Source – The Portland Press Herald Thu, 23 Feb 2017 05:31:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Viral video of newborn calf brings unwanted attention to N.H. farm Wed, 22 Feb 2017 14:29:43 +0000 WARNER, N.H. – An independent New Hampshire farm that posted a viral video of a newborn calf being warmed up by a blow dryer is coming under fire from animal rights supporters concerned the animal will be slaughtered.

The Concord Monitor reports Yankee Farmer’s Market in Warner posted the video of the calf, named Diego, on Facebook last week. The Scottish Highland calf was born during a snowstorm.

The video has more than 12 million views.

Some people are now trying to drive down the farm’s reviews using Facebook’s starring system. Several have offered to adopt the calf.

Farm owner Brian Farmer says he raises his animals ethically and tries to give them the best life possible.

He says the calf has been returned to its mother and is a good candidate for breeding stock.

]]> 0 screenshot courtesy of Yankee Farmer's MarketWed, 22 Feb 2017 11:03:29 +0000
Scallop fishing rules pit big boats against small boats Mon, 20 Feb 2017 19:12:33 +0000 A disagreement over the right to fish for scallops off New England is pitting small boats against big ones in one of the most lucrative fisheries in the U.S.

Maine fishermen caught more than 450,000 pounds of scallops last year, the third-highest catch since 2001. Prices per pound surged to a record high this year.

The federal government maintains different rules for the small- and big-boat scallop fisheries, though they work some of the same areas. Small-boat fishermen say the conflict has arisen in the northern Gulf of Maine, a critically important fishing area stretching roughly from Boston to the border of Maine and Canada.

At issue is the fact that the northern Gulf of Maine is fertile ground for scallops right now, and rules allow the bigger boats to harvest more of them. The smaller boats have a possession limit of 200 pounds, while the largest boats have no such limit, because they are regulated instead by a limited number of days at sea.

Smaller boat fishermen said the bigger boats have been gobbling up the scallops in one of the most important areas where they fish.

Without changes, the current arrangement could “wipe out a resource that would sustain a small boat fishery for years and years and years,” said Kristan Porter, a small-boat fisherman in the area who sits on a federal scallop advisory panel.

Federal regulators have identified solving the problem as a key goal in the U.S. sea scallop fishery, which has been worth more than $400 million every year since 2010. Scallops are also one of the priciest kinds of seafood that is familiar to many consumers, who often pay more than $20 per pound for them.

Mary Beth Tooley, the chair of a federal scallop committee, also works in government affairs for O’Hara Corp., a major player in the big-boat fishery. The big and small boats can coexist, she said, and regulators will work to make it happen.

“There’s a perspective that this is a battle – we need to go to war with these big boats,” she said, adding, “I don’t think that’s necessary.”

The scuffle has attracted the attention of Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group based in New England. The group is advocating for the playing field to be leveled for both groups of boats, said Peter Shelley, an attorney with the foundation.

“It’s an inequity that could be corrected very easily and no one wants to do it,” Shelley said. “I just find that to be offensive with a public resource.”

The U.S. scallop fishery’s most important state is Massachusetts, with New Bedford serving as the home base. They’re also brought to shore in other states from Maine to Virginia, with the second-largest amount of shellfish coming ashore in New Jersey.

]]> 0 meat is shucked at sea off Harpswell, Maine, in this 2011 photo. A disagreement over the right to fish for scallops off New England is pitting small boats against big ones in the scallop-rich northern Gulf of Maine.Tue, 21 Feb 2017 11:02:27 +0000
It’s time to plant the salvia Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 If you are sick of winter and ready to start gardening, it is time to plant salvia.

These heirloom cottage-garden plants, with the botanical name Salvia farinacea, are one of the few truly blue flowers, making them an intriguing choice. One of the best salvias is Victoria Blue, which has spires of graceful, tubular blue flowers that grow about 12 inches tall.

Like most annuals, once it starts blooming, salvia will keep blooming until the first frost – so you’ll want to give the plants as much of a head start as possible. While they look good in the garden, they also work nicely as a long-lasting cut flower. To start the seedlings, put some of your favorite planting mixture in a small sterilized pot, about 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Press the dampened soil mix to compact it, put in some salvia seeds and barely cover them with a dusting of the soil mix. Keep the soil mix moist, and put the pot under artificial lights or in a south-facing window.

Salvia likes rich but well-drained soil, and it needs full sun. When you transfer the seedlings to the garden, space them about 10 inches apart. Use a slow-release fertilizer or fertilize them about once a month.

These blue flowers will keep the blues away all summer long.

]]> 0, 17 Feb 2017 13:07:16 +0000
It may be legal to grow marijuana in Maine, but it’s not easy to get gardening advice Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “So he grows a little garden in the backyard by the fence / He’s consuming what he’s growing nowadays in self-defense / He gets out there in the twilight zone / Sometimes when it just don’t make no sense.”

The Old Hippie from the 1985 Bellamy Brothers song will have an easier time tending his backyard marijuana now that it is legal in Maine. Legal to light up, that is. It’s not yet legal to buy it.

Growing advice is likely to be scarce, however.

The local sources most Mainers go to for gardening help will not assist with growing marijuana. John Rebar of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension said that because the extension receives money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, funding would be threatened if it did any work on cannabis.

While the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) is conducting trials for a program to see if medical marijuana meets standards similar to organic, director Ted Quaday said MOFGA has “no plans to develop a program around marijuana propagation for home gardeners.” He did say organic methods would serve home marijuana growers well.

So although I have never grown marijuana myself, I’ve done some research and compiled some tips.

Getting seeds or cuttings to start your cannabis is going to be the first tricky part.

The best solution is to befriend someone who has a prescription for medical marijuana, said Josh Quint, who works for the Canuvo medical cannabis dispensary in Biddeford. Since 2011, patients with prescriptions have been allowed to grow marijuana at home, under the direction of a dispensary.

While it is illegal to sell any parts of marijuana plants, it is legal to give them away. (I think a return gift of flowers or vegetables from your garden would be permitted.) Quint suggests you clone plants by taking cuttings, because there will be less genetic variation than if you start from seeds.

Start by cutting healthy side shoots 2 to 4 inches long from a healthy, preferably non-flowering, marijuana plant. Take more than you need because you’ll want to pick the best-looking plants to continue growing and some will fail. Cut off the bottom two leaves and re-cut the stem just below where you removed the leaves. Put the cuttings immediately into lukewarm water. Then treat the stem with a rooting hormone, such as Rootone, and place it into a previously moistened seed-starting pot filled with rock wool or other seed-starting mix. I suggest the Sprout Island Organic Seeds Starter from Coast of Maine’s Organic Products, because the 20-year-old company has its headquarters in Portland and its production facility in East Machias. Buy local!

Keep the plants covered with a moisture dome (a clear plastic top) and lighted with growing lights for 18 hours a day until they have shown growth.

Once you have the small seedlings, you can grow cannabis indoors or outdoors. Indoors will provide more consistent growing conditions and probably a better product – but expect to spend more for equipment and electricity.

Erick Garcia, store manager of GrowLife in Portland, said the store supplies materials for indoor growers of everything from microgreens for winter salads to cannabis. He said people often choose hydroponic systems, in which plants are grown on water solutions that provide nutrients without soil. A basic home hydroponic system costs about $500, Garcia said. (I’ll save hydroponics growing for another day.)

Growing indoors takes a lot of room and a lot of light. Marijuana plants can grow up to 6 feet tall, and the new state law permits you to grow six flowering and 12 (immature) non-flowering plants (see sidebar), in addition to seedlings that can reach two feet tall.

Growing in a south-facing window will not work – you will need artificial light. Seedlings and immature plants require light 18 hours a day, with complete darkness the remaining six. To induce blossom once the plants are large enough – it is the blossom or buds that are dried and then smoked or added to food – you reduce the light to 12 hours a day, imitating the approach of winter.

Grow the large plants in large buckets or pots with drainage holes, filled with fertile soil mixture as their growing medium. Cameron Bonsey of Coast of Maine said the company’s Stonington Blend Grower’s Mix is the top choice for marijuana growers. Keep the soil moist but not wet and, if the plants don’t do well, fertilize with fish emulsion or other liquid fertilizers.

Growing outdoors requires full sun – technically at least six hours – and it must be on your own property or a friend’s, with written permission. You will want to amend the soil with compost and other organic fertilizers, and don’t let the soil dry out. Because of Maine’s short growing season, start the seedlings indoors and plant them outside after the last frost. You could give them a boost by using a cold frame or other covering at the start.

Some websites suggest pruning the marijuana plants to keep them a bit smaller than the 6 feet they can grow. But prune them before you reduce or, if the plants are outside, before the days begin to shorten significantly.

Whatever your method, your production of usable marijuana from six plants will be ounces, not pounds.

After all this effort, you’ll have a good base to decide whether you prefer to buy it or grow your own. Once buying becomes legal, that is.

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

]]> 0 Press File Photo/Seth Perlman Marijuana grows at a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill. In a report released Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the federal advisory panel took a comprehensive look at what's known about the benefits and harms of marijuana and is calling for a national effort to learn more about the drug.Fri, 17 Feb 2017 13:22:32 +0000
Here’s a way to keep you from falling on ice Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 I have no data whatsoever to back this up, but it seems as if it’s been a bad winter for falls – and with spring just around the corner, we’re likely to get more wet snowfalls in the coming weeks that freeze to ice. For the past few years, I’ve battled Portland’s slick sidewalks with a pair of those brightly colored traction devices that slip on over your shoes and keep your feet steady and beneath you. I still get stopped by random strangers begging to know where I got them.

I recently discovered a brand of these traction devices that is not only made in Maine, but is the only brand made in the entire United States. Stabilicers, made by a 25-year-old Biddeford-based company called Stabil, began as a commercial safety product worn by delivery people and utility workers who have to be outdoors a lot during winter, according to company president John Milburn. Then along came L.L. Bean, which began retailing the traction devices to ordinary consumers – now 60 percent of their business.

There are now versions of Stabilicers for just about any outdoor activity – walking, running, hiking, ice fishing – and a heel-only version for people who have to drive while wearing them. Their multi-directional cleats dig into the ice and snow, making it more difficult for you to fall. Prices vary. The walkers cost $21.95 on the company’s website.

“Our mission day in, day out is keeping people safely on their feet no matter the environment that their going into,” Milburn said. “I run year round, and in the wintertime, in Maine, I’ll take the dog on icy trails and wear our running product.”

Milburn said the company also sells to Cabela’s, EMS, hardware stores and other large independent retailers, and it contributes 10 percent of its wholesale sales to the National Park Foundation.

]]> 0, 17 Feb 2017 13:21:49 +0000
Tom’s of Maine co-founder goes from toothpaste to tailoring Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Every committed hiker has had some frustrations with gear, be it socks that chafed or boots that started to fall apart before the summit. Not everyone follows through with resolutions made back at the trailhead to come better equipped next time. But Tom Chappell, best known (for now) as the co-founder of Tom’s of Maine? This formerly frustrated hiker built a whole company to fix that gear problem. And also, with an eye toward reinvigorating America’s flagging apparel industry, sustainably.

He’d taken a two-week-long trek through Wales in 2008 with his son Matt, now the owner of Gather restaurant in Yarmouth, during which he felt let down by his high-tech hiking garments. They weren’t sufficiently warm, didn’t stay dry and quite frankly, didn’t smell so good. Within weeks of his return he had purchased a spinning machine to experiment with wool fibers at home and was researching making lifestyle clothing in the United States, with natural, sustainably milled and manufactured fabrics.

Flash forward to February 2017. Chappell is standing in Ramblers Way’s newest store in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the third in what he promises is a rapid-fire bricks-and-mortar expansion over the next two years (a store should open in Portland’s Old Port by May). He’s surrounded by garments mostly made from the wool he decided was optimum for not just hiking in Wales, but for everyday wear (they also sell some organic cotton garments). He’s wearing a Ramblers Way Maine-made jersey knit shirt – deep red because it’s Valentine’s Day – and designed to be worn next to the skin without being itchy. Over that’s he’s got a button-up shirt in a checked, heavier weight wool, cut and sewn in North Carolina.

He’s pleased as punch by his ensemble but willing to admit to traveling a steep learning curve over the past eight years of trying to source and then make sustainable, “slow” even, fashion from very specialized wool. It’s been humbling, he says. And a much greater challenge than coming up with the all-natural toothpaste that made him famous.

“Exponentially greater,” Chappell said. “If you can imagine mixing toothpaste ingredients in a dish – you can at least find your ingredients pretty readily.” When Tom’s of Maine toothpaste was in its development stages, there were issues of efficacy to consider and tinkering involved, but he wasn’t reinventing the wheel. With Ramblers Way, which he got serious about in 2009, it sometimes felt that way. That year was the nadir of the American apparel industry in terms of production, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. Today American-made apparel accounts for only about 2.7 percent of the entire U.S. apparel market, but that represents gains in recent years, up 50 percent from 2009.

“The industry was practically extinct,” Chappell said. Hardly any U.S. manufacturers were working with wool at that point, except men’s suit manufacturers and Smart Wool, with its niche in socks. The recession was in full swing. “It was the worst time ever to start a risk-taking business.”

But his plan to engage full time in philanthropy after selling Tom’s of Maine to Colgate-Palmolive in 2006 for $100 million, was not enough to fulfill him. He wanted to create new jobs. He wanted to jump-start a once proud segment of the American economy. And he wanted better hiking clothes.

So Chappell pushed on, believing that his entrepreneurial instinct was good. “My father would say, ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.’ ”


Part of Chappell’s youth was spent in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, where his father ran a woolen mill. The young Chappell worked there in the summers to earn money for school. “I know what it is like to walk through a mill on a Saturday morning with my father,” he said. “I know what it is like to walk through a weaving room with the clickety clack of the weaving machines. I love textile mills, so there was not a great surprise to me about how all that is done.”

What was surprising was that those machines were mostly gone.

“You think about the lost talent and the generations of lost talent, but you don’t expect that the machinery would have been sold to Asia, but it was.” Moreover, Chappell’s plan to build a second company around his core values – making a profit yes, but only within a model that was good for the earth and for people – ran into complications at every turn. He wanted the clothes to be made in the United States, ideally within 300 miles of Maine – that’s the standard they’re still working toward – and he also wanted his fabrics to be American. Yet unlike any fabric that was being made in the U.S. He wanted it to be finer, denser and comfortable against the skin.

His research led him to the Rambouillet breed of sheep, which produce fibers so thin and soft that if woven properly can feel almost like a fine jersey. Like all wools, the fibers are hollow, which provide an insulating effect for warmth and wick moisture without allowing bacterial growth (ie, cutting down on the smell factor). With this particular breed of sheep, the premium fibers are what’s known as U.S. grade 80s, very thin (less than half the diameter of a human hair) and long enough to weave together. Chappell was excited. With the help of the American Rambouillet Sheep Breeders Association, he pulled together a list of Western ranches that might have enough quantity to serve a clothing business.

Then he enlisted the help of his son-in-law Nick Armentrout, a farmer himself who had spent a few years in Idaho and knew the West. Seven months after that fateful hiking trip, the two men were disembarking from a rental car at a ranch in Southeastern Montana, introducing themselves to a rancher who was raising Rambouillets primarily for their meat. From there they traveled to Nevada to meet another rancher. Most of these Western ranchers were shipping their wool, 70 percent of it, overseas to clothing manufacturers. But they were willing to talk to the guy who had made his name in all-natural toothpaste. And maybe they’d consider selling him some wool.

In Texas they met with a wool producers’ cooperative. There they got a lesson in how wool is sorted. Armentrout was fully committed to the hunt for the right fibers by then, but both men were realizing it wasn’t going to be easy. They even had to name drop to get the attention of the businesses who did the carding and sorting, on an industrial level as opposed to a craft level,

Initially, “they really didn’t answer our calls,” Chappell said. “When they knew that Tom’s of Maine was on the other end, they began to correspond with us.”

But they encountered some wet blankets. Like the mills that told him his request for “something that is very lightweight and very soft” probably wasn’t possible. At least not as lightweight and as soft as he wanted.

Nevertheless, he persisted. “I would say, ‘That is OK, I want to talk to people who want to try because I am not changing my expectation of my vision of what I want.”


Breeders who specialize in Rambouillet sheep are scattered across the country, but the majority are in the West, where as Chappell points out, the sheep largely graze on government-owned ranch lands. It’s arid and that’s fine with the sheep. They’d do just fine in a place like Maine, but they don’t need lush New England grass to thrive. At one point, Chappell almost brought 1,500 head of Rambouillet sheep home to Maine with him.

“We had identified the ranch we wanted to resource the sheep from,” Armentrout remembered. “And we were really happy about the prospect.”

But while Chappell jokes about fools rushing in, that plan didn’t come to fruition. Land wasn’t cheap enough, for one thing.

“We had to make a decision, do we want to be an apparel company or do we want to be a sheep farm?” Armentrout said. “Because we couldn’t be both. We found that we were never going to find the volume of sheep that we needed. We couldn’t own every step of it.”

They settled for buying from ranchers who were giving as much attention to the fiber part of their sheep program as the meat side; it took some digging though, Armentrout says.

Once they found a reasonable source of the Rambouillet wool and a means to clean and sort and spin it sustainably, Chappell moved on to design plans.

“That is where I came in,” says Eliza Chappell, the fourth of Chappell’s five children. She’d worked in the family business before, but fashion spoke to her on a deeper level. “I love apparel,” she said. “It’s a lot more interesting to me than toothpaste.”

While she’d studied textiles and done some weaving – including spending time at Haystack in Deer Isle – she had no design background. Eliza Chappell decided she needed to go back to school to get the fundamentals. She studied fashion at Parsons School of Design in New York City, and found a professor, Victor Soto, who mentored not only her, but in a sense, Ramblers Way.

“Every week I would come in and say, ‘We’re working on figuring this out.’ The class was sort of geared toward, what problem is Ramblers Way having right now?” Chappell didn’t complete the four-year program, but she brought Soto into the Ramblers Way fold; he steers production in Maine. Eliza Chappell designs the women’s collection – a halter top jumpsuit she dreamed up for an event is now a customer favorite – and a team of designers work on the men’s collection. Some of it is made in Maine, stitched in Kennebunk, and that’s a realization of her father’s dream to produce the clothing within 300 miles of Maine. But some of the trickier pieces, the highly shaped jackets, for instance, are sewn in New York.

Now they’re about to take two big leaps, one that changes where they source the wool and the other, the way they sell the clothes. For years, they’ve sold through roughly 400 independent retailers around the country, including in Maine, places like Joseph’s in Portland and Jill McGowan and Cuddledown in Freeport. Those haven’t always been effective ways of getting their message out, however.

“We have an amazing product, but it was hard to communicate that,” Eliza Chappell said. “You are relying on that one sales clerk.”

What she and her father want are clerks who can tell the story. This sheep from that place produced this wool, which was turned into a fine thread and then woven and cut and sewn in the United States. And so on. Otherwise, it’s just a nice garment with a premium price. The sales clerks at the Ramblers Way stores will serve as “brand ambassadors.”

“People want to believe in something,” Eliza Chappell said. “They don’t want to just go in and make a transaction.”

“We are right at the cusp right now,” she said. “We changed our business model and are shifting to going right to the consumer, and I feel like it is really going to take off.”

They’ve already opened stores in Kennebunk, Hanover, NH, and Portsmouth (just last month). The Portsmouth store features an in-store tailor, who can custom-make most of the simple jersey items if something isn’t in stock. It’s also a few decorative nods to sustainability, like the old church louvers that frame the custom-made sign behind the register, or the bin from an old mill that has been repurposed into a giant ottoman.

Tom Chappell said he hopes to open 15 stores nationwide, including one in San Francisco, where another one of his sons lives, over the next two years. The hope is that the bricks-and-mortar stores will help drive online sales through the website as well. He said eliminating the middle man has allowed them to drop prices as well, by about 15 percent.


“I’m expecting Ramblers Way will be much bigger than Tom’s of Maine,” Tom Chappell said.

That confidence comes from a belief that consumers, at least those with disposable income, will embrace items like $400 fitted blazers and leisure pants that look like sweatpants but are made of sustainably grown and manufactured wool. Made in the United States.

“When I tell anyone in the business that we are made in America they look at me like I’m from Mars,” he said. “But that is what customers want these days. They are looking for ways to help their own communities. They are tired of being taking advantage of” by manufacturers who sell low-quality garments at high prices. And he’s also banking on them not feeling good about buying clothes made in say, Bangladesh, under terrible working conditions and in polluting factories and dye houses.

“We’ve figured out the supply chain,” he said.

Not without bumps.

“I have been humbled by the exactness of details required in making a nice fabric, creating a design that is appealing and attractive and then being sure that the quality of the cutting and sewing is superior and is worthy of a premium-priced product,” Chappell said.

The second change to their model is indicative of how challenging it is to make garments in America, at least ones manufactured to an exacting standard like sustainability.

Chappell has just gained an organic certification recognized worldwide, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS); its processing standards fit with his values. For the time being, however, there’s only one factory in Germany that is GOTS-certified to handle the process that helps make Ramblers Way wool so soft. And rather than ship wool to Germany to be processed, he has opted to start importing European wools, moving toward a combination that will eventually be about 70 percent sourced from outside America. But still cut and sewn here, to GOTS standards. Chappell believes that growing demand for his style of fabric will eventually lead to more American producers getting certified by those standards. He believes, if he builds the organic demand, an American supply chain will follow.

In the meantime, he’s been hiking with all three of his sons as well as son-in-law Nick Armentrout, on a four-day scramble up and down hills in Newfoundland.

“We all had our Ramblers Way on,” he said. “Totally suited up.” Was he warm, dry and odor free?

“Not a problem what-so-ever,” he said. “It was very difficult backpacking though.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 and daughter Tom and Eliza Chappell in the Ramblers Way store in Portsmouth, N.H. Below: An outfits on display in the store.Sun, 19 Feb 2017 12:43:39 +0000
Geologist Brenda Hall fell for glaciers as a child Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 University of Maine professor Brenda Hall has been on 27 polar expeditions. We have been on exactly zero. But recent news about a crack in an Antarctic ice shelf that has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last few months made us very much want to speak to someone who had and might be able to provide perspective. As luck would have it (well, our luck, her regular work schedule), the teacher and researcher with UMaine’s Climate Change Institute got back just a few weeks ago from a six-week research trip in Antarctica. We talked with her about her journey from growing up in Standish to being a globe-trotting expert on glacial geology and the stability of ice sheets.

DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW? When Hall was 10 or 11, her grandparents took her to a family reunion. There were lots of extended relatives there, most of whom she didn’t know, and very little in the way of activities that appealed to a child. “I spent most of the time in the library reading.” She came across a book about glaciers. She doesn’t remember the title, only the subject matter. “It captured my imagination at the time.” In high school she took the whole range of science courses, including an earth science class. She went on to Bates College for her undergraduate degree, and that interest she’d had as a child became a career objective. A summer in the Canadian arctic doing field research on lakes with Bates professor Mike Retelle “really cemented” her desire to be glacial geologist.

THE GRADUATE: Hall went on to get her Ph.D. in geological sciences from the University of Maine. She’s now an associate professor of glacial and quaternary studies there and has research studies going in Greenland, South America and Antarctica. Her work, she said, attempts to reconstruct what the climate looked like in the past by studying glaciers. That establishes data that helps us understand natural climate change (the kind that happened before human beings and their cars and such came along). One of the big-picture questions that frames her research is: What prompts the earth to come out of an ice age? And no, there hasn’t been just one. More like eight or nine big ones occurring every 100,000 years or so, and before that, even more but closer together, roughly every 40,000 years. The question is one many scientists are trying to answer. “That is something I would be interested in knowing in my lifetime.”

UNPLUGGED: Hall’s studies have not focused on the Larsen C ice shelf (that’s the one the size of Delaware that is cracking and expected to calve, ie, break off from the bigger ice shelf, by March). Her work today is more about the ice’s past “from a few hundred years to a few thousand years.” Her most recent trip was on the Ross Sea, which is far enough away from Larsen C (and wireless) that she didn’t hear anything about what was going on with the deteriorating ice shelf. Or, actually, anything about the rest of the world; Antarctica may be the ultimate unplugged destination. “That’s one of the things I like best,” she said. “It is possible to get away from just everything.” But she’s up to speed with Larsen C now and in awe. “The speed at which it is happening is not unexpected, but it is still pretty amazing. I don’t want to say amazing in a good way.” This calving isn’t supposed to have an obvious impact on sea level, but it’s still worrisome. That’s because these ice shelves act “almost like plugs,” and long term, without it, Hall said, “the ice that feeds from the land starts flowing faster,” accelerating the melting.

EMOTIONAL FALLOUT? There’s not a lot of good news coming from the planet’s frozen north and south. Is it hard studying something that is being so massively negatively impacted by climate change, caused by humans, some of whom don’t even believe it’s happening? “Obviously it would be good to find something that suggests that maybe we don’t have to worry,” she said. “But generally, I try to just look at what the evidence says.” Take for instance, the increase in the velocity of the ice streams in Greenland. What used to be the fastest-moving glacier would move about 7 kilometers in a year, or a little more than 4 miles. “But since the early to mid-2000s, some of them started going 10 to 12 kilometers a year.” Not good for society, but fascinating to observe within a career. Hall maintains a scientist’s reserve: “You have to be just totally objective.”

DEFROSTING DINNER: It helps that Hall likes being in frozen places. “I absolutely love field work in Antarctica.” It is summer there, and near the Ross Sea, temperatures hovered right around freezing. The team of five researchers, including colleagues from the University of Washington, camp out in tents. It’s 24 hours of sun but, “I don’t have a problem sleeping. We get tired because most of our days are spent hiking around and going some fairly long distances.” They eat well, lots of frozen meats and vegetables, but it was so warm that near the end of this trip, their supplies thawed, dicey when it came to the meat. “We ate it when it was sort of borderline, but there was one day when you opened the cooler and said, ‘No more.’ ”

LIFELONG LEARNER: What’s the last new thing she learned? It was on this most recent trip, actually, which took her to a glacier she’d never been to before. “We found that there is actually quite a bit of plant life in these parts. I don’t mean grass, but a lot of lichens and even several kinds of moss. We may have found the most southern moss ever recorded.” Were they always there but not yet found? “They couldn’t have been there during the last ice age,” she said. “But there must have been little bits of land sticking up somewhere that they survived on. And then they colonized.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Hall, seen here in Greenland.Tue, 21 Feb 2017 11:41:41 +0000
To save the planet, eat more dried beans Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Canadian seed saver Dan Jason believes pulses – the edible seeds of plants in the legume family – can save the world.

Pulses are easy to grow, store indefinitely, are simple to prepare, and are nutritionally dense and protein rich. This message is not new. People around the world have been cultivating and consuming pulses for over ten thousand years. And in the early 1970s, Frances Moore Lappe famously advocated for eating more beans (and other meat-free meals) as a way to help the earth in her best-selling “Diet for a Small Planet.”

But in the age of global warming, Jason says it’s a missive that needs to be reiterated. He’s in good company: the United Nations General Assembly designated 2016 as the International Year of the Pulses in recognition of the crucial role they will have to play in a healthy future for the earth and its inhabitants.

In his latest book, “The Power of Pulses,” Jason explains that pulses – such as dried beans, lentils and field peas – all come from plants that leave an ultra-light ecological footprint. They require less water and fewer pesticides to grow than fresh vegetables do. Pulse plants pull nitrogen from the air and convert it to nutrients they need to grow, leaving the soil healthier.

Here they are: the most popular bean (the yellow eye) cooked at Maine church suppers, according to the University of Maine Folklife Center. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

According the USDA, American farmers have increased the amount of pulses they grow from 4.6 billion pounds in 2013 to an estimated 6.3 billion pounds last year, an average yearly increase of about 12 percent But the average American’s consumption of pulses has increased by just 3.5 percent annually, from 6.7 to 7.4 pounds during that same time period. We export more pulses than we eat by far.

Jason says the five pulses that grow best in North America are peas, beans, chickpeas, favas and lentils. I am pushing only the ones easily grown in Maine: dried beans. But Jason’s easy steps on how average eaters can help empower pulses to both heal the earth and nourish its inhabitants still apply.

• As restaurant patrons, order the cheapest thing on the menu. It’s likely the beans. This will encourage more bean-based options in the future.

