. Darling Marine Center in Walpole is the University of Maine’s marine laboratory. The College of the Atlantic has access to not one but two islands, the 220-acre Alice Eno Field Research Station and, 25 miles off shore, the Edward McC. Blair Marine Research Station. Bowdoin students work at both the college’s Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island in Harpswell and the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island in New Brunswick.

All these institutions are part of a new consortium of 12, the Northeastern Coastal Stations Alliance, which was founded last year to share and coordinate research in the Gulf of Maine. Sewall helped organize the consortium with grant support from the National Science Foundation. Bates-Morse Mountain is a member.

“I see it as a field station in the rough,” Sewall said. “We are developing a greater body of research that comes from that specific place.”

That includes the salt marsh work led by Johnson, as well as long-term beach research done by professor Mike Retelle and his students, particularly on changing sea levels due to melting glaciers. One of his students wrote her thesis on how rising sea levels will affect Phippsburg. The sexy outtake? It’s going to be an archipelago. Beyond that, studying historical sea level increases allows us to shed light on the future. And, this record shows, sometimes sea level changes have happened in more drastic steps, rather than steady increments.

Bates College professor Beverly Johnson works with a couple students studying climate change at the Sprague Marsh. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Bates College professor Beverly Johnson works with a couple students studying climate change at the Sprague Marsh. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“Looking at the past can actually tell us, don’t expect things to happen slowly,” Retelle said.

Biology professor Brett Huggett works in the upland forest with his students (one of whom, Isobel Curtis, spent the summer at Bates-Morse Mountain surveying over 250 hemlocks looking, and unfortunately, finding, for signs of hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect from Asia making inroads on Maine’s coastal communities, where warming temperatures are allowing it to thrive).

Comparing research from locations up and down the coast, where there are boots on the ground observing changes over time, is, Sewall said, “believed to be some of the best ways at looking at our bigger environmental issues, like ocean acidification.”

And the growing peril to powerful parts of the ecosystem such as salt marshes. A report on blue carbon by the United Nations Environment Programme says worldwide, mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses are disappearing “faster than anything on land” and may be entirely gone in a matter of decades.

Approximately 50 percent of the world’s salt marshes and mangroves have already been destroyed, Johnson said. Current rates of loss are between 1 and 2 percent per year, and the losses are greatest in developing nations. Some of the biggest culprits are the creation of shrimp and fish aquaculture ponds, run-off from agriculture, and human expansion into coastal areas.

In Maine, salt marshes are abundant (mangroves are not part of our ecosystem; you’d see them in warmer areas such as Louisiana) but they’re typically compromised in some way, whether because someone built a road over them or plugged them up for agricultural reasons.

“It turns out about 95 percent of salt marshes in the United States have been altered,” Johnson said.


Professor Johnson’s students, some of whom came to Bates without a clue as to what they wanted to study, sing her praises. But it might help that their professor happens to have a very appealing classroom; there are few more spectacular places in midcoast Maine than Sprague Marsh.

“I was definitely very interested in the sciences,” said senior Danny Stames, one of Johnson’s thesis students. “That was my thing in high school. But I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d major in. But Bev in particular just has this wonderful ability to take these science-related questions and break them down for the layperson.” That influenced his decision, but so did Bates-Morse Mountain. “Just the fact that you can be outside? Being able to work in a salt marsh and get credit for it? That’s so great.”

Before Johnson came to Bates, she studied sedimentary history in Australia, where she said her research was centered around the continent’s record of fires. (She found that while Australia was always seasonally adapted to fire, those fires increased dramatically as soon as humans arrived, some 50,000 years ago). At Sprague, she uses stable isotope geochemistry to learn the history of the marsh – and how it has moved over time – by taking sediment cores throughout the marsh.

When the Blue Carbon Scientific Working Group was founded in 2011, one of its goals was to establish standards for quantifying and monitoring coastal carbon. Using her work in Sprague Marsh, Johnson helped write the manual for measuring carbon stocks – and fluxes – in blue carbon ecosystems. The scenic marsh in Phippsburg, then, has had ramifications worldwide.

Despite its relative lack of development, Sprague Marsh was used for haying in Maine’s early days, when forests covered so much of the land that the grasses from the salt marsh were harvested for animal feed. Farmers would “ditch” the marsh, creating a cut perpendicular to the tidal channel. “So that it is drier and you can get out on it and harvest the hay,” Johnson explained.

That practice continued through the 1960s, Johnson said.

Beverly Johnson works with her student, Kelsey Chenoweth. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Beverly Johnson works with her student, Kelsey Chenoweth. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Ditching decreases the salinity of the marsh, and if access to the tide is further limited (say, by a culvert), that leads to an unhealthy marsh, invaded by freshwater plant species such as typha (cattails) and steadily rotting. Instead of functioning as efficient carbon sinks, these unhealthy marshes start giving off methane gases (another greenhouse gas, even worse for the atmosphere than carbon emissions).

At Sprague Marsh, a well-intentioned but ill-fated project by U.S. Fish and Wildlife to provide more habitat for offshore fish breeding led to plugging up a previously ditched part of the marsh, enabling fresh water to pool up behind a now 15-foot earthen dam and creating considerable methane emissions. (As well as excellent mosquito habitat. If you like mosquitoes.)

“What ends up happening (is) you don’t get any exchange with the tides anymore,” Johnson said. “So you get a really wet marsh, leading to decomposition of the peat and release of the CO2.”

But the fish, and the shorebirds that feed on them, did rebound, she said. It presents a dilemma.

“We have to make choices about how we use these landscapes,” Johnson said. “If we value shorebirds and fish for shorebirds more than anything else, it makes sense to put in these plugs, but then you miss out on what these ecosystem services can provide. The interesting question is, which ecosystem service do you value more? I personally don’t know what the answer is. The carbon is pretty important.”

The Blue Carbon Initiative (the overseeing body of the scientific group) estimates that at least 67 percent of the world’s mangroves have already been lost. For seagrass meadows, that loss is 29 percent. At least 35 percent of the world’s salt marshes are already gone.


Gunn started her work in Sprague Marsh taking core samples with Johnson, and became intrigued by the methane emission issue. She trained Stames and Kelsey Chenoweth, both of whom are working on thesis projects in area salt marshes.

Gunn focused her thesis work on Long Marsh on Long Reach Road in Harpswell. A simple restoration project there in 2014 swapped in a 14-foot culvert for the 3-foot one that had restricted the tide to part of the marsh. As Gunn took samples on the marsh, she saw a decrease in methane emissions in less than 16 months and a 92 percent decrease in the typha that had invaded the marsh. Once again, the salt marsh could function as a carbon-sequestering body – blue carbon.

Gunn said over 90 percent of the salt marshes in Casco Bay are restricted by culverts. Does that mean we can help stave off climate change by replacing them with culverts that allow the tides to flow? That would be good, but Gunn thinks it would be a hard sell.

“Since the marshes in Maine are pretty small, the economic significance isn’t enough to really push other projects,” she said. But Washington state has some big marshes, and she hopes to use her Bates research on that larger playing field to help turn the tide for those salt marshes.

“They are so important for the health of the coastlines,” she said. “And taking care of them isn’t that hard.”

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The state’s school gardens survive the drought Sun, 09 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 About a decade ago when my granddaughter was a third-grader at Brown Elementary School in South Portland, she and I volunteered for a week during the summer to tend the school garden. That garden has since disappeared – more on that later – but thinking about it made me wonder how other school vegetable gardens in Maine fared this summer. It’s the season when gardens do most of their growing, of course, but at the same time teachers and students are on vacation. Did this summer’s drought make caring for school gardens a special challenge?

Kindergartner Serenity Mitchell, second-grader Josie Christensen and second-grader Macie Helms pick tomatoes in their school garden. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Kindergartner Serenity Mitchell, second-grader Josie Christensen and second-grader Macie Helms pick tomatoes in their school garden. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

I learned that though some school gardens struggled, elsewhere, teachers, students and neighbors organized brigades of people to water plants. And those gardens thrived.

At the Riverton Elementary and East End Community schools in Portland, the vegetable gardens produced well throughout the summer, thanks to the efforts of volunteers. Twelve families volunteered for a week at each garden, following a schedule organized by FoodCorps service member Lily Chaleff, who helps oversee the gardens. (The national non-profit FoodCorps is modelled after AmericaCorps; Maine has about a dozen FoodCorps members, all of whom work with children, either in public schools or in 4-H or Cooperative Extension gardens.)

