Source – Press Herald Sat, 18 Nov 2017 05:20:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Drink up: Our guide to sustainable beverages Thu, 16 Nov 2017 22:04:27 +0000 0, 16 Nov 2017 17:04:27 +0000 Wake up and smell the coffee trouble Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 With all due respect to poet William Carlos Williams, so much depends not on a “red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water” but on a steaming mug of coffee. There may be metaphoric value in a garden cart, but the drink that starts so many days the globe over holds potent power.

Just how much depends on coffee? Java may be second only to oil in fueling the world, if you consider the economic productivity of those who down the 2.25 billion cups of coffee consumed daily.

Many developing nations rely on the vital export market that coffee provides. In equatorial regions with few other economic opportunities, coffee farming and production employ roughly 100 million people. There’s always a steaming market for their beans. Even among those who primarily eat and drink local fare, coffee and chocolate are the exceptions to the rule.

Maine has a long tradition of making this exception. An old family friend who lived much of her life on remote islands once told me how her family relied almost exclusively on garden produce, livestock and fish. They would travel to the mainland, she recalled, only when they needed to sell their produce or buy coffee and sugar. Self-sufficiency on a rocky outpost is all well and good, but not without coffee.

Maine farmers are having some success growing plants that like it hot, such as sweet potatoes, but they can’t possibly simulate in hoop houses the rich tropical rain forests that sustain coffee plants. The complex flavors their beans produce encapsulate mountainous ecosystems dripping in biological diversity.

Being sensitive to altitude, humidity and temperature, coffee plants are not especially adaptable. (If truth be told, neither are coffee drinkers – when told to forgo their favored drink!)

Northern climes can produce some herbal teas and coffee substitutes, like Maine-made Beyond Coffee (a blend of barley, rye and chicory), but few of us appear ready to forfeit our morning taste of the tropics.

We may be forced to, though, before long. Trouble is brewing for our beloved java.

First off, there’s a Tweeter in Chief who envisions burr-grinding trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, cutting off the flow of Mexican coffee beans that helps waken our nation. What is he thinking?! Does he want to Make America Late Again?

Beyond potential trade wars looms a far greater threat. Our planet is starting to simmer.

This problem has been percolating for decades. Even now that most Americans hear the kettle boiling, a klatch of cynical politicians openly refutes the looming boil-over. Their campaign urns are generously topped up by fossil fuel corporations, so they deliberately ignore growing evidence of climate upheaval.

Unprecedented floods? Runaway wildfires? Heat waves? Supercharged storms? Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt claims it’s “insensitive” to discuss any underlying climate links. Apparently it’s not insensitive, or foolhardy, to abandon the Paris Climate Accord, gut the Clean Power Plan or revoke rules designed to reduce atmospheric pollution.

Pruitt’s grounds are weak. Science tells us unequivocally that emissions need to be cut soon to keep Earth habitable into the next century. We can end our dependence on oil, but on the planet? Not so much.

As the atmosphere warms, coffee production could move to higher elevations in some settings, as long as the necessary shade trees and pollinators remain. That’s hardly a given, particularly with recent news reports about alarming declines in insect populations. By 2050, climate change could reduce coffee-growing areas in Latin America, the world’s largest coffee-producing region, 88 percent, a recent study suggests.

Threats to coffee harvests extend far beyond warming temperatures. Coffee farms and plantations, like agricultural endeavors the world over, are contending with unexpected pests and more prolonged droughts, broken by intense rainstorms.

You don’t have to live in California wine country, Puerto Rico or the Gulf Coast to realize that the high personal and collective cost of climate change is hitting home. The occasional drip-drip-drip of erratic weather events has turned to a torrent.

Will politicians in the dregs of denial waken to smell the coffee? Maybe those of us reliant on a morning mug of java need to rouse them. Imagine the collective lobbying buzz of coffee drinkers – united across red and blue lines – jolting them into climate action!

Coffee, always a social brew, could be the unifying force we need in a time of rancor and divisiveness. It’s a convivial drink that brings us together to talk, share and plan. Let’s not just do coffee though. Let’s do something for the planet as well. So much depends on that.

Marina Schauffler provides research, writing, and editing services to nonprofit and social enterprise organizations through Natural Choices.

]]> 0, 12 Nov 2017 12:31:47 +0000
Orchids provide indoor color – and a challenge Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The long outdoor-growing season has ended, which means it is time to move on to indoor plants.

Orchids are one of the easiest ways to provide the color of flowers to your home while also providing you with a growing challenge. The easy part is buying the orchid. They are already in bloom in the garden center or supermarket, and the blossoms last for eight weeks or more. If you look carefully, you might be able to find one with a two stalks: one in bloom and a separate stalk loaded with buds, and that will let you have blossoms even longer.

The challenging part is to get orchids to bloom again.

Your orchid will have to rest for six months or more after blooming, showing nothing but leaves and the spent stalk. Don’t cut off the stalk, but move your non-blooming plant to a cooler area of the house, with temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees and lots of light.

The orchids don’t want much water but they would like a bit of fertilizer. So, water them at most every other week, when the plant seems dry, using a half-strength solution of liquid fertilizer. And if all goes well, you will have blossoms again.

But to be honest, that is just a bonus. We enjoy the blossoms so much it is worth the price if we get just the blossoms that were on the plant when we bought it.

]]> 0, 09 Nov 2017 18:59:15 +0000
Cory Schnaible helps throw cocktail parties with a mission Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 When Cory Schnaible started going to Portland Greendrinks events in 2008, 30 was a good crowd. Today Greendrinks hosts up to 600 people mingling, drinking whatever the beverage of the evening is and talking about sustainability and environmental issues (and maybe a few more trivial things, too). We called board member Schnaible to find out just how and why this all-volunteer group works and what drives him – beyond fun – to help throw a monthly party.

PARTY ON: Schnaible is one of a core group of about seven who plan Greendrinks’ monthly events. (He was anxious to make sure it was clear that it is very much a joint effort, so let’s get that on the record.) But when Portland Greendrinks, an offshoot of an international group, was first getting going, Schnaible was just a partygoer drawn to the concept. Then around 2010, “You could see the thing starting to scale.” That’s when he enthusiastically signed on to help – just organizing the events takes about 10 hours monthly – and even though he’s now a dad with 3-year-old twins, he still shows up to most events. “Out of the 12 we do a year I probably go to 11. I love the events.”

BYOV: Entry to Greendrink events costs $5 and a glass, as in, bring your own vessel. (The fee gets you two drink tickets, too.) The first $1,000 goes directly to whatever nonprofit the group is featuring that night. This month, on Tuesday, that would be Allagash Wilderness Waterway Foundation and the venue will be Portland Community Squash. “We don’t have really hard and fast rules,” about the nonprofits. “The only one we have is that sustainability has to work within their mission in some form. It doesn’t have to be environmental, it can be community.” The Allagash Wilderness Waterway Foundation supports the historical and cultural aspect of the region and supports youth trips there. Local brewers and beverage makers, including Allagash Brewing Company, Green Bee Craft Beverages, Peaks Organic Brewing, Sebago Brewing Company and Urban Farm Fermentory, supply the drinks. “Then we have a guest tap that will come in.” This month that will be Rising Tide Brewing Company. “We see new faces every month, but our crowd is just consistently really cool people. You can turn around and talk to any of them.”

NO LECTURES: Portland Greendrinks gets about 50 applications annually from nonprofits interested in being featured. The board picks 12 and promises them a minimum $1,000 contribution at the event, with additional money going into a kitty to be divided evenly at the end of the year. That’s Greendrinks’ means of making sure that bad weather or other mitigating factors don’t make for unfair advantages in distribution. Does someone stand up and speechify? “There is no lecture. It is not like a timeshare thing where we give you this really cool thing but make you sit down for 20 minutes first.” Representatives from nonprofit of the evening stands at the door, taking that $5 ($10 if you buy a “Rad” pint glass, found by Greendrinks at local thrift stores). That way, “they get one-on-one time with everyone.”

THE SOCIAL NETWORK: Do attendees tend to be job-seeking sorts, trying to line up gigs? Not really, Schnaible says. “I am not crazy about the word networking because it feels like you are just using somebody for something.” Greendrinks is more about connecting, and while it could be a chance to meet a future co-worker, it could also be a chance to find friends, or even romantic partners. A former board member met her husband at a Greendrinks event. “We have heard a lot of stories,” Schnaible says. “If you’re single, you’ll meet people.”

NOSH AND NIBBLES? There’s no set rule on having food be part of the events, but when Maine Grain Alliance was the featured nonprofit in October, they brought along some nibbles. “Bread and cookies. There was a lot of food moaning going on.”

PORTLAND CALLING: One slot was left open when this year’s nonprofits were selected, and Schnaible says that December’s Greendrinks is likely to be a fundraiser for the group’s counterpart in Puerto Rico. “There is a Greendrinks in San Juan we’ve been trying to connect with. We put in several phone calls but lines are down.”

DAY JOB: Schnaible is a senior copywriter at Ethos, a marketing and design agency in Westbrook. He’s been there three years and says the company is highly supportive of community involvement. “On our time sheets, we actually have a block that says, board service.”

TRASH TALK: What set him on a path toward environmental awareness and civic engagement? As a child growing up in Cape Cod he had a baby sitter who used to take his sister and him to the beach to pick up trash. The lesson stuck; he walks Willard Beach with his 13-year-old husky-setter mix every morning, picking up trash. Schnaible never leaves empty-handed. “It is a terrible thing, because that means there is always garbage on the beach.” Sometimes it’s really gross stuff. Like condoms. Or used tampons. “It is not like that has happened once either. It has happened a lot of times.” There’s a lot of plastic, too, and he feels seriously obligated to pick that up. “In my head, anyway, I know that plastic is going to end up in the water if I don’t.”

WE ARE FAMILY: There was another lesson he took from childhood. His family went regularly to church when he was little, and while he and his wife and twins don’t attend religious services, he sees a parallel in volunteering with Portland Greendrinks. “One of the things I really liked about going to church as a kid was the sense of community. Having that outlet. For me, anyway, Greendrinks is sort of that outlet. It’s an extended family. We have been together for years.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Schnaible is one of the founders of Portland Greendrinks, a group for like-minded people with a common interest in the environment.Fri, 10 Nov 2017 08:25:34 +0000
Buy local now applies to your booze as well as your beer Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The distillery room at Maine Craft Distilling on Portland’s Washington Avenue is filled with the smell of fermenting mash, reminiscent of sourdough bread rising.

In one corner, gin made with Maine-grown malted barley spits from a Scottish-style still. Elsewhere, an employee is bottling a single malt whiskey, also made with Maine grains that have been smoked with Maine peat and seaweed. Over by the barrel room, where the distillery’s products are aged in locally constructed oak barrels, a large, round open fermenter is filled with a goopy, brownish substance that looks almost as if it’s bubbling on the surface. Lean close, and the unmistakable whiff of apples fills your nostrils.

The owner, Luke Davidson, explains that the huge barrel has no cover so the ferment can capture not only the wild yeast on the apples but on the wood as well. “We like a bit of funk happening,” he said. “It helps with our flavor profile.”

The apples came from Doles Orchard in Limington, and the hard cider will be used to make apple brandy that will be aged three years before it’s released. Davidson has pledged to buy all of the orchard’s dropped apples, enough to make 6,000 gallons of cider-turned-into-brandy per year.

Maine craft distilleries, following in the footsteps of craft brewers, are using more local agricultural products in their spirits. Two years ago, Maine Craft Distilling bought 26,000 pounds of Maine-grown malted barley; this year, Davidson expects to go through 312,000 pounds. The distillery also uses 20,000 pounds of Maine blueberries annually in its blueberry moonshine.

At Liquid Riot Bottling Co. in Portland, 300 to 400 pounds of Maine grains go into its whiskeys each year, including Maine-grown rye and buckwheat and some Maine corn in the bourbon.

It’s part of a national movement to link farmers with local distillers, but no hard data yet capture the trend, according to Alexandra Clough, spokesperson for the American Craft Spirits Association in Louisville. “It’s mimicking the craft beer and local food movement, where people want to know where ingredients are coming from,” she said.

Andrew Faulkner, vice president of the California-based American Distilling Institute and managing editor of Distiller Magazine, points out that the buy local movement in the craft distilling industry has deep roots right here in Maine. Chris Dowe, the head distiller at Cold River Vodka in Freeport, was “a prominent figure” in the early years of craft distilling, he said, and “one of the first real proponents of local sourcing of ingredients.”

“He’s been influential to the people who have been influential in the market,” Faulkner said.

Dowe said when Cold River Vodka was founded 12 years ago, no one else was selling craft spirits in Maine, much less craft spirits made with local farm products, and it was “very difficult” to sell bar managers and bartenders on the concept. “We wouldn’t have survived without the restaurants in Portland,” he said.

In those early years, Cold River Vodka sourced 400,000 pounds of Maine potatoes annually from Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg. Last year, the company distilled 1.4 million pounds of Maine potatoes, some of which now go into its gin. At the time Cold River Gin came to market, it was the only potato-based gin in the world, Dowe said.


The creativity of craft distilleries has been unleashed in recent years as states have enacted so-called farm-to-flask laws to encourage collaboration between distilleries and the agriculture industry, starting with New York’s Farm Distillery Act in 2007. Subsequent laws in many other states gave certain advantages to distilleries that pledged to source a percentage of their ingredients locally – tasting rooms, the ability to sell cocktails and bottles of booze directly to the public, and faster and cheaper licensing. It’s a rollback of Prohibition-era laws, a 21st-century strategy to make it easier to start a small distillery, create jobs and bring in more tourist dollars.

The result? Craft distilling “shot through the roof” in New York, Clough said.

This year, at least a dozen more states have jumped on the bandwagon. “It’s also launching a movement among farmers to grow heirloom products that are more desirable to distillers,” Faulkner said.

In Maine, many of the old rules have already been changed, thanks in part to the boom in craft brewing.

“The brewers actually drove the change,” Davidson said. “They made tasting rooms more accessible. They made the sale of beverages out of the tasting rooms accessible.”

Those changes have helped spark innovation among Maine craft distillers and led to more collaboration with local farmers.


At Split Rock Distilling in Newcastle, which opened in 2016, distillers Topher Mallory and Matt Page make a horseradish vodka using horseradish grown on Snakeroot Organic Farm in Pittsfield. Their blueberry vodka is made with wild, lowbush organic blueberries from Elderflower Farm in Lincolnville.

The horseradish vodka was inspired by the oyster aquaculture industry in the Damariscotta River. Horseradish vodka pairs well with oysters, Mallory said, and it’s “an obvious marriage for a Bloody Mary.”

Split Rock distillery is certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. When the distillery was hunting for organic horseradish, Snakeroot was the only farm that was growing enough to meet their demand. Farmer Tom Roberts said that before Split Rock came along, he’d sell about 10 pounds of horseradish in a year – a half-pound here, a half-pound there.

“Most people who like it probably have a little patch in their backyard anyway, so there’s not much market for it,” he said.

Now Roberts sells Split Rock 20 to 30 pounds of horseradish in spring and fall. He’s expanding his crop and, for the first time, starting to fertilize it. “We never had to encourage horseradish to grow before,” he said. “A casual corner of the yard would produce more than we need. Now we’re in the opposite situation. We hope to be able to give them a couple of hundred pounds a year.”

Roberts said he isn’t making much money off of the arrangement yet, but “we can look at that little corner of the garden and know that it’s supporting itself. We feel proud that we are producing something that no one else is producing. It’s an oddball item in an oddball product.”

Roberts said he’s also had some discussions with Mallory and Page about growing angelica, an herb that is used to flavor gin.


The relationship between distillers and their farmers works differently for everyone. Davidson is so busy he hasn’t been able to make it up to Aroostook County to visit the Maine Malt House, where he sources his malted barley. Keith and Constance Bodine, on the other hand, regularly visit their farmers in different parts of the state. The Bodines own Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery in Union, where they go through 70,000 pounds of Maine-grown fruit and grains each year. They are so dedicated to the concept of local that they started distilling whiskey only after they knew they’d be able to buy Maine barley.

“We really wanted something that had the terroir of Maine,” Keith Bodine said.

The Bodines get apples for their cider and apple brandy from Hope Orchards; blueberries for their award-winning Back River Gin from Blueberry Valley Farm in North Union, just three miles down the road from the Bodine’s farm; and the cranberries for their cranberry gin from growers in Washington County. Constance just made a trip up there to pick up 3,500 pounds of cranberries.

“Usually we go up and taste, and look around too,” she said, “to see how the harvest is looking.

The couple reaches out to their growers every few months. They quiz their apple producer, Brien Davis, on what’s looking good, and are the apples going to be large or small? Was it rainy during growing season? How was the bloom? Has there been any disease? They typically use a blend of 14 different varieties of apples in their cider and brandy, a mix the Bodines like to guide, adding to the complexity of the final product.

Davis also schools them on new varieties. “He’s always asking us to try apples we’ve never heard of,” Constance Bodine said.

The Bodines prefer buying their blueberries from Rick Noyes, a small, independent grower, because they can get the sugar content they like in the berries. They can tell Noyes that their last batch of blueberries had a few too many leaves in it, and he will double winnow the berries for them.

“Having that relationship with the farmers so that we get exactly what we want has been really terrific,” Constance Bodine said. “They know what we’re looking for.”


Buying local isn’t always practical, however. At Split Rock Distilling, although the owners try to source ingredients as close to their business as possible, organic trumps local. They use 2,000 to 4,000 pounds of organic corn to make vodka every week, and they haven’t been able to find a farm in Maine that can meet their demand.

“We could do small batches, but we want to keep continuity of flavor,” Topher Mallory said. “We need to have a regular source.”

So their corn comes from the Champlain Valley in Vermont, which is, at least, still in New England. The corn is milled in New York.

Similarly, Ian Michaud, distiller at Liquid Riot Bottling Co. in Portland and president of the Maine Distiller’s Guild, says most of the corn in his bourbon is from away.

“If we wanted to make a true, 100-percent Maine bourbon,” he said, “it’s going to be difficult to find corn in the quantities that we need.”

Michaud also points out that a lot of gins, as well as Liquid Riot’s Fernet Michaud, are made with many different herbs, roots and spices that aren’t grown here in Maine – at least not yet.

“I think a lot of us would like to be able to source more stuff from Maine, but those types of herbs are so unique that the only real option is to order from a big spice company, so who knows where all the stuff comes from,” he said. “If there are farmers out there who want to take a gamble and start growing some of these things, I’m sure there would be a market for it.”

One of Luke Davidson’s first products was a liqueur called Chesuncook, a spirit made from carrots, barley spirits and botanicals.

“We used to buy (the carrots) locally,” Davidson said, “and we used to juice them ourselves, and it was a nightmare. It takes 16 pounds of carrots to make one gallon of juice. I would literally buy out all the B-grade, second-cut carrots from anyone who would sell them to me.”

Davidson needed 1,000 gallons of carrot juice at a time, so he started shopping around for an expensive industrial juicer. Then he got a call from “a big carrot company” from another part of the country that said they could sell him carrot juice by the 55-gallon drum.

Now, in addition to making Chesuncook, Davidson has created a high-end carrot eau de vie that he plans to call Crazy Hare. He has high expectations for the spirit – dreams of selling it in Paris, in a fancy bottle – but he would still like for it to be a 100-percent Maine-made product.

“I’d love for a carrot farmer to call me up and say, ‘We can provide you with that.’ I would be all over it,” he said.


]]> 0, 13 Nov 2017 05:42:44 +0000
Growing a garden that’ll let you play bartender Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 My colleague, Green Plate Special columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige, has written this week about making sugar syrups to use in sodas and cocktails from garden herbs, berries, roots and rhizomes she can find – as much as possible – locally.

She shared her drinks ingredients list with me, and among the items on it, the one struck me immediately was ginger. I had assumed that ginger root, the type sold in stores, couldn’t be grown in Maine, and that the types of ginger my wife and I grow in our garden – European and Canadian ginger – were inedible.

As is often the case, I was wrong on both counts.

Diane Carbone, co-owner with husband Greg of Morning Glory Farm at 591 New Gloucester Road in North Yarmouth, grows baby ginger root to sell at their farm stand; it costs $16 a pound.

Root ginger is a tropical plant. According to the website, it will keep its leaves all year and survive outdoors in Zone 10, while losing its leaves in winter in areas as cool as Zone 7. Either way, such requirements preclude outdoor locations in Maine.

Carbone orders the ginger root she plants from an online source, and was just about to place her order when we talked in early November. She said she won’t start the seedlings until about March, however, and it takes some work.

She breaks up the root into fingers and plants them in flats, which she puts in a bathtub she encloses in plastic and heats so she can keep the temperature close to 80 degrees. The flats must be watered regularly. She transfers the seedlings to a plastic greenhouse when the temperatures begin to get warm in June, and while she raises the sides of the greenhouse when the summer heat kicks in, the ginger remains under cover all year long. It’s harvested in the fall – she was about to harvest the last of her crop when we spoke.

“What we harvest is baby ginger,” Carbone said. “The season is too short to get mature ginger, so there is no brown skin.” (At the grocery store, you’ll almost always find mature ginger root.)

Once it is harvested, slice or grate the ginger to add to your cooking (baby ginger needn’t be peeled), and it stores well in the freezer, too.

The Gardening Knowhow website says you can grow ginger in containers, following the same basic methods that Carbone uses but bringing the containers inside once night-time temperatures drop to 50 degrees.

My wife Nancy and I grow European and Canadian ginger, Asarum europaeum and Canadense – which aren’t even in the same family as root ginger, Zingiber officinale. And while the leaves of both Canadian and European ginger are poisonous if eaten in significant quantities, the roots have been used as a folk medicine. Plants for a Future,, says Canadian ginger roots and flowers can be in place of true ginger; they taste like a mix of ginger and pepper but more aromatic. I don’t think we’ll try it.

The other ingredients my fellow columnist Christine says she uses to flavor sugar syrups are much more common in Maine.

Rosemary is a woody shrub, hardy to Zone 7, which means you will have to bring it inside for winters in Maine. That can be tricky if you don’t have a sunroom or at least a south-facing window. If your plant doesn’t get at least six hours of bright sunshine a day, it will need a fluorescent light to supplement the natural light. Don’t let the soil in the pot dry out completely, but make sure that the top of the pot is completely dry before watering.

Thyme is easier to grow in Maine, as it’s a Zone 5 plant. It works as a ground cover here and is so tough you can walk on it. It works nicely between bricks on a walk or a patio, releasing its wonderful fragrance when you step on it. It likes full sun and well-drained soil, and should be trimmed back in the spring.

• Lemongrass is a tropical, obviously not hardy in Maine, but it can be overwintered by cutting down the stalks and bringing the plant inside. Keep it in a south-facing window and lightly water it over the winter, before replanting it outside again come spring.

Basil is a tender annual, usually grown in the vegetable garden. It can be direct-seeded in Maine in late May, but it will do better if you plant seedlings in early to mid-April and transplant them outdoors when all danger of frost is past.

Nancy and I don’t grow mint, mostly because we don’t like it. Also, it’s aggressive – likely to take over your entire property. If you do plant it, put it in the middle of your vegetable garden and plant other crops around it. That way you will eradicate the mint when planting peas, corn, tomatoes or other good crops.

I still wouldn’t take a chance on it, as it’s difficult to remove. But I suspect avid cooks, like Christine, might think it’s worth the risk.

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

]]> 0, ME - SEPTEMBER 10: Ginger root sits in a bowl before Dyanna Lincoln of South Road Farm in Fayette uses it to make spicy cilantro pesto at the Grange Hall in West Farmington Wednesday, September 10, 2014. The duo was making batches to sell at the Fryeburg Fair as part of their growing business of making hand-crafted, small-batch pesto in a variety of flavors. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 16 Nov 2017 16:49:26 +0000
Green Prescription: A zero-waste couple struggles to get on the same page Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 DEAR GREEN PRESCRIPTION,

I’m trying to live as a zero waster, but my partner is skeptical. Any ideas about how to convince a person who is concerned about climate change but who gets frustrated by the idea of bringing cloth bags to the market or giving up paper towels? And don’t get me started on the chip bags!

— Annoyed with Non-believer


I think many of us are in the same boat (my dog still refuses to eat bulk biscuits!), but I have a few words of advice: baby steps, respect and compromise. Zero-waste living requires mindfulness above all, and if you lead by example, your partner may see the light. What if you popped some corn from a local purveyor and sat down together to watch “The Clean Bin Project,” a Canadian documentary about a couple who compete against each other to see who can produce the least amount of waste. Hilarity and understanding ensue. Your partner might come around, too.


I shop locally whenever possible, but it is simply not feasible to buy everything I need in rural Maine, so sometimes I shop online. Any tips for making that a more sustainable activity?

— Guilty shopper


As you suggest, it does not always suit our budgets, schedules or locations to buy stuff close to home, but there are a few ways to make online purchases a bit greener:

Look for used or handmade items from places like Etsy – you can even seek out local craftspeople by limiting your search to Maine.

If you must buy items from the behemoth Amazon, group them in as few packages as you can and, when possible, use their certified frustration-free packaging, which is recyclable and contains less packaging waste.

If you have acquired bubble wrap but have no use for it yourself, drop it off at a local repository for plastic film.

Write or call the companies from whom you buy things and give them feedback – good or bad – about packaging.

Lisa Botshon is a professor of English at the University of Maine at Augusta, where envelopes are routinely reused. Send her queries at botshon@

]]> 0, 09 Nov 2017 18:43:38 +0000
Upgrade your cool quotient with a leather cozy Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Are you cocktail drinker who wants to up your cool quotient? You already drink the local stuff, and you already hang in trendy bars. Now what? Belle Hilmer to the rescue.

Hilmer, owner of the Maine Leather Co., crafts elegant, statement-making leather cozies for Mason jars, such as might hold your pear shrub with rum and ginger. Most are decorated very simply with a single-thread, hand-stitched profile of the state of Maine, but she also does customized work. For weddings, she’ll stitch Mr. and Mrs. on the cozies, or groomsmen’s initials. She’ll also work with company names and logos.

Hilmer has been doing leather work for four years out of a studio in her Portland home. Her line of Mason jar cozies grew out of a customer request. She understands the appeal because she likes to use the jars herself. They’re versatile. “Mason jars are sometimes, I think, underrated,” she said.

The thick leather used for the cozies is hand selected by Hilmer from a tannery in Hartland. Not only is that a local source, Hilmer said, “it’s some of the best leather in the world.”

Hilmer said she’s experimented with other raw materials, such as goat leather, “but there’s really nothing like that American cowhide right from Maine.”

Want to trick out your Mason jar cozy even more? Add a lid Hilmer sells that makes the jar easier to drink out of – but be warned, it might make your hipster-friendly Mason jar look more like a sippy cup for adults.

Hilmer’s Mason jar cozies cost $25 (or $30 with the lid) and can be purchased through her website at

For custom requests, contact Hilmer at

Hilmer also makes cozies for beer bottles, cans and pint glasses that your craft beer-drinking friend might enjoy.

]]> 0, 09 Nov 2017 18:54:49 +0000
You have the makings for DIY soda in your pantry and garden Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 When I was 14, I had the best job a curious girl could ask for: soda jerk.

McClelland’s Drug store was in my tiny home town’s informational ground zero. Gossip poured from the regulars perched atop swiveling, red-topped stools in front of the speckled Formica counter as effortlessly as the carbonated water poured from its arching chrome dispenser. I, the aspiring journalist, got schooled in separating fact from fiction as I parsed the hearsay and managed the flow of the 16-cent sodas served in contoured Coca-Cola glasses.

“I heard your cousin Matt is saying he swerved to avoid a deer before landing his shiny new Chevy in the ditch last night. Really, a deer? More like he didn’t avoid the ‘one for the road’ before leaving the Men’s Club, I’d say.”

“I’m pretty sure Henry (the high school teacher turned principal turned school superintendent) won’t convince Town Meeting to pass his school budget on Tuesday night.”

“The Gangell girl is going to hit her 1,000 points on Thursday, they say.”

“I read somewhere the bottled soda industry is turning out to be a both a health and environmental hazard.”

OK, that last question was only in my own head, a likely reaction to a couple of things bubbling up around me at the time. My mother limited our family of seven’s at-home intake of soda to equal shares of one (two-liter) bottle of generic cola per week. The debate around the bottle bill in Massachusetts was pretty heated in 1983. Early rumblings about the impact of high-fructose corn syrup on a body and carbon dioxide (the gas that makes soda effervescent) emissions’ toll on the environment were, to make a bad pun, already in the air.