 Gardeners can grow pulses as a simple, but rewarding, crop that gets planted in late spring in a plot with lots of sun, harvested when your fingernail can no longer make an indentation in the seed, and completely dried in their pods before the pulses are threshed out of them. Finding seed to grow more pulses is as easy as setting aside a few of your favorite dried heirloom beans before you drop their brethren into the pot to cook. (Or you can buy dry beans seeds at Fedco.)

 Consumers can pester grocery store managers to stock shelves with local beans. You have to go only as far as the local Hannaford to find two-pound bags of State of Maine Jacob’s Cattle, Yellow Eye, Soldier and Red Kidney beans grown at Green Thumb Farms in Fryberg. These varieties are used in traditional baked beans (see recipe), but also work well in soups, salads and stews.

Buyers can also pick pound bags up at farmers markets, where a growing number of vendors offer dried local beans at this time of year as a way to earn steady cash during the winter. Or you can mail order them from the Freedom Bean Company in Albion, where Tony and Helene Neves have been growing beans for 40 years. They have hand-picked the varieties they say make the best baked beans (Kenearly Yellow Eye), the best stewed beans (Jacob’s Cattle, especially with venison), best bean hole beans (Marafax), the best bean brownies (Soldier’s. ) and the tastiest bean gravy (Vermont Cranberry).

The options for cooking with beans are as endless as they are interesting, Jason writes. The trick to their ability to save the planet lies in having more people put their fingers on pulses more often.

Maple mustard yellow-eyed beans served on toast and topped with a fried egg. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

According to the University of Maine Folklife Center, the yellow eye is the most popular bean cooked at Maine church suppers because of its clean, mild taste. This recipe is an amalgamation of several recipes I’ve seen in community cookbooks. Since there are always leftovers, serve them for breakfast on toast with or without an egg on top.
Serves 8
1 pound yellow-eye beans
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup Maine maple syrup
1/4 cup granulated maple sugar
1 tablespoon coarse-grain mustard
1 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 pound thick-sliced smoky bacon, roughly chopped

Sort beans to pick out stones. Soak them in cold water overnight. Drain and rinse the beans.

Place the beans in Dutch oven with 2 quarts water, the onion, bay leaf, peppercorns and vegetable oil. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until just tender, 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the age of the beans (older beans take longer). A good test for doneness at this stage is to scoop up several beans in a spoon and blow on them: if the skin starts to peel off, they’re done. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.

In a small saucepan, whisk together the maple syrup, maple sugar, mustards, ginger, salt and 1 1/2 cups of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium heat until it thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.

Return the beans and cooked onions to the Dutch oven. Nestle the onions cut side up into the beans. Push half of the bacon pieces into the beans and spread the rest of the bacon on top of the beans. Pour the maple syrup sauce over the beans. Cover the pot and bake for 6 to 8 hours, adding more of the reserved bean cooking liquid, 1/2 cup at a time, if the beans become dry.

Remove the lid for the last 30 minutes to thicken the sauce. Discard the bay leaf before serving hot.

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

]]> 0 mustard yellow eye beans.Fri, 17 Feb 2017 13:11:21 +0000
Head to a port (wine) during a nor’easter Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Maine winemakers have long been hobbled by the climate – the same climate that makes our lobsters sweet and our apples crisp. In the past few decades, Mainers have made plenty of sweet dessert wines, especially with blueberries, but not with Maine-grown wine grapes. Wine grapes of all varieties struggled to survive, so winemakers bought their grapes from away.

Science to the rescue. Researchers in other states with cold climates started developing cold-hardy grapes that could withstand the kind of long, harsh winters seen in the Upper Midwest, Northeast and parts of Canada. Maine vintners started planting them. And now those vineyards are – pardon the pun – bearing fruit.

Case in point: Savage Oakes’ Nor’easter, a port-like, fortified dessert wine made with Maine-grown grapes, specifically Frontenac grapes developed at the University of Minnesota. Well-balanced with strong chocolate notes, this wine is 19 percent alcohol. Try it with a flourless chocolate cake for Valentine’s Day, or with any dessert that features blueberries. After sampling the Savage Oakes’ Nor’easter early last week, I saved the rest of the bottle to enjoy during the next snowstorm, which – what luck – came along just a few days later.

Nor’easter won a gold medal last year at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition held in St. Paul.

Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery, located on a 200-year-old farm in Union, is owned by Elmer and Holly Savage, who have been growing wine grapes since 2002. (They also raise beef cattle and pigs and grow wild blueberries.) Their wines are available online through VinoShipper for shipping out of state or at shops around Maine – see the list on their website. A bottle at Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough cost $20.99.

]]> 0, 10 Feb 2017 11:33:42 +0000
Work with kissing dogs led Catherine Frost to livestock photography Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 If you went to the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in January and admired the cover of the annual event’s program, which featured some supremely handsome Belted Galloways in the snow, then you’ve had a glimpse of photographer Catherine Frost’s work. The Freeport photographer has carved out a niche for herself shooting livestock and farms around Maine. We called her up to ask how she got into farm photography and learned a few things about marketing and why it is so important to get a sheep to look you in the eye.

ANIMAL PLANET: Frost, who has a show of her animal photography up at Brunswick restaurant/gallery Frontier through March 5, came to photography by way of Valentine’s Day at Planet Dog. “We had a kissing contest.” Wait, let’s unpack that. Frost grew up in Millinocket and moved to Topsham at age 10. She worked at L.L. Bean in operations for 13 years and then was the director of marketing for Planet Dog for seven years. They’d started an annual contest (ongoing) to see which owner could get their dog to kiss them the longest. (Peanut butter was often involved.) “I wanted to be able to share this with people to show the fun things we were doing at the store.” So she bought a small hand-held digital camera and started to have some fun with it.

A WINDOW OPENS: Making photographs was still just a hobby when Frost unexpectedly lost her job at Planet Dog about 10 years ago. “It was one of those things where you panic at first, but it was the absolute, positively best thing that could have happened.” She started doing her “own thing,” which included building websites and doing contract work for small companies around the Northeast. She added her own photographs to the sites she was building.

“That way we don’t have to get stock photography and things are more authentic.” At a Graze event (Pineland Farms’ nod to farm-to-table dining, which Frost helped develop) a few years ago, Frost encountered Lisa Webster of North Star Sheep Farm, and the two hit it off. Frost signed on to turn North Star’s blog into a real website. She also shot photos for the farm’s Instagram account for about a year. And she discovered that dogs kissing people was fun, but livestock was better. “I basically love taking images of animals.”

FARM TO PHOTO: The whole photography thing is self-taught: “All trial and error.” And lots of time watching National Geographic tutorials online. “You have to go for the best.” While some of her work on farms is paid, she still does a lot of shooting for pure joy. Sometimes that leads to work.

Frost perches in a Winter Hill barn. Staff photo by Derek Davis

That was the case with one of her favorite farms, Mitchell Ledge, which is near her home in Freeport. Frost had pulled over to photograph the Belted Galloways (they’re the ones on the cover of the Ag Trades show program). “Everybody can get a shot from the side of the road. But what I chose to do is contact the farmer and ask if I could have permission to go on the farm.” (That’s her strategy, so much so that at Wolfe’s Neck Farm she’s become a regular.)

She and farmer Andy LeMaistre did some talking and at a certain point he asked. “Don’t you do other things?” He wanted to know if she’d help with his website. And maybe with Facebook, which he has a bit of a Venus-Mars relationship with. “I get him to accept the friends,” she said. And to see how valuable a tool it might be when it comes time to sell some of those Belties. “I see the light come on in his eyes in terms of the reach.”

CRITTER CASTING CALL: Last year Frost had a show at Maine Farmland Trust’s gallery in Belfast and also did a photo blog that was featured on the nonprofit land conservation group’s website. That’s when “everything started to take off.” She’s already sold half of what’s hanging at the show at the Frontier – this without featuring kittens or puppies. “It is all farm animals, horses, donkeys, sheep, cows.” No goats though. “Goats are really hard because they move fast. If you look at my style it is to try to get the contact with the eyes, and goats don’t sit still.”

It takes a lot of patience to get that eye-to-eye contact, but it’s key for her to connect the viewer to the animal. Interestingly, considering how much time she spends around livestock, “I don’t eat anything with fur.” She sets some standards for herself. “I only shoot at farms that I have vetted, and I talk to them specifically about their harvesting practices. I understand and respect that it is a business and a reputable business to be in. And necessary for our state.”

BOVINE BEHAVIOR: Cows are a favorite. Lately she’s been shooting at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, where she’s trying to capture the quieter nature of their Randalls. “It’s interesting because they have different temperaments. Jerseys are super curious and friendly. It gives me that little …” she sucks in her breath, “where I am like, they are really cute.” And she’s decided that shooting animals in a winter landscape is optimum. “It allows the animal to really stand out. Plus, no flies.”

DOG DAYS: Looking back, Frost says going out on her own was challenging. “For the first several years, it was touch and go. But knock on wood, I am still here and still doing this.” Her days of dog-kissing photos are behind her. Not that she doesn’t still love dogs. “But I think that this sort of evolution is more of a maturation in my spirit. The whole farm movement just pulled me in. It’s more about discovering this love later in life.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Frost photographs a Randall cow at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport.Fri, 10 Feb 2017 11:38:01 +0000
What do most gardeners want? Low-fuss and sustainable gardens Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Homeowners usually want gardens that are low maintenance and sustainable. The two attributes are not synonyms, but if your garden has one of them, it probably has the other, too.

Kerry Ann Mendez, a garden writer and professional gardener who moved to Kennebunk three years ago after a career in upstate New York, spoke to the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association in January about “plants that save time, manpower and money.”

Because she was talking to a group of landscape professionals, Mendez was describing what their potential customers wanted – which turns out to be what just about every gardener wants.

“The people we are seeing today do not want high-fuss gardens,” Mendez said. “They have to be almost turnkey,” meaning that the professional completes it and the homeowner just sits back and enjoys it.

If you are planting or converting your own garden, you should aim for the same result – it’s just that you have some intensive work before you get to sit down and enjoy it.

The plants Mendez designated as landscape-worthy – and the talk contained almost 100 of them – had to meet at least one of two criteria, and most met both.

First, they had to be tough, meaning that they had to survive without regular watering and be able to resist pests – diseases, insects, deer and others – without requiring chemical treatments. Here in Maine we rarely have to worry about water (with the exception of last summer), but it is a precious resource, and people should try to limit its use in their gardens. Chemical treatment of plants, even if the chemicals meet the standards of organic growing, require spending time and money, both of which are often in short supply. Also, they’re potentially harmful to the environment.

Second, landscape-worthy plants have to serve many purposes. If you give garden space to a plant, it should be attractive for a long time, with a long bloom time or attractive foliage, fruits or seeds. In addition, the plants should benefit pollinators and other wildlife.

Now, I’m not going to list all of the plants Mendez mentioned. It would bore you to tears, take too much space, and you wouldn’t remember them all. So I’ll just mention a few things that hit home with me.

Hostas are a garden mainstay. They do well in shade, which is why my wife, Nancy, and I have about 100 of them spread all around our gardens. They are generally low-maintenance, and they come in a variety of colors.

Don’t pick a hosta solely for its foliage, the attribute many gardeners consider first. Hostas also have blossoms that are attractive and often fragrant, so you can grow them near home entrances and on patios and decks where people sit outside.

Two varieties Mendez likes for that purpose are “Stained Glass” and “Guacamole.” Both have large, bright, textured and multicolored leaves that can withstand more sun than many other hostas.

Where they really shine, however, is that they produce highly fragrant lavender flowers, 30 inches tall for “Stained Glass” and 3 feet tall for “Guacamole.”

One drawback to hostas is that deer, slugs and snails love to eat them. Deer will take hostas right to the ground, while chomping slugs will make the leaves look like Swiss cheese. Mendez said that choosing hostas with highly quilted or puckered leaves or with blue foliage will keep the damage to a minimum. The pests don’t like the feel of the textured leaves, and the blue color is caused by a waxy coating that the pests don’t like either. Two varieties she recommended are “Abiqua Drinking Gourd” and “Frances Williams.”

Peonies are a favorite old-time flower with large, bright flowers. But they present problems. Herbaceous peonies sometimes require hoops to keep them upright, while tree peonies have brittle stems that stay up all winter and can easily break.

Mendez recommends intersectional peonies, also called Itoh peonies, a cross between the two.

“They die back to the ground in the fall, but they have stiff stems, so they don’t require staking, which is a lot less work,” Mendez said. She recommended especially “Bartzella,” with fragrant yellow blooms that can be as large as 8 inches across.

Just one more recommendation: On Jan. 8 I wrote a column on Asclepias tuberosa, the butterfly weed, being the Perennial Plant Association’s plant of the year, partly for its assistance to monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Mendez said that gardeners who have an aversion to orange – while I don’t understand it, there are a lot of them – can try a cultivar called “Hello Yellow” with, unsurprisingly, yellow flowers.

I’ll save the argument about whether cultivars of native plants are actually natives for another day.

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

]]> 0, 10 Feb 2017 11:32:11 +0000
FoodCorps is doing its part to get kids to eat their vegetables Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 WALDOBORO — Alexis Zimba-Kirby has just walked a half-dozen middle schoolers through making a simple beet salad.

Lessons were learned on both sides. One, shallots are like onions, but not as spicy. Two, beets are a source of sugar. And three, when trying to get kids to try something new, patience is key.

Summer Wasilowski, 12, has tried couscous, ground cherries and squash during her time in the school’s Outsiders Club – she’s even started making couscous at home – but she eyed the cilantro in the beet salad with skepticism, and when she forced herself to taste it, she looked as if her BFF had just dumped her.

“It kind of tastes like pool water,” she said.

Nevertheless, Wasilowski said she might try cilantro again sometime, “if I have something to drink after it.”

Small victories. That’s what Zimba-Kirby lives for in her job as a FoodCorps service member in Maine. Her mission is to connect kids to healthier foods through cooking, tasting, gardening, nutrition education and developing a school culture that values healthy food choices. That means getting the students at Medomak Middle School, where pizza and chicken burgers are the top-selling lunches, to try a bite of beet salad.

“I’m always amazed at how picky our kids are,” Zimba-Kirby said. “So many of these kids will only eat two or three things. So any time a kid will try something, even if they don’t like it, for me that’s a win.”


FoodCorps is a national service organization affiliated with AmeriCorps that places its service members in high-need areas where schools are an important part of the nutritional safety net.

Including Zimba-Kirby, a dozen FoodCorps members are stationed in Maine this school year, working with schoolchildren and with school food service staff to make food more appetizing and healthy.

This month, the FoodCorps foot soldiers in Maine are:

 Holding cooking classes at two Portland elementary schools.

 Preparing a lunchroom hummus taste test at Lewiston High School, with an eye toward adding the spread to the school lunch menu.

 Preparing a free community dinner at Troy Central School to open up a conversation about food and health.

 Leading fifth-grade “Sprout Scouts” at the Albert S. Hall School in Waterville in planning the school garden and designing seed packets.

 Taking a field trip to Aldermere Farm in Rockport to see the Belted Galloway cattle.

The activities are all small steps toward a long-term goal. As Cecily Upton, a co-founder of FoodCorps and a resident of South Portland, put it, “We came into being as a health organization trying to address kids’ connection to healthy food and hoping that by establishing really good habits early, they would be less likely to have that link to disease and have a longer, more productive life.”

So far, the program appears to be on track. It’s still too early to evaluate its impact on long-term health problems such as obesity and diabetes, so the organization measures its success by examining the consumption of healthy foods. Results just in from an external evaluation done by researchers at Columbia University, Upton said, show that at 20 FoodCorps schools around the country – Portland’s Riverton School among them – children are eating three times more healthy foods during school lunch than they did before FoodCorps entered the picture.


FoodCorps got its start in 2010 – Maine was a founding state. It grew out of a discussion at a Kellogg Foundation conference in California. Upton, who was there and now works in FoodCorps as vice president of innovation and strategic partnerships, remembers it this way: When the opportunity came up to discuss new ideas, another conference attendee, Curt Ellis, raised the idea of using public service organizations such as AmeriCorps to address some of the gaps he saw in food and health systems. Ellis now serves as chief executive officer of FoodCorps.

About a half-dozen people from the conference ultimately committed to getting something started.

“The idea was that we had seen tremendous amounts of enthusiasm from college-age people in our own spheres of work who were eager and excited to do work in food,” Upton said. “They had been exposed to new ideas around food systems and food justice at their college or university, and they were graduating and didn’t see a lot of opportunity to pursue that professionally.

“And then there were quite a number of projects happening in schools trying to get kids reconnected to where food comes from, how to grow it, how to cook it, how to enjoy it, really exposing them to those basics,” she continued. “Parents, community members, volunteers were excited about it, but couldn’t necessarily sustain it, and the schools couldn’t sustain it on their own, so there was a real human resource gap there.”

The group secured initial funding from AmeriCorps and the Kellogg Foundation, and spent the next 18 months planning.

During FoodCorps’ first year, the 2010-2011 school year, 50 service members were sent to 10 states, including six to Maine. This year, 215 service members are working in 18 states. There are no immediate plans to expand to other states, Upton said. But FoodCorps would like to invest more heavily in the states that already have programs and to double the number of its service members over the next few years.

FoodCorps attracts lots of young people who are eager to establish a career in food. The organization’s members and staff like to joke that nabbing a spot is as competitive as getting into Harvard. As many as 1,000 people apply for those 215 service member positions.

Zimba-Kirby thinks one reason is that “the time is right for food and social justice. All those things are kind of hip.” Also, she added, “it’s still really hard to graduate with any kind of humanities degree and get a job.”

Though FoodCorps is open to people of all ages, from high school graduates to grandparents, scan the photos on the organization’s website, and it’s clear that the majority are fresh-faced young adults. Many have college or culinary arts degrees, Upton says. More than half serve in their home states. They get an annual stipend of $17,500, plus a $5,815 education award that can be used to either pay off student loans or fund further education. (FoodCorps fundraises to cover 70 percent of the program costs. Another 20 percent comes from federal AmeriCorps grants, and the remaining 10 percent is provided by the service areas, which pay $6,250 each to host a FoodCorps member.)

After a week of intensive training, service members are sent into the community. While FoodCorps members are granted a lot of freedom to develop programs, they’re also handed tools that the organizations knows will work – things like taste testing and a “Harvest of the Month,” two programs that introduces a new fruit or vegetable to children each month.

FoodCorps instruction is coordinated with classroom lessons, Upton said, “so it’s really integrated into what the students are learning, and it feels like a real benefit to the teacher and not an add-on that they have to take time out of their day for.”

If a math class is working on fractions, for example, the FoodCorps member might drop in to talk about measuring ingredients for recipes. If a science class is learning the parts of a plant, school garden work will take that into account. Students studying history and culture might plant heritage seeds in a pioneer garden.

Members must spend 1,700 hours total in up to three schools over the course of the year, said Vina Lindley of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, who manages the state’s FoodCorps program. “A lot of them go above and beyond that, really,” she added.

At the Albert S. Hall School in Waterville, service member Sam McClean is helping the kids plan a school garden this month, as well as organizing a taste test of a spelt grain salad. “We would not be able to do what we’re doing without FoodCorps,” Hall school teacher Mary Dunn said.


Shana Wallace, a 23-year-old service member based in Lewiston, moved to Maine from New York to attend Bates College. Before signing up for FoodCorps, she had already helped manage a farmers market, worked in commercial kitchens and on a farm. She says she joined FoodCorps because she wanted to marry her love of food with her love of children.

Wallace works with mostly immigrant children who come from backgrounds where food is associated with survival.

“Many of my students come from very food-anxious environments,” she said. “They don’t associate food or growing food or eating with any sort of joy or excitement.” She tries to change that, hoping to instill in them the importance of trying new things, and the value of enjoying food.

This is her last year with FoodCorps, which limits members to two-year terms. Through FoodCorps, Wallace said she has “really fallen in love with working with children and teens.”

There’s the girl who doesn’t like to eat onions but has grown so confident chopping them in cooking classes she refuses to let anyone else do it because “it’s her job now.” And then there’s watching the children who have never cut a banana before and think it’s fun.

“I’ve seen so much growth in so many of these children,” Wallace said. “It’s been such a joy to work with them. I think this is the community I want to work with for the rest of my life.”


By her own admission, Alexis Zimba-Kirby used to “hate kids.” Now she is realizing that she loves to teach.

In Waldoboro, where she teaches students of all ages (though primarily elementary and middle schoolers), her days are flexible and varied. She works with the health teacher when the lesson is nutrition, and with the science teacher when the class is studying soils. When she landed a grant to pay for a hoop house for the school garden, Zimba-Kirby discussed erecting it with the principal, the maintenance staff and the school board. Lately, she has been reviewing the results of a survey she designed and implemented on school lunch with the superintendent and the district’s nutrition director.

An Iowa native, Zimba-Kirby minored in food studies at New York University and is now studying for an online master’s in sustainable food systems. After college, she cooked for a time at the former Saltwater Farm restaurant in Rockport, where the kitchen’s local sourcing fueled her interest in becoming a farmer. She hopes her FoodCorps experience will make her more attractive to employers; she’d like to continue to work in food systems while she and her fiancé save up to buy a farm.

At a recent meeting of the Outsiders Club at Medomak Middle School, a half-dozen students painted signs for the school’s garden while they planned what to plant. Zimba-Kirby, wearing a FoodCorps T-shirt with a bunch of carrots on the front and the words “Try Things” in bright orange and yellow on the back, scribbled crops on a white board.

“OK, let’s figure this out,” she said. “Potatoes – do we want potatoes?”

“Yes, potatoes!” exclaimed 12-year-old Dante Paton, a seventh-grader who fell in love with the “sweet and delicious” ground cherries the club planted last year.

Eventually, the list grew to include radishes, kale, spinach, peppers, winter squash, ground cherries, carrots, turnips, melons, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, beets, beans, broccoli, cauliflower and peas.

“Our school garden is pretty much a free-for-all,” Zimba-Kirby said. “Kids can go into it whenever they want and eat whatever they want.”

Zimba-Kirby especially likes the gardening aspect of the FoodCorps program. “We have kids here who are homeless,” she explained. “We have kids here who are on free or reduced lunch, kids who I know don’t get enough to eat and can’t just go to the grocery store and buy whatever they want. So for them to be able to think about growing their own food in the future and having some way to do that can really be an empowering experience – to realize that they can take control of one of their basic needs when they don’t have control over so many things in their lives right now.”

Zimba-Kirby holds monthly taste tests in the cafeteria. This year, she has fed her students parsnip chips, local apples picked by members of the Outsiders Club, and black bean and corn salsa. (The cafeteria has trouble getting the students to eat any beans, she said. She is hoping to help remedy that).

Then there’s that beet salad, which 14-year-old Ben Noyes, who recently discovered he likes kale, gobbled up. Paton would barely even look at the beets, but he threw up a white flag, offering to take a bowl of the salad home to his dad and reassuring Zimba-Kirby that “I normally love the food you do.”

She wasn’t falling for the flattery. She reminded him that he couldn’t possibly know if he likes beets without trying them.

“Dante, I will give a bowl for your dad if you’ll try one little bite from it,” she said. “If you hate it, then you hate it.”

“And if I throw up, it’s your fault,” Paton countered.

He took a microscopic bite.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “That tastes disgusting.”

But he tried it. Small victories.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad

]]> 0 Medomak Outsiders Club's raised bed garden awaits warmer weather in spring.Fri, 10 Feb 2017 11:36:46 +0000
Farmers, cooks and food pros learn how to make masa from Maine-grown flint corn Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The word “nixtamalization” is a mouthful, for sure. But the process – which involves cooking and steeping dried corn kernels in an alkaline solution like limewater before hulling them – increases how much protein, calcium and niacin (vitamin B3) a body can pull from a mouthful of maize, and reduces toxins that can make stored grain go bad.

Dusty Dowse, director of education and resident baking adviser at the Maine Grain Alliance, says the slightly nutty, somewhat mineral-like flavor of nixtamalized whole corn kernels (called mote, hominy or posole) or ground meal (wet masa paste or dried grits) is pleasantly unique, a driving force behind corn being prepared in this fashion for over 3,000 years in the Americas.

In the baking kitchen lab at Southern Maine Community College earlier this month, Dowse walked three dozen farmers, scientists, bakers, food manufacturers and home cooks through the nixtamalization process and subsequent grinding of the mote into masa. Lynne Rowe, owner of Portland’s Tortilleria Pachanga, who is well-versed in nixtamalized corn as she uses it to make thousands of tortillas weekly, oversaw the communal exercise of making piles of them from several varieties of corn grown in Maine.

Tortillas that originated as dried dent and flint corn. Photo courtesy of Christine Burns Rudelevige

The workshop was part of the Maine Grain Alliance’s continuing initiative to reinvigorate the state’s corn crop by positioning it as so much more than cattle feed. These corns differ from the sweet variety we eat off the cob as a vegetable in the height of summer, because they are inedible unless they are processed by nixtamalization or dried and ground into meal.

The most common heritage corn product found in Maine that we humans can eat is cornmeal, which is simply finely or coarsely ground flint corn. A growing number of growers and millers offer it, including Fairwinds Farm in Bowdoinham, Maine Grains in Skowhegan and Songbird Farm in Unity. The plan, as explained by the alliance’s executive director Tristan Noyes, is to build a market for value-added products made from heritage corn varieties grown in Maine so that local farmers will find it worth their while to cultivate those varieties.

“If we lose the corn, we’re all going down the tubes,” said corn keeper Albie Barden of Norridgewock. Barden offered everyone in the room 12 Darwin John kernels, the multicolored Indian corn variety that can be traced back to the Iroquois, so we could all try our hands at growing heritage corn ourselves.

Ingredients for polenta include cornmeal made from flint corn, stock, cream, cheese and butter. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

To make the masa, Dowse prepped 2 pounds each of dried dent (standard field corn that gets its name from the small indentation at the crown of each kernel) and Garland variety flint corn, which was donated by Barden. He simmered each batch of corn in a solution of 3 quarts boiling water, 1/2 cup slaked lime and 2 teaspoons salt for 20 minutes. Then he let the corn steep overnight.

The next day, students took turns washing the mote, removing the individual skins by rubbing the kernels round and round a colander and rinsing them multiple times in bowls of cold water so the skins and other inedible bits floated off the top. Attendees used a hand mill to grind the mote into masa, rolling the wet corn paste into golf-ball sized portions, then using wooden presses – which Rowe bought in Mexico – to flatten them into rounds. They then cooked the tortillas on an ungreased griddle.

From start to finish, the process took some 12 hours. Perhaps only a zealot would do it at home. But through the workshop, the Maine Grain Alliance hopes to seed a bigger market by demonstrating to local culinary influencers ways to use Maine-grown flint corn.

As points of reference, attendees also made tortillas from commercial masa harina (masa paste that has been dried and very finely ground) and run-of-the-mill all-purpose wheat flour. I am pretty sure the organizers knew they’d stacked the tortilla tasting so that we’d all prefer those made from local corn. But to seal the deal, Dowse made a pot of posole chili to fill the corn tortillas.

Most of the tasters I spoke with went away sold on the renewed value of growing – and eating – heritage corn in Maine.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: cburns1227@



Christine Burns Rudalevige adds corn meal to stock while making polenta. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

I first ate grits while living in England in 2007. I’d befriended a woman named Weezie Boiles from Birmingham, Alabama, who landed in the East Anglian city of Norwich, as did I, due to our husbands’ academic pursuits. She was astounded I’d never had Southern grits, telling me that my Italian heritage’s polenta just didn’t cut it. While my Nonna made her cornmeal mush with just salted water, Weezie’s had cream, butter and cheese – and the secret ingredient, ground nixtamalized corn. I didn’t have true grits again until I went to Charleston two years ago. I’ve yet to find raw grits here in Maine, but I have adapted my family’s polenta recipe to Weezie’s richer technique, which certainly does justice to the local, heritage variety cornmeal I can readily get my hands on. I make the mush with a mix of smoked cheddar and local Alpine cheese.

