Source – Press Herald Wed, 29 Mar 2017 10:44:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In a first for Maine, Scarborough and South Portland will start collecting food waste Mon, 27 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 South Portland and Scarborough are getting ready to launch Maine’s first municipal food waste collection programs.

The two pilot programs will offer free, weekly curbside pickup of food scraps such as bread, coffee grounds, dairy products and meat in select neighborhoods. Based on the results, the programs could expand in both cities, potentially providing a model for other southern Maine communities.

The goal of both pilot projects is to reduce the amount of waste sent to an incinerator or landfill. Other American cities – including San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado – have implemented successful food waste programs. As of 2014, nearly 200 U.S. cities had some form of food waste collection.

“This is where national leaders in waste management are trending,” said Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability coordinator.

Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability coordinator, says food waste collection is the next major trend in waste management. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Food waste makes up almost 28 percent of household trash in Maine, according to a 2011 University of Maine study. In 2015, Maine towns and cities generated 1.19 million tons of solid waste. Of that, 39,659 tons, including food waste and lawn trimmings, was composted, about 3 percent of the total, according to a report in January from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Efforts to remove food and other organic waste from the state’s waste stream have grown in recent years. Towns and cities have arranged places where residents can drop off kitchen scraps, or have partnered with private companies to offer residents fixed prices for compost pickup. Organic collection companies such as Garbage-to-Garden and We Compost It! offer fee-based collection to homes and have expanded business in southern Maine in recent years.

But the South Portland and Scarborough programs go a step further by integrating food waste into regular collection of trash and recycling.


In September of last year, ecomaine, the Portland waste processing company collectively owned by more than a dozen towns and cities, began accepting food and organic waste in exchange for reduced tipping fees. The food waste is shipped to Exeter Agri-Energy, an anaerobic digester that converts organic waste and cow manure into electricity, compost and animal bedding.

“We were basically waiting for ecomaine to take food. The minute they did that we started setting up the pilot,” Rosenbach said.

Sending food to a waste-to-energy incinerator is inefficient – Rosenbach likens it to trying to fuel a campfire with oatmeal – and some food waste does not break down in landfills. Delivering it to a digester like the one in Exeter, in Penobscot County, is the highest use for the material, she said.

South Portland is testing the one-year project on about 600 households in the Knightville and Meetinghouse Hill neighborhoods. Beginning in May, every household will get a white, 6-gallon lidded bucket for disposal of food waste. Those buckets will be collected every week on the same day as trash and recycling. Residents can first put food scraps into a clear plastic bag, then that is inserted into the bucket.

Garbage-to-Garden was the winner of the three companies that bid for the new service. The company will be paid $43,700, including the cost of the bins and outreach and education services. South Portland will also have large compost bins available at its transfer station for any resident to use.

Even though tipping fees at ecomaine are slightly less for food waste than for trash – $55 a ton versus $70.50 a ton – the pilot project isn’t expected to save money, said Rosenbach. However, diverting food from the waste stream could get South Portland closer to its goal of 40 percent recycling by 2020, after hovering around 28 percent for the past seven years, she said.

“This is the largest chunk of our waste stream we can target,” Rosenbach said.

Neighboring Scarborough is trying out a nine-month pilot project for about 180 homes in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood. Residents will be given green, 35-gallon bins that will be collected every week along with either trash or recycling, said sustainability coordinator Kerry Strout. Pine Tree Waste, the company that provides collection services for the city, uses dual-body trucks and can only pick up two types of material at a time, Strout said.

Food waste collection will not add to the town’s solid waste budget, she said. Scarborough will also provide composting bins at its transfer stations for residents who are not part of the pilot program.


Travis Wagner, an environmental policy professor at the University of Southern Maine, intends to work with South Portland, Scarborough and ecomaine to analyze the data produced by the two programs. He also intends to measure how the drop-off composting bins are used at the Falmouth, Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth transfer stations. The goal is to come up with best practices for municipal programs based on participation and cost, Wagner said.

“By looking at these different approaches, maybe other towns can glean off this and learn what works and doesn’t work,” he said.

Even though collection and disposal of food waste is in its infancy, it is likely the direction in which municipalities and private companies are headed, said Scarborough Public Works Director Mike Shaw.

“This is similar to where recycling was 10 or 15 years ago,” Shaw said.

“You’ve got to look to the future here,” he said. “The model we have for getting rid of food waste will change.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 attachment on an excavator grinds up food waste at Agri-Cycle Energy in Exeter, a sister company of Exeter-Agra Energy. Food waste collected in South Portland and Scarborough will go to ecomaine in Portland and then be shipped to Exeter-Agra.Mon, 27 Mar 2017 11:21:28 +0000
Dad and daughter fend for themselves with Bachelor Chicken Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: This week, Green Plate columnist Christine Burn Rudalevige is, um, on break, and her husband, Andrew Rudalevige, normally a government professor at Bowdoin College, has heroically stepped in and written a special guest column.

“These plates, Dad – they’re not green! Or special!”

We had discovered the bunker.

The snow had finally melted, as March turned to April. My daughter Eliza and I were taking advantage of Christine’s attendance at a three-day workshop – I think it was titled “Green Crabs, Brown Moths, and Artisanal Pine Cones: Imagining the Lobster Bake of the Future” – to do some spring cleaning.

Well, I lie. Actually we were looking for food. We weren’t used to having to fend for ourselves, after all, what with the plethora of chopped seasonal salads, sushi scallops, local dried beans, and Maine-grown flint corn around the place. On green plates. Always, served on special green plates. Surely there were some delicious winter root vegetables lying around somewhere.

But the room we discovered – had the Realtor not shown us this when we bought the house? – was full of something quite different. One wall was stacked with Saran Wrap, jostling for space with mega-sized paper towels. Magazines like Pseudo-Science and UnSustainable Weekly (“50 Fun Pranks to Play on Vegans!”) littered the floor along with scattered Styrofoam takeout containers, Taco Bell wrappers and red plastic plates. In another corner a pile of polyethylene bags grew, topped with a sign designating them “for the landfill.” Peeking out from under the bags was a stack of empty Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes and what looked like a half-full vat of high-fructose cheese whiz.

And next to that, dozing, a hand still clasped around the remains of an extra-large Shamrock Shake, was Christine herself.

Eliza screamed. But Christine only smiled in her sleep. And suddenly it all made sense. This was where Christine vanished to after the Maine Sunday Telegram’s photographer had captured that week’s perfectly plated organic goodness for posterity. This was where the petroleum-based kitchen conveniences, and the people trying to quit them, could secretly live out their days. This room – and Christine’s temporary coma – was proof of Kermit the Frog’s timeless wisdom: it’s just not easy, being green.

Christine’s pulse was strong. But while she was safe, all was not well. Her cellphone showed 26 text messages from Source editor Peggy Grodinsky asking, with increasing urgency, how the moth-crab-pine cone soufflé was coming along. It was deadline day.

And so it was a time for heroism.

“Well,” as the Bard once said (albeit to Mary, not Peggy), “I’m no hero, it’s understood.” But what I am, as a matter of historical fact, is the first published recipe author in the Rudalevige family. And so I stood tall, and turned to Eliza.

“We will make … Bachelor Chicken!”

She looked skeptical, in the manner of all teenaged daughters not convinced of their parents’ sanity. To be fair, her mother was passed out in a hidden room overdosed on minty not-so-green goodness, and her father’s main culinary achievement in recent years had been in the realm of (admittedly impressive) mixed drinks.

And yet, as I hastened to explain, it is true: The first line on my CV is not, in fact, the classic page-turner “Revisiting Midterm Loss.” Instead it boasts a contribution to a now-revered collection of New England cuisine: to wit, St. John’s United Methodist Church Cookbook.

Were it not for the 20th-century religious visionaries of Watertown, Massachusetts, “Bachelor Chicken” might have been lost to time. Instead, it was coming to the rescue.

I turned again to Eliza. “Get out the green plates!” I said.

Addendum: The original Bachelor Chicken was many excellent things, but it was not particularly green – mostly it was pretty beige, until you added the canned tomatoes. Thus sous-chef Eliza and I made key adjustments in order to honor the spirit of this column. We substituted sustainably raised chicken, local whole grains instead of rice, stock from the freezer instead of chicken bouillon, and so on. We even had to change the name. Still, the crucial ingredient remains intact, as close reading of the recipe will show.

April Fools!

]]> 0 Rudalevige steps in and improvises his very own recipe, Bachelor Chicken, while our usual columnist, Christine Burns Rudalevige, is "away."Fri, 24 Mar 2017 09:00:12 +0000
How-to: It’s time to start your seedlings Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Get an jump on your garden, lengthen the growing season and save money by growing your own seedlings.


Look for containers that are 2 to 3 1/2 inches deep with adequate drainage holes. To prevent disease, clean them with a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water.


Start the seedlings in growing medium. Growing medium weighs less than potting or garden soil and contains no insects or diseases, which could kill the seedlings. Mix the growing medium with water in a plastic bag; it should be damp not wet.


Fill the containers with the damp medium stopping half an inch from the top. Follow the instructions on the seed packet to plant the seeds. Most seeds can be lightly pressed into the mixture.


Label the containers and cover with clear plastic, poking holes in the plastic to ventilate. Place them in a warm spot, say on top of the refrigerator, to germinate. Avoid direct sunlight, where the containers can overheat, killing the seeds.


When the seedlings appear, remove the plastic covering and move them to bright sunlight, or better yet, under florescent grow lights. Keep them away from windows, which may be too chilly for the tender seedlings.

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Tasha Gerken makes eating healthy (and local) a SNAP for low-income families Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Tasha Gerken is the nutrition educator and program coordinator at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick for SNAP-Ed, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which teaches low-income Mainers how to make healthy meals on a small budget (using local foods whenever possible). In February, the LePage administration requested a waiver from the Trump administration to block low-income Mainers from buying sugar-sweetened drinks and candy with their SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) benefits. The administration included a second request, to divert funding for nutrition education to the Department of Education, which would likely put Gerken out of a job. We called her up to find out how she came to be a nutrition educator and what she values about the work she does – and learned a little something about gleaning and banana-peanut-butter-apple wraps in the process.

DEEP BACKGROUND: Gerken grew up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire but spent summers in Wells and went to the University of Southern Maine, where she studied art history. When she was casting around for what to do after college, she knew that she wanted to live in New York, at least for a while. “It was the art and museums that were the first draw.” Then there was the pull of Broadway. Not to be on stage, but to be in the audience. “I had grown up listening to all the soundtracks to musicals.” Her vision of New York dovetailed with the stuff of song lyrics: “It is a place where dreams come true.”

A BIGGER PURPOSE: Her father warned her that she needed to have a bigger purpose than just taking Manhattan if she was going to make the move. Gerken found that bigger purpose in her own history. She had discovered in adolescence that she had a number of food intolerances. “I was just sick all the time and I was losing weight and I didn’t know what to do to combat it.” She had allergies to gluten, dairy, soy and tomatoes. Finding solutions for herself shaped how she viewed food, vitamins and nutrition and ultimately led to her to New York University’s graduate program in clinical nutrition. She stayed seven years, studying and then working at a hospital where she ran outpatient nutrition programs. And yes, she visited as many museums and galleries and saw as much theater as she could.

HOMEWARD BOUND: Gerken returned to Maine in the summer of 2014. “It was time to come home to family and a place that I loved and a pace that I was wanting.” The SNAP educator job, which is administered through Mid Coast Hospital, “was immediately the right fit.” What’s an average day at the office like? When we spoke, Gerken was prepping for a “food challenge” class at Head Start in Bath the next day that would involve a mystery ingredient (a local white fish, to be determined when she got to the market). This would be the sixth and final class for this group of adult students and they’d be applying what they’ve learned, including the importance of lean proteins and a plate half full with fruits and vegetables. She brings all the needed materials (“essentially a whole kitchen”). Her goal is to make students feel empowered to try new things, sometimes even just the very basics. “A lot of people see cooking as sort of a luxury of time and money and resources.” That’s because they often have “other things in their life that are more pressing and more vital to keeping their lives going.” Like making the rent? Right. Her job, then, is to reveal how making healthy food choices at the market and in the kitchen pay off in the long run.

BY THE NUMBERS: Between October 2015 and September 2016, Gerken taught 270 classes, which are generally taught in a series. “You can’t change behavior with one encounter, so we see people repeatedly.” She had 787 pupils in that time. On top of that, she offers food samplings at food pantries or attends health fairs. She’s accomplished this on a part-time basis, working 30 hours a week as a SNAP-Ed educator (she works another 10 hours a week as a mentor to other educators). There are 44 educators around the state, and all told, there were 2,548 SNAP education classes taught in 2016. “That’s over 34,000 people that we had face-to-face contact with.”

BEST LESSON: Sometimes she’s teaching just parents, as with the white fish mystery session, sometimes children and sometimes whole families, depending on which local partner she’s working with. “That’s what I am most proud of Maine SNAP-Ed for; we are in communities all over the state, and each community is so different that we really rely on our community partners to help us.” Head Start is one of those community partners, as are public housing sites, food pantries and groups like Maine Farmland Trust. Gerken works with Merrymeeting Gleaners and local farms and farmers markets to connect hungry families to food that might otherwise go to waste. She also travels to schools that qualify, based on the proportion of students on free and reduced-lunch programs, to teach nutrition. Proud moment? “I had a seventh-grader come into my one of my classes and say, ‘Remember that wrap you taught us how to make?’ ” (Peanut butter, banana and apple in a whole wheat wrap.) The girl had made it for herself every day that week. “She was so excited about the fact that she knew how to make something that she enjoyed eating and that was made from the food that she had in her home.”

ABOUT THAT WAIVER REQUEST: The state’s request to ban SNAP spending on sugary beverages and candy (Gov. Paul LePage made the same request last year and was denied by the Obama administration) also for a waiver for Maine to redistribute U.S. Department of Agriculture grant funds used to fund nutrition (that is, Gerken’s SNAP-Ed program) “directly to food banks, schools and other community agencies so that these agencies can directly distribute healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables to needy families.” Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew acknowledged in the letter that “nutrition education is crucial” but wrote “it should simply be conducted in school settings as part of school curricula and overseen by the Department of Education.” That would eliminate jobs like Gerken’s. Her initial response to Mayhew’s letter? “Shock.” Needless to say, she doesn’t want this program to go away. It’s not just her job that’s at stake. “We know this program is working to improve the lives of so many Mainers and has the potential to make even longer-term impacts if we can maintain the continuity and relationships we’ve built in each community. If we really look at the person who benefits most from these programs, they are doing the best they can. And we get to see that and it is so powerful.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Gerken, SNAP nutrition educator, before the start of a cooking class at Bath Head Start.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:51:56 +0000
In the depths of mud season, houseplants will lift your spirits Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I have a bowl of paper whites,

Of paper-white narcissus;

Their fragrance my whole soul delights,

They smell delissus.

E.B. White, “Window Ledge in the Atom Age,” 1946

Winter may finally be over, if we can trust the prognostications of the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. Having passed the spring solstice, we are sliding into mud season drip by drip.

This is when our souls crave blooms – startling bright petals and lush green foliage. If a trip to the tropics isn’t in the cards, consider bringing some potted jungle-dwellers to live with you.

Not only will houseplants lift your spirits; they’ll improve the air you breathe. Chances are, your indoor air quality may be even lower than your late-winter mood.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that air in sealed-up houses, schools and offices can have concentrations of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) up to 10 times higher than those outdoors. Poor indoor air can sicken occupants, with chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene causing fatigue, headaches and longer-term health hazards.

The cumulative effects of indoor air pollution are not trivial, given that most Americans spend roughly 90 percent of their lives inside.

Plants are just one line of defense against “sick building syndrome.” It’s best to start by controlling sources: avoid furnishings that off-gas chemicals; select low- or no-VOC paints and building supplies; and banish toxic cleaning products, scented laundry products and candles, clothes dry-cleaned with tetrachloroethene, and alleged “air fresheners.”

Pollutants can remain in household air long after an aerosol can is sprayed or a dryer sheet used. They linger most in houses that are well-insulated and sealed, and lack venting systems to provide an adequate exchange with outside air.

Efforts to control sources can improve indoor air, but they won’t entirely eliminate pollution. Even our own bodies generate what scientists none too delicately call bioeffluents. These aren’t the emissions that might follow a big chili dinner but are atmospheric pollutants like acetone naturally generated by metabolic activity.

Whether chemical vapors come directly from us or from the stuff that fills our homes, having plants indoors can markedly reduce pollutants’ damaging impact. The plants deliver airborne toxins to soil microbes that break them down.

Houseplants also mitigate dry winter air by serving as natural humidifiers. The drier the air, the more moisture they release; talk about accommodating houseguests!

According to B.C. Wolverton’s book “How to Grow Fresh Air,” plants even “release phytochemicals that suppress mold spores and bacteria found in the ambient air.” (This beneficial effect can be undermined by operator error, though, as I can attest: Overwatering will turn houseplants into mold factories. Spare yourself this hard-earned lesson and water plants sparingly in winter months.)

Many findings in Wolverton’s book trace back to NASA studies done in the early 1980s, when the agency began experimenting with how to maintain healthy air in sealed-chamber settings – an obvious need on space flights. They tested different varieties of plants to identify which were most effective for specific toxins.

In terms of tackling pollutants, the plants are remarkably specialized. Palm plants, for example, are exceptionally good at reducing chemicals like xylene and ammonia. The peace lily does poorly with xylene, but is a standout at removing acetone.

While the detailed breakout Wolverton provides is interesting, the bottom line appears to be that diverse ecosystems are best – indoors as well as out. Plan on an assortment of plants and keep good air circulation among them if grouped.

Wolverton suggests that people bring plants into the immediate spaces indoors they frequent most – what he terms the “personal breathing zone” of 6 or 8 cubic feet near one’s desk, bed or favorite chair. Concentrating houseplants in these areas can ensure that residents derive the greatest benefits from plants’ ongoing service purifying the air.

Houseplants offer a salve for the eyes and lungs throughout the year. But in the depths of mud season, their effect is especially salubrious – for body and soul.

Marina Schauffler is a writer whose work is online at

]]> 0, 24 Mar 2017 08:53:07 +0000
New book by Maine author instructs gardeners on how to grow produce inside hoophouses and greenhouses Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The future of commercial farming, especially in Maine, is in protected agriculture, meaning crops grown in greenhouses and hoophouses. This is according to Cornville farmer and greenhouse farming expert Andrew Mefford, whose new book deals with the subject.

“The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook: Organic Vegetable Production Using Protected Culture” provides enough detailed information for a commercial farmer who wants to begin protected farming in a big way. It also offers solutions simple enough for a dedicated home gardener who seeks more production and self-sufficiency.

“There is so much pressure here because we have such a short garden season that it really helps to be able to spread it out,” Mefford said in a telephone interview earlier this month, not long after his book was published. Greenhouses and hoophouses allow gardeners to plant earlier in the spring and harvest later in the fall.

Beyond that, growing in greenhouses is more environmentally friendly than field growing, he added, even if the greenhouses are not certified organic. Pesticide use has become rarer in greenhouses and hoophouses because its use is counterproductive, Mefferd said. To begin with, after using the chemicals, a period ensues when people can’t enter the greenhouse and plants can’t be harvested. Next, while the pesticides kill the harmful insects, they also kill the beneficial insects that most greenhouse growers rely on.

“The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook” provides information to help people grow crops successfully in a simple, 100-square-foot hoophouse or in a heated, automatically ventilated greenhouse that covers an entire acre.

“The book is sort of an a la carte offering where people and pick and choose what works for them,” Mefferd said. “The book, I think, would help people especially who have a part-time job growing for a farm market who are thinking of making the leap to becoming a small to medium-size commercial grower.”

He includes techniques used by some of the largest and most successful commercial protected horticulture growers, and he shows how those techniques can be done on a smaller scale.

Mefferd draws directly on his personal experience. He explains that after two years attempting to grow tomatoes at the farm he and his wife run in Cornville, he concluded that to grow tomatoes successfully in central and northern Maine, it must be done under cover. Greenhouses and hoophouse not only provide more heat, they also provide protection from some diseases.

The book also benefits from the seven years Mefferd spent working in the trial gardens of Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow – work that included conducting trials on which plants work best when grown under cover and how greenhouses increased production of various crops.