The effort was broader at Saccarappa School in Westbrook.

“We have a whole community that loves the garden,” said Guyla Woodbrey, a Saccarappa School kindergarten teacher who is in charge of the garden. Families did a lot of the summer maintenance, she said, and teachers filled in when some of the families went on vacation. Neighbors of the school also pitched in.

Chaleff and Woodbrey set up care schedules. Other communities solve the garden care gap by organizing summer garden programs that include tending school vegetable gardens.

According to Myra Manning, coordinator for the Maine School Garden Network, Maine has 130 school vegetable gardens; more may exist that she’s unaware of, she added. No organizations have tracked their numbers until recently, but Manning said she thinks the trajectory is headed up. She said she has received many requests for information on starting new gardens since she joined the network in May.

Maine’s interest in school gardens is part of a two-decades old national trend – think White House vegetable garden and Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard project – and is related to such movements as the local food/farm movement and concerns about childhood obesity.

Parents and school garden supporters say school gardens teach students about where their food comes from and how they can eat more healthfully. Other lessons, such as math and science, are also often integrated into the children’s garden curriculums. Vegetables grown in school gardens end up in school lunches or snacks or may be donated to local food pantries or given to students to take home to their families.

“The students learn much more deeply when out there (in the garden) working with their hands, creating an experience and capturing the learning, and they are more likely to remember the learning,” said Glen Widmer, principal of Walker Elementary School in Liberty.

Teacher Guyla Woodbrey near the greenhouse in the garden at Saccarappa School in Westbrook. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Teacher Guyla Woodbrey near the greenhouse in the garden at Saccarappa School in Westbrook. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Brown School garden where I volunteered faded away from lack of interest some five yars ago, though I’m happy to say that an effort to revive it is underway. Are other school vegetable gardens in Maine managing to sustain themselves?

Although the Walker school garden is rated as one of the best in the state by MOFGA, Widmer worries he will not have enough money to pay staff to oversee it next year. For the past two years, the three school gardens in RSU 3, of which Walker Elementary is a part, have been coordinated by FoodCorps member Carolyn Wason. But the district has reached the end of its FoodCorps eligibility.

That prompted Widmer and his fellow RSU 3 principals to put in a budget request to hire someone to oversee the gardens. But that line item will have to compete for limited district dollars. While the garden has strong support, he said, some parents would prefer to spend money on other programs.

Second-grader Macie Helms and third-grader Elspeth Migliore move soil in the garden. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Second-grader Macie Helms and third-grader Elspeth Migliore move soil in the garden. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Because many grants are available, starting school gardens can be fairly easy, Manning said, but maintaining them can be more of a challenge.

“It’s easy say they are here to stay, but it’s not always the case if one person initiated the garden, and there is not a community around it to support the continuation,” Manning said. “If it is a staff member who leaves or a parent whose child ages out of the school, there can be a problem.”

Which is why she says it’s key for communities to support school gardens and to urge school boards to fund paid staffers to coordinate them.

Parents and school garden organizers say it’s definitely worth it.

“The excitement students have when they learn they can grow their own food is priceless,” Chaleff said. “And watching them gain understanding around what we can and cannot grow in Maine, seasonality of our gardens and how great things taste when picked fresh, bodes well for the future generation around the sustainability of our food system.”

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

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Rock Blocks are intended to spark your child’s imagination and are fun for adults too Sun, 09 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Artist Andy Rosen has been having some fun with his newest creation, a set of irregularly cut building blocks he calls “Rock Blocks.” Sure, they’re for kids, but adults are having fun with them, too.

“I took them to a restaurant the other night,” Rosen said, “and people were, like, what’s this game?”

Stacked vertically – some pieces have notches cut in them so you can balance them on top of one another – the blocks are reminiscent of the game Jenga or, as Rosen suggests, a rock cairn or stack of rocks on the beach.

Rosen, who lives in South Portland, is the artist who created the sculptural installation “Unpack” on the Portland waterfront last year. His collection of wolflike dogs made of PVC and fake fur, perched on old pilings near Ocean Gateway, drew crowds of appreciative spectators with cameras. The “Rock Blocks,” Rosen said, were inspired by a 7-foot-tall black bear he built in 2013 out of asphalt shingles at the Community Recycling Center in Scarborough, where he was artist-in-residence. He used a chain saw to carve a bunch of large “rocks” placed at the bear’s feet – again, made out of scraps he found at the dump. He’s made similar “rock blocks” referencing icebergs and other stackable structures in his artwork.

“As Maineland Design Company developed,” Rosen said, “we realized that we could totally take these separate from the individual sculptures and build off this idea.”

Rosen is a co-owner of Maineland Design Co., which makes home decor goods that are also functional works of art.

The Rock Blocks, which cost $32 for a 30-piece set, are designed to spark a child’s imagination. There are no instructions on purpose. The blocks are carved out of New England ash, stained with non-toxic dyes, and coated with a food-safe finish. Rosen said he has developed processes to ensure variations in color, texture and geometric shape in the blocks. Some are sand-blasted, some are tumbled.

The blocks come packaged in a lobster bait bag, which Rosen said is “a riff on driftwood,” meaning the blocks reference driftwood on the beach when paired with the bait bag. Rock blocks can be found in a couple of museum stores – the Portland Museum of Art and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland – but they are still so new they aren’t in a lot of retail shops yet, Rosen said. The most convenient way to buy them is through the Maineland Design Co. shop.

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Scarborough’s Roger Doiron hopes White House garden he helped inspire grows in perpetuity Sun, 09 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Michelle Obama announced steps last week to preserve the White House kitchen garden through future administrations, including a newly unveiled expansion and $2.5 million in private donations to maintain it. Creating the garden and using it to promote healthy eating has been a hallmark of the first lady’s work in the White House. It happened, at least in small part, as a result of lobbying from Roger Doiron of Scarborough.

Doiron was director of Kitchen Gardens International, a nonprofit focused on helping people grow their own food. Just as the White House garden has grown – with the latest expansion, it’s 2,800 square feet – Doiron’s group has grown and changed. It’s now called SeedMoney, and it offers grants and a crowdsourcing platform to groups and individuals launching gardens at schools, vacant city blocks, juvenile detention centers, libraries and other community spaces.

We talked with Doiron about what it has been like to see the White House garden thrive. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Take us back to the beginning. What was your part in making this garden grow?

A: I tell people that my role was the noisemaker-in-chief… We started our campaign at the beginning of 2008 (during the primaries). There were many candidates at the time, and they were all talking about issues that were important to various American citizens and people abroad. I saw an opportunity to interject into that conversation something about healthy food and gardens through a competition that was being sponsored through the United Nations Foundation called On Day One. They were crowdsouricng good ideas for the next president to implement upon taking office.

We gave the campaign a name, “Eat the View,” and I created a couple of amateurish but viral videos. In one, I tore up a part of our own south lawn – I just happen to live in a house that is white in Scarborough – to show people, I’m a father of three planting a garden in my backyard… Some of that authenticity came through.

We then posted an online petition on Facebook. We had over 100,000 signatures. We had absolutely overwhelming media coverage… We got to this point with our campaign in January 2009, the month that President Obama was going to be inaugurated, that we had attracted all this attention, but at the same time we had no reason to believe that we had managed to catch the attention of the Obama administration.

What I ended up doing – this sounds a little naive on my part – I picked up the phone and called the White House switchboard. I knew the name of Michelle Obama’s policy director at that time. I asked to be put through to her. It was early on, and there was no sort of firewall in place to prevent people like me from doing that. I had a short but effective conversation with her… She said, “Don’t you worry. We’re very much aware of how much support this idea has.”

Q: It must be so rewarding to see what the garden has become.

A: First lady Obama has done such a wonderful job from start to finish with this project. I’m so grateful to her for her leadership in this area, especially now to see that she’s really thought it through right to the end, to make sure this isn’t something that is going to be connected just to their term in office but that will continue to inspire people here and around the world for many years to come.

Q: As you’ve watched this election unfold, have you worried about the future of the garden?

A: I do think about it.

When I think way back to when we first got the idea started, there was a tiny little part of me that felt guilty for proposing a planting of the garden as the first thing the president should do on taking office, because of the scale of the problems that we face. But then I took a moment and reflected on it and said, we do really need to focus on things that are doable, things that have the power to inspire people. I’m thinking of those things again. I certainly want us to tackle these bigger picture issues, like fighting climate change and seeing through health care reform, but it’s really important that we don’t lose track of the little things that can inspire people and energize people. Whoever is the next president is going to have many decisions to make, and I would hope that (continuing the garden) would be a no-brainer.