Serves 4

3 cups vegetable stock
11/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
11/4 cups dry, stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup grated semi-hard cheese


2 slices bacon
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds mussels, rinsed and debearded
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped parsley

To make the mush, combine the stock, salt and pepper in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and bring the liquid to a rolling boil over high heat. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal, stirring constantly. Lower the heat to medium and continue to stir. Cook until the polenta is soft and creamy, 12-15 minutes. Stir in the cream. Take the pot off the heat, stir in butter and cheese. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Cover to keep warm.
To make the mussels, fry the bacon over medium high heat in a large pot until browned, remove it from the pan and drain well on a paper bag. Chop the cooled bacon and set it aside. Add the onion and garlic to the hot bacon grease. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add the mussels, wine, tomatoes and lemon juice. Stir, cover and steam until the mussels open, 4-6 minutes. Discard any mussels that have not opened. Stir in the parsley and reserved bacon. Serve over warm mush.

]]> 0 and cornmeal mush.Fri, 10 Feb 2017 11:34:51 +0000
UMaine scientist Eric Venturini encourages growth of life-sustaining bees Sun, 05 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Eric Venturini is an assistant research scientist at the University of Maine’s School of Biology and Ecology, pursuing his love of sustainable agriculture through research into bees and collaborations with farmers. We encountered him while Source was trying to track down the most recent specimen of rusty patched bumblebee (see S1) in the Maine State Museum archives. Venturini has spent a lot of time in those archives recently, looking for clues about the present-day plight of pollinators in the bodies of their ancestors.

We called him up to talk about that and much more, including the role a day of processing chickens played in getting him into bee research.

FLIGHT PATHS: In the middle of the drought that made the 2016 growing season so tough for Maine farmers, Venturini and colleagues happened to be out collecting bumblebees for a statewide assessment. They were looking at the effects habitat and pesticide residues have on native bee populations, but it was hard not to notice that many of the worker bumblebees seemed smaller than usual.

That got Venturini wondering what role drought might play in the size of bees. So he’s looking back in the archives, along with a work study student who will be measuring bees from the past, including from other drought years, for comparison. It stands to reason that in a dry year there might be less to nourish a bumblebee.

“Plants need water in order to produce nectar. I’m thinking that the drought this year may have caused plants to shut down their nectar flow.” That’s his working hypothesis, which he’s looking to prove.

Eric Venturini holds a bumblebee under a microscope as works on research at the Maine State Museum Archives in Hallowell. Staff photo by Joel Page

BETWEEN THE WINGS: How does one measure a bee? By measuring the intertegular span, “basically the distance between the shoulder blades, so to speak, or between the attachments of their wings.”

Last year Venturini was down at the archives on a different project, working on a database oriented toward finding a timeline for bee activity, much of which has been subject to numerical and geographic shifts in populations. As native species decline, records of when they were still buzzing around are key. “So we could inform the management of the wild bees.”

BEE BALM: Venturini recently started a side business, Grow Wild Bees, offering consulting services to growers who want to enhance native bee populations. Were bees always his thing? Not at all, initially. When he arrived at UMaine from his home state of Pennsylvania, he was interested in fisheries biology. As an undergraduate, he majored in environmental sciences.

Right out of college in 2006, he landed a job as a technician at a bioscience institute in Northern Ireland, working on the connection between water quality and species diversity. “Basically my job was to go around and gill net fish out of lakes.” That’s the method of suspending a meshed net vertically in the water; the fish can pass through the net but its gills catch when it tries to pull out. “I think we did probably 30 lakes.”

Among the job perks: “I saw more interesting parts of Ireland just by knocking on all of these farmers’ doors and asking if we could gill net their lakes, or more often, their ponds.”

ALL AROUND THE WORLD: From Ireland, Venturini moved on to Alaska, where he worked on a harbor seal project in Glacier Bay National Park for a summer, then he signed on as an official observer on commercial fishing vessels. That’s a contract job that feeds data on fishing boats to the National Marine Services Fisheries. Wait, isn’t that the gig that means you’re automatically the most disliked person on a boat? (No fisherman wants to be watched.) “That is part of it, unfortunately.” He surveyed boats long-line fishing for cod and pollock and some trawlers as well. Then he went on to Hawaii, where he did similar work on vessels fishing for tuna and swordfish.

Eric Venturini returns a box of bumblebees to storage at the Maine State Museum Archives in Hallowell. Staff photo by Joel Page

ALOHA?: If you’re guessing that such work would be more fun in Hawaii, you’d be wrong, Alaska gets Venturini’s nod. “I mean it was certainly cold and you didn’t just hang out on deck the way you did on the Hawaiian fishing boats. But some of the fishing boats in Hawaii were really quite horrible.” As in living conditions. “Some of these boats were just full of cockroaches and bedbugs were pretty common.” The trips were usually four weeks long. “It was a little isolating, but you read a lot of good books and you’re seeing some amazing things. It was worth it.”

ON THE FARM: Venturini began exploring other interests and spent some time working on small organic farms through the WWOOF program, which connects volunteer farmworkers with host farms. These included a vegetable farm and an aquaponics operation in Hawaii, and a farm in Oregon. “They grew a little bit of everything: ducks, goats, geese. I harvested duck eggs and grew stuff for market, and I decided I wanted to kind of shift direction so that eventually I could be involved in sustainable agriculture in some way, shape or form.” When his wife got into a Ph.D. program at UMaine, they headed here.

HAPPY ACCIDENT: While he was exploring possible graduate programs himself, he was invited to a party thrown by a professor who needed some help processing chickens. “Basically it was a trade. You would butcher chickens and get to take some chickens home.” Another professor, Frank Drummond, insect ecologist and UMaine’s resident bee expert, was a guest as well. “So I met Frank while we were both slaughtering chickens.” As they shared the tasks, they talked about their interests and found they intersected in many areas.

With Drummond’s encouragement, he enrolled in and finished a master’s program at UMaine, focusing on the relationship between pollinators and key Maine crops, such as wild blueberries and apples. “Most of my master’s work really focused on testing these mixtures of flowering plants and what impact they had on pollination services. Basically, I was trying to find ways that a grower could manage the wild bee population.”

SIDE GIG: Encouraging that native population is key to his new side job at Grow Wild Bees. It’s for any grower, farmer or home gardener who wants to increase their visits from bees, “whether it is for a purely conservation reason or trying to boost their bottom line.”

BOTTOMS UP: What Venturini encourages are self-seeding native plantings that unfold, or last, throughout an entire season. Build a garden, or what Venturini calls a “pollination reservoir,” and the bumblebees will come. But be patient. “The flowers may take two or three years before they start to bloom and then the bees themselves are not going to really build their population numbers within that same year. So it is a long-term, ongoing management plan.” With yields. If it is your goal to have more tomatoes or bigger tomatoes, without bringing in any non-native honey bees, “bumblebees are your ticket.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Venturini, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maine's School of Biology and Ecology, with bee specimens at the Maine State Museum Archives in Hallowell.Fri, 03 Feb 2017 16:33:38 +0000
Timeline Growth Rules record a child’s growth history Sun, 05 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Homes are filled with the ghosts of past residents. Children grow up and move on, but the rough pencil marks in doorways that marked their height on each birthday remain.

When the family moves away and the movers pack up the last box of belongings, those informal growth charts get left behind. But what if empty nesters could take those marks with them, even hang them on their new walls as a treasured memento?

At the Skowhegan Wooden Rule Co., Steve Meisner and his son make Timeline Growth Rules that are meant to become family heirlooms. The company’s main business is building cedar hot tubs, but in 1999 the Meisners purchased a rule-making company that makes old-fashioned wooden rules, the sort that are still used by fabric businesses, glass cutters and steel mills.

The Timeline Growth Rule, however, is now their biggest seller in the rule market. Everyone charts their child’s growth, Meisner said, “and nobody thinks about taking it with them. People used to be in the same house forever. I’m 68, and we grew up in the same house and the family was always there, but people now are much more mobile.”

The growth ruler is made of solid Maine sugar maple and is 6 feet, 6 inches long. The numerals are not superficially printed on the ruler.

“It’s made the way rules were made right after the Civil War,” Meisner said. “It’s an engraving and filling process, and one of them looks 100 years old the day that we make it.” Each end is fitted with a solid brass end cap.

“Basically, it’s a memo pad,” Meisner said. “You can put a child’s entire history on the rule. There are graduations on one side; on the other side, if you flip it over, it says milestones at the top, and you just start taking notes.”

Timeline Growth Rules cost $79, shipping included. Order online at 

]]> 0, 03 Feb 2017 12:21:25 +0000
Sprouts offer easy, homegrown nutrition Sun, 05 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 It is time to start growing sprouts again. They are the quickest way to get homegrown nutritional garden crunch into your diet at this time of year.

Back in 2014, I wrote about sprout mixes you can buy from Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester, and they still are available there. A recent email from John Scheepers, a Connecticut seed company, offers a multitude of suggestions for edible sprouts. Scheepers says mung beans and alfalfa sprouts are the most popular seeds for sprouting.

But to spice up the mix, you can use seeds from the regular catalog, including arugula, black turtle beans, broccoli, onions, peas, radishes and cress. You can get the seeds from any seed company you trust.

Clean the seeds and rinse them with tepid water. Cover the bottom of a quart-size jar with seed, and add three times the amount of water. Discard anything that floats. Cover the jar with screening or cheesecloth, and secure with a rubber band. Let the seeds soak for about a day, then drain the water.

After that, rinse and drain the sprouts daily, keeping them at room temperature, for about a week, depending on the seed.

Keep the jar out of direct sunlight, although most sprouts can benefit from some light for two days at the end of the sprouting cycle. After that, thoroughly drain the sprouts for about six hours, store them in a refrigerator and enjoy.

]]> 0, 02 Feb 2017 18:50:27 +0000
It’s time to get brighter about LED lights Sun, 05 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” biologist Barry Commoner wrote in 1971, proposing that as one of four “laws of ecology.” We’ve had decades to absorb that lesson but it still comes hard. Each technological innovation tempts us anew to think we’ll get something for nothing – an advance with all benefits and no costs.

LED (light-emitting diode) lights looked at first like they might qualify. After years spent enduring the odd shapes, harsh light and slow starts of compact fluorescent bulbs (not to mention risking mercury exposure if they broke), we were ready for a breakthrough in energy-efficient lighting.

It came with the speed and brilliance of a lightning bolt. The adoption of LED bulbs represents one of the fastest technological transitions ever. And for good reason: The best LED bulbs use 85 percent less electricity than their incandescent counterparts and last up to 25 times longer.

LED bulbs reduce demand for electricity, which cuts back markedly on the greenhouse gas emissions fast cooking the planet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that 16 of the hottest 17 years on record have occurred since 2000, with 2016 topping all previous records.

The long lifespan of LED bulbs leads to fewer replacements, reducing labor costs and resource consumption – on top of electrical savings. Within a decade, U.S. consumers and businesses could be saving $20 billion a year from LED technology.

With all these environmental and economic benefits wrapped into bulbs that turn on instantly, can be dimmed and can withstand cold, what’s not to like?

Too much evening exposure to LED lights can make it harder to get to sleep. Photo by Aliaksei Marozau/Shutterstock

The unforeseen cost of this lunch lies in the potential health impacts of LED lights, for humans and wildlife.

Light in all forms influences circadian rhythms, innate cycles that govern sleeping and eating as well as functions like brain activity and hormone production. These physiological patterns are disrupted far more by the blue wavelengths that dominate LED lights than by warmer-toned incandescent lamps.

LED lights outdoors have a similar adverse effect on wildlife, upsetting established behaviors and migratory patterns in birds, insects, turtles and fish.

For our own species, naturally occurring blue light that we experience outdoors in daytime can boost mood and attention. But exposure to those same wavelengths from LED lights at night suppresses melatonin, making it harder to get to sleep.

Studies indicate that ongoing exposure to certain bands of blue light may damage the eye’s retina and macula, contributing to problems like age-related macular degeneration. Even short-term exposure to high-intensity LED lights can cause discomfort.

To keep health risks to a minimum, we need to get brighter in our use of LED bulbs.


Communities that upgrade to LED streetlights and individuals choosing LED outdoor lighting need to do adequate research. The American Medical Association recently issued a policy recommending that streetlights have a color temperature of 3000 Kelvin or less. High-intensity lights that range from 4000-5000 Kelvin are associated with more glare, wildlife disruption and light trespass into nearby residences.

Bad side effects can be minimized by what is known as “full cutoff” or “shielded” light fixtures that direct light downward. “Night-friendly” fixtures reduce the artificial sky glow that dominates metropolitan areas and prevents 80 percent of North Americans from seeing the Milky Way. A look at an atlas of artificial brightness in the night sky published last year in the journal Science Advances reveals the far reach of light pollution.

Since LED lights are brighter than incandescent bulbs, it’s important to minimize their number and intensity outdoors. Communities can further reduce negative side effects and electrical expenditures by installing fixtures that allow bulbs to be dimmed at periods of low use.

Towns and cities in Maine now have more incentive to upgrade to LED bulbs, thanks to a 2011 state law that allows communities to own and maintain their own streetlights rather than leasing them from utilities. Typically, electrical savings from installing LED street lights more than cover project and financing costs. Many Maine communities have avoided an upfront investment by working with an energy service company and/or a third-party financing specialist (which funds the upgrade and is repaid through energy savings).


Communal decisions about LED lighting take time for planning and budgeting. But within our homes, we can make changes literally overnight. The medical guidance is clear: reducing (or better yet eliminating) LED use within an hour or two of bedtime will likely improve sleep.

That may be a big adjustment for those accustomed to evening use of smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, LED televisions and e-readers. If you can’t always manage a pre-bed LED fast, try installing free software, such as f.lux, that changes LED screens to warmer color tones during night hours.

LED bulbs are a welcome advance with great potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions, save resources and reduce ambient light pollution. We just need to be smart about their use so we can enjoy their benefits at the least possible cost to our health and to natural communities.

Marina Schauffler is a writer whose work is online at

]]> 0 much evening exposure to LED lights can make it harder to get to sleep.Fri, 03 Feb 2017 12:24:00 +0000
The disappearance of Maine’s rusty patched bumblebee Sun, 05 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 University of Maine professor Frank Drummond is the last known person to hold a Maine-born rusty patched bumblebee, although his memories of the occasion are foggy, frustratingly so; no scientist wants to be imprecise. He knows it was 2009, because his student workers were engaged in a typical few days of specimen collecting in Stockton Springs, just north of Searsport, that summer. Among the many specimens they brought to him were a few of the rusty patched bumblebee, which is slated to be formally added to the federal endangered species list this week.

Drummond was pleased. Bombus affinis had once been abundant in Maine; indeed, when Drummond first started collecting bees here in 1989, they made up about 20 percent of the state’s overall native bumblebee population. If you grew up in Maine as late as the 1980s, this bee, with its little scruff of rusty fur on the middle band of its “back,” was very likely one of the bumblebees you were most used to seeing. But it had grown scarce by the late 1990s, suggesting a collapsing population, and by 2009, Drummond was excited enough to call Anne Averill, a colleague from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, to let her know about his student’s find.

He had no notion these would be the last Bombus affinis he’d see.

There are 49 kinds of bumblebees found in the United States, and the rusty patched is close in looks to two other native Maine bumblebees, the brown-belted and the tri-colored. So close that wildlife biologist Beth Swartz of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife regularly hears from Mainers who insist their yards are full of those allegedly rare rusty patched bumblebees. Why does this one, barely discernibly different bee matter so much?

The simplest answer is what it may portend for all bumblebees, which matter because of their role, and that of all pollinators, in sustaining and nourishing us.

“Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrublands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive,” Tom Melius, a regional director with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said in the announcement that the rusty patched bumblebee would be listed as endangered. “And our crops (would) require laborious, costly pollination by hand.”

After the Stockton Springs find in 2009, the rusty patched specimens were sent off to a lab for molecular studies. They would have been packed on dry ice at minus 80 degrees, Drummond says, and sent express mail, standard operating procedure. But the specimens never came back. Somewhere along the line they went missing. Drummond blames no one. Well, maybe himself a little.

“I didn’t realize that it was such an important specimen,” he said. If he had, he said, he would have put it away for posterity.

Its true significance was revealed only later, when he looked back on data sets and realized that UMaine collections from 2005 and 2007 included no Bombus affinis. They went from rare to gone – although bee advocates hold out hope that isn’t true – in a matter of a few years.

The rusty patched bumblebee is hardly the only bee species in trouble; the populations of two of the other 16 species native to Maine have dwindled rapidly as well, although less dramatically. But honey bee colony collapse disorder has gotten far more press, in part because of those non-native pollinators’ value to American agriculture. That term implies an actual illness but simply encompasses all the possible ailments and reasons for large-scale die-off in honey bee hives.

Colony collapse disorder has also been more closely observed; the beekeepers who care for traveling colonies of “professional” pollinators can open up a hive and see the evidence of die-offs in front of them. But while it may lack a catch phrase name, the plight of the native bumblebee is similar and equally mysterious, happening in such a way that even an expert might miss it.

“With some of these catastrophic events you don’t realize it until it has already happened,” Drummond said. “It wasn’t even in my mind that this was possibly the last time that this bee was going to be the last one we saw.”


The rusty patched bumblebee is the first in the United States to receive the endangered designation under the Endangered Species Act and the first bee altogether in the continental U.S. (seven species of yellow-faced bees native to Hawaii were listed late in 2016). The nonprofit conservation group the Xerces Society, which petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the rusty patched bumblebee in 2013, hailed the listing as the bee’s best chance of survival before extinction.

There are only 250 species of bumblebees worldwide, so the fact that Maine has been home to 17 of them represents a strong diversity, said Kalyn Bickerman-Martens, a University of Maine doctoral candidate working on native bee conservation. One way that bumblebees are distinct from honeybees is that they do not thrive in tropical conditions. “Instead of increasing their diversity as you get closer to the equator, they actually increase as you get further from it,” Bickerman-Martens said.

The rusty patched bumblebee’s range once extended across 28 states, throughout the Northeast and out to South Dakota, as well as in two Canadian provinces, where it has already been listed as endangered. It can still be found in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin, which Rich Hatfield, who runs Xerces’ bumblebee conservation program, describes as its “last strongholds.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the rusty patched population has declined by 87 percent. And that decline has been startlingly rapid. In the last decade, it’s been found in only six counties in the Northeast, including Waldo and Knox in Maine. Drummond’s student’s discovery represents one of those two findings.


In Maine, pollinators play a particularly significant role in agriculture, most visibly in the cultivation of wild blueberries, which generated a $47 million crop in 2016. Maine farmers import more bees seasonally than any other state aside from California.

That’s not to say that native pollinators don’t get a piece of the pollinating blueberry pie. While the majority of the bees “working” on the wild blueberry crop in Maine arrive via truck from out of state (58,883 hives in 2016) native pollinators do show up. This year an “abundance” of native pollinators were on the barrens, said Nancy McBrady, the executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission, which was one reason farmers imported 12,000 fewer hives than usual last spring.

“If we could rely entirely on native pollinators, we would,” McBrady said. “But the scale of our operation is such that we need to supplement by bringing in honey bees.”

The Wild Blueberry Commission commented on the proposed listing, but did not oppose it, she said.

“No, absolutely not,” McBrady said. “We were saying first and foremost we are very dependent on and want to have a healthy pollinator population. We would not exist but for pollinators.”

It’s a complex relationship though, because with a federal listing comes federal regulations. Growers will likely have to apply for permits in some situations.

“There is just a lot of ambiguity in the rule right now,” McBrady said. “We’re kind of in suspended animation.”

Another complexity lies with the question of what made the bumblebee colonies disappear in the first place. One theory is that native pollinators have been exposed to parasites and pathogens carried by the migrant honeybees, which Drummond describes as “filthy with disease.” He’s studied a “spillover” effect that happens when an infected bee and a native bumblebee sup on the same flower. Sharing dirty dishes, so to speak.

“We find that the bumblebees that are in areas that are close to where honeybees are tend to have a much higher amount of these viruses than others,” Drummond said. “That does suggest that these viruses are moving from the honeybees to the native bees.”

But it doesn’t mean they’re getting sick, he cautioned. “Some folks confuse the idea of exposure with actual disease.” More research is underway. “The story hasn’t been finished yet.”


Some subscribe to the theory that if the rusty patched bumblebee died out because of a disease, the source would likely be a commercial bumblebee. There are such a thing as commercial, cultivated bumblebees and while they don’t move around in quite the numbers honeybees do, they do travel, and sometimes may resettle. Take Bombus impatiens, which Drummond said was once fairly uncommon in Maine and now makes up 20 percent of what you’d find on an average summer day. That could be the result of climate change, he said, or it could be from commercial bumblebees getting out of, say, greenhouses and propagating. Maine blueberry farmers bring in about 2,000 colonies of bumblebees every year, he said.

Doctoral candidate Bickerman-Martens has been studying a fungal pathogen called Nosema bombi (known as N. bombi) that is prevalent in collapsing colonies. A theory blaming a particularly bad strain of N. bombi that rode in to America on commercial bumblebees from Europe was popular for a while, but a study released a few months ago seems to disprove that, suggesting that the domestic commercial bumblebees infected the wild bees.

That’s what Rich Hatfield of Xerces believes. His hunch is that commercial bumblebees brought into cranberry bogs in Massachusetts carried the disease, and it radiated from there, infecting others, particularly the rusty patched bumblebee. Geographically, it makes sense, but Hatfield was quick to caution that he’s speculating. “I have zero evidence for this,” he said.

Drummond said work by colleagues about six years ago, studying the pathogens on commercial bumblebees, casts doubt on this theory. “They could find almost no pathogens,” he said, “meaning that these companies maybe had a problem at one time, but they’ve cleaned up.”

Other theories include widespread pesticide use throughout the rusty patched bumblebee’s former habitat. “I am really skeptical about whether that is the cause here,” Drummond said.

Neither climate change nor changing habitat should be ruled out, Drummond said. “Maine is the most forested state in the country right now, 93 percent of the landscape is forest.” That’s not good habitat for bumblebees. “If you have large amounts of contiguous forest, that is kind of the kiss of death for bees.”

Whatever the scenario, the rapid disappearance indicates that the rusty patched bumblebee had a harder time resisting it than some of its close relatives. And that is likely just the genetic luck of the draw.


The rusty patched bumblebee queen, like all bumblebee queens, heads into winter with what would be a daunting and lonely prospect for most of us; she’s alone. “With honey bees, they overwinter together in a big ball, Bickerman-Martens said, “whereas the bumblebee is responsible for building the entire colony by herself,”

The rusty patched also have superior pollinating skills when it comes to deep flowers, like nightshades, Bickerman-Martens said. “They will grab them and vibrate intensely. They are basically making flowers into salt shakers. Honey bees can’t do that.”

New queens are anointed in the late fall. They mate and then hibernate, typically in soil.

“A lot of bumblebees nest in an old rodent’s nest, a nest in the soil that has been abandoned by field mice,” Drummond said. “They tend to like some sort of insulating material to nest in, whether it’s the hair of rodents or the stuffing of upholstery or an old mattress.”

In the spring, these queens make wax cups in the nest with honey and pollen and lay the eggs that were fertilized in the fall. Provided no predators find them (from bears to skunks, plenty of wood creatures would devour the queen), daughters are born in the middle of June and serve as worker bees until the new queens are designated. The male bees are born at the end of summer and live only a few weeks, long enough to begin the cycle again.

When naturalist and author Bernd Heinrich was working on his 1979 book “Bumblebee Economics” (reissued in 2004), he witnessed this cycle repeating all around him in Western Maine. The rusty patched bumblebee was a regular visitor to his flower beds. He hasn’t seen this species in years, and very seldom the yellow-banded (terricola) or yellow (fervidus) species, either. The flowers haven’t changed, it’s just that the visitors are nearly gone, save a few queens in the spring. “This is the same site where I did (a) study of them,” he wrote in an email. “Is it weather?”


In the first order of business after the listing, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will look for any remaining populations of rusty patched bumblebees. Not that others haven’t been trying (filmmaker Clay Bolt made a short film, “A Ghost in the Making” about his own quest), but this will be a federal effort. Mark McCollough is the service’s biologist in Maine charged with the search, with the hope that the bees could be captured, the population rebuilt and then released back to the wild once stable.

He’ll have some help from the volunteer effort behind the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas, which is tracking populations in the state to determine densities. The atlas is supported by two grants – one from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grants Program, and the other from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, which receives proceeds from a state lottery scratch ticket. The project was initiated in 2015 and quickly drew throngs of volunteers, with hundreds more on the waiting list. Bickerman-Martens coordinates the group along with Swartz. They’ve trained 175 citizen bee hunters and thanks to them, have already added about 10,000 new records to the database.

“It is pretty amazing,” Swartz said. “I only anticipated we would get about 1,000 new records that first year. But pollinators are of such interest to people now.”

Bickerman-Martens is hopeful, saying the more specimens gathered, the better those chances get.

“I think that if it is here they are going to find it,” Bickerman-Martens said.

Discouragingly, a study of native bees in Virginia turned up just one rusty patched bumblebee in a pool of 35,000 collected specimens. The New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station recently completed its first assessment of the state’s native bee population in the White Mountain National Forest and found a “relatively high abundance” of the yellow-banded bumblebee, which is listed as a species of greatest conservation. But there were no rusty patched bumblebees.

Given how rare they are, does it make sense for a volunteer to snag a specimen if they see one, or would they be harming a colony’s chance of survival? It’s a good question, Swartz said. “But to be honest with you, I am hoping we do collect one because that’s the only way we’ll know if we have them.”

Another option? Doing as Maine Bumble Bee Atlas volunteer Amy Campbell does, taking only photographs. But time stamp them; like Frank Drummond, Campbell has a special place in the annals of the last days of Maine’s rusty patched bumblebees. She took the last known photograph of a Bombus affinis in the state. Her memory of that encounter is gone. She knows only that it was taken with a camera she used between 1995 and 2005. Maybe it was taken in Rockport, maybe at a local nature center. Her focus was on a flower the bee was feeding on, coincidentally a rusty foxglove. “It was back in the day when I thought a bumblebee was just a bumblebee,” she said.

In April 2014, after she found it tucked away in a file marked “insects on flowers” she uploaded it to Xerces’ Bumble Bee Watch for identification.

Rich Hatfield reviews those submissions. He commented swiftly: “Thank you, great find.”

And it was. But can it happen again?

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

Correction: This story was revised at 12:50 p.m., Feb. 6, 2017, to correctly identify the funding sources for the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas. The project is supported by two grants, one from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grants Program, and the other from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, which receives proceeds from a state lottery scratch ticket.

]]> 0 rusty patched bumblebee. This specimen is in the Maine State Museum Archives in Hallowell.Mon, 06 Feb 2017 13:00:09 +0000
Folding leftovers into dumplings shows love for planet Sun, 05 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Filled dumplings are a cross-cultural waste-not-want-not culinary wonder.

Most gastronomic traditions have them on the menu, whether they are called pierogi, ravioli, potstickers, maultaschensuppe, momos, khinkali qvelit, kreplach, wontons, buuz, manti, pelmini, samosa, gyoza, jiaozi, runsas, tiropitakia, mandu, kroppkakor, pelmeni, pastelle or coxinhas.

Dumplings are cheap staple foods made up of a simple dough and flavorful fillings. They get assembled en masse, frozen and then are boiled, steamed or pan-fried any time a tummy grumbles or extra guests arrive for dinner.

And they are a great way to dispatch the bits and bobs in your refrigerator to create something much tastier than compost. Sustainability-minded cooks can fit dumplings into their rotation of use-it-or-lose-it techniques alongside clean-out-the-fridge pasta sauce, spare vegetable frittatas and creatively topped pizzas.

But as with all of these practices, cooks must be open to the distinct possibility that replicating a particularly good batch of dumplings in the future might be impossible because the combination of ingredients – say half a red onion, four frozen shrimp, a spare sausage link, a shredded carrot, two tablespoons kimchi and the last bit of fresh ginger – may never be on hand in the same quantities again.

I regularly line up for lunch at Bao Bao in Portland, where Chef Cara Stadler is very precise with her dumplings’ flavor profiles (the lamb, black bean and chili are my personal favorite). At home, I fill all kinds of dumplings with all kinds of things.

Typically I run with Asian-like ones because I keep flavor-boosting condiments like hoisin, sriracha, black vinegar and sesame oil in the pantry to make the filling pop against the dumplings’ neutral dough. That said, if you’re blessed with your Babushka’s pierogi dough recipe or your Nonna’s fresh pasta know-how, these no-food-waste dumpling guidelines still apply. You’ll just adjust them to the taste profile of your heritage accordingly.