The book has chapters on the best methods for growing specific crops in greenhouses. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplants each get a separate chapter, while a chapter on greens encompasses lettuces, other greens, microgreens and herbs. Mefferd, a self-described “tomato-head,” devotes most time and space to tomatoes, which he says are the most profitable crop to grow.

The book’s advice isn’t limited to growing in greenhouses. And some of it is simple: Growers should remind shoppers never to store tomatoes in the refrigerator, which will ruin their flavor. That type of customer service is one way that local growers can make sure their produce is not treated like a commodity, Mefferd writes. Other ways to decommodify produce are to stress to customers that the food is local, organic and tastier and that the grower has different varieties of crops than are typically available elsewhere.

One of the longest chapters in the book centers on grafting vegetable plants, especially tomatoes. Mefferd said many of the questions he was asked while working at Johnny’s involved grafting tomatoes, so he decided grafting deserved a chapter. Grafting, more common with fruit trees, is when a one species of a plant is joined to a different species. Usually, the root stock offers higher disease protection, while the above-ground part is chosen for its production and/or flavor. Mefferd says using grafted tomatoes improves disease-resistance, production and flavor – both inside and outside the greenhouse.

Mefferd spent most of 2015 writing the handbook because he knew he would soon be starting work as editor and publisher of “Growing for Market” magazine, as well as operating his own farm. He left Johnny’s in November 2015.

What he did not realize was that the editors at Chelsea Green would ask for a major rewrite.

“It is a much better book after the editors had me reorganize the book and get rid of some of its weaknesses,” Mefferd said, “but 2016 was just crazy busy.”

With the book now out, he has only two jobs: co-owner of an organic farm and editor and publisher of a monthly magazine. That seems like enough to keep him busy.


]]> 0, 24 Mar 2017 12:32:38 +0000
Repurposing a piece of Maine’s mill town past Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Some things in life are certain; in addition to death and taxes, add changing economies and the passing of old technology.

Ann Poole and her husband, Dirk, are in the business of preserving a small piece of the past. They repurpose the wooden bobbins once used in New England’s textile mills. At their antique store in Newcastle, they sell candle lamps made out of bobbins, jump ropes with bobbin handles, and even a kaleidoscope inserted into a bobbin.

“We like to think we’ve kept textile history alive a little bit by making bobbins available to the public,” Poole said.

The business, founded as “Ma’s Bobbin Works,” was originally a wholesale operation owned by Dirk Poole’s parents and was based in Massachusetts. Their son and daughter-in-law purchased the business in 1992 and moved the business to Maine. A couple of years ago, they added the retail component and changed the name to Milling Around. Since the mid-1970s, in travels all over the country, the Poole family has collected enough bobbins to fill two chicken barns, they say.

“They’re much harder to find than they used to be,” Ann Poole said. “They’ve really become like collectibles, and some could probably be considered antiques because of their age.”

When mills started closing in New England in the early 20th century, Poole explained, many of them moved to the South and began using newer technology. The old bobbins often got dumped into landfills.

Poole said they have enough bobbins in storage to last at least a few more years. They sell them to antique and gift shops, department stores, and museum shops. (Australia, for some reason, is a recent frequent customer.) Meanwhile, they’ve seen similar businesses close. “We believe that we are the last surviving bobbin company in the U.S.,” Poole said.

Milling Around does not sell bobbins on its website, so to buy one of their creations you’ll have to travel to Newcastle. The jump ropes cost $7-$9. and the candle lamps go for $16-$20.


]]> 0, 24 Mar 2017 18:03:38 +0000
Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to fill your yard with baby chicks Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Violet, Iris and Ollie Milliken – 8, 3 and 6 years old, respectively – tried to contain their excitement at the Portland Post Office on Forest Avenue by casually flipping through coloring books a postal worker gave them.

But they were understandably distracted. They were with their mother, Kristie Green, waiting to greet the newest addition to the family’s brood – 20 baby chicks that will eventually join the flock of backyard chickens already at their home in Cape Elizabeth.

Suddenly, a chorus of high-pitched cheep! cheep! cheeps! filled the cavernous Colonial Revival building, echoing throughout the large lobby.

“Oh, I hear something!” Green said. “Do you guys hear anything? I hear them!”

The kids’ eyes grew larger, their jaws fell slack as they listened to these Peeps come to life. There wasn’t much time to appreciate the moment because they had to get the chicks home and under a heat lamp, fast. Green carried the chirping box out in one hand, and the family rushed through the cold March air to the car.


It’s that time of year. Chick time.

Feed stores are taking orders for chicks to be picked up in May or June, when it’s warmer and easier to keep them alive. And they are selling them to people like Green, who likes getting them early so she can have eggs sooner. Green had her chicks shipped just after hatching from Cackle Hatchery in Missouri.

Few studies have been done on how fast the hobby of backyard chicken raising is growing, but in 2013 the USDA surveyed four major cities – Denver, Los Angeles, Miami and New York City – and found that while fewer than 1 percent of households had chickens, nearly 4 percent of households without chickens planned to have them within the next five years.

“It’s difficult to find reliable statistics, accurate statistics, because they’re so quickly changing and there’s so much we don’t know,” said Kathy Shea Mormino of Suffield, Connecticut, an attorney-turned-backyard chicken farmer who is affectionately known by her 700,000 followers on Facebook as “The Chicken Chick.”

“For every household that we know keeps chickens,” Mormino said, “I’m sure there are 10 more that we don’t know about.”

They are, so to speak, flying under the radar.

Mike Rogers of Paris Farmers Union in Norway said his company has seen “huge” growth in sales of all things chicken.

“It amazes me every year,” he said. “No matter how many birds we sell, we sell more. The interest is incredible. I think it’s an easy way for people to get back to the basics.”

When Steven Bibula bought Orchard Ridge Farm in Gorham, he thought he would be dealing mostly in apples. But ever since he got into selling chickens, that part of his business has boomed, with wannabe urban chicken farmers driving there from Portland and Boston to check out his Buff Orpingtons, Black Laced Golden Wyandottes and Egyptian Fayoumis. Poultry experts say Orchard Ridge is the only farm in southern Maine to offer such a wide variety of breeds and sell them at different ages.

“We’re making pizza and donuts now” in the farm’s kitchen, Bibula said, “but it’s the chickens that get all the hits” on the website.

According to the USDA, major cities in 40 states permit urban chickens. In Maine, cities including Portland, South Portland,Westbrook, Sanford, Saco and Auburn have all debated the idea of backyard chickens and approved chicken ordinances.

Regulations vary from community to community. Portland residents are allowed no more than six chickens per household. Roosters, although they have a calming effect on nervous hens, are forbidden so their crowing doesn’t wake up the neighbors. Chickens in the city are “for pets and personal use only” – no selling the eggs – and hen houses must be 25 feet from neighbors.

Portland passed its chicken ordinance in 2009. Last year (2015-2016), the city sold 20 permits. This year the number jumped to 37, plus one that’s pending. (The fee is $26, and permits expire on May 31.) In one case, according to city spokesperson Jessica Grondin, the chickens and hen house were made part of the purchase-and-sale agreement when a Portland home changed hands.


When the backyard chicken revival started 10 to 15 years ago, it was all about the eggs – and teaching something about farm life to human chicks.

“Some of it is that people want to know where their food is coming from,” said Donna Coffin, an extension educator with the University of Maine based in Dover-Foxcroft. “Some of it is they want to have a family project that can help teach kids responsibility and an appreciation for other life forms, to give them some compassion.”

That was part of the motivation for Anna-Lena Schneider and Michael Kress of Portland, who began vegetable gardening with their children – Ben, Sam and Ella – last year and then added chickens a few weeks ago. They own a double lot in the city, so they have plenty of room.

“We really got into growing our own food last year, and we just love the process of ‘Oh we’re planting something together, look how it’s growing, how we’re harvesting it all together,'” Schneider said.

Chickens seemed like a natural next step. They family made a trip out to Orchard Ridge Farm, where Bibula helped them pick out five chickens, all different breeds. They were about a week old when they got them, “little fluff balls,” Schneider said. Kress is building their coop – which Schneider says is fast becoming a “chicken palace” – and the children are learning how to handle the birds gently.

“We’re kind of nervous about keeping them warm, but they’ve done really great,” Schneider said. “They’ve flourished. It’s a really fun way to be in touch with the food that we’re putting into our bodies and knowing where it’s coming from.”

Schneider grew up in Germany, so when it came time to name the chickens, the family gave them “old German lady names:” Wilma, Berta, Gertrud, Else and Frieda.

Naming the chickens is a good sign that they’ll never end up on the family dinner table when their prime egg-laying years are behind them. Top-tier layers can provide a family with 200-300 eggs a year, but if they have names, their primary purpose is probably pet.

“Chickens are the new dog, except that you get six at a time,” Mormino said.

Mormino calls chickens a “no-waste pet.”

“They can eat your kitchen scraps. They can till your garden,” she said. “They eat insects, so they’re great organic pest control. They’re great organic fertilizers.”

Bibula helps people customize their flock depending on their goals. While some customers tell him they want the best egg production for their money, others care more about unusual breeds or “birds they can cuddle.”

“We’re getting a lot of calls from people who have Lyme disease that say, ‘I need chickens because I want to reduce the tick population,’ ” he said. (Andalusians, Egyptian Fayoumis, the Leghorns and some of the Hamburgs are good tick foragers, Bibula said.)

Other chicken enthusiasts just want to watch the birds, hoping to lower their blood pressure or ease their own empty nest syndrome.

That may sound a little wacky, but Mormino says raising chickens can indeed be therapeutic. They’re being brought into retirement homes, she said. Children and adults with autism are raising them, she said, as are veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Come for the eggs,” Mormino quipped, “stay for the stress reduction.”


As soon as Kristie Green brought the family’s new chicks home, she dipped their beaks in water fortified with sugar and vitamins (it helps them learn how to drink) and placed them in a large plywood box fitted with a heat lamp in their living room. All had survived the trip from Missouri, which doesn’t always happen with shipped chicks. Shivering from the quick walk from the car to the house, the chicks huddled under the heat lamp. But soon, they moved to the water dispenser and start drinking – a good sign.

Violet, Ollie and Iris immediately start picking the birds up and naming them. Violet picked up a fawn-colored one. “This one’s going to be named Josie, mama,” she said. Others were christened Daisy and Moonshadow.

“Very gently, Iris, very gently,” Green instructed her youngest. Then later “Iris, I don’t want you to pick one up without my help, OK?”

Ollie defended their chick-handling abilities: “We did go to farm camp,” he said.

Green noted some of the chicks were “stressed out,” and advised her children to slow down on naming them because they might not be able to recognize the named chicks in a few days. “Don’t, don’t get too attached yet,”she said. “It’s really hard to tell them apart for a while.”

Green buys her chicks in March so they will be laying by fall. The hatchery ships the chicks out the day they hatch, without food or water. After hatching, the chicks eat the egg’s yolk and that sustains them for three days, Green explained.

Green’s family started raising chickens five years ago, when they lived in Pownal. Her husband, David Milliken, built the coop that has moved with them a couple of times. It usually houses about 15 chickens that provide the family with three to four dozen eggs a week. They re-order chicks every two years. This year, instead of a mix of breeds, Green went for just two – Black Australorps and Easter Eggers, so named because they lay green and blue eggs.

“I like my chickens to look pretty,” Green said, laughing. “I found I like dealing with them a lot more if they’re lovely looking, and we had some breeds that were good layers but God, they were just so ugly.”

Green feeds her chickens organic feed, and said it would probably be cheaper – and a lot easier – just to buy eggs from a store or farmers market.

“It’s constant work,” she said. “There’s a lot of tending. And chickens are dirty. They’re gross. There’s a lot of poop. You have to work hard to keep your coop from being dirty.”

You also have to worry about predators. Chickens are at the bottom of the food chain and “not that smart,” Green says, so they are, well, sitting ducks. When Green’s family lived in South Portland, they lost their entire flock to skunks and foxes.

But there are also rewards – beyond eggs. She mentions tick control, then adds, “We love them, and I really love the connection to them.”

Meanwhile, while Green fetches food for the chicks, more of the little fluff balls are getting names.

“Can we hold one, mama?” Violet asks. “Mama, can we hold one?”

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

Twitter: MeredithGoad

]]> 0, 8, and Ollie Milliken, 6, smile as their mom, Kristie Green, opens up the box of baby chicks.Sun, 26 Mar 2017 04:50:50 +0000
We know you love your chickens, but please don’t do this Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The things people do to their chickens. It makes Kathy Shea Mormino, aka “The Chicken Chick,” crazy.

Please, she pleads, do not knit little sweaters for your hens. They are “inappropriate.”

“Chickens have a core body temperature between 104 and 107 degrees,” she explained. “Even if they’re completely bald, they don’t need sweaters, and sweaters are actually counterproductive to them being able to regulate their own body temperature.”

Mormino blames the way people anthropomorphize their pets. Fido wears a winter coat, why not a sweater for Foghorn Leghorn?

“They’re making ladders and swings for chickens – ridiculous,” she added.

Backyard chicken farmers are also making their animals fat, Mormino said. Chickens lay eggs every day, so their dietary needs are very specific. There’s a reason commercial poultry farmers hire PhDs to figure all this out. So use quality commercial chicken feed, Mormino suggests, not some recipe from the Internet.

“Chicken keepers are spending exorbitant amounts of money on designer mealworms and organic kale,” she said. “They’re over treating their chickens like crazy.”

Chickens need about 2/3 cup of chicken feed per day to be maximally productive, optimally healthy and live a long life, Mormino said. They can handle 2 tablespoons of treat per chicken twice a week, but any more than that and you run the risk of making them obese.

But chicken lovers are like pet owners who feed their dog from the table: Food equals love.

While the average human has 10,000 taste buds, Mormino said, the average adult laying hen has 300, “so they’re not connoisseurs of subtle flavors. Whenever I hear someone suggesting that ‘Oh, my chickens just love a warm oatmeal in the morning with flax and blueberries on it,’ you know what? No, they don’t. They have superior color vision, so they are enjoying the diversity in the colors.”

]]> 0, 26 Mar 2017 04:33:32 +0000
Here are the biggest mistakes you’ll make with your chickens Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 New backyard chicken farmers, listen up. Here are a few common mistakes to avoid:

• Buying a coop that’s too small. Leave enough space to expand your flock.

• Failing to consider the dog. Whether it’s the family dog or a neighbor’s dog running loose, just one playful bite that breaks the chicken’s skin and the dog will develop a taste for blood. About half the “replacement chickens” sold by Steven Bibula of Orchard Ridge Farm in Gorham are for chickens killed by a dog.

• Expecting longevity in chickens and becoming too attached. To avoid disappointing their children, adults buying replacement chickens often want a chicken that looks like the one that died, Bibula said. “But if you go into this looking at it as a learning opportunity, a maturing opportunity for the child, this is a great opportunity to say ‘Look, this is a part of the life cycle. If we choose to have birds, you’re going to outlive them,’ ” Bibula said.

• Expecting the chickens will be compatible with your landscaping. Chickens do not respect low fences, which can lead to angry neighbors.

• Skimping on the coop. Most pre-fab chicken coops are poorly constructed and lack adequate ventilation, said Kathy Shea Mormino, a backyard chicken farmer in Connecticut with a large internet following. Chickens need adequate ventilation in summer, and a dry, draft-free coop in winter. n Failing to predator-proof the chicken coop. Raccoons and hawks can reach right through chicken wire. Defend the coop with hardware cloth secured with screws and washers, not staples.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:39:59 +0000
Keep your chicks warm, but don’t burn your house down Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 BE VERY CAREFUL about how you use the heat lamp that keeps your chicks warm. DUANE BICKFORD of Fairfield, president of the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association, said he has seen and heard about a number of heat lamp fires over his 27-year career.

CHICKS ARE TYPICALLY kept warm in wooden boxes filled with hay or wood shavings, all of which are known to firefighters as “ordinary combustibles.” These items are dry to begin with, and are dried out further by the heat lamp, Bickford said, “so they can reach their combustion temperature very quickly.”

HIS ADVICE? Keep the combustible materials at least three feet from the lamp. The lamp itself should be placed on a non-combustible surface or be hung as high as it practically can be. — MEREDITH GOAD

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:37:44 +0000
For first time, government lists bee species as endangered in continental U.S. Wed, 22 Mar 2017 01:23:44 +0000 TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The rusty patched bumblebee on Tuesday became the first officially endangered bee species in the continental U.S., overcoming objections from business interests and a last-minute delay by the Trump administration.

One of many bee types that have suffered steep population declines, the rusty patched has disappeared from about 90 percent of its range in the past 20 years. It previously was common across the East Coast and much of the Midwest, where it played a crucial role as a pollinator of crops and wild plants.

Its listing as an endangered species means the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will devise a plan for returning the bee to “a healthy and secure condition,” the U.S. Department of Interior said. “We will work with stakeholders to ensure collaborative conservation among landowners, farmers, industry, and developers in the areas where the species is native.”

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which filed the petition that triggered the government’s consideration of the matter, said it was “thrilled to see one of North America’s most endangered species receive the protection it needs.”

“Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the rusty patched bumblebee as endangered, it stands a chance of surviving the many threats it faces,” said Sarina Jepsen, the group’s director of endangered species.

Scientists say disease, pesticide exposure, habitat loss and climate change are among possible reasons for the decline of the bee, named for the rusty reddish patch on the backs of workers and males. Most of the grasslands and tallgrass prairies where they once thrived have been converted to farms or urban areas.

Advocates said they hoped the recovery plan would also help other struggling pollinators, including bees and the monarch butterfly.

The bee’s endangered listing, approved by the service shortly before President Obama left office, had been scheduled to take effect Feb. 10. But the Trump administration, which has pledged to pare back federal regulations, postponed the listing until Tuesday. Some environmental groups feared it would be canceled.

The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit over the delay, saying it had been ordered without required public notice and comment. On Tuesday, the group said the administration had “reversed course and listed the rusty patched bumblebee as an endangered species just in the nick of time.”

]]> 0 rusty patched bumblebee in Minnesota. The species will now be listed as endangered.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:40:30 +0000
Living off the grid the new-fashioned way in Thorndike Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 THORNDIKE — Homesteader Frank Giglio offers up lunch: wild rice, some sauteed cabbage dressed with a blueberry vinegar, a chunk of lightly breaded, but still moist, pollock he caught on a fall fishing trip and marinated in a ginger-shoyu sauce. The wild rice came from Minnesota, where it was harvested by traditional methods (by hand, from a canoe) and nearly everything else is from Maine. Even the plate, made by Lincolnville ceramicist Ariela Nomi Kuh.

The food is simple, healthy and distractingly good. I have questions for Giglio and his wife, Camille, who went back to this land they call Three Lily Farm almost five years ago, but Scott and Helen Nearing pop into my head. They were homesteaders too, perhaps America’s most famous back-to-the-landers. They’re in my mind because I recently read Wendell Seavey’s droll memoir “Working the Sea,” in which the lobsterman from Bar Harbor tells the story about dropping by the Nearings’ home in Harborside in 1971. As with every story I’ve ever heard about the Nearings and visitors, Seavey was immediately “invited” to join Scott in farm/house work. After some hard labor involving wood, they gave him lunch.

It was all “vegetarian food” and Seavey, no vegetarian, began filling up on bread. Helen noticed and offered him some apple with peanut butter on it. That was clearly the highlight of that meal.

The Giglios are today’s homestead influencers, back-to-the-landers yes, but hardly ascetics. They are adroit on social media (each has about 7,000 followers on Instagram). They throw open their doors to visitors in the summer, but instead of making them chop wood, they have been teaching people how to make beautiful meals using local foods. Their Etsy shop is filled with carefully packaged goods made in their off-the-grid commercial kitchen, items like FG’s Hot Sauce and FG’s Strawberry Triple Mint Shrub (a vinegar-based beverage ideal for mixing with sparkling water, or into a cocktail). Camille makes items like Breezy Lips, a moisturizer that is “soft sexy soothing.” Camille herself is sexy. The Giglios are sexy. As I eat every grain of rice off my plate, I catch the eye of the Giglio’s younger son, Sunny, 11 months old and chewing on a piece of cabbage from his mother’s plate. I follow Frank Giglio, 38, on Instagram, where he posted a picture of the baby’s placenta along with his plans to make it into a powder and then capsules to boost Camille’s well-being. Thus I know that Sunny was born at home.