Christine Burns Rudalevige strains freshly made cran-rosemary vanilla syrup to remove the berries and herbs. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

And there was also something we in the jerk profession called “Soda Suicide.” When a brave patron ordered one, I pumped into the glass a squirt of every flavored syrup on offer – cola, grape, orange, cherry, strawberry, vanilla, cream and root beer – to create a dark sludge that left room enough for a only a few ounces of soda water. It was rumored to put a person on a sugar high, which then crashed into a sugar coma. It’s a practice the on-line Urban Dictionary explains is still alive and well at self-serve soft drink dispensers in fast food establishments across the country.

I didn’t then, and don’t now, partake in soda suicide myself. Then, my go-to combo was a judicious mix of two parts cherry to one part vanilla syrups, with lots of ice that in the end melted into the heavy syrup in the bottom of the glass. Now I find a better health and environmental balance in producing my own simple syrups made from more sustainable sweeteners (raw sugar, honey and maple and birch syrups), garden herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil, mint and lemon verbena), seasonal fruits (cranberries, apples, citrus and frozen berries), edible flowers (lavender, elderflower, lilacs), interesting roots and rhizomes (ginger, lemongrass, turmeric) popping up in local farmers markets, and staple spices and extracts (vanilla, black pepper, cinnamon) that I find in my kitchen.

Before you deem the practice too Martha for your busy schedule, hear me out. Simple syrups are just that: one part sweetener to two parts water boiled for a minute so the former dissolves into the latter and then simmered for 8 minutes to reduce the mixture by one-third. To progress to infused simple syrups, just add a combination of flavorings in a quantity that equals about one- quarter of the syrup. For example, if you’ve got two cups of syrup, add about 1/2 cup of finely chopped flavorings. My top combinations at the moment are Cran-Rosemary Vanilla; Maple–Lemon Zest–Thyme; Honey-Ginger-Orange Zest; and Birch Syrup, Apple Peel and Black Pepper.

Ingredients for cran-rosemary simple syrup. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Once you’ve added your flavorings of choice, let the stuff steep for about an hour so the ingredients get to know each other well. When you’ve got a minute, strain the cooled syrup into a clean glass bottle or jar and label it. Simple syrups can be stored in the refrigerator for about two weeks. They don’t generally go bad in a food poisoning sense, but the sugars can crystallize as they settle. You can bring a crystallized syrup back to life by boiling it for a minute and straining it once more before using it.

To make homemade sodas, add as much of the flavored syrups to carbonated water as suits your taste. There are a couple of considerations regarding how a soda drinker gets her carbonated water. The carbon dioxide pushed into the water to make it bubbly is the same gas that ultimately contributes to global warming. But drinking carbonated water doesn’t necessarily add to greenhouse gas emissions because the CO2 is typically captured as a byproduct from another process already being conducted along the food production chain and bottled for this purpose.

Sparkling water drinkers can either buy their bubbly in recyclable bottles or use any number of at-home carbonation systems from companies like Hamilton Beach, KitchenAid, Primo, SodaSparkle and SodaStream. These companies contend their systems cut down on how much plastic is in circulation because the systems ship with reusable bottles and refillable CO2 canisters. Whether or not the price tag, which range from $50 to $250, makes sense economically or environmentally depends on how much soda water you drink.

Regardless of the water, DIY flavored syrups are certainly cheaper and more sustainable than buying packaged syrups and powders these same vendors offer to raise the flavor of your bubbly.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at

A pot of cran-rosemary vanilla syrup after cooking – but before straining. Staff photo by Ben McCanna


Organic vanilla beans must travel a long distance from Madagascar to my kitchen so I suck the life out of them once they get here. If I scrape the seeds from a bean for custard, the spent bean goes into a pint jar of organic sugar to flavor it for recipes like this one.

Makes 2 cups flavored syrup

1 cup vanilla-scented organic sugar

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries

2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary

Combine the vanilla sugar in a medium pan with 2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture is reduced by one-third, 8-10 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in the cranberries and rosemary, and set the syrup aside to steep for at least an hour. Strain the syrup into a glass jar and store in refrigerator for 2 weeks.

]]> 0 syrups, from left, birch with apple and black pepper, cran-rosemary, lemon thyme, and honey ginger clementine.Fri, 10 Nov 2017 08:32:56 +0000
Dishware reflects menagerie from farmyard and the wild Sun, 05 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 When Robbi Portela bakes a chicken casserole, she serves it in a stoneware casserole dish decorated with quirky red chickens. Drinking coffee or tea requires a mug with rabbits, skunks or crows on it.

Portela is a potter who lives on a 50-acre farm and B&B in Windsor, and her work is inspired by the animals she’s befriended there over the years. Portela and her husband Bill raised two children on the farm along with a menagerie of pigs, sheep, cows, chicken and horses. Now that the children have flown the coop, the couple shares the land with just two horses and a flock of Araucana chickens. They also see their fair share of wildlife – both animals that wander through their woods, pasture or orchards, and the woodland creatures that Bill Portela occasionally cares for as a wildlife rehabilitator.

Take, for example, the abandoned baby raccoons that some “church ladies” brought to the farm one day.

“They needed to be bottle-fed every four hours,” Robbi Portela recalled. “They just ended up being so fun. They were a lot of work, but they were amazing creatures with their little hands.”

The raccoons ended up on, among other things, Portela’s stoneware bowls. A visiting skunk they named Violet became the star of a mug. “She wasn’t as friendly as the raccoons,” Portela said, “but she was a sweet little skunk.”

Portela works in a studio in the ell of her 1800s-era home, and she maintains a gallery in the big barn. In addition to her dishware, Portela makes small, freestanding figurines of the same farm animals and wildlife that adorn her plates, bowls and mugs. She began making those one Christmas shortly after they moved to the farm, when they were in debt and didn’t have much money for Christmas presents. Portela made an entire set of farm animals for her husband that year.

Today, she uses those pieces to “fill in” empty spaces in the kiln, and sometimes she combines them with her pottery. Her deviled egg plate is decorated with her red chickens, but a few 3-D chicken figurines also stand around on the plate.

Portela sells her work at Portland Pottery and the Maine Potters Market in Portland, where her skunk mugs have proven particularly popular.

“I can’t believe how many people love skunks, or they have a skunk story,” Portela said.

Mugs cost $30 apiece. Square dipping bowls range from $14 to $18, and the chicken casserole sells for $52.

Her Maple Lane Pottery can also be found at her shop, Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine in Bath, and an annual pop-up Holiday Pottery Shop in Hallowell held from mid-November through Christmas Eve. Portela will hold an annual holiday show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 25-26 at Maple Lane Pottery, 36 Greeley Road, Windsor.

]]> 0, 02 Nov 2017 18:24:08 +0000
Katherine Paul fights for organic food and soil Sun, 05 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Katherine Paul is the associate director of the Organic Consumers Association, a national nonprofit with the tag line “Campaigning for Health, Justice, Sustainability, Peace, and Democracy.” We called the Freeport resident up to see what she does for the group and found out about the impulse move to Maine that changed her life.

ON THE JOB: Paul publishes the weekly online newsletter for the Organic Consumers Association, writing blog posts and essays for the site. She also runs the online fundraising wing of the group and writes grant proposals. “And just overseeing communications strategy in general.” Two years ago, she picked up another media relations responsibility when Organic Consumers Association was one of the founding partners of Regeneration International, a group advocating for regenerative agriculture worldwide. The premise behind regenerative agriculture is that soil rich in organic material will trap more carbon in the earth and thereby help us combat climate change. (Want to know more? Source wrote about this on Oct. 29.)

NEWSIE: How did Paul end up in the business of advocating for organics in and out of the earth? As a young mother in Ohio, Paul stayed home with her children, then prepared to re-enter the workforce in the field she’d studied, as a French teacher. But as she was getting her teaching certificate updated she realized she wanted to be a writer instead. “It was not unheard of then to get a job at a newspaper if you didn’t have a degree in journalism, if you could actually write and think.” She found a job at a small-town paper called the Record Courier. “I wouldn’t have walked into the Cleveland Plain Dealer and gotten a job.” She liked writing features very much. The salary not so much; she was raising children on her own. From there, she went to the business-oriented publisher Crain Communications, writing for trade publications in Ohio. “It is amazing what interesting things you learn about that you never thought about when you are forced to delve into an industry.”

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES: As her children were leaving the nest, about 15 years ago, Paul started to get the urge to move away, along with the realization that she could. “I was at the time still working in the corporate world as a freelance writer and marketing communications person, and it honestly didn’t matter where I did it from.” She kept horses at the time, “and wanted a place to ride them near the ocean.” She took a quick trip to Maine with her daughter and liked what she saw. She bought a farmhouse in Alfred on a dirt road and moved horse and home. “My move to Maine was pretty impulsive I guess.”

COMMON CAUSES: In Maine, she landed a job with Common Dreams in Portland, a media group oriented toward progressive politics. Finally, she felt that her work dovetailed with her personal passions. “I felt so fortunate that the skills I learned working in journalism and corporate publications, that now I can apply them to issues that I always really cared about.” Through that work she met Ronnie Cummins, the international director for the Organic Consumers Association (and one of its founders). He hired her six years ago. Her first 18 months on the job were in San Miguel Allende, a Mexican city where the nonprofit runs a teaching farm, organic market and a cafe. “We have a really strong program in Mexico.” She missed the seasons though, and made her way back to Maine. These days she lives in a farmhouse in Freeport. Does she still have horses? Her last horse died a couple of years ago. “He was almost 30. And then that phase of my life ended.”

REGENERATION MAINE? One of the tasks she’ll be taking on is helping spread the word (and build the movement) about regenerative agriculture, here in Maine and elsewhere. Some states have already established local regenerative agriculture groups (including Vermont and Massachusetts). There’s definitely room for one in Maine, Paul says. “We are trying to bring together locally all of these groups that work on similar issues, but they often work with blinders on, or in silos as we describe it.” That means whether someone is working on water pollution or local pesticide ordinances, “it all falls under the regeneration umbrella,” Paul says, since regenerative agriculture is about building soil richer in organic material.

PICTURE IMPERFECT: When we suggested making a portrait of Paul at one of Portland’s grocery stores, maybe in front of some organic products, she politely declined. The Organic Consumers Association has had its ups and downs with corporations over the years, including grocery chains like Whole Foods. Part of the role Organic Consumers Association plays is in fighting to strengthen organic standards, she said, and part of it is in making sure those standards are upheld. “We have to call out those organic companies that aren’t playing necessarily by the rules, or circumventing them.”

NOT SO SWEET: Does she mean greenwashing, the sleazy art of making it seem like something is good for the environment when it’s not? Absolutely, she says. Organic Consumers Association is leading a big campaign against Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, “which we point to as one of the biggest greenwashers.” Wait, the nice ice cream started by environmentally conscious hippies from Vermont? Paul said the group had tested pints of the ice cream in several European countries, as well as in California and Vermont, and found it to contain trace (very, very small, but detectable) amounts of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup (and a probable carcinogen, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer). This summer, after that news broke, Ben & Jerry’s committed to looking into its ingredients, and the company’s website makes its commitment to non-GMO ingredients clear. Paul and the Organic Consumers Association will be keeping an eye on the ice cream. “We will continue to be turning up the pressure,” she says. “We just know they can do better.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Paul of the Organic Consumers Association at the Portland Farmers Market in Monument Square on Wednesday.Thu, 02 Nov 2017 18:24:39 +0000
Sowing wild seeds will help ecosystem in your backyard and beyond Sun, 05 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The world’s population is rising at an exponential rate (7.6 billion and counting), and because all of those people need someplace to live, the amount of wild land is shrinking even as I type this sentence.

That in a nutshell, or seed pod (pun definitely intended), is why gardeners should include more native plants in their domesticated gardens, Heather McCargo of the Portland-based Wild Seed Project said in a recent talk at the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth.

“Plants are the base, the beginning, of the food web,” she said. “When something is removed from nature, the ecosystem changes. Fifty years ago there was twice as much nature as there is now.”

The ecosystem includes birds, animals and insects as well as the plants that evolved along with them. The native wildlife needs the native plants for food and shelter, and the plants need the wildlife for pollination and, in many cases, in order to spread their seeds.

Not just any native plant will do. As an example, McCargo discussed echinacea, or purple coneflower, a prairie native that does well in Maine gardens. Butterflies love it, a fact I can attest to: In our garden, when the coneflowers bloom in mid- to late-summer, they are usually covered with butterflies.

But many of the echinaceas sold in nurseries are hybrids, often with double flowers that, because the stamens are replaced by petals, are sterile and lack the nectar and pollen that feed insects. These plants offer no benefit to wildlife.

New England asters Photo by Lisa Looke/Wild Seed Project

Or consider New England asters, a wonderful, late-blooming plant that is essential to supporting bees and other pollinators at a time of year when few other plants are in bloom. When I was cutting some recently to bring inside, I had to search hard to find stems that weren’t coated with bees.

Asters can grow 5 feet tall, but many people grow shorter hybrids such as “Purple Dome,” which aren’t as helpful for the environment. If you’re a gardener who prefers the shorter asters, McCargo suggested cutting back the wild versions earlier in the season rather than growing the hybrids.

Since the plants people should grow to help the ecosystem are freely available in the wild, you might think that the simplest way to get them would be to go out into the woods or meadows, dig up a few and plop them into your garden. Don’t! McCargo said that just removes healthy plants growing in the wild.

“It’s not really good to transplant them,” she said. “Propagation from seed is the only way to increase the population.”

In addition, growing from seed produces more genetic diversification, which has a couple of advantages. First, it gives you plants with varied looks. More importantly, diversity makes it much more likely that some of the plants will survive tough times, such as droughts, floods and warmer temperatures as a result of climate change.

The most important step to seed collecting and saving is to let the seeds develop completely, McCargo said. Gardeners and state crews mowing on the side of roads often cut the wildflowers down shortly after they blossom, before the seeds have had time to develop. When mowing a meadow or cutting back a garden, do it as late as possible.

Some wildflower seeds can be stored dry; others will not sprout if they dry out. For the ones that must stay moist – including viburnums, native dogwoods and trilliums – she suggests waiting until they get fully ripe, putting them in a plastic bag, squishing them and letting them ferment. Once that process is complete, plant them immediately.

Cardinal flower Photo by Lisa Looke/Wild Seed Project

Seeds that can dry out are more plentiful, including all the milkweeds, cranesbill, blue flag iris, asters, goldenrod, cardinal flower and rudbeckia.

But saving seed is not that important for home gardeners, at least not right away.

“Seed collecting is the second step,” McCargo said. “They should sow the seed first.” She recommends buying seed, sowing it and developing lots of wildflowers. After you have a lot of native wildflowers on your property, then you can get into the more complicated process of collecting seed.

Swamp milkweed attracts butterflies. Photo by Lisa Looke/Wild Seed Project

Most wildflower seeds need a winter of cold weather before they will sprout. Even those that don’t will do better if they have a cold period, McCargo said, so late fall, usually after Thanksgiving, is the ideal time to plant. She often does her planting on New Year’s Day.

And although many people think they can get wildflowers simply by scattering the seed, they’re mistaken. Collecting seed is a lot of work, and scattering them is inefficient and wasteful – planted that way, just a tiny percentage of the precious seeds will ever grow.

While creating a raised nursery bed outside will work to grow the seeds, McCargo prefers a different method. She plants in square 4- to 6-inch pots, which she fills with a good compost-based potting soil that has all the natural organisms that help the plant grow.

She spreads the seeds thickly on top of the soil. (Keep in mind that different species will sprout at different times.) She covers the seeds with sand, which allows enough light through to let the seeds germinate and at the same time prevents weed seeds from sneaking in. The sand should be about the same depth as the seed’s diameter.

She takes the pots to a protected area outdoors, covers them with rabbit wire – a metal mesh with holes a quarter- to a half-inch square – and leaves them until spring.

In spring, you can take a shovel and plant the entire pot in your garden, McCargo said, but you may have better success if you transplant the wildflowers into larger pots, let them continue to grow in the pots over the summer and only in the fall plant them in the garden.

When it all succeeds, your backyard can replace at least a little bit of the wilderness we are so rapidly losing.

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

]]> 0 milkweedThu, 02 Nov 2017 18:14:30 +0000
Fumbling in the dark to make cookies without GMOs Sun, 05 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The last thing I watched before my house, like much of Maine, went dark early Monday morning was “Food Evolution,” a 2016 film on the heated debate surrounding genetic modification of food. Traveling from Hawaiian papaya groves to banana farms in Uganda to the cornfields of Iowa, director Scott Hamilton Kennedy walks viewers through the emotions and the science fueling the argument.

Modern genetic engineering techniques differ from conventional hybrid breeding ones in that the latter can happen in nature while the former can take place only in a laboratory. A hybrid can be as simple as crossing two varieties of strawberries to get one that has traits of both, say extra sweet and cold hardy. A GMO has genes spliced into its code that would not be there naturally. For example, editing the genetic makeup of corn to be resistant to a particular pesticide.

At the end of the film, I found myself still sitting on the fence where I’ve been teetering for a while now. I see plenty of scientific data available that says genetic engineering is safe and produces higher yields in harsher climates in the face of global warming. But what if the hypotheses about the damage GMOs could do to the environment and our bodies hold true when future science reveals itself? Can I easily avoid GMOs and continue along my path of indecision, effectively playing both sides of the fence?

Armed with a headlamp and the knowledge that 1) certified organic products are non-GMO by definition, 2) the Non-GMO Project label voluntarily affixed on over 42,000 retail food products means each contains less than 1 percent genetically modified ingredients and 3) that the main GMO crops in the United States are corn and soybeans, I foraged through my dark larder: Could I gather all of the ingredients for a batch of my favorite fall cookies without any GMO assistance? I was hopeful that by the end of this exercise, I’d have both my mise en place and power so that I could actually bake the cookies.

The oats for my Chewy Cherry-Oatmeal Cookies come from Grange Corner Farm in Lincolnville and are certified organic by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, as are my eggs from Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham. Neither my cinnamon nor my pure vanilla comes from Maine, but both are certified organic nationally. All systems go on these.

My all-purpose flour comes from Vermont-based King Arthur. It’s unbleached, but not organic. But it’s got the Non-GMO Project label because King Arthur uses wheat sourced entirely from the United States. No genetically modified wheat has been approved for use in North America. Good to go.

My sugars were split. Domino sugar carries the Non-GMO Project label because it’s made from pure cane. Only sugar derived from beets is suspect, GMO-wise. My Hannaford-brand brown sugar was made from cane molasses, the label says, but the sugar was not listed as pure cane and, therefore, likely has genetically modified beets in the mix.

My dried cherries were unsweetened and since there are no GMO cherry crops, or pecan ones for that matter, I can assume neither come from genetically modified seed.

The unsalted butter, also Hannaford’s brand, that I keep on hand for baking doesn’t make the non-GMO grade. Yes, the ingredients list is short: just pasteurized cream and natural flavorings. But because the label does not explicitly say the cows that made the cream were never given genetically engineered bovine growth hormones or fed corn from a GMO crop, I have to assume they were. I could always use the local, organic butter (read, expensive) that I keep on hand. I typically reserve that for toast, where I can actually taste the difference, so committing it to cookies would signal a slide to the non-GMO side of the fence.

My honey is local. I bought it in an unlabeled mason jar. The national beekeeping industry contends honey, by its very nature, is non-GMO because there are no genetically modified honey bees. The Non-GMO Project counters that honey has a high GMO risk because the crops the honeybees are pollinating may be GMOs. How do you tell where a bee has been? I’m using only a tablespoon, so I’m OK with tabling this one for later investigation.

My baking soda does not carry a Non-GMO label, but the ingredient list has only a single entry: sodium bicarbonate, a naturally occurring compound that, if pure, is considered GMO-free. My trusted brand – Arm & Hammer – makes sodium bicarbonate by mining trona ore, and this method uses carbon dioxide and that carbon dioxide is often made from GMO fertilizer. So GMOs could linger. Once I reach the bottom of the box, I might consider replacing it with another brand – Whole Foods 365 or Bob’s Red Mill, for example – that uses pure sodium bicarbonate but seeing as I use the stuff in small increments of a 1/2 teaspoon at a time in cookie recipes, I’m not worried about causing my family harm.

My salt is kosher but is not certified as GMO-free. That said, salt has no genes, so why would a company pay for a certification process to deem it free of genetic modification? In my mind, doing so just to cash in on a perceived marketing demand for non-GMOs further muddies the issue. And as this little exercise proves, the waters are already pretty murky on a number of fronts as it is.

A nationwide GMO labeling bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in July 2016 to help clear these waters. It stipulates the USDA must have a scheme for labeling in place by the summer of 2018. The USDA is still mulling over how to feasibly implement the statute, but is expected to release recommendations before the end of the year.

Here’s hoping the final program will make it easier to find GMO ingredients should you find yourself looking for them.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at

Oatmeal cherry pecan cookies. Staff photo by Ben McCanna


This is a recipe I found in the holiday baking issue of Fine Cooking back in 2003. I’ve been tweaking it over the years to include cherries instead of cranberries, pecans instead of walnuts and local and organic ingredients when I can.

Makes 4 dozen cookies

21/2 cups (8¼ ounces) old-fashioned oats

11/2 cups (6¾ ounces) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, slightly softened

1 cup (7.5 ounces) packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1-1/3 cups (6 ounces) dried cherries

1 cup (5 ounces) chopped, toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 large cookie sheets with silicon mats. Mix together the oats, flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and add the honey and vanilla, beating until blended. Add the dry ingredients and mix slowly until well combined. Stir in the cherries and pecans.

Drop the dough in heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto the cookie sheets. Bake until the centers of the cookies are soft and no longer look wet, 9 to 11 minutes.

Let cool on the sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 5 days.

]]> 0, 03 Nov 2017 10:51:18 +0000
Get your car ready for the ice and snow in an eco-friendly way Sun, 05 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 October may have been the warmest on record in Portland, but most Mainers know that even climate change can’t keep winter at bay for long. One day soon, inevitably, the cold season will slap us in the face.

Even in winter, when you’re heating your home and turning the lights on early, it’s possible to shrink your climate change footprint. One way to do so? Get your car ready for the ice and snow. Maintenance tips and other ideas abound that will not only keep your car running smoothly in the bitter cold, but ease its impact on the planet as well.

The fuel economy of cars drops in winter for a host of reasons. Engines run richer in dense cold air, which means more fuel runs through them, leading to worse mileage. Snow and slush on the roads, and the aerodynamics of the car, create drag.

We asked several experts for advice on how to prepare a car for eco-conscious winter driving. Here’s what they had to say:


Most drivers know it’s important to keep tires properly inflated, but in Maine – and in winter – that is particularly true. As the temperature drops, so does tire pressure.

“It’s one of the major causes of loss in fuel economy,” said Travis Ritchie, education outreach coordinator for Paris Autobarn, an eco-friendly auto repair shop in South Paris. “Pressure is dependent on temperature, so the pressure in that tire constantly fluctuates with temperature. In Maine, we have such a wide spread of temperature, we experience (tire pressure fluctuations) on a regular basis.”

Nearly all modern-day vehicles have a tire pressure monitoring system on board, Ritchie says, but some do not alert the driver until the pressure is substantially low.

If a tire’s optimal pressure is 35 pounds per square inch, but in winter it underinflates to 28 psi, the tire will have an increased rolling resistance of 12.5 percent, Ritchie explained; that means the engine has to work harder to move the vehicle down the road. It also means the car uses more gas – and contributes more greenhouse gases – than it would in the middle of July.

Proper tire pressure can improve gas mileage by 3.3 percent or 10 cents a gallon, according to the Car Care Council, a nonprofit group based in Bethesda, Maryland.

“It sounds really basic, but it’s something most people don’t tend to,” said Sarah Cushman, a sustainable transportation consultant and former auto mechanic. “You want to check that once a month.”

Don’t forget to check the spare too.


Winter tires are, generally, safer than summer seasonal tires or all-weather tires, our experts say. But they do have more rolling resistance, which means fuel economy goes down. Consider using the most efficient seasonal tires during the warmer months to counter the impact of switching to winter tires (studded or not) during the cold months.


Snow and ice buildup on the road, and on your car, impairs aerodynamics – and therefore damages fuel economy.

The amount of snow and ice on the road is up to Mother Nature and the local public works department. But don’t be one of those annoying people who drives down the road with a foot of ice and snow on the roof, endangering not only the environment but the folks driving behind them when it flies off in big chunks at 65 mph.

Here’s a tip from Ritchie: Make it easier to remove snow from your car with regular cleaning and waxing. A waxed finish will shed most snow, he said, or at least require less effort to remove it.

“If you have a buildup of dirt and grit on the outside of the car and you’re traveling at highway speeds,” Ritchie said, “there is a measurable effect of wind resistance. Technically, in the long run, a cleaner car is more efficient than a dirty one.”


That roof rack that helped you stay fit in summer by holding a bike or canoe is a drag in winter – literally.

“You’re not going to be canoeing and kayaking any more,” said Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Take it off because it’s going to be reducing your fuel efficiency.”


Admit it. You’re one of those people who load the trunk with bags of sand or salt, or anything heavy, to provide a little more traction on snow-covered roads. Ask yourself: Do you really need all that extra weight to be safe, or is it more like a security blanket?

“Certainly the more weight that’s in your car, the less efficient that’s going to be,” Voorhees said. “That’s a very direct relationship, so unneeded weight in your trunk, or wherever, should go.”

Consider this a good excuse to finally clean out your car.


It’s a classic question of short-term comfort versus long-term gain: It’s 10 below outside. Should you be seduced by the remote starter and retreat to the sofa for another morning cup of coffee while your car warms up without you, fully aware that idling is an environmental sin? Should you jump in the car and blast the heater, praying it won’t be long before you can’t see your breath anymore? Or should you turn on a blessed seat warmer and be comforted by a toasty bum while you wait for the rest of the car’s interior to heat up?

With an internal combustion engine, the bottom line is that getting warm takes more gas. The question is, how much more gas?

Blasting the heat as soon as you get in the car won’t do any harm, our experts say, but it won’t do you much good. You’ll still sit there shivering for a while. That’s because the heat that warms the car up on a winter morning is a waste product of the engine’s combustion. The car won’t send that extra heat out into the cabin until the engine is warm and purring.

“Your car will probably warm up faster if you keep your heat off until the engine gets warm,” said Charles Ayers, president of the Coordinating Committee for Auto Repair, a nonprofit group that teaches green practices to auto shops. “The heater core in vehicles operates much like a small radiator, which is designed to pull heat away from the engine once it reaches normal operating temperature.”

But idling is not good.

Ritchie said research has shown that combustion byproducts and moisture from the exhaust build up while a car idles and can damage the vehicle in the long term. Idling also releases a lot of carbon dioxide and combustion gases, he said.

Why do we like to idle our cars? Cushman says it’s an artifact of the “days of the carburetor,” when driving a car without first warming it up was bad for the engine. “We still live with that mythology of ‘you’ve got to let the car warm up,’ ” she said. “But that’s not the case today with fuel injection, etc. So it’s a big no-no to start it remotely or idle it until it’s warm.”

Most manufacturers recommend driving off gently about 30 seconds after starting the engine, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The engine will warm up faster, which will allow the heat to turn on sooner, in turn lowering fuel costs and reducing emissions.

What about those seat warmers – and the heating devices they are often bundled with that defrost the side mirrors and windshield wipers?

Our experts say go ahead and indulge, especially if it cuts back on idling by easing the discomfort from the cold.


Scraping ice and snow off the windshield and windows can build biceps even Popeye would envy. But is there an easier way?

We’ve already established that letting the car idle until the defroster can do its work is not a good idea. Our experts also discourage the use of spray de-icers, except for the tiny ones carried on keychains that unfreeze the door locks. Ritchie cited one common spray de-icer that contains methanol, ethylene glycol and silicone and is flammable.

“It is harmful to get on your skin, if swallowed or inhaled,” Ritchie said. “Ethylene glycol is most famous for being in common antifreeze. It’s toxic to animals, and any ice or snow you spray with the product will retain a small amount. Of course, it is dosage of a toxin that is as important as the toxin itself, but it may build up if it is used in one specific area repeatedly.”

Ritchie added that, in the bigger picture, the amount of energy that goes into making the chemicals just for the convenience of scraping less by hand is “questionable.”

Ritchie, who drives an electric car, stumbled across something else that works. He uses Rain X, a product designed to repel rain from the windshield, to fight winter weather. When applied correctly, he said, the ice and snow will slide off the windshield “with much greater ease” and without added heat.