Making your own dough (see recipe) is a rewarding, albeit time-consuming, process that gets shorter with each extra set of hands you can rally. But if you’ve only got two hands and need a quick fix, do yourself a favor and buy round dumpling wrappers in the frozen section of most Asian grocery stores. You can include any ingredient you want in a dumpling filling, but it’s best to combine them all in a food processor so there aren’t any big chunks of any particular ingredient dominating any one dumpling. One cup of filling will make 12 to 15 dumplings.

Pre-cook any animal protein you want to include in the filling. This step means you can taste the filling safely before wrapping it in dough to make sure you like it, and it helps prevent any food safety issues down the line.

Use either raw or cooked vegetables based on what your leftovers look like, but none should be watery, as you don’t want the filling to weep out of the seams or make the dough soggy. If yours spreads out at all on a spoon, add bread crumbs a tablespoon at a time until it holds together.

Make sure the flavor of the filling really pops so the finished dumplings aren’t bland. My favorite flavor-boosting combination includes one teaspoon each of something sweet (hoisin, honey, brown sugar), sour (citrus, vinegar), pungent (minced garlic, ginger) and a liquid spice (hot sauce).

Be diligent about your dumplings’ seal. A busted dumpling is a bummer. Not as bad as food waste, mind you, but not as neat and tidy as creatively cleaning out the fridge can be.

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

]]> 0 are a great way to use odds and ends in your refrigerator to create something new and tasty.Fri, 03 Feb 2017 12:19:56 +0000
DNA analysis will force us to call plants by other names Sun, 05 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “A rose is a rose is a rose,” according to Gertrude Stein. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Shakespeare wrote a few centuries earlier.

Neither writer was really talking about the flower. Still, botanically speaking, those statements remain true because rose is a common name, developed by people in conversation rather than by the botanists who meet every six years for the International Botanical Congress to determine the proper scientific names for plants, using Latin as its language.

While common names work for most gardeners, common names often mean different things in different parts of the world. A dogwood in China is not the same thing as a dogwood in Maine.

Researchers, however, need to know they are talking about the same plant, so a precise system of names is required.

Although naming systems existed earlier, the current system of taxonomy, or the naming of plants, dates back to Carl Linnaeus, who lived from 1707 to 1778.

“He grouped them as people brought plants to him, mostly according to their reproductive structure,” Lois Berg Stack said in January before she retired a long career as an ornamental horticulture specialist with the University of Maine Extension. “Take a rose and an apple and a geum and a pear. You might not think when you look at them that they are much alike. But if you look at the flower and fruit, you can notice that they are pretty closely related.”

A geum, by the way, is a herbaceous perennial that resembles a buttercup with ruffles.

There were bound to be mistakes. Linnaeus did not travel around the world in order to classify plants, rather he looked at the plants he encountered himself in Europe or those he was shown. Also, microscopes improved over time, so once botanists could see those plants better, the botanical names of some plants reflected new knowledge.

And then came DNA analysis. We read about it most often when it involves people – whether for finding criminals or determining ancestry. But the same science applies to plants.

“Every once in a while there comes an enormous breakthrough that breaks the system and causes people to rethink things, and that is what is happening now with DNA analysis,” Stack said.

Once scientists have looked at plant DNA, they can determine without any doubt how plants are related to each other, and which plants preceded others in lineage. Since there are thousands of plants, it will take time and money to do DNA research on all of them, Stack said.

People often get upset about plant name changes. It reminds me of what happened when Pluto was removed from the list of planets in our solar system. Pluto still exists, just like it always did. The scientists did not kill Pluto. They just changed what they called it – today it’s classified as a dwarf planet.

Stack said that whenever she was teaching a class and mentioned that a plant’s botanical name had changed, her students would roll their eyes – frustrated that they would have to remember new names.

But in at least one case, the nonscientists stopped a name change.

Bryan Peterson, an assistant professor of environmental horticulture at the University of Maine, said the International Botanical Congress – which will meet later this year in China – restored the name “chrysanthemum” to the popular mum, loved for its blossoms in fall.

The name chrysanthemum was first given to a wildflower in Europe, and Linnaeus added garden mums to its group.

“In the 1960s, a botanist realized that garden mums were not that closely related to (the original wildflower) chrysanthemum, and garden mums were changed to a new genus, Dendranthema,” Peterson said.

Every nation except The Netherlands (where Linnaeus, who was Swedish, did much of his work) rejected the change. Eventually, the Botanical Congress made an exception to its rule and gave the European wildflower the name Glebionis coronaria, and mums were again chrysanthemums.

Peterson noted that the Botanical Congress divided dogwoods, Cornus, into four groups when it last met in Australia in 2011. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay was quick to adopt the new names on its garden labels, even though the change has met with some resistance. The garden made its choice after consulting Arthur Haines, a Mainer and expert in taxonomy who wrote “Flora Novae Angliae,” the scientific manual for identifying plants in New England.

Although I find the name-changing practice interesting, it won’t affect home gardeners. If you want a red-twig dogwood to provide some winter interest, you will be able to plant it no matter what you call it – its common name, its original Latin name Cornus sericea or its more recent Latin name Swida sericea. Catalogs will have the common name, often followed by one or both of the Latin names.

I talked with Peterson at the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association meeting in January, and he made one comment – in jest – that I think we all believe in our hearts.

“The right names are the ones from when I first started learning botany,” he said. “I just have to get used to the others.”

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

]]> 0, 03 Feb 2017 12:25:03 +0000
Potato chips you can feel better about eating Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 If you’re an average American, the USDA Economic Research Service says you’ve eaten 17 pounds of potato chips annually since 2000. And if you’re like me, you may have refused a few for nutritional reasons, but not many based on sustainability grounds.

When my editor mentioned she’d heard potato chips were the least sustainable snack food on the shelf, I wanted to know whether that label applied across the snack aisle or if I could be sustainably choosy and still get my crispy fix on Super Bowl Sunday.

According to Internet calculators, it requires up to 90 gallons of water to move a spud from bud to bag. Potatoes are a thirsty crop to start. And in average 15-minute run along production line, a potato travels along a water canal to be washed, tumbles in a steel drum with a water spray to be peeled and gets rinsed multiple times before and after it has been sliced. Producing a bag of chips puts a pound of carbon dioxide into the air (the equivalent to driving your car a little less than 2 miles, according to a food carbon emissions calculator built by Portland, Oregon-based CleanMetrics). Focus groups say chips must be blemish free and light in color, so chip makers employ quality controls to discard edible but ugly chips. And then there’s all that mostly unrecyclable packaging designed to keep the chips light, crisp and intact as they make their way to your snack drawer – or more likely your belly.

Sautéed unions for Christine Burns Rudalevige's onion dip.

Sautéed unions for Christine Burns Rudalevige’s onion dip. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The most sustainable chip is one you make yourself from local potatoes, Maine sea salt and organic oil you’ve strained and reused before turning it into biodiesel fuel. But if DIY chips are not your thing, here is some criteria to help you locate greener options:

Still look for Maine potatoes. The Maine Potato Board says the state’s seasonal climate gives potatoes the right mix of sun and rain, and therefore irrigation is kept to a minimum. Typically, cold winters mean fewer potato pests, which holds pesticide use on the Maine potato crop to about one-tenth the national average. And the University of Maine is using traditional breeding methods to develop new varieties – like the Sebec – especially suited for potato chip production.

Local pitch duly made, understand that the vast majority of Maine potatoes are trucked out of state to be made into fries and chips. Shipping out whole potatoes to have them shipped back as chips does not earn “eat local” accolades. Two commercially available chips made in Maine from Maine potatoes are Freeport-based Vintage Maine Kitchen and Fox Family Potato Chips, based in Presque Isle. The former sources Norwis and Keuka Gold potatoes from Bell Farms in Auburn, fries and seasons them with salt from the Maine Sea Salt Co. (and in some bags Maine maple syrup) and sells them in about 100 restaurants and specialty food stores between Boston and Dover-Foxcroft. Fox Family Chips sources russets from Double G Farms in Blaine, has a similar geographical distribution and recently inked a deal to ship chips to New Haven, Connecticut, and New York.

Both Vintage Maine Kitchen’s Kelly Brodeur and Rhett Fox, who heads up his family’s business, say their hands-on small-batch approach requires minimal fossil fuel energy in comparison with their larger competitors. Moreover, both have chosen oils that balance cost, sustainability and flavor across their product lines.

Brodeur uses a non-GMO high oleic (a feature that helps with shelf-live) sunflower oil produced in the United States and recycles it with Maine Biofuels in Portland. Fox opts for a canola oil, which he filters and reuses to reduce waste.

These local chip makers say a little color shows character and seasonality in a chip rather than rendering it food waste. As a potato is pulled from the dirt and stored over the winter, its starches are converted to sugar, which caramelizes when it hits hot oil, adding flavor and interesting shades of brown to the chips.

Both Brodeur and Fox admit their foil-based packaging is not recyclable – as small producers, they say their options are limited – but they are hopeful that better alternatives will come down the pike soon. Brodeur is working to collect spent Vintage Maine Kitchens bags to be reused in community arts projects. Chip eaters are invited to send or bring their (preferably rinsed) bags to the company’s Freeport facility located at 491 US Route 1, Suite 10.

Regardless of the less than sustainable packaging parameters, though, both are absolutely convinced their efforts to produce greener chips means they make ones that taste as they should: more like potatoes.

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

Christine Burns Rudalevige's makes her onion dip. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)

Christine Burns Rudalevige’s makes onion dip using local products. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette


Come on, I know you love Lipton Onion Soup Mix Onion Dip with your chips. This one bypasses the preservatives and the miles traveled. Serve with local chips.
Serves 6-­8

3 pounds local onions (5-6 medium onions)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon granulated maple sugar
(2 teaspoons of maple syrup will do in a pinch)
8 ounces local cream cheese
16 ounces local Greek-style yogurt
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped chives or minced scallion tops

Peel and dice the onions quite finely. Melt the butter in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and maple sugar, reduce heat to low, and cook slowly until the onions have caramelized, about 30 minutes. Since the onions are cut small and cooking with sugar, they will brown quickly. What you’re looking for is a deep, dark, caramelized brown and a slightly shriveled texture. Cooking them to this point both colors the dip and allows the onions to almost reconstitute with the liquid in the dairy products, which will keep the dip from separating.
Cool the onions for 15 minutes. Blend the onions with the cream cheese and yogurt in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with chives or scallions.

]]> 0 Plate special for Jan. 29, 2017: Potato chips aren't usually thought of as a sustainable snack, but with a little work in the kitchen you can make them - and some delish dip - from locally sourced products.Fri, 27 Jan 2017 16:55:49 +0000
Bow ties are not just for nerds anymore Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 LK Weiss and Laura Kloosterman both like wearing bow ties, but for a long time couldn’t find what they wanted – something modern, but more feminine than the “super masculine” ties that are already on the market. So they started making their own.

The two women jumped right into a unisex bow tie business, a Portland-based company called Bowline Co., which they founded in 2014. They also make custom bow ties for children and dogs.

Photo courtesy of Bowline Co.

Photo courtesy of Bowline Co.

“We try to source as much as possible from Maine, and if not Maine, then definitely New England,” Weiss said.

They often repurpose fabrics, turning old L.L. Bean flannel shirts into bow ties. Once, they found some orange hunting vests at Goodwill and turned them into bow ties, and they are still making those, although they now source the fabric elsewhere.

“Some people buy it for their son who likes hunting, but other people just like it because it’s really loud,” Weiss said. “To be honest, if you walk down the street wearing that bow tie, you’ll get screamed at from across the street. People love it because you can see it from so far away.”

42002 Bow tie Brooklin

Photo courtesy of Bowline Co.

All of the ties are made on an antique sewing machine and named after places in Maine. One of the most popular is called Brooklin, a Navy tie with white dots named after the little Hancock County town. Most cost $59.

Bowline donates 50 percent of its profits from two of the bow ties it makes to charity. Sales of a pinkish bow tie called the Cambridge benefit the Maine Cancer Center, while the bright yellow First Responder bow tie benefits foundations created to help 9/11 families.

The bow ties are available online or at David Wood Clothiers in Portland; Portland Trading Co.; and Beachology in Old Orchard Beach.

What’s next? Weiss and Kloosterman are developing prototypes for neckties.

]]> 0, 27 Jan 2017 08:53:27 +0000
Todd Hand’s teaching Unity students what murder and mayhem have to do with sustainability Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 One of Unity College’s newest professors is Todd Hand, assistant professor of Conservation Law Enforcement. We know sustainability informs every area of academic study at Unity, but we wanted to know more about how law enforcement fits in with that. A former lieutenant in the Criminal Investigation Division in Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Hand previously taught conservation law at Saint Leo University in Florida. Our conversation ranged from cold cases in the Florida swamps to that time he got to be the star of a true crime novel – it doesn’t get any better.

NORTH AND SOUTH: Hand was in Florida for 28 years, most recently in Sarasota. His job interview at Unity was his first trip to Maine. On that visit, he taught a class in front of the faculty, then went out to dinner in Belfast with potential colleagues. “That is the academic way of doing things,” he said. “The way I looked at it was they were checking me out to see if I was weird or if I was going to be chugging down whiskey or eating with my fingers.” Dinner was excellent, and he managed to use his fork.

SIMILARITIES? Florida and Maine might be at opposite extremes, but they’ve got a lot in common when it comes to conservation law, Hand said. There are Native American sites to protect. Also, having an economy based on tourism means a lot of out-of-state visitors who like to hunt (or maybe poach). “They come to Florida for commercial fishing, deer hunting, you name it. Reptiles, amphibians, ghost orchids.”

TRUE CRIME: We always wonder, do law enforcement types read a lot of mysteries? Not Hand. He’s gotten enough of it in real life. “But I am really good friends with a true crime author, actually. I just talked to him last night for two and a half hours.” That’s Fred Rosen, whose book “Flesh Collectors” was based on a grisly case Hand had investigated (rape, murder, cannibalism). “That is how we met each other.” The book was turned into a piece for the Discovery Channel as well, and Hand appeared in it. “They had some other guy play me in the action parts.”

CORE CURRICULUM: Hand is teaching at Unity’s School of Biodiversity Conservation. In the fall, he taught what he calls “Conservation Law 101” to freshmen, and he’s got an ethics class on tap for this spring, as well as a capstone class for seniors finishing up their course of study. It’s a doozy: a homicide case out of Florida. “It’s a real cold case that the students are going to reinvestigate. We are going to go through the whole case and look at forensics and interviews.” At the end of the semester, students will present their findings to faculty, who will be playing the role of their superiors in law enforcement. The students are excited but nervous, Hand said. “They are apprehensive about it a little bit only because they have never done this before.”

TELL US MORE: Hand had hoped to find a cold case in Maine that the students could try to solve, but he was stymied by the fact that he didn’t have friends in law enforcement locally. “I tried to reach out to Bangor PD because of the geographic distance, and they never called me back.” He wasn’t insulted. “They may think I’m some kind of a nut or something.” But as he settles into life in Maine, he’s hoping to make the kind of connections that open the door to local cold cases. “Next fall I hope I can grab on to something from one of the law enforcement agencies in Maine, which would allow us to actually visit the crime scene.”

MURDER AND MAYHEM: The case is a 2008 homicide that began with the discovery of a body buried in a shallow Florida grave. “What makes it so intriguing is not only have they never solved it yet and never located any possible suspects, they have never found the identity of the Jane Doe victim.” Nationwide, no missing persons match the description of this victim.

BEYOND POACHING: What does a Florida cold case have to do with enforcing poaching laws in Maine or elsewhere? The seniors Hand is teaching already have taken criminology and forensics classes. Maybe they’ll get jobs as game wardens, although Hand points out there aren’t that many openings. Knowing how to investigate a murder will help them should they need to seek other law enforcement jobs. “Homicide investigations are kind of the holy grail of any law enforcement officer’s ambitions” – because they demand so much from investigators, and “it is of maximum importance when a life is lost.” But these skills also apply if they find work as a game warden. “They will be handling their fair share of death investigations, whether it is someone that falls out of a tree stand and impales themselves, or drives drunk in a boat and kills three other in another boat. They are death investigations.”

LA DOLCE VITA: Hand has settled in Lincolnville on Megunticook Lake. “I always like the water. It is hard not to like this place. I like to fish and hunt and all that so it is kind of the whole package.” He’s looking forward to ice fishing for the first time – with some help from Unity students who know what they’re doing. “I learn from you showing rather than telling me.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Hand, left, teaches conservation law enforcement to students at Unity College.Fri, 27 Jan 2017 09:02:48 +0000
How are Maine farmers finding success on Instagram? Hint: Goats are gold. Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Kirsten Lie-Nielsen has nearly 9,000 people in her pocket as she roams her farm in Liberty, many of whom she knows are blatantly there for the goats. They think her puppy Stanley is adorable. Her geese amuse them. Her chickens entertain them. But the goats send them into a frenzy of sharing and liking and commenting along the lines of “awwwww” and “I can’t even!” An Instagram video of her goats skeptically greeting a December snowfall was viewed over 38,000 times.

The farmer/writer is a careful and astute user of Instagram. She posts strategically, once a day and in the evening, when people tend to be looking for a visual treat. In just a few years, she’s built a following not just for her photographs but for the homesteading lifestyle she’s building on Hostile Valley Farm.

Most farmers today, like most businesses today, have a Facebook page and use social media regularly. It’s a way to let people know what they’ll have at the farmers market or when their farm store will be open. But ask your average millennial and they’ll tell you Facebook is for the older generations. And it is cluttered with commerce. Instagram is more about pleasure. That’s why Lie-Nielsen joined initially, but she has also found it a useful tool to build a brand and to reach people with similar interests away from the noise of Facebook or Twitter.

If Facebook is a signpost or brochure, Instagram represents a private (seeming) photo album made public. It’s less about message and more about life behind the scenes. Albeit a highly curated life, which is filtered (literally) through the app. Instagram’s founders might not have been thinking specifically about farmers when they created the app for iPhones in 2010 (it’s since been gobbled up by Facebook), but it’s become a favored, low-key way of spreading the word about a farm.

“There is practically nothing on a menu these days that doesn’t come with a farm name attached to it,” said Rich Brooks, a digital marketing expert who runs Take Flyte, a Maine-based website and social media company. A farmer posting pretty pictures of her or his cows or fields or goats on Instagram is creating a link that goes beyond names on a menu and back to place. “That definitely adds to the value, so that if you go to a farmers market or the grocery, you are more likely to buy that product and more likely to be willing to pay a premium for it.”

That said, looking over a selection of Maine farms’ Instagram accounts, Flyte saw potential to do more (see sidebar). “I didn’t see a lot of quote unquote hard selling. It was primarily branding, and the biggest call to action was ‘Hey, we’re heading down to farmers market.’ That was about as pitchy as I saw them get.”

The change in Facebook algorithms that make it harder for a business – even one you’ve “liked” – to make it into a Facebook feed mean it’s important for users with marketing goals to look for opportunities elsewhere.

“So if I am a farmer and I don’t have much of a budget to spend on these things, Instagram makes a lot of sense,” Brooks said.


The lack of an obvious pitchy-ness is intentional for Abby Sadauckas of Apple Creek Farm. She’s not going for the hard sell and neither is her partner, Jake. Both have Instagram accounts for their Bowdoinham farm. Both love photography (they met while getting master’s degrees at Vermont College of Fine Arts). They have Facebook too, but “I feel like there is less obligation for the farmer with Instagram,” Sadauckas said. “And we are obviously capitalizing on the thought that a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Snow? No thank you. #hostilevalleyliving #snowgoats #wintertime

A video posted by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen (@hostilevalleyliving) on

Jenni Tilton-Flood, who posts on Instagram for Flood Brothers, Maine’s biggest dairy, is an adroit user of Facebook and Twitter but calls Instagram an indulgence in comparison. “It’s kind of like a relief. I can let what I am looking at speak for me.”

Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, sees widespread usage of Instagram in the small to mid-sized farm range, but says it is by no means limited to the “young and hip” farmers. Maine farmers are using it well, she says. She also confirms, “Goats are gold,” on the app.

For these Instafarmers, Facebook tends to be more for business and educating customers, while Instagram is great for connecting with people who might be more inclined to, say, buy Apple Creek Meats or eggs or sheepskins because of Sadauckas’ winning photos of her awesomely handsome goat Spike.

Instagram is also handy for connecting with other farmers all around the country. “If we post a picture of our chicken house, we always get questions about it,” Sadauckas said. “On Instagram we can share stuff that may be more interesting to farmers. We can be a little bit looser. We can make more manure jokes, perhaps.”

Stacy Brenner of Broadturn Farm said she joined Instagram about four years ago, at the behest of her then 16-year-old daughter. She’s got nearly 8,000 followers, many from well beyond Maine. “It gives us national exposure, but that doesn’t let us sell products for more money or necessarily bring us more local business,” Brenner said. However, a big part of Broadturn’s business is growing flowers and selling her floral arranging services for weddings and parties. That is a business that travels (she just got back from doing a friend’s wedding in Palm Springs and in February will be heading to Vermont to do a wedding). She says she hasn’t been particularly sophisticated about using hashtags – which Brooks recommends as a way to broaden the reach of any Instagram account – but she posts regularly and Instagram essentially replaced blogging in her life. The phone is with her “24/7,” she said.

“Do I see everything in a square?” she laughed. “No.”

Her number of followers has steadily increased. Fostering kittens over the summer helped. “People really love babies. You could put a baby anything up there and they are going to love it.”


“My feed this past weekend was full of pink hats, cute farm animals and an amazing number of pictures from the Women’s March,” said Amanda Blake Soule, who farms in Western Maine. She was pointing out the truth about Instagram – that it is a place of curated happy lives. Very few users seem to have an interest in curating a sad life. Or venturing into territory that don’t look appealing.

“That is the bubble of like-minded people,” Soule said. “It is a completely joyful place because that is who I choose to see. This is a place I keep a little bit protected from the real world.”

Soule started “fairly early in Instagram-land” as a way to broaden her blog platform. She has an astounding number of followers, over 33,000. That’s because she, like Lie-Nielsen, is mostly a homesteader, someone who lives on a farm but isn’t trying to run a commercial operation. (Lie-Nielsen hopes her audience will translate to sales when her first book, a guide to homesteading, comes out this fall.) Soule writes a popular blog called SouleMama and is the editor in chief of Taproot Magazine. Her photos on Instagram speak more to a buocolic farm life than a writer or editor’s life. (Soule has five children, and they wear handmade sweaters like nobody’s business).

“It’s a story I’m selling, I guess,” she said. It’s aspirational. But what makes a farmer’s Instagram feed so appealing is its invitation to access something beyond just bunches of beautiful carrots. It’s chores, it’s being up before sunrise, it’s fixing equipment and caring for lifestock. You feel the farmer’s hours.

“You are seeing their whole value set,” Soule said.

And their life in seasons. You might not think so much about what your favorite farmers from July’s markets are doing in January, but a quick peek at their Instagram might reveal that they, too, are inside with a cup of tea, only they’re going through seed catalogs and planning the spring planting.


“Currently, I don’t have Facebook,” Brenner said. Election season and its aftermath made it a miserable place to be. “I just can’t personally get sucked down into that place.”

Brenner recommends Instagram to other farmers, who she reasons are probably always carrying the basic equipment – a smartphone – with them anyway.

“It is worth having a little bit of exposure in your pocket, and the more agriculture that people see, either visually on social media or out in the world, the better. I think people are going to Instagram to be inspired by beauty, and the romanticism of farming fits with that. The big-picture goal here is to see local agriculture be a rising tide.”

Far from every farmer in Maine is on Instagram. (Maine Farm Bureau has an account but has never posted, although executive director Alicyn Smart said she’s in the process of hiring someone who will likely step up that component of the group’s social media presence.) Connectivity is also a problem in some rural areas. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry does encourage use of social media, but they don’t track it, so no one is checking the demographics of Instafarmers.

But those who participate think of it as a place to share the beauty and joys of farming. And sometimes, that feeds a farmer’s soul too, reminding her or him of what they have.

As Jenni Tilton-Flood puts it, she may walk by a newborn calf taking its first steps on a very regular basis. But sharing that on Instagram sharpens her own sense of how special agriculture is. “The everyday ordinary for me may be the extraordinary for someone else. We’re putting a face to it in sharing our ordinary. People don’t necessarily want to know where their food comes from so much as they want to know from whom. They want to know who did this for me. So I make sure that who I am is right there. Just like anybody else putting up pictures of their kid making the honor roll.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0, 27 Jan 2017 09:14:04 +0000
Looking for a new gardening thrill? Try growing grains at home. Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Bread is the staff of life. While the most avid gardeners grow all their own vegetables, few harvest even a minimal amount of grain to make bread.

That may be because many people think they’d need huge fields of “amber waves of grain” (cue “America the Beautiful”) to make growing wheat, oats, rye or barley worthwhile. Not so.

“A Maine gardener could grow all the wheat they need for the family on a plot the size of a two- or three-car garage, about 30-by-30 feet,” Richard Roberts, a grain grower from Solon and a member of Maine Grain Alliance, said in a telephone interview. That would be about 60 pounds of grain, enough to fill two 5-gallon pails.

Wheat requires full sun, but it will grow in most soils as long as the ground is not too wet, Roberts said. The soil may need a dose of wood ashes and some added nitrogen.

Since wheat is a grass, before I talked to Roberts, I had thought that you might plant it with a spreader like you’d use to seed a lawn. I was way off the mark.

The secret, Roberts said, is to give each plant a lot of room, planting the seeds in rows that are 6 inches apart with 6 to 8 inches between seeds in each row. With plenty of room, each seed will produce six to 12 shoots.

To start growing wheat this year, you need a spring wheat. Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow offers Glenn, a hard red wheat. Hard Red Fife, developed in Ontario in the 1840s, is available from Fedco, a seed cooperative based in Winslow.

Spring wheat should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked, usually in late April, Roberts said, or earlier in southern Maine.

“I always do it during April school vacation because the kids are around to pick up the rocks,” Roberts said.

Weeds put a lot of pressure on spring wheat, so Roberts suggests an underplanting of white clover, which keeps down weeds and adds nitrogen to the soil.

The advantage to winter wheat, which you plant around the first frost, is that it gets a head start on the weeds. It grows a few inches in the fall, goes dormant in winter, resumes growth in the spring and usually has a higher yield.

Roberts is excited about a heritage winter wheat from Estonia called Sirvinta. The Maine Grain Alliance got some Sirvinta wheat from Will Bonsall, a seed-saving guru in Industry. Test growers, including Roberts, planted 14 pounds of it on 11 acres in the fall of 2015 and harvested 1,500 pounds of it last season. If the growers harvest enough this coming summer to cover potential orders, Fedco could begin offering it for sale this coming fall.

Wheat fields require crop rotation if you garden organically. When you aren’t growing wheat, crops like peas or beans add nitrogen to the soil, and after they are harvested, they can be tilled into the soil to add organic matter.

Harvesting and processing wheat from a home plot isn’t difficult, Roberts said, though it does require a number of steps. It can be cut with a hand sickle, after which the stalks are tied together and left to dry under cover for a couple of weeks. The grain is ready for threshing when if you bite down on them, the individuals grains are about as hard as nuts.

Small threshers are available for home use, but you also can thresh by hand by cutting the grain heads, putting them in a large paper bag and shaking or pounding it. Another method is to put the stalks on a tarp and beat them with a dowel.

Next comes winnowing. The simplest method is to set up a fan and drop the threshed wheat in front of the breeze into a bowl. The light chaff will blow away. Store the grain until you want flour, grinding only what you need for the recipe you’re cooking.

Roberts was quick to remind people that the straw left over from this process also has value. It sells for $10 a bale, or you can use it to mulch garlic or other crops.

Maine gardeners can grow grains other than wheat, including rice, oats and heritage predecessors of wheat. If you opt to grow oats, be sure to get a variety without hulls.

Rice can be grown in Maine, and it doesn’t need to grow in water either, Roberts said, as flooding the field is really just a way of controlling weeds. While Fedco has introduced Akamuro rice, which the catalog calls ideal for Maine, he knows Maine residents who have successfully grown eight to 10 varieties of rice.