“Right here,” Camille, 31, tells me.

On the table?

No, in a birthing tub they brought in for the birth. Surrounded by a crowd of about 10 friends. “I love throwing parties,” she said, laughing.

The Giglios are not the Nearings, but then again, it has been 45 years since the Nearings served peanut butter and apple slices to a hungry lobsterman. Times change, even for homesteaders.


The couple were friends before they were a couple. Frank grew up in Connecticut, eating Italian-American food (lots of subs, he says), Camille in Louisiana and then, from the time she was 8, in southern Maine.

They’d both done a lot of traveling in their youth. Inspired by the slew of celebrity chefs popping up on the Food Network 20 years ago, Frank had gone to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont with ambitions of following in the footsteps of “Emeril and Mario.” But in 2003 he’d had a breakthrough that this was not the life for him and quit restaurant work in favor of working at a health-food store. “I dove headfirst into natural foods,” he said. “And then went on my own health mission.”

That included studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York and becoming a raw vegan. He even cooked at a raw food spa in Arizona.

“I was an extremely dogmatic vegan,” he said. “I would tell you everything bad about what you were eating or wearing.”

Both were friends with Daniel Vitalis, who has his own cult following as one of the leaders of the Rewilding movement. And they kept bumping into each other on the health-food circuit at events in places like Sedona, Arizona, or in Hawaii, where Camille lived for a year. “That was like MySpace time,” Frank says. “We would sort of talk here and there.” Both were with other partners. “We weren’t like BFFs or anything.” Then Frank offered to help Camille’s mother put on a health-food event in York.

“We got together that weekend,” Frank said. “That was seven years ago and we haven’t been apart since.”

“Eight,” Camille reminds him. They married seven years ago.

Together, and under Vitalis’ influence, they transitioned into meat eaters. Not have-a-burger kind of meat eaters, but making videos of preparing beef tartare kind of meat eaters. The vegan community was not happy.

“There was major backlash,” Frank said. “People were like, ‘You’re going to die.’ ”

They look hale and very hearty and say they’re done with veganism. (To the point where they raised and processed pigs on Three Lily Farm last year; there’s still some prosciutto in the house from that experiment).

When they were just starting out as a couple they lived in Jackson, New Hampshire, but had an urge to settle in Maine and start seriously homesteading. Frank had always had gardens, but he wanted to go deeper.

“It became more like, ‘I want to grown my own food and really get to the source of everything.’ I got into fermentation and started making my own honey wine.”

They found their property in Thorndike via Craigslist. It has a spring-fed pond (which makes a stellar skating rink for their older son Wilder, 5, and a good swimming hole in the summer) and grapevines and fruit trees planted by the previous owner and now supplemented by the Giglios. The house is solar-powered and has a root cellar for winter storage of those fermented foods as well as dairy and fresh meat, fish and vegetables. A 700-cubic foot chest freezer runs year round.

Their adopted home also has what they describe as an amazing food community. Portland, with its thriving restaurant scene, is something to be admired, they say, but what they’ve got going on in the Thorndike area is impressive in its own right. It’s just not happening so much in the public eye.

“It’s almost underground up here,” Frank said.

Yes, they’re 12 minutes away from The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, but that’s a destination spot that even locals can’t get into. It’s been two years since the Giglios have landed a table there. When they want their fix of restaurant food, they head to Camden for Long Grain or to Rockland to eat at Primo.


If that underground has a locus, it may well be Three Lily Farm. From there, Frank manages the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s kitchen, just down the road in Unity. He teaches classes at MOFGA and is becoming a regular at Stonewall Kitchen’s cooking school, where this winter he taught “Cooking with Root Vegetables.”

He’s cooked at the Unity Food Hub in collaboration with Maine Farmland Trust. When Matthew Secich, another former restaurant chef who runs the much loved Charcuterie in Unity, is in a pinch with customers out the door, and Frank hears about it (say from Camille, waiting in line) Frank is likely to hop in the car and drive over to help out.

They also use their property as a teaching center in the summer months. They’ve held homesteading workshops there, although their typical guest tends to be less the aspiring homesteader than the aspiring home cook. “Mostly women from urban areas,” Frank says.

They are savvy multitaskers, running events and creating products that speak to their individual strengths. Their joint catering gigs specialize in “purposeful cuisine.” Frank ghostwrites cookbooks and works regularly with Dr. Mark Hyman, the best-selling author who founded the UltraWellness Center. An e-book cookbook the Giglios created together, “The Butter Book,” features Frank’s recipes and Camille’s eye for design, as well as the photography of Forest Aragon, the art director for The Fullest, a California-based wellness publication.

Camille worked as a personal assistant to David Wolfe, the man behind the NutriBullet (and its infomercial) and along the way she picked up the kind of video and design skills that have taught her how to build websites (including their own), shoot video for Frank’s online cooking workshops and package the goods they sell on Etsy.

They have that uncanny gift of making lifestyle seem desirable and within grasp, even if there are not, in truth, many people who could move to Thorndike and sustain off-the-grid lives. And they seem to do it transparently. When Frank posted a photograph of an enticing and enormous jar of bright green cucumbers in the process of pickling on Instagram last year, the oohs and ahs echoed through the comments. Where, one commenter asked, did he get that jar? “Target” he wrote back. No dogmatic narrative there, just the truth; sometimes modern homesteaders shop at Target.

They also have come to shop local from markets and farms not their own. The Giglios might forage for mussels and tap their own maple trees (Frank made nearly three gallons of syrup last year), but they’ve also developed a realistic sense of what they can do with their time on the land. That cabbage at lunch came from North Branch Farm in Monroe, the blueberries in the vinegar were B-grade bargains from After the Fall Farm. As he gathered bark from wild cherry and yellow birch trees to make his “root beer” mead (that’s what it tastes like, he says), Frank pointed out a cabin on the property. It’s adorable, but in disrepair. Frank could spend this coming summer slaving over his gardens.

“Or I could fix up that cabin,” he said.

Instead of trying to do it all, Nearing style, he does what he can. On the to-do list at Three Lily Farm is adding an ice house so that they can harvest ice out of the pond. He’s seen how the Amish use pond ice for year-round refrigeration, and he’d happily replace their electric fridge with ice.

But some machines will never go. Far from banning technology, they welcome it. Wilder is learning how to forage, but he also watches television. His parents don’t want him walking everywhere with an iPad but they also don’t want to send him out into the world unequipped to deal with technology. It’s too important.

“Technology is too advanced to say ‘I’ll never use technology,’ ” Frank said.

It’s all about balance, he said. “There are days where I am on the computer all day. There are days where I am out on the land all day.”

“Tech has allowed us to make a living and be home,” he added. “If I had to go work a job every day of the week, I don’t know how I would be able to manage this property.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0, 19 Mar 2017 13:17:54 +0000
The later date of this year’s Maine Flower Show means more and different flowers on display Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 This year’s Maine Flower Show, set to open at the end of March, is being held two weeks later than its predecessor, which means attendees will get to see more and different flowers than they have in past years.

“We have two more weeks of hot weather and bright sun in the greenhouse,” said Jeff Marstaller, co-owner of Cozy Acres, which is one of three Maine companies growing plants for the show. The others are Estabrook’s and Pierson Nurseries. (As these words are being edited, though, with a Nor’easter blowing hard, it is anything but hot and bright out.)

“I toured Jeff’s and Tom’s greenhouses last week, looking at plant material, and I was blown away by the variety and amount of what they are growing,” said Maine Landscape & Nursery Association (MELNA) President Jake Pierson, referring to Marstaller and Tom Estabrook. The association is the new sponsor of the flower show, which was operated until 2013 by Portland Yacht Services.

“This show is not going to be sparse on plants,” Pierson continued, addressing complaints that display gardens in previous shows emphasized hardscaping – stonework, benches, garden houses, water features, walks and patios – more than plants.

The flowers and plants that will be the objects of envy and appreciation at the show have been growing for weeks.

A woman snaps a photo of a display at the 2015 Portland Flower Show. This year’s show is set for March 29-April 2 at Thompson’s Point. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“We have two full greenhouses,” Marstaller said, both in North Yarmouth. “Our zero-emissions greenhouse is chock-a-block full” of plants being kept at cool temperatures. The traditional greenhouse is kept warmer and is almost as full. The cooler greenhouse slows plant development while the warmer one speeds it up. In concert, they’ll ensure that all of the flowers will be at their peak for the show.

At Estabrook’s, with locations in Yarmouth and Kennebunk, Tom Estabrook said his company is growing thousands of plants for the show, both for its own displays and those of other landscapers and nurseries. While Marstaller is focused on annuals, vegetables and herbs, Estabrook’s is growing the whole gamut.

The later date of the flower show also answers another complaint that show-goers have had in past years: the lack of plants for sale. This year, attendees will be able to buy plants.

“You could plant some of them outside in the first week of April,” Pierson said, referring to perennials, as well as to the 300 trees and shrubs now growing in his own wholesale company greenhouses for the show. Barring a late-season snowstorm or cold snap, the ground in southern Maine, at least, is often workable and temperatures warm enough then for planting.

Pierson’s own booth will be selling a line of small native plants that are ready to go in the ground. Estabrook’s booth, too, will offer a variety of ready-to-plant items, include pansies, ranunculus, hellebores and small shrubs such as magnolias.

Both Marstaller and Pierson will have display gardens at the show, among the 16 display gardens in total. Pierson said his company is creating a display garden for the first time since it closed its landscape-design division more than 20 years ago. As MELNA president, he wants to support the show. But there’s another reason, too.

“I’m trying to help the home owner understand they can buy plants that are locally grown, that are tested by local growers in this climate, and those growers are employing their neighbors,” Pierson said.

He said that Maine’s nursery industry has not done a good job of communicating to the public that the buy-local movement consumers have embraced for fruits and vegetables also applies to ornamental plants.

The theme of this year’s flower show is “Plant Something,” in coordination with the association’s marketing campaign, itself part of a national campaign that encourages people to garden and promotes “the environmental, financial and health benefits of trees and plants.”

What happens to the display plants once the five-day show ends? The perennials, trees and shrubs whose growth is being sped up in greenhouses will live after the show – although some will need as much as a year to recover from the stress. Most of the annuals, however, will not be saved.

And while three local nurseries are producing most of the plants before the show, Estabrook hopes attendees will take up the task after. To increase the odds of that, they can take home free seeds for pollinator-friendly varieties. Information on how to grow the seeds will be posted to the flower show website.

Later this summer, whenever they see butterflies and bees hovering around the plants those seedlings produce in their own gardens, flower show attendees can remember the flower show. It will provide some pleasure in the moment as well as advertising for next year’s show.

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

]]> 0, 17 Mar 2017 14:10:04 +0000
Linda Woodard doesn’t want anyone to be afraid of science Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Linda Woodard is the director of Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center. But the former high school biology teacher is also a passionate contributor to the Maine Environmental Education Association, where she has been on the board of directors for at least 20 years. On Thursday and Friday, the association will hold its annual conference at Colby College in Waterville, where environmental leaders gather for 30-plus presentations on topics such as empowering the next generation. Woodard’s fingerprints are all over it. So is this particular political moment.

A WRINKLE IN TIME: The conference always has a theme. This year’s is “Resilience,” a natural for a group with a stated goal of advancing climate change education in Maine communities. Worth noting, in case you missed it, the Environmental Protection Agency’s new head administrator, President Trump appointee Scott Pruitt, recently called into question the basic science behind climate change: that it is caused by human activity. “A lot of people are feeling really disheartened,” Woodard said. “I said, ‘We have to do resilience.’ People are feeling the need to be rejuvenated and to work with other people.”

PRACTICING SELF-CARE: Although figuring out ways to reach Maine children and get them excited about the environment is the focus of the work the association does, one session encourages educators to look inward. “We are also talking about the people who are working within environmental education, who are overwhelmed by climate issues. Because you have to acknowledge that it is going to affect you, as well. You have to look at yourself. You can’t just focus on your audience.” It has to be hard – fighting an uphill battle without the tools or conviction – of the federal government behind you. Add to that the general anxiety around the issue. “They are talking about climate change and how it affects mental health. They talk about it as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”

CHANGE IS GOING TO COME: Woodard has been visiting (or working at) Scarborough Marsh for the better part of three decades. What impacts, if any, from climate change has she seen? For one, she has noticed new birds “that weren’t there when I started. I remember it being a big thing when I started to see great egrets. Now we have so many.”

“We are getting more extreme storms. What they call 100-year storms are happening more often. This fall, we had a really high tide, and you look at where that water came in and think, ‘This is what it is going to be like.’ ” The 3,100-acre marsh is Maine’s biggest, and it is protected. But development is pressing in. “The sprawl has just really come in,” she says. “There is going to be no place for that marsh to migrate to.”

LEAVE NO TRACE: Not all the news/change is bad. The students and other visitors “are getting more savvy. I am seeing more awareness.” During wilderness walks with groups of students, Woodard says she used to point to birch bark on trees and ask, ” ‘If I rip this off, is that OK?’ ” and they would say, ‘Sure!’ Now they say ‘Noooooo.’ ” Woodard credits the educators who bring these students to the salt marsh with planting the seed of leaving no trace.

A DOOR OPENS: How did she end up working for Audubon? Woodard has always been a nature lover. “My father tells me I was in the backpack hiking with him when I was, like, 3 months old.” She read Ranger Rick. She was in a canoe at such an early age (and eagerly) that someone gave her a tiny paddle of her own. As a teenager, she moved to Maine from Springfield, Massachusetts, after her parents divorced, but they had been bringing her to Kennebunkport for summer visits since she was 6. She stayed in Maine for college, studying biology at the University of Southern Maine. She went into research and laboratory work, but something wasn’t quite gelling for her. “I worked in a lab doing research on cells,” she said. “With the door closed.” Woodard decided to open it.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS: She began working toward a teaching certificate and then taught high school biology. “The thing that really hit me was that the kids came to me so turned off of science, because something happens along the way.” Her theory is that some teachers at the elementary and middle school level are afraid of taking their students outside because of their own knowledge gaps. “It really depended on the how the teacher felt,” she said. “If they liked the outdoors and felt confident, they could do it.” If not, they made far less of an effort. “But you can learn with your students. You don’t have to be fearful. Discovery is the whole thing.” She started conducting teacher workshops. From there, an advertisement looking for volunteers at Scarborough Marsh caught her eye. Then a job came up on staff. That was in 1988. She never left.

DOCTOR’S ORDERS: In some ways Woodard feels the world has caught up with her early passions. “What is really interesting is the whole health industry is saying ‘Wait, people need to get outdoors.’ We see pediatricians writing a prescription to go outside.” And when those children come to Audubon, either at Scarborough Marsh or the conservation group’s Maine headquarters at Gilsland Farm in Falmouth, she’s there, waiting with lessons about pollinators, native plants and how tossing a seed “bomb” in the fall (that’s compost and seeds mushed together) can, in a tiny way, help combat climate change.

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0, 17 Mar 2017 14:11:04 +0000
If you like things nautical, you’ll love these bracelets Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Maryellen Rooney is a former art major who grew up visiting Cape Cod and Nantucket, and so she came to love the ocean and nautical style. In 2011, she moved to Maine with her husband, who grew up in Freeport.

“He works for L.L. Bean, and we lived in Yarmouth in this apartment where we could walk to the boat yard,” Rooney recalled. “I was making jewelry and selling it a little before I moved up here, but when I moved up here I was inspired more by the coastal lifestyle.”

The couple now lives in Falmouth, where Rooney makes nautical rope bracelets and gold- or silver-plated cuff bracelets with buoys on each end, hand-painted with color enamel.

“My golden retriever is named Buoy,” Rooney said. “I became obsessed with buoys, I guess.”

Her company is called Maine Melon. Why? When Rooney was born, her sister, a toddler at the time, couldn’t say Maryellen. She called her Mary Melon, “and my nickname has been Melon my entire life.”

Rooney tried her best to find someone in Maine to manufacture the sleek buoy cuffs, but said she had to turn to a manufacturer in Rhode Island, keeping it regional. (She makes the rope bracelets herself.) The cuffs cost $85 and come in a variety of colors. They’re sold online, and at Springer’s Jewelers in Portland and Dwellings in Falmouth.

Rooney also makes metal cuffs inspired by dock cleats, the metal objects on a dock around which a rope can be tied to secure a vessel. She says the cuffs symbolize “keeping the ones you love near to you” so you will never drift apart.

]]> 0, 17 Mar 2017 14:06:31 +0000
If it grows together, it goes together Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Boy did I step in a pile of compost when I started digging around to figure out how a companion planting scheme in your summer garden could turn into a party on your plate at harvest time. I’d anticipated clear-cut scientific explanations on how sowing basil seeds among tomato plants helps both thrive in the garden and complement each other in a Caprese salad.

Companion planting is the art of plotting which vegetables you’ll cultivate closely together based on how one’s growing patterns, chemical emissions and attractiveness to pests plays on the health, yield and flavor of its chosen garden chum.

The benefits of companion planting in Maine have been documented by gardeners and smaller-scale growers, for sure. They turn to favorite gardening books like “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte and a plethora of online companion-planting charts to learn that leeks planted among carrots will help repel carrot flies. They draw on personal experience as evidence that most members of the brassica family do very well intermingled with aromatic herbs like thyme, dill and rosemary. And, they heed neighbors’ warnings to always plant tomatoes, but never alliums, near the asparagus bed.

But my typical sources for walking this former English major through the science behind sustainable agricultural practices – the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association – both said they don’t hand out professional guidance on companion planting because the evidence of its efficacy is mostly anecdotal.

The lag time between what she knows works in her greenhouse and fields and the science available to prove it doesn’t surprise Jackie Robinson, a fourth-generation farmer who operates Leaves and Blooms Greenhouse in Dover-Foxcroft.

“The agrochemical boom, I think, slowed down the process of investigating how and why some of these couplings have worked really well for hundreds of years,” Robinson said. She is confident science will eventually verify why some of these companion plants’ root systems work in cahoots to enrich the soil and foster hospitable growing conditions for each other. In the meantime, she’ll continue to grow strawberries and spinach together and Johnny Jump-Ups among the mache, because she’s happy with the results in her beds and in her kitchen.

In his book, “Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening,” Bonsall, a subsistence farmer in Industry, doesn’t offer up a list of companion plantings. He’s not convinced they are all in symbiotic relationships where both plants benefit from the match. Many just co-exist happily because they don’t compete for the same resources. Take peas and carrots, for example. Companion planting guides say they are convivial because peas fix atmospheric nitrogen, which carrots need, Bonsall writes. And carrots, since they are taproots, can pump up calcium, potassium and magnesium needed by the peas. But Bonsall argues the nitrogen is only available to the carrots once the pea plant dies and the alkaline minerals would only get back into the soil if it came back to that spot as compost.

The reason carrots and peas get along is more subtle. As long as the soil nitrogen is adequate, the carrots can consume it all because the peas are self-catering in that regard. “It’s a meshing of needs and talents,” Bonsall writes.

There are fillers – crops that grow only until the space is needed for their companions. These are typically early or late crops like lettuce, spinach, radish and scallions harvested before cucumber, melon or winter squash plants spread out. There are other pairings whose plant shapes (tall versus low) or root zones (shallow versus deep) vary and therefor dovetail nicely in the same space. And, regardless of the level of biological synergy, this inter-planting provides a measure of crop insurance that comes as a benefit with any biodiversity.

But Bonsall says he’s not above planting companions based on how they look. One of his favorite triple companion plantings – because it is beautiful and he considers his plots his canvas – is flowering coriander grown for seed, flanked by red beets with bi-colored greens, and framed by spiky celery plants (See salad recipe). This particular outlook brings me full circle to why I started digging on companion plants in the first place.

Bonsall says it’s uncanny how often plants that go well side by side in the garden suit each other on the plate, too. “I often look to culinary compatibility for hints as to companion planting,” he wrote. So as a rule of thumb, if their flavors conflict on the plate, don’t plant them too close together in the garden.