It wasn’t well-publicized, but during the administration of Bill Clinton there was a very small rooftop garden installed… There’s every reason to believe that a Clinton administration would seek to maintain the White House garden.

In a Trump administration, it’s really anybody’s guess. He has gone on the record as saying, if he were to be president he would want to make some touchups at the White House. I don’t know how we can interpret that language. To my knowledge, he has not really made healthy food part of his political platform whatsoever.

Q: Have you visited the White House garden yourself?

A: Yes, in September 2010. It was quite a moving day.

I printed out our petition, all 100,000 signatures, on the most eco-friendly paper I could find… My request to Sam Kass (longtime advisor to the first lady and then the White House food initiative coordinator) was that he hand the petition over to Michelle Obama, that she leave it on a desk or a shelf just to see how many people she made happy by doing what she did, but that after a certain amount of time she ceremoniously toss the petition onto the White House compost pile, so that all those names could become part of the garden.

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Fish with a dose of storytelling Sun, 09 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Teaching little kids about eating fish can be a scary proposition, sustainable seafood educator Colles Stowell says.

As the principal of the One Fish Foundation, a Yarmouth-based nonprofit organization established in 2015, Stowell typically works with middle and high-school students to explain the intricate food web that connects them to fish.

He’s experienced with this crowd. He explains how fishing pressures and climate change play into the quantities of fish they can (and can’t) expect to see on their plates in the future, and he likes to end on a positive note that encapsulates a sustainable seafood success story.

But faced with a younger audience last spring – his 4-year-old daughter’s pre-kindergarten class – Stowell was terrified. “It’s so easy to scare the heck out of little kids,” Stowell said. He noted that for some picky eaters, merely the thought of eating fish is scary, while the more adventurous young eaters might grow alarmed at the idea fish are vanishing from the wild.

To both calm his own nerves and ease into the waters of sustainable seafood, he started with a story involving a turtle excluder. Most kids want to keep turtles safe, Stowell reasoned. So he explained that this was a device used by responsible fishermen to allow sea turtles to escape when they are caught in a net by accident. It lets them return to the surface of the ocean to breathe.

Then, with the assistance of his daughter and her stuffed lobster, he walked and talked the children through the process of how crustaceans get into – and out of – modern traps so that only some are pulled up for us to eat, while many more are allowed to go free and go about the business of making more lobsters.

By that point, Stowell had seeded their young minds with two ideas paramount to the sustainable seafood cause – minimizing by-catch and controlled fisheries management – without getting mired in complicated technicalities (or vocabulary) they wouldn’t yet be old enough to understand.

Stowell continues his seafood storytelling in the kitchen at home. Recently, he brought home some whole Acadian redfish, also known as ocean perch, for dinner. Firm and sweetly flavored, it’s a good variety to encourage kids (and grownups) to eat because it’s one of the most abundant fishes in the Gulf of Maine just now.

“I laid it on the counter,” Stowell said, chuckling at the recollection of how his daughter grossed out her mother by poking the fish’s bulging eyes.

Acadian redfish swim in big schools, really deep in the ocean, which is why they need such big eyes, he explained. So they can see what they eat as well as the bigger fish, like cod and haddock, which want to eat them.

From there, Stowell marinated the redfish in ginger, garlic and tamari, and then grilled it. “She ate it very willingly,” said Stowell. The success lies in the narrative, he says.

When my kids were young, we lived in land-locked central Pennsylvania and we rarely ate seafood at home, so I have no experience in telling them stories about fish. Unless, that is, you count Marcus Pfister’s “The Rainbow Fish,” which is about sharing, not sustainability.

So I tried out Stowell’s teaching tactic on my buddies, Charlie and Henry Franz, ages 6 and 3, respectively. Armed with three whole fishes (haddock, America plaice and black seabass, all scaled and gutted at Harbor Fish in Portland) and their stories, courtesy of University of Maine’s Sea Grant online Seafood Guide, the boys and I sat around the kitchen island talking about them, turning their fillets into fish sticks (see recipe) and their other bits into stock, and eating them up, mostly with gusto.

We talked about the big eyes on the haddock (they swim down deep with the Acadian redfish) and how the black racing strip down its sides sets it apart from cod, which will probably never return to the Gulf of Maine in the numbers their parents and grandparents knew. We discussed how plaice was a flatfish and one of a very few members of the flounder family that is not being over-fished at this time. And we used a map to trace the black sea bass’s movements up the coast as the oceans get warmer.

I’d deem this exercise a storied success. We touched on several sustainable seafood issues, the boys weren’t too squeamish about touching raw fish, and they both gave the fish sticks on their plate a big thumbs up.

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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Cranberry harvest begins this week Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The cranberry harvest is underway, and the holidays are not far off. Now is the time to order a box of Maine-grown cranberries for your sauces and baked goods.

Sugar Hill Cranberry Co., a small, family-owned cranberry farm in Columbia Falls that has 11 acres of bogs, ships fresh cranberries anywhere in the United States. They also do a lot of shipping to military bases, where having cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving brings a touch of home to the troops.

The company grows three varieties: Pilgrims, Stevens and Howes. Pilgrims produces the largest berries, used for juice and concentrate, and they typically go to wineries, breweries and distilleries. Stevens and Howes are used for sauces and baking. The latter is an heirloom variety that dates back to the 1860s. “Howes have the more tart cranberry flavor,” said Christine Alexander, whose family owns the farm. “It’s more intense. The Stevens are a little bigger in diameter. Sometimes you have to chop those up.”

A 5-pound box of cranberries is $30; a 10-pound box costs $42; and a 20-pound box is $70. Shipping is included. Store the cranberries in the refrigerator until the holiday season, or freeze them for up to a year, Alexander said. This year, for the first time, Sugar Hill berries will be sold at 23 Hannaford stores. They can also be found at farm stands and orchards, including Rocky Ridge Orchard in Bowdoinham, the TradeWinds Market in Blue Hill, and Simon’s Farmstand in Ellsworth. They are at the Eden Farmers’ Market in Bar Harbor on Sundays and the Southwest Harbor Farmers’ Market on Fridays. Look for them at the Fryeburg Fair and the Bangor Harvest Festival as well.

Buying Maine cranberries helps one of the state’s younger, or at least reviving, industries. The state’s commercial cranberry industry disappeared in the early 1900s. In wasn’t until 1991 that Maine had its first modern commercial harvest. By 2010, there were 30 growers in the state, most in Washington County.

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Albie Barden preserves native varieties of flint corn for future generations Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 NORRIDGEWOCK — Standing in a small cornfield just down the road from his house, Albie Barden tore the husk from an ear of corn with his rugged fingers, revealing rows of buttery gold corn kernels laced with threads of corn silk.

This flint corn, called Hubbard, was grown from seeds obtained from a federal seed vault, and the shucking marks the first time anyone has laid eyes on this variety in Maine in … no one really knows how long. There’s a little insect damage, and the ears are small, but the color is strikingly beautiful.

“This is the entire crop of Hubbard in this bag,” Barden said, showing a bag filled with about 30 ears of “ratty and unimpressive” corn cobs. “But when you save something from extinction by taking it out of a federal government vault, you don’t necessarily have something that’s going to be as good as it can get once people start playing with it and growing it out and feeding it properly.”

Albie Barden is perhaps best known to Mainers as the co-founder of both the Common Ground Fair and the Maine Wood Heat Co. in Skowhegan, which sells wood-fired ovens and masonry heaters all over the country. He is an organic gardener, former Episcopal priest and a co-founder of the Kneading Conference, an annual gathering of bakers trying to bring locally grown, heritage grains back into the mainstream. He is also a longtime “corn keeper” – a person who grows rare native corn varieties to help keep them from becoming extinct.

Barden is working with four Maine varieties of flint corn that were once grown by Native Americans – Hubbard, Fort Kent, Byron and Knowlton – as well as a half dozen or so other flint corn varieties. Flint corn, or “Indian corn,” has colorful kernels with a hard outer shell. It’s typically used for decoration (think corn husk wreaths) or ground into cornmeal. It produces fewer ears than modern field corn varieties (which are used for cornmeal and animal feed), making it less commercially viable.