For people who are intolerant of gluten, Roberts recommends emmer and einkorn, two ancient grains that are wheat predecessors. While people with celiac disease can’t eat them, people with lesser stages of gluten intolerance often can.

So if you have a little extra land for gardening and want to become more independent from Big Agriculture, take a shot at growing some grains at home.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:


CORRECTION: This story was updated at 6:45 p.m. on Feb. 1, 2017, to correct the phone number of Kerry Ratigan.

]]> 0, 01 Feb 2017 18:48:12 +0000
Maine man tackles commercial fishing – without a net Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Chef Benjamin Hasty, owner of Thistle Pig in South Berwick, was having a beer with a co-worker at 7th Settlement, a brewpub in Dover, New Hampshire, when he saw Tim Rider walk by, carrying fresh fish to the pub’s kitchen.

“We kept seeing someone schlepping these big totes of fish going by us,” Hasty recalled. “I said, ‘I need to introduce myself because I need to get some of that.’ ”

Hasty invited Rider, owner of New England Fishmongers, to join him for a cup of coffee. Rider told him he is one of the few New England commercial fishermen who still catches groundfish the old-fashioned way, with a rod and reel; experts believe he is the only one in Maine, and perhaps all of New England, who is doing so full time.

Hook-and-line fishing has been around as long as humanity has had an appetite for fish, though its commercial application has dwindled ever since the dawn of the industrial era, a process that accelerated after World War II. Today, most rod-and-reel fishermen find it impossible to make a living going after groundfish alone – these are bottom-dwelling species such as cod, pollock and haddock.

Rider, however, has come up with a business plan that cuts out middlemen in marketing and distribution. He directly targets restaurants and other customers willing to pay a premium of 10-20 percent for the high-quality fish he brings them just hours after landing it. He and advocates for regional fisheries hope that other fishermen will follow his lead.

Rider’s direct marketing approach has allowed him to make a living. Just as important to him, he says the way he fishes doesn’t threaten the health of the ocean or decimate fish populations. Chefs like Hasty share Rider’s environmental values, so when they met that day in the New Hampshire brewpub, they hit it off, and a business arrangement was born.

Now Hasty buys Rider’s cusk, haddock and dogfish, but mostly pollock, which he roasts and serves on top of a smoked mussel chowder. Like many other chefs in Maine and New Hampshire, Hasty practically swoons over its quality, describing Rider’s fish as meaty, ultra-fresh and far longer-lasting than fish caught by industrial boats.

“It’s just absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous meat inside,” Hasty says, “and the fish smells fresh, like this beautiful product that just came out of the ocean.”


Rod-and-reel fishing brings in no bycatch, doesn’t harm the ocean floor, and, because it’s small-scale, overfishing isn’t an issue. Ultra-efficient modern fishing technology, methods such as trawls and gillnets that are used by large industrial boats, do cause these problems. But most commercial fishermen stay away from rod-and-reel fishing because the regulations for small-scale fisheries make it unprofitable, said Patrick Shepard, fisheries policy associate at the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington. (Small-scale fishing is defined as using boats under 50 feet that go out just for the day, as opposed to 80-foot vessels that go to sea for four or five days at a time.) Federal rules favor larger vessels that are landing volume, Shepard said.

Rider brings in about 800 pounds of fish in a day, while a large commercial trawler can bring in just as much – about 1,000 pounds – in a single trawl. Rider complains that under the current system, fishing is big business, run by large corporate interests that snatch up all the fishing quotas set by the federal government and push the little guy out. Smaller boats can lease quota from the bigger guys, but the math doesn’t always add up because what they pay for quota is often higher than what they are paid for their fish, he said, so they arrive at the dock already in the red.

Also, he added, fisheries are sometimes closed to small boats or the small boats are forced to go farther off shore than the big ones, which costs money and time and can be dangerous.

Shepard works with the resource center’s “New Entrants” program, which helps small-scale, owner-operator fishermen like Rider develop business plans for entering the groundfishing business. But so far he hasn’t had a lot of success. He says most of the people he works with – about 20 a year – end up sticking with lobstering or fishing for tuna – or groundfishing part-time only as a way to diversify – because they can’t find a way to make groundfishing profitable.

“Tim and his business model are the first opportunity that we’ve seen in a while that might actually be able to make it work,” Shepard said.


Rider brings something else to the table, too, according to Shepard and others who know him: Passion, both for fishing and for keeping Gulf of Maine fisheries sustainable.

Mike Keegan, a Saco-based builder of custom homes who owns a tuna boat and also does “minor groundfishing,” calls Rider “the leader of the pack.”

“In the fishing industry, you’ve got two different types of fishermen,” Keegan said. “You’ve got guys who are money-hungry and don’t care about the fishery, and then you’ve got guys who fish from passion and let the money follow, and that’s Tim. I’ve never met anybody as passionate about groundfishing as Tim, not only for the business but for the fishery.”

Rider, Keegan said, will travel six hours offshore in the middle of winter when the wind chill is 10 below and “all the rods are freezing up.”

“He fishes harder than anybody I know,” Keegan said. “He’ll leave dock at midnight and fish all day and not sleep for three days.”

Rider first felt a rod in his hand at age 5, when his mother took him out for a half-day of mackerel fishing. She later called it “the worst mistake of her life, because I turned out to be a fisherman,” Rider said.

Rider has worked as crew on commercial draggers and gillnetters, and on recreational charters. He’s also owned three fishing boats. Today his groundfishing business is based in Eliot, aboard the 36-foot F/V Finlander. He sells his catch through Dover-based New England Fishmongers, co-founded with New Hampshire resident and crew member Amanda Parks.

Rider started New England Fishmongers because he was tired of dumping his high-quality fish in with the rest of the catch at open auctions, where buyers are only interested in buying low and selling high. “We’ve come back from 60 miles offshore with 800 or 1,000 pounds of fish,” Rider said, “and made enough money to maybe buy a cheeseburger.”

So he went knocking on the doors of restaurants to find chefs willing to pay a premium for his fresh fish.

Rider and his crew catch pollock, haddock, cusk, dogfish and sometimes redfish and mackerel. Under his current permit, he’s limited to 25 pounds of cod – the most desired groundfish – which translates into just two fish or so per trip.

Rider likes to say that his style of fishing “gives the fish a chance, too.”

“We just don’t have the ability to clean out the ocean,” he said.

The fish are off the hook for just hours before they are delivered personally by either Rider or one of his crew members “old-fashioned, milkman-delivery-style” to restaurants in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. (Rider recently added a client in San Francisco, a dealer in sustainable fish who supplies West Coast restaurants.)

Maine chefs say they believe Rider’s fish is worth the 10-20 percent premium price because the fish is handled with care.

Jake Smith, chef at The Black Birch in Kittery, calls Rider’s haddock “the freshest, most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen.” Dylan Harrigan, chef de cuisine at Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery, said he appreciates that Rider treats under-used fish as fastidiously as other more popular fish. Few fishermen sell dogfish, for example, Harrigan said, and those who do rarely gill and gut it as Rider does. Rider’s dogfish, he continued, have “great flavor and amazing texture” and hold up extraordinarily well.

Rider says he is able to get 5 percent to 10 percent more flesh from his fish because they die immediately and then stay on ice for just a short time. Fish caught in nets struggle and suffocate, he said, and are iced for several days, factors that make them lose body weight.

Chefs accommodate the extra cost in various ways. Harrigan makes up for it by buying whole fish and using all of it, for example, making fish stock from the bones. At Thistle Pig, where fish entrees cost about $22, Hasty said he doesn’t pass the extra cost on to customers. He is more concerned with labor costs, he added.


Niaz Dorry, coordinating director for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, an advocacy group based in Gloucester, Massachusetts, that champions smaller, community-based fisheries, said that the existing system looks at small-scale boats as inefficient and low priority. Fish are thought of as “pure commerce,” not as a source of “real food” for local communities. “Yet globally, (small-scale fishing) is the scale of fishing that feeds people and keeps coastal communities healthy,” she said.

Dorry likens the state of the fishing industry today to industrial agriculture before the public and policy makers began to support small-scale local farms, and restaurants started touting the sources of their ingredients on menus. (While most restaurants simply brag about buying “local fish,” 7th Settlement, which buys all of its fish from New England Fishmongers, stamps “F/V Finlander Fish Tacos” on its menu.)

One way that the Penobscot East Resource Center is trying to help rod-and-reel fishermen get back in the groundfishing game is through the Northeast Coastal Community Sector. The center manages the sector, the only owner-operator, hook-based groundfishing sector in New England. The federal government created fishing sectors as a way to ensure that the industry complies with annual catch limits.

A sector is not a geographic area but an organization of fishermen who can fish anywhere in New England as long as they have the correct permits. Each sector gets an annual allocation of groundfish quota for various species that the fishermen can either catch themselves or trade to other fishermen.

The Northeast Coastal Community Sector has 25 fishermen in the small boat category, Shepard said, but few groundfish, even part-time, since it’s not profitable. If he can make the math work, Rider would like to join the Northeast Coastal Community Sector and leave the so-called common pool, where he is subject to daily catch limits and sudden closures of fishing areas. As a member of the sector, he would be able to lease quota and continue fishing even when some areas are closed.

Shepard said the groundfish fishery has space for people like Rider. “I think that business model could work for a lot of people as long as the regulations make sense to support those small-boat fishermen,” he said.

One of the biggest expenses for groundfish fishermen, for example, is monitoring costs, Shepard said. Every time they go out fishing they must notify the federal government so that an at-sea monitor can be randomly assigned to their boat, and the fishermen have to pay for it.

“And it doesn’t matter if it’s a monitor on an 80-foot dragger that’s landing 10,000 pounds of fish or a monitor on a 36-foot boat like Tim’s landing 800 pounds of fish, the daily rate for that monitor is the same in both situations,” Shepard said. “That’s very expensive.”


Despite the challenges, the renewed attention being paid to small-scale fishing operations has inspired at least a few others to take the leap. Mike Keegan, for one, plans to expand the rod-and-reel groundfishing portion of his business this year. For a small fee, Rider will pick up and sell some of Keegan’s fish to his restaurant clientele.

Jim LaMarche of Bedford, New Hampshire, plans to do the same. LaMarche works in technology and fishes commercially for tuna on the side. He wants to start rod-and-reel groundfishing and hopes to help Rider meet restaurant demands for premium fish.

Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance’s Dorry says many political issues must be settled before small-scale fishing, such as rod-and-reel fishing, can expand in New England. She is hopeful that can happen. In some communities, she said, “new middleman entities” that support small fishermen are in development. She cited one company that hired a young activist as its seafood buyer who is committed to giving small-scale fishermen a fair price. Networks of “values-based” fishermen and seafood operations are starting to come together, she said.

“All of those are signs to me that things can change,” Dorry said. “Tim doesn’t have to be an anomaly.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad

]]> 0 Rider, left, and mate Andy Santoriello clean 600 pounds of haddock, pollock, cusk and the occasional cod as they return from a recent excursion 61 miles out of port in the Gulf of Maine. Using rods and reels, the small-scale commercial groundfishermen bring in no bycatch and don't harm the ocean floor as industrial trawlers and gillnet vessels do.Sat, 28 Jan 2017 22:03:34 +0000
This year, why not ask your Valentine to move in – to your gingerbread Luv Shak? Sun, 22 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 If candy hearts aren’t your thing, and you’re too shy to ask your crush to be your Valentine, consider suggesting that you be “mug buddies” instead.

Mug Buddy Cookies – 3-D cookies that perch on the edge of your coffee or tea mug – are the creation of Biddeford native Märgen Soliman. At Christmas, she makes tiny gingerbread houses. For Valentine’s Day those houses have been transformed into “Luv Shaks” and “Be Mine Bungalows.” She also makes bouquets of roses that some people like to eat in “she loves me, she loves me not” fashion.

Soliman was working as an actress in New York City when she decided to open an shop to sell her little treats. Then Anthropologie came calling and asked her to make gingerbread house mug toppers for the Christmas season. This year, she made snowflake toppers for the company.

Now she’s back in Maine, and has transformed Mug Buddy Cookies into a full-blown business based in her hometown.

“For me,” she said, “it’s about more than just eating a delicious cookie. It’s about connecting with other people and taking a moment to enjoy the little things in life.”

The little toppers can be time-consuming to make, but Soliman has a crew that helps with mixing the dough, decorating the pieces and “gluing” them together. For spring, she’ll have butterflies and lighthouses.

Mug Buddies come in sets of two for $10. Three butterflies cost $12.50. They can be purchased on the Mug Buddy website,, or in Maine at Gifts at 136 in Damariscotta and Farm + Table in Kennebunkport.

]]> 0, 21 Jan 2017 18:11:42 +0000
LePage says egg prices will skyrocket. Is he right? Sun, 22 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Earlier this month, on his weekly phone call to a WGAN morning radio show, Gov. Paul LePage predicted that the wholesale price of eggs in Maine will “skyrocket.” He’d heard estimates, he said, that the price of eggs would be jumping from 69 cents a dozen wholesale to $1.87.

While he did not give a source for those precise numbers, he attributed this impending leap to a referendum passed in Massachusetts that bans the sale of eggs from caged hens. Maine’s only big egg farm, owned by infamous egg mogul Jack DeCoster but operated by Pennsylvania-based Hillandale, uses cages for its approximately 2 million laying hens in Turner.

That kind of price leap is not likely to happen anytime soon, said Hillandale spokeswoman Melanie Wilt. For one thing, Hillandale, which sells its Turner-produced eggs throughout New England, including a “significant” number in Massachusetts, she said, will be able to sell its conventionally produced eggs in Massachusetts into 2020, when the ban takes effect.

“If you are talking about the governor, I think he was making more of a broad statement about the pressure to produce cage-free eggs,” she said. “And cage-free egg production is more expensive than conventional.” Labor costs are just one of the higher costs associated with cage-free facilities, she said. “The bottom line is eventually, it is passed on to the consumer.”

But the exchange got us wondering: Who or what sets the price of eggs?

Eggs are not part of the commodity market. In the supermarket, they’re usually next to the milk, but the pricing system for these two staples of the American diet – per capita we eat 261 eggs a year – are nothing alike. There’s no government minimum price for a dozen eggs, although the United States Department of Agriculture has purchased surplus eggs as a means of assisting farmers with too much supply and not enough demand.

“It’s really market-based,” said Jay Earnshaw, who has been buying and selling eggs for 30 years at Dutch Farms, a Chicago-based egg and dairy supplier that sells eggs nationally and internationally. “It’s a very competitive market.”

And right now, unless you’re buying them direct from a small farm where the chickens live as close to nirvana as a chicken can – a different pricing system – they’re incredibly cheap.

“Crazy cheap,” Earnshaw said. “Money-losing cheap.”

Dennis Bowden of Bowden’s Egg Farm in Waldoboro has been in the business for 46 years, so he’s lucky enough to have his mortgage paid off. That said, the low price of eggs – the lowest they’ve been in a decade and not that different from what they went for retail when he was a boy – is not doing him any favors. He still has to heat the barns enough for the hens to thrive in a Maine winter, and pay for feed he has to get from Quebec, seven tons delivered every other Thursday, hasn’t gotten any cheaper during this ebb in egg profitability.

“We’ve been running in the red now for the last three months,” Bowden said.


Unofficially, the big guns in commercial egg farming have a lot to do with pricing. Like Jack DeCoster, a Maine native who is currently appealing a conviction that is supposed to send him to prison for three months, but whose egg empire extends through many states.

“Jack has always been the low-ball pricer, and he kind of sets the standards,” Bowden said. “And all of the rest of us hope we can get a little bit more than that, based on quality.”

On an official level, the United States Department of Agriculture tracks the price of eggs every week, and estimates how those prices will vary based on factors that include the price of feed, what worldwide demand is (as a nation, we export a lot of eggs) and the supply at any given time. (Fun facts: Hens don’t lay as many eggs in the winter and eggs are typically cheapest in May because that’s when supplies ramp up. The USDA also tracks industry numbers, such as how many laying hens egg producers have (311 million nationally in December).

The USDA negotiates for imports and exports of eggs, most recently reaching an agreement with South Korea to buy American eggs. Since the outbreak of Avian flu in America in 2015 – which caused a big spike in prices – many countries banned American eggs, including South Korea. But now South Korea has the Avian flu and its big Lunar New Year holiday, which calls for eggs, is coming up. This agreement reopens that egg trade door, and it means something to an egg farmer in Waldoboro, even an egg farmer like Bowden who has just 3,000 laying hens.

“I just got the word,” Bowden said.

This matters to Bowden, 68, who grew up on the egg farm started by his father in 1947, even though he personally is not going to be shipping eggs to South Korea. He sells only in Maine. But the space made by those eggs that get shipped off to Asia will create an opening somewhere in the overflowing American egg market for him. His product fits that niche of customers who want Maine-laid eggs but aren’t able to afford pasture-raised eggs sold at farmers markets and are less than eager to buy Hillandale’s eggs from Turner (the facility was featured in a Humane Society undercover video of dead and maimed birds and crowded cages, released last summer in advance of the Massachusetts vote, although a later investigation by Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation found no evidence of inhumane treatment).

Bowden, who majored in agricultural and resource economics at the University of Maine, is up to date in part because he’s got an egg farmer friend in Pennsylvania who can afford to subscribe to the egg newsletters produced by what might be the most powerful voice in setting the price of eggs domestically, market research publisher Urner Barry, and that friend keeps Bowden apprised of what’s going on in the egg market. Thus he knows that in the coming weeks, South Korean purchases of American eggs will make it easier to unload some of the eggs he’s got stored in Waldoboro to his 180 “Mom and Pop” accounts around the Midcoast area.

Urner Barry was founded in 1858 by a New York City printer who saw an opportunity to gather all the prices being paid by merchants in that port city. It publishes market quotes and commentary on the egg market, as well as poultry and red meat daily, and is considered the expert on tracking inventory. Which has a lot to do with pricing. For instance, when the Avian flu arrived in America in 2015, supply went way down as producers were forced to slaughter entire flocks, sending prices as high as the ones Gov. LePage was predicting on WGAN, $1.88 a dozen, wholesale. The flu never reached Maine, but it did a number on big producing states like Iowa.

That should be good for business, right? At least if you’re an egg farmer who doesn’t have the flu on your property. It would, if it weren’t for the fact that American customers don’t respond well to big price increases. They’re used to the incredible edible bargain that is an egg. Retail consumers, the ones that shop at say, Hannaford, where a dozen Nature’s Place eggs, brown, cage free, might run you $2.99, are less likely to put the brakes on egg buying. In fact, Urner Barry reported a pretty decent market for holiday baking season.

But the food companies, the ones that make mayonnaise or use, say, dried egg powder in their products, are far less likely to go along with a sudden spike in pricing.

“It’s the food service companies that backed out,” Earnshaw said. And they haven’t all come back yet, even though the Avian flu crisis here has passed. “They started substituting other things as a binder.”

That’s the industry rationale for the fact that throughout 2016, the price per dozen averaged only about 91 cents nationwide, the lowest it had been in a decade. The same decade during which the national trend has begun to move toward a cage-free setting for hens, which opponents, like Gov. LePage, say will increase egg prices. California’s mandatory cage-free egg production was passed several years ago but only went into effect at the beginning of 2015.


A wholesale price of $1.87 a dozen doesn’t sound all that shocking in the grand scheme of things. The highest price Dennis Bowden remembers ever getting wholesale was $3.29.

For what it is, a dozen chunks of nicely wrapped-by-nature protein, a dozen eggs could well seem like a bargain. But there is one other segment of the egg business to consider; the direct farm market eggs, the kind like Daniel Mays sells from his Frith Farm in Scarborough and that Josh Girard plans to start selling this spring in Lyman. These are pasture-raised hens, who don’t just have a little more leg room in a barn. They get outside during the day. And their eggs cost a lot more; Mays typically charges $6.50 a dozen and Girard is going to start his prices at $7. Who sets these prices?

It’s a what’s called a cost-plus system. The farmer runs his or her numbers, for feed, for heating the barn, replacing fences if the chickens roam pasture land during the day, for associated repairs of equipment. (Which can last a good long time if it was well made to start out with; during a tour of his barn Bowden kicks a watering trough in his barn that he says is 40 years old.) Then the idea is to factor in the cost of his or her labor; that’s the area that could be considered flexibile, although most farmers would probably like to pay themselves at least minimum wage.

In both Mays’ and Girard’s cases, the high cost can be directly attributed to the price of organic feed. Maine doesn’t have an organic feed mill – one closed a couple of years ago – so they have to have their feed delivered from Vermont. Girard brought a few dozen eggs to farmers markets last summer.

“And they were just snatched up,” Girard said. “The demand for eggs is really high.”

It doesn’t take too many trips to farmers markets to see that this is true; the eggs, even those that aren’t organic, are often gone by 11 a.m. Once you’ve had an egg with a bright yellow yolk, it’s hard to go back to supermarket eggs. So Girard is going to test out that $7 price point and see how he does. Worth noting; each of those eggs is still less than 60 cents at that rate.


Bowden made the switch to cage free in 2014, when the caged facility his dad had built in the 1960s had reached the end of its usefulness.

“I went back to the way we did it when I was a kid,” he said.

But it wasn’t as easy as just opening the gates of the cages. He also drastically cut his flock, which had been over 33,000, to just 3,000, which put him just below the benchmark for being federally regulated. This way, his life is easier, although, he points out wryly as chickens peck at his boots, there is just as much labor involved in 3,000 cage-free hens as there was in 33,000 caged birds.

His is what constitutes a small commercial operation.

For the big producers of 50,000 or more, like Hillandale’s giant hen farm in Turner, which is permitted to hold up to 4 million hens (the company has cut back to about half as many hens recently), going cage free would take much longer to implement. Hillandale spokeswoman Melanie Wilt said rumors that the Turner farm, which employs 275 people, would be shutting down “are news to me” and “unsubstantiated” but couldn’t say whether plans exist to convert it down the line. Hillandale’s corporate policy is that new facilities or expansions will be built as cage free. Two new cage-free Hillandale farms are due to come online in Ohio and Connecticut as early as this March, she said, and the expectation is that the cage-free Connecticut facility would be able to fulfill Massachusetts’ needs in the future.

Certainly demand is out there from retailers. Delhaize America, which owns Hannaford, announced its commitment to buying (and selling) entirely cage-free eggs by 2025. But Wilt said demand remains for the conventional eggs produced in farms like the one in Turner as well.

Back to the price of eggs. Are consumers likely to see a jump in egg prices any time soon?

“That is not the trend that I am seeing right now,” Wilt said.

Even if South Korea buys a tremendous number of American eggs, the prices are likely to stay low, absent another Avian flu outbreak of the kind that did send prices skyrocketing in 2015. Which isn’t great for a small commercial egg farmer like Bowden. But for anyone who likes a three-egg omelette on a regular basis?

“I don’t think the consumer has got anything to gripe about,” Bowden said.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0 Lawler gathers eggs out of the box at Bowden's Egg Farm in Waldoboro on Tuesday.Mon, 23 Jan 2017 16:21:27 +0000
Locally raised Maine meat is not in short supply Sun, 22 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 There is certainly enough local meat being raised in Maine to go around. The problem is that most of it leaves the state to be processed.

Analysts with the Reinvestment Fund, a public-policy driven lending institution based in Baltimore, presented findings of a recent study geared toward optimizing the state’s red meat supply chain to a packed house at the More Maine Meat Workshop held at the 76th Annual Maine Agriculture Trade Show in Augusta earlier in January. The bottleneck to getting more sustainable red meat on the menu in Maine is a shortage of meat-cutting facilities and butchering talent that can efficiently bring local beef, pork and lamb from the pasture to the plate here.

In the study, demand for local meat was based on USDA sales numbers. Supply was based on data pulled from a Dun & Bradstreet business registration of local farms. Researchers noted that supply was likely underestimated as many smaller farms are not included in those numbers. But even with the lowball estimate on the supply side, researchers found that the existing meat-processing facilities in Maine today can process only a third of the animals that local farmers can raise.

Ingredients for Christine Burns Rudalevige's Beef and Ale Pie.

Beef and Ale Pie is made with stewed beef and mushrooms. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

This statistic was not a surprise to the dozens of farmers in the room that day. The shortage of first-stage processors (ones that slaughter animals in certified facilities and butcher them into large primal cuts that then get shuttled off to second-stage processors that break them down into the steaks, chops and ground meat we buy) is a reality they’ve been working around for years. They do so by booking slaughter dates six months in advance at the dwindling number of Maine processing facilities or trucking their animals out of state to get the job done at an added cost to producers and the environment with no guarantee that the processed meat will make it back to Maine eaters. Having to transport the animals long distances causes them stress and gives farmers who care about how their animals die less control over their demise.

The study gave five potential locations (Chapman, Monmouth, Troy, Windham and Port Clyde) where additional Stage 1 meat-processing facilities could be located to, theoretically, relieve the bottleneck.

“But with the margins on meat processing so tight, you’d have to almost guarantee even more demand to have the cost of the new plants be feasible,” said Barry Higgins of Maple Lanes Farms, a beef producer and operator of a custom meat-processing facility in Charleston.

Christine Burns Rudalevige's Beef and Ale Pie.

The finished product, Christine Burns Rudalevige’s Beef and Ale Pie. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Farmer Nanne Kennedy of Meadowcroft Farm, a board member of the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society, said her group is working to build a brand that could certify that meat came from an animal that was born, raised and processed in the state. “Consumers want a guarantee they are in fact getting the local meat they believe they are paying for,” Kennedy said. She is working on a grant proposal for a pilot program that would use low-frequency RFID tags (which are attached to the animal’s ear and store information about birth, pedigree and location that can then be read electronically) to track and verify where an animal was reared throughout its lifetime. She anticipates the pilot would start this summer and is looking for farmers to participate.

If consumers are intent on buying more Maine meat, the industry must also address the need for more trained meat cutters, Higgins said. Filling these physically demanding jobs, which according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics pay between $14.90 and $16.30 per hour in Maine, is a constant struggle, Higgins said.

The ingredients for Beef and Ale Pie

The ingredients are all ready for making the Beef and Ale Pie. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Dr. Richard Brzozowski, food systems specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, stepped up to say the extension would hold a weeklong meat-cutting school in late April and would work with existing processors to tailor the curriculum to their needs. He was peppered with ideas ranging from preparation of hides to charcuterie food safety plans.

If the farmers, processors and food systems specialists have their way, more Maine meat will be available. It’s our job to try it – and keep on buying it – to support the systems needed for that part of the local agricultural system to thrive.

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


Christine Burns Rudalevige cooks the beef for her Beef and Ale Pie.

Christine Burns Rudalevige cooks the beef for her Beef and Ale Pie. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


This recipe is a labor of love, but it is also one that keeps on giving. The stew should be made ahead and cooled before it gets baked into the pie. The amount of gravy it makes cannot go into the pie as that would risk a soggy bottom.  Reserving a good portion of the gravy means you can serve it with bangers (sausages) and mash later in the week.

Serves 6, plus makes gravy for a future meal


1 ounce dried wild mushrooms

11/2 pounds of braising beef (buy whole piece and cut into 1-inch pieces)

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 large onions, roughly chopped

4 large carrots, chopped into large chunks

2 parsnips, chopped into large chunks

2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

11/2 cups dark ale

11/2 cups beef stock

4 sprigs thyme

4 parsley stems

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup chopped smoky bacon

1 pound fresh button mushrooms, quartered


21/2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 cup lard or bacon fat, frozen and cut into pieces

5-6 tablespoons ice water

1 egg yolk, beaten, to glaze

To make the beef, place the dried mushrooms in a large measuring cup and cover them with 11/2 cups boiling water. Set aside for 20 minutes. Strain the mushrooms, reserving the mushrooms and soaking liquid separately.

Season the meat well with salt and pepper. Melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan and steaming the meat, brown the cubes of meat, then remove them to a bowl using a slotted spoon. In the fat remaining in the pan, add the onions, carrots, parsnips and garlic. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté until the vegetables soften, 5-6 minutes. Add the rehydrated mushrooms, stir and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour and sugar over the vegetables, stirring until the flour turns brown, 2-3 minutes. Return the meat, and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl, to the Dutch oven. Stir to combine. Add the ale, stock and mushroom soaking liquid, discarding the last few drops, which may contain grit.