A suggestion from the U.S. Department of Energy: Parking in a garage will increase the engine and cabin temperature you start with so the car will warm up faster. Also, combine trips so you drive less often with a cold engine. And carpool, when it’s practicable, admittedly a good all-season practice.


Keep the fuel tank half-full in winter. Water condenses at colder temperatures, so it will help prevent condensation in the gas tank, which affects performance.

Pay attention to what goes into the tank as well. Find a retailer that sells certified Top-Tier detergent gasoline instead of lower-quality gasoline that leaves deposits on critical engine parts, reducing performance.

“Whenever possible, I try and fill up my vehicle using Top-Tier gasoline,” Ayers said. “Top-Tier gas has many benefits, including preventing carbon buildup within the engine.”


Cars don’t rust out the way they used to, perhaps because manufacturers are using more rust-inhibiting materials in the factory. But plenty of Mainers still fear automotive rust and want to apply some kind of winter protection from ice-melting road chemicals to the underbody and suspension components of their cars. Undercoating products are usually oil-based and not very environmentally friendly.

At Paris Autobarn, the mechanics use Fluid Film, a lanolin-based product made from sheep’s wool. It costs $100-$150 for most cars.


Driving more slowly is a tip that could be followed year-round, Voorhees admits, but it’s one that most Americans could stand to try. Slow down, take a deep breath, and think about all the money you’re saving not playing chicken with that pickup truck.

“Driving slower means more fuel efficiency,” Voorhees said. “We’re all rushing around in life seemingly a minute behind, but it is true that if you are driving slower you are saving fuel.”

Slowing down from 75 to 65 mph, he said, reduces gas consumption by about 15 percent. Each mile per hour driven over 60 is like paying an extra 15 cents per gallon.

A bonus: It is usually safer too.


The best thing to do to improve efficiency in winter is to keep the car in good shape and tuned up, our experts say. While many of the maintenance tips listed here are small things, they add up – and some of them cost nothing.

“If your tires are low and you haven’t had a new fuel filter in a while and you’ve got 100 extra pounds in the back, all of those things together you could be talking about 15 percent greater fuel efficiency,” Voorhees said. “That’s not nothing.”


When it comes to clean winter driving, it really is no contest, our experts say. All-electric cars or plug-in hybrids beat gasoline-powered cars, hands down – especially here in Maine.

That’s because the internal combustion engine is really inefficient, and the electricity mix in New England contains lots of renewables and hardly any coal, Voorhees said.

“Given where Maine’s electricity comes from, driving electric miles is vastly cleaner per mile than any combustion car out there, even a really efficient combustion car,” he said.

The biggest downside to driving an electric car in winter is that the batteries lose performance as it gets colder outside, which reduces the range of the car and increases charging times. Voorhees said the mileage reduction in winter is roughly 20 to 25 percent, which may or may not be a big deal, depending on the car. A Chevy Volt, for example, has just 50 miles of all-electric range, so a cut of 20 to 25 percent is substantial.

“If your car is going 250 miles on a charge like a Bolt or a Tesla, then losing 20 percent probably doesn’t change your day very much,” Voorhees said. “So the winter performance issues will be decreasing with the total number of miles an electric car is going. It gets better and better every year.”

When it comes to all-wheel drive capabilities, which a lot of Mainers rely on in winter, electric options are limited: Tesla is the only manufacturer that offers it right now, in three models, Ritchie said.

But electric cars have other wintertime advantages over gas-powered cars. Compared to traditional front-wheel drive vehicles, electric cars have good weight distribution for traction and handling because their battery packs are heavy and located low, Ritchie said. Most modern cars have traction control, he said, but since the computer in an electric vehicle can directly alter the speed of the motor, it works much faster.

And electric cars are easier to heat up without wasting energy. Many of them allow drivers to remotely start the car’s heater and defrost the windows, and still drive off with a full battery.

“If plugged into the grid, it’s likely that you’ll be using electricity from the source, not from the vehicle itself, to make the inside of your vehicle comfortable before getting into it to drive,” Ayers said.

Even without a remote start, if the heater is turned on right away it will heat the cabin faster since it doesn’t require the engine to warm up first.

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

Twitter: MeredithGoad

]]> 0, 04 Nov 2017 21:53:57 +0000
Plant the asymmetrically shaped blob (technically a rhizome) now Sun, 05 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The name anemone covers a wide variety of flowers. Some bloom in spring and others in fall. Some are herbaceous perennials, with fibrous roots, and others are planted in fall along with your tulips and daffodils.

Anemone blanda, sometimes called Grecian windflower, is one anemone that should be planted now.

While most people will call the items you plant bulbs, technically they are rhizomes. They are asymmetrical blobs that you could soak for a couple of hours before planting, but that isn’t actually required.

They want well-drained soil with at least a half a day of sun, and because they grow only four inches tall they make a nice underplanting with tulips, daffodils and other taller spring bloomers.

Anemone blanda produces daisy-shaped flowers and comes in white and pink, but blue is highly popular because it is so rare to find blue flowers. The centers are green and yellow.

Dig the holes about 3 inches deep and space the bulbs a few inches apart. Water after planting. They may grow a little in the fall, but probably not if you are planting them this late.

The anemones bloom early in the spring and won’t be hurt if cut for small bouquets. Leave the foliage in place after the flowers go by.

]]> 0 blandaFri, 03 Nov 2017 10:52:28 +0000
Revised food sovereignty law lets consumers buy from source Wed, 01 Nov 2017 13:56:47 +0000 AUBURN — At 4 Season Farm Market, dried apple cider rings are coming back, pickles are planned for next week and Kathy Shaw hasn’t ruled out crafting kombucha, now that she can.

Gov. Paul LePage signed a revised food sovereignty bill into law Tuesday that eases restrictions for some farmers and processors like Shaw by changing state food laws to allow certain direct-to-consumer sales.

“People can have an idea and try it out in their home kitchen or on their farm,” said Heather Retberg at Quill’s End Farm in Penobscot, a Maine food advocate. “I have apples on my trees; I am now able to can and sell applesauce. Or my neighbor’s been coming here for years and saying, ‘Oh, I really love that goat cheese you make; can you sell it to me?’ and people have had to say no, and now they can say yes.”

At least 22 communities in Maine, Auburn the largest among them, have passed local food sovereignty ordinances in an effort to get people closer to their food, and to ease regulations on growers.

Starting Wednesday, any consumer living in or visiting one of those communities can make a face-to-face purchase at the farmer’s or processor’s farm or home, without state oversight or inspection of foods including milk, cheese, cider, canned foods and vegetables.

Poultry and meat will continue to be state inspected – the federal government had warned Maine that it would step in if those products weren’t processed in state-inspected slaughterhouses, and the new law was changed..

Shaw, who co-owns the market and Valley View Farm with Joe Gray, said the law makes it easier for someone like her to try something new. Before, launching a product such as pickles required sending the recipe to the state, shipping them a full sample, paying for testing and waiting for test results.

Now, she can just go ahead – as long as she sells direct from her processing spot or farm.

“If I wanted to take it to my farmers market in Falmouth or Cumberland, then I would need to have them all submitted for testing,” she said.

She’s hoping it creates more relationships between farmer and customer. The law isn’t the whole answer, she said, but it’s a good start at keeping things simple.

“It took me twice as long today to go do my deliveries and pickups as it usually does because of road conditions,” Shaw said. “If we have a major catastrophe, people need to be able to feed themselves, and one way they can do that is by relying on their local farmer and creating that relationship with them.”

Retberg, who helped draft the ordinance language more and more towns are using, said she’s heard from 25 to 30 towns since summer that are either interested in or working toward their own local ordinance.

“It makes Maine the first state in the entire country that is recognizing people at the community level have the authority to define our own terms for our food system and to really be making local rules for local food,” she said. “That leaves a foundation for all sorts of innovation and growth for more local food in our communities.”

]]> 0 the new food sovereignty law in place, Kathy Shaw of 4 Season Farm Market in Auburn can raise, make and sell certain food items direct to the customer without the item being inspected by a state inspector. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)Wed, 01 Nov 2017 20:55:49 +0000
How Wolfe’s Neck Farm is combating climate change Sun, 29 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 FREEPORT — This month, Wolfe’s Neck Farm got a new name, the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment, and officially became part of an internationally trending agricultural movement that aims to fight climate change from the ground up.

Beyond some signs referring to a TransFARMation, the changes aren’t obvious. That’s because a big part of the rebranding has to do with a mission happening underfoot. Literally. This transformation is about using the soil on this centuries-old 626-acre farm on the shores of Casco Bay to combat climate change.

As to be expected with the ever-evolving world of agriculture, there’s a buzzword for the new approach: regenerative agriculture. But it’s not yet in widespread use, and Wolfe’s Neck’s executive director David Herring finds himself defining it a lot.

“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘What is this thing about regenerative agriculture? What is that?’ ” Herring said. He smiles the smile of a man who knows that it is a select audience who wants to hear the nitty gritty of dirt. “And so our ability to explain it succinctly has been tested.”

Start with soil health. Richer soil, more dense with organic material, is the obvious path to stronger plants and better yields. That’s what compost is all about. Every farmer engaged in sustainable agriculture is already working toward this.

“These are not brand-new things,” Herring said. “None of these things are.” But there’s a growing consciousness – Herring even uses the word “revolution” – of the potential agricultural soils high in organic material have to trap more carbon, enough potential to halt or even roll back climate change.


Improving soil will build a higher level of resilience; organic matter in soil absorbs and retains more water, making farms more drought and flood resistant. But the major premise behind the burgeoning regenerative agriculture movement is that improving soil health is also the ideal means to get excess greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and into the soil. Soil already sequesters carbon. It has potential to sequester a lot more, if it has human help to increase its capacity to hold carbon. And those humans need some help figuring out the recipe to healthier soil – meaning richer in organic material that can trap the carbon. Based on the speed at which the climate is changing, the recipe needs to be developed quickly.

Which is where Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment comes in. It will continue to be the place to go for a hayride in the fall, seashore camping in the summer or a field trip to gawk at new calves and squeal at the cuteness of baby goats. It’s also still the home of a burgeoning organic dairy program designed to train the next generation of dairy farmers, thus bolstering a struggling sector of agriculture.

But it has a new role as an observatory for how known methods of enriching soil naturally are working and – this is key, given how climate change is already affecting us – a laboratory for figuring out how to improve soils rapidly.

Agriculture has to be part of the solution, Herring said, because it is a major contributor to climate change.

“Agriculture has not been part of a conversation about the solution to climate change to be honest,” Herring said. “It’s been part of the net contributor. Some studies and analysis say 10 to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from farming, come from agriculture.”

Some estimates range even higher, up to 25 percent, although the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions puts it at 7 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Methane releases from livestock (the flatulence of cows is no joke), are a huge factor. Ruminants represent 37 percent of agriculture’s contribution, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Wolfe’s Neck, which began an organic dairy farmer training program in 2015 with a $1.7 million contribution by Stonyfield Organic, has a lot of cows.

Last year, Stonyfield, owned by French dairy giant Lactalis as of July, bought nearly 44,000 gallons of milk from Wolfe’s Neck, relatively speaking a drop in the bucket of the organic milk it sources throughout the region. But it is in the environmentally conscious company’s best interests to support efforts to halt the degenerative effect dairy farming has on climate. That’s why Stonyfield is contributing $250,000 in seed money for the regenerative agriculture observatory. The hope is, Wolfe’s Neck will help light the way to a better future for dairy.

Katherine Paul is the spokesperson for Regeneration International, a group that formed in 2015 to advocate worldwide for regenerative agriculture. She’s also, coincidentally, a Maine resident who visits Wolfe’s Neck regularly (she was hiking there a weekend ago). She said it is heartening to see a local farm embracing regenerative agriculture.

“We spend so much of our time battling this,” Paul said. “And it wears you out.”

Regenerative agriculture, she said, is the upside. “It is a major solution to global warming, and it just isn’t getting the attention it deserves to get.”

Wolfe’s Neck is trying to change that.


Topsoil is the nutrient rich top layer of earth where crops and plants can easily take hold. It was the lack of topsoil that turned American farmland into the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Overclearing of native plants for agricultural expansion in the Southern Plains in the 1920s, combined with severe drought, degenerated the soil and caused the topsoil to blow away in the hundreds of millions of tons. One of the all-time worst ecological disasters caused by mankind, the Dust Bowl broadened our understanding of how essential, and fragile, topsoil is. That was perhaps the ultimate early warning of how damaging agriculture can be to the soil.

“Historically, conventional wisdom around soil is it takes hundreds of years to build an inch of topsoil,” said Dorn Cox, soil scientist and farmer from New Hampshire who is the research coordinator for Wolfe’s Neck regenerative agriculture program. “But they are using an antiquated approach.”

Through regenerative agricultural methods, which are sometimes referred to as carbon farming or conservation farming, the old rules are going out the window.

“We are really growing soil,” Cox said. “And we are growing it down.”

As in, he’s deepening his topsoil, the good stuff, and it’s not taking him hundreds of years. Last fall, as it moved toward becoming a regenerative agriculture observatory, Wolfe’s Neck installed seven soil sensors that record data from 4 feet deep in the ground. They’re measuring the changes in the soil as they nurture it, with a focus on how much its composition is made up of organic material. The average healthy New England soil measures a 6 on the scale of percentage of organic matter in the soil (SOM), he said. (There’s no “top” of the scale per se, but Dust Bowl soil would have been less 1 at best, and Cox is proud that his in New Hampshire is an 8 and rising.) The plan is to see how fast Wolfe’s Neck can increase its organic composition through natural amendments, using cover crops, rotating crops and practicing no-till agriculture. They’ll keep an electronic record of all that they do (and don’t do), and the sensors will give them feedback about how the soil is changing.

“We are living at a really exciting time in human history,” Cox said. “For the first time, we can actually sequence and describe exactly what life is in soil.”

Talking about it, his enthusiasm is clear, but he knows how hard it is to make the topic of dirt exciting. He’s used to eyes glazing over. “I never know where I lose people.”


Before delving into regenerative agricultural methods, which combine pieces of permaculture, biodynamics and organic farming, it helps to understand how plants help trap carbon in the soil and why that’s so important.

A plant pulls carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis, drawing it down into the soil through its roots. Research shows that the plant releases some of that carbon into the area around its roots and that entices soil organisms to feed; they want that leached carbon.

“The soil is alive,” Cox said. And it’s hungry, hungry for carbon-based food.

Because of human activity, the world now has too much carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere; those shifting levels are higher than ever before in human history. The gauge is how many parts per million of carbon make up the atmosphere. Throughout human history, that’s been about 280 parts per million; 350 is considered acceptable by the scientific community. Today that figure is about 400 parts per million. That’s the numerical evidence, while record-breaking hot summers and disasters like hurricanes Harvey and Irma are the demonstration of it.

Much of the increase comes from the way we burn fossil fuels, but some of it, possibly as much as a quarter of it, stems from the way we grow our food. The clearing of forests to make room for crops worldwide is an obvious culprit and so are those farting cows. But so are common methods like tilling, which exposes the microbes under the ground to oxygen. There are billions of organisms in a handful of healthy soil, and tilling brings them to the surface.

“The microbes have a sudden source of food,” Cox said. “They eat that carbon and they off-gas it into the environment.”

“Just like opening the damper on your wood stove, you are accelerating the process,” he added.

Cox urges people to think not just about soil as a living organism, jammed with tiny fungal matter and microbes, but as something with a physical structure.

“With lots of rooms and pores inside,” Cox said. Tilling then, “is like taking a wrecking ball to a brick house.”


Regenerative agriculture is not a new concept. Robert Rodale, the son of J. I. Rodale, the giant of organic farming circles, is credited with coining the term, to describe the way topsoil could be regenerated. In the 1980s, the Rodale Institute started the Regenerative Agriculture Association and for a few years, regularly published books on the topic. Then it faded away.

The term resurfaced in recent years. In June 2015, a group of 100 activists from 60 countries met in Costa Rica and formed Regeneration International. Then, during the United Nations climate change talks in Paris later that year, regenerative agriculture was a big topic of conversation, leading to the establishment of the French “4 per 1000” initiative to increase soil carbon by that amount every year over the next 25 years in order to stabilize the climate.

At the time, Andre Leu, the president of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, called adoption of the initiative “the biggest paradigm shift in the history of the climate change movement.”

Conservation activist and author Courtney White has watched as a topic he first heard about from a rancher in Marin County, California in 2010 become trendy. He published a book in 2014, “Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country,” that included a chapter on Cox, and he’s working on a new book with a Western farmer who had powerful success with regenerative agriculture on his farm. More books are showing up the marketplace (see sidebar, S8).

“Regenerative agriculture is where things are headed,” White said.

The name might be confusing, since some call it carbon farming and others call it conservation farming, he said. But it is more than just a rebranding of sustainability.

“It’s all about biology,” White said. “And getting those microbes going. We have depleted life in the soil badly in so many, many places. The plants trade carbon and that is what we have broken, when we pour chemicals on it, when we till.”

Whatever it’s called, this is the next big thing, White said. “Folks are beginning to coalesce behind this idea.”

Katherine Paul, the spokesperson for Regeneration International, agrees. “We think it is really catching on,” she said. “How lucky is it that right down the road from me, literally, there is someone measuring carbon sequestration.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, 26 Oct 2017 18:18:49 +0000
Don’t let vampire energy users suck your house dry Sun, 29 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Halloween is approaching, bringing a night of ghosts and ghouls – or at least bored teenagers bearing shaving-cream. The phantoms on your doorstep may not be real, but indoors you are likely to encounter vampires – appliances that suck energy around the clock.

A device that draws power when turned off seems counter-intuitive. Such a feat was impossible in the era of mechanical appliances. But now we’re surrounded by a new generation of devices – with digital displays, electronic controls and remote starts – that are always in standby mode.

Ironically, now some home electronics use more power when they are off than when they are on.

Vampire power loads are the electrical equivalent of vehicular idling; they waste energy and aggravate climate change for no practical purpose. Electricity generation accounts for more than a third of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. The wasted electricity from phantom appliances nationwide represents the output of roughly 50 large power plants.

Powering machines that are ostensibly off is not only environmentally damaging, it is expensive. For individual households, this hidden waste can leach $150 to $400 each year.

The easiest means to stem this electricity drain would be to establish energy-efficiency standards requiring manufacturers to minimize the idle power load of their appliances. Sadly, that kind of forward-thinking legislation seems unlikely to emerge from Congress or the White House anytime soon.

The next best step would be to enact labeling laws that help consumers identify devices with high phantom loads. That too will likely have to wait. (The current administration is too busy working to gut or privatize the popular federal Energy Star program that helps consumers identify energy-efficient appliances.)

So for now homeowners are left to face down energy vampires on their own. It’s no small challenge; a typical American household has upwards of 30 always-on appliances.

You can rout out phantom devices with a quick visual inventory (looking for green-dot lights, electronic displays and anything with a remote). Past studies have identified some of the most voracious vampires:

Big users (30 kWh or more) include laptops, televisions, satellite TV or cable boxes, boom boxes, home copiers, fax machines, printers and doorbells.

Moderate users (10-30 kWh) include microwave ovens, garage door openers, routers, desktop computers, and DVD and CD players.

If you want to calculate just how much energy each appliance wastes in the “off” mode, borrow a Kill-a-Watt meter from your local library. Once you’ve gathered data for each appliance, you can calculate its daily and annual energy consumption.

Some vampire appliances can be put on a diet. To limit the phantom draw of entertainment devices, consider disabling their “quick start” or “instant on” functions. Set computers to enter “sleep” mode after 10 minutes of inactivity.

The only way to completely prevent vampire power loss, though, is to unplug electronic appliances. Devices such as boom boxes or coffee makers can be unplugged at the outlet when not in use. Where there is a cluster of related appliances involving a computer or entertainment center, you can control them most easily and economically by plugging all the cords into a single power strip and turning that off.

Acquiring the double-shutdown habit is easier if you can locate power strips in readily accessible locations. But if that is not feasible, try to find the upsides to stretching. My sub-desk scrambles for the power strip – twice daily – help counteract hours of sitting and alert me to when office dust bunnies are morphing into dust buffalo.

Beyond traditional power strips, there are more sophisticated options for those who prefer automated shutdowns. Advanced power strips can be programmed to turn off multiple devices on a timer or when one master device – like a computer or television – is shut down. For an illustration of advanced power strip options, see

The double shutdown that power strips require is neither efficient nor convenient. It’s a temporary fix to a problem that appliance manufacturers have created and need to solve. In developing a generation of always-on devices, they increased electricity demand unnecessarily, driving up consumers’ long-term costs and aggravating greenhouse gas pollution.

What we need now is more responsible design of appliances, ridding our home of energy vampires. That trick would be a treat we’d enjoy year-round.

Marina Schauffler provides research, writing, and editing services to nonprofit and social enterprise organizations through Natural Choices (

]]> 0, 26 Oct 2017 18:25:01 +0000
Another gardening season draws to a close Sun, 29 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The gardening season this year was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. The only superlative is how long it lasted. As of Oct. 26, we’d still had no frost, nor was any yet in the immediate forecast. (According to U.S. government data, this makes 2017 the second latest frost for Portland – I live in nearby Cape Elizabeth – since 1940; in first place for that record, thus far, is 2014, when the city’s first frost arrived on Nov. 3.) None of our edible crops failed, but none produced so much that we had to prowl the neighborhood giving away zucchini or raspberries. Neither did we have to supplement our crops with purchases from local farmers, except for vegetables like sweet corn that we no longer grow.

The first frost wasn’t the only thing that was late this year. Everything got off to a slow start, with cool, wet weather until early June. Then, when the temperature finally got warm enough to let the plants get established, the rain stopped.

Even though we irrigated regularly, heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash never produced much. Although it was dry, it wasn’t especially warm. We didn’t get our first tomatoes until late July. Though we had enough to have some with lunch every day, we never had a bounty. Despite the lack of frost, we’ve had only four red peppers so far this season – we will have a lot of green ones to pick as soon as the forecast predicts frost.

The winter squash did do well, but few were big enough to harvest until October. The production was sort of a surprise, as the first small winter squash didn’t even show up until I was already harvesting the summer squash.

Another surprise was our apple crop – if you can consider two apples a crop. When we had the house built in 1975, we inherited an apple tree with our property. Over the years, it has occasionally produced fruit, but those apples were deformed and wormy. Then, a few years ago, we removed the many invasive plants that surrounded the apple tree, planted a flower and shrub garden in their stead, and left the apple tree for its blossoms. In August we noticed three apples on it; when one of them fell off and got eaten by wildlife, I picked the other two and brought them inside. They were flawless, and my wife Nancy made delicious apple-walnut bars.

The slow start with a good finish wasn’t limited to vegetables. The hydrangeas bloomed so late that Nancy and I worried we’d get no blossoms at all. But late in the season the blossoms finally came, large, lush and vibrantly colored. The perennial hibiscus always blossoms late, but ours waited until October to bloom – in some previous years we’ve already had frost by then.

A lot of spring-blooming plants got confused as the year progressed. State Horticulturist Gary Fish posted on Facebook a picture of a fruit tree showing blossoms in mid-October. After I viewed his post, I saw a lilac and some forsythia with fall blossoms in Cape Elizabeth. These trees and shrubs had gone dormant because of the dry weather. When a little rain fell in October, the plants’ timing mechanisms thought it was spring and sent out a few blossoms.

All of which has me worried about how these plants – now spending their energy on out-of-season flowers while surviving harsh conditions – will fare next year. Trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials can withstand a year of drought, and last year’s was significantly worse than this year’s, but two consecutive dry years could weaken or kill some plants.

Our newly installed shrubs seem to be doing well. Our witherod viburnums look healthy, and I ate one of the two berries that ripened. They can’t compete with blueberries, but I’m hoping the birds like them in future years, when they’re old enough to produce more. The shrubs we planted this year – bottlebrush buckeye, clethra and “Ken Janek” rhododendron – all look healthy, and the sheep laurel actually grew quite a bit, not something I expect from shrubs in their first year.

When I wrote my midseason garden assessment, I noted I’d so far picked a sum total of three blueberries. I picked more as the season progressed, but we never had more than a quarter cup at a time. Next year, I want enough to have at least one blueberry pie.

The new asparagus bed is now established, and next year I will be able to harvest a lot more from it. I cut a few spears this year when I saw that younger spears were coming, even though you really should wait until the third year.

One other thing I got out of this year’s garden is a lot of steps on the Fitbit. With the weather so dry, I watered all the container plants and new shrubs by hand just about every day.

It kept me in shape and out of trouble.

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

]]> 0, 26 Oct 2017 18:32:42 +0000
Snacking on popcorn with a local flavor Sun, 29 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I eat a ton of popcorn, probably well above the 42 quarts the Popcorn Board says the average American consumes annually. I munch on big bowls while binge-watching period dramas. Right now, I’m working my way through a Showtime series set in Italy, centered on the Borgia family during the Renaissance. I can hit the bottom of any bowl without dietary and green guilt because I’ve bought the raw popcorn from a local farmer, and it’s a whole grain so it’s low in fat and high in fiber. Also, I’ve avoided plastic packaging by making it myself and, on a good day, practiced some semblance of self-control while pouring butter over the bowl. I don’t skimp on the salt, either, but it, too, is from Maine.

It’s fairly easy to find gussied-up popcorn that has been popped, dressed and bagged in Maine. I favor Little Lad’s Garlic Buttah, Bar Harbor Popcorn’s Salt-Sweet, Coastal Maine Popcorn’s Salt and Vinegar and Cameron Clan Kettle Corn’s Sweet Chili, especially when I’m traveling alone in the car, and I need something crunchy to keep me alert.

But I’ve found just one local source for the raw kernels in Maine: Fairwinds Farm. It sells yellow, white, blue and red varieties. According to Cathy Karonis, who farms land in both Topsham and Bowdoinham with her husband, Pete, the yellow variety pops up into bigger, fluffier crowns; the others burst into smaller, more angular shapes. The former is better for caramel corn because the syrup can adhere to more surface area. The latter is best for savory applications as it has plenty of nooks and crannies into which herbs and spices can nestle.

Honey, peanut butter and chocolate popcorn balls. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Should you want to try growing popcorn yourself, Maine Cooperative Extension vegetable crop specialist Mark Hutton recommends the Mahogany, Robust 128YH, Strawberry and Top-Pop varieties.

Fairwinds Farm started experimenting with popcorn five years ago as a way to distinguish themselves from the other vegetable farmers at the Brunswick winter market. They planted some dried beans and a few hearty grains at about the same time. The popcorn has taken off, Karonis said. One-pound bags cost $3 dollars at the market, and Fairwinds Farm is now distributing its popcorn more widely through the Crown O’ Maine cooperative. This year, Karonis expects to harvest more than 4,000 pounds and hopes to persuade some of the Maine companies that pop and dress up popcorn to purchase locally grown kernels.

The folks at Fairwinds Farm hand-pick the corn. A recently purchased machine removes the husks so that the kernels can start to dry on the cob; then it removes the kernels from the cobs. The kernels are dried again until they comprise about 15 percent water content, the best for popping. The popcorn they picked last week will be ready to sell in mid-November, Karonis said.

Christine Burns Rudalevige pours the honey, sugar and peanut butter syrup onto the popcorn. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

All Fairwinds popcorn is non-GMO, she said, adding that non-GMO popcorn is actually the norm. While over 90 percent of the sweet (for eating) and field (for feed) corn produced in the United States has been genetically modified in a laboratory, popcorn comes from a different seed. To date, no commercially available popcorn seed has been altered by modern science.

But the science of popcorn itself is still pretty cool.

A popcorn kernel, the only member of the corn family that bursts open when exposed to heat greater that 356 degrees, comprises three parts: the pericarp (tough outer shell), germ (or seed embryo), and endosperm (which contains water and starch molecules). When a popcorn kernel is heated, the water in the endosperm turns into steam, building up pressure inside the pericarp. This pressurized steam transforms the starch into a gelatinous material. When the pressure is too much (that would be over 135 psi), the pericarp ruptures, releasing the steam and gelatinous starch which solidifies upon cooling into a popped kernel that is 40 to 50 times its original size.