For the past 30 years, Barden has been researching flint corn varieties, connecting with other corn keepers, and handing out thousands of rare kernels for farmers and gardeners to grow. To him, it is far more than just a hobby that has taken over his garden and fields.

“For me, it’s not about the crops,” he said. “It’s really about re-establishing a sacred relationship to the land and the plants, and honoring them as sacred beings with a history that have fed us forever.”

Barden not only wants to preserve the distinctive taste of these long-forgotten grains – he hopes they will re-appear on restaurant menus someday – he views saving them as a way to honor Native American cultural heritage, “healing the land and healing the tragic history” of Indian tribes in Maine.

He believes that if we can make some of these heirloom varieties as sacred to ourselves as they were to indigenous peoples, rather than just being a commodity or historical oddity, “we can get back on a healing path of right livelihood with the Earth.”

Amber Lambke, who co-founded the Kneading Conference with Barden and is CEO of Maine Grains, says the work that Barden has been quietly doing to put native varieties of flint corn seeds into the hands of willing growers is “vital and important.”

“He is simultaneously building the supply of endangered varieties while knitting back together a community of growers that share seed and keep beautiful, flavorful varieties alive in our foodways,” she said. “Albie is deeply connected to his land and the spiritual significance of growing food.”


Barden lives in an old cape home with two barns, on a road that was once the old Indian trail that ran alongside the Kennebec River. The road is named after Father Sebastian Rasle, a Jesuit missionary who moved there in the late 17th century and lived among the Norridgewock tribe of the Abenaki Indians. The English and French fought over the natives’ land, and Rasle was murdered in an English raid that wiped out the Indian settlement in 1724. A monument to Rasle stands just a mile down the road from Barden’s home, on the site of the massacre.

Barden has lived on his 40-acre homestead for 45 years, and the historic and spiritual significance of the land has seeped into his 71-year-old bones. He looks at the large stones on the Kennebec riverbank and his mind drifts back 300 years, imagining native women grinding corn and singing, their children playing nearby.

He once canoed down the river with his own children, from their back yard to the sea, because he wanted them to experience the annual summer migration that the native people of Norridgewock took after planting their crops. You might think that given his intense interest in Native American history and culture, Barden is part Indian himself, but he is not. The first Barden to set foot on American soil landed in Plymouth, Mass., in 1636 as an indentured servant. Seven years later, that ancestor had his freedom and a trade – masonry, oddly enough, given what Barden does for a living in the 21st century.

Barden grew up in Stillwater, near Orono, in a family of biologists. His father gave him and his two siblings each their own row of sweet corn to grow and sell on the roadside. When relatives visited from Rhode Island, they always brought a 5-pound box of Kenyon’s Grist Mill‘s stone-ground Narragansett white flint corn – a variety that was once important to the Narragansetts and the Pequots. Barden’s family used it to make jonny cakes in a cast iron skillet, always eaten with butter and maple syrup. (Barden insists on spelling jonny cakes without an ‘h’ because, he says, the name stems from “journey cakes,” as the pancakes were easy to carry.)

More than 40 years ago, Barden was working as a priest – a priest who read the Whole Earth Catalog and the CoEvolution Quarterly – when he was “called” to his work with masonry heaters.

“I kept looking for meaning, for a God in the sky, and I could not find any,” he said. But as he immersed himself in the masonry work, “I was taken to a much deeper level of understanding of rocks and fire and wood.” He says he was given many signs that the plants, rocks and animals of the Earth are manifestations of the divine, lauching him on a spiritual journey he is still on.

Some 30 years ago, Barden’s interest in flint corn – sacred to Native Americans – took deeper root, when he met Will Bonsall, director of the Scatterseed Project in Industry. Bonsall had a flint corn variety called Byron that had been salvaged out of a shoebox in the little Oxford County town of Byron, population 145.

“It apparently had been widely grown along the Swift River in Byron as a meal corn,” Barden said. “He gave me some, and I grew it out in the high field,” protected by sturdy, electrified fences. “And the day it became ripe, the horses burst through both fences and ate every stalk to the ground. That was a depressing experience for me, and it kind of put my flint corn fanaticism on hold.”

Barden’s interest was reignited about 15 years ago, when he took a class in “plant spirit medicine” from Gail Edwards at Blessed Maine Herb Farm in Athens. He learned how to “connect” with plants and “the plant spirits” and use them as healing agents. He so took to the topic that eventually he was teaching a “mini-class” for Edwards, complete with shamanic drumming and “dream vision journeys.” One day a man in his 40s showed up at one of his classes.

“He was keeping a sacred fire, which means he was holding a fire and keeping it going day and night through the entire class,” Barden said. “He was sitting 20-30 feet away with his long black hair and a smile on his face, and he had this magnificent ear of corn in his hand.”

Barden asked him about it. The man, who was part Mic Mac, told him the corn was called Abenaki Rose, and that the variety had originated in Maine. His family had recently salvaged some from New York and brought it back home to grow. He gave Barden 12 kernels. Barden took them home, planted them, and all 12 came up. “That was magical in and of itself for me,” he said.

Barden nursed the plants with water and seaweed amendments. By the end of the growing season, he had 23 ears. “From those 23 ears,” he said, “I started to do a fairly significant giveaway of Abenaki Rose, with the idea that it was kind of a calling to preserve the ancient varieties of flint corn and to make sure that they survived.”

Barden says he’s given away “thousands and thousands and thousands” of Abenaki Rose seeds. Now that the seeds are available through Groundswell Seed Farm in Embden, Barden no longer plants it himself every year. But he keeps a photo of the gorgeous ears – each cream-colored kernel blotched with a large drop of crimson red – in his kitchen. “The energy of it is really extraordinary,” Barden said.


With the success of the Abenaki Rose project, Barden’s goal shifted to rediscovering all of the original Maine flint corns. He obtained more Byron seed from another corn keeper to grow and give away, and next year he plans to grow a Maine variety called Knowlton.

Tristan Noyes, executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, said he felt “honored” when Barden asked him to become a corn keeper. “Albie knew exactly which flint corn would resonate most with me,” Noyes said, “a corn from my native Aroostook, a rare Fort Kent Golden Flint Corn.”

Barden is also working with other rare varieties that have interesting stories.

“I started reading years ago about a corn that (Samuel de) Champlain saw when he entered the St. Lawrence in the 1500s,” Barden said. “He looked over the railing of his boat, and there was this short corn growing, being tended by native people. They would have probably been the Mic Macs. That corn has come to be known historically as Gaspe flint. So I began to search for it.”

Barden eventually tracked down a farmer in Indiana who had some. This year, Barden grew it in his kitchen garden, but the birds got to it before he could harvest it. He also grew a variety from New York called Gigi Hill, a shorter season blue flint corn.

“I thought it was going to be a blue corn, and I was stunned because it turned out to be cream colored,” Barden said as he pulled an ear from a stalk in the field. “So I hung it from my pot rack over the sink. Day after day as it dried, it started turning blue.”

A stunning, deep blue.


Barden’s interest in Native American culture is reflected throughout his homestead. He shows off a huge pestle he found in a barn in Belgrade that would have been used to grind corn in a hollowed-out stump, making a deep thumping sound like an American bittern in a marsh. He also brings out his antique corn scraper, pointing out that Maine tribes would have used the jawbone of a deer.

Barden has collected a half-dozen or so antique corn shellers, including a fully restored one that was made in Winthrop in the early 19th century. It looks something like a beehive. He pulled it out into the yard to demonstrate how the gears strip the kernels from the cob.

Thriving in a corner of the garden is a patch of tobacco, grown from seeds that a Passamaquoddy elder gave to Barden. They came, the story goes, from 1,200-year-old seeds discovered in an Indian grave in Ontario. Barden uses the tobacco to enhance his year-round evening routine in which he “acknowledges” all of the plants and animals on his property by name in a prayer, and then sprinkles dried, crushed tobacco as an offering.

Barden thinks it’s no accident that the biblical Jesus had his last encounter with God on Earth in a garden. Here in Barden’s world, it’s not too hard to imagine the divine speaking to a humble corn keeper.

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Editor’s Letter: Thoughts on making the bus a must for Common Ground fairgoers Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Like everyone else who tried to get to the Common Ground Fair last Saturday around mid-morning, I got stuck in the usual monumental traffic jam. We were scheduled to arrive at 10:30 a.m. We pulled into the fair parking lot two hours after that. Two hours I sat in traffic and could not enjoy a fair I’d been looking forward to all year.