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

]]> 0 Burns Rudalevige slices beets for a beet and celery salad with orange slices, juice and zest. Left: Making the coriander dressing.Thu, 16 Mar 2017 19:11:45 +0000
Grow hollyhocks for striking effect Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Hollyhocks are an old-time favorite flower, growing a stalk up to 6 feet tall and producing brightly colored single and double flowers along that stalk. They are strikingly gorgeous in a cottage garden and are frequently seen in paintings growing next to old red barns.

Occasionally you can find someone selling hollyhock seedlings, but most often you have to plant them by seed – and you get a greater variety of blossoms that way.

You could direct-plant the seeds outdoors, but you will have better luck if you plant them indoors about now and transplant them outside in late May.

Hollyhocks are biennials, which means they produce only foliage the first year and flowers and seeds the second year. If you want to have hollyhocks every year, plant seedlings two years straight and they will self-seed to give you blossoms every year.

Plant the seeds a quarter-inch deep in a good planting medium, keep moist and provide good light and ventilation until the seedlings are about four inches tall. Once they are that large, put the seedlings outside during the day and bring them inside at night for about a week so they adapt to outside conditions. Then plant them outside in a sunny spot with rich soil (add compost or dried cow manure) and some wind protection (hence the planting by barns), about 18 inches apart. They might require staking when in bloom, but otherwise need little care.

]]> 0, 16 Mar 2017 19:03:30 +0000
You know spring has nearly sprung when it’s time to prune trees and shrubs Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Our warming temperatures are a tease. (And they are warming, despite last weekend’s chill.) The ground is not ready to be worked because it is snow-covered, frozen or soggy – depending on the weather that day or your location in Maine. But it is warm enough to do some outdoor chores comfortably.

That means it is time to prune.

Late winter – remember that spring does not start officially until March 20 – is the recommended time for pruning many trees and shrubs.

Pruning now has several advantages. First, with the leaves off the trees the branching is more visible on deciduous trees so you can more easily see what needs to be removed. Second, winter pruning stimulates growth, so the plants will get a good start once the warm weather arrives.

Some trees and shrubs should not be pruned in spring. I’ll start with those in case you are so eager to prune that you head outside before finishing this column: Avoid pruning trees and shrubs that flower early in the spring, such as forsythia, lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons, quince, mountain laurel and ornamental fruit trees. These early bloomers produce their flower buds late the previous season, so if you prune now you will be cutting out future flowers. If you don’t mind losing your blooms this spring, go ahead and prune them. Otherwise, wait until right after their blossoms go by.

Second, avoid pruning trees in which sap flows heavily in the spring, including maples, birches and walnuts. While pruning now won’t hurt the tree much, it does get messy as the sap runs from the cuts.

With hydrangeas, when to prune depends on the type you have. Paniculata, oak-leaf and arborescens hydrangeas bloom on new wood, so they can be pruned now. Macrophylla or big-leaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood, so they should be pruned after they bloom. The Endless Summer hydrangea series blooms on old and new wood, and are best pruned after they bloom.

But after you exclude spring bloomers and sap runners, there are still a lot plants that can be pruned, including dogwoods, clethra, rose of sharon, butterfly bush, spirea, oaks, euonymus and most needled evergreens.

You prune for several reasons. When you face each bush or tree, your first step is to remove dead and diseased branches. You can tell dead branches in winter because the bark is worn off or they are broken or unhealthy looking. With viburnums, check the tips of twigs for eggs of the viburnum leaf beetle and trim those twigs out with your hand pruners.

The next step is to remove branches that are rubbing against each other or crossing, any branches that are touching the ground or are weak or spindly.

Once all of that is done, your job may be done, too. Or you may want to start controlling the size and shape of the plant. Remove branches growing where you don’t want them: in a walkway, blocking a window, in the way of mowing or near power lines.

This is a judgment call, but you should remove branches growing in the wrong direction. Anything going straight up to the sky or sticking out beyond the center mass of the plant usually should go. Also, if one branch sticks out farther than all the others, cut that one back with your hand pruners. This is sort of like getting your hair trimmed: when you’re done, all the hairs aren’t the same length but together they make an attractive unit.

Pruning has some simple rules. First, don’t just cut the top off trees, an approach called tree topping. Cass Turnbull, whom I have written about several times and who unfortunately died in January at the age of 65, led a campaign against topping, correctly pointing out that it creates ugly, unhealthy trees and shrubs.

Unless you are dealing with a boxwood or similar plant you should not use hedge trimmers to shear a plant. And, for goodness sake, don’t use your gas-powered lawn trimmer, which I have seen people do. That is just nasty. And messy. Anyway, any kind of shearing creates an unnatural look and an unhealthy, twiggy growth at the tips of branches.

With fruit trees, you want to open up the middle of the tree so that sun reaches all of the branches. You should cut branches as close to the bottom of the tree as practical. For some shrubs, that means cutting the largest branches right at ground level. To figure out where to make the cut, always go back to another branch.

With evergreens, reach into the center of the plant so that any cuts you make are invisible. But other than removing damaged branches or pruning to keep the patient from getting too big for its spot, evergreens require little maintenance pruning.

Pruning is as much art as science. Cartoons often show artists standing back, holding up their thumbs to get the perspective of their paintings. Stand back, look at the plant from different directions and remove anything that seems out of place. When you’re done pruning and have a pie of branches and twigs, if you have space, leave the pile in the woods on your land so they will provide shelter for wildlife and eventually decompose.

In pruning, trust your instincts. You are not merely a gardener. You are an artist whose medium is plants. Don’t worry – it is difficult to prune a tree or a shrub to death.

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

]]> 0, ME - MAY 26: Jan Bickel trims and prunes lilac bushes on a hot Tuesday afternoon at her home in Kittery. Jan, who is a relatively new home owner on Hadley Road, says she plans to plant a row of lilac bushes in addition to her current ones, and is also planting raspberry bushes. (Photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer)Fri, 10 Mar 2017 09:05:27 +0000
Mainers may be landing fewer fish, so let’s make them better fish, a Brit advises Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Cornwallian Chris Bean has been meeting with fellow fishermen (and a few chefs) from Port Clyde to Boston to explain how hauling in sashimi-grade fish could be an economically sustainable way to make the most of their sustainably caught seafood.

I met Bean, a lanky, bearded chap with a white cap of hair and a colorful presence that combines several plaid woolen layers with a cherry red neckerchief, at the annual Fisherman’s Forum in Rockland earlier this month. His company, Kernowsashimi, sells top quality sustainable fish caught off the southwestern coast of the United Kingdom. It operates small day boats from which the fish are caught with hand lines and gillnets. Many of the same species Bean sells, such as mackerel, pollock, monkfish, flounder and dogfish, are swimming in sustainable numbers in the Gulf of Maine.

Christine Burns Rudalevige squeezes lemon onto the raw scallops for crudo. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Bean’s success selling sashimi-grade seafood to many top London sushi restaurants at top prices lies in his use of a Japanese technique for killing fish at sea called ike jime. A spike is inserted quickly and directly into the fish’s hindbrain so that it is killed instantly. Bean then submerges the fish in a slurry of seawater and ice that quickly brings their temperature to just above freezing. Combined, these measures stem the flow of adrenaline, lactic acid and blood into the meat of the fish, thereby preserving its quality and increasing its shelf life.

Bean was the guest of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), which brought him stateside under a grant the organization was awarded last summer to research how it could help increase the value of fish pulled from the Gulf of Maine. According to Jen Levin, GMRI’s sustainable seafood senior program manager, Maine fishermen harvested just 17 percent of the allowable mackerel catch last season. Low market demand meant that fishermen could get only 14 to 20 cents per pound for the mackerel, admittedly not much incentive. But the going rate for sashimi-grade mackerel coming from Japan into high-end sushi restaurants in Portland is upwards of $23 per pound.

Christine Burns Rudalevige slices scallops into -inch-thick coins for scallop crudo. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“We’ve given chefs sashimi-grade mackerel from Maine, and it is getting great reviews,” Levin said. She added that since limits placed on landing declining populations means that fishermen’s catch is smaller than in the past, then following Bean’s lead would at least help them fetch a higher price for the fish they are permitted to get.

Her long-term goal is to make Gulf of Maine sashimi-grade seafood world renowned. Levin hopes to have a couple of chefs using Maine-sourced sashimi within the year, but doesn’t expect the practice to be commonplace for at least ten.

If any finfish is going to be sold to be consumed raw, food safety guidelines in both the United Kingdom and the United States stipulate that it must be frozen and stored at a temperature of -4 degrees F or below for a minimum of 7 days or flash frozen to -31 degrees F for 15 hours to kill any potential parasites, which can be a costly processing step to take.

But Bean is also evangelizing cooking sashimi-grade fish. Fisherman can sell it directly to home cooks for at least twice the price it will fetch at any seafood auction. “We sell the equivalent of $4,000 worth of this carefully handled fish every Saturday morning at our local market,” Bean said. “People are lining up to get it because it tastes better, and they can keep it with confidence on ice for up to five days.”

Neither Bean nor Levin expects every Maine fishermen to institute these practices for every fish they catch. Rather, they advocate that handling some fish in such a fashion can easily be part of a diversified plan to keep the fishing heritage alive and well in Maine.

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


Christine Burns Rudalevige prepares scallop crudo with grapefruit, fennel and chili at her home. Fresh, high quality seafood is the key to a tasty crudo. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Admittedly, Chris Bean’s sashimi-grade fin fish evangelism doesn’t apply to scallops, which are shellfish. But with the Maine scallop season wrapping up on April 15, get them fresh and eat them raw while you can. Perhaps if local fisherman follow in Bean’s footsteps and begin hauling in sashimi-grade pollock, redfish and dogfish, we can eat them raw in the same fashion in the near future.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

12 ounces fresh Maine scallops
1/2 fennel bulb, cored and very thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon minced serrano chili pepper
1 ruby grapefruit
Maine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crusty bread

Thinly slices each scallop into 1/8-inch thick coins. Place the scallops in a large bowl with the fennel bulb. Add the lemon juice, maple syrup, chili and olive oil. Gently toss until well combined.

Zest the grapefruit. Add 1 tablespoon of the zest to the scallops. You can freeze the remainder of the zest for future use. Slice the top and bottom off the grapefruit. Set the fruit cut side up (and down), it’ll now sit flatly, and remove the peel and pith by making cuts lengthwise between flesh and peel, following fruit’s contour. You will need a very sharp knife. Hold the fruit over a bowl to catch juice. Now slice lengthwise between each segment and the membranes on either side, a technique called supreming, letting the segments fall into the bowl. Add the segments and any collected juice to the scallop bowl. Stir gently and season with salt and pepper.

Divide the scallops among 4 chilled plates. To serve, top each salad with a fennel frond and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

]]> 0 Burns Rudalevige slices scallops into -inch-thick coins for scallop crudo.Fri, 10 Mar 2017 08:57:50 +0000
How a Van Buren-based vegetable processor went from triumph to shutdown Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The bad news arrived right around Labor Day. Northern Girl’s customer Whole Foods, which had been buying nearly 3,000 pounds of its fresh harvest medley every week – cleaned, cubed and ready to be roasted and served up in the grocer’s tempting hot, prepared foods area – would not be placing any more orders with the Van Buren-based vegetable processor for those organic root vegetables from Aroostook County.

Given the upscale national chain’s recent financial woes (sales declines for six straight quarters has led to store closures), its decision to scale back on organic vegetables from a mid-sized Maine processor doesn’t seem surprising in retrospect. But at the peak of a harvest season, this is not the news anyone in local food wants to hear. In the case of Northern Girl, Whole Foods represented about a third of its business, just gone, out the window.

“It was a key customer,” Marada Cook said. She founded Northern Girl in 2011 with her sister Leah. Together with business partner Chris Hallweaver, they had built it into a community-minded business founded on the ideals of the local food movement. Organic food, grown in Maine (all in Aroostook County), processed by a team of 11 from the area and then distributed throughout Maine and beyond by Crown O’Maine, the distribution cooperative founded by their father, Jim Cook, in 2006.

Northern Girl never quite recovered from that, or the rest of a sales year that Cook described as “tumultuous.” In late February, the company announced that it was shutting down production and putting Northern Girl on the market. The news took many by surprise, including Van Buren’s town manager, Dan McClung.

“I am a little bit surprised that they are making this decision,” McClung said. “I didn’t think that they were at this point. Some of the conversations we had

they seemed to be very optimistic about future contracts that might come through.”

He’s disappointed. “It has been a nice business to have in town for the obvious economic development reasons with job creation. But it is also a nice business that the town was proud to be aligned with. It goes hand-in-hand with the culture of our region, and it was something that represented the town well.”

For those in local food movement, the news is disconcerting – the Cooks and Hallweaver had built something to be so proud of, and now they were shuttering it? It is enough to give an food entrepreneur pause. This group had it all, from ethics to product to a shiny new facility, leased from the city of Van Buren and built with $200,000 support from the Northern Border Regional Commission.

Moreover, they were responding to a need identified by groups like Maine Food Strategy for the kind of infrastructure within the local food economy that would add value to crops and make it possible to eat local throughout the year.

They’d worked hard to identify grants, like one from Maine Community Foundation that enabled them to buy crucial equipment to start the business. They’d courted investors, found markets like the one with Whole Foods and with 10 school districts throughout the state; the latter were regular customers for Northern Girl’s 20-pound sacks of carefully cut and washed Aroostook County grown carrots. (That includes Portland, a district well known for serving locally sourced food.) The Cooks and Hallweaver had successfully navigated the challenges of food safety inspections, earning a 99 percent on their safety audit. Investors from Slow Money Maine had made considerable investments in the business, $150,000 in its first two years alone.

In Maine’s food economy, people feel so protective of the Cook sisters’ vision that few were willing to talk about what had gone wrong, or even what might happen next.

“We don’t know yet what can come from this,” said Bonnie Rukin, coordinator for Slow Money Maine. “There is shock and sadness among some people and also understanding and compassion. We remain daunted.”

Surely she meant “undaunted?”

An old ad for Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative in the North Vassalboro office on October 2014. In the photo are Kate Cook with her daughters, Marada, Leah and Rivera. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“No,” Rukin said, ruefully. “We’re definitely daunted.” She noted two similar blows to companies supported by Slow Money Maine, the closure of Moo Milk in 2014 and Coastal Farms & Food in Belfast, an incubator and processing kitchen that closed just a few months before MOO Milk. “We work regularly with these businesses, and there are all of these connections between them so obviously, when there is a loss, we feel it. And people as investors financially feel it. We are not celebrating. This business wasn’t necessarily ready to fail. The team decided that this was the best next step.”


Northern Girl had a bootstrap approach to business, Marada Cook says. They thought they could recover from the Whole Food setback, but as it turned out they lacked the capital to keep the processing company going, and that problem likely went all the way back to the company’s early days, she said.

“I think if I could have, I would have raised a lot more capital upfront,” Cook said. We put in less than a million, and we probably needed $3 million.”

“Of course, as a startup with no sales, that is very hard to do,” she added. “So you tend to take incremental steps. I could have made the case for what a long on-ramp it would take to become profitable.” Instead, she said, they took a more short-term approach.

They also decided fairly early on that they’d aim to serve food service, institutions and schools and universities, rather than vying for space on a grocery shelf. (Whole Foods also bought packaged beets from Northern Girl, but they were using the products in their own food service business, preparing foods for sale in the deli area and ready-to-eat warm bar in the supermarkets. Shortly after letting Northern Girl know they wouldn’t be buying their vegetable medley anymore, Whole Foods shut down one of its food commissaries in the East, where those foods were prepared, and in February announced plans to shut down the other two this quarter as well as nine stores around the nation.

During peak times like holidays, Northern Girl sold up to 5,000 pounds of Aroostook County grown and processed vegetables to Whole Foods. But as consumers picked out roasted vegetables at that steam table, they likely connected with Whole Foods, not Northern Girl.

In retrospect, Cook said, maybe instead of backing away from a direct retail market, Northern Girl could have sought help getting into it. “I would have maybe recruited someone who had a different level of experience in consumer branding. That is a universe that is very tightly controlled and you do need – to use a North Woods term here – a guide for it.”

“To play with the big boys and squeeze big names off the shelves on the East Coast would have taken a lot more funding and acumen. So we pivoted into food service.”


When Jim Cook died in 2008, he’d already begun conversations about a vegetable-processing plant with Van Buren, the town just 15 miles south along the Crown of Maine from Grand Isle, where the Cook family lived and farmed, Cook was an entrepreneur, but his entrepreneurial spirit had far more to do with building community than making money. When he died at just 59, the idea of the plant hadn’t progressed past a conversation.

“There was no business plan, no market commitment and not really a great sense of what was supposed to happen,” Marada Cook remembers.

Town officials in Van Buren were still in the process of putting together an application for grant money to fund the building. In 2011, she and Leah wrote a business plan, and while plans for the facility in Van Buren were underway, they set up shop in a temporary space in the commissary at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, 27 miles away. They had about 1,800 square feet and some of the infrastructure that remained from the military – stoves, a functioning dishwasher, and some extraneous items.

“We literally had to move all the silverware out of the kitchen to put our stuff in there,” Cook said.

It was a “very funky space,” but they spiffed it up and set to work processing. That grant from the Finance Authority of Maine enabled them to start making carrot sticks for school children. In the early days of the company, Northern Girl specialized in processing seconds. But as time went on, they shifted to No. 1 (or highest grade) vegetables, “versus trying to make lemonade out of lemons.”

They were able to stretch their wings once they moved to the finished plant in Van Buren, which is in an industrial park out of the center of town. They hired a staff of 11. They passed their food safety audit withflying colors. That food safety plan is one of the elements that Cook hopes will attract a buyer.

“I know it is not sexy, but I can’t stress enough how world class that program is.”

The staff is another asset for a potential buyer, she said.

“There is a really good work ethic. They will show up and work hard.”

“We did a lot of things in the last year to try to get the business on the track that we wanted to be on,” Cook added. “And they were right there with us.”

But most, if not all, wouldn’t have minded more hours, she said. Many worked part-time. The plant has potential to process a million pounds of produce annually, but when Northern Girl shuttered they were far shy of pushing those limits, having processed 400,000 pounds of produce in Van Buren in total since moving there in the summer of 2014.

“We just needed a lot more batches to go through our facility,” Cook said.

Richard Bilodeau, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern Maine, has had no direct experience with Northern Girl. But he said in an email such problems are common with new ventures. “Unfortunately many good ideas developed by smart and talented people don’t remain going concerns because of undercapitalization, lack of financial support resources, and/or incorrect positioning in the marketplace.”


Northern Girl’s board will meet next week to consider next moves.

“We’ll be putting together a list of potential buyers, reviewing that through the month of March and be contacting folks,” Cook said. “From there we’ll see what kind of a deal we can put together. It is in somebody’s best interest to pick up where we left off.”

Could a group like the Libra Foundation, which supported Pineland’s transition from family farm to thriving business, including the recent sale of its potato-processing facility in Mars Hill to a national chain for $115 million, be a suitable partner? From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like a potential match, but Libra Foundation chief executive officer Craig Denekas said in an email that the foundation hadn’t looked into it.

It might take that kind of backing to get the facility back up and running. Because that tumultuous sales year aside, Cook said Northern Girl’s biggest problem was “just not enough investment money to put in what it needed to get off the ground,” Cook said. “That’s a super common problem with food businesses. I think Maine as a state needs to take a hard look at what resources we have for food producers and how we mobilize those resources.”

Tanya Swain, the project director of the Maine Food Strategy, said the case of Northern Girl speaks to the need for more “patient capital.”

“That is investments or investors that are allowing the business to have a long enough timeline to realize returns,” she said.

Value-added processors are a crucial part of Maine’s future if the local food movement is going to continue to grow, Swain said. She called on economic development professionals to promote businesses like Northern Girl. A business that chops up beets might not be as seductive for investors as a craft brewery, but it has value beyond the monetary, especially in rural Maine, she said.

“You’ve got opportunities where an investor is likely to make a killing, and then you have opportunities where they are investing for things other than just the money.”

A case in point is Northern Girl’s fiddlehead business, among the innovations that Cook is most proud of. Northern Girl connected with foragers in Aroostook County and developed cleaning and packaging methods to keep the fiddleheads as fresh as possible as they left the state for restaurants and urban centers where they fetch a premium. The packaging included a code that allowed customers to see which waterway the spring delicacy had been found on. They also pickled fiddleheads, a way of adding value (and shelf life) to a product that has a fleeting season. Over two seasons Northern Girl sold $25,000 worth of fiddleheads to customers as far away as Seattle.