As lover of local popcorn, I can only hope to see that kind of growth in availability here in Maine.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at

Before and after popping for honey, peanut butter and chocolate popcorn balls. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup


My grandmother used to hand out popcorn balls to Trick or Treaters. I loved them as a kid. Sadly, these days, many kids (make that parents) are afraid to accept homemade Halloween treats. So as the adult who hands out the packaged goods at my house, I content myself with munching on these as I do. Popcorn that pops into mushroom-like fluffs – most yellow corn varieties – are best for this sweet and savory mix because they offer more surface area for the syrup to adhere.
Makes 18-20 (2-inch) balls

10 cups popped popcorn
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup crunchy low-sugar peanut butter
3 ounces responsibly sourced dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Butter or coconut oil for greasing pan and hands

Put the popcorn in a big bowl.
Combine the sugar and honey in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it boil for 90 seconds until the sugar has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter. Let the syrup cool for 1 minute. Pour the syrup over the popcorn, sprinkle the chopped chocolate, salt and cayenne over the top. Toss with a spoon. Coat your hands with the butter or coconut oil. Form the dressed popcorn into 18-20 (2-inch) balls. Serve immediately or wrap in parchment paper to hand out individually for up to 3 (dry) days.

]]> 0 and after popping for honey, peanut butter and chocolate popcorn balls.Thu, 26 Oct 2017 18:37:35 +0000
These shakers are seasoning for your eyes Sun, 29 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Kim Dailey’s salt and pepper mills would look right at home on a 1970s-era dinner table.

The curvy mills come in funky designs and swirls of bright colors. Some are turned from dyed and laminated wood, while others are airbrushed, a technique that softens the transitions between colors. When Dailey, a wood turner who lives on the outskirts of Carthage in western Maine, started making the mills in 2007, “people thought of them as pieces of art, and they bought them but never used them.”

That seemed odd at first to Dailey, but he has grown used to the idea. “I didn’t grow up that way,” he said. “We didn’t have art in the house. Everything had to have a purpose.”

For years, Dailey worked as a traveling salesman, logging more than a million miles driving in all kinds of weather. Now he jokes that his commute consists of walking 14 steps down into his basement workshop.

His eye-catching mills are made with sustainably harvested Maine birch from Cousineau Wood Products in North Anson. For the laminated pepper mills, Dailey works with birch veneer that’s been dyed and glued by Cousineau. “That’s how we get the stripes and all the colors,” he said.

Dailey’s designs are drawn from what he sees around him, and named for people who have been in his life. The Haynes mill, for example, is named for Flossie and Donald Haynes, the parents of a childhood friend. “I learned from them that having goals for kids was actually a good thing,” Dailey said.

The Haynes design was inspired by a water droplet Dailey saw one day when he was breaking ice off the eaves of his house.

“If you flip it upside down,” he said, “you’ll actually see the water droplet as it starts, and then it gets elongated. The head of the mill is actually the water droplet after it dropped away.”

The most popular mill, the Morrison (named for his in-laws), was designed after a photo Dailey saw of a Victorian woman dancing. The cut of the mill reflects the shape of her head, shoulders, tiny waist and long dress. Dailey turned some rings at the bottom of the mill to mimic the pleats in the woman’s dress.

The air-brushed pepper mills use a retro technique responsible for an untold number of tacky T-shirts in the world, but it transforms pepper mills into things of beauty.

Dailey ships his psychedelically decorated mills all over the world. The price ranges from $100 to $150, depending on the design. He also makes smaller mini-grinders for $45.

The mills are sold on Dailey’s website,, and can also be found at the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner. Dailey said that by mid-November, Found in Kennebunk and Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine in Portland and Bath will also carry the pepper mills.

]]> 0, 27 Oct 2017 13:55:52 +0000
Anne Hayden has farmed for oysters and protected fisheries Sun, 29 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Anne Hayden is the program manager for Manomet’s Sustainable Economies Program. She joined the science-based sustainability group in 2012 after nearly two decades as an independent environmental consultant working mostly on marine issues. Based out of Mano- met’s Maine office in Brunswick, Hayden coordinates a partnership between nine different groups that form the Downeast Fisheries Partnership, including Manomet, Maine Farmland Trust and the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. The group’s goal is to work collaboratively to restore regional fisheries.

INSPIRATION? What inspires her work? “I have always been drawn to the ocean. And I have been lucky to live near the shore my entire life.” Is she from Maine? “You can’t ask that out loud! It’s like asking how old I am.” Hayden came to Maine from Massachusetts. “I like to say I am a year-round summer person.” She’d spent time here as a child and in the early ’70s, as a young adult took a job working on an oyster farm on the Damariscotta River for a company called Maritec.

FREE LUNCH: At that point her work experience consisted of an internship at the New England Aquarium. Not exactly preparation for the physical labor entailed with farming oysters. “It was really hard work on the oyster farm.” They built their cages out of wood and netting. Maritec grew European oysters, Ostrea edulis. “Now of course everyone is growing American oysters.” The company wasn’t making much money. “It was competitive, even back then.” But the employees got to eat anything that wasn’t pretty enough to make it to market.

WORKING, WATERFRONT: Maritec ultimately went out of business. “They were a little too far ahead of their time.” Hayden was hooked on working on the water. “I just thought it was cool that people had jobs like that. I had had no idea what it meant to work on the water, to have what so many fishermen have, this connection to the water.” She wanted the same for herself. “I thought, I can make this work.” Or rather, she would make it work. “Because I don’t want to work in an office. That was one of my big takeaways from oyster farming.”

THE SHELL GAME: She became intrigued with the policy side of fishing and moved on to a job at the Darling Marine Center in nearby Walpole. “Which was really supporting aquaculture. Darling is a big reason that the Damariscotta River is the oyster capital of Maine.” At Darling, she was a lab technician for a benthic ecologist who was studying mudflats. “I found that utterly fascinating.” Next she worked for a benthic ecologist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, studying the impact of pollutants in sediments in Casco and Penobscot bays.

APPEARANCES CAN BE DECEIVING: As news came out that Casco Bay was contaminated, Hayden noted how shocked the public was. “People look out on the ocean and to them it is a pristine wilderness. Everyone can tell when their favorite forest has been clearcut. But nobody can look at the ocean and be able to tell when the fish are gone.” It’s the fishermen who typically know what’s going on with the ocean resources, she says. “One of my ongoing interests is getting people to understand that environment is not something that is out there. It’s all around us.”

PEOPLE PERSON: She became involved in pollution prevention while working for Maine Audubon, starting with the 1987 law that made discharging sewage overboard illegal. Around that time she met her husband Martin, then a labor lawyer. (Today he works for Maine Farmland Trust as the nonprofit’s director of development.) She also got to know shellfish harvesters, who were facing closures of the flats because of the impact of sewage. Alan Houston, then a natural resource planner in Brunswick, had an important influence on her. “He got me onto the Marine Resources Committee here in Brunswick.” She saw something happening on Brunswick’s clam flats that surprised her: “The clammers were playing a very big role in managing our resource. All of a sudden I became as interested in the people as the environment itself.”

NO TRAGEDY: She saw the same process playing out in the lobster fishery. “And it is held up globally as an example of a sustainably managed fishery. Most people are familiar with the tragedy of the commons.” (If not, that’s where individuals within a shared resource operate independently rather than for the common good, and in so doing, destroy a resource.) “The lobster and clams and alewives fisheries are proof that the tragedy of the commons doesn’t always happen.”

WICKED GOOD: Manomet’s president John Hagan hired her to coordinate the Downeast Fisheries Partnership, with a mission to work on a wicked problem. Come again? Wicked as in wicked good? “That is a term that sociologists use.” Namely that when there is a complex problem, like say, fisheries decline, there is no one solution, and lots of competing interests. No single organization holds the solution to the problem. “Maine, we get to call it a wicked wicked problem.”

JOB SATISFACTION: “It is really fascinating. I end up being as interested in how this collaboration works as the work we are doing. It is a network; we make collective decisions.” She pulls all the players together to work on those wicked problems. “But mostly, I listen to them talk about what is important to them. Then I write a (grant) proposal and try to fund it.”

STUDENT OF THE SEAS: In the course of her career, Hayden decided to get a masters in environmental studies (from Duke) and is working on her dissertation for a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies. Dissertation topic? “Shared responsibility of management.” And it is not procrastinating that stops her from finishing it. “The problem is that my day job is so interesting and there is so much to do. I love it so much that times goes by when I don’t get to work on it. I do get to apply it, though. A lot of people think about academia as an ivory tower. But I get to see the theories that I am working on play out day to day.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Hayden down on the water at Wharton Point.Thu, 26 Oct 2017 18:26:34 +0000
More than 2,000 tasting portions later, ruminations from a Brunswick cookbook writer Wed, 25 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Unlike with children, once you birth a book you have to get out there and sell it.

My first cookbook, “Green Plate Special: Sustainable and Delicious Recipes,” hit the streets in May. I’ve pounded the pavement to connect with buyers since. I had three rules as I mapped out the multistate book tour I was convinced would result in a second printing by Christmas.

Rule No. 1: Go anywhere I am invited as long as there is a free place to stay that doesn’t involve a tent.

Rule No. 2: Be open to any type of promotional event. Second appearances would be contingent on book sales: at least a dozen (a low bar suggested by my publisher, Islandport Press) or no more dice.

Rule No. 3: Take no offense when people don’t buy the book. Unless, of course, they are on my Christmas card list. Tenure there requires proof of purchase.

With 30 book events behind me, here’s the tally. I’ve taken one breathtaking (figuratively from the views, literally from the hills) hike in northern Maine, taped one TV spot in Falmouth, made one live stage appearance in Portland, and sat on one literary festival panel in Bangor.

I’ve participated in two cook-the-book dinners along the midcoast region and three house parties in zip codes where I used to live. I’ve donated to four charity auctions in as many states; pulled off five farmers market demonstrations; talked at six local libraries; and taught seven cooking classes. I’ve received 12 five-star Amazon reviews, had a baker’s dozen online posts and print articles feature the book, beat out 20 some other titles to win Boston’s Readable Feast Award for the most socially conscious cookbook of the year, and sent out 120-signed book plates to friends living where only Amazon Prime delivers.

As I peddled my cookbook, I handed out more than 2,000 compostable tasting bowls of food made from the recipes in the book and $631.76 worth of unreimbursed ingredients. Even with this concerted effort – plus putting 5,000 miles on my car, unsustainably sustained by fossil fuels, diet Coke, processed cheese popcorn and audiobooks – I’ve sold only about half of the books printed.

Christine Burns Rudalevige signs a copy of her cookbook, “Green Plate Special: Sustainable and Delicious Recipes,” after her talk about sustainable eating during Tea With Harriet at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

I understand what I am up against. I know you can locate any recipe you want free on the internet faster than you can by flipping through my $25 book to find it. I know, too, more than 200,000 cookbooks are being sold on Amazon right now. And I know, three, that Erin French, the celebrated chef who owns The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, the place you can’t even think about getting a table until May 2018, released her book on the very same day as mine to significant national and critical acclaim. I understand my book is a little green fish swimming in an ocean full of very big, much flashier fish and that for any number of reasons not every book buyer is biting.

I’m a goal-oriented gal, so I’d be deflated if I weren’t so determined. The encouraging folks at my publisher, Islandport Press, remind me that cookbooks are one of those long tail kind of book sales opportunities. So it’s become one of the keep on keepin’ on kind of prospects.


Being on a cookbook tour is less glamorous than it sounds. The hours are grueling. The anxiety of rejection presents itself daily. The pay is low. And the likelihood of someone setting you off emotionally is dangerously high.

Sheila Viale was my third-grade teacher at St. Mary’s School in Lee, Massachusetts. In 1976, she introduced me to adjectives as an art form. She taught me how to stress the right syllable in any word by letting me shoot out of my wooden chair, Catholic school plaid jumper flapping at its pleats, Peter Pan collar taking flight, when I felt the most exciting part of the word arrive. Stu-PEN-dous! Mrs. Viale was funny and had a booming laugh. She wore cool, multicolored maxi-dresses and demonstrated that being smart was cool, too. When she asked me to sign her copy of the book that I had written, well, as the credit card advertisement goes: PRICE-less.

I would have considered myself a wealthy woman even if that had been the only book I sold that day. But it wasn’t, I sold and signed over a hundred. My family worked hard to fill the Lee Library conference room with the biggest event crowd it has seen in recent history: 78 people, including six more of my teachers, a good 20 cousins more if you include the ones by marriage, Mom’s knitting group, Dad’s coffee klatsch, the staff from the elementary school where my sister Kate is principal, a couple of high school classmates, and one old boyfriend. The “fee” to rent the room was a signed copy of my book. I adored everything about that “bill” and gladly paid double. The event was a hometown-girl-makes-good embrace that I still feel today because was it was a first-time author’s dream event, and it skewed my expectations for book sales at the rest of the stops on this particular road trip.

Samples of Rudalevige’s Honeyed Little Boys Pudding are passed out to those attending Tea With Harriet at the Stowe House in Brunswick, one of 30 events the author has done since hitting the road after her cookbook was published in May. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup


I still feel the love in most places I go. A woman in Bar Harbor told me I was her food hero. A lady in Boothbay came to a dinner to tell me she never misses my column in the Maine Sunday Telegram. A bookshop owner in Rockland was psyched to have me drop by to sign the copies he had on offer. Three colleagues from the computer networking magazine where I worked before I made food writing my livelihood showed up at a library event in Uxbridge to cheer me on. My favorite poultry farmer kept me smiling as my assistant at a cooking class in York, Pennsylvania.

But what I see as lagging book sales have a way of dragging me down even as I keep moving forward. You simply never know if the effort of putting on an event will be worth it in sales.

A month after my hometown triumph, back in Brunswick, where I live now, I spent a sunny summer day in the kitchen making 300 pieces of food to hand out at a wine-tasting event being held as part of the downtown’s monthly Friday night art walk. On a card table in the front corner of a local shop that had generously offered to host me, I set out the food on platters, labeled each sample with title and page number, and arranged the books in a formation tailored for perusing their pages. I was ready for two hours of high-frequency sales.

It devolved into a frenzied lesson on how table manners evaporate in the face of free food. People plowed through my supply in 30-minutes flat, piling their plates full instead of taking the tasteful bites I’d anticipated. I was left standing alone with the 30 books I’d brought to sell. I called my husband to come join me as I needed moral support. He arrived, holding two glasses of wine, just in time to witness the tail end of my conversation with a woman who told me she, too, was interested in writing a book someday. But when she got around to it, she plans to write a “more creative” book, not a cookbook. Needless to say, she did not buy one of the 11 books I sold that night.

A sandwich board with the particulars for a talk Rudalevige gave in Bar Harbor. Photo courtesy of Christine Burns Rudalevige

Andy raised his eyebrows at her, his glass to me in a toast encouraging me to laugh it off. Keeping your sense of humor intact definitely helps when you’re on a cookbook tour.

In September, I traveled to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to the Farmers on the Square market, the spot where as its manager in 2011 I first caught the sustainably sourced food bug. As I’d arranged for other chefs and cookbook authors to do in the past, I did a cooking demo in the center of the market, flanked by the proprietor of the local Whistle Stop Bookshop who was on hand to sell the books while I cooked. I am always pleased to support the local independent bookseller, and in this instance was very happy to share the wealth, because the books were flying off the table as fast as my samples of Second Day Chicken, Mushroom and Collard Green Wraps (page 105) were.

Over the four hours, I used dozens of rubber gloves. For food safety reasons, you can’t prep samples in a public setting without wearing such gloves. But they make it difficult for me to grab my signature green Sharpie to sign books. So, regrettably, it is an environmentally unsustainable on-again, off-again routine with the gloves as I conduct what’s become a ritual when a buyer asks me to personalize their purchase.


I always sign the book on its title page, my favorite one. It shows a single plate of multicolored Maine fingerling potatoes dressed in mustard-herb vinaigrette. The title appears in alternating green and orange lettering and my name in white typeface. The empty space is a deep brown. The metallic green ink shows up on it perfectly. Hip and clever, I write “Green is the new black…Wear it well!! Best, Christine.”

The bookseller left to shutter his own shop a few minutes before the market’s closing bell rang. He left a few copies with me should I get any stragglers. We got one. I’d already packed up my demo. I rummaged through my purse to find my signature pen. I learned the hard way that Sharpies feel a lot like tampons. Should you mistakenly pull the wrong one of those items out of the bottom of your purse, you have no choice but laugh it off and go with the flow.

The tampon incident aside, taking things as they come is still a big challenge for me.

The drive to every event is filled with the worry that I will be the only one present. I still don’t know which is worse psychologically for me as a public speaker – no questions once the talk is over or one for which I don’t have an answer. And every event has a fan who wonders what my next book will be about. I really haven’t a clue, so that question always ends in a pregnant pause.

Still, some small skills are sprouting in my repertoire as I slog through this sales and promotion process.

The author at an event at Now You’re Cooking in Bath. Photo courtesy of Christine Burns Rudalevige

My demonstrations have become more flexible so they can accommodate, and thrive, inside any individual event’s limitations. For example, I routinely make Farmers’ Market Seconds Soup (Page 49) and Carrot and Ginger Garbage Finishing Salt (Page 186) to demonstrate the four legs that support a more sustainable dinner table: how food is grown, sourced, cooked and not wasted. When I run a workshop at the Andover, Massachusetts, public library next weekend (Oct. 28 at 10 a.m.) on how to green up treasured family recipes, though, I won’t be allowed to do the soup demo with actual vegetables because the health inspector doesn’t permit food in the library. I’ll make my point with the wooden carrots, onions and tomatoes my kids used in their pretend kitchen when they were little. I hope the audience finds that as funny as I do.


I took another humorous risk last week while speaking to two packed rooms (my stool and podium were positioned in the door jamb) at the Harriett Beecher Stowe House on the Bowdoin College campus. Stowe and her sister Catherine penned a domestic science and economy book, “The New Housekeeper’s Manual,” in 1846. I was asked to talk about the parallels of eating green in their time and ours.

I couldn’t read the crowd very well before speaking to it. There was a literary society present, a couple of buses from retirement homes and some regulars who attend the monthly Tea with Harriet events who likely knew her habits better than I. I took a chance and started with joke, explaining that while the Stowes and I are on the same page about eating sustainably, we disagreed on how to drink so. “They practiced temperance, deeming both alcohol and caffeine sinful. I, on the other end of the spectrum, use both substances to sustain me on a daily basis.”

I got the big laugh I was hoping for but not really expecting. So I kept going in that lighter vein, joking about tricking my kids into eating less meat, smuggling French cheese through customs in my boots, and repurposing food waste into dessert for unsuspecting dinner guests.

By the end of my talk, I’d sold only 11 books, but a friend of a friend in the room commented that I had the crowd eating out of my hand, both figuratively and literally as samples supporting my various points about how to eat more sustainably were passed out on cue.

Perhaps now is the time for me to recalibrate the stick by which I measure a book event’s worth: Instead of tracking book sales, perhaps I should count the smiling faces. The latter makes me richer in a way the former just can’t.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on a weekly column of the same name in the Maine Sunday Telegram. She can be contacted at

]]> 0 Burns Rudalevige compares sustainable eating in the time of Harriet Beecher Stowe with today at Bowdoin College. Rudalevige has been giving talks, passing out treats and signing scores of title pages (top photo) on a book tour.Wed, 25 Oct 2017 11:09:31 +0000
Western Kennebec County towns look for ways to keep farmers on farms Tue, 24 Oct 2017 20:06:21 +0000 A new regional group hopes to help western Kennebec County municipalities help farmers in the face of development pressures and their own mortality.

Members of Kennebec West, which so far includes residents from the towns of Manchester, Winthrop and Monmouth, plan to start their effort to help farmers by going directly to their subjects and talking to and surveying farmers, to learn their needs and what the group could do to help.

“We’re beginning by talking to farmers and developing a basic survey, to talk to farmers about what they need and what would help,” said Nancy Smith, of Monmouth, a group member, former farmer, former state lawmaker and executive director of GrowSmart Maine. The nonprofit group seeks to build lasting prosperity without sacrificing the quality of life that defines Maine, according to its website.

After assessing the needs of farmers in the region, the group hopes to serve as an advocate for local farmers, mainly at the local level, extolling the benefits of preserving farmland to the public and working with municipalities to help protect and preserve the ability of farmers to farm successfully.

That could include seeking property tax breaks from towns for some farmers in exchange for agricultural easements that would prevent their farmland from being developed for an agreed-upon number of years.

Last week, group members met in Manchester with Stephanie Gilbert, farmland protection specialist with the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, to hear about the Volunteer Municipal Farm Support Program, which allows municipalities to ease the property tax burden on local farms and other agricultural enterprises.

Last year, the town of Winslow adopted the first such program in the state, and since then it has approved the first applicants for it. Now Monmouth officials are considering starting a similar program, after being approached by some local dairy producers who heard about Winslow’s experience.

Smith said such programs can provide communities a way to reduce a farmer’s property taxes significantly in exchange for a long-term, perhaps 20 years, agricultural easement on the land to allow the landowner to continue farming and prevent development of the land. She noted farms generally don’t require much in the way of public services from the municipality in which they are located, at least compared to the services that would be required if farmland were sold off and developed with housing.

The farm store is inside the big red barn seen Tuesday at the Milkhouse dairy farm and creamery in Monmouth. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“The classic phrase is ‘Cows don’t go to school,’” Smith said. “Farmland doesn’t require public services the way sprawling development does. So it is appropriate to look at reducing the tax burden to support these farms. Farming is expensive. It is very capital-intensive.”

If anything, the expenses of farming have risen in recent decades, according to one of the dairy farmers in Monmouth, who is urging that town to take the same approach as Winslow.

“Any time you can lower property taxes, it helps a farmer stay in business,” said Jeremiah Smith, 62, who owns Clemedow Farms and is not related to Nancy Smith. “Sometimes with the price of milk, it drops and it’s hard to pay all the expenses, and property taxes are one of the expenses.”

Clemedow Farms has been in Jeremiah Smith’s family since his great-grandfather bought it in 1911, he said; and in the 40 years that he’s worked the land, the price of “everything has basically gone up. … The equipment costs have gone sky high” — tractors, haying equipment — “and (the cost of) energy has gone up.”

In addition to the expense and risk inherent in farming, challenges to farmers also include pressures, or temptation, to sell their land to a developer, or develop it with housing themselves.

Like the rest of the population of Maine, the oldest state in the nation in terms of average age of the population, farmers are aging; and at some point, most people would like to be able to retire.

The other Monmouth dairy producers who are urging the town to consider adopting a tax relief program are Andy Smith — who also is not related to Nancy or Jeremiah Smith — and Caitlin Frame. They run the Milkhouse, an organic creamery and dairy farm. At 30 years old, both are relative newcomers to farming.

Caitlin Frame talks about the store during an interview Tuesday at the Milkhouse dairy farm and creamery in Monmouth. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

While they plan to apply for any programs that the town creates, Andy Smith said, he also hopes that more-established farmers in Monmouth will consider applying so they can receive a tax break and their land can receive an agricultural easement rather than being converted into house lots.

“All over the country, there’s a surprising amount of development pressure (on farmers),” Andy said. “So many of (Maine’s) farmers are retirement age or older and are going to be retiring soon. When something like three-quarters of farmland is going to be changing hands over the next few years, without programs like this, it’s not going to stay in farming.”

One area farmer who may be approaching that decision is Deb Plengey, of Maine Lee Morgan Horse Farm in Manchester. Plengey’s farm sits on about 250 acres within 2 miles of Augusta and primarily grows hay. At 66, she intends to either sell or pass the farm on at some point.

“Our hope and desire is it continues to be a farm, or at least that it doesn’t get developed,” said Plengey, who is involved with Kennebec West. “From my perspective, the key to this particular effort is the Conservation Commission trying to work to make town ordinances friendly and inviting for farmers. I think that is important, to get new younger farmers into this area. I think the towns themselves can make a huge difference in that.”

Plengey also said the group plans to help spread information, in the region’s towns, about the right to farm in Maine.

“It would be helpful if towns understand the right-to-farm law, so if people move in next to a farm, … we can continue to have the right to farm, to spread manure, to do what we need to do within the best practices,” she said.

Benefits of farmland, group members said, include the preservation of open space, which in turn can provide scenic vistas, recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.

Lisa Kane, of South China, leads an Icelandic horse to a barn in 2014 at Maine Lee Morgan Horse Farm in Manchester. Farm owner Deb Plengey, 66, hopes the farm’s 250 acres stay farmland even after she’s no longer farming. Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

“I also believe farmers, many of us, are stewards of the land. We think of that as a very important part of our job, as farmers,” Plengey said. “The farm is major wildlife habitat. We don’t post our property. We have snowmobile trails. People hunt and fish here. That would be completely different if it was full of mega-mansions or houses or whatever.”

Efforts meant to benefit farming in the region will be funded in part by a $6,200 Davis Conservation Foundation grant that the Manchester Conservation Commission received this year, which will help pay for mapping, project management, printing and copying, and a harvest dinner the group plans to host in February 2018 to celebrate farming and share the results of their efforts so far, according to Anne Reiter, a member of the Manchester Conservation Commission who is working as a paid project coordinator for Kennebec West.

Kennebec West can be reached, for more information or to participate, by email at or by calling Reiter at 313-0388.

Smith noted the regional approach the group is taking makes more sense than each town working on similar issues separately, so towns can learn from each other. In addition to Monmouth, Manchester and Winthrop, group members also have met with officials in Readfield and Wayne.

Kennebec Journal staff writer Charles Eichacker contributed to this report.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

Twitter: @kedwardskj

]]> 0 farm store is inside the big red barn seen Tuesday at the Milkhouse dairy farm and creamery in Monmouth.Wed, 25 Oct 2017 09:19:43 +0000
A carnivore tries to figure out how to cut down on her meat consumption Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I am an unapologetic omnivore.

I am also aware of the statistically fueled arguments that say not eating meat – specifically factory-farmed meat – is a step any carnivore can take to combat global warming. Doing so would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rededicate land now used to grow animal feed for human food production, and reduce the amount of water needed to feed the world. I fully agree with these points, but I am just not ready to go whole hog on the no-meat thing.

I eat animal flesh because, generally, I feel more sated after a meal that includes it on the plate. And I won’t lie. I like the taste of beef, chicken, duck, fish, lamb, pork, quail, rabbit, turkey, veal (the rose kind, not the cruel kind) and wild boar. I’m on the fence about goose and venison. I find the former greasy and gray and can’t stomach the later since 10 pounds of it accidentally thawed and rotted in my secondary freezer a few years back. I’ve never eaten bear, moose or pheasant, but I’d be game to try.

Tofu and tempeh appear sparingly in my monthly rotation as I learn to use the products made by local producers who use soybeans grown regionally. But I don’t see the point of spending the time, money or energy fabricating fake meat products when I have easy access to real meat reared by local farmers using practices both humane to the animals and sustainable for the earth.

I’m not giving it up, but I am cutting back on the amount of meat I serve to my family. To be clear, it’s still an everyday thing. Ounce for ounce, there is just less of it. I’m shooting for half, to be exact. In my slow but steady progression to present meat as a flavorful condiment to vegetable-forward entrees, I am always on the lookout for cuts of meat flavorful enough and cooking techniques simple enough to easily push my reducetarian agenda forward.

This week I’m working on shanks.

Brown the turkey leg on all sides to add some color before braising. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Any animal that has a leg, technically has a shank. But in practical butchery terms, it’s the bigger animals that have the most accessible ones. A meat shank is the portion of meat around the tibia, the leg bone beneath the knee. The part closer to the knee is the meatier bit.

It’s one the most used muscles on any animal, so it’s also the toughest. Shanks are best braised because the low, wet heat helps break down the collagen in the meat so that it becomes fall-off-the-bone tender. The collagen and the marrow sitting inside the shank bone add a richness to the braising liquid that can rarely be replicated in vegetarian dishes. Just a single 1-pound shank in the pot – shredded and served atop the mostly vegetable and whole-grain stew after it’s cooked – can satisfy four to six hungry omnivores. Taking the weight of the bone out of the equation and factoring in the weight loss due to cooking, we’re talking about a 2-ounce serving of meat per person.

Beef shanks are rarely sold whole because they are so big. They are almost always crosscut into 11/2- to 2-inch thick slices and sold as “beef shins.” Veal shanks, the main ingredient in the famous northern Italian dish osso bucco, are also cut crosswise – if you can find them at all since veal has become protein-non-grata due to the inhumane way factory veal calves were raised in the United States and abroad. If the beef is destined to end up as ground meat (a typical scenario since beef shank is not a widely popular cut), the naked bones can be cut to expose the marrow, that when slowly roasted is a delicacy, spread on bread like butter.