Tie together the thyme sprigs, parsley stems and bay leaf with kitchen twine. Tuck the herbs into the stew and bring it to a simmer. Cover with a lid and continue to simmer on low heat until meat is tender, about 2 hours.

While the stew is cooking, heat remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Add the bacon and cook until the pieces are crisp, about 3 minutes. Turn up the heat, add the fresh mushrooms and cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and, when the stew is cooked, stir in the bacon-mushroom mixture.

Remove herbs from the pot. Cool stew completely.

To make the pastry, mix the flour, salt and pepper together in a medium-sized bowl. Using your fingers or a fork, cut fat into the dry ingredients until the coated fat is roughly the size of peas. Add enough ice water to make a soft dough. Knead the pastry lightly, and divide it into 2 disks, 1 about 1/3 larger than the other. Wrap and let disks rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. The pastry can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept in the refrigerator or frozen for up to 1 month.

When you are ready to make the pie, heat the oven to 425 degrees F and place a flat baking tray in the oven. Grease a 9-inch pie dish and dust well with flour. Roll out the larger disk of pastry into a 1/4-inch thick round that will easily line the pie dish and have an overhang. Line the pie dish with it. Add the cool beef stew to the dish using a slotted spoon so that most of the gravy is left behind in the container. The filling will be slightly higher than the rim of the dish.

Roll out the remaining pastry disk into a circle big enough to cover the pie dish. Brush the edges of the bottom crust with egg yolk, then cover with the pastry lid. Trim the edges, crimp them together, then re-roll your trimmings to make a decoration, if you like. Make a few little slits in the center of the pie to allow air to vent, brush the top of the pie with egg yolk, place the pie on the hot baking tray, then bake for 40-50 minutes until golden.

Let the pie rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve warm with some of the reserved gravy.




]]> 0 ingredients for Beef and Ale PieFri, 20 Jan 2017 13:19:51 +0000
Approach college debt with caution or rue the consequences Sun, 22 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “What education giveth in terms of freedom and opportunity, student debt often taketh away.” – Zac Bissonnette, “Debt-Free U”

Too many high school students stumble through applications for college loans with far more optimism than realism. Looking back on their blindfold walk, more than a third of young people recently reported that they would not have attended college if they’d known what the total cost would be.

Higher education is becoming unsustainable both for students and for society. The $1.34 trillion in student debt that young Americans have racked up limits their life choices, forcing them to postpone marriage and home ownership and restricting their careers (ruling out options to work their values in lower-paying professions that benefit community and earth). Escalating student debt saps vitality from our culture and economy, squelching innovations needed to improve our world.

Back in 1971, the total yearly cost for a private four-year college averaged less than $3,000, notes Boston Globe writer Neil Swidey. Had college costs kept pace with inflation, the annual price tag now would average around $17,000, rather than $44,000.

Institutions require families to pay more when other revenue sources dwindle – as can happen when state support for public universities drops. Yet costs also climb due to spending on high-paid administrative roles and upscale campus facilities. Between 1997 and 2012, the median square-foot cost tripled for academic and science buildings and quintupled for residential halls. Students burdened with ever more debt often dwell in a surreal world of luxurious residential suites, elegant dining halls and resort-class fitness centers.

Despite the extravagance in higher education, many families resign themselves to paying top dollar and assuming debilitating debt. There is another way, though; fully a third of college students still graduate without student loans, giving themselves options to pursue entrepreneurial ventures, creative endeavors and work for the greater good.

Zac Bissonnette shows how to realize this goal with no parental help in “Debt-Free U,” a book he wrote while paying his own way at the University of Massachusetts. Bissonnette and other authors (such as Kristina Ellis, Alex Chediak and Marco LeRoc) offer signposts pointing toward a more sustainable educational path. Here are some of their recommendations, directed to high-school students.


You’re about to enter a process that demands the wariness of a used-car search. Don’t focus on the collegiate equivalent of heated seats (like food courts and swimming pools); concentrate on functionality and value. As with vehicles, name brands hold surface appeal but may not be worth the inflated price.

Realize that some of those advising you may have inherent conflicts. College financial aid officers have a stake in your enrolling, whether or not you can afford it; high school counselors may be under pressure to direct you toward a four-year institution rather than a more affordable community college.

Higher education can increase your long-term earning power, but it’s not a simple equation. Roughly half of recent college graduates are in low-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. Median real annual earnings for college graduates rose less than $800 between 1986 and 2013 (while those of high school graduates actually dropped by $2,525).


Study personal finance so you understand the implications of compound interest and – before enrolling – estimate any future monthly loan repayments. Don’t be taken in when schools conflate work study or loans – including parent PLUS loans – with “aid awards.” (If you expect your parents to take out loans or draw on home equity or retirement savings for your education, be prepared to support them in their old age.)

College loan officers may not pull as many tricks as car retailers, but they’re not above sending misleading letters with a “net price” that neglects major costs like room and board. Award letters outline only one year’s costs, so estimate your four-year investment.

Scholarship awards can sound like free money, but some schools deduct these from their aid package so the family contribution does not change. Institutions also may front-load grant awards in the first year, providing fewer in subsequent years. Identify these patterns and compare school statistics using tools like College Navigator.


When you borrow money for a house or car, you can resell those possessions to repay debt. With student loans, you are the collateral. If you default, lenders can garnish your wages, tax refunds and Social Security benefits.

Loans come due whether or not you graduate and – take note – only half of students graduate within five years of starting. Many young people shoulder the costs of college without the rewards.

Work during college can do far more than pay bills: It prepares you for future jobs. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that fully half of college graduates wished they had gained more work experience during college.


Make college choices that won’t limit future options to serve your community and the larger world. Better yet, begin those transformative experiences before entering college. Taking time to mature during a gap year can boost your motivation and focus, increasing the odds that you’ll finish on time (and hence save money).

College can expand your mind and opportunities, but keep in mind that – far more than the name on your degree – your own initiative and perseverance will shape your future.

Marina Schauffler is a writer whose work is online at

]]> 0, 20 Jan 2017 13:22:56 +0000
When it comes to trees and shrubs, go native Sun, 22 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Lois Berg Stack, who worked for 30 years as an ornamental horticulture specialist, retired from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in January.

I haven’t counted, but I think she is the source I have used most often since I began writing the Maine Gardener column in March 2004, whether I was attending lectures she gave around New England or calling her up to pick her brain. I had heard about her long before I started the column because my wife, Nancy, has been an active member of the Garden Club Federation of Maine for all of the 30 years Stack was with the Extension and always raved about Stack’s lectures.

I’ve held onto the notes from a 15-minute talk on New England’s indigenous fruiting trees and shrubs that Stack gave in February 2015 at New England Grows in Boston, thinking that if I ever had a week in which I couldn’t think of a column idea or if one requiring interviews fell through, I would use the notes for a back-up column.

The back story of the lecture is that New England Grows is a huge, usually three-day event for landscapers, nursery professionals, lawn guys, suppliers of granite, suppliers of anything to do with gardening and so on. That morning someone else was supposed to give this talk – I can’t remember who. But that was the winter Boston and New England Grows both got slammed with record-setting snow during the event. Stack filled in, smoothly and knowledgeably, as always.

After her talk, I asked how long she had to prepare. She said she organized the talk while walking the 100 yards from the New England Extension’s booth to the lecture hall lectern, which, she said, explained why the plants were arranged in roughly alphabetical order. She just pulled them out of the plant catalog that exists in her head – which would be a nice thing to have.

Now is a good time to make use of these notes, both because she is retiring and because I want to keep emphasizing how important native plants are to supporting native wildlife, which evolved along with these plants. All these indigenous fruiting trees and shrubs are hardy in all of Maine, Zones 3 to 6, with some even okay in Zone 2, which is a couple hundred miles north of Maine’s northern border. (For other Stack fans, I interviewed her just before she retired for a future column on plant names. Coming to you soon in this space.) Stack praised two native aronias, but favors Aronia melanocarpa, or black chokeberry, and hoped more people would begin growing it commercially.

“Black chokeberry has more antioxidants than any other fruit I can think of,” she said. The problem is that the berries do not taste good if eaten raw, so they have to be made into juices or jams to be edible.

Both the black chokeberry and red chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia, have attractive white flowers in the spring in addition to their berries; the black berries are larger and hold on longer in winter.

The plants are adaptable to many different soil types. They grow 8 to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

Amelanchier, or serviceberry, is an excellent substitute for the non-native crabapples, Stack said.

“It gives us the same thing the crabapple does: flowers, fruit, fall color and architectural branches in winter,” she said.

The white flowers bloom in early spring, and the berries ripen in June and are tasty if you can get to them before the birds do. Amelanchier does well in wetlands but also grows in drier soil.

American hornbeam is not usually included as a fruiting tree, but technically speaking it is, and Stack said she included it in her talk for its ornamental values. It grows about 22 feet tall, is multi-stemmed but classified as a tree, and tolerates a wide variety of soils.

The fruit arrives in late summer as what she described as “curiously bracted fruitlets,” with a leafy bract hanging over the tiny fruits, which are inedible except by birds. The bracts stay on the tree, and change from light green to yellow, while the leaves turn a reddish purple – providing an array of colors on one tree.

The Cockspur hawthorn, Crataegus crusgalli, is a thornless version of a native hawthorn, so this is the one you want if children are going to be playing nearby. Hawthorn thorns, which can be attractive in winter and protect the fruit, can grow as much as 4 inches long. It is a small tree, reaching about 25 feet tall, with spreading branches making it about 30 feet wide. It flowers profusely in May or June and produces small fruit that is edible but mealy. The fruit persists during winter and is a great forage plant.

The beach plum and sand cherry, Prunus maritima and Prunus pumila, are two related plants that offer terrific flowers that pollinators love.

“When they are in bloom it looks like the plant is moving because there will be thousands of pollinators on a single plant,” Stack said.

If you want fruit in addition to the blossoms, you will need more than one prunus plant that bloom at the same time, so they can cross-pollinate. In addition, all of the native plum family get a black knot fungus, but she said you can prune it out without much trouble.

Vacciniums, which include high-bush and low-bush blueberries as well as cranberries, have white blossoms in the spring and delicious fruit in August. Everybody should grow several in their yards both for the delicious fruit and for the spring blooms and brilliant fall foliage.

New England Grows has changed its meeting dates to the beginning of December. I doubt that the date change is due to the blizzards in Boston in March in recent years. Heaven knows who will be staffing the New England booth instead of Lois. She will be missed.

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

]]> 0 Berg Stack, who retired recently from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has been a fixture on the garden lecture circuit.Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:21:02 +0000
Even people who say they always kill houseplants can keep a cast-iron plant alive Sun, 22 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Houses are tough on plants. Air in most homes is dry, light is low and temperatures can vary, depending on how many sweaters the human occupants of the house are willing to wear.

For these reasons, many people think they can’t grow houseplants. But here’s one plant these people should try: the cast-iron plant, or Aspidistra elatior.

The cast-iron plant has been popular since Victorian times, probably because it can keep growing with almost no care, even in dim light.

It is usually grown for its foliage, which is made of upright lance-shaped leaves that grow 2 to 3 feet tall, although it occasionally produces small dark purple flowers at its base. While you should make sure the soil is moist when you first plant it – in an 8- to 10-inch pot – you can let it dry out between waterings without causing any harm.

Sources differ on where the plant originated. Some say China; others attribute it to the islands off China, including Taiwan and Japan. Outdoors, the plant is hardy to Zone 6 or 7 (again, experts differ), and it is used as an evergreen ground cover in Southern states.

Once the dark days of winter are over, you can put it outside on your deck and continue to enjoy it.

]]> 0, 19 Jan 2017 18:23:43 +0000
Fisheries ecologist Lisa Kerr tracks cod and bluefin tuna Sun, 22 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Fisheries ecologist Lisa Kerr has been at the Portland-based Gulf of Maine Research Institute for four years, researching fisheries with the aim of improving sustainability management and understanding the ecosystem as a whole, as well as how it might be changing. She is the expert on all things cod and bluefin tuna. We called her up to talk science and in the process learned about her mother’s cool summertime rule, how the Bahamas played a role in her career and what the inner ear bone reveals about fish.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW? Kerr grew up in Hingham, Massachusetts, and did her undergraduate work at Tufts, where in her sophomore year, “I really caught the science bug and decided if I could figure out a way to do this I would.” Small wonder: She got to go on a tropical field ecology course on a private island in the Bahamas with a field station. It was only two weeks, but “I just loved it.” That, she concedes, was one of the more glamorous scientific trips she took, but when she went back to Tufts, she got involved in working in marine labs. “A lot of microscope work.” She also co-authored her first paper with one of her professors, on the bioenergetics of marine worms. That would be? Basically, “how much they eat and excrete.” She got hooked on the publishing side of science.

SHARK TANK: After Tufts, Kerr went back to the Bahamas, where she spent six months at a shark research lab. “Tagging and tracking lemon sharks, doing shark dives and things like that.” Kerr was ready then to go to graduate school at Cal State’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. She lived in Monterey, California, “a great place to do marine science. Those kind of epic kelp forests and sea life.” After getting her master’s, she crossed the country again to get her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, working at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. Her specialty was understanding population structure in fish groups. She focused on white perch, which in that region spawn in fresh water and then move into higher salinity waters.

HOME SWEET HOME: From there, Kerr did a post-doctoral program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “I really wanted to get back to New England,” she says. “This is the ocean environment I grew up with, and I feel most invested in making a difference here.” Was there lots of beach time growing up on the South Shore in Hingham? Yes, but there were also summers in Cape Cod, with a mother who’d tell Kerr and her two brothers, after they made the trek to the Cape, ” ‘We don’t cross the bridge again until you guys have to go back to school.’ She was adamant.” There were tide pools and days on the beach, and “you just wore your bathing suit the whole time.”

WARM WATERS: The move to Maine to work at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute was welcome, although the actual Maine water? “It is still a little hard for me to get in. I still go down to the Cape sometimes to get my fix of swimming.”

BLACK BOX: At GMRI, Kerr uses tools she developed during her post-doctoral work, including looking at the otolith – the inner ear bone of a fish – for clues. “It’s essentially like a black-box recorder for the fish,” Kerr explains. “It records all this information. When you count the rings, it’s like tree rings, you can count the age of this fish.” It’s also possible to learn where the fish came from. “If you were born in a certain estuary, you kind of have this fingerprint in the bone about where that was.” With the bluefin tuna, a species she works with frequently, a fish spawned in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to return there to spawn, even if has wandered all the way across the Atlantic. “It’s pretty phenomenal.” The origin of the fish comes into play when the fishery is being managed. “The way we manage bluefin is they have drawn a line down the middle of the Atlantic. But the fish, of course, ignore this line, and we know that bluefin migrate all over the place. Some of my work is around, how do we manage the fish if they are ignoring our line?” For instance, the bluefish tuna population from the Mediterranean is more abundant than the Gulf of Mexico population. “We are making sure that we don’t unintentionally over-exploit the Gulf of Mexico population.”

CLOSER TO COD: She also works a lot with cod in the Gulf of Maine, or rather, with the different groups of cod, i.e., the winter spawning and the spring spawning and then the Eastern Georges Bank species. There’s far more diversity than scientists used to know about. “Not all cod are created equal.” Those three groups spawn at different times, for instance. “Cods are hedging their bets. You don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak. We compare it sometimes to an investment portfolio,” Kerr says. “Some of my research is on understanding where fish move and how these populations mix with each other.” And calculating to see which one, if any, can bring back the fishery. While much of her work involves mathematical modeling and computers, she does relish a chance to get out in the field whenever possible. For the last couple of years, that’s meant going out on a cod project with a commercial fisherman. “A big part of what we do at GMRI is really trying to engage with fishing partners. The fishermen have been in these waters for 30 years. They know where these fish are.”

ON THE PLATE: She’d like to see the groundfish population rebound. “A couple of the flounder stocks are not doing so well,” for instance. With all that she knows, does Kerr feel OK about eating fish? “I enjoy seafood, I eat seafood, I hope other people enjoy seafood. Something people really don’t know is that the U.S. has some of the best-managed fisheries in the world. That doesn’t always get as much press as I think it deserves.” As you wish.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Kerr, above, a research scientist at GMRI, studies fish and how they travel, reproduce and succeed in warming waters.Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:24:18 +0000
Maine professors recruit 700 colleagues to sign letter to Trump on climate change Thu, 19 Jan 2017 20:00:58 +0000 More than 700 physics and astronomy faculty members from across the country have signed onto a letter written by three Maine professors urging President-elect Donald Trump to make tackling climate change an “urgent priority.”

“Addressing climate change will involve short-term costs, but will also mean new investments, new jobs and new opportunities for global leadership; things that Americans around the country will welcome,” reads the letter sent Wednesday to the president-elect’s Trump Tower office in New York.

“President-elect Trump, we implore you to address the threat of climate change immediately. In so doing, you have a unique opportunity to make America an even greater country and secure a better future for all the children of the world.”

Three Maine professors – Paul Nakroshis of the University of Southern Maine and Mark Battle and Madeleine Msall of Bowdoin College – began drafting the letter soon after Trump’s election.

In the months since, they contacted colleagues at 751 colleges and universities with degree-granting physics programs. The final version sent Wednesday to Trump and released to the public as an “open letter” on Thursday was signed by 706 physics and astronomy scientists from 45 states.

Trump is a climate change skeptic and several of his Cabinet nominees have either fought against federal regulations to combat climate change or worked in the fossil fuels industry. In their letter, the professors wrote that “the scientific community is highly confident that human use of fossil fuels is the dominant driver of this warming” and that there is “no meaningful dissent” within the scientific community that carbon dioxide emissions are the dominant factor behind the warming climate.

Battle, an associate professor of physics who works on climate issues, said the three leaders of the letter as well as many of the signers were fully aware of Trump’s skepticism toward climate change and dismissal of the scientific consensus on the issue.

“But our feeling was we couldn’t stand by and do nothing with a clear conscience,” Battle said.

Battle stressed that while “a great majority” of the signatories to the letter were not climate scientists, they were all “trained scientists and trained communicators” who are able to recognize valid science and communicate it in a clear way.

“As faculty members and researchers from Departments of Physics and Astronomy around the United States, we urge you to address this issue as a most urgent priority,” reads the letter.

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

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 0 international agreement on limiting HFCs, often used in air conditioners and refrigerators, could put a half-degree Celsius dent in climate change by century's end, experts say.Fri, 20 Jan 2017 11:57:11 +0000
Luke Truman is planning for a greener future at Allagash Brewing Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Luke Truman’s job title at Allagash Brewing Co. in Portland is senior maintenance engineer, which means if there is a plumbing emergency, he is definitely on tap to do something about it. But he’s also on the “green team,” i.e., the sustainability team, which is made up of one person from each department at the craft brewery. We connected with him as he was trying to promote an upcoming event involving volunteers building out window inserts at Allagash, and the combination was intriguing enough for us to start asking more questions.

Truman told us he generally avoids talking about himself like the plague, but we’re grateful he did because it is not every day you get to chat with someone who worked on a dude ranch. And is seriously committed, professionally and personally, to sustainability.

A WINDOW OPENS: Starting this Thursday and running through Sunday, the Great Room of Allagash Brewing will be taken over by a buildout of nearly 300 window inserts for Window Dressers, a statewide organization that helps communities band together to make what amount to inexpensive interior storm windows for their friends and neighbors (and themselves too). These are the custom-built, reusable inserts made of pine and plastic that’s shrunken down over the frame and edged with foam, that can then be pushed into windows during the winter months to hold in the warmth and shut out the cold. The all-volunteer effort (you can sign up for it at runs four days, with 104 shifts, divided into four-hour increments. Allagash will serve lunch to volunteers. Truman will be there for sure, working on inserts that might end up in his own home in Deering Center. “I have three getting built at this build.” Truman and Kate Benthien, Allagash’s head of philanthropy, took the lead on the event.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Yeah, it’s already mid-January, but for a lot of us, that’s when we recognize just how drafty the house is. “There was enough of a back log of people that wanted inserts and didn’t get them in 2016 that we wanted to provide an opportunity for them to get the inserts built this winter,” Truman says. There’s a sliding scale involved so that those who can’t afford to pay full freight for inserts (typically around $40 per) might get them for as little as $1 each. Allagash is chipping in $5,000 from the proceeds of sales of its Hibernal Fluxus beer (that’s Latin for “continuous change”), a Belgian-style stout brewed with figs. If you show up (and yes, “We still need volunteers,” Truman says), plenty of Allagash employees will likely be working on the inserts. The company offers its employees an eight-hour paid day for volunteer work in the community.

GREEN TEAM: As part of the green team, Truman participates in companywide efforts to source ingredients and materials locally and responsibly. He’s also a member of the Brewers Association Sustainability Subcommittee. “I do my best to connect the dots between our values and our actions.” In recent years (he has been there five) Allagash has installed solar panels and switched from chemicals delivered in 55-gallon drums to using a vast tank refilled from a truck (the chemicals are used to clean out brewing equipment). The Window Dressers event is part of Allagash’s philanthropy program, which focuses on donating 1 percent of profits every year to local organizations. The insert build could become an annual event – let’s face it, Mainers have a lot of drafty windows.

BREWING CHANGE: Then on a micro, but highly important level, Truman and the rest of the team look for ways to improve operations, like choosing sustainable materials for expansions, diverting waste (they send used grain bags over to Southern Maine Community College for cleanup crews to use in place of contractor bags) and just generally making responsible decisions. “We also push the brewery to join forces with organizations like Ceres, Environment Maine and the Sierra Club, through PCAT (Portland Climate Action Team) work, to stand up for our sustainability values.” Sustainability trickles down throughout the staff of around 120 (Truman was Employee No. 38), right down to its tour guides talking about sustainability when they’re showing people around. “Without the involvement of the entire employee base, we do not succeed in being a sustainable company.”

EMPLOYEE NO. 38: Speaking of, how did Truman land at Allagash in the first place? He and his wife moved to Portland about six years ago. That decision represented a compromise between her home state (Rhode Island) and his (Wyoming). “Dumb luck,” he said. After spending the first year working on houses with a friend, he landed a job driving a truck for the brewery; he just happened to have a commercial truck license. “That is how I weaseled my way in the door.” A few months later, Allagash needed a maintenance guy. “I was the maintenance guy at a dude ranch in Wyoming, so it was a fairly natural fit.” Dude, really? What kind of maintenance did he do there? Truman laughed. “You end up with a lot of interactions with a lot of human plumbing issues. I got really good with a drain snake. And then I also ended up having to replace a leach field for the septic system. But you’re also framing walls, fixing fridges.”

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS: Truman is planning on making sure the brewery is lit entirely by LED lighting and collaborating more with the waste management industry to make Maine a model for the Glass Recycling Coalition. He’s also figuring out a way to reduce his car commuting to one day a week, taking the bus or his bicycle with a trailer hitched to it to get his two children (ages 2 and 1) to and from day care. Being a parent has increased his sense of urgency about what sustainability efforts can do to counter climate change. “I have got to make up for lost time. Growing up in Wyoming, sustainability is something that is not talked about nearly enough. It is a very fossil-fuel-driven economy, and it is really frustrating. There is a reason that I left there, because I’m just not wired that way. I am not wired to not acknowledge something that is just so blatantly obvious.”


]]> 0 Truman pictures a greener future for Allagash Brewery.Fri, 13 Jan 2017 11:03:00 +0000
Open Book: David Sibley’s bird paintings featured as an adult coloring book Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “The Sibley Birds Coloring Field Journal.” Alfred A. Knopf. $19.95.

I’ve read that adult coloring books are meditative and relaxing, both qualities I am in discouragingly short supply of. Still, it’s a trend that has mostly puzzled me. But when “The Sibley Birds Coloring Field Journal” crossed my desk late last year, I thought to myself, now there’s a coloring book I could get into.

1136907_Sibley book scan.jpgI’m a wannabe birder. I’m fascinated by birds – their songs, their nests, their habits, their loveliness. Only this morning, a large hawk (pages 66-67, red-tailed hawk? 2.4 pounds) in my neighbor’s tree grabbed my attention and made me late to work. Yet I can barely identify a robin (page 35, weight 2.7 ounces), and every time I pick up a field guide or listen to a tape of bird songs, I feel wholly overwhelmed by how little I know and how much there is to know.

The solidly constructed “Sibley Birds Coloring Field Journal,” with 75 black and white line drawings of birds based on famed ornithologist David Sibley’s paintings, strikes me as another path into a subject that requires a daunting amount of memorization and often speed. As Sibley puts it in the introduction, “Drawing is, on one level, simply a different way to interact with whatever you are studying.”

The book provides each bird’s common and Latin names, as well as its dimensions and weight. Small images of the original paintings are included, should you want to color the birds accurately, and several pages in the back detail the birds’ beak shapes and feather groups. With this book, some colored pencils and a little effort, color me knowledgeable?


]]> 0, 13 Jan 2017 11:06:42 +0000
Cheery bromeliads are easy – and they’re cool Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Bromeliads are unusual-looking plants that are surprisingly easy to grow. Even when it they are not in bloom, bromeliads are striking because the thick, pointed, strap-like leaves form a cup that collects water.

1136914_179967 bromeliad.jpgIf things go well, bromeliads will produce an inflorescence that looks like a flower in a wide range of shapes and colors. The “flower” is sometimes within the cup or it may appear on a stalk above the cup. In Florida, bromeliads grow both in trees and in gardens on the ground. In Maine, they are available at most good houseplant nurseries and are frequently sold in grocery stores as holiday plants because many have foliages in red or green.

Feed the plant half-strength fertilizer once a month. To water, all you need to do is fill the cup at the base of the leaves. They need bright light, but not direct sunlight.

For most bromeliads, place them in a saucer of gravel with water that comes up close to pot bottom but does not touch the plant roots. Others work as air plants, growing on logs or moss – we once grew one glued to a magnet on the front of our refrigerator. Clerks where you buy the plant will tell you what you have.

Bromeliads are not long-lived, but when the center dies, the plant usually had already produced small plants, or pups, along the side. You can carefully cut out the “mother” plant so the pups will be able to grow up as new plants. Theoretically, you could do the reverse – cut the pups off the mother plant – but I’ve never succeeded at that while I have had luck removing the oldest plant. ­


]]> 0, 13 Jan 2017 11:10:11 +0000
Did you know marijuana is America’s most energy-intensive crop? Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Marijuana is said to be the most energy-intensive agricultural crop in the United States, consuming one percent of the entire nation’s energy output. It drains resources because of its high energy and water requirements. When pesticides are used, and that’s often, its carbon footprint gets even more troubling. Cannabis may grow green, but growing it is far from green in the sustainability sense.

And Maine, already home to a flourishing legal medical marijuana industry, is about to see a surge in even more growers as legal recreational usage for those 21 and up, approved by voters in November, goes into practice. That law allows for commercial marijuana cultivation up to 800,000 square feet, and ultimately, perhaps more if the state licensing agency determines more is needed to produce enough supply for the demand.

Legal marijuana is big business and getting bigger each year. Last year, sales went up 30 percent in North America to $6.7 billion, according to the ArcView Market Research Group, which tracks trends in the cannabis industry. There’s no telling when the complications of regulation for recreational sales in Maine will be worked out – a bill proposed in the legislature last week would delay the rollout of retail shops until February 2018 – but residents over 21 years old will likely be able to grow six plants for their own use starting in a matter of weeks.

Warehouses, greenhouses or gardens bursting with energy-sucking marijuana are an anomaly in a state that prides itself on its efforts toward sustainable growing practices in everything from beef to barley production.

Signs indicate that the industry’s approach may be changing, however, on both a national and state level. “The big conversation being had within the industry right now is about sustainability,” said Hunter Holliman, director of process development for 4Front Ventures, an investment and consulting firm in the medical cannabis industry. “I think people are starting to realize that the days of the 60,000- to 100,000-square-foot warehouse, with tons of high pressure, high-voltage lighting, are going to go by the wayside.”

Moving away from those “dinosaurs,” he said, is primarily motivated by profits. “The price point ends up being so high because of all the electricity that goes into the lighting and cooling.”