Still, I had an advantage over most of the drivers and passengers in the cars that formed the crawling, unbroken line that snaked in front of us for the last five miles of the route. Because I was riding a bus, I could read the fair program and plot my afternoon, or read the novel I’d stowed in my bag for just such an eventuality, or simply stare out the window at the lovely landscape. I almost wrote passing landscape, but passing it was not.

The bus, one of three that ran on Saturday and Sunday, was organized by the Maine Adult Education programs, “an effort to reduce our carbon footprint and traffic load,” according to a press release aimed at drumming up ridership. The buses – school buses because they were cheaper than plusher coach buses would have been ($34 roundtrip from Portland, including reduced admission to the fair and a bus snack of apples and cider) – picked up passengers in communities as scattered as Windham, Portland, Freeport, Gardiner, Bath, Waldoboro, Fairfield and Skowhegan; Central Lincoln Adult Ed (which is under the Maine Adult Ed umbrella) has offered fairgoers a ride for the last five years. Combined, the buses carried 83 riders.

Other passengers on my bus – who ranged in age from about 10 to 70 – gave an assortment of reasons for signing up. A young couple didn’t own a car. An older gentleman was recovering from knee replacement surgery and said the walk from the parking lot to the fairgrounds combined with strolling around the fair itself would have overtaxed his new knee. As the sole member of her family interested in attending the fair, one woman figured, “It’s just a waste for me to go up by myself.”

Eighty-three riders is, of course, a tiny fraction of the 60,000 people estimated to have attended the Common Ground Fair. And my bus ride was not without a couple of hitches: The organizers didn’t seem to have figured out the route ahead of time and were anxiously trying to call up GPS data on their cellphones. More annoyingly, one of the “chaperones” accorded us 15 minutes at a rest stop and then took an extra 20 minutes herself in order to get coffee, while some 40 people sat in the school bus, knees pressed against the seats in front of us, waiting for her.

But these were small, easily repairable irritations and outweighed by the pleasure I felt in the companionship of other riders (who joked about singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and laughed uproariously when, during the last few miles of the trip, we played a game of tag with a fleet-footed pedestrian; in the end, we both reached the gate about the same time. Then, there was my profound satisfaction in contributing less to global warming while going to a fair that celebrates environmental and agricultural sustainability. (An overheard conversation: “They said there are 41 people on the bus? So say that’s 30 cars off the road. Now imagine if you had 10 buses!”)

Yes, imagine that. Ten buses. Or how about 20? Or 30? Maybe the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which organizes the Common Ground Fair, will figure out a way to give buses priority, so that the buses could breeze through the traffic jam ahead of idling cars, a temporary High-Occupancy Vehicle lane, subtly encouraging fairgoers to sign up for cleaner, greener shared transportation the following year.

Tom Nash, with Windham/Raymond Adult Ed (also part of Maine Adult Ed), is already plotting to improve the trip:

“Next year? I think so,” he wrote in an email from an out-of-state conference. “Leave a lot earlier and possibly stay to the end. Go a different route or a different day? Have more adult ed programs participate so one bus doesn’t need to make so many stops.”

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Credit goes to Maine Adult Education for taking that first step.

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Absence of life on Maine shoreline brings grief and hope for action Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I walk the shore in a place I have known longer than memory stretches. There are wide expanses of rugged beach, a tide-tumbled assortment of small rocks, sand and crushed shells. From afar, it looks much as it has for decades, a collage of tan, gray and clamshell white interspersed by hummocks of chestnut rockweed.

It is a shoreline beautiful beyond measure, but something is wrong.

Walking near the high-tide line, I find long windrows of periwinkle shells. Not the occasional sun-bleached ones amid rocks and sand, but thousands and thousands of periwinkles – their shell color still vivid, but the life in them gone. At the sight, a wave of grief – strong and unexpected – breaks over me.

The periwinkles are not the first ones to abandon this shore where the tidal life used to be breathtaking. The losses came slowly, imperceptibly at first. There were fewer sea stars and sand dollars, then none at all. New Asian markets led to overharvesting of sea urchins, and the population never rebounded.

Now the pace of loss appears to be quickening. Acres of deep blue mussel beds that drew flocks of eider ducks are gone, as are most of the birds that relied on them.

When the moon pulls the water low, the subtidal world that once was a cornucopia looks eerily void of life. Where a jungle of colors shimmered beneath the water – rose sea stars, indigo and violet mussels, lichen-green urchins – now only a drab expanse of barnacle-etched rocks remains.

I still caution my sons, reflexively, to wear swim shoes at low tide, lest they step on a sea urchin or cut their feet on mussels. They look at me blankly, and remind me that the beach bottom at low tide is no different than it is at high tide.

How much has been lost in one generation! A marine world of unimaginable fecundity is unraveling before our eyes, succumbing to ocean acidification, invasive species like green crabs and temperatures warming too fast for age-old species to adapt.

The visible changes are stark, and I cannot help but fear for the tiny phytoplankton that support the marine food web. The microscopic life of the deep sea supplies most of the oxygen in our atmosphere, literally giving us breath.

No word in the English language captures this sort of loss. We can comprehend the extinction of a particular species, or the decimation of a place (like communities lost when dams drown whole river valleys). But this is an odd hybrid, one that is becoming tragically commonplace. Some writers use the term “solastalgia” for the loss – not of place itself – but of the species and habitats that once constituted that place. Drawing from the Latin word solacium (comfort, consolation) and the Greek word algos (pain), it suggests a homesickness due – not to leaving – but to being left as other species disappear.

Place, of course, is never just a dot on a map, a GPS coordinate. It is a nesting set of natural and human communities, fitting like Russian dolls within the parameters of a particular climate, topography and seasonality. Communities evolve, and occasionally species dwindle. That is evolution and no cause for grief.

But we have tinkered irreparably with the planet’s thermostat, unleashing a tidal wave of repercussions along shores the world over. These mounds of glistening shells, so lifelike but still, spark regret tinged by guilt over our collective complacency.

My generation, and my parents’ generation, failed to grasp how closely our lives are intertwined with those of periwinkles and phytoplankton. Scientists and policy makers knew about the dynamics of global warming as far back as the 1950s and 1960s. Certainly by the 1980s, many people understood the potentially devastating implications of inaction. But the threats seemed generations off, and meanwhile there was money to be made maintaining the status quo.

If we had acted internationally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30, 20, even 10 years ago, would these hollow periwinkle shells still house vibrant creatures? Why, even now, can’t we bring ourselves to meaningfully address climate change?

The evidence of disruption is all about us, as grim and inescapable as the periwinkles piled on the shoreline. A new report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature suggests that ocean warming may well be “the greatest hidden challenge of our generation.” Where does that leave the next generation?

When my sons were young, they loved to hold periwinkles in their chubby hands and hum to them – encouraging them to open. It was a small miracle for them to watch these tiny life forms emerge from inscrutable shells. These shores offered my children – and generations before them – a wealth of ordinary miracles, the gifts of a beneficent place.

Sitting now in a tide-swept graveyard of periwinkles, I wish there were something I could hum to awaken my own kind – calling us out of our shells to action.

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

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A way to rise from the ash when using the whole leek Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Christine Burns Rudalevige arranges leeks atop her Crispy Whole Leek Salad.

Christine Burns Rudalevige arranges leeks atop her Crispy Whole Leek Salad.

Vegetable ash, unlike polyester in a leisure suit, is both timeless and trendy.

For centuries cheesemakers have used vegetable ash – typically discarded bits of vegetables that are charred and then pulverized – for both aesthetic and preservative reasons.

A line of dark ash mixed with a bit of salt running down the middle of snowy white cheeses like France’s Morbier, California’s Humboldt Fog or Maine’s own triple-layer Sea Smoke from Sunset Acres Farm and Dairy in Brooksville, is visually very interesting. The ash provides a protective coating for these bloomy rind cheeses, and its alkaline composition helps balance its acidity levels so that it can ripen fully.

Ash turned trendy when hyper-local Nordic chef René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen served shrimp with a sprinkle of leek ash back in 2009. It’s since made its way into restaurants around the world, even showing up in the adventurous cooks’ blogosphere. It’s used to add an unexpected smoky flavor to anything from poached cauliflower to fried eggs.

To make leek green ash, chefs grill the greens until they are well charred, then bake them in a hot oven until they are totally black. They cool the shards and process them to a fine powder using a coffee grinder.