“It gave us the edge in the marketplace,” Cook said. “I liked everything we did with fiddleheads.”

That proprietary method of packaging would be part of any sale, she said, along with the equipment they own and the markets they served.

Cook said Crown O’Maine, the distribution company her parents started, which trucks Maine grown goods around the state (and which she is the general manager of) is doing well. It’s a cooperative, owned by its workers. The loss of Northern Girl, which was one of Crown O’Maine’s vendors, will be felt, especially during the upcoming fiddlehead season. But the Cooks are far from giving up the fight.

“It took us 100 years to destroy our food system and it is going to take a lot more than five years to rebuild it,” Cook said. “We have to keep coming up to bat.”

“If only there were fiddleheads every month of the year,” she said.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Marada and Leah Cook in happier days for their Northern Girl enterprise.Sun, 12 Mar 2017 11:43:58 +0000
Dan Devereaux watches over the waters in Brunswick Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 When it comes to marine issues in Brunswick, Marine Warden Dan Devereaux has a special expertise. He’s in his 18th year on the job, for one thing. And he’s wedded to his work. Case in point: He offered us a 7 a.m. interview slot and sounded quite chipper when we called. If it were summer, he said, he’d usually have been out on the water for a good 30 minutes by that time. “I work weird hours,” he said. “I kind of live this job.” We talked about how he landed the job in the first place and what he’s done with it.

ARRIVAL: Devereaux arrived in Brunswick as a new Navy recruit stationed at the (now-decommissioned) Brunswick Naval Air Station. He grew up in Michigan, the youngest child of 11, and at 18 made the decision that he’d forgo the expense of college in favor of a job that took him places. There were similarities between Michigan and Maine that he found pleasing: “In terms of there being a lot of blue-collar workers and farmers.” His grandfather farmed on 1,000 acres in Michigan, where he milked cows and grew beans and potatoes. “So that connection was there.” During his seven years in the Navy he traveled widely, handling logistics support for equipment, and spent about 18 months in Sicily. Did he pick up any culinary tricks there? “I am a pretty decent cook, but I am not a Sicilian chef.”

NEXT STEP: At the end of seven years, Devereaux had the option of heading to the West Coast for another tour, but having fallen in love with a Brunswick native, he left the military, going to work for the Harpswell Shellfish Commission instead. That’s where his interest in marine sciences began to blossom. “I am not educated in marine biology or the environment per se. I kind of self-taught myself over the years. I am one of those people who want to research and fact-check everything.” And his observations about how things were changing on the coast, even in the 1990s, pushed his drive to learn more. “My investigative self says, if we can gather all the information we can get, we should be able to be smart enough to figure out how we can create new opportunities in the near shore areas.”

POLICING THE WATERS: Devereaux was hired by the Brunswick Police Department in 1997 and transferred to the department’s marine division in 1999. He’s enforcing state and federal marine laws, checking water-quality tests and surveying for pollutants. He’s also the guy who makes sure moorings are registered. But in keeping with what he said was a strong history of progressive marine resource management dating back to the 1970s, his job is definitely not just policing. He staffs the Marine Resources Committee and spends about half his time in an office at the police department handling the paperwork that goes with conservation projects. He also attends environmental and conservation meetings throughout the state. He was just at the Fisherman’s Forum in Rockland. Next up, the Harbor Master’s Association Conference. “March is a busy time for us because we are trying to jam it all in. Because obviously, in the summer we like to be out on the water.”

A sign designating the water near the boat launch as as a shellfish propagation area. Devereaux, the Marine Resources officer and Brunswick harbormaster, is in charge of this and other aquaculture projects as well as educational outreach. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup.

BEAUTY SPOT: Speaking of, what does he consider the premium spot on Brunswick’s 61 miles of shoreline? “My favorite place is probably going to be Simpson’s Point, if I had a place to choose to hang out. Particular at sunset and sunrise, that is a lovely spot in the town. For scenery, Birch Island and the Goslings, that whole stretch of Middle Bay.” But mostly he stays in the boat. “I am not a big saltwater swimmer. Maybe four or five times a year the kids and I will go down and jump in.” He has two sons, one of whom is studying marine biology and, when he’s not in school, interns at Resource Access International, a consulting and laboratory testing company in Brunswick that promotes sustainability in the seafood industry. (Like father, like son.)

SEMANTICS: Working with shellfish harvesters has been a key component of his job. Brunswick has 1,600 acres of intertidal zone, where clam diggers have historically made their livings. (There are currently 57 licensed harvesters.) As he notes, the town of Brunswick’s seal features four characters, including an academic and a man with a clam rake (side note: everyone on the seal is a man). But “everybody knows that the harvests have been decreasing over the years.” The catch has been diminished by factors ranging from warming waters to voracious and invasive green crabs, and Devereaux has encouraged aquaculture, like clam farming, while respecting the longtime heritage of wild harvests. (Speaking of respect, Devereaux uses the descriptor “shellfishermen” instead of clam digger, which he said carries negative connotations in some places. “I know it is just semantics,” but it makes a difference, he said.)

FARMING: As he dug into the idea of clam farming and aquaculture in the intertidal zone, Devereaux traveled to Cape Cod (“Municipal programs are huge down there”) and Washington state, where much of the intertidal aquaculture is privatized. “I came back and said, ‘We can do this in the state of Maine.’ We approached Maine Sea Grant and said, ‘Let’s put on a class.’ ” About 15 shellfishermen showed up to get the basics of clam farming, including planting clam seed in the flats and tending it. “Just so they can feel it and touch it with their hands.” In conjunction, Devereaux started an aquaculture demonstration project at the Mere Point Boat Launch, growing oysters in a system Devereaux based on what he’d learned in Washington, using something that looks like a clothesline with “flip bags” hanging off it, a method that makes the oyster grow more slowly but develop a deeper cup. (Better for slurping out of.) But this isn’t a retail business; it’s an outdoor classroom. “Every time I do this, the fisherman are like, ‘Oh my God, these things are growing’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, they are growing.’ ” That’s music to his ears. “You are trying to change that mentality from the hunter-gather mentality mindset that these guys have to more of a farming mentality. It takes generations to change something like that.”

FULL CIRCLE: His instinct to farm – albeit in the sea – can be traced back to his youth in Michigan. “I grew up outdoors, hunting and fishing for sustenance.” He might not be the greatest gardener, but “I have a passion for just kind of nurturing things in the environment. I am a firm believer in it because you can see the ecological results. It seems like a no-brainer to me.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0 Devereaux at Mere Point Boat Launch.Fri, 10 Mar 2017 09:02:06 +0000
You’ll find two unexpected ingredients in this soap Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Maple syrup seems to be in everything this time of year, from teas to cocktails to cooking powders. It can also be found in Mary Harrington’s Mountainess Handmade Maple & Oatmeal Soap, a soap for men who don’t want a girly scent or chemicals in their personal care products. The oatmeal exfoliates, Harrington says, and the sugar in the maple syrup helps create a thick lather. The Maple & Oatmeal bar is one of a line of natural soaps Harrington created several years ago using certified organic oils and herbs and plants from her home garden in Bethel, and another, most unexpected ingredient – Maine snow. It’s an ingredient Harrington uses year-round, even in the heat of summer.

“When you make soap, you need to use water that has no mineral or chemical content,” Harrington said. “You can’t use tap water because it comes from either a well source with a high mineral content or it comes from a town water supply that has fluoride or other chemicals in it.”

She could use distilled water, but then she has to deal with disposing of plastic bottles and long trips to the grocery store. So she collects the snow that falls around her mountain home, melts it, filters it in a charcoal filter and stores it for year-round use. She scrapes off the top layer of snow before collecting it, and she ventures far enough into the woods that she avoids the ash from her wood stove that falls close to the house.

“It is just as pure as the distilled water when we’re done filtering it,” Harrington said.

Harrington started her business when her two daughters, now ages 6 and 9, were very young, and she wanted to make lotions and beeswax lip balms for them. By 2013, she was making more than they could use, so she sold the surplus at a crafts fair. The following year, she started her own shop on, where the soaps sell for $7 a bar. This month, she will attend her first New England Made trade show in Portland. The family has also just added a workshop space in the attic in preparation for expanding the business.

In addition to, Mountainess products can be found in many shops in Bethel – even the local bait shop carries it – and, in Portland, at Waterlily on Milk Street.

]]> 0, 10 Mar 2017 09:00:27 +0000
Chebeague Island native’s the driving force behind new aquaculture festival Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Julia Maine and her mother, Carol White, a geologist, recently received a grant from the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership to hold a Chebeague Island Aquaculture Festival, the first-ever such event to be held on the Casco Bay island. The one-day festival, tentatively scheduled for July, is primarily intended to educate community members about the aquaculture farms that are already there, but Maine has a few other ideas about ways it might prove useful.

We talked to the recent college graduate about the allure of aquaculture and the opportunities it offers.

FIRST GENERATION: Maine grew up on Chebeague with her mother, her father (who plays bass in the Novel Jazz Septet in his free time), her sister and a lot of outdoor time. “Our parents forced us to.” Almost apologetically, the way people do, she says, “I am not one of the fifth-generation islanders.” But she is native. “It’s the only place I’ve ever lived except for college.” (She graduated from Bowdoin College last May.) Last summer, Maine had an internship through the Island Institute at the Chebeague Island Oyster Co., one of the island’s newer aquaculture businesses. She worked with owners Bob Earnest and David Whiston, who started the business about three years ago, as well as Caitlin Gerber. “She is sort of the science brain.”

GRUNT WORK: Her farm chores included handling the spat (young bivalves) as they go into and grow in an upweller, a tank system that both protects the spat and allows continuous flowing water (and plankton) to circulate around the spat and feed them. “They look like a bag of rice” when they go in the upweller, but by the end of the summer, when they’re transferred to bags, ideally “they’re the size of a quarter.” The bags are “planted” in the ocean farm, where they grow to market size. (The Chebeague Island oysters made it onto the menu at Scales in Portland last September.)

FARM TO FESTIVAL? Did the summer job inspire her to throw aquaculture a party? That and some other factors. Maine studied earth and oceanographic science at Bowdoin. Her senior honors project was about oysters, specifically the effect of ocean acidification on the shellfish. Her mother does a lot of work around water quality, and since aquaculture is relatively new to Chebeague (with the exception of nearby Bangs Island Mussels, which has been in business since 1999), Maine sees an opportunity to educate her fellow islanders about it and about why water quality is so important to these endeavors. “We want to encourage people to take care of their water quality, even what’s coming from their wells or what is coming off their land that might end up in the ocean. Because it has such an impact on what is coming off these farms.”

WHAT’S THAT? Maine also thinks a festival would be a way to satisfy curiosity on the island. There are the looky-loos: “People would always come down when they saw me working on the upweller and ask about it.” Then there are the potential sea farmers who might be just waiting for a summer festival to spark a new plan. “I think a lot of the lobstermen are sort of thinking about that as another path even.” Maine said they’ll ask Bangs Island and Ocean Approved, which has a kelp farm not that far from Chebeague, to participate, as well as Chebeague Island Oyster Co., an experimental clam farm that Manomet established last year and another fledgling oyster farmer who is already a successful lobsterman. “Basically, we want to get that connection between the residents and the aquaculture farmers.”

DAY JOB: As for Maine, she’s living off-island at this point, on Munjoy Hill, and enjoying both city life and her first post-college job at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, where she helps run a program for fifth- and sixth-graders from around the state. Is she planning to make a career of this? She said she devotes a lot of “brain time” to trying to figure out her future. “What direction do I want to go? I really like the education stuff that I have gotten to do at GMRI.” And she’s also enjoyed all that she’s learned about how oysters develop. “But when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, I really just want to do science.” In the future, she could imagine teaming up with her mother to open an aquaculture consulting business, one where the wannabe farmer would hire them to figure out the best location to start growing. That plan, though, is in the nascent stage, and in the meantime, she’s got a festival to plan. Will there be food? “Hopefully,” she said. The grant is for $950, so at this point, mussels for all are not in the budget. But stay tuned.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Maine, an educator at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, and her mother, geologist Carol White, are organizing the first Chebeague Island Aquaculture Festival for this summer.Mon, 06 Mar 2017 11:46:36 +0000
U.S. leaders fiddle while rest of world seeks climate action Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The politics of climate change are starting to resemble the surface of a melting glacier split by crevices. We appear to be at a shear zone, a major discontinuity between the perspective of most world citizens and the surreal stance held by temporary occupants of some high-level Washington offices.

Needless to say, shear zones are marked by great friction.

This country’s new president confounds other heads of state, at least 190 of whom acknowledge the critical need for climate action. Leaders around the globe are aghast at our president’s cavalier dismissal of global warming, with “jokes” about it being a Chinese hoax and claims not to be “a big believer” – as if science were just another reality game show.

To feel less isolated, the president is stacking his Cabinet with those who share his resistance to accepted science. (One being considered as a science adviser sees climate researchers as a “cult,” saying “they’re glassy-eyed and they chant.”)

Oval Office extremists start to look like they’re not just on the far side of a crevice, but on an iceberg that has calved and is floating off – wholly disassociated.

Back on the glacier’s mainstem, seven out of 10 Americans understand global warming is happening. More than half realize that the primary cause is combustion of fossil fuels (with humans changing the climate 170 times faster than natural forces, by one recent estimate).

Even among voters who support the president, a survey conducted last November by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities found that half acknowledge global warming is happening. Fully 73 percent believe the U.S. should start using more renewable energy.

A poll in January reported that two-thirds of registered American voters place priority on developing alternative energy sources while only a third favor expanded production of fossil fuels.

Yet the president’s energy plan commits to “maximize the use of American resources” without any mention of solar, wind, hydro or geothermal power.

The fissure between federal energy policy and public opinion widens further in relation to slowing greenhouse gas emissions. Polls find strong support (fully 78 percent of voters in the Yale survey) for taxing or regulating those forms of pollution. Two of three registered voters approve of a revenue-neutral carbon tax (where proceeds are rebated to households).

That idea is gaining traction in unexpected quarters. Three senior Republican statesmen recently proposed a Conservative Case for Climate Action, calling for a revenue-neutral tax on carbon dioxide of $40 per ton. The authors bill this free-market, limited-government approach as a sound “insurance policy” – in case those 97 percent of published climate scientists turn out to be right.

While a carbon tax could reduce emissions by 11 to 31 percent, House Republicans remain unpersuaded. In 2016, they unanimously supported a resolution declaring a carbon tax “detrimental” to American families and businesses.

Who might help align these politicians with the voting public, and with the firsthand experience of those confronting rising sea levels, increased flooding and more severe droughts?

State and municipal leaders are desperate for more climate realism at the federal level, but they hold little leverage. Making headway is particularly hard for states like Maine, where the governor looks to a refrigeration technician for energy policy guidance.

Business leaders could exert immense influence in Washington; they have already taken a firm stand on other executive actions, like the immigration ban. Yet corporate voices are notably absent in lobbying Congress and the president to support renewable energy, uphold the Paris climate agreement or pass a carbon tax.

As Marc Gunther writes in a recent article, businesses tend to adopt sound energy practices internally but resist open advocacy: “Many companies have pledged to reduce their own carbon footprints, curb waste, and buy renewable energy. But few are willing to spend political capital on behalf of the environment.”

Businesses may hesitate to intervene because they want tax and regulatory reform from the new president or fear being on the receiving end of Twitter missives. Now may be the time for citizens to lobby – not just legislators – but corporate leaders. Businesses need consumers and shareholders to remind them just how much greater is the risk of climate inaction.

A critical point to reiterate – in contacts with business and congressional leaders – is that we’re not a nation divided when it comes to the needs of our planet. A substantial majority of Americans stand ready to advance alternative energy and rein in fossil fuel emissions.

We just need leaders in Washington who are not adrift.

Marina Schauffler  is a writer whose work is online at

]]> 0 in Augusta in 2015 demand action against the environmental and health threats from climate change.Sun, 05 Mar 2017 08:38:57 +0000
Students of butchering workshop probe inner workings of sustainable meat Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 I participated in a workshop where we butchered half a hog. It was the right half of a pig with the good fortune of having lived its whole life happily and humanely at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport. My main take-away from the experience? A realization of just how much more I need to learn about eating sustainable meat. Well, that, and a scrumptious pig jowl I turned into spicy pork buns (see recipe below).

The nose-to-tail workshop – led by local butcher Lily Joslin at Fork Food Lab in Portland and a pilot event for Maine Foodscapes’ Edible Education Project – was attended by two dozen people from Maine and Massachusetts.

As we learned in our round-robin introductions, we each signed up for different reasons. It was in Joslin’s masterful attention to individual perspectives – both her explanations and her actions breaking down the pig – that I recognized the gap between what I know and what I need to know about sourcing meat responsibly.

Christine Burns Rudalevige makes Asian Pork Jowl Bao. Staff photo by Derek Davis

One woman came to the class wondering how and why broth made from bones of sustainably raised animals looks different and is more nutritious than broth made from bones of conventionally raised livestock. Joslin taught us that sustainably sourced bones yield clearer broth because those pigs ate cleaner food (the grass, acorns, bugs and foliage that their bodies were designed to consume), thus rendered less scum and more nutrients when made into broth.

A woman who grew up on a farm in Gray attended the workshop to better understand what happens to the animals once they leave the family farm to be slaughtered. When we all approached the stainless steel cutting table, she was the first to notice the unprocessed leaf lard sitting in the animal’s empty gut cavity. Joslin, a butcher at Farmers’ Gate Market in Wales, explained it was the same fat that protects the animal’s kidneys that, when rendered, makes the very best pie crusts. The back fat, which is greasier, is best used for frying, she added.

Both the historian and the nutritionist in the group wanted to understand how to better tell the story of the pig’s journey from farm to kitchen, their own kitchen or those of their clients. As several of us examined our pig’s head, fellow Farmers’ Gate butcher Logan Higger, on hand to assist Joslin in the oversight of novice butchers using very sharp knives, explained how the animal died: It was immobilized with a single shot of a captive bolt stun gun, hung by its back feet, had its throat slit, and then was bled out. Face up to its death, Joslin said, so you honor its life.

Christine Burns Rudalevige prepares Asian Pork Jowl Bao. Staff photo by Derek Davis

A University of Southern Maine student sought hands-on knowledge of the differences between commercial butchering practices and those he’d picked up on his own from hunting, skinning and breaking down just about every animal in the Maine woods except for moose and black bear. As he used Joslin’s bone saw to free the shoulder from the spine, we learned that once you’ve cut through the bone you must switch to a knife or risk damaging some of the most expensive cuts, which are in the adjacent loin.

Joslin explained that the position of the pricey cuts at the top of the animal gave rise to the expression “living high off the hog.”

A surgical nurse in the group was not at all squeamish; she was all about the offal – the organs, morsels and unmentionables that “all fall” onto the butcher’s table. She walked out of the class with the head because, she said, she has long wanted to make head cheese.

Lucky for me, you don’t need the jowl – a mix of fatty tissue surrounding the pig’s strong cheek muscles – for head cheese. So I scored the jowl.

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


Farmers’ Gate Market butcher Lily Joslin shows Ed Somers of Bridgton how to remove the pig’s jowl and cheek at the butchering workshop last Sunday at Fork Food Lab in Portland. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Pork jowls often go into sausage mix, Farmers’ Gate Market butcher Lily Joslin explains, because few Mainers know the cut. But they are available; any butcher shop that breaks down whole or half pigs, will have a few. Joslin advises you to call ahead and ask for as much of the cheek to come with the jowl as possible. You can use jowl in almost any recipe that calls for pork belly, from bacon to bao, small Asian bun sandwiches.

In this recipe, I’ve run with chipotle chilies in adobo as my heat source for the braising liquid, both because I like their smoky flavor and I always have them on hand, frozen into ice cubes. Be warned that jowls need to cook low and slow – 4 to 5 hours slow.

While you wait, you can certainly make your own bao buns, but I buy them frozen from an Asian grocery because my attempts to make them myself have been so inconsistent. That just proves my point about still having a lot to learn.