Christine Burns Rudalevige pulls apart meat from a turkey leg after braising it. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Pork shanks, typically taken from the hind legs of the hog, differ from ham hocks in that they are skinless and not smoked. You may have to ask the butcher for pork shanks as they are rarely sitting in the display case. Use them in any slow-cooker recipe you’d use a pork butt or shoulder. Just increase the amount of vegetables you use from the get-go and stir in some whole grains during the last hour of cooking to help fill the pot and the eventual bellies.

Lamb shanks, taken from both the fore and hind legs of the animal, are a more common cut, which can be found in butchers’ cases and farmers’ coolers at the market. Since lamb is more widely eaten in other countries than in the United States, look to highly flavored Middle Eastern and Northern African recipes as good guides on how to stretch a single shank to feed a family.

Poultry shanks are better known as drumsticks. I routinely indulge in a pound of ground turkey from Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham to pull off the 30-minute chili my daughter loves. I also recently started buying sinewy turkey shanks for long-simmer stews to balance out my use of the local birds.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at


After braising, remove the meat from the leg and portion into bowls with the vegetables. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup


I like the mustard and rye combination in this dish as I am a huge fan of turkey on rye sandwiches with mustard. But you can use any whole grain berries (farro, Emmer, barley, to name a few) in this recipe to bulk it up so that the meat in the mix is kept at a minimum, but still a satisfying minimum.
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup rye berries
1 large or 2 small turkey drumsticks (about 1 pound)
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup peeled and 1/2-inch diced onions
1 cup peeled and 1/2-inch diced carrots
1 cup peeled and 1/2-inch diced turnip or rutabaga
1 cup peeled and 1/2-inch diced winter squash
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup white wine
3-4 cups chicken or turkey stock
3 cups chopped hearty greens (such as kale, collards, turnip or mustard greens or Swiss chard)

Place the rye berries in a bowl and cover with warm water. Set aside.
Season the drumstick(s) with salt and pepper.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat in a Dutch oven large enough so that drumstick(s) can lie flat. Brown the drumstick(s) on all sides and set them aside on a plate.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the same pan. Add the onions, carrots, turnips or rutabaga, and squash to the pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook for 5 minutes until the onions start to become translucent. Stir in the mustard seeds and cook for 2 minutes. Add the Dijon mustard. Stir to combine. Add the wine and bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half. Nestle the drumstick(s) back into the pot among the vegetables. Add enough broth to cover the vegetables, but leave the top third of the drumstick(s) exposed. Bring the stew to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours, turning the drumstick occasionally.
Drain the soaked rye berries. Sprinkle them and the chopped greens into the liquid surrounding the drumsticks. If necessary, add more broth so the rye berries are covered with liquid. Cover the pot once again and simmer until the turkey is falling off the bone, the rye berries are tender and the greens cooked, about 45-60 minutes more.
Before serving, remove the drumstick(s) from the pot, separate the meat from the bones, and shred the meat. Divide the stew equally among warm bowls and top each with shredded turkey. Serve warm.

]]> 0 braising, remove the meat from the leg and portion into bowls with the vegetables.Thu, 19 Oct 2017 18:25:02 +0000
Preserve the bounty of your harvest so you can eat from your garden all winter long Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Our winter squash got off to a slow start this year because of the cool, damp spring, but the warmth of the summer that extended into fall has resulted in our best crop ever. It has made dragging the hose out to irrigate several times worthwhile.

The goal now is to make sure the winter squash stays firm and flavorful well into the period when the name of the vegetable implies that it should be eaten.

The squash bounty got me thinking about how to keep the food from our garden good to eat – maybe even until we get some more crops next year.

My wife Nancy and I don’t do a lot of typical food preservation. We prefer to eat our crops shortly after we harvest them.

It makes little sense to can or freeze vegetables for just the two of us. If we have more than we can eat fresh of strawberries, raspberries and (we someday hope to have this happen again) blueberries, Nancy will make jam or, with raspberries or blueberries, freeze them whole. We do cut up peppers and freeze those, but since we don’t have an extra stand-alone freezer, we don’t have a lot of space for much frozen food.

Fortunately, a lot of what we harvest can be stored without refrigeration.

With winter squash – we have butternut and buttercup, but this is also true for blue hubbard and spaghetti squash – preservation begins with proper harvesting. A light frost with the temperature no colder than about 30 degrees won’t damage the squash. But with the first frost coming so late this year, at least in Cape Elizabeth where we haven’t had one as I write this, I fear that we’ll get a hard freeze along with the first frost.

By now, your squash is as ripe as it is going to get. If the squash sounds hollow when you tap it, the skin is dull and you can’t dent the skin with your fingers, it’s ready to harvest.

Cut the squash from the plant with a sharp knife or scissors, leaving a stem of two inches or more. If stems break off, eat those squash first because they won’t store as well.

After cleaning the fruits (which they are botanically, although they are eaten as vegetables) with a damp cloth, cure them in a warm area with good air circulation for about two weeks. This allows some of the excess water in the fruit to evaporate, toughens the skin so it will store longer and sweetens the flavor. I usually do this on the floor of our garden shed, but a garage floor would work as well.

Don’t refrigerate winter squash. The refrigerator is too moist and too cool, and the squash will rot within a month. Instead find a cool – around 55 degrees – and relatively dry area. A basement area away from the furnace is ideal.

Check the squash weekly and eat any that are showing damage first.

With onions, only the pungent varieties, such as Copra and Redwing, will keep over the winter. Sweet varieties, such as Spanish and Walla Walla, last no more than a month.

As with squash, you have to cure the crop – about two weeks in a warm, dry space. You then put the onions in a breathable container – burlap sacks or the mesh bags they are packed in at grocery stores if you have any of those around – and hang them in the coolest place you can find; 40 degrees is ideal, but few houses have spots that cool. Don’t store onions near potatoes because both will release gases and moisture that make the other one rot faster. But you can put them fairly near your squash if that is your coolest place.

Now we get into root-cellar crops – the ones that want to be close to freezing but without freezing. These include potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips. If you had enough refrigerator space, that would be ideal – but you probably don’t.

I created our root cellar in the bulkhead of our basement, and it has worked well for about 10 years. We have had doors separating the bulkhead space from the rest of the basement since the house was built, but later we added Styrofoam insulation to the bulkhead walls and the area above the walls.

Each container for the vegetables should allow some air circulation – bushel baskets would be fine, but I use the plastic pots that plants come in, because we have a lot of them, with a couple of extra holes drilled into them.

Because these root crops like high humidity, I place a five-gallon bucket filled with water in with the crops. This also protects the crops from freezing. Because the water in your crops contains salts, the water in the bucket will freeze first and keep the vegetables from freezing – this has something to do with physics but you’ve got the wrong Atwell for physics information. Over the years I’ve discovered that the bucket begins freezing when the outside temperature hits about 5 degrees, so I crack the interior doors to the bulkhead a bit as a backup to my bucket system – although the top of the pail often freezes.

Nancy and I also store dried black beans. Our method will work for any dried beans: I wait until the pods have dried before harvesting them, separate the beans from the pods and put them in a sealed jar. We eat what we want through the winter, always making sure that we save enough to plant the next year’s crop.

I can’t believe I’m thinking about spring already and we haven’t even had a frost yet.

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

]]> 0, 19 Oct 2017 18:15:46 +0000
You’re the boss when greening your home office Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Working from home gives you flexibility, a change of scenery and quite a bit of power.

The power to make the world a little greener, one printer and toner cartridge at a time.

When you work for a large company, the practices and policies that impact the environment are largely made a few levels above your pay grade. But at home, you are the boss when it comes to reusing and recycling equipment, turning down the heat and the power, or deciding to refill your own ink cartridges.

Some of the ways to green your home office are just common sense, but are things you might not think about when you’re working in a large office setting. You can always print on both sides of a piece of paper, but in the rush of corporate life you forget to change the setting. You could unplug your computer when not using it, but no one else sitting near you does.

“Some of the easiest things are looking for a place to set up (your office) with as much natural light as possible, and going paperless as much as possible,” said George MacDonald, director of the sustainability division for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “They might sound like minor things, but they add up.”

And they can add up to a pretty large impact if you consider that some 7.5 million Americans say they work from home most of the time, according to U.S. Census data released in 2016. That’s about 5 percent of the workforce. Here, then, are some ways you can make your home office more environmentally friendly.


The first thing to do, if you don’t already work from home, is to ask your employer if you can. By working from home even one day a week, and not having to use your car that day, you’re helping to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. More than 114 million Americans say they drive to work alone, according to Census data. A 2015 EPA report showed that 27 percent of all greenhouse gases come from transportation, and 60 percent of those emissions come from cars and light-duty vehicles.

Once you actually are working from home, you might find it easier to commute to appointments or business errands in a greener way, said Sarah Cushman, a Portland transportation consultant who works out of her home. A home worker has the flexibility to spend a half hour walking or biking somewhere in the middle of the day, then making up work time at night, she said. She and her husband share one car, and both work some days from home. The arrangement sometimes requires that they take the bus, or carpool for longer-distance appointments.

“I think more people could ask to work from home but probably don’t realize it,” Cushman said. ” Telecommuting is definitely part of the equation when it comes reducing automobile trips.”

If you need help making a case to your employer about working from home, read the Harvard Business Review article “How to Convince Your Boss to Let You Work from Home.”


It’s easy enough to recycle toner and ink jet cartridges, and keep them out of landfills. Most stores that sell them will take used ones back and sometimes give you a credit toward another purchase. Staples offers a $2 credit per cartridge, up to ten a month. But you can also refill toner cartridges yourself. They can only be refilled three or four times, but refilling prolongs their use. You can buy refill ink at stores, including Walmart, for $7 to $10, plus syringes for refilling for about $2 per package of four. The makers of ink refills recommend you use rubber gloves to handle the cartridge, then locate the two refill holes, often found under the label. Use the syringe to fill the cartridge, then clean the syringe when you’re done. Similarly, you can avoiding throwing away used-up disposable pens – and consider how often you do that without any thought! – by using a fountain pen instead, for about $5 and up (usually up), and refilling it. For most fountain pens (except the very pricey ones), you can buy refill ink cartridges, which can be cleaned out and reused, again using a syringe to add ink to the cartridges. The more sustainable option may be to buy a bottle of ink, for $12 and up, and refill the pen by dipping the nib, or tip, into the ink and twisting the pen to draw ink into it.

For more information on refilling ink and toner cartridges, search the topic at


A lot of office workers lament being low on energy, but in a home office that’s a good thing. If you are just starting to work from home, consider an energy audit to make sure your home workspace is energy efficient. You can find a state-certified energy audit company at the state’s Efficiency Maine website. The cost typically runs from $300 to $600. You might find out you need new windows, or that a simple doorstop will keep the heat in.

Another way to save energy is set up your home office near a window, to use as much natural light and passive solar heat as possible, MacDonald at the DEP recommends.

When buying office equipment, like computers and printers, look for the federal Department of Energy’s Energy Star certification. The DOE estimates that using an Energy Star-certified computer, monitor and printer can save $250 in electricity costs over the life of those products. Using the power management setting of an Energy Star computer can save an estimated $35 a year. For more information on Energy Star products and how to find them, go to


There are a few small, very easy things people can do to lessen their environmental impact. But they are the kind of things most of us forget to do or never got in the habit of. Here are some reminders.

First, buy recycled paper, then use as little of it as possible. Make sure your computer is always set to print on both sides. Don’t print unless entirely necessary. If you are paying bills for your home business, set up online bill-paying accounts.

You can also save money and electricity by plugging all your home office equipment into one power strip and then remembering to turn the strip off at night or when you’re away.


When your home office equipment stops working, it’s important to find a way to effectively recycle it. In Maine, consumers are helped by a state law that requires manufacturers to pay for the cost of recycling such e-waste as TVs, computer monitors, laptops, tablets, e-readers and desktop printers.

Some towns have an e-waste collection day or collect e-waste at their municipal transfer station, while others set up a collection site with another town. The best way to find a place that takes electronic waste near you is to go to the state DEP’s website at and search for “Help ME Recycle.”

That will produce a map of the state which lists transfer stations that accept computer equipment, fluorescent light bulbs, and electronics – including TVs – for recycling. Though the cost of recycling is covered by manufacturers, municipal transfer stations and recycling centers will usually charge a fee to pay for the cost of their operation. In Greater Portland, the city-owned Riverside Recycling Facility on Riverside Street in Portland accepts a wide variety of e-waste, including TVs and computers.

EWaste Recycling Solutions in Auburn, a company that deconstructs electronic waste for recycling, holds collection events as benefits for local groups around the state. People are asked to donate money to a group as they drop off their stuff. One such event is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 4 at 11 Municipal Drive, Scarborough, to benefit the Scarborough Band Boosters.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

Twitter: @RayRouthier

]]> 0 Waterhouse takes apart a computer monitor at eWaste Recycling Solutions in Auburn. Photo courtesy of eWaste Recyling Solutions.Sat, 21 Oct 2017 22:20:21 +0000
New book encourages you to record your own observations of nature Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 “The Naturalist’s Notebook,” written by two superb Maine naturalists, is an all-around pleasure. The attractively designed volume combines practical guidance, lucid prose, and precise and charming illustrations with a systematic path to seeing and understanding the natural world more deeply. Their system, they write, will allow naturalists – be they children or adults, birders or gardeners, biologists or outdoorsmen and women, budding naturalists or experienced ones – to see patterns in nature over time.

Those illustrations are by Bernd Heinrich, who is one of the writers as well as an emeritus professor of biology at the University of Vermont. His co-author is Nathaniel Wheelwright, a Bowdoin professor of natural sciences. Both men have kept their own journals for decades – a close-up black and white photo shows Heinrich’s very first notebook. The year – 1957 (he was still a teen) – and the place – Hinckley, Maine – appear at the top of the page, which goes on to record the condition of the eggs of the barred owl, partridge, white-breasted nuthatch and red-shouldered hawk.

The two write separate chapters that encompass such topics as what to observe, how to start, whether to record by hand (pencil) or machine (computer), observing in the country versus the city, in winter versus summer, which tools will come in handy (“appropriate clothing” is at the top of the list) – and far more.

After not quite 100 pages of encouragement and advice, “The Naturalist’s Notebook” offers a five-year calendar-journal on a grid system, with pages of instructions, so you can learn to record your own observations of nature – when the Baltimore orioles return, what an orb web spider likes to eat, how fast the kudzu is spreading – in a methodical way. “A walk in the woods is a great start,” Heinrich writes, “but enjoying the scenery and listening to the birds only goes so far. Taking notes forces attention…”

Or, as Wheelwright puts it, “If you want to learn more about nature: Scrutinize. Touch. Listen. Smell. Measure.”

In the book’s preface, Wheelwright begins by defining the word “naturalist”: “Naturalists unabashedly blend firsthand knowledge of nature with a personal affection for it that goes beyond science.” The authors’ own expertise and affection for nature spill out on every page.

]]> 0 courtesy of Storey PublishingFri, 20 Oct 2017 12:07:48 +0000
A honey of a food wrap Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Holly Hardwick sells honey and maple syrup from Northwoods Nectar, her store in Eagle Lake. The honey comes from Aroostook Valley Honey Farm, and when a beekeeper there asked her if she wanted some raw beeswax, Hardwick got to thinking. And researching: Beeswax candles? Too ordinary. Beeswax wrap? Bingo.

She learned about the latter online – how some beekeepers were making such wrappers as a way to store food in place of ubiquitous plastic wrap.

“I thought, what a great idea to remove plastic from our lives and use something that’s naturally given to us,” Hardwick said.

She taught herself how to make them. A food wrapper made entirely from melted beeswax tends to flake and look worn. To make the wrapper more pliable, Hardwick learned to add jojoba oil and pine resin, which, serendipitously, adds antibacterial components, too. She then pours the wax into small molds until she is ready to use it. At that point, Hardwick lays cotton fabric on a lightly warmed, large griddle, then adds a block of beeswax. As the wax melts, she spreads it over the cloth, and the beeswax permeates the fabric. “You’re coating it completely,” she said.

Though you can’t see the contents of what you’re storing, Hardwick’s wraps come in such cheery patterns, if you’re like us, you won’t care. The wraps can be used for sandwiches, vegetables, cheese, and covering leftover dishes. Because the wax has a low melting point, the warmth of your hands will seal the wrap around the food.

Hardwick advises keeping the wraps away from raw meat. “Those juices would absorb in the fabric,” she said, “and that’s something that you can’t get out without disinfection.”

If they’re taken care of and cleaned properly in lukewarm, soapy water, the wraps will last for up to a year. Don’t soak them in hot water or they’ll melt.

Hardwick’s wraps, labeled Bees Wrap Eat, cost $15 for a set of three. The large wrap is big enough to cover a 9X13 casserole dish; the medium wrap measures 14X14; and the small snack size is 12X12. Find them at Morris Farms in Wiscasset, the Natural Living Center in Bangor, Bouchard’s Country Store in Fort Kent, Misty Meadows Organic Farm in Grand Isle, and of course Northwoods Nectar. Also, Hardwick accept orders by phone (231-2265) or email at

]]> 0, 19 Oct 2017 18:11:06 +0000
Portland-area writer Kathryn Miles can shake up a dinner conversation Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Writer Kathryn (Kate) Miles’ latest book, “Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake,” shook the Wall Street Journal’s reviewer enough that he stocked up on bottled water. We called up the Portland-area writer to ask what draws her to natural disasters (her last book was about superstorms) and to find out more about how humans trigger earthquakes. The big surprise? Learning about her past as a sous chef to one of Maine’s best known chefs.

Kate Miles Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House

“Quakeland” looks at earthquakes from multiple perspectives, including man’s role in creating them, sometimes as a result of fracking for fossil fuels. “That is just one tiny way in which we are setting off earthquakes in this country.” Others are mining, building dams (“in the decade it took to fill Lake Mead, there were 10,000 earthquakes”) and quite possibly, building tall buildings. “They think it is the pressure from the weight of the building.” Given that none of these human activities is likely to cease any time soon, the book paints a picture of an apocalyptic future. “The joke is, ‘Nobody invites me to dinner parties anymore.’ ”

ON THE SHELF: “Quakeland” is Miles’ fourth book. She’s written about her relationship with a challenging rescue dog (“Adventures with Ari”), about Irish immigrants crossing the sea during the famine (“All Standing”) and in “Superstorm,” about Hurricane Sandy. “What unifies all of my writing is that I am just really keenly interested in the relationships that we all form with the natural world.” “Superstorm” led directly to “Quakeland.” “What Sandy really showed us is just how fragile our infrastructure really is. That raised the question for me, how prepared are we for other natural disasters?” Like earthquakes, “arguably the strongest natural disaster our planet is capable of and also the least understood. To me that was a particularly deadly and compelling combination.”

LEARNING CURVE: When she started researching “Quakeland,” she knew next to nothing about seismology. “It was a really steep learning curve.” Like an introductory geology class, she said. “Let me really understand how tectonic plates work. Let me understand how rocks work.” And then she road-tripped to meet experts, safety managers at dams, people mapping the faults under New York City (there are some!). She knew about the faults under California and the Northwest and the New Madrid Fault that caused enormous earthquakes in Missouri back in 1811-1812. “But I was surprised to see what degree there really is seismicity east of the Rockies.”

DID YOU FEEL THAT? Speaking of earthquakes in unexpected places, what was Miles doing during the Cape Elizabeth quake on August 23? It was just a small one, 2.0 on the Richter scale, but Mainers in the Cape Elizabeth area felt it. “I was not in town when that happened, and I was so mad.” She has yet to experience a big earthquake. They are, after all, expected, particularly along big faults, but impossible to predict with any precision. “It seems like I am fated to be nowhere near an earthquake.”

TITLE CHECK: Miles also is a frequent contributor to New England publications, like Down East Magazine (her story about Gary Allen and the Millinocket Marathon from December 2016 landed in Best American Sports Writing anthology) and the Boston Globe. She writes for Outside magazine, and this year had a special contract as the long trails correspondent. What does that mean, precisely? It means she keeps up with what’s happening on the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail during the hiking season. “Pretty much the greatest job of all time.”

MIDWESTERN ROOTS: Miles grew up in the Midwest but came east for school and didn’t want to leave. “I really just fell in love with the landscape.” She did her doctoral work at the University of Delaware and came to Maine in 2001 to take a teaching job at Unity College. “I was directing their environmental writing program.” She found that her new home suited her. “One of the things I love about Maine is this idea of Yankee thrift.” As a newcomer to the state, she’d buy Uncle Henry’s “and sit and read it in bed, like it was a novel.” Between the lines were indications of the Maine ethic, “which I think is my ethic.” In work as well as life: “I have to cobble things together sometimes.”

LOST KITCHEN TIME: One of those cobbling ventures included sous chefing for Erin French at the Lost Kitchen, back when it was in Belfast. “We were neighbors. I would sous chef for her on Fridays and Saturdays.” Cooking had always been one of Miles’ hobbies, but French helped her take it to a whole new level. Like how not to ever lose your cool in the kitchen. “She has got this Zen. It is like watching someone do Tai Chi. She never breaks stride, she never raises her voice.”

LEAP OF FAITH: In 2012 when Miles was working on “Superstorm” (it came out in 2014), she left Unity to focus full time on writing, and moved to the Portland area. She has an honorary position at Green Mountain College in Vermont teaching in the school’s low-residency masters programs, but sometimes misses being in the physical classroom. “There is that really special bond that only happens in the physical classroom. But I felt, career-wise, it was a really good time to take a leap of faith.”

DISASTER LOOMS? Now that she’s done storms and earthquakes, what’s next? “Everybody keeps saying, ‘Is it tornadoes?’ I am certainly intrigued by the subject.” But she feels that territory has already been covered by Kim Cross in 2015’s “What Stands in a Storm.” “I am going to let that stand as the definitive text.” Instead, she’s working on a book proposal about overlooked women in aviation history. Sounds like Hidden Flyers.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2017 12:08:27 +0000
Camassia is a bulb you can eat as well as plant Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Camassia is an unusual bulb flower in several ways. First, it probably will produce some foliage in the fall, which most fall-planted bulbs don’t. Next, it blossoms later than most other bulbs, coming into flower in June or early July. It will take partial shade. And it is edible.

The Lewis and Clark expedition found the plant, and local tribes taught the explorers how to it prepare it, so while it is native to the United States, it is not native to Maine.

Camassia will grow in moist but not soggy soil. If the area where you want to plant it has long-lasting puddles, add compost first.

Plant the bulbs 4 inches deep and about 8 inches apart, pointy-side up, and water them thoroughly so they will begin growing immediately.

The blossoms are similar to those on a hyacinth, with small flowers coming out on a stem. They come mostly in blue, but also in white.

The plant works well as cut flowers. The foliage will turn yellow after blossom time, but don’t cut it off immediately. You can remove the foliage in late summer, after it has fed the roots.

Camassia will spread over time.

Now, if you want to eat camassia, you must be patient. The bulbs have to be cooked at low temperatures for at least 12 hours, or they cause painful gas.

It probably is better to just enjoy their beauty.

]]> 0, 19 Oct 2017 18:19:48 +0000
Lawmakers propose fix to Maine’s food sovereignty law Sat, 21 Oct 2017 01:10:19 +0000 AUGUSTA — With the fate of 90 percent state’s locally raised beef, poultry and pork on the line, lawmakers scrambled Friday to reach a deal to fix a recently passed law that was designed to allow farmers to sell their goods directly to consumers on the farm.

But after a threat from the federal U.S. Department of Agriculture that could have shuttered five state-licensed slaughterhouses, as well as dozens of other meat-processing facilities including small poultry processors or custom meat cutters, the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee unanimously passed a bill that clarifies the state’s food sovereignty law, which allows local governments to set regulations for face-to-face sales on the farm.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who signed the sovereignty bill into law earlier this year, called a special lawmaking session to fix the bill and protect the income of thousands of Maine farmers.

The change, if approved by the full Legislature, would still allow face-to-face sales from farmers to consumers on farms, but certain products – including meat and poultry – would first have to processed in a licensed slaughterhouse that meets the requirements of federal food safety laws.

Though non-processed products like raw fruits and vegetables, live animals or eggs are not subject to the change, Friday’s committee vote did attempt to make sure that any future concerns by the Food and Drug Administration, the other major federal entity that regulates food safety, would not become a problem for those who grow other types of produce that is processed into food ranging from wild blueberries to aquaculture products like farmed-raised seaweed and shellfish.

The Legislature is expected to vote on the fix to the law when it comes in on Monday for the special session.

Without the change, the state risks losing its Maine Meat and Poultry Inspection Program on Nov. 1. The operation is sanctioned by the USDA, but is run by the state’s Department of Agriculture, which provides daily no-cost inspections for the five slaughterhouses as well as intermittent inspections for over 30 custom slaughterhouses, 51 small poultry producing facilities and 2,741 retailers, according to the program’s manager, State Veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Eberly.

Eberly told the committee Friday that following the passage of the food sovereignty law, federal regulators put Maine on notice that if the state was unable to enforce laws and provisions of the federal Meat and Poultry Inspection Acts, it would lose its designated status and the state’s inspection program would have to stop.

Eberly reminded the committee that the state’s program was the result of farmers and businesses working together over the last 15 years to develop a system to address an unmet need to expand local slaughterhouse options.

Beyond Eberly, dozens of farmers, including those who raise cattle, hogs, goats and chickens, testified before the committee urging them to fix the law. Many said without the fix they risked losing thousands of dollars worth of product.

“Food sovereignty sounds great, but it comes with all these implications,” said Melvin Williams, a Waldoboro farmer, “It’s about food safety. I don’t care how good of a farmer you are, if you don’t have somebody looking over your shoulder you are going to try to pull a fast one. It always happens. This is a temporary fix, but let’s get it done.”

Lawmakers on the committee said the threat for farms was immediate and real.

“I don’t think the general public realized how dire this situation is,” said Rep. Russell Black, R-Wilton. Black, who operates a farm, including raising cattle for beef, said lawmakers wanted to protect the rights of municipalities to set their own ordinances around farm sales, but didn’t want to run afoul of a food-safety system that intertwines state and federal regulation, especially at the cost of farmers not being able to get their meat processed or to market. He echoed the concerns some had about ensuring a safe food system in Maine. Others pointed out that one bad outbreak of food poisoning from an unregulated farm could give an entire sector a black eye, even if most were following all the best practices for handling and processing food.

A number of witnesses argued that state and federal laws regulating food were in place largely to protect consumers’ health and safety.

The bill approved by the committee Friday fixes a law – “An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems” – that endorses the right of Maine communities to declare themselves “food sovereign,” something 20 communities, including several on the Blue Hill Peninsula, already have done. Another 25 or so municipalities in Maine have similar ordinances under consideration.

In practical terms, it means consumers can buy directly from farmers and food producers in those communities who are operating outside of state and federal licensing. The legislation was intended by those who shaped it, including state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, its sponsor, and state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who has put forth numerous similar bills, as a means to encourage local food production and consumption.

And while all of the committee members voted for the bill some members said they were concerned the proposed law change may have gone a little too far in reeling back provisions of a hard-fought state law that had taken years to pass and was surprisingly supported by LePage.

“Although there is strong reason to think that the federal government’s threats could do serious damage to our state and therefore needed something, I think what we ended up passing was a little bit more than what was needed,” said Rep. Ralph Chapman, an independent from Brooksville.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

Twitter: thisdog

]]> 0, ME - OCTOBER 18: Pigs at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport Wednesday, October 18, 2017. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)Fri, 20 Oct 2017 21:27:42 +0000
Infections from backyard chickens rise Fri, 20 Oct 2017 01:57:06 +0000 DES MOINES, Iowa — Luke Gabriele was a healthy 14-year-old football player in Pennsylvania when he began to feel soreness in his chest that grew increasingly painful. After his breathing became difficult, doctors detected what appeared to be a tumor.

For a week, Dan and DeAnna Gabriele thought their son was dying until tests identified the cause: not cancer, but chickens – the ones he cared for at home. They had infected him with salmonella that produced a severe abscess.

The popular trend of raising backyard chickens across the U.S. is bringing with it a soaring number of illnesses from poultry-related diseases, at least one of them fatal.

Since January, more than 1,100 people have contracted salmonella poisoning from chickens and ducks in 48 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Almost 250 were hospitalized and one person died. The toll was four times higher than in 2015.

The CDC estimates that the actual number of cases from contact with chickens and ducks is likely much higher.

“For one salmonella case we know of in an outbreak, there are up to 30 others that we don’t know about,” CDC veterinarian Megin Nichols said.