Leek green ash is a trendy way to answer the question of what to do with the dark green ends of leeks that most recipes say to discard after using only the white and light green parts of the allium.

A better root-to-stalk solution is to throw them into the stock pot. Or use them to create leek broth (much like pea pod broth) to flavor risotto of all kinds, especially since the whites and light green bits are already sweating in the pan, even before the short-grained rice goes in. The dark green ends have less flavor, so the result is a subtle layering of flavors, not an overpowering oniony one.

According to gardening guru Tom Atwell, Maine leeks are best harvested in the fall, after a couple of good frosts. So it’s stew season when local leeks peak. The top part of a leek branches out in a V-shape. If you cut the leek at the stalk just before it begins branching and then make a second cut 4 inches beyond the first, you can easily nestle herbs inside it, tie it up with kitchen twine, and use as a bouquet garni to flavor long-braised beef, chicken and bean dishes.

Or you can line a steamer – either a traditional Asian bamboo variety or a modern metal one – with split and flattened leek greens to prevent your steaming dumplings or fish from sticking and serve as a subtle flavor agent.

But excepting the ash option, though each of these uses extracts flavor from the leek tops, the bulk is still headed for the compost pile, or worse, the municipal landfill.

BRUNSWICK, ME - SEPTEMBER, 27: Crispy whole leek salad by Christine Burns Rudalevige Tuesday, September 27, 2016. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)

Crispy whole leek salad. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

I want ways to eat, preferably enjoyably, leek tops.

Italian cookbook writer and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich includes them in her recipe for “A Smooth Sauce for a Couple of Tough Veggies” in “Lidia’s Family Table,” writing she wants to feel virtuous about not wasting tasty food. She combines asparagus stubs, several leek and scallion tops, garlic and onions in water and simmers them for an hour. She purees the simmered vegetables with fresh parsley to ramp up their otherwise army green color, pushes them through a sieve, and tosses the sauce with pasta.

Minus the asparagus, this is certainly an option for fall leek greens, especially if you’ve any Parmesan rind broth hanging out in your freezer so that you can simmer the vegetables in broth rather than water.

I attempted to expand on Bastianich’s technique, simmering tops from a single leek in coconut milk and pureeing the mix before using it as a base of a vegetable curry. “The dish is just kind of bland, but the color and the texture of the sauce is really pretty revolting,” my husband said, hopeful that honesty was a policy for which he’d not pay dearly in this case.

He was right. The long simmer had unleashed an okra-like slime from the leek. While a little of this mucilage (a polysaccharide substance extracted as a viscous or gelatinous solution from plant roots and used in medicines and adhesives) is handy for thickening a sauce, I’d clearly overdone it.

But if leek greens act like okra, why not borrow a cooking method I use to keep okra’s slime at bay? Julienned, the leek tops worked a charm in Indian chef Suvir Saran’s crispy okra salad (see adapted recipe). Alternatively, you could cut the leek greens crosswise in 1/4-inch slices, and dredge them in egg wash and then cornmeal before frying like okra.

In either case, the results are neither bland nor revolting. And, dare I say, even better than the ash.

]]> 0, 02 Oct 2016 14:41:32 +0000
Grow: Garlic is easy to grow and easy to love Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Garlic is one of the easiest vegetables of all to grow successfully. It stores well, provides zest to your meals all year long, is forgiving as to when you plant it and one purchase lasts a lifetime.

Last fall got very busy, with travel, classes and life in general. One day in early December, I noticed our garlic in our garage – and we had far too much of it. I had forgotten to plant any in late September or early October, when you are supposed to.

The ground wasn’t yet frozen, so I went outside and planted the amount my wife and I usually do. This July, we harvested some of our best garlic ever.

I use German hardneck garlic because it is what was recommended when I first started planting it a dozen years ago, and it does very well in Maine.

Select a part of your garden where you did not plant alliums (anything in the onion family) this year. Work in a lot of compost and add a little organic fertilizer.

I always save the largest garlic bulbs for planting. Divide the bulbs into cloves, and plant the cloves about 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart, keeping the flat side of the cloves down. Cover the cloves with soil and add a little mulch at planting time, and a bit more once the ground has frozen. Carefully mark where you planted the garlic so you won’t put anything else there come spring. If you have them, pine needles are the best mulch but chopped leaves also work.

When the ground thaws in the spring, you remove the mulch, cut off the garlic scapes when they appear, usually in June (they are delicious to eat), and dig up the garlic bulbs around late July, when the leaves just start going brown. Dry the garlic in a shed or garage for about a week – and begin the process all over.

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Tom Gordon, of the state’s emergency task force, talks about the drought Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Tom Gordon heads up the Soil & Water Conservation Program for Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry. With this year’s serious lack of rain having a widespread impact on farmers, Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Whitcomb asked him to join the task force tracking the drought. We called him up to talk about his new responsibilities (and old).

DEEP BACKGROUND: Gordon grew up in Skowhegan and attended Colby College, where he earned a degree in environmental studies. He went right to work at the Cobbossee Watershed District. That was the 1970s and one issue he dealt with regularly was the impact of farm runoff on the watershed, namely, how to manage it to prevent or at least diminish water pollution and algae blooms stemming from farm activities. (Better manure storage facilities helped.) “That was really my first intensive interaction with farmers.”

He stayed there 19 years as executive director before deciding to step away to pursue another interest.

AND THAT WAS? “Doing concert sound for acoustic and blues bands.” Really? Yep. He bought an audio visual business in Portland.

DROP SOME NAMES: Who did he make sound better? Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Jonathan Edwards and Odetta Holmes, to name a few: “Most of my heroes from the ’60s,” Gordon said. “My most consistent client has been Dave Mallett.” It was a “good break” from his environmental work, but he got sucked back in when the Cumberland County Soil and Conservation District came calling. “I chatted with them and before you knew it, I was on the board of supervisors for the district.” (He still is.)

He also had a part-time gig as the executive director of the Maine Association of Conservation Districts. In 2014 he started doing part-time work for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, and now he’s “pretty much full time.” He still does sound system work on the weekends, though.

GETTING THE GIG: The Department of Agriculture has sent multiple staffers to the task force, including the state’s geologist, Robert Marvinney. Gordon got drawn in after he made a suggestion. Which was? “That we really should be keeping track of any calls we get from farmers,” Gordon said. “People said, ‘That is a good idea, we’ll send them to you.’ ”

ONE RINGY DINGY: Farmers have been calling. A lot. “Primarily what we are hearing about is dry wells or extremely low farm ponds, and that is affecting farmers’ ability to get water to their cattle and also to irrigate crops.” The worst problem? “The impact on the hay crop. Normally they wouldn’t irrigate, they’d just rely on the rain to take care of that.” But without rain, there’s been a serious problem with that second cut of hay, the one that everyone with livestock needs to get through the winter. The hay has “been either extremely poor or not even worth cutting.”

HELP ME: Short of doing a rain dance, what can the department do to help? In the instances of small farms, it could connect the farmer to local emergency management staffers. In the case of a woman in Oxford County whose four horses were in trouble after her supply of water dried up, it meant sending the fire department out with a tanker truck.

On a broader level, the department helps farmers secure federal assistance through the Farm Services Agency (part of the USDA). Whether Gordon is with the task force or attending Agricultural Council of Maine (AGCOM) monthly meetings, the drought has been the talk of the state.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: We’ve actually been in the drought for a while; that nice easy winter we all enjoyed last year should have been making us all nervous for the summer to come. “The hydrologists were saying that there have been signs of this building for the last two or three years.” And the drought could last another couple of years. What matters now are some good fall rains, before a hard frost. “Once that ground is frozen, a lot of that water would run off.”

PLANNING FOR THE WORST: Gordon is trying to get the message out that farmers need to prepare for the possibility of a long-term drought, perhaps giving serious consideration to examining the efficiency of their irrigation systems (go with the drip, Gordon urges) or digging a deeper well. Now. “Because once you are in the middle of a growing season, it is too late to do anything.”

Anyone considering adding a farm pond should be sure to check with their local conservation district first. “It may be tempting to dig into a very wet area on a farm, but if that is wetland, you could run into some environmental regulation problems.”

SOIL SAVVY: The final piece of the preparedness puzzle is looking at soil health. “They should be looking at no-till cover crops to try to get more organic matter into the soil; that tends to increase the capacity of the soil to hold water.” Does that mean organic farms have a leg up on coping with the drought? “I don’t distinguish between conventional and organic. Good soil health can be done by conventional farmers as well. You can be adding organic material, but more isn’t always better. You really have to get to know your soils pretty well.”