Makes 12 buns


1 large onion, roughly chopped

4-5 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup applesauce

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1 well-trimmed pork jowl, about 3/4 pound


1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

2 green apples, very thinly sliced

1 small to medium red onion, very thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

12 steamed bao buns

To make the jowl, preheat the oven or set a slow cooker to 250 degrees F.

Process the onion, chilies, garlic, syrup, apple cider and vinegar with 1 cup warm water in a blender to a smooth paste.

Place the jowl in a baking dish or the slow cooker and pour the blended braising liquid over it.

Cover the baking dish or the slow cooker.

Braise the jowl for 4 to 5 hours until it is very tender, checking it hourly and adding water if the braising liquid gets any denser than the consistency of applesauce.

Carefully remove the jowl from its braising liquid and place on a cutting board. Cool both jowl and sauce to room temperature and refrigerate until ready to make the sandwiches.

To make the quick pickle, combine the vinegar, syrup, salt and peppercorns in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stir and remove from the heat. Stir in 6 ice cubes to cool the brine.

Place the apples, onion and cilantro in a bowl. Pour the brine over the apple mixture and refrigerate for 20 minutes to meld the flavors.

To serve, slice the braised jowl thinly into 12 pieces. Place a large skillet over high heat. Sear both sides of each slice until crispy.

Snuggle 1 piece of seared jowl inside each warm bao bun.

Top with a little braising liquid and a spoonful of the quick pickles. Serve immediately.

]]> 0 Pork Jowl, Apple and Maple BaoFri, 10 Mar 2017 18:58:28 +0000
It’s time to start planting your onions Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 On your mark, get set, go! Gardening season starts now – when it is time to plant your onions indoors. Let’s give a big cheer.

Onions are easy to grow indoors (as you may know if the onions in your pantry are constantly sprouting).

Their ideal sprouting temperature is 70 degrees, a bit warmer than Mainers typically keep their homes in winter.

You moisten seed-starting mix that has been placed in plastic containers with drainage holes.

Sprinkle the seeds on top so they are about a quarter of an inch apart, then cover them with about an eighth of an inch of soil and moisten again.

Cover the pots with clear plastic and place them under artificial lights for 16 hours a day.

When the onion seeds sprout, remove the plastic.

Keep the seeds moist but not soggy.

In early April, you can take the seedlings outside during the day to harden them off, bringing them inside at night.

In late April or early May, plant the onions outside, carefully pulling each seedling away from the others.

I grow only storage onions, both because they last longer through the winter and they have a sharper, more intense flavor, which I like.

My latest favorite is the cippolini onion, which is short and flat and is still in good shape in our cellar as winter is ending.

Other good storage varieties are Copra and Redwing.

If you prefer a sweeter onion, even though it doesn’t keep as well, the traditional choice is Alisa Craig.

Gosh, it is good to be gardening again.

]]> 0, 03 Mar 2017 09:49:43 +0000
You may think the drought is so last summer, but the effects linger for your garden Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 I got sick of hearing about the drought last summer. Yes, it was bad, but talking about it didn’t help. We just had to water when we could. Unfortunately for me, the conversation isn’t over.

Even if we have an ideally wet spring – and there’s no guarantee of that – its effects will still be evident in your garden this summer, and gardeners who hope to plant new trees and shrubs could feel its impact far longer.

The snow covering Maine’s fields and forests a few weeks ago melted before the ground thawed, meaning it couldn’t soak into the ground. If we don’t get more snow before spring, the relief from the drought will be minimal.

Cathryn Kloetzli of UMaine Extension in South Paris co-wrote a bulletin last month to help farmers and gardeners deal with the drought. While it focuses on farming – topics like crop insurance – it has information that will be useful to recreational gardeners, too. The good news? She thinks most garden plants will come back to life healthy when spring arrives.

The drought “is likely to have some effect on the canopy layer of plants, but it is likely to be very individualistic from plant to plant,” Kloetzli said.

For trees and shrubs, though, lack of water meant they couldn’t store as much energy as usual during last year’s growing season, so they will get off to a slow start, according to Jeff O’Donal of O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham. “The first flush of foliage will be smaller than normal, like maybe half as much,” he said.

After that first round of foliage does its job, with photosynthesis feeding the tree, a second round of larger foliage should sprout and continue to add nutrients.

Last year’s drought will also aggravate a pre-existing shortage of larger trees and shrubs available for sale, O’Donal predicted. During the 2008 recession, many of the trees and shrubs that nurseries were growing failed to sell. They eventually grew too large to sell and had to be destroyed. The poor sales led many nurseries to grow fewer woody plants.

But a couple of years ago, when the horticultural economy started to improve, the nurseries increased their plantings. The catch? It takes several years to grow a tree to salable size. With last year’s drought, the growth of those seedlings slowed.

“What we had in production that would usually be a 2-inch (caliper or diameter) tree is now only an inch and a half,” O’Donal said.

Nurseries will need to either hold on to the smaller trees until they grow larger or sell them for less money than they’d hoped.

Home gardeners can do a few things to help their plants get off to a good start once the ground thaws.

“Building soil health and protecting the water supply in the soil is one of the fundamental things people should do,” Kloetzli said. That includes having organic matter in the soil to hold the water and adding mulch to keep moisture from evaporating.

Here’s something home gardeners should not do: Add a fast-acting fertilizer such as Miracle Gro in the spring. That would be counterproductive because the plants won’t have enough foliage to take advantage of it, O’Donal said. Instead, he advises gardeners either to delay fertilizing until the plants have the second growth of foliage or to use a slow-release organic fertilizer so that food will be available to the plants later in the season when they need it.

O’Donal also suggests gardeners add a liquid solution of mycorrhizal fungi to plants. The mycorrhizae exist naturally in the soil, but the drought may have killed some of them. Mycorrhizae are important because they “extend the roots so (the roots) can pick up three times as much food and moisture,” O’Donal said.

But for all the harm it did, last year’s rain shortfall will likely have one benefit this summer: More flowers.

That’s because when plants are damaged – whether a snowplow hits them, their branches break or they don’t get enough water – their internal controls think they’re going to die, O’Donal said. They react by frantically reproducing to ensure the species survives, ergo more flowers and seeds.

“In species like crab apples and tree lilacs that normally bloom every other year, you are going to have flowers this year whether they bloomed last year or not,” O’Donal said.

So stock up on slow-release fertilizer, mulch and fungi.

And although mud season is usually my least favorite time of year, I am hoping for an extra long one this year so the melting snow pack sinks into the ground, where it can do some good, instead of running off into the ocean.

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

]]> 0, ME - MAY 25: Crabapple blossoms during a visit to Appledore Island where famous American impressionist Childe Hassam painted over the course of 30 years. (Photo by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer)Wed, 08 Mar 2017 17:33:06 +0000
Maine farmers worry about workers’ future under Trump immigration policy Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Every August, as the first McIntoshs start growing heavy on his apple trees, farmer Art Kelly looks forward to the arrival of Kelly Orchards’ three long-term employees. He’s known them for decades – one has been picking apples at this Acton orchard for 45 years, predating even Kelly – and they’re so good at what they do that he’s willing to soldier through a boatload of federal paperwork and pay airfare to get them from Jamaica to Maine.

He needs these foreign-born pickers and they need him.

But after the new Trump administration made abrupt changes to immigration policy, allowing officials to halt people from seven Muslim-majority countries at airports (until his unconstitutional executive order was shut down by federal judges) and continues to conduct large-scale raids on immigrant communities, Kelly and other Maine farmers are anxious about what will come next.

“There’s just a lot of unknowns right now,” Kelly said. He uses legal channels to bring these workers in, the federal program that extends temporary visas for seasonal workers that goes by the bureaucratic name H-2A. No one has said the program is threatened, although language in the nixed executive order alarmed some. But the tumultuous political atmosphere is such that Maine’s agricultural leaders in crops from blueberries to broccoli share his concerns.

And down in Jamaica, Kelly’s apple pickers don’t know what to think, either.

“They are concerned about whether they will be able to come or not,” Kelly said.

Workers load boxes of wild blueberries onto a truck after a day of raking on the blueberry barrens in Deblois for Wyman’s. Staff photo by John Ewing

And if they couldn’t? Kelly laughs ruefully. “Oh man,” he says. “I don’t really know.”

“I don’t think we could survive it, to tell you the truth.”


These are questions faced by farmers across the country, from dairy farmers in Idaho who rely on a workforce that is 85 percent immigrants, to Florida, where many of those who pick tomatoes and strawberries are said to be undocumented. In Maine, the conversations may be quieter, but they’re happening.

“I am hearing from farmers that their workers are anxious, because right now there is just such insecurity,” said Julie-Marie Bickford, executive director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association.

And based on what the Trump administration has already signaled, those anxieties are justifiable, says Beth Stickney, executive director of the Maine Business Immigration Coalition.

“Always in the immigration world, rumor and impressions outpace reality,” Stickney said. “In the 30 years I have been doing this, that has always been the case.”

But the fear is heightened now. “What we are hearing is that there is a lot of fear … talk of, if the U.S. is really turning on immigrants, ‘Why do I want to go there?’ ”

This might be particularly relevant to Maine agriculture.

“If you are Latino in one of the whitest states in the country, are you going to want to stay in Maine?” Stickney said. “Or are you going to want to do your agricultural work in Florida, Texas or California, somewhere where you blend in?”

Staff Photo by John Ewing, Thursday, August 11, 2006: Migrant workers on the Smith Farm’s crew A cut broccoli stalks while harvesting one of the farm’s fields near Fort Fairfield in Aroostook County. Staff photo by John Ewing

Migrant labor is nothing new in Maine. Joe Young, executive director of the New England Apple Council, which serves as the agent connecting Maine orchards to H-2A or “guest workers,” said the Jamaican connection dates back 50 years (remember “Cider House Rules”? John Irving was writing fiction, but based in factual circumstances).

Before that, pickers came into the state from Nova Scotia. Young formed such close relationships, growing up on a New Hampshire apple orchard where pickers were Jamaican, that when he got married it was in Jamaica, with one of those pickers as his best man.


According to Maine’s Department of Labor, 18 percent of paid farmworkers reported by Maine farm operations are migrant workers. Those are defined as workers who have traveled far enough to work that they are unable to return home at the end of the day. They might have traveled from across the state, or come from big agricultural states, like Washington, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan and Florida, but most are foreign-born.

In the 2012 Farm Census conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly 22,000 farms reported hiring 437,000 migrant workers. Maine farmers reported 2,700 migrant workers in that latest census. But the actual number could be larger, said Julie Rabinowitz, director of policy, operations and communications for Maine’s Department of Labor, because it is unclear whether that number includes those on H-2A visas, such as Kelly’s apple pickers.

Vidal Carpio makes progress through a patch of blueberries in a Wyman’s field in Washington County, passing his rake through the low bushes. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Or the large group of expert broccoli cutters relied on by Smith’s Farm president Emily Smith. When Smith started hiring foreign-born workers in the 1990s, they were mostly Filipino. But of the 200 people in their current field crew, most are from Mexico and El Salvador, and they are extraordinarily reliable and productive, she said.

“They make big money and they deserve every penny,” she said.

“I tell my crew, ‘Every day when I go to bed I thank God for these people,’ ” she said, referring to the guest workers and about 70 employees who come from nearby to work. ” ‘Because you are the people that make this happen.’ It’s not that I am a sixth-generation farmer and I went to college. Any organization is only as good as the people that they can put to the task.”

Of those 200 non-native pickers, Smith said about two-thirds have documentation to work legally on a permanent basis in the United States and about half of that group have been in the country “15 years-plus.” The other third are on temporary H-2A visas.


The guest worker program is far from perfect, Smith and other agricultural leaders say. But when talking about the work ethic of these migrant workers, the farmers sound like that lusty chorus about immigrants in the hit musical “Hamilton”; plainly, they “get the job done.”

Alberto Chavez carries a tower of empty boxes across a blueberry field back to the patch he is raking in Deblois. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Typically about two dozen Maine farms participate in the H-2A program. Last year it was 27, ranging from orchards to vegetable farms, and in total, they requested 635 employees.

It’s a complex process. It starts with a farmer requesting workers, often through an agent like Joe Young, 90 days before the farmer needs them. (They can’t file earlier. Smith said if they could, it might streamline a system that often has farmers wondering which day the workers will arrive.) The agent sends the paperwork to the farmer, gets it back, and then files it with the state. In Maine, Jorge Acero, the migrant worker monitor at the state Department of Labor, must approve the request.

Next, the request, along with more paperwork, goes to the U.S. Department of Labor in Chicago. There’s some back and forth, then the request, along with more paperwork, goes to California for review by federal immigration officials. Once they approve, the request goes to consulates in foreign countries, where the workers are technically “recruited.”

In Jamaica, the Ministry of Labor serves as the agent. Growers have an opportunity to request by names, so they can bring back the same workers year after year, presuming those workers pass all the background checks.

Young was alarmed by the rejected executive order that would have required these workers to be interviewed every year, even if they were regulars.

“Where in the past, there was a waiver,” he said. “If everyone has to re-interview, it will break the system. There are not enough interviewers.”

Simultaneously, advertisements are placed in newspapers and in public places to recruit American-born workers. This is part of the program, a legal necessity.

“Every local that comes to us, we hire,” says Jeff Timberlake of Ricker Hill, one of Maine’s biggest apple orchards.

But even extensive advertising rarely bears much fruit.

“If you are Down East in August, you cannot walk into a gas station or convenience store without seeing signs for ‘Rakers Wanted,’ ” says Ed Flanagan, president and CEO of Wyman’s of Maine. “We have ‘help wanted’ signs hanging up everywhere.”

But the work is hard, and few Mainers sign on.

“You can’t count on locals to do that work anymore,” Flanagan said.

In contrast, the workers Wyman’s brings in – most are originally from Mexico and Central America but live in the U.S. and have Social Security numbers – are willing and more than able. Like the young Hispanic man Flanagan says set a record last summer by raking 400 boxes of blueberries in one day. “He made $1,000 that day,” Flanagan said.

Wyman’s uses the federal government’s “E-verify” system, an internet-based system to confirm that documents and Social Security numbers are real (fake documents abound). When the wild blueberry farm made that switch about five years ago, Flanagan said they wondered if they’d scare away workers.

“Since we have gone to E-verify we still worry every year if enough workers will show up,” he said. “But at least we don’t worry that we are hiring someone who is illegal.”

“There is not a farmer in America that wants to hire an illegal worker,” Flanagan added.


Flanagan is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Trump administration’s policy on immigrants. He’s quick to point out that the system for temporary workers has been flawed for years. The Obama administration “made it pretty difficult” he said, a common refrain among farmers.

A woman walks along a row of cabins at the Strawberry Patch, a camp for migrant workers in Deblois. The camp is mostly deserted during the day while the rakers are in the fields. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

For instance, a computer glitch last summer delayed processing for workers and left Smith’s Farm waiting for workers to arrive. Kelly’s workers arrived in Acton a week late and Jeff Timberlake remembers a nine-day delay one year, after the Department of Labor’s H-2A program was centralized from two locations to one, in Chicago. (Timberlake and others attributed this change to President Barack Obama, but that administration was acting on a change made by President George W. Bush’s administration in 2008). But broccoli at its tender peak and apples that quickly go mushy in an August sun do not take a pause because bureaucracy does.

And some farmers said new administrations tend to balk at the idea that these jobs can’t be filled locally, despite evidence to the contrary stretching back decades. The Smiths started using foreign-born labor in the 1990s. Maine’s dairy industry began using foreign-born workers more recently. But Maine orchards have been hiring them the longest. “And it has been a political football the whole time,” Kelly said.

Jeff Timberlake describes Ricker Hill’s longtime workers as “like family.”

Jeff Timberlake, owner of Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, says the non-native workers he has hired “are like family.” He also says, “Every local that comes to us, we hire.” Staff photo by Gabe Souza

But it’s a sensitive subject for farmers, who know they could draw criticism for employing those from away. Or very far away, as the case may be.

“Public sentiment can be uncertain about the idea of bringing folks in,” said Bickford of the dairy association.

The dairy industry is not eligible for H-2A workers, because that work is not considered seasonal. But Bickford said Maine farmers work with employment services to be matched with documented workers, frequently from Mexico or Central America, and it’s been a positive experience so far.

“For just about every farmer I have talked to, there might have been some challenges at the beginning,” Bickford said. “The crash course in Spanish to make sure they could appropriately and accurately communicate with the workers. But overall the folks that have been employing these workers are very pleased with the caliber of the employees.”

Some may assume these workers are brought in because they’re cheap labor. Not so, the farmers say. The government sets an hourly pay rate that currently hovers around $12, much higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. And then there are associated costs.

“We fly them from Jamaica to Miami,” Timberlake said. “We pay for all of their transportation here and their housing.”

Timberlake and others said they are willing to pay for the reliability of these workers, in the barns or in the fields. “This is the only way I can get an apple crop picked.”

Are there abuses in the system, the kind that lead to guest workers overstaying their visas?

Occasionally, someone on an H-2A visa does disappear from the orchard, Timberlake said. They slip away from the job and presumably, remain in the country illegally. But Timberlake says that’s a rarity. “The ones you lose are usually single guys that don’t have any family back home.”

Between programs like H-2A or E-verify, and regular visits from the U.S. Department of Labor to check paperwork, which farmers said typically happens in the busiest part of the harvest, opportunities for undocumented workers to make their way to Maine and find employment on farms is limited.

It probably does happen, said Beth Stickney of the Maine Business Immigration Coalition, but rarely. “There may be some folks getting paid under the table in Maine but that would be a small minority.”


This past week, President Trump indicated in conversations with television anchors a willingness to compromise on immigration. That would suit Maine farmers who rely on a non-native labor force just fine.

It might look like mud season out there, but sprouting broccoli and blooming fruit will arrive soon enough, along with deadlines to bring in immigrants.

“We are going to need people that aren’t scared and are happy,” Emily Smith said, “and going to be able to get up and perform. You don’t want them to be fearful.”

Timberlake, who serves in the Maine Legislature as a Republican from Turner when he isn’t farming, isn’t worried. During the campaign, Ricker Hill hosted members of the Trump family; Timberlake feels like he’s got connections in Washington upon whom he can call if anything goes wrong with the Jamaican apple pickers he’s worked with for decades.

“These guys stand up for me and I stand up for them,” Timberlake said. “If anything happened, I would come to their rescue.”

“Our actual hope is under this administration that (the federal agencies) will run more efficiently,” Timberlake added. “And get our people here more efficiently. I think this administration understands business.”

Only time will tell.

“Today I will tell you I have got faith. You contact me in four months, when we start to finalize our plans, I may have a different opinion for you.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 workers on the Smith Farm's crew A cut broccoli stalks while harvesting one of the farm's fields near Fort Fairfield in Aroostook County.Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:20:15 +0000
Breezy Bay Boxes are a place to hide your little treasures Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Remember that little box where you kept all your secrets and treasures when you were a kid? Now you can have one as an adult – and you’ve probably got better secrets.

Cindy Rothweiler and her brother, Mike Eich, make Breezy Bay Boxes out of Maine white cedar, staining them colors such as chestnut and pecan, and painting them with classic Maine images such as lobsters, moose, seabirds and pine cones. Most of the boxes sell for $18 to $21.

Rothweiler owns a printing and graphics business in Biddeford. When her brother, a carpenter, returned to Maine after living in Texas for a while, they decided to try running a small business together.

Why boxes?

“Everybody in my family is nuts about boxes,” Rothweiler said. “I’ve always collected boxes. My mother was a box collector. My grandmother was a box collector. And my brother had actually made some beautiful jewelry boxes back in the day, a lot more of a finished product.”

Eich makes the boxes with a bandsaw at his home in Alfred; Rothweiler decorates them.

The boxes are different from many others you see in one key way: Instead of lifting off, the lids are connected to the base with a dowel, and they twist open.

“You spin the box open. You don’t lift the lid off,” Rothweiler said.

One unusual model is the ladybug box ($25). The lid looks like ladybug wings, and each wing rotates open separately.

For now, Breezy Bay Boxes are sold on

Come spring, Rothweiler says she plans to start selling them at outdoor markets.