A “large contributing factor” to the surge, Nichols said, comes from natural food fanciers who have taken up the backyard chicken hobby but don’t understand the potential dangers. Some treat their birds like pets, kissing or snuggling them and letting them walk around the house.

Poultry can carry salmonella bacteria in their intestines that can be shed in their feces. The bacteria can attach to feathers and dust and brush off on shoes or clothing.

But illnesses can be prevented with proper handling. The CDC recommends that people raising chickens wash their hands thoroughly after handling the birds, eggs or nesting materials, and leave any shoes worn in a chicken coop outside.

Salmonella is much more common as a food-borne illness. More than 1 million people fall ill each year from salmonella contamination in food, resulting in more than 300 deaths, according to the CDC.

]]> 0 Keith of Des Moines, Iowa, and her daughter Iolana feed their chickens in the backyard of their home in Des Moines in September.Fri, 20 Oct 2017 08:21:17 +0000
Food law leaves Maine meat producers squealing for a fix Thu, 19 Oct 2017 03:39:59 +0000

Steve Burger, seen Wednesday at his Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, plans to address lawmakers Friday about a new law that has confused and outraged many farmers. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Freeport farmer Steve Burger is concerned that his pigs will not be able to make their Nov. 6 slaughter date at Bisson’s in Topsham. Bisson’s is one of Maine’s five state-inspected meat-processing facilities that could be shut down by the federal government unless the Legislature amends a new food sovereignty law before Nov. 1.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it will override Maine’s ability to run its own meat inspection program unless the state clarifies the law. Maine’s Department of Agriculture is concerned that the law would keep it from inspecting any meat slaughtered and processed in a town that is food sovereign, negating an agreement it has with the USDA to meet federal standards.

The prospect that meat-processing facilities like Bisson’s could close, even temporarily, has sent food producers across Maine into a state of near panic and confusion. The cause of the problem is the food sovereignty bill that Gov. Paul LePage signed into law in June despite opposition from his chief agricultural advisers.

If Steve Burger can’t process his hogs on schedule this fall, he’ll have to keep feeding them and the quality of their meat will go down over time. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The bill, called “An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems,” endorses the right of Maine communities to declare themselves “food sovereign,” something 20 communities, including several on the Blue Hill Peninsula, already have done.

In practical terms, it means consumers can buy directly from farmers and food producers in those communities who are operating outside of state and federal licensing. The legislation was intended by those who shaped it, including state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, its sponsor, and state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who has put forth numerous similar bills, as a means to encourage local food production and consumption.

“Perhaps with the best intentions,” Walt Whitcomb, Maine’s commissioner of agriculture, said during an appearance on a radio show Wednesday morning.

Problems ensued when the USDA said it would have to take control of inspections unless the law was amended to make it clear that state regulators can continue their work protecting Maine’s meat supply, regardless of whether a municipality is “food sovereign” or not.


As a result, the food sovereignty law has prompted confusion and outrage among many of the farmers and food producers whose independence and success it was supposed to bolster. The Maine Farm Bureau hopes to have 50 members show up at a public hearing Friday to oppose the law.

Several amendments have been proposed, and Burger plans to be among those who address the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry when it discusses the law Friday. After the hearing and a work session, the Legislature is scheduled to vote Monday on an amended bill.

Burger will speak out against the law generally, and specifically as it relates to the processing of meat. If he can’t get into Bisson’s on Nov. 6, he’s going to lose a month of hog-related income. That’s 50 percent of the monthly profits at Winter Hill Farm, which sends about 85 percent of its animals to state-inspected facilities.

“One of the legs of the stool is potentially being kicked out from under us,” Burger said.

Last year, state-inspected slaughterhouses in Maine produced nearly a million pounds of red meat, an increase of 42 percent in four years.

The issue to be addressed in the coming days is meat, but the Maine Farm Bureau’s executive director said there is widespread concern about the law’s ramifications for dairy and seafood, and for growers and processors of local foods.

Pigs at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport are slaughtered at Bisson’s in Topsham, one of Maine’s five state-inspected meat processing facilities that could be shut down by the federal government. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“This kind of thing is so frustrating because basically all agriculture in Maine is so fragile and we are kind of almost at that tipping point,” Julie A. Smith said. “Where we are either going to thrive or get wiped out. This kind of law is just detrimental to our progress.”


The legislative headache began with a flurry of warning letters between the state and federal officials in July. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue called LePage to tell him that the USDA would be forced to take control of inspections unless the law was amended.

In August, the governor called for an emergency legislative session to amend the bill. “If the state program is eliminated, small farms will lose the most,” he said in a letter to legislative leaders.

If Burger can’t process his hogs on schedule, he’ll have to keep feeding them. The quality of their meat would go down with time, and who knows when he’d have a chance to get it processed if the state facilities were closed, even temporarily. He doesn’t want to get stuck with them.

“I’d have to sell them for pennies on the dollar,” Burger said.

He and cheesemaker Sarah Wiederkehr built their family business in Freeport based on a few factors, including predictability. The Department of Agriculture provides regulatory advice and licensing for the dairy side of their business, helping Wiederkehr be assured that her raw milk and cheeses are safe.

If Steve Burger can’t get his hogs into Bisson’s slaughterhouse on Nov. 6, he will lose a month’s hog-related income – 50 percent of Winter Hill Farm’s monthly profits. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The department also oversees, as it has for about 15 years, a meat-processing system. That includes five state-licensed facilities that process meat for retail sale, 30 custom facilities that deal directly with customers who bring them animals for personal consumption (like farmers culling their herd or hunters with a moose to break down) and 51 facilities for poultry processing. There is only one USDA-certified meat processor in the state, and the state Department of Agriculture has said it is “unlikely” the USDA would assign staff to Maine to run the former state facilities.

“We have the state slaughterhouses and we couldn’t run this business if we didn’t have them,” Burger said.

Like many in Maine’s agricultural and food community, Burger has been wondering why the governor signed the bill when the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry opposed it.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Burger said. “I have never heard him say why he thought that was a bill worth signing.”

The governor’s spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, referred all questions to the Department of Agriculture.

Steve Burger carries a bucket of whey to his pigs Wednesday. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette


Among those who didn’t expect LePage to approve the law? Jackson, the Allagash Democrat who sponsored the food sovereignty bill in the 128th session. “I was surprised as anyone that he did sign,” Jackson said Wednesday.

The issue had come up multiple times since 2013, often sponsored by Hickman, a food sovereignty proponent whose experiences as a farmer in Winthrop motivated him to seek a deregulation of what you might call farm-to-friend sales.

The bill, L.D. 725, originally was assigned to the Committee on State and Local Government in March, instead of the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, as it has been this week.

State Sen. Paul Davis, a Republican who chairs both the agriculture committee and the one on state and local government, said it would have been better if the bill had been assigned to the agriculture committee, which is more knowledgeable about food issues, from the beginning. “It probably then would have had a different outcome,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture was contacted by the federal officials “immediately” after the bill became law, said Ron Dyer, who oversees the department’s inspection program.

Steve Burger watches his pigs eat Wednesday at Winter Hill Farm. On Friday, he plans to tell the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee about problems caused by Maine’s new food sovereignty law. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Whitcomb, who comes from a farming family, told talk radio show hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler on Wednesday morning that he was in the governor’s office when a call came in from “Dr. Perdue” outlining the federal government’s problems with Maine’s new law. “The governor quickly committed to calling the Legislature back,” Whitcomb said.

Jackson hopes that the two-thirds majority that is needed for an amendment can be reached, but he’s aware that there may be further roadblocks, even if the law is amended. He knows the Food and Drug Administration is not enthusiastic about the law and that the farm bureau is rallying the troops.

“Go ahead,” he said. “They are not going to get the law repealed in this session for sure.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, ME - OCTOBER 18: Steve Burger at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport Wednesday, October 18, 2017. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)Thu, 19 Oct 2017 08:28:19 +0000
Electric-car drivers, you can charge it at L.L. Bean in the near future Wed, 18 Oct 2017 03:27:44 +0000 FREEPORT — L.L. Bean is completing construction at its flagship retail store on what will be Maine’s largest charging station for electric vehicles, with an opening planned for late fall or early winter.

Bean is converting a section of a parking lot on Justin’s Way into a cluster of 16 charging plugs. Eight will have the special connector that fits vehicles made by Tesla, now the top-selling U.S. brand. Eight other plugs will be for all other makes.

Bean says it’s responding to customer demand and is anticipating that more shoppers will want to be able to plug in as electric cars become increasingly popular. The company said the move reflects its corporate ethos of community leadership and promoting sustainable business practices.

Developing a highly visible charging station at a store that hosts 3 million shoppers a year also can boost sales, according to ChargePoint Inc., a California-based EV infrastructure company. Electric-vehicle owners have higher average incomes and are more likely to shop where they can plug in. They also may spend more time shopping while waiting to charge up, the company found in a case study.

Bean downplayed the bottom line as its motivation.

“That’s something to consider, but it’s not why we’re doing this,” Mac McKeever, a Bean spokesman, told the Portland Press Herald. “It has some great PR value, but it’s good for the community, good for customers and good for the environment.”

In fact, the company will let its customers, as well as other visitors shopping in Freeport, plug in for free.

Bean declined to say how much the project costs or what it expects to spend by offering free electricity.

Tesla is paying for its plugs, part of a national effort to install a vast “Supercharger” network. It wants to have enough charging stations to support the anticipated sales of hundreds of thousands of its cars in the next few years. In Maine, Tesla already has eight-plug Supercharger stations on Civic Center Drive in Augusta and at Ruby Tuesday in Brewer.

Bean is paying for the other eight plugs in Freeport. In general, similar units can cost between $2,000 and $10,000 apiece to install, depending on where power is located and other factors.

At least for now, McKeever said, Bean isn’t worried about visitors to Freeport hogging plugs and making them unavailable to its own shoppers.

“I think it will be a learning experience and we will adjust accordingly,” he said. “But ultimately, it will be a good thing for the community.”


By installing a charging station that’s twice as large as any in Maine at a location that will be passed by hundreds of thousands of visitors, Bean also is sending a message to local businesses, said Barry Woods, director of Electric Vehicle Innovation at ReVision Energy in Portland.

“Bean has a global reach and global vision,” Woods said. “The fact that it’s willing to dedicate critical surface parking for its retail store and spend its own money, that’s something for other retailers to notice.”

ReVision has been contracted by Bean to install the eight Level 2 chargers. They can provide roughly 20 miles of range per hour of charging. The Tesla Superchargers are more powerful. They use a high-voltage DC connection that can add up to 170 miles of range in a half-hour.

Pure electric and plug-in cars last year made up only a tiny fraction of the 1.2 million vehicles registered in Maine, fewer than 1,000, according to data compiled by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Nationally, roughly 550,000 electric vehicles were counted last year.

But national sales rose 47 percent over last year in the first half of 2017, according to CleanTechnica, which covers clean technology development. And new models now being released by Tesla, General Motors and others, along with commitments by other global carmakers to ramp up production, are expected to greatly increase the number of plug-in vehicles on the nation’s roads. For instance: Bloomberg New Energy Finance is forecasting that electric vehicles will account for 54 percent of new car sales by 2040, driven in part by the falling cost of lithium-ion batteries.


Against this backdrop, retailers can use charging stations as a way to attract and retain electric drivers, ChargePoint says.

The ChargePoint study was done for Target, at a new store in Fremont, California. It found that shoppers with electric cars stayed three times longer in the store, said Mike DiNucci, ChargePoint’s vice president for sales. It also found a linear relationship between time in the store and money spent.

“It helps pay for the free electricity,” he said of the charging station. “It more than subsidizes a charging session.”

DiNucci also said ChargePoint has software that allows retailers to make charging stations free for a pre-determined amount of time. For the eight Level 2 chargers at the Target in Fremont, the first two hours are free; after that, it’s $2 an hour.

“Our software allows operators to add a fee to dissuade drivers from ‘squatting’ on stations,” he said.

Most electric-car charging is done at home. But for travelers to one of Maine’s premiere shopping meccas, the new charging station will fill a void in Freeport. Plugshare, the online database that maps where public charging stations are located, shows only four in town. Two are at an inn and a motel and are wall outlets, which provide very long charge times.

DiNucci said the Target study revealed that electric-vehicle drivers would bypass stores closer to their homes to get to a Target with a charging station. By creating a charging hub at Bean, car owners may be more likely to pick Freeport over other shopping destinations.

“You’re going to see that behavior in Maine, too,” he said. “Like bees around a hive, these cars are going to cluster around those charging stations. It’s the ‘If you build it, they will come’ phenomenon.”

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

Twitter: TuxTurkel

]]> 0 are two of the new Tesla Superchargers in the L.L. Bean parking lot off Justin's Way in Freeport. The electric-vehicle charging station will include eight Tesla Superchargers and eight more plugs for all other makes. Mac McKeever, a spokesman for Bean, acknowledged the PR value, but said foremost the charging station is "good for the community, good for customers and good for the environment."Thu, 19 Oct 2017 08:54:40 +0000
Rice that multiplies in Maine soil is a big plus Sun, 15 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 There is a children’s book written in the 1970s titled “One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale.” The story is set in India, where a greedy raja takes nearly all of the subsistence growers’ rice for safekeeping should famine come. When it does, he hoards the rice for himself.

A wise village girl named Rani convinces him to give her just a single grain of rice on the first day of the new moon, doubling the amount daily until a full moon appears in the sky. After thinking out loud on the page that one grain of rice could hardly amount to much, the raja grants Rani’s request.

One grain becomes 2 then 4 then 8 then 16, and so on until it tops out at 536,870,912 on the 30th day. The math lesson in play means that Rani gets a billion grains of rice in the end. A little long division translates that number to 29,000 pounds of rice. The average Asian eats about 300 pounds of rice annually (in the United States we’re closer to 26 pounds a year), so Rani’s supplication saves her village from starvation. The life lesson in play is that a single grain of rice can indeed multiply to feed the collective even in harsh conditions.

That’s the mindset farmers Ben Rooney and David Gulak of Wild Folk Farm had when they planted a single experimental paddy of cold weather rice in traditionally agriculturally inhospitable clay soil in Benton back in 2013. The enterprise has since grown at a pretty good clip.

I was part of the work party last May that transplanted seedlings into eight paddies, each named after a planet. It’s back-breaking work. You fasten a flat of 3-inch-high juvenile plants that germinated in the farm’s rudimentary aquaponic greenhouse around your waist with a bungee cord. Then you wade barefoot (if you’re brave; I wore boots) through ankle-deep, oozing muck; bend over the flat as it digs into your hip; gently coax a seedling from its cozy crib; and nestle its spindling roots into its watery big-boy bed in a neat row. Each plant sits about 6 inches from its nearest sibling. You take a giant step backwards and do it over again, and again, and again. Optimally, it takes four people working two hours to transplant seedlings into a single 5,000-square-foot paddy.

Rooney takes it from there. Because rice is a water-intensive crop, the paddies are flooded and drained using a closed irrigation system fed by a pond. The paddies are also planted with azolla, a companion plant for rice that both prevents weeds and helps fix the nitrogen into the clay soil. Khaki Campbell ducks waddle and swim, eating the azolla and fertilizing the clay soil. The ducks are harvested for their meat before they can eat the growing grains of rice. Nets draped over the paddies when the plants are heavy with rice prevents a premature harvest by bobolinks, black birds native to Maine whose Latin name loosely translates into “rice devourer.”

I returned to Wild Folk Farm last weekend to help harvest what Rooney says will amount to 3,500 pounds of cold-climate heirloom rices with names like Akamuro, Arpa Shal, Cse He Jao, Duborskian and Hayayuki.

I worked the paddy where the Akamura rice grew. Akamura is an open-pollinated, short-grained variety that Rooney knows grows well here so he saves 10 percent of it for seed, a portion of which he’ll germinate to plant next year’s crop and a portion of which he’ll sell to Fedco Seeds so other farmers in Maine or similar cold climates can give rice a go.

I used a curved sickle to cut off bunches of tillers, laying these 3-foot-tall stalks laden with rice to cure slightly in the now dried paddy. In a call-and-response cycle, the six of us working to clear the paddy sang a song that Rooney composed. “Cut ’em down. Among autumn leaves. Where the ducks swam. These are rice paddies. On cool clay earth. Tread lightly. We sing together. Soon we’ll feast.”

The cured rice then gets sorted into fist-sized bundles and is gently slapped into a foot-powered thresher to remove the rice from the stalks. The rice, still in its husks, falls into a bucket below the thresher, and the stalks get repurposed, perhaps as crop cover material or a medium for a local potter to decorate his clay wares. (Rooney said they tried out a borrowed mechanical harvester last year, but they like the low-tech approach in part so they can show schoolchildren how rice is processed.)

The rice sits in a high tunnel on tarps to dry for a few days. We took bucketsful of the dried stuff and ran it in a 19th-century hand-cranked wooden winnower Rooney found in an antique shop in western Massachusetts to separate the rice from the chaff. The rice moves down the work row set up on the bank between the paddies to the bicycle-powered husker, where workers pedal their way to edible rice that the farm will begin selling on its website for about $7 per pound in five-pound bags in late November. And so goes the math of rice production.

Served atop roasted squash, the rice salad is sprinkled with sesame seeds. Staff photos by Derek Davis

Roasted Winter Squash with Cold Climate Rice Salad

Kabocha squash is a dark green, stocky cousin of the pumpkin with a flavor and texture that evokes a sweet potato. You may have enjoyed it in Japanese restaurants as tempura, or as an addition to Asian hot pots and soups. Go with locally grown rice like Akamuro from Wild Folk Farm in Benton, if you can, but any short-grained golden rice will work.

Serves 4 as a main dish

1 small kabocha or butternut squash

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

1/2 cup warm water or sake

6 tablespoons white miso paste

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon mirin

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 cups cooked short grain rice, cooled

½ cup chopped scallion

1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons black or white sesame seeds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the unpeeled squash into 1-inch wedges. Toss the wedges with the oil, salt and pepper and lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast until soft, about 20 minutes.

While the squash cooks, combine the water or sake, miso, sugar, mirin and rice vinegar in a medium-sized bowl. Add the cooked rice, scallion and bell pepper. Stir to combine.

Arrange the roasted squash around the edges of a large platter. Fill the middle of the platter with the rice salad. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at

]]> 0 Rice Salad is served on a bed of roasted squash.Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:17:21 +0000
First they’re sweaters, then they become mittens Sun, 15 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 When Marilyn Robertson first started her business making mittens out of recycled sweaters, she regularly haunted local thrift shops, searching for old pullovers and cardigans. She’d buy anything – the finest cashmere, ugly Christmas sweaters, sparkly monstrosities with “Dynasty” shoulder pads.

“I was the crazy sweater lady,” Robertson recalled. “I’d have a shopping cart full of sweaters.”

Robertson, owner of Jack and Mary Designs in York, now buys sweaters by the 1,000-pound pallet.

Recycled mittens. Courtesy of Jack and Mary Designs

Jack and Mary started out as a handbag business. Then, in 2009, a friend asked Robertson to make handbags as gifts for her sisters out of their late mother’s sweaters. Robertson used the leftover sleeves to make mittens, and that part of the business exploded. Today, she also makes other accessories, such as hats, headbands and scarves, as well as boot cuffs and “bun warmer skirts,” short skirts that are worn over leggings. She’s got a full-time employee who helps with sales, and nearly a dozen part-timers who help her cut fabric and who sew the mittens out of their homes.

The sweaters are washed and dried after they arrive at the Jack and Mary studio. Then Robertson, a former interior designer, sorts through them. She can work around a few holes, but if there are too many the sweater gets tossed. Weird designs do not deter her.

“You can literally take the ugliest sweater, and if you use it in a part of (the mitten), it can actually be really cool,” she said. “You can combine it with some other sweaters with different patterns or colors, and it works. So unless a sweater is just gross – dirty or so holey there’s nothing salvageable – we pretty much use everything.”

Most of her business is wholesale now, but she still does some custom work. Robertson just made 10 pairs of mittens for someone who sent her a box of his late grandfather’s sweaters. The customer plans to give the mittens to family as Christmas gifts. Robertson gets a lot of similar requests, and is planning to call this business-within-a-business “Memory Mittens.”

Mittens from Jack and Mary Designs cost $42 a pair for women’s, $46 for men’s and $26 for kids. They are available through or in 275 stores nationwide. Locally, find them at Daisy Janes in York; Farm + Table in Kennebunkport, Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport, Island Artisans in Bar Harbor and the Nubble Light gift shop in Sohier Park in York.

]]> 0, 12 Oct 2017 17:38:54 +0000
Briana Warner wants you to eat your (sea) vegetables Sun, 15 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Briana Warner is the economic development director at the Island Institute. The nonprofit, which has a mission of sustaining Maine’s island and coastal communities, recently released a report on consumer preferences for edible seaweeds. We called her up to talk about the report, which she co-authored. Our conversation ranged from why growing kelp is such an easy aquaculture sell for fishermen and ways to build demand for Maine seaweed to what the “low tide test” is and how to pass it. And yes, we did ask her about the much-loved pie company she used to run.

SEAWEED DU JOUR: Warner teamed up with James Griffin, an associate professor at Johnson & Wales University, to write “In Pursuit of Sea Vegetable Market Expansion: Consumer Preferences and Product Innovation.” Griffin developed a number of recipes using Maine seaweeds, and in August, the team asked 18 volunteers to taste the results. They tried 10 different items, including a sea vegetable power bar, a sugar kelp flatbread, a dulse ice cream, sea vegetable lasagna and a sea vegetable beans and sausage dish. Sea vegetable, by the way, is a nicer way of saying an edible seaweed.

THE MOTIVE: The lobster fishery is thriving, but Warner and the Island Institute fear that dependency on that species for income is dangerous. “People are able to make some pretty good money fishing for lobster right now, but they are singularly dependent on that fishery and that is particularly true for the island communities.” Thus the Island Institute has been promoting aquaculture programs in those communities through the Aquaculture Business Development Program. “It’s a soup to nuts, let’s help you get in the water program.” The first year they had 20 participants. “We turned down a bunch of people, and then the second year we had 24 and turned down a lot of people.”

MARKET RESEARCH: The program includes assistance on water quality, selecting a site and getting a lease, and it focuses on mussel, oyster and seaweed farming. The first two are pretty easy to sell. But seaweed is trickier. “It is such a new industry.” On the plus side, seaweed farming is low maintenance, doesn’t require a lot of “farming” and can round out an income in the off-season. Maine lobstermen make for ideal seaweed farmers, Warner thinks. “They say, ‘I grow kelp on my traps all the time just by accident.’ ” She believes Maine can be a leader in this field of aquaculture. But first, there has to be a market. “The issue is making sure that we are not getting so many people growing it and not having anybody to buy it.”

TASTE TESTS: Ocean Approved is the only Maine company that buys line-grown seaweed for processing, she said. “They are a great company, but certainly it is important to have multiple folks available to buy it.” It’s also tough to compete with China, price-wise, on dried product, she said. So Griffin set out to create recipes that would use Maine seaweeds, both dried and fresh. The 10 in the report all received at least a 4 out of 5 on the taste tests at the August event. What scored highest with Warner? “I was a huge fan of the ‘pork and beans’ and also the seaweed lasagna. It was so good. When you bite into it, it tastes just like lasagna. I couldn’t feel that there was no noodle, and I am a culinary person.” Also, these recipes definitely pass the low-tide test. Wait, what’s that? “Does it taste like low tide smells? If so, then Americans aren’t going to like it.”

RECIPE SHARING: Another criteria the Island Institute set was that seaweed be more than just a minor ingredient in the recipes. “It doesn’t help us if it has a tiny silver of seaweed in it.” Playing up the nutritional aspects of seaweed – it’s got everything from calcium to iodine in it – is also key. The Island Institute won’t be posting the recipes online, but it is sharing them with companies that are interested in developing the market. Check in with Warner,, if your company is interested.

DIPLOMATIC DELIVERY: Warner is no newcomer to cooking with seaweed and her family doesn’t object to eating it. Her toddler son (she’s got another baby due any minute now) devoured leftovers from the testing panel in August. When she was in her 20s and working for the U.S. Foreign Service she was stationed in Belgium, Libya and Guinea. Occasionally while in Africa, she ordered dried seaweed from Maine. It arrived in a diplomatic pouch, and she popped it into stews, soups and pot roasts. Nonetheless, Griffin tried out some ideas that would never have occurred to her. “I’m a baker, and I didn’t always know how to cook with it.”

BYE BYE AMERICAN PIE: About that baking … can we talk about Maine Pie Line, the wildly popular pie company she started in 2013? When she and her husband returned to the States, moving to his native state (he’s from Holden), Warner, a passionate baker, started the pie company in Portland. “I thought it was really important that I start walking the walk, and know what it is to run a business every day.” She employed refugees at Maine Pie Line and turned out pies so good that they quickly made a name for Warner. Then one day she heard about a new position being created at the Island Institute for an economic development director. Her master’s degree from Yale was in International Affairs and Economic Development.

CURIOSITY AND THE FAT CATS: Warner had a meeting with the Island Institute to satisfy her curiosity, and ended up with an offer that was too good to pass up. What was so compelling? The unique position of most island communities for one thing. Warner was signing on to help them sustain their economies on an island, or remote stretch of the coastline, where sometimes the self-employment rate is as high as 70 percent. Business ventures don’t tend to be about wanting to make a million bucks, she said. “It’s more like, ‘There needs to be a general store, and I don’t want to go broke doing it.’ ” The social mission of Maine Pie Line had been important to her. “And this was an opportunity to expand it beyond just that one company.” She quickly sold her recipes to Two Fat Cats Bakery. Now she’s got a few new ones. Maple-dulse-cranberry scones, anyone?

]]> 0, 12 Oct 2017 17:36:03 +0000
Green Prescription: Are you scared by the prospect of all those Halloween wrappers? Sun, 15 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 DEAR GREEN PRESCRIPTION,

Halloween is coming up and I’d like to create as little waste as possible when giving out treats. However, I also don’t want to be the one house on the block that gives out stuff that kids don’t want. Any thoughts about how to negotiate my kids’ (and mine, too!) favorite holiday?

Want my Snickers and eat it, too


I’m totally with you when it comes to Halloween; excess is built in, so why resist? Except that there are so many plastic, non-recyclable, non-compostable candy wrappers at the end. The go-to zero-waste Halloween advice leans towards disseminating raisins or pencils. However, we all know what happens with these: Your kids and all their friends will merely roll their eyes and seek out the guy giving out full-size Hershey bars down the street. At the end of the day, if you have trick-or-treaters at home, plastic wrappers will likely enter the house, so why not just enjoy the M&Ms and then plan on upcycling the wrappers into wallets or bracelets this winter? (Yes, this is a thing.) Alternately, your kids can collect candy wrappers to send along to TerraCycle (, which upcycles plastic products, including Snickers wrappers! You can also talk yourself into trying to figure out which treats have the least amount of waste, as I do, and then indulge extravagantly as you toss deconstructed Junior Mint and Dots boxes into the recycling bin.


How do I get rid of junk mail? Right now I recycle it, but it would be even better if I didn’t get any at all.

Junk-mail junker


Ridding one’s household of junk mail is not for the faint of heart. It takes months and years of perseverance and patience, but you can significantly reduce the load. And it’s totally worth preventing the millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases produced in service to junk mail annually. Here are a few thoughts:

• Register for all of the Do-Not-Mail lists out there, including Catalog Choice and

• Call charity groups, small companies and nonprofits directly and ask to be taken off their mailing lists.

• Write “Please do not rent, sell, or trade my name or address” on warranty cards, subscriptions, credit card applications, and the like.

Lisa Botshon is a professor of English at the University of Maine at Augusta, where envelopes are routinely reused. Send her queries at botshon@

]]> 0, 12 Oct 2017 17:56:26 +0000
If you’re sleeping for 8 hours, why not do it sustainably? Sun, 15 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Kelly Hill doesn’t have an organic mattress. Yet. But when she was pregnant with her first child she made it a top priority to buy one for her baby’s crib.

“They spend so much time sleeping,” Hill said. Forty percent of their childhoods are spent sleeping, according to the nonprofit National Sleep Foundation. “Just the thought of something off-gassing around my child’s face just made me sick to my stomach.”

When her daughter was 3 and Hill was pregnant again, she found a store close to her Kennebunk home, The Clean Bedroom in Kittery, that specialized in organic mattresses and bedding. She and her husband shopped very carefully; organic mattresses tend to be considerably more expensive than standard mattresses, the kind that are made with petrochemicals and sprayed with fire-retardent materials. Their daughter was just a toddler, but they opted to buy her a queen bed. “Our rationale there was, we are going to make this big investment, let’s make sure it takes her all the way to college. And she can take it with her when she gets her own place.”