Aren’t Maine farmers already savvy about soil? “We forget that there is a new generation of farmers who might not have had the time or opportunity to learn about soil health.”

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Behind burning bush’s dazzle lies harm to native species Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The one invasive plant I really miss is burning bush, also called winged euonymus or if you want to be technical, euonymus alatus.

For other ornamental plants on invasive-plant lists I wonder what the attraction was in the first place. Barberry gets huge and scratches your arms if you get within a foot of it. Bittersweet and multiflora roses strangle trees and shrubs and look straggly most of the year. Autumn olive and honeysuckle are just blobs in the landscape.

I can still understand the initial attraction of the Norway maple, including the purple-leaved ‘Crimson King.’ At first sight it is big, strong and handsome. But after you get to know it, the Norway maple becomes a mean bully, prone to abuse of your house and yard. Its roots spread wide and rob nutrition from everything nearby, and its dense leaves block almost all light from anything that attempts to grow below it.

Some people expand the list of invasives to include rugosa roses, but the low-maintenance roses that have come to market over the past 15 years, including Knockout and Oso Easy, provide attractive alternatives. If you want to look at some examples, stop by the rose circle at Deering Oaks park in Portland, which now features a selection of Earth-Kind roses.

The burning bush, however, filled an important niche in many Maine gardens. Although almost invisible in spring and early summer, by about mid-August it begins turning red. With colors ranging from bright red to deep maroon, it practically glows – and earns its name. Burning bush comes in a range of sizes, the original species growing up to 15 feet tall, some dwarf varieties topping out at 5 feet.

I even like the look of burning bush before the leaves come out. Its branches are unique, with long green ridges – the wings in the term “winged euonymus.”

At one time, my wife and I had three burning bushes on our property, two compact varieties and one of the original species. I’ve since cut all three down, although one continues to sprout occasionally. Once I knew the damage the plant could cause, I could no longer in good conscience let them remain.

The trouble is burning bush spreads rapidly and easily outcompetes native species, which means that native birds and animals are deprived of the food and shelter they need to thrive.

No native animals eat burning bush, which is one reason it has been a popular, easy-care plant. It grows in any type of soil except bogs and in conditions ranging from full sun to deep shade. In some New England forests, burning bush has taken over the understory.

Burning bush produces many seeds, and they sprout easily. Native birds eat the seeds, though they provide little nutrition for them, then spread them widely through their droppings.

For all of these reasons, I urge anyone who has a burning bush to cut it down or pull it out.

Once your burning bush is gone, what other plants will provide the same attractive, fall color? A number of native options exist.

The first that comes to mind is high-bush blueberry. Low-bush blueberries turn the barrens of Washington County a gorgeous red in the fall, and the related high-bush blueberries also turn red. They have delicate white flowers in the spring and delicious fruit in the summer.

Not all varieties of blueberry get red in the same way. I planted 10 varieties this spring, and when I checked a couple of weeks ago only three – St. Cloud, Elizabeth and Jersey – had turned a nice red. This is a one-year sample and early in the season, so ask at the nursery which ones turn reddest.

Viburnums have excellent fall foliage, and many are native. Be sure to choose varieties that are resistant to the viburnum leaf beetle. Probably the best choice is the witherod viburnum, but others that should do include arrowwood, ‘Mohican,’ nannyberry and ‘Winterthur.’ Non-native viburnums also have excellent foliage, and are not invasive, so you can give them a try, too.

Oakleaf hydrangea turns a bright maroon to dark orange-tinged red in the fall, but while a natural-born citizen of the United States, it is not native to Maine and is Zone 5, so is not hardy in inland Maine. It is also a nice change from the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas.

Aronia or chokeberry is a native plant that turns a deep red, and it produces fruit high in antioxidants. You won’t want to eat it raw, but people make pies and bars and more with it.

Itea or sweetspire grows only 3 feet tall, has fragrant flower spikes in mid-summer, and turns a bright red.

If you really want to stick with burning bush, try the non-invasive option – Euonymus alatus ‘Rudy Haag.’

‘Rudy Haag’ was first discovered at Bernheim Arboretum in Kentucky in the 1940s, according to Jeff O’Donal of O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham. It produces few seeds – about 10 from three mature plants over three years – and when those seeds were tested for another three years, they did not sprout.

‘Rudy Haag’ is slower growing and smaller than the original species. Full grown, it reaches about 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide, with a shape similar to a mugo pine.

Maine does not yet have a law banning the sale of invasive ornamental plants, as many of its New England neighbors do – so it is still legal to sell any invasive plants here. Most local nurseries have stopped selling them, however.

The state is working on such a law, and O’Donal said he will lobby hard to let the non-invasive variety remain legal.

While I miss burning bush, our garden is gradually going native so I will probably skip ‘Rudy Haag.’ I’m counting on the blueberries, for both color and food.

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

]]> 5, 02 Oct 2016 14:41:45 +0000
Interactive map: as rainfall lags, watch drought spread across New England Thu, 29 Sep 2016 19:02:52 +0000 In spite of some recent rainy days, total precipitation in Maine and in much of New England remains far below historic averages, and much of southern Maine is now considered to be in an “extreme drought,” according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

This interactive map shows the official drought maps for New England since the beginning of May 2016. Click and drag the slider below to watch drought conditions spread over the course of an unusually dry summer.

*As of October 20.
SOURCE: National Weather Service, University of Nebraska National Drought Mitigation Center
INTERACTIVE: Christian MilNeil | @vigorousnorth

]]> 3, 20 Oct 2016 11:48:20 +0000
Drought conditions spread dramatically, now ‘extreme’ in most of Cumberland, York counties Thu, 29 Sep 2016 17:39:08 +0000 Nearly all of York and Cumberland counties and the entire Casco Bay region are now experiencing extreme drought conditions, according to federal data released Thursday.

The latest map of Maine shows a dramatic expansion of the most drought-stricken part of the state compared with data released a week ago that showed only southern York County in the extreme drought zone. An area designated as being in severe drought, one level lower then extreme, now reaches north to the Bangor region and east to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park.

More than 1.05 million Mainers are now living in drought, according to the updated model from the U.S. Drought Monitor, which is 79 percent of the state’s 1.33 million residents.

Also Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared that an expanded disaster area now includes Cumberland, Androscoggin, Oxford, Sagadahoc and York counties because of the drought. Farmers within the disaster area will be eligible for assistance from the federal Farm Service Agency, including emergency loans. Farmers in York, Cumberland and Oxford counties got emergency assistance under a more limited disaster declaration earlier this month.

Rainfall has been far below normal this summer. Rainfall in York County since Oct. 1, 2015, has totaled 33 inches, about 16.6 inches below normal, according to the National Weather Service. Sagadahoc and Cumberland counties also have seen about 33 inches of total rainfall, which is 14.6 inches below normal in that part of the state.

And forecasters expect the drought to deepen before there’s any dramatic change in the weather. Some showers are in southern Maine’s short-term forecast, but there is an even chance of above- or below-average precipitation in the next three months, according to the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center.


Conditions are the driest in 15 years, and groundwater levels are dropping closer to the lowest point reached during the region’s last serious drought from 1999 to 2002, said Nicholas Stasulis, data section chief for the U.S. Geological Survey in Maine.

Water in a monitoring well in Sanford is a foot above the lowest point measured during that drought, Stasulis said. But groundwater levels typically reach their lowest in the fall, and if the dry weather trend holds, the levels could meet or break those records.

“Even though we haven’t reached the levels we had in the early 2000s, at a lot of our wells we saw the lowest July, August and probably September in the last 20 to 30 years,” Stasulis said. “That would lead us to believe that low levels in October and November would set those records.”

Stream flow data, which goes back more than a century in some cases, may be an even more significant indicator of the drought’s severity than groundwater readings, Stasulis said. Many of the state’s major waterways are considered to be in severe or extreme hydrologic drought, meaning there are only a few days on record with lower water flow measurements. For example, a section of the Saco River in Cornish is lower than 99 percent of readings recorded there over the past 100 years, Stasulis said.

Almost 10 percent of the state, including Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc counties, are in an extreme drought, one step away from exceptional drought, the most serious condition used by the national monitor. Severe drought has spread north and east and now affects most of Androscoggin, Kennebec, Knox, Waldo, Lincoln and Hancock counties. Roughly 18 percent of the state is in a severe drought, up from only 7 percent last week, according to the monitor.