]]> 0, 02 Mar 2017 18:49:34 +0000
Monument Square farmers market ends in November – but not for Dick Piper Tue, 28 Feb 2017 05:01:25 +0000

Dick Piper jokes with Jessica Esch of Portland, a frequent customer, while selling products from his Buckfield farm in Monument Square on Feb. 22. He says he doesn’t make a lot of money on winter Wednesdays in the square but he needs to get away from his farm and socialize. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Dick Piper isn’t deterred when temperatures hover in the 20s and piles of snow surround Our Lady of Victories in Monument Square. No matter the weather, he parks his brown van in the statue’s shadow every Wednesday, ready to sell free-range meat.

The Wednesday edition of the Portland Farmers Market, which draws more than two dozen farmers downtown every week, officially ended in November, but Piper shows up throughout the winter to sell his meats, honey and prepared foods. It’s not a big money-maker. Piper, 72, says it’s mostly enjoyment that brings him out. He needs to get away from his Buckfield farm and socialize.

“I usually like to talk to cows and pigs,” Piper said with a laugh one Wednesday this month. “I guess I am a social guy. I used to be a project superintendent for a large earth-moving company. My job was trying to keep all the workers happy and also the public, the inspectors, the town fathers. So I guess I chatted all my life.”

On many Wednesdays, he has another farmer next to him to chat with. Jodie Jordan, 65, from Alewives Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth, shows up in Monument Square “as long as it’s above freezing” and it’s not snowing or raining. He says he’s there for the majority of winter Wednesdays.

Jordan’s products mostly don’t overlap with Piper, and Jordan says they have a small but loyal winter clientele.

Dick Piper, 73, sells farm goods in Monument Square every Wednesday, unless it snows enough for him to do some plowing. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“Most people are glad we’re there,” Jordan said. “If they stop by, they buy a little bit of something. Apples, carrots, potatoes, cabbage or something.”

The Portland Farmers Market continues on Saturdays throughout the winter at an indoor location in the East Bayside neighborhood. But the Wednesday market ends in November, when most farmers are down to apples and root vegetables.

Piper’s meats and Jordan’s produce are available year-round. Though the two-man market doesn’t generate a lot of business – unlike the summer and fall, when the square is jammed with farmers and shoppers – there are other business opportunities in winter. Piper says he sometimes meets a local chef or store owner and makes a deal that pays dividends outside of the market.

“All it takes is one person in a business deal to make the whole winter worthwhile,” Piper said.

An outdoor farmers market used to be a typical scene in Portland. Ramona Snell helps run Snell Family Farm in Buxton and has been coming to the market since the 1980s. She usually goes to the Wednesday market with her daughter Carolyn, “but we go in the normal time,” she said with a chuckle.

Snell said Portland’s market used to run outdoors in the 1930s and primarily sold meat. A rabbi came down to the Federal Street location and blessed the chickens, and during World War II it was a source of butter and other items that were rationed, she said.

Carolyn Snell works as the marketing coordinator for the group that runs the market. Though the tiny Wednesday market makes for a quirky scene, Ramona Snell said, it makes sense for a few farmers to sit out in the cold Maine winter.

“I think it’s economically sound,” she said. “They’re looking for a revenue stream through the winter. If they can be there dependably, then people will respond to them. If you’re just going to be there hit-or-miss, then people don’t plan on getting things from you.”

Piper has not been hit-or-miss. He’s been sitting in Monument Square for about six years, he said. He’s there on Wednesdays unless it’s snowing, in which case he plows snow in the Buckfield area.

Dick Piper, left, and Jodi Jordan are a two-man farmers market in Monument Square on Wednesdays in the winter. Staff photo by Derek Davis

He’s still busy into his 70s because he likes to keep moving. Twenty years ago he quit his construction job. He and his wife sold their house on Higgins Beach in Scarborough and bought their ranch in Buckfield, where they raise cattle, pigs, lambs and goats. They’ve got a greenhouse out back and are adding another this winter. His wife has a commercial kitchen and makes prepared foods like meat pies.

They’re growing because Piper is bullish on local farming in Maine.

“A lot more people are starting to think like the Europeans,” Piper said. “They’re buying local and being healthier. I think it’s finally getting around to that.”

As he sees demand growing for local products, Piper said his Wednesdays at Monument Square might be getting busier in the winter.

“I’m surprised in a way it isn’t bigger. I think the day’s coming when it’s going to be bigger,” he said.

In the meantime, Piper will be there on Wednesdays until the rest of his farmers market buddies join him in April. Jordan will often join him – and get ready for an earful.

“He likes to talk to people, no question about that,” Jordan said.

It’s a lot about socializing and getting out of the house, Piper said. And of course he’ll be there in the winter, Piper says with a shrug. It beats his alternatives.

What else is a farmer going to do in winter?

“I can tell you one thing you can do: that’s the honey-do list,” Piper said, “but that costs you money.”

James Patrick can be contacted at 791-6382 or at:

Twitter: mesofunblog

]]> 0 Wednesday edition of the Portland Farmers Market officially ends in November, but Dick Piper, 73, still comes out whatever the weather. It's not a big money-maker, but he likes to get out and socialize. (Staff photo by Jim Patrick/Staff)Tue, 28 Feb 2017 16:08:50 +0000
The 3rd Annual Source Maine Sustainability Awards Mon, 27 Feb 2017 15:28:09 +0000 Over a six week period, we asked our loyal readers to make nominations in several key categories including a Newcomer, Elder, Teacher, Scions, Good Neighbor, Pollinator and Cultivator.

For the third year in a row, the Source team will recognize the winners of each category at an awards ceremony on Wednesday, April 6 at Pineland Farms and in a special awards issue of SOURCE  in the Maine Sunday Telegram on April 9.

The Russell Libby Scholarship awards will also be presented in the same evening.

Wednesday April 5, 2017
5:30pm – 8pm
Pineland Farms
59 Farmview Road
New Gloucester, ME 04260
VENUE: The Commons – Mt Washington Room

Download a map of the campus

Tickets on sale NOW and for more event details:

]]> Jeff Raymond’s Source Awards bowls began with a search for cherry wood.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 10:43:07 +0000
Julie Rosenbach runs South Portland’s 1-woman sustainability office Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Julie Rosenbach is a one-woman sustainability shop for South Portland. When she arrived there in March of 2015, she was the city’s first-ever sustainability coordinator. We talked with her about her work, why she went for a ride-along on a garbage truck and what keeps her going, even in tough times for environmentalists.

HIRE ME: Rosenbach had been commuting (in a van pool, naturally) from South Portland to Lewiston, where she was the sustainability manager at Bates College for many years, so when she heard about the job in South Portland, she thought, ‘This is perfect.’ “I have never had an easier time writing a cover letter.” South Portland had come up with a Climate Action Plan, and then-city manager Jim Gailey was eager to take care of one key action item: bringing in someone to oversee implementing the plan. South Portland had already acquired a few electric vehicles and was exploring putting solar panels on its landfill. Rosenbach plays the role of “jack of all trades, master of none,” meaning she might not be an expert on solar, but she knows how to pull together a team that is and is ready to get it done. That’s the project management side of her job, but the universe of sustainability is wide open to her. “I am a one-person office so I try to define my scope.”

PHILOSOPHY: She doesn’t feel like an activist. “I feel quite practical.” And moderate. A project can’t go forward without community support. “It all has to make sense. That is why we worked so hard on the landfill project.” Last fall, at the city’s annual household hazardous waste collection event, Rosenbach greeted residents arriving to drop off waste, 400 cars of them. It was a chance to check in with South Portlanders. The city had just passed its landscape pesticide ban, an ordinance that won’t impose penalties on residents but is intended to encourage them to stop using glyphosate-based pesticides, among others. “It really split people apart.” So she was there to hand out pamphlets and answer questions. “I had three people say, ‘This is horrible.’ ” But most were really supportive. “A lot of sustainability is just change and helping people make shifts,” Rosenbach said. “How do we meet people where they are at and help move the city forward?”

TRENDING: As a municipal sustainability coordinator, Rosenbach is still something of a novelty in Maine. Portland and Falmouth both have them, and Scarborough just hired one. “And I am hoping that is a trend.” When she started at Bates, sustainability coordinators at colleges and universities were still uncommon, and now such positions are almost standard practice. For cities and towns that are considering ways to making strides in sustainability efforts, from solar farms to composting to helping residents minimize waste, Rosenbach has a message: “It doesn’t just happen. It takes some work to coordinate these things.”

IN THE BEGINNING: Because of her father’s career, Rosenbach spent a lot of time overseas as a child, living in Spain and Japan. But she went to the University of New Hampshire and after graduation headed to Washington, D.C., for what was called an internship at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but was a full-time post expected to lead to a permanent job. “You did four rotations within different offices to see where you wanted to land within the agency.” After just one rotation, she had chosen her path. “Office of Solid Waste, which gave everybody a kick” (the name, that is). Much of her work was on the product stewardship team. Translation: She helped get producers to take responsibility for what they were making at the end of its life. Take, for instance, laptops and smartphones, which when she started in 2000 were still relatively new. “They have toxic elements in them. They are not going to hurt you when they are on your desk, but if they get into a landfill and leak, then they are going to hurt you.” Europeans have been way ahead of Americans on this; Rosenbach’s work at the EPA revolved around getting Americans to follow suit and start thinking about a product’s life cycle – particularly those making money off these products.

PLEASE SIR: But these rules are almost never mandatory. Rosenbach’s office was in the non-regulatory section of the agency, which means it could only suggest and ask manufacturers to do better to change their business practices. Like, say, carpet manufacturers, one of the sectors she worked in. The EPA’s latest numbers on the amount of carpet that enters the solid-waste stream in the United States every year are from 2016 – long after Rosenbach left the agency – and they are shocking: over four billion pounds of carpet annually. They account for more than 1 percent of the weight and about 2 percent of the volume of all municipal waste. “It is a lot of material that was going into landfills, so how do we minimize it?” (Especially since many carpets are treated with chemicals that then leach into the ground.) Upcycling methods could include refurbishing for reuse, but getting companies to go greener upstream, during manufacture, is also vital. “It was an interesting lesson in trying to get voluntary action and make progress on an issue.” Did she succeed? “Um, yeah, but it was a long process.”

ADMISSIONS: Rosenbach stayed at the EPA for six years. Then, “I wanted to do something new, and I wanted to do something on a smaller scale.” In 2006 there wasn’t much of a search engine geared toward sustainability jobs, but Bates was advertising for a sustainability coordinator. “I was like, yes!” She and her partner both had a long-term goal of moving to Maine – Rosenbach’s had developed during a brief visit. “I stopped here for a weekend and I thought ‘Man, this is a fantastic place. I am going to live here someday.'” Bates allowed her a lot of leeway on the job, which included work educating students and staff. “I was more focused on building capacity and the support and understanding of sustainability.” She covered the bases, from dining hall waste to coordinating green cleaning efforts with custodians. That big, wide-open job approach isn’t that different in South Portland, “except I get to start over with 10 more years of knowledge.”

MEASURING THE MOOD: How does a sustainability coordinator who used to work at the EPA cope with a new presidential administration with an agenda that appears to be diametrically opposed to environmental protections (while campaigning, Donald Trump said of the EPA, “We’re going to get rid of it in almost every form.”)? “I’ll just say this: My partner is a stay-at-home mom and primarily she is home all day with the kids, and she is in despair about so many things. But we get to do so many great things on a local level that I am not losing hope. But man, the federal level.”

WHAT HELPS: “I feel driven by a sense of purpose, that this community is really doing something, and I get to be a part of it.” Like riding along on a trash truck – which will allow her to a) impress her daughters, who are 5 and 6 (she and her partner also have a 1-year-old son) and b) experience firsthand how pick-up works as she develops a pilot project for a curbside composting program for the city, which would require a third bin. “I would like to see if we could make it work.” In a couple of weeks she’ll be visiting second-graders in all the South Portland schools to talk about sustainability. She also worked on the ordinance to reduce pesticide use in South Portland. “And some days I am delivering recycling boxes to offices.” And that is fun, too.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Rosenbach joins the crew of a trash truck for a ride-along Wednesday morning.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 08:55:06 +0000
In winter, one rider finds riding the bus convenient, practical and green Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 It’s during the cold, dark and mucky months that I most actively ride the bus in and around Greater Portland. My reasons range – from the practical to the social to the environmental.

When the weather is bad, the bus becomes a sanctuary. It’s warm inside, and the driver welcomes me with a hello as I settle into my seat to let someone else drive me where I need to go. I’m harbored, at least temporarily, from the slush and ice.

Riding the bus in Maine’s winter lets me put off digging my car out and scraping off ice until a more convenient time. When I reach my destination, I don’t have to find parking in yet another snowbank; I don’t even have to think about parking. As an inveterate walker and biker, when I ride the bus, I can let go of worry that drivers won’t see me, especially at a time of year when dawn comes so late and dusk so early.

I don’t mind if the bus is crowded. Sometimes I even like it. On any given day all year long, there’s a camaraderie on the bus, even if I’m simply reading a book or eavesdropping on conversations around me. That sense of community seems heightened in the colder months, perhaps tinged by the adversity outside.

One arctic Saturday, I caught the bus home from outer Brighton Avenue. It was packed with people, seemingly workers and shoppers. An older woman waved me toward an empty seat, barely visible between her and another passenger. “Honey, there’s a spot here!” she called. I gratefully nestled between them, feeling comforted by their puffy winter coats on either side of me.

These days, thanks to a new technology local buses are using, I know when sanctuary will arrive down to the minute (or down to three minutes, anyhow). Since last June, Metro and South Portland riders have been able to access the Southern Maine Transit Tracker, which uses GPS to provide information on where the bus actually is. Often, I can stay tucked inside, warm and comfortable, and hustle out into the cold just a few minutes before the bus comes.

For practical purposes, catching the bus during the winter also means I save on gas money. Of course, I spend less on gas whenever I take the bus instead of driving. But the savings are even higher at frosty temperatures, when the fuel economy of cars drops for a host of reasons: engine oil thickness, cold and wet pavement drag, higher air density.

Hopping on the bus also lets me minimize the number of times I drive my car at its dirtiest – and I’m not talking about the salt and grime streaking its exterior come winter. Colder months are when internal combustion engines take the longest to get out of “open loop” emissions. During open loop, the exhaust system’s catalytic converter isn’t hot enough to do its job to break up carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen into their separate, more innocuous molecules. The converter needs to be between 400 and 600 degrees F to start working and close the loop. It then operates normally at 1200 to 1600 degrees. Until it reaches these temperatures, the exhaust system dumps our engine’s output straight into our lovely Maine air. (If you drive an electric vehicle, you needn’t worry about this. But in Maine, less than 1 percent of vehicles are electric or plug-in hybrids.)

In the winter, it takes my car, and yours, a while to warm up and produce toasty heat. It’s tempting to let it idle and warm up until we’re ready to go. We need to resist that temptation! It’s wasteful for a car to idle for more than a minute, getting a big fat 0 miles to the gallon. On top of that, it’s bad for our cars. Remember – “warm it up before you drive it” is outdated advice from the carburetor era. Driving the car down the road gets it up to the proper temperature much faster and is better for all those moving engine parts. And fuel injection – which replaced the carburetor beginning in the early 1980s – senses and accounts for all variations in outside temperature.

Actually, I don’t have to resist temptation or to worry about harming Maine’s fresh air. Instead, I’ll ride the bus and be happy for the refuge. If you live near public transit and don’t use it, I encourage you to give it a try. I hope to see you on board!

Sarah Cushman, a sustainable transportation consultant and former master-certified auto mechanic, is always looking for sensible solutions to help folks save money and comfortably get around via public transportation, sharing vehicles, on foot and by bicycle. Contact her at

]]> 0, 23 Feb 2017 18:24:44 +0000
Flowers aren’t all your garden needs Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Some parts of the state have been experiencing spring-like temperatures, and while it’s too early to garden, Lisa Fida is hoping garden art will catch your fancy as you wait for the snow to melt.

Fida owns Timber Bay Home & Garden, based in her home in Lovell, and is the creator of Clifford, the Copper Eating Caterpillar. This 8-inch-by-2-inch creature’s segmented body is made from cast stone, which gives him an abstract look even as he realistically takes a few bites out of the copper leaf he grasps. His name may sound cartoonish, but Clifford is nothing if not a classy addition to the garden.

Clifford, the Copper Eating Caterpillar’s segmented body is made from cast stone. Photo courtesy of Lisa Fida

“He doesn’t bite, you don’t have to feed him, and he doesn’t reproduce,” Fida joked.

Fida used to live in Florida, where she gardened year round. When she moved to Maine, her husband and father-in-law cleared a large space for a garden at her new home. “Of course all the snow melts,” she recalled, “and I’m rippin’ and raring to go and get out there and plant, and they go ‘Sweetie, no. The ground is still frozen.’ ”

Unable to plant, Fida began buying garden art, “treasures,” as she called them. But the pieces weren’t durable. “I couldn’t afford the expensive stuff that I knew would last,” she said, “and the cheap stuff – it was cheap.”

So seven years ago, Fida began making her own garden art: plant stakes, bird baths and cast stone statuary like Clifford the caterpillar. (Cast stone is just a fancy term for a type of concrete, Fida said.)

Here’s how Fida works: she creates a model of the object she is designing, then makes rubber molds from the model. She packs the molds with a dry concrete mixture, lets them cure (concrete doesn’t dry, it cures), then weatherproofs the figures with sealant. Finally, Fida adds copper accents. Those eventually turn green, so after a few months in your garden, Clifford ($29.95) will be munching on a green leaf. Suzzie the Sunday Strolling Snail ($27.50 and $32.95) will have a green head, and Freddie the Fly Catching Frog ($39.95) will have green legs.

Suzzie the Sunday Strolling Snail Photo courtesy of Lisa Fida

“What is nice about the materials that we use is they’re not going to damage the environment at all,” Fida said. “Cast stone and concrete is constantly recycled. So is copper. And obviously the glass is endlessly recycled.” (Fida’s garden stakes and other products contain glass elements.)

Cast stone has been used in buildings since the 12th century, so no need to worry about Clifford crumbling after just a season or two.

Find Fida’s creations in garden centers and gift stores or at online retailers. Or order them from Fida’s website,

]]> 0, the Copper Eating Caterpillar's segmented body is made from cast stone.Thu, 23 Feb 2017 18:39:40 +0000
Banish plastic wrap from your kitchen Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Last week I was forced out of my sustainability-forward bubble for a minute or two. I asked Google to serve up information about what I thought would be environmentally driven challenges inspiring folks to reduce the amount of plastic wrap they use in their kitchens.

Turns out, a search on the phrase “plastic wrap challenge” produces links to hours of YouTube videos of couples taking The Saran Wrap Challenge. One person swaddles his or her partner from armpits to ankles in 100 layers of plastic wrap. The wrapper tracks the time it takes the wrapped to extricate him- or herself from these low-density polyethylene or polyvinylidene chloride cocoons. If you’re curious, the lapse ranges from 50 seconds to “I give up”.

Modern plastic wraps made for kitchen use are free from bisphenol A – the plastic ingredient with ties to several health concerns – and considered to be food safe. So the sweaty, challenged individuals were not in any chemical danger. But the piles of plastic lying on the floor at the end of each video were not repurposed in the kitchen. They were destined to reside in the landfill in perpetuity, because the vast majority of kitchen plastic wrap is neither recyclable nor biodegradable.

Banana Chocolate Chunk Cake with Peanut Butter Buttercream Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

In light of this ecological folly, I’ve double downed on my efforts to not replace what I pledge to be my very last yellow and red box of Glad Cling Wrap in the drawer. Won’t you join me?

The first step to replacing anything with a more sustainable substitute is to embrace what attracts you to that thing in the first place. Plastic wrap provides a clear view of the food you’re attempting to keep fresh or freezer burn-free regardless of that food’s size or shape. That’s a pretty tall order, one unlikely to be filled by just a single item. Fortunately, a rotation of several tools will fit the bill.

Reusable glass jars work for liquids in volumes up to a quart. They provide a view of their contents and can be used for countertop, cabinet, refrigerator and freezer storage. If your leftovers are headed for the freezer, leave an inch of headroom so the substance can expand when frozen and not break the jar.

If you were married like I was in the early ’90s, you’ve likely got a set of glass-topped Pyrex bowls. These are also easy to find at thrift stores and flea markets and are the best option for when you’ve made double what you need for dinner because you planned for the leftovers. But they can be a clunky, oversized option for the last portion of broccoli.