Hill considers herself a good researcher capable of making environmentally savvy consumer choices. (In fact, she and her husband were on their way to look at electric cars in Topsham when she called.) But for many shoppers, the marketplace of green bedding – from mattresses to sheets and pillows – which exploded about a decade ago, can be daunting to sort through, especially for anyone on a budget.

“I had to spend a crapload of time wading through these websites,” Cindy Isenhour said. She’s an ecological and economic anthropologist, a professor at the University of Maine and an associate at George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions. In short, oriented toward environmentally conscious purchasing and no slouch in the research department. But she said there’s a lot of greenwashing in the bedding retail sector, particularly in “the mattress in a box phenomenon” that’s developed since about 2010.

As she put it, these mattresses are marketed toward cultural creatives and lovers of platform beds (perhaps one and the same) and they are cheap, $700 for a queen or as low as $128. You order them online and they arrive in a box in a couple of days. One of these retailers is called “Tuft and Needle,” a name that speaks of craft and handwork. Another, Zinus, offers a green tea foam mattress, which Isenhour looked at online. It was “infused with green tree extract to reduce odor,” she said. “You read green tea, right, and think, ‘This is really great.’ ”

But as she shopped, and probed, she found many of these cheap mattresses in a box are made with VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, and thus likely to emit gases that would make for a very unhealthy sleeping atmosphere, the kind not even an infusion of green tea could overcome. An EPA report on indoor air pollution lists formaldehyde-based resins as an ingredient in some mattress tickings, and likely respiratory irritant, as well as a probable carcinogen. It’s often not clear what a mattress is made of or how it was made.

All too often, it’s left to the consumer to prove that a product is safe, Isenhour said. Or not. That creates a social injustice problem in her mind, whereby those who don’t have the wherewithal or means to get beyond the greenwashing end up with the short end of the stick.

“Do they not have the right to sleep safely?” Isenhour said. “It is just ridiculous that consumers should be expected to do so much work.”

With that in mind, Source has tried to do some of the work for you. Here’s our guide to a greener bed.


In the early aughts, retailers nationally made a fairly big push toward organic sheets. That prompted Cuddledown in Yarmouth to make a commitment between 2003 and 2010 to have 10 percent of its bedding lines be made of organic cotton. The benefits of organic cotton to the consumer include not just the psychological comfort of being chemical free, but very often, a physical one as well because the fabric can feel smoother and softer. The benefits to the farmer growing the cotton, and to the earth, are considerable. No pesticides or chemicals on the crop mean no pesticides or chemicals on the land, or in the runoff. The cons? Keeping pests off the crop costs more. At Cuddledown, customers, who skew to women in their 50s and 60s, didn’t respond. “Quite frankly it didn’t matter,” said Cuddledown President Norma Wilkins-Gross. Design and color mattered more to them than whether or not the material was sustainably sourced. “It doesn’t seem to be as important as to the younger demographic,” Wilkins-Gross said. The company slowly moved away from that organic commitment, but held onto one line of sheets and pillowcases, an organic cotton percale. A set, including pillowcases, sells for $227 in the queen size, but can typically be had at a discount in the Freeport outlet. But Wilkins-Gross said that lately, Cuddledown’s competitors (Garnet Hill and the Company Store) are emphasizing organic cotton again.

Many of the fabrics sold by Cuddledown come with the Oeko-Tex certification. That’s a testing and accreditation program run by a union of 18 textile and test institutes in Europe and Japan. Not to be confused with an organic certification, the Oeko-Tex standard calls for “environmentally friendly technologies” and is awarded after the company proves it is using no, or very small levels of 300 substances it deems “harmful.” These include heavy metals, pesticides and formaldehyde, and under the standards, some detectable levels are allowed. For more information, visit

Cuddledown is working to become an Oeko-Tex-certified business. The designation indicates that textiles are free (or nearly so) of more than 300 potentially harmful substances.

Cuddledown is beginning the process to become an Oeko-Tex certified business itself, rather than simply stocking from vendors with the certification.

Home Remedies in Portland also stocks organic cotton sheet sets. Owner Rachel Ambrose said she still has a few nonorganic sheet sets on hand, but she’s added more from the Coyuchi line recently, including organic linen. In its online sales, Coyuchi has a subscription program, offering recycling for anything you’ve grown tired of (for instance, a 24-month plan, whereby you get new sheets every 24 months). “Organic linens that never end up in a landfill, starting at $5/month,” promises the website, which is as beautifully photographed as a home decor magazine.

“We’re selling more,” Ambrose said of the Coyuchi line, but added that it is hard to tell whether that’s because she’s got more supply or that demand for organic fabrics has gone up. As a buyer, and a sleeper, she’s become convinced of the merits of organic bedding. That cheap set you snagged at a discount retailer?

“The reason they look so perfect in the packages is that they are filled with chemicals,” she said. “And they (the chemicals) wash off, or they rub off, on your skin.”

With the organic sheets, Ambrose doesn’t feel the need to wash them before use to get rid of the chemicals and residues from toxic dyes.

Another company with increasing name recognition is Boll & Branch, an online retailer founded in 2014 by a husband and wife team from New Jersey. Boll & Branch sources much of its organic (and non-GMO) cotton from India. A full set of sheets for a queen bed starts at about $240. Their products come with Fair Trade and organic certifications. When you compare those prices with the kinds at places like, where a four-piece set of queen sheets dubbed “luxury” and “ultra soft” can be had for $20.62, you can see why some consumers back away from the organic.


Coyuchi also makes an organic mattress, in an Ohio factory certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (which usually goes by the abbreviation GOTS). A queen mattress with non-GMO fibers and an organic wool outer layer will run you about $3,150 from Coyuchi. The Clean Bedroom sells a queen in an organic latex (made from rubber trees) for $3,399. That chain recently changed hands after shuttering its doors in locations around the country, including its original location in Kittery – where Hill used to shop – and in downtown Portland. One of its founders is now selling real estate in Florida, but did not respond to an interview request from the Press Herald. The business name is now owned by Brian Benko, who operates The Clean Bedroom primarily as an online operation out of New York.

Can’t afford a full-blown organic mattress with the GOTS kiss? Portland Mattress Makers, in business in Portland since 1938, uses Talalay latex in their “Monhegan” model mattress. The latex itself is natural, though the process by which it was made is not organic, according to a salesman. The mattress cover is a blend of organic cotton and wool. That model retails for $2,700. Bonus for those who like to buy local? Your mattress would be made in Maine.


There’s nothing like a down comforter to keep you warm on a Maine winter night, and, in turn, to allow you to turn down the heat and reduce that carbon footprint. Not that everyone embraces down. Kelly Hill won’t buy it because of the potential for abuse of ducks and geese. “I don’t believe in the practice,” she said. (Worth noting, she’s a veterinarian.)

But if you do like down – look for the RDS symbol, Responsible Down Standard – on the item you’re considering buying. The website,, explains the standard in detail, but the gist is that that the down and feathers come “from ducks and geese that have been treated well” and did “not suffer from pain, fear or distress.” Maine’s own Cuddledown recently received its RDS certification, and Wilkins-Gross said the company is able to trace the source of much of its down back to individual farms. The down and feathers are byproducts of the meat bird business, she said. None of it is sourced locally, though, coming instead from Europe and China.

For PETA, the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the RDS certification is not inviolable. PETA claims it found evidence of “live plucking,” whereby geese feathers are ripped from the birds while they are alive, at farms in Asia that carry the RDS certification.

Cuddledown’s most premium product is made from down plucked from the empty nests of eiderducks. Eiderducks are a protected species that cannot be commercially harvested. Eiderdown is so warm and so light that Cuddledown employees promise you can’t even feel it in your hand, but the cost is prohibitive to most of us; a twin comforter will run you about $8,000.


If you’re interested in buying local, a number of Maine companies are producing blankets made from wool, the original insulating, durable and cozy bed covers. Swans Island Company makes a blanket “crafted with single-origin Maine island fleece from Vinalhaven’s Long Cove Farm” and then woven and dyed by hand in Northport. Call that farm to feet warming. A queen-sized blanket costs $895. Brahms Mount makes blankets in its Monmouth textile mill, using cotton, linen and wool sourced from all over (but not from Maine). A micron wool (lightweight but warm and machine washable) blanket is priced at $531. Maine Woolens uses natural fibers from American growers whenever possible. One of their wool lines is made from Midwestern sheep, processed in a Massachusetts mill and then woven in Brunswick. It’s also washable and costs about $365 for a queen.

You can even get yourself a wool pillow. Dairy farmer Patti Hamilton began experimenting with excess wool from her sheep at Hamilton Farm in Whitefield a few years ago. Her sheep didn’t produce the kind of wool she wanted to hand spin, but she couldn’t bear to see it go to waste. “I was trying to think of a market for it,” she said. And developing a technique. “The first ones I made were kind of bunchy.” She sells a much more refined version for $85 or $100, depending on size. The wool is processed in Aroostook County. Hamilton sells through her farm store and occasionally gets an order via email ( or phone (549-5497).

“It is a higher-end pillow,” Hamilton said. She’s marketing to people who care about sourcing and want an all-organic product. “I can’t compete with a $25 pillow from Wal-Mart.”

But her pillows? When they’ve reached the end of their usefulness. “You can compost them,” Hamilton said.


Speaking of which, there’s another area to consider in the bedding department. Mattresses are among the biggest objects most of us ever throw out. The Mattress Recycling Council estimates that more than 50,000 mattresses end up in landfills across the nation every day, even though about 80 percent of the materials are recyclable. The metal in the box springs can be extracted for recycling, as can the wood. The former might end up in building materials, the latter in landscaping mulch. The soft layers can be turned into dog bedding and other items, according to the Mattress Recycling Council. Nationwide, that organization is heading up efforts to make recycling mattresses the norm. Three states recently passed mattress recycling laws, starting with Connecticut in May 2015; California and Rhode Island followed. In the first year of the law, Connecticut recycled 90,000 mattresses. The consumer might even receive a small reimbursement for the discarded mattress ($2 in Connecticut), although anyone buying a new bed will pay an upfront fee for that eventual disposal ($9 in Connecticut).

Maine doesn’t have this kind of a program (yet, visit to reach out to the council) although in the last legislative session, state Sen. Thomas Saviello put forward a Mattress Stewardship Program that would have encouraged recycling. Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it.


A final thought on the business of green bedding. As much as Kelly Hill, the Kennebunk woman who makes sure her three children sleep organic, has become a fan of green bedding, she hasn’t ditched all her bedding and started from scratch. That’s largely a financial decision. Her husband knows to buy her a set of organic cotton sheets for her anniversary, so eventually, she’ll go totally green.

But there’s a compelling case to be made for easing into your greener bedroom, i.e. using the linens you’ve already got until they’re worn out. The statistics on textiles tossed aside every year are shocking; the average American throws away 82 pounds of textiles every year, according to the documentary “The True Cost.” That includes clothing, carpets and yes, bedding. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nine percent of all municipal solid waste is “rubber, leather and textiles.” Using what you’ve got until it’s ready to be turned into rags and then springing for a greener fabric or material next time? It might be the best way to rest easy.

]]> 0 Graffam, an in-house catalog photographer at Cuddledown, moves a ladder off the set after adjusting some studio lighting.Thu, 12 Oct 2017 17:31:26 +0000
Is a tricky shaded, moist spot stumping you? Sun, 15 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I’ve been writing this column week in and week out for more than 13 years, so I’m always grateful for ideas from readers. When reader Rachel Dyer of Augusta wrote to say her online search for shrubs that can thrive in shade and in seasonally moist conditions had yielded nothing, I knew I had an interesting new topic.

Many gardeners deal with shade. A house itself will shade at least one side of the garden, and while trees add blossoms, shelter for wildlife, beautiful foliage and more, they bring shade, too, of course. But that’s not a bad thing. A shade garden actually replicates the kind of landscapes that we find in nature. Much of Maine is forested, and the native plants that grow on the edge of the forest or in openings in the middle of the woods have to be able to tolerate shade.

Working on this column brought home to me that if your property has a moist, shady spot, it’s still possible to create an attractive garden of shrubs, one that provides blossoms from early spring to fall, and that offers some handsome evergreens as well as unusual-looking foliage. I’ve written up a list of plants I’d suggest. Most are native, the sort that Maine gardeners these days increasingly seek out. Your local nursery will offer plenty of other possibilities to choose among, too, but these are plants with which I have some experience. All are nice to look at and – so far at least – are reasonably pest-free.

“Ruby Spice,” a cultivar of Clethra alnifolia, keeps its blossoms through the fall. Wiert nieuman/

• Clethra alnifolia is a must for native shade gardens. The full-size versions, including the species (meaning the plant as it’s found in nature) and several cultivars will grow 6 feet tall. That group includes Cary Award winner “Ruby Spice” (the award is given to outstanding New England plants). Compact types are as small as 21/2 feet. They bloom in late summer and keep their blossoms throughout the fall. The blossoms are “bottle-brush” shaped, about 6 inches long for most cultivars, and come in shades from pink to white. One of Clethra’s nicest attributes is its sweet, pervasive fragrance.

• Mountain laurel, or Kalmia latifolia, is another must-have shade-tolerant native. The full-sized cultivars grow about 8 feet tall, but dwarf cultivars are as small as 3 feet. Kalmias like moist but well-drained soil. They will survive and blossom in full shade, but they blossom more heavily – usually in May or June – if they get some sun. Mountain laurels are evergreen, with glossy leaves you can enjoy year round.

• Kalmia augusifolia or sheep laurel, is, at 3 feet, a smaller plant. It prefers soggier conditions but still likes shade. My wife Nancy and I planted our first one earlier this year. Kalmia are close relatives of two of the most common – but mostly non-native – shade plants, rhododendron and azalea.

• A native rhododendron, rhodora, has white or rose-purple flowers and its maximum height is about 3 feet; it likes shade and moist conditions.

• Rhododendron maximum or the rosebay rhododendron, is also a native but falls at the other end of the size spectrum. It can grow 12 feet tall.

• Many experts (me among them) consider the bottlebrush buckeye, or Aesculus parviflora, the best midsummer flowering shrubs for shady areas, growing 8 to 12 feet tall with white flowers. The foliage turns a pretty yellow in the fall. In ideal conditions, it produces pear-shaped nuts called buckeyes, but don’t count on any this far north. We planted one from bare-root stock under our neighbor’s Norway maples early this spring, and it has survived thus far.

• We also planted two witherod viburnum, Viburnum cassinoides, this spring. Both have survived, and one even produced a couple of berries, though we’ve only just planted it. If you’re looking for a viburnum that tolerates shade, the witherod viburnum is the most commonly available variety.

• Amelanchier, the shadbush, likes moist conditions but will take only partial shade. It grows about 20 feet tall, has white blossoms in the early spring and berries that birds like to eat. Ours has done well for 10 years getting sun only after about 1 p.m., so I would chance it for a shade garden.

• We planted an Annabelle hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens, in our backyard shortly after we started landscaping our house in the late 1970s, and it has been one of our most successful plants. It produces huge white flowers in early July, and the flowers stay on all winter. We do have to prune it occasionally to keep it from taking over that side of the yard. In the years since we planted Annabelle, many new arborescens hydrangeas have been introduced with larger flowers, some of which are pink. I think they’d work well in a moist, shady spot.

• As for trees, we’ve never grown Acer pennsylvani-cum, known as the striped or moose maple, ourselves, but it is an attractive plant that I have often noticed growing alongside the streams when I’ve gone fishing in Maine. It gets no higher than 25 feet, has huge leaves and striking green-and-white-striped bark. The new stems are slightly red. If it grows so easily in the wild, I am sure it would thrive in a home garden.

• Hemlocks are also a good option. While hemlocks – botanical name tsuga – grow up to 90 feet tall, some cultivars are much shorter. The white-tipped specimen that we planted in the 1980s is still only about 15 feet tall. It seems to like its shady site. Be aware that the hemlock woolly adelgid, a pest from East Asia that sucks the sap from hemlocks, has been destroying hemlock forests in southern New England and is already present in southern Maine. It has not yet been found in the colder parts of the state.

So as you can see, lack of light – even when coupled with moisture – is not really a problem for gardeners. You just have to know how to deal with it.


]]> 0 laurels are evergreens; full-size cultivars grow about 8 feet tall, with dwarf cultivars as small as 3 feet.Thu, 12 Oct 2017 17:34:41 +0000
Maine’s mussel harvest in 2016 was worst in 40 years Thu, 12 Oct 2017 17:19:36 +0000 SCARBOROUGH — Maine mussels are losing their muscle.

The state’s blue mussels are loved by seafood fans, but the size of the annual harvest has dipped in recent years, bottoming out at a 40-year low in 2016. Harvesters collected less than 1.8 million pounds of mussel meat in 2016, the lowest total since 1976.

The state’s mussel harvesters exceeded 6 million pounds three times in the 1980s and 1990s, and routinely topped 3 million pounds until 10 years ago.

The decline started by the early 2000s. Scientists and members of the industry blame a variety of possible factors, but a solution has proven elusive.

Some harvesters have stopped altogether because there simply aren’t as many mussels, said Carter Newell, a marine biologist and founder of Pemaquid Mussel Farms along the Maine coast.

“Some areas like Casco Bay, you just don’t see many mussels at all,” he said.

One factor in the decline is shellfish poison events that necessitate harvesting closures, said Jeff Nichols, a spokesman for the state Department of Marine Resources.

Such an event last month led the state to shut down shellfish harvesting along parts of its eastern coast because of a marine algae bloom that can carry a neurotoxin. About 58,000 pounds of mussels had to be destroyed because of the biotoxin.

Other possible factors in mussels’ decline include the increasing acidity of the ocean, the growing population of invasive green crabs, which eat shellfish, warming waters and the impact of human harvesting, said Susie Arnold, a marine scientist with the Island Institute in Rockland.

Mussels are important for the marine environment, in addition to being economically valuable, she said.

“Any shellfish that’s habitat is the seafloor, it creates habitat and structure for other important marine organisms,” Arnold said. “And mussels filter the water and improve water quality and clarity.”

Mussels can be farmed or harvested in the wild, and are produced both ways in Maine. About 50 fishermen are licensed to harvest wild mussels in the state.

In 2015, Massachusetts surpassed Maine as the biggest blue mussel-producing state in the U.S. They are also harvested in Washington state and in smaller amounts elsewhere along the East Coast.

Mussels remain abundant in stores and restaurants, in part because they are farmed extensively in countries such as Canada and New Zealand, which are big importers to the U.S. And local mussels remain a fixture in Maine seafood markets.

But as local supplies diminish, prices may creep up. Harvesters received 23 cents per pound for Maine mussels at the dock last year – the highest price in state history, according to records that go back to 1950. Such an increase will likely eventually be borne by consumers.

Consumer demand is remaining strong, said Ralph Smith, owner of Moosabec Mussels, a harvester in Jonesport.

“There’s a good demand for it and it’s a very quality product,” he said.

]]> 0 mussels are loved by seafood fans, but the annual harvest has dipped in recent years.Thu, 12 Oct 2017 19:24:08 +0000
The nonprofit Wolfe’s Neck Farm refines its mission for a new generation Thu, 12 Oct 2017 17:15:28 +0000 Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport has a new name.

Going forward, the nonprofit farm will be known as the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment. The name change reflects a newly refined mission, according to a statement. “This change underscores (the) transformation into a leading center to address, research and provide insight on the critical intersection of agriculture/food and environment/climate.”

The statement notes that as much as 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from agriculture. With its new emphasis, the center hopes to attract farmers and apprentices from around the United States, to “train the next generation of climate-smart farmers to not just reduce, but capture and offset greenhouse gas emissions where they are productive: in the soil.”

The field is known as regenerative agriculture, and the newly renamed center wants to lead the way.

Community programs for children and adults, including summer camp and Teen Ag, will remain an integral part of the organization, it says.

The 626-acre saltwater farm become a nonprofit in 1997. Its vision of organic agriculture, conservation, public access and land preservation of the land is the legacy of Lawrence and Eleanor Houston Smith, who operated a natural farm on the land from the 1940s.

]]> 0, 12 Oct 2017 13:46:23 +0000
Sustainable education: Millennials + degrees = multiple jobs, and key changes at St. Joseph’s, Colby Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:23 +0000 0 Wilson, an employee at Saint Joseph's College, demonstrates how a row of spring mix lettuce is growing hydroponically, providing fresh greens for the cafeteria salad bar.Wed, 11 Oct 2017 10:01:33 +0000 Saint Joseph’s College takes another big step on the road to sustainability Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 For Elyse Caiazzo, a 21-year-old college senior from Scarborough, studying environmental science and having faith in a higher power are not mutually exclusive.

Caiazzo is the student ambassador for the new Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation at Saint Joseph’s College, a $4 million program recently announced by the Catholic liberal arts school in Standish. The institute is a collection of initiatives designed to support sustainable agriculture and Maine’s blossoming food and beverage industry. It includes a new food manufacturing incubator; a food venture center that will help food entrepreneurs scale up and get their products to market; a hydroponic farm; a traditional farm; agritourism and workforce training through new courses and certificate programs.

This is a lot for a small Maine college with just 1,000 students to take on. But for Caiazzo, it’s just the next step in the school’s marriage of sustainability with its spiritual and social justice missions. And she wants to be a part of it, even though she’ll be graduating next spring, just as the programs begin. It fits right in with the reason she came to the college in the first place.

“Spiritually, we are called to be stewards of the Earth, which is something that Christians in general see as ‘This a present from God, and you need to take care of it,’ ” Caiazzo said. “And I thought ‘Well, what better way to be spiritually invested in my major but also create change through political, environmental and spiritual action?’ ”

Eyse Caiazzo, a senior at Saint Joseph’s College, harvests cauliflower from the school’s farm, Pearson’s Town Farm. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Saint Joseph’s has been slowly expanding its programs in these areas for years and considers them core values. All students are required to take a course called Ecology and the Environmental Challenge. The school does not have a major in sustainability, but students can minor in it, choosing from among 82 undergraduate and nine graduate courses.

As at many colleges today, the interest takes root in more practical ways as well, such as the college’s recycling program and its switch to more energy-efficient lighting.

“As opposed to other institutions, it feels to us that sustainability of the planet – and that includes people – is written into what we have all signed onto” at the college, said Kimberly Post, director of community-based learning, who created a scholars program for students interested in sustainability and helps run the school’s annual sustainability festivals.

Saint Joseph’s College is one of many schools affiliated with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, according to Sister Michele Aronica, chair of the sociology department. The Sisters have developed what they call “five critical concerns” as a community, the first being Earth (followed by immigration, nonviolence, racism and women). As part of its mission to care for the Earth, the Sisters have advocated against fracking and in favor of national and international agreements to reduce the impact of climate change. They see these issues as social justice issues, Aronica said.

Elyse Caiazzo, a senior at Saint Joseph’s College, harvests cauliflower from the school’s farm, Pearson’s Town Farm. The school has introduced a new sustainability program. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“We believe that we all need to work for sustainability and to support movements and legislation that will support peoples’ fundamental right to water and address climate change,” she said. “It calls us to look at our own behaviors and how we are complicit in doing things that are antithetical to Earth, and to adopt principles for sustainability.”

Greg Teegarden, chair of the Sciences Department and among the professors who teaches Ecology and the Environmental Challenge, says the new Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation is part of a natural progression of Saint Joseph’s sustainability efforts. The required environmental course, he said, began around the time he came to the college in 2002. It was one of the school’s first steps toward making “a more overt effort to introduce sustainability into everything we do.”

Teegarden notes that students can’t be forced to share the school’s values regarding stewardship of the Earth, but professors can responsibly point out what they are and why they are considered important.

MaryClaire Attisano, a sophomore at Saint Joseph’s College, harvests Marketmore 76 cucumbers from the school’s farm, Pearson’s Town Farm. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“We say here that it’s an education in a values-centered environment,” he said, “and so we want to make sure that students come away with a sense there are certain values we hold dear, and that we feel are essential components of a well-educated and responsible citizen of the community, of the country, of the world.”

Students usually take the class in their junior year. Teegarden always tells them the literal translation of ecology, from its Greek roots, is “the study of the home.”

“I always make the point that another word that has the ‘eco’ root is the economy, which is the management of the home,” Teegarden said. “Whether we want to manage the world’s ecosystems, we are in fact doing it. We are already having an effect on them, and we can manage such that they go well or we can manage them poorly. If we’re going to be managing systems, in order to do it well we need to understand how they work.”

So students learn about how the Earth’s systems work, then they talk about the challenges, such as pollution, changes in the atmosphere and ocean waters that cause climate change, and degradation and overexploitation of natural resources. Finally, they learn about potential solutions.

Teegarden talks about Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and climate change in his class, but students don’t have to be Catholic – or embrace any kind of faith – to participate in the classroom discussion. (Teegarden says he has had atheists in his classes.) The professor tries to use the encyclical in the appropriate context, as a way to illustrate, for example, that Catholics do not keep science at arm’s length in the debate over topics like evolution.

Alyssa Dolan, assistant farm manager at Pearson’s Town Farm, stacks freshly harvested broccoli. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“The Catholic Church is very open to the fruits of scientific efforts,” Teegarden said. “It’s nice in a way, because we are free to discuss religion in a scientific context and to use that to reassure people that they need not fear what the scientists have to say.”

The course also gives students hands-on experience at the school’s Pearson’s Town Farm, where they learn about responsible agricultural practices.

Fewer than half of the faculty, staff and students at Saint Joseph’s are Catholic, Post notes, “but everybody who is here does embrace the mission of the college, which includes advocating for justice and peace and recognition of each person’s responsibility for the welfare of humankind and the environment.”

She said the school tends to attract students who are interested in the environment and social justice.

“It tends to be a part of who they are,” she said. “They have a history of community service already. They have a history of helping others and doing social justice work, and I think that sustainability shares the same thing – students are just more inclined to be passionate about that kind of work.”

Elyse Caiazzo’s story is typical. She grew up in a family where she was expected to play outside until dinnertime. Her family took camping and hiking vacations. In high school, she took an advanced placement course in environmental science, where she learned about the ozone layer, global warming and organic agricultural practices, and it stirred her interest. She considered a future as an environmental lawyer.

Domestic turkeys wander freely at Saint Joseph’s College’s farm. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

After graduating from Cheverus High School in Portland, Caiazzo spent her first semester of college at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, studying political science. She transferred in the spring to Saint Joseph’s, realizing that she had “a huge calling” to study the environment. She’s now a double major in environmental science and political science.

In choosing Saint Joseph’s, she said, she embraced a place that would encourage her to grow in her spirituality, but she was also impressed with the required ecology course.

She immediately jumped into working at Pearson Farm, which she thought was “so cool” and convinced her she’d like to be a farmer someday. It felt, she said, “like a spiritual calling.” Her days on the farm made her consider the similarities between laborers such as farmers and fishermen and the laborers she’s read about in the Bible – including Peter, the fisherman who became an apostle and one of the early leaders of the Catholic church – who are “the tenders of this Earth.”

“Usually these people are so connected with God because they are so connected with God’s creation,” Caiazzo said.

Caiazzo is still considering studying environmental law, but has decided to study agricultural policy at graduate school first.

“The No. 1 way to change the environment, or change anything, is to educate people,” Caiazzo said, “and Saint Joseph’s is making that step to educate their community, to say ‘You are able to make a change, you are able to face huge challenges.’ ”

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

Twitter: MeredithGoad

]]> 0 Wilson, an employee at Saint Joseph's College, demonstrates how a row of spring mix lettuce is growing hydroponically, providing fresh greens for the cafeteria salad bar.Thu, 05 Oct 2017 18:46:01 +0000
The continuing education of a new gardener Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 A few weeks ago, toward the end of my second season as an aspiring gardener, I typed up a list of what I’d planted and where and how it had done. I did this because, to my considerable astonishment, I now had so many plants I could no longer remember their names, let alone where I’d stuck them.

I’m looking at that list now. Add up the flowers (mostly perennials), the two bushes and one tree, the small herb garden I dug last year and added to this year, the rhubarb and strawberry bed, the delightful fig sapling a delightful couple gave me (it has lived on the deck all summer), as well as the three plants I have managed to kill (thus far), and apparently I have added some 50 different types of plants to my little patch of earth.