In Maine, medical growers say they are making efforts to improve notoriously inefficient growing methods. For instance, many of the lights used to push the plants’ growth also create so much heat that even in a Maine winter, a pot farmer will have to provide some means of cooling the air or risk over-heating the crop. In Unity, medical marijuana caregiver Dawson Julia uses only maybe a third of his 14,000-square-foot warehouse, an old creamery that dates back to at least 1910. The building, which he says once housed a potato canning factory and a printing press as well, came with three furnaces, but Julia uses mini-splits, the high-efficiency heat pumps Mainers have been installing in droves and funnels the heat from the lamps into a duct system to distribute it and keep about 5,000 square feet of the building warm.

Julia, at his company, East Coast CBDs, has also ditched all chemical fertilizers in favor of organic, is looking into putting solar panels on his roof and is part of a MOFGA trial for a clean cannabis growing certification program that would encourage cultivation more in line with organic practices.

Meanwhile, Maine’s biggest medical marijuana grower, Wellness Connection, is buying energy credits, reusing water and investigating using more efficient grow lights.

Wellness Connection operates four dispensaries (in Bath, Brewer, Gardiner and Portland) and one growing facility in Central Maine. They’ve gone paperless with their patient interactions and increased recycling – collecting 3,500 pounds of plastics and diverting them from landfills in 2016. And they’ve attempted to mitigate the stress their crops put on the environment by offering clients a discount if they bring packets of native seeds to the dispensary, which Wellness in turn donates to groups like Portland Trails to plant.

That might seem like a minor thing but Patricia Rosi, the chief executive officer of Maine’s biggest medical marijuana dispensary, Wellness Connection of Maine, says it adds up.

“We’ve collected about 1,000 of these seed packets,” Rosi said.

Sustainability is a priority for Wellness, she said, particularly in light of the cannabis industry’s rapid growth.

“As we are becoming a recreational-use state, I think it is more important than ever to make sure that the production process is careful of the environment,” she said.

At East Coast CBDs in Unity, Billie Pirruccello adds water to soil she just mixed. East Coast CBDs also uses high-efficiency heat pumps and forgoes chemical fertilizers in an effort to boost sustainability.

At East Coast CBDs in Unity, Billie Pirruccello adds water to soil she just mixed. East Coast CBDs also uses high-efficiency heat pumps and forgoes chemical fertilizers in an effort to boost sustainability. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


The biggest single environmental problem with marijuana cultivation is how much power it requires, specifically electricity. No matter what strain of marijuana is being grown, in Maine it’s grown almost entirely inside, for security reasons required by law and also by nature’s law. It’s not that marijuana can’t be grown outdoors in Maine, but its season would be limited to the summer. (Also, growing outdoors could lead to a pest problem, which in turn could lead to environmental problems. In 2014 scientists traced the death of animals like the Pacific fisher and endangered spotted owls to rat poisons used in outdoor marijuana farms in Northern California.) Growing inside means being able to control the plant’s development while adhering to security rules written into the medical marijuana legislation.

But indoor growing means that grow lights are an absolute necessity and the more popular ones to use, the ones that can push a flowering plant into optimum conditions for a good yield, burn a lot of electricity. Consider the case of the Monroe woman convicted in 2014 of running an illegal pot farm with her family; one piece of evidence linking her to the farm was $25,000 in electric bills she paid to Central Maine Power in a two-year period, for what was listed as a residential property. (And you thought you were spending too much lighting the house up for the holidays.)

Alternatives exist, like light-emitting diode or LED lights, which are just starting to be used successfully in some places. In Washington state, a utility called Puget Sound Energy has given out grants to growers for these expensive, sophisticated lights. But Rosi said that Wellness Connection has yet to find LED lights that will suffice for their operation. A frequent complaint about LED lights among growers is that the plants’ potency is negatively impacted by being grown under LED.

“We are using a mix of HPS (high pressure sodium), some T5 fluorescents,” she said, explaining that the plant’s lighting needs vary during the different stages of growth.

“There is a lot of LED on the market that is getting better,” Rosi added. “If I had a crystal ball, I would say that probably in four years we will all switch to LED. As of now, it is getting there but it is not as good as the other ones.”

Rosi hopes that the arrival of a retail market for marijuana in Maine – and in other states, like Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which also voted for recreational legalization in November – will open the door for improved efficiencies through incentives. “One thing that would fast track the implementation of LED for all of us would be if there were tax credits linked to switching to it.”

Dawson Julia looks over soil cooking in a room at East Coast CBDs. Julia also uses reclaimed water on his plants. He is one of five growers in MOFGA's trial for a proposed clean cannabis program.

Dawson Julia looks over soil cooking in a room at East Coast CBDs. Julia also uses reclaimed water on his plants. He is one of five growers in MOFGA’s trial for a proposed clean cannabis program. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


Tax credits would have to come from the state. Marijuana remains illegal on a federal level; it’s a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S. government’s eyes, considered in the same category as heroin. Because of that, growers are ineligible for many grants designed to help farmers become more sustainable.

But there are work-arounds. In Maine, a grower could make the switch to LED and receive rebates from Efficiency Maine. Michael Stoddard, executive director of the independent administrator for energy efficiency programs in Maine, said Efficiency Maine doesn’t require residential applicants to explain what they’re doing with any of their new high-efficiency LED lights or heating and cooling systems. Dawson Julia, for instance, says he got $500 rebates for his heat pumps, but his operation is small-scale, encompassing plants grown by three state licensed caregivers including himself.

However, on larger projects such as would be seen at a licensed commercial grower, Efficiency Maine might ask questions about, say, forecasted hours of use for lights. Efficiency Maine staff has been out to one medical marijuana growing operation to learn about its energy use. Two commercial growers have submitted applications to Efficiency Maine, but Stoddard said they opted not to go through with their proposals.

With the retail component of the recreational law likely up and running within a year, new licensed commercial operations, remember, up to 800,000 square feet, throughout the state could impact Maine’s power grid. But Stoddard said steps could be taken to mitigate that.

“We are hoping that as people develop these projects that they will talk to contractors or they will talk to us to see if there are high-efficiency options,” Stoddard said. “The energy bills are going to add up over time. We hope that they are thinking up front about what the efficiencies are going to be.”

In Colorado, which has been at the forefront of efforts to legalize marijuana, energy usage has already spiked since recreational use became legal. The Denver Post reported in 2015 that Denver’s electricity usage is rising at a rate of over 1 percent a year, nearly half of which comes from marijuana-growing operations. The increase coincides with nationwide efforts to drive electricity usage down, diminishing societal reliance on fossil fuel-fed electricity, such as that produced by coal-fired plants.

Denver’s goal has been to cut 80 percent of its emissions by 2050. More growers hooking onto the grid aren’t going to help the city reach that.

Evan Mills, a researcher from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, published a study in 2012 that claimed that indoor operations in California alone, both illegal and legal, used so much electricity that the additional greenhouse gas emissions were the equivalent of putting 1 million more cars on the Golden State’s roads. That study estimated that it takes 13,000 kilowatts annually to produce about five pounds of marijuana. That’s more electricity than the average American household uses in a year. And when you’re talking about $6.7 billion in sales, it becomes clearer why marijuana is the most energy-intensive crop in the United States.


But just as vegetable farmers want to make that perfect head of lettuce they’re cultivating cost less to grow without sacrificing quality, so do pot farmers. As the industry has matured, they’ve gotten more interested in efficiencies.

“People have had the time to reflect and think about, ‘What can I do better?’ ” Holliman said.

It might be said that inside every marijuana grower beats the heart of an engineer. “You are always trying to look for the next trick,” said Dawson Julia. “The faster you can figure that stuff out, the faster you can grow your business.”

Julia started growing in a garage, and that’s where he first rigged up a rain barrel system to collect the water thrown off by his heating and cooling system so he can water the plants with it. When he moved to the Unity warehouse in 2014, he brought that “technology” with him.

One of the oft-cited statistics about marijuana cultivation’s unsustainability is that every plant requires about six gallons of water a day to thrive. That’s a damning number. But Rosi said Wellness Connection uses more like a half-gallon per plant per day and Dawson says his plants get about a gallon, all of it reclaimed (and tested regularly to make sure it’s not contaminated and that the pH levels are right).

“We never turn on the faucet,” Julia said.

He’s still working on getting his electricity costs – about $4,000 a month – down. But as one of the five growers in MOFGA’s trial for a proposed clean cannabis program, he found an unexpected efficiency in going with organic tools to grow his plants. Because marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, it can’t be deemed “organic” even if all the growing practices adhere to organic methods. When Julia made the switch to from a chemical fertilizer to a certified organic fertilizer, he was pleasantly surprised. He and his fellow caregivers in Unity used to spend about $1,000 every few weeks on fertilizer that came in five-gallon jugs. Now they buy a fertilizer composed of ingredients like sea kelp, fish bone meal and bat guano – and it’s far cheaper.

“You end up saving a crap ton of money,” he said. “We have saved at least 90 percent on our fertilizer costs.”

Katy Green, MOFGA’s organic transitions coordinator, said the five members in the trial demonstrated they’ve met the standards MOFGA developed and were issued “clean cannabis” certificates last fall. “The standards that we have developed largely parallel the organic standards,” she wrote in an email. “We require soil-based production, and growers are using natural sources of soil fertility for their crops.” Green said MOFGA gets calls weekly from caregivers around Maine (there are nearly 3,000 of those) asking about the clean cannabis certification. But it’s up to the MOFGA board to decide whether it will launch a full program.

Rosi said a grower such as Wellness wouldn’t be eligible because it grows hydroponically. But Wellness Connection uses an Integrated Pest Management program that takes a multi-faceted approach to preventing and mitigating the threats posed by pests and diseases. “To date, one of the most successful pieces has been our biological control program,” she said. They bring in beneficial bugs, “insect species that target specific pests that exist in the crop or could exist in the crop.”

It’s all part of a process, Rosi said. She recognizes that Wellness, and Maine’s other growers, have got a long way to go when it comes to sustainability. “There is no silver bullet,” she said. “It takes a lot of commitment and an implemented approach.”


]]> 0 Julia, a medical marijuana caregiver, stands in a grow room in Unity where a heat pump is connected to a bucket that collects expended water, one of a number of sustainability practices employed at East Coast CBDs.Sat, 14 Jan 2017 23:33:32 +0000
In January, a gardener’s thoughts turn to seed catalogs Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Reading catalogs in January is a perfect pastime. It lets you calm down after the rush of the holidays and think of warm hours in the garden while you are actually trapped inside or limited to winter sports. It also lures you into trying new things. With unlimited time on your hands, your imagination soars as you read catalog copy about heritage tomatoes and new varieties of sugar snap peas.

This year, I am limiting myself to Maine catalogs. For the next few years, I want to ignore the world at large and follow Garrison Keillor’s suggestion to tend the garden and drink craft beer. Buying from Maine companies will boost the state and help me tune out the rest of the world.

Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester is off to a good start in 2017. Thomas Christopher lives in Connecticut and is co-author with Larry Weaner of “Garden Revolution: How our Landscapes can be a source of environmental change,” which I wrote about last year. He had high praise for Pinetree in his post on Garden Rant, my favorite gardening blog.

“I’m going to cap the cost of my seed expenditures by indulging my impulse purchases at Pinetree Garden Seeds,” Christopher wrote, praising the quality of the seeds and Pinetree’s low prices.

Business was good even before Christopher made that post Jan. 4. When I submitted our order on Jan. 2 – to take advantage of free shipping – the purple-podded Sugar Magnolia snap pea, a new offering, was already sold out. My rule of not looking at catalogs until after the holidays cost my wife and me this time.

Some new Pinetree offerings were still available. The Early Giant Leek can be grown from seed instead of with live plants, as I have done in the past. This will be a good experiment and less expensive – if it works.

I am also going to try the Wonderful Pineberry, which isn’t listed as new, but I didn’t notice it earlier. According to the catalog, it is a hybrid of strawberries, but white with tiny red seeds and tastes a bit like pineapple. It is ever-bearing, so should produce from late spring until first frost, and self-pollinating – but does better if you have regular strawberries nearby.

Pinetree is also selling ramp seedlings for the first time, priced at $9.50 for 10 plants. A few years ago, I planted some of these wild leeks, which I purchased from an out-of-state company. They haven’t done well, but I think the location was wrong. Our ramps haven’t died, but they aren’t happy with their position in life.

Fedco, the cooperative based in Clinton, has ramp seeds, which it says could produce seedlings in either the first or second year. That would be an alternative way to experiment with ramps, and at $3.50 for a packet, a good return on a small investment.

Fedco is fun for its political activism, as well as its good seeds and well-written catalog. This year, it is promoting the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), in which buyers and sellers promise not to restrict seed-saving, reselling, creating crosses or other activities in perpetuity. It is selling what it calls the Freed Seed Collection, which includes several OSSI-pledged varieties including lettuces, greens, calendula, leeks or onions and more.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 10.30.25 AMI didn’t think you could grow rice in Maine, but Fedco is offering Akamuro rice, which the catalog says will grow in Maine – Zone 4B and warmer as transplants, and 5A and warmer from seed. The hulls are burnt orange when mature, so it is an ornamental as well as a food plant.

We will try the Little Dipper butternut squash, a new Fedco offering, which is resistant to powdery mildew. The catalog says it got 22 fruits of 2 to 3 pounds each from three plants when all of the other plants in the trial succumbed to mildew.

The catalog for Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow is a joy to look at, with excellent photographs and design on glossy pages. I can spend a day leafing through the pages and dreaming about not only the plants but what I could do with the well-built tools and other equipment the company designs and sells.

A plant that grabbed my attention is Patio Baby, apparently the perfect eggplant for growing in pots. The bright purple flowers serve as an ornamental, and later you pick the dark purple fruits – which will produce throughout the season – when they are 2 to 3 inches long.

A tool that will tempt some home gardeners is the Wheel Weeder, which is human-powered and pushed at “fast walking pace.” It targets both small and established weeds with the motion of a stirrup hoe and comes in three models, 5, 7 and 11 inches wide, costing $269 to $299.

Wood Prairie Farm is a company that sells organic seed, with a specialty in organic potatoes, all produced on the family-owned farm in Aroostook County. The prices are higher than in some other catalogs, but the quality is excellent. Red Cloud is a new offering. It’s crimson, uncommonly dry, delicious baked or boiled, and a good keeper, the catalog says.

The company also offers a potato experimenter’s special: four varieties with a total of 12 tubers for $19.95.

These are just a few things that jumped out at me while I was going through the catalogs. I will be ordering a lot more from all of the Maine catalogs than the small number of plants I’ve mentioned here. If you don’t get the catalogs from these Maine companies in the mail, you can always check their websites.

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

]]> 0 Garden seed catalogueFri, 13 Jan 2017 10:37:55 +0000
Try a chem-free laundry detergent made in Maine Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 In the past few years, Kate Perrin has nursed three children right along with a fast-growing company that makes chemical-free laundry detergent.

The North Yarmouth mom is the force behind “Good Natured” household products.

1136943_825557 Laundry+Soapcut.jpgPerrin started with a lemon-and-rosemary surface cleaner, and her customers liked it so much they began asking for laundry detergent. She tweaked and tested her formulas, gave her products to friends and neighbors to try, and sold them at farmers markets, which have a built-in customer base of people interested in all-natural products.

“I found that the rosemary oil really took out any funky smells,” she said. “It got towels and sheets really fresh. It’s kind of a quirky scent, but it really works for a laundry detergent.”

Now her product line also includes surface cleaner, bug repellent, carpet and upholstery deodorizer, room and linen spray, and lip balm. A 32-ounce bag of laundry detergent costs $10.99.

Good Natured products are biodegradable, and contain no dyes or artificial fragrances. (Perrin uses essential oils.) The products contain only one particular coconut soap because Perrin likes knowing where her ingredients are sourced.

Perrin went from making the products at her kitchen table to her basement, and now to a large warehouse in South Portland, where she moved her operations four months ago. She has a crew of three to four employees who help out occasionally, but “I still pretty much have my hands on every product and every bag that goes out,” she said.

And, oh yes, she still has three children under 8 years old.

Good Natured is sold in 40 stores (including Whole Foods, Hannaford, ACE Hardware and True Value), as well as online (Amazon and the company’s website). The company just signed on with the largest natural products distributor in the nation and expects to be in 300-400 stores in New England and the mid-Atlantic within the next seven months.

“We’re slated for some big growth,” Perrin said, “but we’re still trying to take it slow and make sure we can still maintain quality, and ethical and sustainable practices.”


]]> 0, 13 Jan 2017 10:37:40 +0000
Local fresh cheeses deserve a higher (flavor) profile Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Never having tasted Casu marzu, the infamous (and outlawed) Sardinian cheese studded with maggot larvae that mature as the cheese does, I can honestly say that I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like. As a matter of fact, I met a new one I liked very much just the other day: Everything Cream Cheese from Springdale Farm. Made from the milk of Guernsey and Jersey cows that live on the farm in Waldo, this spreadable cheese has garlic, onion, salt and poppy and sesame seeds, just like its namesake bagel.

I’ve always been soft on fresh cheeses. I’ve explored the classic types – chevre, feta, fromage blanc, lebneh, paneer, quark and queso fresco – from all over the world. But now, with the growing number of local farms and cheesemakers producing young cheeses and selling them in farmers markets, health food stores and supermarkets near me and learning that, pound for pound, they require about half of the milk and far less energy to produce than their aged brethren, I am becoming unabashedly fond of them. (Specific yields vary depending on the type of milk and the breed of mammal that produced it.)

Please, let me be crystal clear. I am not telling anyone to forgo local aged cheeses in favor of the fresh ones, as that would make me a hypocrite. I fully intend to continue consuming both fresh and aged in equal measure. Rather, I am advocating a higher profile for fresh cheeses from Maine – some that carry the same names as the classics and some new additions, like Balfour Farm’s Bevre (a chevre style made with cow’s milk) – as the far greener option to industrial cream cheese, mascarpone, mozzarella and ricotta.

These young cheeses are made from local milk and/or cream, all of which must be pasteurized according to state and federal food safety regulations. The milk gets heated and curdled with rennet and cultures and is then drained of its liquid whey (which has many tasty culinary uses) for eight to 12 hours. At that point, these cheeses are ready to eat. Soft cheeses don’t need to sit in temperature-controlled caves for six, 12 or 18 months to develop their flavors. They are fresh, clean and a tad tangy from the get-go, then get tarted up with sea salt, dried herbs, alliums, honey and even chilies.

They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks (the cream cheeses last longer than the ricotta does), as the local cheeses – unlike commercial ones – rarely include stabilizers. They don’t freeze well because they are less creamy when thawed. When mold appears on a soft cheese, it really needs to be composted. Local soft cheeses are use-it-or-lose-it kind of propositions.

Besides the basic slather on a bagel, cracker or the back of a spoon, fresh cheeses work best in cold dishes. Use them as an alternative to mayonnaise on a sandwich, as an ingredient in a dip or as a topping in a hot dish like a bowl of chili or a plate of pasta. Fresh cheeses tend to break when cooked too long in hot sauces, so add them only at the last minute to soups and stews. Also due to the lack of stabilizing agents, local fresh cream cheese are not your best bet for your favorite cheesecake recipes, which often bake an hour or so. But they do well in cookies like rugelach and turnover doughs (see recipe) that need shorter baking times.

The average price of the cream cheese I used for this column was $6 for an 8-ounce tub, compared to $2.50 for the equivalent amount of name-brand commercial stuff. Pricier, I know. But the local producers I spoke with live and work on family farms. Soft cheeses are a value-added product that help keep those farms economically viable.

Give a local fresh cheese a try. I am confident you’ll be surprised how quickly you get to the bottom of its recyclable container.

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

]]> 0 turnovers with cream cheese pastry.Fri, 13 Jan 2017 10:54:22 +0000
Editor’s Letter: Nominate your sustainable hero for our Source Awards Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Peggy Grodinsky, Food and Source editor

Peggy Grodinsky, Food and Source editor

Unlike soon-to-be former President Obama, I sometimes find it hard to be hopeful. In fact, thinking about the planet can make me feel grim. However much Americans today talk the talk about sustainability, how to remain sunny in the face of a sixth mass extinction, a world population predicted to reach nearly 11 billion by the end of this century (with attendant needs for food, water and space) and “catastrophic wilderness loss” in the last two decades, as it was described by researchers in the journal Current Biology last year. Add to these that, in little more than a week, we will have a new president whose statements and appointments appear, so far, out-and-out hostile to the natural world – the world, not incidentally, that we humans live in, not separate from.

On a macro-level, I am in serious need of cheering up.

So for me, the announcement this week of our third annual Source Awards couldn’t come at a better time. Given the scope of global problems, our awards don’t amount to a hill of beans, even delicious Maine-grown, heirloom beans. I know that. But I also understand that one cannot live without hope, and if anything gives me hope, it’s the commitment and passion of so many Mainers to making our state, and our world, a more sustainable place.

As chronicled in these pages every week, Mainers aren’t giving up or giving in to despair. They are – you are – saving seeds, water and big tracts of wild land; teaching veterans to farm, children to garden and all of us to snack on seaweed; researching salt marshes and questioning genetically modified foods; erecting tiny houses and eradicating invasive plants and pests – or trying to; they’re wily and tenacious adversaries. Our space is short. The list is long.

We’re honored and humbled, as always, to recognize your good green work. So please help us give an engaged and resolute Mainer a well-deserved pat on the back. Go to and nominate an individual, group, nonprofit or business for a 2017 Source Award in one of these seven categories: The Newcomer, a promising startup; The Elder, a longtime model for sustainable living; The Teacher, an institution or individual helping others to live more sustainably; The Scions, a group of young people leading the way; The Good Neighbor, a person making a difference in a hyper-local way; The Pollinator, a business bringing sustainability to the masses; and The Cultivator, a business or nonprofit that has been steadily working to make Maine a more sustainable place to live.

Nominations are due on Feb. 27, and we’ll celebrate this year’s winners at an awards ceremony on April 6. It’ll be nice to have something to celebrate.


]]> 0 Jeff Raymond’s Source Awards bowls began with a search for cherry wood.Sun, 15 Jan 2017 16:04:45 +0000
Source Sustainability Awards: Call for Nominations Tue, 10 Jan 2017 20:14:18 +0000
Please complete the form below. Each nomination requires a 500-word description. Submissions are due by Feb. 27. View last year’s winners.
The Newcomer:
A promising start-up – business or nonprofit – launched no more than 18 months ago focused on issues of sustainability.
The Elder:
An individual who has been a long-time model for sustainable living and who actively shares his or her learning.
The Teacher:
An institution or individual finding effective ways to teach children how to think and live sustainably.
The Scions:
A group of young people – a classroom, school group, team, club or posse of friends – passionate about sustainability and working to become leaders in their community.
The Good Neighbor:
An individual making a difference on a hyper-local scale, enthusiastically shares what they know with neighbors.
The Pollinator:
A business translating grassroots efforts into the broader society, making sustainable living available to the masses.
The Cultivator:
A business or nonprofit that has been steadily building the infrastructure, community connections or other resources necessary to make Maine a more sustainable place to live.
Editor’s Choice:
Chosen from nominations in all categories.
  • I nominate

  • Your Information

Winners will be announced and recognized at the SOURCE Awards on Wednesday, April 5 at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, ME and in a special Awards issue of SOURCE on Sunday, April 9.  For event details and tickets go to:

Dream of becoming an organic farmer?  Click here to learn more about and apply for the Russell Libby Agricultural Scholar Awards.

]]> Jeff Raymond’s Source Awards bowls began with a search for cherry wood.Wed, 22 Feb 2017 15:17:24 +0000
Farmer wants you to decide: Which taste better, carrots from Maine or California? Mon, 09 Jan 2017 22:05:55 +0000 Farmer Stewart Smith recently bought 500 pounds of California carrots, even though he has a warehouse full of perfectly good – and he thinks definitely better – carrots he grew at Lakeside Family Farm in Newport. And he’s giving the California carrots away.

It’s a test. For shoppers and for Lakeside’s product. Every 3-pound bag of Lakeside carrots sold in select Hannafords around the state – and also handed out at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show Tuesday through Thursday in Augusta – will contain some extra weight in the form of two of those California carrots. It’s not a blind test; the California carrots will be held together with a rubber band and the package is labeled to let consumers know they’re getting a something extra in the bag.

Smith and his wife, Sarah Redfield, are banking on their carrots, though maybe not as pretty as the California product, tasting so much sweeter and fresher – the latest harvest came out of the sugar-producing cold Maine ground in late November – that the consumer will be moved to demand their local grocery store to stock Maine produce whenever possible. And to send feedback to Lakeside via its website or Facebook page.

If they taste the same, the farmers at Lakeside think they’re still making a point about carbon footprints, buying local and keeping family farms in business. This year, sales to local supermarkets haven’t been as good, and they think that’s wrong.

“Even if Maine carrots tasted just like California carrots,” Redfield said. “Maine consumers should still be going to their store to say, ‘We want Maine carrots, beets, potatoes,’ all the crops that Maine farmers have in storage right now. Because if we don’t buy these things, they’re going to end up as pig food.”

Smith, an economist and former Maine Commissioner of Agriculture, is a nationally recognized proponent of agriculture in the middle, the mid-sized family farms that are so threatened in today’s marketplace. They’re big enough to sell wholesale versus at farmers markets, but they don’t produce enough to always reliably fill the warehouses of chains like Hannaford the way bigger farms can.

The idea for a consumer taste test came about when Lakeside was considering new packaging for its 2-pound bags of carrots last year. They went to their local Hannaford and bought every brand there was so they could examine the packaging. “Then we had all these stupid carrots, and it’s not like we didn’t have our own carrots,” Redfield. So they started putting the carrots out on a plate side-by-side with Maine carrots in a blind test.

“And the Maine carrots never lost,” Redfield said.

What started out as a joke then turned into this year’s clever marketing gimmick, prompted in fact by a 35 percent drop in the farm’s carrot sales to supermarkets this season. Lakeside carrots are being sold in Hannaford stores in Brewer, Kennebunk and Westbrook, as well as two locations in Bangor (the Broadway and Airport stores) but on the whole, Redfield said, Hannaford has bought fewer carrots from them.

Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said there was not an easy way to track whether there was a decline in the chain’s overall purchasing of Maine carrots and if so, why that would have happened. But Hannaford isn’t cutting back on local produce, he said in an email: “For example, we sold 200,000 cases of Maine broccoli and cauliflower during the 2016 growing season, an increase of 16.5 percent over the previous year.”

Hannaford carries mre than 6,000 branded products from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. Some products that appear as Hannaford or Taste of Inspiration private bands also are grown and produced locally, Blom said.

Redfield wasn’t trying to criticize Hannaford specifically. Nor does she care only about carrots.

“I say the same thing about potatoes,” Redfield said. “There is no reason I have to go to Whole Foods in Maine and see Montana potatoes. I don’t want to see that. I agree that it’s easiest for these stores to get these things out of their warehouse instead of locally, but we Maine consumers should be saying, ‘These taste better. And they have a carbon footprint of about an hour.’ “

]]> 0 from Snell Farm.Tue, 10 Jan 2017 01:01:50 +0000
Butterfly weed takes top honors in the plant world Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 A perfect plant does not exist, but Asclepias tuberosa, commonly called the butterfly weed, comes close. If the native of the eastern United States tolerated shade – which it doesn’t – it would be perfect.

Still the long-lived herbaceous perennial comes close enough to perfect that the Perennial Plant Association named the butterfly weed its Plant of the Year for 2017.

All members of the Asclepias family support bees, hummingbirds and butterflies – and are essential for the survival of the monarch butterfly. Asclepias tuberosa is the best behaved in polite company.

“Butterfly weeds is a perfect selection for full-sun meadow or prairie gardens, as well as formal to semi-formal urban gardens,” the association said in naming the winner.

My regular readers know this, but I’m including it for those who were drawn in to this column by the pretty picture and catchy headline. Pollinators – a group that includes bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds – are in trouble. The population of monarch butterflies – which require Asclepias plants for food and laying eggs – is way down. Honeybee colonies are collapsing. Native bees – of which there are more than 270 species in Maine – are also struggling. Part of what home gardeners have to do to help pollinators – without which we cannot produce most fruits and vegetables – is to plant more native, pollinator-friendly plants.

The butterfly weed fits the bill perfectly.

“The butterfly weed is native, attractive, very tolerant of poor soils and pretty undemanding to grow,” said Mary Mixer, a plant grower at Skillins Greenhouse in Falmouth.