Christine Burns Rudalevige examines some alternates to plastic wrap for storing food, including, clockwise from upper left, mason jar, Pyrex covered bowl, silicone baking mat, beeswax-coated fabric and an open plate for certains types of food, such as a lemon, or other fruit with a skin. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

For smaller portions, you need something form fitting. My mother-in-law swears by silicone lilypad food-safe covers in all sizes that look like leaves and flowers, provide an airtight seal around smooth-rimmed bowls, and are microwave, oven and dishwasher safe. She stores them suctioned to her tiled backsplash, which makes me smile. Following her lead, I’ve used a silicone baking mat (already in the kitchen as a parchment paper replacement) to cover what I think is the hardest baked items to keep fresh from the first piece to the last without the use of plastic wrap: the sheet cake (see recipe). For round cakes, I keep a glass domed cake plate on my kitchen counter, and have a fabulous circa 1960s metal cake carrier handed down from my husband’s grandmother for when one needs to go mobile.

For oddly shaped produce requiring a close contoured fit (the half of the avocado you didn’t eat on toast, for example), I use beeswax-treated fabric. Companies like Abeego and Bee Wrap offer these or you can make them yourself by melting beeswax onto bits of cotton fabric in a very low oven. They form a seal around any food stuff using the warmth of your hands. You can wash them in cold, soapy water and reuse them, but they cannot be washed in hot water, so don’t use them for raw proteins.

Lastly, consider doing nothing. Many times a cut tomato, onion, lemon or apple will keep perfectly fine sitting cut side down on a plate until you’re ready to eat it up.

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


Banana Chocolate Chunk Cake with Peanut Butter Buttercream Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

I could have provided any cake recipe that could be baked in a 13-x-9-inch pan to demonstrate how a silicone mat can be repurposed as a mechanism for keeping a cake fresh from the first piece to the last, but this one (adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe) seemed a good use for the brown bananas I had in the freezer, the local buttermilk I had in the refrigerator and the bits of responsibly sourced chocolate sitting in the cupboard. The peanut butter frosting is an unnecessary, but highly recommended, bonus.

Serves 12


12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup (2-3 medium) mashed very ripe bananas

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ cup buttermilk

2 (3-ounce) dark chocolate bars, chopped


12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

2/3 cup creamy natural peanut butter

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1/3 cup half and half

Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use butter wrappers to grease the bottom and sides of a 13-x 9-inch cake pan.

To make the cake, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter and sugar until very soft, pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the vanilla and combine. Add mashed bananas, which may make the batter look like it’s curdled. Add the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the buttermilk and mix until just smooth. Take care not to over mix the batter, which makes the texture of the cake tougher. Fold in chocolate chunks.

Pour the batter the prepared pan. Bake until a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean (except for melted chocolate), 28-32 minutes. Cool the cake completely in the pan.

To make the frosting, use an electric mixer to cream the butter and peanut butter for 2 minutes. Add confectioner’s sugar and use a very low speed to work it into the butters (or it’ll “frost” your kitchen). Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the half and half and salt. Use a low speed to combine and then beat on high until frosting is very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Frost the cooled cake. Store any leftovers by covering the pan with a silicone baking mat.

]]> 0 Chocolate Chunk Cake with Peanut Butter ButtercreamThu, 23 Feb 2017 18:35:56 +0000
Bridging chasms: An open letter in support of science Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 After a recent conversation with a self-described “climate agnostic,” I found myself trying to articulate why that was not a tenable stance. I wrote that person, whom I will call Jane here, a letter. I am sharing it beyond the intended recipient – knowing that many of us today are struggling to bridge ideological chasms. Political beliefs will shape how we respond to challenges but must not dictate what constitutes our shared reality.

Dear Jane,

In our recent talk about climate change, you reiterated that you’re “not a scientist” and want to “keep an open mind.”

An open mind can be helpful when untangling the truth from conflicting accounts. I know you are frustrated trying to sort out credible sources of information. (Some guidelines at the end of this letter may help.)

Clear evidence, though, warrants a different stance. “The solid world exists, its laws do not change,” George Orwell observed: “Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth’s center.” We all live our lives by accepted scientific truths.

You trusted the expertise of medical doctors when diagnosed – many years ago – with cancer. You were not a scientist capable of analyzing oncological data, but you did not keep an open mind about a life-threatening tumor.

Opting for treatment based on empirical science was a sound decision, one proven by time. Your older son, a scientist himself, works every day to ensure that his patients have similarly good outcomes – based on the best available data.

Imagine that his scientific career had taken a different trajectory and he’d become a glaciologist, like the French researcher Claude Lorius who appears in the new film “Antarctica: Ice and Sky.” It portrays field research in the most unforgiving place on Earth, with mean temperatures around -60 degrees F compounded by high winds and drifting snow. Lorius, now in his 80s, recounts how his 22 polar expeditions were marked by extreme hardships and risks. Yet his accounts of fear, exhaustion, setbacks and 45-degree F “cabins smelling of wet socks, instant soup and exhaust fumes” are leavened by irrepressible passion – what he calls “my wild empathy for the planet.”

That devotion to discovery is surely one of the most inspiring qualities of our all-too-fallible species.

I found the film especially poignant because last fall a field accident in Antarctica claimed the life of Gordon Hamilton, a renowned glaciologist beloved here in his adopted state of Maine. He was 50 years old, just your son’s age.

Hamilton died in a treacherous area where ice shelves meet and crevices abound. Glaciological research has become more perilous in recent years because climate change has made ice sheets more dynamic, with faster surface and submarine melting.

Climate scientists continue their studies despite the dangers because their research reveals such alarming trends. A crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf, for example, is growing in length by about five football fields a day.

The painstaking research done over decades by scientists like Lorius and Hamilton helped supply the data for that hockey stick graph you asked about, which depicts the sharp rise in global mean temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. Glaciological research established the clear link between atmospheric warming and human activity, tracing climate history through the composition of air bubbles trapped in ice-core samples.

Thousands of scientists in various branches and disciplines, working on every continent with peers reviewing their findings, produced the current consensus on climate change. The same exacting protocol governs medical research, generating recommendations like the one you staked your life on.

So why does this particular scientific consensus on climate provoke such vehement reactions? Thoughtful, highly skilled researchers – trying to use their expertise for the common good – have been subjected to hate-filled e-mails, death threats, hacking and legal harassment.

Clearly, evidence of a warming planet threatens entrenched economic interests. We can’t keep fueling the world on gas, oil and coal if we seek to sustain a livable planet. It’s that simple and that hard.

Industries threatened by the transition to renewable energy have leveled attacks on climate science and manufactured public uncertainty (using tactics like those of the tobacco industry). Another movie (and book), “Merchants of Doubt,” depicts this history in detail. It’s worth noting that the evidence of climate science is now as clear as the link between tobacco use and cancer.

Fossil fuel interests have a strong grip on the new presidential administration, so expect to see much more climate misinformation (or, in its parlance, “alternative facts”). The new Cabinet has already begun suppressing the work of scientists and removing climate change information from government websites, a tactic that should scare all of us who value policies based on evidence rather than ideology.

I do hope that you will watch “Antarctica: Ice and Sky” and reflect on the role that science has played in improving (even saving) your life. Climate scientists have devoted their lives to eye-opening and mind-changing research. The least we can do is heed the evidence and act.

Marina Schauffler is a writer whose work is online at

]]> 0, 23 Feb 2017 18:14:15 +0000
Movies + sustainability: The birds and bees star in 8 movies we think you should see Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Oscar night seems like an ideal time to shed some light on good cinema. But while Source staffers love “LaLa Land” and “Moonlight” just as much as the next Academy voter, we’re focusing on recent films about sustainability.

Not just sad polar bears. Promise.

OK, there may be a few of those in the films on this list. There were certainly a lot on the long list we started out with. One of them, “This Changes Everything,” based on the Naomi Klein book of the same name, actually starts with an admission from Klein that vanishing glaciers and desperate polar bears make her want to click away and that she’s always “kind of hated” films about climate change. “Is it really possible to bored by the end of the world?” she asks.

Admirable sass. But that movie ultimately did not make our list – the second film-related list we’ve run in Source since we introduced the section nearly three years ago – because despite its promise of being revolutionary, it felt like a typical climate change movie.

That sounds blasé, but you’ve got to admit, rising temperatures, icebergs calving into the sea and yes, doomed polar bears have become a genre unto themselves. Movies like “An Inconvenient Truth” were groundbreaking (former Vice President Al Gore’s got a sequel coming out this summer, “An Inconvenient Sequel”). Now there’s a proliferation of them, enough so they feel tailor-made to every kind of audience. Need to enlighten a friend about climate change? Is he/she a fan of “Titanic?” Show them Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Before the Flood,” a primer on climate change starring the actor/producer, who furrows his brow while he discusses the world’s problems with scientists and leaders like Barack Obama.

But if you’ve already got a pretty good idea of the overarching saga of our warming earth, it feels both more interesting and more bearable to take a deep dive on incremental pieces of the sustainability puzzle: bees, birds, agriculture, renewable resources and so forth. Which is why our list is weighted by films that tackle single topics around human impact on the planet and its (other) living beings.

Enjoy. Just don’t watch all of these in the same week or you’ll have to take to your bed. (If you haven’t already done so.)

“THE MESSENGER”: This documentary about vanishing species of songbirds would definitely get our best song award. Directed by Su Rynard, who co-wrote it with Sally Blake, “The Messenger” offers closeup looks at birds under attack by everything from light pollution to house cats. (Did you know that 32 species of birds are extinct because of cats? Put a bell on it! Or better yet, keep puss inside). One of the most startling segments of this film addresses massive bird die-off around two skyscrapers in Toronto. They’re smooth, glass-side objects that look completely cool to us, but to birds they are reflected landscapes, and thus, weapons of mass destruction. At the peak of the crisis around these buildings, bird advocates collected 500 birds that flew into these windows and died over the course of just six hours. The addition of window treatments reduced the deaths by 88 percent, but still, the image of a floor lined with varied species of birds, so beautiful and innocent and so dead, is haunting. This film might deserve a nod for Best Villain, an ortolan hunter in France, who traps and eats the tiny buntings. “They mean everything to me,” he says, before announcing that he won’t stop hunting them until there is proof that he’s really impacting their populations. Despite ample proof of that. But we’d give it Best Song; because the camera work of singing birds will knock your socks off. Streams on Netflix.

“HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD”: This history of Greenpeace starts with the environmental activists’ first action in 1971, trying to stop the Amchitka nuclear test blast in the Bering Sea. (It happens anyway, driven by President Richard Nixon, and the creepy footage is included in the film). But five months later, the testing is stopped for good. From the bonding to the personality clashes, this film weaves a compelling story of idealism, risk-taking and the birth of the modern environmentalist movement. It’s filled with previously unseen vintage footage, thanks to the fact that troops of protesters brought along cameras and tape recorders and remembered to turn them on when it counted. One of them, Robert “Bob” Hunter, started the trip as a Vancouver Sun journalist and left it an activist. It was Hunter who came up with the term “media mindbomb” to describe an action that would gain widespread attention, or, as we call it now, “go viral.” Among the characters we meet is Bill Darnell, who unwittingly gave Greenpeace its name, suggesting that the group make “a green peace,” as in a peace symbol. This history lesson is incredibly moving, and at this juncture, just as a new resistance movement is gathering steam, feels unexpectedly timely. Written and directed by Jerry Rothwell. We’d give this Best Documentary at the Sustainability Oscars. Streams on Netflix.

“SEED”: Maine farmer and seed saver Will Bonsall plays a major role in this new documentary, now making the festival and educational circuit, about the massive losses in seed diversity in the last few decades and the people trying to stem further losses. Filmmakers Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel made two earlier films about food, “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” (2005) and “The Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us?” (2010) before tackling this topic. The last in their trilogy is jam-packed with voices (we’re biased, but Bonsall is a standout) and disturbing information. Did you know, for instance, that the last time there was a comprehensive study of seed diversity in the United States, surveyors found that we’d gone from having 46 varieties of asparagus to one? Or that where we once had 544 varieties of cabbages, suddenly we had 28? This enlightening 2016 film will make you feel much better about that time you bought four kinds of basil from Fedco. “Seed” played Portland last fall, but here’s hoping it makes it onto one of the streaming services or comes out on DVD soon. Even though only bits of it are animated, we’ll still give this our Best Animation award out of appreciation for the way those claymation corn seeds spread across North America. Keep your eye out for this one, while it has only been available for community screenings, it will be released on DVD, iTunes and other digital platforms in March. (A 53-minute version of the film will be broadcast on PBS Independent Lens April 17.)

“MORE THAN HONEY”: “That’s definitely CGI,” my son said as we watched a huge bee swoop along the path of a river. It did look too vivid, too detailed and too close-up and personal to possibly be real. But that kind of footage is what makes this 2013 film about colony collapse disorder (i.e., the group of factors that is killing honeybees, from pesticides to brutal work schedules imposed by humans to parasites) so incredibly compelling. That and the glimpse of scientists at work, trying to figure out why and how bees do what they do. They actually put mini GoPros on these amazing creatures. You’ll never think about honey the same way, and you will want to do everything you can (plant habitat!) to help bees survive all the damage done to them by human beings. This German-made film from director Markus Imhoof gets our Best Cinematography award for sure. Streams on Amazon.

“PETER AND THE FARM”: Because organic farming isn’t all cute hipsters with babies and beards. Sometimes it is a cranky guy pushing 70, like Peter Dunning of Mill Hill Farm in Springfield, Vermont. He’s been farming 35 years in this spot, raising sheep and milking his cow and talking to his border collie. And he has persisted as wives and children and girlfriends have come and gone, and apparently, not looked back on the life or the man they left. “I could, in front of you, call all of my children and not one of them would answer the phone,” Dunning tells director Tony Stone and his small crew. He’s depressed. He’s a self-professed alcoholic. But he loves and needs his farm, and this is a brutally realistic look at what it means to be utterly consumed by and devoted to farm work. To get this close to a subject – who is suicidal at one point – is remarkable. We’d give this 2016 film (streaming on Amazon) Best Director.

“THE TRUE COST”: This 2015 documentary about fast fashion – the slapdash stuff, made by people working in terrible conditions for pennies, that fill American malls – will change the way you dress (and accessorize). Or it should, because the waste is horrifying. Director Andrew Morgan admits to knowing very little about his topic before he dove in to his investigation, and this gives the documentary a real sense of being a primer about how the fashion supply chain works, from explaining just how those H&M clothes can be so cheap and who really pays for them. This is not the “Citizen Kane” of documentaries but it’s fascinating, and I would argue, makes a great case for how the individual can effect change by changing the way he shops for something as simple as clothing. If you have teenagers who want something new every month, make them watch this movie and when it’s over, you’ll have an amazing argument against that next trip to the mall. Oh, and teach them about slow fashion. Best Costume Design for this one. Streams on Netflix.

“THE IVORY GAME”: Last year he picked up an Academy Award for Best Actor in “The Revenant,” but Leonardo DiCaprio has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes as well, within the documentary genre. He’s produced five films since 2014 that tackle environmental issues and man’s impact on the earth and animals. This 2016 film takes a searing look at the plight of the African elephant, which is being slaughtered nearly out of existence by poachers seeking their valuable tusks. The film tells us that an elephant is poached every 15 minutes, so extinction is a real – and looming – possibility. Is the world sustainable without elephants? We suppose so, but the larger issue is how poaching – the profits of which go to feed terrorist cells, according to the film – represents the rapaciousness of man. And how hard that is to stop. The “characters” include a hunky elephant advocate, Andrea Crosta of the Elephant Action League, who drives around Tanzania, either frantically looking for elephants or poachers or both, as well as ruthless villain who goes by the name “Shetani” (the Devil), and an undercover activist looking to help the good guys drive a wedge between the suppliers and the Chinese black markets where most of the tusks end up. It’s melodramatic in places but the lasting impression is not of that melodrama, but rather, these beautiful animals under attack. Streams on Netflix. Best Heightened Drama for this one, then.

“CATCHING THE SUN”: Another DiCaprio-produced special, this 2016 film takes a more solution-directed approach, looking at how the renewable energy of solar power can help counter the damage of climate change – or at least slow it down. The film was shot before Van Jones became a CNN star – he was running green energy programs for the Obama administration. It starts with an oil refinery accident in Richmond, California, and then builds a case for solar power, following a wannabe solar installer as he looks for work and taps into how political climates can hold communities back from making investments in smart energy for the future. A young Chinese entrepreneur boasts about his “friend” Rick Perry, the new president’s pick for Energy Secretary, then governor of Texas, who he hopes will help him build a vast solar city in Texas (Perry did support renewables like wind power, but solar, not so much). What floats up is the power of the individual, which might be of particular interest to Mainers who advocated for a solar energy bill vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage last year. LePage recently revealed that his key advisor on this issue is a refrigerator technician. This lively film gets our pick for Best (Social) Action Movie. Yes, we know that isn’t a real Oscar category.

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

Twitter: MaryPols 

]]> 0, 24 Feb 2017 09:19:40 +0000
The McLaughlin Garden in South Paris is growing Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The McLaughlin Garden in South Paris is, to make a feeble pun, growing. The existing garden will expand into the adjacent Curtis property, which nearly doubles its size. There’s precedent: More than 100 years ago, the two properties were one.

The nonprofit McLaughlin Foundation, which runs the garden, bought the next-door property in 2013. It plans to make the expanded garden look more like it did when Bernard McLaughlin lived there, “preserving and enhancing Bernard’s garden,” as Donna Anderson, executive director of the garden phrased it.

It will do so in part by incorporating some of his garden methods in both the original 4.5-acre garden and on the new 3.5-acre plot. McLaughlin bought the original property in 1936, establishing and tending a garden there for almost 60 years. He died in 1995 at age 98. (He left a son, who took some of the plants to his own property.)

The garden surrounds McLaughlin’s former home and connected barn, the earliest parts of which date back to 1840. A few years after McLaughlin died, the nonprofit was formed to protect the property from development, including a bid from Shaw’s. It maintains the garden and keeps it open to the public – McLaughlin used to allow visitors to walk through at any time.

“We want to look at Bernard’s practice of practical experimentation and celebrate that in the landscape,” Anderson said. “He was an amateur gardener, not a landscape architect, but had ideas about how he wanted people to experience the landscape.”

McLaughlin’s love of color, scent and texture were expressed in his garden in different ways in different seasons, she explained.

In the 20 years since the foundation took over, the garden has changed a lot. Plants have been added and the trees have grown, making the garden shadier.

The redesign is expected to take 15 years, including raising the money to pay for it, Anderson said. The nonprofit has already taken the first step – hiring the Saco-based landscape design firm Richardson & Associates to design the expansion. Final plans aren’t expected until later this spring. Meanwhile, I spoke with Anderson about some of the ideas under consideration.

One thing is certain: the house on the Chase property will be torn down. When that home was expanded in the 1950s, some support beams were cut. “To call it sub-par structurally is being kind,” Anderson said.

Beyond that, the foundation is leaning toward using the part of the Curtis property closest to Route 26, which is South Paris’s Main Street, for parking, a visitor center, a cafe and perhaps a greenhouse. The rest of the property – much of which is steeply sloped and wooded – would be devoted to plants and other aspects of gardening.

The natural springs in the garden may be deployed to create water features, such as ponds or waterfalls. Small (or pocket) gardens and gazebos may be added at the back to provide views and allow observation of birds and other wildlife. A children’s garden, perhaps with a fort or fairy houses, may be incorporated. And an area will be earmarked for Kristin Perry, the longtime horticulturist at the garden, giving her space to experiment with plants and do other work.

McLaughlin was an iris collector and a member of the Maine Iris Society, so an iris garden is also on the table, Perry said, as well as a place to display historic plants that McLaughlin collected, including daylilies and hosta.

The expanded McLaughlin Garden isn’t intended to compete with the larger and more heavily visited Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, Anderson said. “We see ourselves as a complement to them. Everything that happens here you could do at home. We are more intimate and home-related.”

The McLaughlin garden and mine have a lot in common – although the house there is older and the property larger. But we both have intensely planted areas and some areas left to woods. I’ll be stopping a few times a year to see how the renovation progresses. And I intend to steal some of their ideas – especially since Anderson said that’s part of the garden’s purpose.

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

]]> 0, 24 Feb 2017 08:53:00 +0000
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
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
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.

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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