Of the state’s 16 counties, only Aroostook has no areas experiencing drought, although a small portion is abnormally dry.


Farmers in Maine have been trying to weather the drought by increasing irrigation. The dry weather hurt hay crops in particular and meant some farmers lost second and third cuttings of hay that’s relied on to feed livestock during the winter.

Nina Fuller watches as her sheep head to a pond for water on her property in Hollis. The sheep usually don't drink from the pond, but because of the drought, that has changed this year, she said. Rainfall in York County since Oct. 1, 2015, is about 16.6 inches below normal. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Nina Fuller watches as her sheep head to a pond for water on her property in Hollis. The sheep usually don’t drink from the pond, but because of the drought, that has changed this year, she said. Rainfall in York County since Oct. 1, 2015, is about 16.6 inches below normal. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Public water sources, which provide drinking water to about 66 percent of the state, have mostly held up, so far, although the York Water District recently contracted with Kennebunk to pipe in water and has asked its customers to limit water use.

Private well owners, particularly those with shallow dug wells, have been hit especially hard in recent weeks as wells have run dry or are threatening to. Many of those Mainers are limiting water use, and some have resorted to ordering bulk water deliveries or spending thousands of dollars to drill deeper into shrinking groundwater aquifers.

Glen Brand, director of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the worsening drought is consistent with extreme weather expected to be brought on by climate change.

“I would not say, ‘Oh, this drought was caused by warming pollution.’ No one could say that with any scientific legitimacy,” Brand said. “But what scientists are telling us is that long periods of drought are one of the manifestations of worsening climate disruption.”


]]> 24, 20 Oct 2016 11:54:52 +0000
Scarborough campground agrees to restore wetlands, pay $227,500 civil penalty Wed, 28 Sep 2016 21:59:25 +0000 The owners of a campground and farm on Pine Point in Scarborough have agreed to restore more than 64 acres of wetlands on the two properties and to pay a civil penalty of $227,500.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday in a news release that they have reached a settlement with Bayley Hill Deer and Trout Farm Inc., Bayley’s Camping Resort and its related corporate entities regarding allegations that the owners violated federal laws by filling in wetlands and other waterways on the property.

Mark Abueg, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the proposed consent decree and a pending complaint or civil action were filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Abueg said the settlement won’t be finalized until it has been approved by a judge and a 30-day public comment period passes. But court documents state that both sides have “resolved all claims in this litigation.”

The campground operators, Thomas Bayley and Fred W. Bayley – they are named in the complaint as defendants along with Kathleen Bayley – could not be reached for comment. A worker at the campground office said Thomas Bayley would not be available until Thursday.

In its news release, the EPA alleged that the Bayleys and their corporate entities violated Section 404 of the Clean Water Act by filling wetlands and other waterways at their campground and Ross Road farm properties in Scarborough and Old Orchard Beach. The bulk of the cited violations occurred on the farm, rather than the campground.

Federal officials said the violations began in the late 1980s and continued through the mid-2010s.

Gene Libby, the Kennebunk-based attorney identified in court records as representing Bayley’s Camping Resort, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. An automated email response to a request for comment said he is out of the country.

Bayley’s Camping Resort is located at 275 Pine Point Road, near Scarborough’s Pine Point neighborhood, town landing and Pine Point Beach. The campground is on the border with Old Orchard Beach, which is about a half mile from the resort.

Bayley’s has been dedicated to “family camping” since 1970, its website says.

The civil suit and consent decree were filed in court on Wednesday by lawyers representing several federal enforcement agencies including: Amy Dona, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice; Thomas E. Delahanty II, the U.S. Attorney for Maine; and Laura Beveridge, an enforcement counsel with the EPA.

The civil suit names Bayley’s Campground Inc., FKT Resort Management LLC, FKT Bayley Family Limited Partnership, Bayley Hill Deer and Trout Farm Inc and the Bayleys as defendants.

The suit also contains a number of supporting documents that talk about the ecological significance of the Scarborough Marsh.

The suit says that Scarborough Marsh, which covers more than 3,000 acres in the towns of Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth, is the largest contiguous salt marsh system in Maine, filtering pollution from the water and providing food and shelter for numerous species of birds, fish, mammals and shellfish.

Under terms of the consent decree, the Bayleys agree to establish through restoration and mitigation at least 64.5 acres of freshwater wetlands, restore site hydrology, and permanently protect all restored and mitigated wetlands, as well as associated riparian, upland and open-water habitat through enforceable conservation easements, the EPA said. The Bayleys also will be required to pay a civil penalty of $227,500. Court documents do not specify how much it will cost the Bayleys to restore wetlands.

The civil complaint alleges that the Bayleys or their contractors filled wetlands on their property with dredged or fill material – defined in court records as dirt, rock or sand – for a period of more than 30 years.

Bayley’s Camping Resort is located within the Scarborough Marsh “focus area,” and the fill affected Jones Creek and its tributaries, court documents state.

“Wetlands are incredibly valuable ecological areas that provide important functions including protecting and improving water quality, and helping to buffer floods and major storm events,” Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office, said in a statement. “Each acre of destroyed or lost wetlands means our communities are losing critical resources that feed the rivers, lakes and streams we depend on to provide sources of food, transportation and recreational opportunities.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

]]> 67, 29 Sep 2016 14:38:00 +0000
Jon Hill, energy-efficiency inspector and organic blueberry farmer Sun, 25 Sep 2016 11:09:50 +0000 If you’ve recently weatherized your house, you know that to get a rebate from Efficiency Maine, the work must pass inspection first. An auditor, typically brought in by your contractor, comes to check the work and signs off your rebate application. But Efficiency Maine also follows up, inspecting the inspector as it were. That’s Jon Hill’s job description. We called him up to talk weatherization, checks and balances and, to our surprise, bees and blueberry farming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



]]> 0, 25 Sep 2016 18:10:11 +0000
Getting winterized: Energy savers, prepping the plot for winter, dehydrating summer foods Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:11 +0000 0, 29 Sep 2016 10:48:13 +0000 From LED bulbs to window coverings, 5 easy ways to cut energy use in your home Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 With all the political wrangling this year around solar policy and natural gas expansion, it’s easy for Mainers to overlook the most obvious and cost-effective ways to save money and use less energy in their own homes.

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

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

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

As a bonus, your home will feel more comfortable.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Some problems are harder to spot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 14, 25 Sep 2016 13:31:19 +0000
Hills and Trails’ outdoor designs will remind you of your last hike or camping trip Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If you love home decor truly inspired by the outdoors – not just some corporate vision of what it should be – check out the pillows, linens and prints from Hills & Trails, a fledgling illustration and print studio based in Portland.

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

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

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

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

]]> 0, 25 Sep 2016 17:52:34 +0000
Dehydrate your vegetables to preserve the remains of your vegetable garden Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I’ve put more kids to bed than I have gardens. But I do know I need to harvest all the vegetables from the raised beds before cleaning up the soil and covering anything that needs to be tucked in for a long winter’s nap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 1, 25 Sep 2016 17:51:23 +0000
Fall is the easier season to get chores done Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Fall is my favorite season. Temperatures are cooler, the air is less humid and the scenery is stunning. You can sit back and contemplate how your garden did this year and make plans for next year.

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

In fall you have a lot of choices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At home, though, contentment usually takes a holiday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the heck should I know?

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

Was that a weed? And that?

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

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

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

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

I’ve got that under control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, for more routine tasks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 5, 18 Sep 2016 20:42:28 +0000
Wind bells will soothe your senses with the sound of the sea Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Years ago, when we were visiting Round Pond, I bought a “Bar Harbor bell” for my parents. It’s like a wind chime, but instead of random tinkles it sounds like a bell buoy in Frenchman Bay. Now, a good two decades later, I can still sit on their patio in the hot Tennessee sun, close my eyes and pretend I’m back in Maine.

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

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

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

]]> 1, 18 Sep 2016 20:42:43 +0000
Parades, protests, chicken feet: 40 years of memories at the Common Ground Country Fair Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A very small item about the first Common Ground Country Fair ran in the Portland Press Herald on Sept. 2, 1977 under the headline “Fair to Have Extra Features.”

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Rowan Jacobsen, “Apples of Uncommon Character”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Reusable bags for shopping contribute to reducing waste.

Reusable bags for shopping contribute to reducing waste.

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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