The plant produces bright blossoms – usually orange, although they can be red or yellow – on 3-foot stems, and spreads about 2 feet wide. Each flower has five petals that hang down and five upright petals called hoods, the Perennial Plant Association said in its announcement. I never looked that closely, but I intend to when ours bloom next spring.

Butterfly weeds bloom from early spring to mid-July and produce a small fruit, also called a follicle. In a formal setting, gardeners are advised to cut off the spent blossoms to promote a second bloom later in the year and prevent reseeding, but if you are going for a natural-meadow look, let it seed. In either case, it is best to leave the plant standing through the winter and cut it down in the spring.

Young plants produce a single stem, but as the plants age they send up side shoots.

Asclepias tuberosa is hardy to Zone 4, which includes all of Maine except north of Houlton in Aroostook County.

Unlike other Asclepias varieties, tuberosa makes an excellent cut flower – in part because it lacks the free-flowing sap that the other kinds have. You should cut the flower when more than half the flowers are open, because they won’t continue to open once you put it in a vase.

You can plant the butterfly weed either as a plant grown in a nursery or with seeds, but Mixer recommends buying plants. Online instructions for planting seeds say you have to cold-condition the seeds and then start them inside to get flowers next summer. You can plant seeds next spring, but the seedlings look inconspicuous and can be damaged, and you won’t get flowers the first summer.

Because mature plants have a deep taproot, they don’t transplant well – so choose the location carefully.

A spicebush swallowtail butterfly feeds on Asclepias tuberosa, a favorite of bees and hummingbirds too..

A spicebush swallowtail butterfly feeds on Asclepias tuberosa, a favorite of bees and hummingbirds too.. Heflin

The plant has few disease or pest problems; monarch butterflies will chew on the leaves but usually not strip them, as they do with other asclepias. Deer usually leave asclepias alone.

If you want to go all out in helping monarch butterflies, also plant the two other asclepias varieties native to Maine. Common milkweed, or Asclepias syriaca, grows 5 to 8 feet tall, depending on location, in ditches and fields, has large pods of seeds with silky attachments that blow them from place to place. They were everywhere on untended properties when I grew up in Farmington, but I don’t see them as often now – which might be one of the reasons that monarch butterflies are suffering. If you do get monarchs, the leaves will be stripped. It might not be attractive, but it means the plant served its purpose, and it will come back the following year.

If you have a shadier site with moist soil, try Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed. It has pink blossoms from June to October and grows up to 5 feet tall.

The butterflies will thank you and butterflies are, as I have read, the flowers of the air.

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

]]> 0 weed, or Asclepias tuberosa, is the Perennial Plant Association's Plant of the Year for 2017.Thu, 05 Jan 2017 19:17:50 +0000
Winter vegetables can be a delight at the dinner table Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 At this stage of the industrial food game, we’re all pretty used to having fresh berries, crisp bell peppers, greenish string beans, pink tomatoes and skinny asparagus bundles packed into produce aisles come January. But most of us also know full well that nature intended these to be tabletop treats in Maine only when the weather doesn’t require we don both L.L. Bean under- and outerwear.

Bypassing these perishable goods trucked in from California, Chile and Mexico doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. Reposition the proposition as a celebration of cellared root vegetables and hearty winter squash; an embracing of sweet storage apples and tart local cranberries, or an exploration of just how many different ways you can use a head of cabbage in a single week.

If you look at it from a culinary technique point of view, fruits and vegetables naturally available to Mainers this time of year – via both winter farmers markets and in growing numbers as local produce sold in mainstream supermarkets like Hannaford and Shaw’s – are tailor made for comforting wintertime casseroles, stick-to-your-ribs stews, cinnamon-scented cakes and pies, and low and slow braises that make wintertime eating so wonderful.

Personally, I tend towards ragouts for accommodating cold weather vegetables that make their way home with me. Ragout is a semi-slow-cooked French-style stew made with meat or fish and vegetables — or even just vegetables – that can be eaten on its own or bulked up with an interesting starch like fried polenta, couscous, spätzle, or noodles made with a local flour.

While I’ve provided specific weights and measures for Honey Mustard, Sweet Potato and Cabbage Ragout, pulling off a winter vegetable ragout is really more about the process than the recipe. The secret centers on layering flavors. You start with cooking chopped root vegetables – carrots, fingerling potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, turnips or yams – in a deep Dutch oven with equal amounts olive oil and butter and a sprinkling of salt. You cover the pot, and when those become just tender, you push them to one side and add an equal weight of quicker cooking winter vegetables – cauliflower pieces, quartered Brussels sprouts, shredded cabbage or sliced mushrooms – with a bit of butter, a glug of oil and pinch more salt. Spread these vegetables across their half of the bottom of the pan to brown nicely before stirring in aromatic vegetables like onions, shallots, leeks or garlic and letting them soften and mingle their flavor with the longer-cooking ones.

At this point, you’ve spent about 40 minutes prepping and cooking the vegetables. You can choose to cool the ragout off and store it for use later in the week when you need dinner on the table in 10-minutes flat. Or you can finish it immediately with a flavor-boosting sauce comprising two parts citrus juice to one part each vinegar, local sweetener and distinctive flavor agent such as zest, mustard, rosemary or dried chilies. At this point, I also add a smattering of even quicker cooking bright green vegetables to visually brighten the dish, such as arugula, shredded kale or chard, or spinach or frozen peas. If you are serving the ragout over a starch of some sort, loosen it here with a warm cup of good vegetable stock, a good stir and five minutes resting time.

Whether you eat the ragout immediately or save it for later in the week, trust me, you’re not going to miss those unseasonable vegetables at all.

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

]]> 0 on a chopping spree for Honey Mustard Sweet Potato Ragout.Fri, 06 Jan 2017 10:10:14 +0000
Our health is inextricably linked to the health of the planet Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.”

– Wendell Berry, The Long-legged House

The looming presidential inauguration is not a beginning; it is the culmination of misguided ideas that have plagued human civilization for millennia. The dualistic world view promoted by the president elect – pitting people against each other and pitting humans against nature – is as familiar as it is divisive.

In Trumpish terms, there are “good people” and “bad people.” The latter include those who think or look differently than we do, as well as those who have access to fewer resources and so may be intent upon “ripping us off.”

The president-elect’s reflexive labeling stems from his philosophy that the world comprises winners and losers (or, in the telling words of Trump’s father, “killers” and losers). Life is essentially one long Monopoly game; those who beat out the competition and acquire the most resources win.

Many members of the incoming cabinet are winners by that narrow definition, masters of aggregating wealth with little concern for public service, the greater good or the scientific process. While never before so evident in the Oval Office, this capitalistic impulse does reflect America’s history as a frontier nation, where land was seen as a treasure trove to mine and harvest.

The conquest mindset obviously did not originate in the New World. It traces back centuries to the Enlightenment, when humans came to see themselves as distinct from and superior to other species – opening the path to ongoing exploitation.

This dualistic view made it hard for people to see human well-being as bound to the health of ecosystems. It was not until 1970 in the United States that this latter realization took hold. A Republican president established the Environmental Protection Agency, laying the groundwork for the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act that Maine’s Sen. Muskie helped bring to fruition.

Those laws have helped to heal ecosystems and improve public health, but they have not carried us beyond damaging dualisms. Time and again, the winner-loser schism leads to environmental injustices, abandoning racial minorities and the economically disadvantaged to suffer the worst effects of environmental contamination. The Flint (Michigan) water crisis and Dakota Access pipeline (threatening the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) are recent reminders of how often American society dismisses the needs and rights of marginalized people and natural ecosystems.

Similar tensions are evident around the globe as more and more human and natural communities succumb to debilitating pollution. In many cities of India and China, residents now choke in a toxic haze that smothers any hope for quality of life.

Reversing this widespread damage requires more than technological innovations and regulatory changes. It demands a radical rethinking of our place in the natural world – shifting from a winner-takes-all ethos to what Aldo Leopold, in his classic book A Sand County Almanac, described as a “land ethic” and an “ecological conscience” that situate us in the larger community of nature.

Living in Monopoly mode presupposes a linear path to an ultimate victor, a vision completely at odds with how ecosystems work. In ecological systems, ego-based concepts of winners and losers are meaningless. Predators rely on prey, but prey also need predators to keep populations in check. Even alpha predators – like our own species – ultimately feed the decomposers at the base of the food web.

Ecosystems are inherently cyclical and dynamic, with species rising and falling in response to a complex mix of factors. No single species can achieve lasting dominance (think dinosaurs) because countless forces are beyond its control: weather, disease, food availability, geologic forces and even astronomical events like meteor crashes.

The driver in ecosystems is not the autonomous individual, but the ties that bind species together. Those dynamic relationships evolve through time and can develop into unimaginably complex symbioses.

Even within our own bodies, we enjoy the rewards of these mutually beneficial connections – as with the hundreds of species of microflora that aid digestion. The food, water and air cycling through us should remind us continually that we are bound to larger ecosystems.

Climate research now demonstrates just how far those ecosystems extend. Human impacts on the natural world reach miles into the atmosphere and are reshaping the contours of distant ice sheets and the patterns of deep ocean currents.

To deny this worldwide body of scientific evidence and dismiss our participation in ecosystems is regressive. The president-elect is not inaugurating a new era but is resurrecting 17th-century fantasies of a gilded life that floats above the ecological interdependencies that define the real world.

With greenhouse gas emissions spiraling up and climate disruptions bearing down on us, we can no longer afford the luxury of being – in Thomas Friedman’s words – “as dumb as we wanna be.” Willful ignorance of ecological connections will prove costly to all who live and die by them, which is to say every one of us.

Marina Schauffler is a writer whose work is online at

]]> 0 Views Southern Atlantic and Antarctica This image of Earth was taken during the close flyby of NASA’s Juno spacecraft on October 9, 2013.The image was acquired at 19:12 UT at an altitude of 1,987 miles (3,197 kilometers) – just 10 minutes before Juno’s closest approach to our planet.The image is a combination of the JunoCam instrument's red, green and blue spectrThu, 05 Jan 2017 18:56:20 +0000
Changing habits can be tricky when living in a zero-waste environment Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Editor’s Note: This is the last in a monthly five-part series about a group of professors and staff at the University of Maine at Augusta undertaking the Zero-Waste Challenge. Could they live for a semester without generating any trash for the landfill or incinerator?

As the new year brims with resolution, those of us at the University of Maine at Augusta who have been experimenting with zero-waste living since last September have been reflecting on which of our attempts to consume less and reuse more will stick with us through 2017. For all of us, this has been a prodigiously positive experience; at its best, zero-waste living feels virtuous, and the quest to live more sustainably can be its own reward. However, as our columns have indicated, changing one’s habits – let alone the habits of those with whom we live – can be tricky. In this, our last column, I offer some insights from the 30 or so professors and staff who resolved to refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot this past fall:

 WE LEARNED TO SAY NO. When things at the supermarket were wrapped in plastic, we declined to buy them. Ok, so not everything. Sometimes you are committed to making cauliflower on Tuesday, and the farmers market is not until Saturday, so you purchase a plastic-wrapped cauliflower from the supermarket. But we refused many things: sandwiches in plastic clam shells, disposable plates at school events, catalogues, free pens at conferences, sample-sized toothpaste tubes from the dentist. Some of us also tried to send bulk mailers back to their companies through the post office and learned we couldn’t if “current resident” is also stamped on the front.

 WE BOUGHT LESS AND BOUGHT IN BULK. We learned to think more carefully about the things we already have in our offices and our homes and then reconsidered what we really needed or wanted. Our change in thinking resulted in some alarming purchases, as in the 25 pounds of nut-free chocolate chips my household ended up buying to concomitantly address our son’s food allergy and our new commitment to baking – instead of buying – cookies. Overall, though, dialing back our consumptive habits has been liberating. We now try to seek out quality over quantity. The siren call of sales and bargains has become less compelling, and we seek other ways to find value in our lives.

 WE INVESTED IN REUSABLES. We’re shaving with straight-edged metal razors or going hairy, bringing our travel mugs and bottles with us wherever we go, and using cloth napkins. In my house, a handkerchief experiment has been half-way adopted, so our paper tissue use has significantly decreased, and we now employ metal straws instead of plastic ones. Also, some of us have been trying out a variety of newer feminine hygiene products, such as the reusable Diva Cup, which can prevent a great deal of landfill waste. Not least, we’ve learned to stash fabric shopping bags in our cars, our backpacks and our pockets so that we have them wherever we go.

1133522_992792 zerowaste image001.jpg• WE EDUCATED OURSELVES MORE ABOUT RECYCLING. Different towns employ different companies for recycling and thus have varying rules about what they accept or how they accept it. Additionally, where we previously might have been cavalier about sending a mixed-material item into the recycling bin, which likely did not get recycled, now we more carefully separate out the elements, cutting the plastic spouts from cardboard milk containers. We also seek out glass vessels, as glass is one of the more reusable and recyclable materials.

Tucker, the family dog, contributed fur to our compost bin, but made it abundantly clear that bulk dog biscuits are not acceptable.

Tucker, the family dog, contributed fur to our compost bin, but made it abundantly clear that bulk dog biscuits are not acceptable. Contributed photo

• WE COMPOSTED. Many of us had been composting for awhile, but several members of our group began this year and plan to continue. Pet fur and dryer lint have been added to some of our compost bins. And those of us still addicted to paper napkins have started composting them instead of throwing them in the trash. New in my family’s yard as of this fall is a pet-waste compost system made of a plastic bin with holes drilled in it sunk into the ground. This won’t be fertilizing our vegetable garden next season, but it will be fine for other plants. More importantly, the waste won’t be sitting in a plastic bag in a landfill.

Despite these efforts, at this point none of us is close to the zero-waste gurus like Bea Johnson, whose family of four produces a quart-sized jar of waste annually. For some of us, this is because we negotiate with family members who have preferences for things that come in packages with plastic, like my dog, who, despite never having exhibited elevated tastes before, has made it clear that bulk biscuits are simply not acceptable. Or we’ve found that the one source of bulk dishwashing soap within 30 miles of our house is noticeably inferior.

But other factors also interfere. For those of us who aspire to being low-maintenance customers, zero-waste consumption, where we request that an untutored store clerk tare a mason jar from home, for instance, can feel like an imposition. Asking the local supermarket manager if we can bring our own containers for meat or fish can produce a similar sensibility, if such an inquiry is even productive. Sometimes, such requests go nowhere.

Moreover, many trade-offs leave the thoughtful zero-waster peering down a sustainability rabbit hole. For example, those of us who swap paper products for cloth end up doing more laundry, creating a new set of issues in terms of water use, which was particularly significant here in Maine last summer when we experienced drought.

Overall, though, we’re pleased with this phase of the project. We’ve established new, more planet-friendly habits. We’re acquiring less plastic. We’re sending less trash – a LOT less – to the landfill. And we will continue to be mindful about the way we consume. 2017 could be the year that you 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

]]> 0, 07 Jan 2017 08:30:43 +0000
Are snowbird farmers the next wave in agriculture? Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 He spent this past Christmas on the family farm in Monticello, a 3,000-acre operation that is Maine’s biggest seed potato farm, then dodged the storm right before New Year’s and headed down to Elkton, Florida. The 1,550-mile commute is a breeze, he says, starting with a flight to Jacksonsville out of Bangor and ending with an Uber ride to his beach house. “Within five hours I’m on the farm and in a tractor,” Corey said.

The Elkton farm was hardly an impulse buy. Corey had been selling seed potatoes to the former owner for years, so he knew the land and location. He had also picked up some advice from a hardcore snowbird, Lance Smith, a friend from The County whose family-run farm based in Presque Isle is the largest broccoli producer east of the Mississippi. Smith has been growing broccoli in Florida since 2000 and now spends only summers in Maine. But whenever they can, the two men go salmon fishing and the subject of farming in both the East Coast’s southernmost and northernmost states came up over reel and rod.

“I told him, ‘You’ve got to have an appetite for some risk,'” Smith said in a telephone interview from St. Augustine in northeast Florida, where Smith’s Farms Inc.’s Southeastern operation is located. “Because things can go wrong here. It can be cold and rain 4 or 5 inches in a day and then the next, turn 85 degrees and those potatoes are going to cook.”

There’s a lot more to manage in Florida, Corey concedes. He’s already learned that from one growing season. “We irrigate from the bottom up because we are at zero elevation.” It can be “very, very dry” or the exact opposite, and he’s got to pick a summer crop that can hack the Florida heat (sorghum or an early cabbage, he’s thinking). But the challenges posed by somewhere so different from Aroostook County was part of the attraction.

“This farm is running really good,” he said, referring to Daniel Corey Farms in Monticello. So much so that, “I’m kind of getting bored with it.”

Florida ought to shake him out of any doldrums. As Smith says, “He will get a lesson or two if he stays with it.”


The United States Department of Agriculture does not track multi-state farming operations, so it’s hard to know if this a trend. But Maine’s Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Whitcomb, says it’s unlikely. “I don’t see it as a particularly common business model,” he said. “I think it is going to be limited.”

It’s not that Maine farmers don’t run operations elsewhere, Whitcomb said, but more typically it’s less about seeking a warmer climate elsewhere and more of a space issue. Some of the bigger wild blueberry farmers, for instance, have operations both on barrens Down East and in places like Prince Edward Island. That’s about the right climate for growing a very specialized crop (one which is native to these places but cultivated) that all comes in at once and requires rapid processing. There are also Maine farmers who spread their operations over a fairly wide geographic range in Maine itself, piecing together a farm that’s impressive on paper, acreage-wise, but is represented by scattered fields, like a crazy quilt that has been blown apart.

But Whitcomb is impressed with those engaged in the snowbird lifestyle, in large part because of what it represents in terms of their commitment to the future of farming.

“To me, the exciting part is that they are willing to go to that length to help secure their place in the industry for the next generation,” Whitcomb said.

In the Smith family’s case, expanding into Florida in 1999 was a means of holding onto its wholesale customers by providing more product consistency. The family had been farming in the Mars Hill area since 1861, but only began seriously growing broccoli in 1984. Aroostook County has the perfect climate for it. They load 20 tractor trailers full of broccoli every day during the summer harvest. As they expanded and grew their wholesale base in supermarkets throughout the East, they found that vendors in the Southeast tended to forget them from season to season.

After just one growing season Dan Corey has already learned that farming in Florida is quite different than farming in Aroostook County.

After just one growing season Dan Corey has already learned that farming in Florida is quite different than farming in Aroostook County. Photo courtesy of Dan Corey

“Every year when we were starting in Maine, it felt like we were fighting to get the Southeast market back,” Smith said.

The family had a deep history with selling potato seed in Florida, dating back to Smith’s grandfather. “We knew growers and we knew where to partner,” Smith said. It also had some hugely expensive cooling equipment – a crop of broccoli has to go right on ice when it’s cut or it quickly yellows and loses its shelf appeal, Smith says – that sat idle in Maine after the last broccoli harvest at the end of October.

Then they bought land of their own to farm in Florida, and the million-dollar icing machine began making the commute as well, Smith said.

“It’s already mounted onto a 45-foot trailer,” he said. “So we just hook onto it with a tractor,” and off it goes to Florida and vice versa. Even some of the migrant workers the Smiths employ in Aroostook County make the commute, about 80 of the 250-member crew.

The expansion into Florida (and later, to land in Santa Maria, California, which fills in the harvest gap in Maine and Florida from April through June) has allowed the Smith family to win the loyalty of those formerly fickle Southeastern customers. They sell to Market Basket, Wegmans and Winn-Dixie 12 months a year. “It’s worked for us.”


But it’s not just about markets; it’s about growing a farm, and a brand, for their descendants. “If I didn’t have the kids, I think my cousin Greg and I would have sold this company,” Smith said. Likely to one of America’s bigger food companies. “I would have put on a ‘Dole’ hat by now.”

Lance Smith has three children, two of whom work for Smith’s Farms Inc.. Tara Smith Vighetti, 41, has an MBA from Northeastern and worked for Ernst & Young until her father “reeled her” into the family business. She runs the sales company, while up in Maine, Emily, 39, runs the 4,000-acre Aroostook County operation (acreage-wise, it’s about four times the size of the Florida farm).

“They are as different as night and day,” Smith said fondly. “Emily is all boots and jeans, Tara is all handbag and shoes. I call them Ann Taylor and L.L. Bean.”

They’re both so good at what they do that he can “disappear” to go fishing with Dan Corey. “I am very comfortable walking away for a few days.” He’s 65 and happy to be slowing down. “I don’t have to work 100 hours a week anymore.” And while he could go to the beach, he’s not so interested in putting his toes in the sand. “If I wasn’t farming down here, there isn’t too much about Florida that would thrill me too much.”

Dan Corey’s children have also made his Florida operation possible. He’s 56 and not even close to thinking about retiring. But his daughter Sara Corey, who was named the Maine Potato Board’s Young Farmer of the Year in 2013, has taken over the Monticello operation with the kind of gusto that has taken the burden off him, especially in sales. His son Ben took a business job after graduating from the University of Maine, but he, too, is preparing to come back to the farm, taking over the production side in Monticello. Corey believes the more hands-on experience his children get, while he’s hands off, the better, both for them and him.

“It’s the only way young people can figure it out,” he said.

In the meantime, he’s figuring out some new things for himself in Florida, such as what to do about tropical storms or sudden Florida freezes. “The weather is a lot more volatile.” On the other hand, he sells table stock (the kind of potatoes you buy at the supermarket) nearly as fast as it comes off the field, and he doesn’t have to worry about storage. “It’s got some benefit.”

Including those hours on the beach for his wife. But what about the commute, how does Corey manage the expense of that? He says he typically gets a $200 flight from Bangor, and that those Uber rides from airport to the field are about $50.

“They make it sound easy,” Whitcomb said. “But it is quite a commute.”

And a feat to successfully manage crops in two very different places.

“You’ve got to look out for moose damage in one place and flooding in another,” Whitcomb said.

True, Lance Smith said. “The growing risk in Florida is horrendous.”

But, he added, “farmers love risk.”

And green things pushing out of the earth.

]]> 0 farm equipment that spends half the year in Aroostook County, Randy Byrd of Dan Corey's Florida Spuds LLC hills up a field of potatoes. The farm grows red, yellow and white potatoes.Sat, 07 Jan 2017 21:44:25 +0000
Dutch Dresser builds wood pellet heating systems Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Besides having a crazy cool name, Dutch Dresser has a habit of being on the cutting edge. In 1990 he got the bright idea to hook Gould Academy, where he used to be a teacher and associate headmaster, up to a new-fangled thing called the internet. In 2007 he and his old friend Les Otten, inspired by European models, started Maine Energy Systems in Bethel, which builds central heating systems that burn wood pellets. We called him up to find out how he got into this line of work, what the benefits of heating with wood pellets are and why he’s a convert.

O INTERNET PIONEER!: Dresser grew up in Cape Elizabeth and taught science in Eastport and at the Hinckley School in Hinckley for several years. In 1979 he began what would be a 25-year relationship with Gould Academy in Bethel. He’d teach usually one course a year and served as the assistant head of school. “I was the academic dean if you will. I was given a fair amount of latitude and started a lot of programs.” Including a training course for a junior Ski Patrol (for skiers under 18 years old). “We jacketed our first Ski Patrol at Sunday River in 1980.” He was also an early adapter to computers and set Gould up with its first computer lab and in 1992, with the help of the University of Maine, helped connect the school to the fledgling internet. “That was just before Mosaic was released.” (Talk about a blast from the past.) The network at the school led Dresser to go into a side business whereby townspeople could dial into a modem at his house and get online.

OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA: Ski patrol and computers – those are some widely varying interests. “I’m sort of an omnivore when it comes to exploration. That is what I do for fun.” In 2007 it led to a partnership with Les Otten, a ski resort mogul who began building his empire with the purchase of Sunday River and then lost it all. Otten’s company, American Skiing Co., was dismantled in 2007. Both men were on Gov. John Baldacci’s Wood-to-Energy Task Force, which explored ways to promote Maine’s forest resources to reduce energy costs. Otten chaired the task force. “We landed on residential heating, basically because we (Mainers, that is) were spending $1 billion a year on heating oil. It just looked to us that there ought to be a better model.” High-efficiency wood pellet burning systems, with their use of renewable resources and lower emissions, were the most appealing. And the market seemed wide open. “Nobody was doing anything serious with pellet central heating.” The models that were available had limitations. “In order to use them, you had to dump pellets in them daily and you had to remove ash daily.”

IF YOU BUILD IT: After working with a Swedish company in 2010 they moved onto a partnership with an Austrian company, ÖkoFEN, that made a model they liked. They started by importing ÖkoFEN systems and in 2013 acquired the licensing rights to manufacture the systems in Bethel. That doesn’t mean they’re doing it from scratch: “Building a boiler is a lot like building a car. Parts come from everywhere and you put them together.” On the plus side for the business, “there was no competitor on the landscape.” On the down side, “nor was there any support or infrastructure in place. There was no one to bring you the pellets. We had to develop trucks to bring you the pellets and blow them into storage units in the home.” But first, they had to design those storage units. “That we later learned had already been done better in Austria.”

WHY WOOD? Dresser sounds envious of Austria and the Scandinavian countries where pellet central heating systems have caught on. “They are more savvy about environmental issues. And about the cost of heating.” The fuel-buying patterns in Austria switched radically in a decade, he said. “The governments got behind fuel switching to biomass. They used the bully pulpit to promote it.” That hasn’t happened in the United States. “We don’t seem to have the same environmental consciousness.” But Maine Energy Systems isn’t giving up. “I think we are getting there slowly.”

HOW’S BUSINESS? Despite strong incentives in some states, like a $5,000 rebate through Efficiency Maine for installing a biomass boiler that burns pellets, “business is not anywhere near as good as it was when fossil fuel prices were high.” He’s sold systems all over the Northeast and well up into Canada. “I have a lot of boilers in the Northwest territories of Canada.” Including one heating a school north of the Arctic Circle. Maine Energy Systems has also trained 700 technicians and installers. But the systems aren’t cheap to buy and install, and thanks to the relatively low price of oil now, heating with wood pellets runs about the same cost. “A lot of people buy based on price.”

WHAT ABOUT THE TREES? Dresser is used to hearing from people who get nervous about heating with wood, that it’s wasteful. He counters that the low-value wood that used to be funneled into the pulp and paper industry is ideal for wood pellets and not much else. “The low-value wood needs to come out of the forest to allow growth in the old-stand stuff.” Which in turn is needed for the health of the lumber business, which relies on that older growth.

FILL ‘ER UP: Those of us who use oil or propane are used to seeing the truck pulling up every few weeks in the winter for a delivery. How does one go about storing fuel with a central heating system that runs on wood pellets? Dresser says in Europe the style is to include a room in the basement devoted to pellets. Here we’re more likely to have a storage bin, assembled in the cellar by the same people who would put in the system. But the deliveryman or woman might need to come only three times a season, if that, he said. A home that burns 900 gallons of oil a year would take about 7.5 tons of pellets to heat. The typical storage bin holds three tons of pellets.

LOW MAINTENANCE: When he’s courting new customers, Dresser finds they’re often nervous that a wood pellet fuel system is going to take a lot of maintenance. Trips to the cellar. Cleaning the thing. He concedes the systems aren’t as low maintenance as say, having the oil truck pull up and pour fuel into the house. But the trips to the cellar are minimal, he said. Home owners have to remove a buildup of ash about four times a year; the noncombustible “salts” from the wood collect. The good news is, they can get dumped right into the garden, which, if the soil is acid, is a good thing. “It’s very much like lime.”

A FAN’S NOTES: In case you’re wondering, yes, Dresser does have a pellet system in his own house, an old farmhouse that came with “a very large oil boiler that would roar to life and heat for four minutes, then quiet down, then roar to life in another 10 minutes.” He switched over to a biomass boiler in 2008 and said he wouldn’t go back. The pellet system burns at a lower but more constant level. “It isn’t up and down. It is a discernibly different feel that we wouldn’t swap for anything.”

ONE LAST THING: How do you get a name like Dutch? “My middle name is Holland.”

]]> 0, ME - JANUARY 3: Dutch Dresser poses for a portrait in downtown Portland. Since 2007 Dresser has been building, importing, promoting, selling and now manufacturing central heating systems for residential use that run on wood pellets. (Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Fri, 06 Jan 2017 10:14:51 +0000