If you saw my patch of earth, you would find this hard to believe. Despite a not inconsiderable number of hours I devoted this past summer to watering, weeding, watering, digging, watering, planting, watering, transplanting, not to mention anxiously looking things up on the internet (What is the powdery mold on my peony? What is the fungus on the Swiss chard? Do foxgloves require staking? Why didn’t the Solomon’s Seal bloom? ad infinitum), my yard remains sadly higgledy-piggledy.

Which may be why one of my proudest horticultural moments this summer occurred when my neighbor Lorelle wandered over to tell me about a groundhog she had captured in her Havahart trap which turned out to be a raccoon. When she reached the small, all-pink bed I’d recently dug just outside my kitchen window, she paused from her Tale of the Ravenous Rodent to issue a neighborly compliment: “Your garden is looking really nice.”

Now it so happened the morning Lorelle visited was the day my lone peony blossom blossomed, and the bleeding heart and foxgloves were showing themselves nicely, too. The spot was wearing its Sunday best. This did not last.

Nevertheless, somebody not only thought I had a garden, but she even thought it looked nice.

If this has been my summer of acquisition, then it definitely has not gone according to plan. When I bought my wee, adorable bungalow in 2015, I began keeping a list of flowers I loved and intended to swaddle it in. The list is populated with romantic, cottage-garden blooms like roses, poppies, hollyhocks, honeysuckle, clematis and cosmos, but none of these flowers (yet?) populate my garden. Instead, my shopping approach has been unexpectedly scattershot. Is it any wonder the garden looks equally scattershot? I call it “my flea market garden.” Flora seem plunked in more than planted.

Funny things happened whenever I went plant shopping. Take the viburnum. Long before I got to the store, I spent more time than I care to confess obsessing about a hedge, the right hedge, to screen me from the neighboring lot. My mind – and Googling fingers – ran from blueberries to rhododendron to holly to aronia, then back again, before finally landing on viburnum. Pretty blooms, pretty leaves, pretty berries, food for hungry wildlife. Done. One decision out of potentially thousands made. I felt relief.

Momentary relief, it turned out. Viburnum, I learned, comes in a mind-boggling 150-plus varieties. Even faced with just a handful carried by a local nursery, I had a small meltdown trying to make up my mind. I came home with a Mareisei, mostly because if I hadn’t just picked something, anything, my saintly sweetheart might have killed me.

Pleased with its growth over the summer, I went to purchase a second (on sale!) come fall. No Mareiseis left. After considerably more hemming and hawing, I lugged home a Shasta virburnum that looked rather worse for wear after its summer in a pot: sere leaves speckled with brown. A droopy, defeated aspect. Two weeks in, and it has not (yet?) perked up. Was this a mistake, and if so, how big of a mistake?

On other excursions, the garden store had what I wanted but in blue when I wanted red, or yellow when I wanted purple. Sometimes a plant that wasn’t on my list, usually one in splashy bloom, caught my eye and insinuated itself into my cart, then into my garden.

Then there were the generous friends, neighbors and total strangers who gave me plants. Plants that were not on my list (do you sense a theme?). In August, I stopped by the West End home of a gardener who had offered lungwort for the taking on the neighborhood internet forum, Nextdoor. I came home with three lungwort plants, as planned. Also four double-irises, two wild geraniums, and two plants I still can’t remember the name of. I was lucky to escape without mint.

I spent a few weekends in the spring poking around some of Maine’s many plant sales and carrying home a little of this and a little of that. I grew philosophical: Since you never know what you’ll find, why not be open to the possibilities? There were so many more possibilities in heaven and Earth than I’d dreamt of. Alas, anxiety followed as surely as dew in the morning: Beyond my vague, romantic notions of a cozy cottage garden, shouldn’t I have a plan?

I did have a plan for roses: three rosa rugosa plants blooming in wild, carefree profusion directly in front of the house; the cook in me looked forward to many years of rosehip jam. My friend Molly, former gardening editor at the Houston Chronicle, was visiting and suggested this rose hedge, and I instantly loved the idea. If you saw her spectacular garden, you would love any idea she gave you, too. Nothing said Maine to me like rosa rugosa. As a girl walking Ogunquit’s Marginal Way, I’d adored them. Last fall, I learned to my shock and dismay from a Maine Gardener story in this paper that the bushes are invasive. Heartbroken, I sent columnist Tom Atwell a note: “Tom, would you plant one at your house?”

“I think I would not plant rosa rugosa again,” he responded laconically.

My journey down the rose rabbit hole began. After the rosa rugosa and I broke up, I fell in love with one old-fashioned variety after another, falling especially hard for the Tuscany Gallica, a big-blossomed velvety rose halfway between crimson and purple. It looks straight out of a fairy tale. It’s clear to me now I was on the rebound.

I tried to buy a few of my rose crushes on the internet in late spring. Out of stock. I paid a visit to Skillins in Falmouth, where I lost my heart to several more varieties. A nurserywoman sensed my distress and came over to help. She sized me up and gently steered me toward easy-care roses. They were pretty enough but hardly the dazzlers I’d been hanging out with.

I left empty-handed. At home, I emailed Molly, who, it so happens, wrote an entire book on antique roses, “Pink Ladies & Crimson Gents,” with her husband, Don. She sent me links to a half-dozen suggestions for hardy roses. I emailed her back: “See? You are proving my point. How is one ever to choose?”

“You don’t choose,” she emailed me. “You dig bigger beds.”

As of this writing, the front of the house still looks forlorn. If your eye is drawn to the bed to its left, that’s not a good thing. The assemblage of random plants there makes for an especially motley crew – tall next to short; pastels next to hot-colored flowers; blowsy blooms in bear hugs with tidy, orderly ones; a fiercely determined weed. Sometimes a lot is in bloom, sometimes nothing.

Roses, it seems, will have to wait until next summer.

But I guess I can live with that. I planted bulbs yesterday. The promise of next year’s season in the garden already beckons.

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or at:

Twitter: @PGrodinsky

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Colleges, and their students, must adapt to a rapidly changing world Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Watching a child embark on the college search process can be sobering (and not just in making one feel old!). It sparks reflection on how much higher education has changed, and how much it still needs to transform.

The most obvious change in recent decades is cost – breathtaking, eye-popping cost. Average annual tuition fees have risen at more than twice the rate of inflation. Yet the typical American family today makes slightly less than a typical family did 15 years ago. That puts many middle- and lower-income families in a financial vise, risking far more student debt than is prudent.

With most American families unable to foot the full bill for higher education, institutions are admitting more foreign students who can readily pay the tuition, room and board fees. This trend is rapidly reshaping the student body on many campuses.

Another less obvious change is the shift from instruction by regular faculty members to a rotating array of teaching assistants and adjunct lecturers. According to Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus (authors of the 2010 book “Higher Education?”), 70 percent of college instructors are now classified as part-time, temporary workers.

The minimal compensation offered to these contingent workers is not driving up college costs, but the generous pay and benefits for multiplying administrators must be. The ratio of administrators to students essentially doubled between 1976 and 2007, Hacker and Dreifus report; how did previous generations ever navigate their college years without the aid of a director of active and collaborative engagement, a director of knowledge access services or a director for learning communities and first year success?

New majors and interdisciplinary programs have arisen, but academia remains largely a landscape of silos. Knowledge is still apportioned into discrete departments, most of them identical to those that existed when I was in school, and when my parents and grandparents were. This compartmentalization seems remarkable, given our increasingly interconnected world and the forecasts for dramatic work-world and planetary transformations.

The future of work is a moving target, with technology challenging our whole conception of what we nostalgically call “careers.” The predictions are so extreme they are difficult to envision.

Today’s high school student may hold 17 different jobs spanning five fields by the time they retire (according to a recent Australian report).

Nearly half of current jobs could be replaced by automation within two decades.

Roughly two-thirds of today’s grade-school students will work in jobs that don’t yet exist.

Many young people still see their college years much as their parents did: a time to sample different subjects, settle on a major and graduate with some specialized (and ideally marketable) expertise. Professors share a similar view, hoping to offer students a solid foundation in a particular field. Yet “as the global economy becomes increasingly digital, the value of a stock of knowledge is continually diminishing,” consultant Heather McGowan and professor Daniel Araya wrote last year for the Brookings Institution.

What young people increasingly need is “learning agility,” the mental flexibility to roll with rapid change – seeking out, weighing and synthesizing new information and reapplying it as circumstances shift. Building this capacity may require students to cultivate greater initiative, wrestle with complexity and ambiguity, and persevere through repeated setbacks. Whether or not the staid halls of academia are cultivating these capacities remains an open question.

Beyond the continual adaptation demanded by the new work world, today’s students face a planet that is increasingly unstable – its natural systems upended by rising levels of atmospheric CO2. As “global weirding” further destabilizes ecosystems, economies and cultures the world over, no field or enterprise will be immune to upheaval.

The recent spate of destructive hurricanes offers a harsh reminder that climate change will not remain the purview of environmental science majors. It will transform the jobs and lives of economists, urban planners, engineers, diplomats, elected leaders, manufacturers, technological designers, journalists, emergency responders and countless others. How can higher education best prepare young people – whatever their major – to navigate these uncharted waters?

Some institutions are making an admirable commitment to practice and teach environmental sustainability (with Unity College, College of the Atlantic and the University of New Hampshire at the forefront of this trend). But relatively few students today graduate from college with a deep and far-reaching understanding of how – in the coming decades – the changing climate could alter the planet itself and their own professional paths.

Young people embarking on higher education need creative guides who can help foster the nimbleness of mind and resilience of character they’ll need in the turbulent times ahead. That’s a tall order for academia, and time is growing short.

Marina Schauffler provides research, writing and editing services to nonprofit and social enterprise organizations through Natural Choices (

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If shoppers take note, grocers might try harder to be green Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Peter Cooke is a numbers guy. So it’s no surprise he’s taught his children to count supermarket floor tiles and calculate how much more sustainable the store could be.

Most open refrigerated display cases have air curtains, barriers of forced air flowing between vents lining the lower edge of the case and vents running along its upper edge. An air curtain helps keep cold air inside the case. When anything physical – say a customer’s arm reaching in to grab a package of bacon – breaks the curtain’s plane, refrigerated air escapes.

Easy customer access is the point of any open display case in a grocery store, so that particular instance of cold air escaping is, well, inescapable. But many times, packages of bacon get jostled during the selection process and fall onto the case’s bottom vent, disrupting the curtain for however long the package sits there.

While grocery shopping with their parents, Cooke’s kids walk along the cases and count how many air curtain disruptions they find. Since they know that every foot of disrupted air curtain flow results in 27 cents per day in wasted energy, if they count 10 tiles worth of blocked air curtain, they can deduce the store has lost $2.70 in wasted energy costs that day. They also understand that pushing any merchandise out of the way of the air curtain’s flow is the right thing to do, both in terms of fostering a greener environment and helping the store’s bottom line.

Cooke explains that since grocery profit margins are so tight (the average American supermarket that pulls in $18 million in sales annually makes a slim $370,000 profit), a store must sell $17 worth of merchandise to make up every dollar wasted on inefficient energy use.

When he’s not teaching his own kids about the prospect of a more sustainable grocery store, Cooke works for Manomet, a science-based, nonprofit organization that works on practical applications of sustainability principles across business sectors; he works out of Manomet’s Brunswick office as program manager for its Grocery Stewardship Certification initiative.

Those hard numbers have helped Cooke convince managers in 700 grocery stores across 15 supermarket chains nationally, including Hannaford, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods, to identify ways to curtail storewide energy waste; promote recycling; divert food waste from landfills and incinerators; and give local and organic products recognizable, systematic placement on their shelves.

Typically, designated green captains in each store seeking certification work with a Manomet representative to fill out a 260-question survey that explores how well an individual facility and its procedures address two dozen areas of sustainability. When a grocery store chain certifies a pilot number of stores, Manomet staff goes on site to educate and engage employees in the process as well as verify survey answers. If a chain chooses to then certify all of its stores, Manomet audits a representative sample of the survey results. Stores must achieve 150 out of a possible 285 points to earn Manomet’s certification.

I walked with Cooke through Hannaford’s Forest Avenue store in Portland, which he says is one of the highest scoring certified stores in the country, to learn what to look for.

It starts in the parking lot. Do signs remind customers to bring their reusable bags into the store?

Once you enter the store, are you immediately presented with opportunities to recycle plastic bags, glass bottles and metal cans? When you look up, do you notice energy-efficient spot lighting and ceiling fans redistributing warm air collected from the compressors that are keeping the refrigerator cases cold?

In addition to checking to see if display case air curtains are intact as the Cooke children do, also look at the tops of the vegetable display cases for the metal handles of mesh curtains that can be pulled down when the store closes. Cooke says each curtain saves $35 per year in energy costs and helps maintain moisture levels, keeping produce fresher longer and reducing overall food waste.

While in the produce section, ask an employee if the store sends its food waste to a compost facility, a pig farm, a waste-to-energy plant or the landfill.

Coffin coolers in the meat department should have sliding doors (they save $40 per case per year in energy costs, Cooke says), and displaying seafood on cold stainless steel instead of ice and using low-flow, blue-nozzled sprayers can reduce water usage in that department.

In the dairy aisle, note if the cases have doors and are equipped with sensors so that LED lighting inside illuminates only when a customer approaches.

While it was all the rage 10 years ago for a grocery store to assemble local and organic products in a single section of the store, Cooke says recent studies show that those products are more likely to be purchased if they are housed close to conventional products of the same type.

“Say you’ve been shopping for 30 minutes when you realize you forgot to grab the local eggs from the special section near the produce, and you’re now standing in front of a wall of conventional eggs. Are you really going to hike back across the store to get the local ones?” Cooke asked rhetorically.

Under his program, for a store to earn sustainability points selling local and organic products, they need to be integrated throughout the store yet highlighted as greener options with ample signage.

Cooke’s kids aren’t the only shoppers who care whether or not grocery stores are operating on a greener plane. A 2015 study conducted by the market research firm Cone Communications showed that 77 percent of the respondents care about the sustainability parameters of their supermarkets.

“Whether or not a green certification plays into their choice of which grocery store they use regularly remains to be seen,” Cooke said.

Perhaps letting store managers know we’re looking hard at the green steps they are taking will move things along in the right direction.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at


Ingredients for Crispy Pork and Vegetable Rice Bowl. Staff photo by Derek Davis


As you source ingredients for this quick, easy weeknight meal, look for evidence that your grocery store is taking steps to make supermarket shopping as sustainable as possible.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons local honey

Zest and juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 cup)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce

1 tablespoon minced chili pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

8 ounces sustainably raised ground pork

4 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chopped ginger root

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

3 cups hot, cooked rice

1 cup thinly sliced red bell peppers

1 cup shaved local carrots

1 cup diced cucumber

1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

To make the sauce, combine 1/4 cup warm water and honey in a medium bowl. Stir until the honey dissolves. Add the lime juice, vinegar, fish sauce, and chilies; set aside.

Pour the oil into a large skillet, and heat over medium high heat. Add the pork, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon until it is brown and crispy, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the chopped white parts of the scallions, the garlic and ginger. Cook 1 minute. Remove the pan from heat. Stir in half of the reserved sauce and all of cilantro.

Divide the hot rice, red peppers, carrots, cucumbers and chopped green parts of the scallions among 4 four bowls. Top with equal portions of the pork mixture and chopped peanuts. Serve immediately with the remaining sauce.

]]> 0, 05 Oct 2017 19:16:11 +0000
Sustainably minded Maine millennials juggle multiple jobs to make a living Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Sarah Wineburg graduated from College of the Atlantic in 2013 with a degree in human ecology – as do all undergraduates at the Bar Harbor college – and she still calls herself a human ecologist. But here are some other descriptors Wineburg has had in the last year: oyster farmer, seaweed harvester, Montessori school teacher, captain of a sailing lobster boat, sailing instructor, and program director for the educational programs on the schooner Harvey Gamage.

And then there is her most recent gig, working with Harvest Moon catering in Waldoboro.

She just turned 27. She’s in love, with her boyfriend and with Maine, and with what she calls “a really beautiful life,” one geared toward tackling the world’s sustainability issues, rather than adding to them. But sometimes?

“Sometimes I wish I had a job somewhere that was really stable and where I knew how much money I was going to make,” Wineburg said.

That is a refrain often heard throughout professional circles in Maine, a state crawling with people with necessary side gigs, whether they involve snow plowing in winter or picking up restaurant shifts in summer. But among Maine millennials working within the field of sustainability, quite often at nonprofits, it’s a particularly common phenomenon. And sometimes it goes beyond the single side gig to three or four part-time jobs that together, pay the rent, the student loans and not much else.

Sarah Wineburg pauses before starting to count oysters in the grass along the banks of the Damariscotta River on June 29. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“You really have to want to do this,” said Sandy Gilbreath, who works 20 hours a week at Maine Food Strategy, an initiative to advance collaboration in Maine food systems. She’s pursuing her passion for local food issues, but since May, when funding cuts meant going part time at Maine Food Strategy, she’s also been working part time as a bartender at the Riverside Grill at the Portland Golf Course. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Maine in environmental planning and policy and a masters from USM’s Muskie School in Policy, Planning and Management.

She’s devoted to improving Maine’s food systems, from promoting connectivity between local foods and Mainers to cutting back on food waste. And so are many of her friends, which tends to mean they’re putting in resumes for the same few job openings. In July, Gilbreath spoke at an event sponsored by Portland Global Shapers Hub, a leadership group initiative of the World Economic Forum, Attendees had come for a discussion about how to make it in Maine, and they shared in Gilbreath’s dilemma; making the world more sustainable is not exactly economically sustainable on a personal level. “The theme for all the speakers was that everyone had a side hustle,” Gilbreath said.

Sarah Wineburg carries a bag of oysters out of the river. “Sometimes I wish I had a job somewhere that was really stable and where I knew how much money I was going to make,” she admits. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“Everyone is overqualified,” she added. “We all do it for the mission.”

The mission is to make a better, more sustainable world and there are many ways to do that. For Gilbreath, it’s through food policy, for others it might be promoting clean energy, working in sustainable fisheries or agriculture, education, forestry or wildlife biology. None of these are get-rich-quick fields.


On a day in early summer, Wineburg led the way through the fields at the Great Salt Bay Farm & Heritage Center in Damariscotta. It was time to check on her fledgling oyster farm, something she does every week or every few weeks, depending on her busy work schedule.

“I have like six jobs,” she said. “I love all of them, but…”

Most have something to do with being on the water and while she wishes this weren’t the case, some of her gigs are tied to the tourism industry. She worries she’s selling out her lifestyle. Like her summer gig hauling lobster traps from a sailboat, showing tourists how the old timers did it.

“Like my way of life is someone’s quaint vacation,” she said, “when in reality I can barely pay my taxes.”

Sarah Wineburg, a College of the Atlantic grad, garnishes an opened oyster before eating it – one perk of one of her jobs. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

There’s also the seasonal factor; tourists tend to depart after Labor Day and so do their dollars.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do this winter,” she said later, as she flipped through oysters, checking for mortality (she’d only lost a few) and growth (good). This is less like a farm than a garden, actually, since it’s not yet commercial; Wineburg is enrolled in a two-year oyster gardening program intended to introduce students to the aquaculture movement. She gets to eat a lot of oysters, and, a side bonus for a young woman whose friends are partnering off for weddings on a regular basis is that she can gift them with oysters.

The sailing trips she leads, or crews on, some from Rockland Harbor, some Down East with Sail Acadia, are touristy too, but they go into the fall, and she feels as though they are “meaningful” because she’s introducing people to the beauty of Maine’s coast and natural resources. “And hopefully getting them to think about conserving it.”


Emma Burnett volunteers with Portland Global Shapers Hub and helped organize the making it in Maine event where Gilbreath spoke in July. Burnett is a native Mainer who returned to the state after working in San Francisco; she came back with digital credibility and is able to work in digital communications on a national level, remotely. She feels lucky she’s not racing around for multiple gigs, working for nonprofits, like many of her friends. The Maine economy presents a particular challenge for those working in sustainability areas like food systems, Burnett said.

“We have a lot of young people who want to have meaningful work lives,” Burnett said. “But there are so many problems with it, salary being just one. Basically only people with family wealth can support a life on those salaries.”

By family wealth, Burnett doesn’t mean Kennebunkport seaside mansion style money; she means a parental safety net, often associated with white privilege. She considers herself in that category.

“I have got parents who are from around here who can pay my cell phone bill for 10 years,” she said. “I lived with them for six months when I moved back home. I can ask them if I need to put down a deposit on an apartment.”

She’s struck by the irony of a situation where nonprofits trying to do good are paying so little.

“You are trying to help communities grow their own food, and you are forcing a white person with inherited wealth into the position because they are the only person who can afford it,” Burnett said.


There’s steep competition for these nonprofit jobs too.

“If there is one job opening it is like, everyone knows about it,” said Olivia Dooley, who has been piecing together an income in sustainability work in the last two years in Maine, including temping, grant writing for Wolfe’s Neck Farm, a stint on the Mayor’s Initiative for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System (now the Portland Food Council) and an AmeriCorps gig that placed her with the Good Shepherd Food Bank. “Everyone is like, ‘Have you seen that? Have you applied for that?’ So you end up competing against friends.”

Dooley recently landed a full-time job as the Northeast field organizer for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a job that will take her as far as New York but allows her to live in Maine. She’s not from the state but after she finished her master’s in public affairs at the University of Washington and her boyfriend finished medical school, he landed a residency at Maine Medical Center. She’d been in Maine two full years before getting this job. In the early days in Maine, when she compared the local listserv with the one she was still getting from Seattle, the prospects for local employment seemed bleak.

“Just the quantity of options on a daily email listserv… it was a stark contrast,” Dooley said. “But at the same time, the quality of life in Maine is pretty hard to beat,” she added.


Abby Barrows is from Stonington, so the limited job opportunities in Maine were never a surprise to her. In her early 20s, she left the state she loved, heading to the South Pacific to work in seahorse research. She planned a career in science education, and her path there included painting houses, substitute teaching and in the winters, traveling for research gigs in South and Central America, working with everything from sea turtles in Costa Rica to pumas in Bolivia.

“I was traveling with a purpose,” Barrows said. “To build my resume so that when I came back to Maine in the summers I’d have more experience to share.”

“I was feeding my mind, but needing to do other things to feed my belly,” she said of “the juggling game.”

Back in Maine, she lobstered a few days a week and taught science immersion in a youth program at the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, shifting gears between two pretty different worlds.

“You just really have to wear very different hats and have a different face on,” Barrows said, laughing about her fear that the salty language of lobstering could seap into to the classroom. “Your brain is not stagnant, that’s for sure.”

Then one of the guest speakers she’d invited showed the young students how to check ocean water for microplastic contamination, of which, even in the Blue Hill area, there was plenty. “A light bulb just went off in my head,” Barrows said. She’d been seeing evidence in the South Pacific of plastics contamination, like sea turtles entangled in plastic bags or plastics inside the bellies of dead sea creature. Here it was at home.

Ultimately, she partnered with a Montana-based group called Adventure Scientists to work on the microplastics issue. The director of that group persuaded her to get a graduate degree and Barrows enrolled at College of the Atlantic, where she will soon wrap up her masters work. She makes part of her living from the lab she built in Stonington, doing work like running water-quality assessments for private clients on a contract basis. She also has an oyster farm, which became commercially viable for the first time this year.

Once a week from May until Thanksgiving, she shucks and sells oysters at the indoor farmers market in Deer Isle. She hopes to set an example within her lobstering-centric community that there are other ways to make money.

At this point, those two “gigs,” along with a personal project that takes a lot of work, namely, building a house with her husband, is more than enough to put her where she wants to be, in “that conductor’s seat of the (career) train rather than be a passenger.”

That said, she sees value in those years of grabbing paychecks here and there. The juggling game helped her figure out what she really wanted to do.

“For a certain amount of time, having a diversity of jobs was good for becoming a global citizen, ” Barrows said. “It allows you to have different interests and it makes you have to think about things in different ways. If you are not just going in for one 9 to 5 job, you figure out time management pretty quickly. Or you lose gigs.”

The gig economy is helping Sarah Wineburg figure it out. By fall, Wineburg had picked up twice weekly shifts with Maine Fresh Sea Farms in Walpole and was starting to think about graduate school in aquaculture. She was intrigued by scallop farming.

She was also thinking about health care. Much to the relief of her parents, she’d signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. It was a basic plan, but her parents were willing to pick up the tab for a trip to the dentist. “Because my mom is having a prolonged panic attack thinking about my undentisted teeth,” she joked. But in September Anthem announced it was pulling out of the Maine marketplace, and that meant Wineburg was thrown back into health care uncertainty, along with a winter without sailing gigs to round out her income. “I have no idea how I am going to make ends meet this winter,” she said.

“I’ll figure it out,” Wineburg added. “I always do.”

“I’ve turned down more regular jobs so I can do what I want to do,” she pointed out.


Jay Friedlander, a professor at College of the Atlantic (COA), said young people interested in sustainability often end up participating in that gig economy in larger numbers than some of their peers, either because they’re interested in entrepreneurship or simply aren’t interested in corporate life. “People are looking for careers that bring together the professional and the personal,” Friedlander said.

So how do Maine colleges help their students prepare for it? At COA, one way is by fostering them through a program Friedlander runs called the Hatchery, which allows students with a business idea to explore it, for credit and with mentorship, full time for a 10-week term. Entrepreneurial students can test drive their idea before they graduate, and even if they’re bartending on the weekends while they start to make that idea a reality, they’ve got the comfort of a game (or business) plan.

“At a place like COA, you get a lot of students who are on the forefront of what is next,” Friedlander said. “As a result of that, they are out there, and they are establishing whole new industries, which can often mean that you’re putting it together.”

At Unity College, where the motto is “America’s environmental college,” a team of three supplies career counseling, from internships to full-time jobs to graduate programs. “Even though we have only 700 students,” said Melik Khoury, the president of Unity, slightly more than 90 percent of graduates are either headed to graduate school or have a job within six months of graduation. “We are very proud of our placement rate.”

But he’s just as proud of their values.

“We educate them to be environmental stewards, first and foremost,” Khoury said. “Money is a secondary motivator for most of them. And what we are finding is that students are more interested in working in jobs that mean more to them. On average, they do make a little less than I would say students from some of the Ivy League schools that are not focused on the environment.”

But surveys of Unity graduates point to strong job satisfaction, he said. Meaningful work is a choice.

Sandy Gilbreath in her home office in Portland, where she often works for Maine Food Strategy. The USM Muskie School of Public Service graduate also tends bar at Riverside Grill to help make ends meet. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Sandy Gilbreath, the bartender with the graduate degree who is working so hard to reshape Maine’s food system, would agree. Sure, it’s not always easy to spend weekend nights bartending when friends are kicking back and relaxing. She said she could go get a job “as a secretary at a law firm and it would be a stable 9 to 5 job.” But it wouldn’t be fixing the world, or at least, Maine’s food systems.

“You really do have to want it,” she said. “It is worth the hustle.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Wineburg cleans a bag of oysters that she is raising in the Damariscotta River, one of about a half-dozen gigs she's cobbled together to earn a living this year.Mon, 09 Oct 2017 14:08:35 +0000
Mina Amundsen watching as the campus at Colby College is growing Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 By the time you read this, Colby College should be tapping into the sunshine as its new solar farm goes into operation, the largest at any Maine college. But that’s not the only new green initiative on the Waterville campus, as we learned when we called up Mina Amundsen, Colby’s assistant vice president for facilities and campus planning.

Amundsen arrived at Colby in 2015, just in time to get in on the planning of the solar farm. “It is really cool to be in on the beginning stages of a project.” She’d been working at Cornell as the first the director of campus planning and then of capital budget before the move to Waterville. A trained architect, she’d also been a senior planner at Harvard. Colby already had a major sustainability feather in its cap, a biomass-fueled central steam plant that provides the heat for the campus. Colby adheres to a rule that the fuel comes from no farther than 50 miles from campus. And any waste from the plant? “We have a local organic farmer who takes the ash and puts it on his fields.” (That would be at Rainbow Valley Farm.)

SITE SPECIFIC: The college was considering two locations for siting the solar farm, including one that was off campus. Amundsen says an educational component factored into the decision to pick the spot just at the edge of the campus on marginal land (“we were very careful not to take up conservation land or farmland”). “It has really great teaching opportunities. There has been a lot of interest from the faculty and students.”

THE NUMBERS GAME: The array will provide 16 percent of Colby’s total demand for electricity and is the biggest solar array on a Maine campus – Bowdoin College in Brunswick laid claim to that title until Colby got into the solar farming business. When we talked, Colby had not yet flipped the switch fully on but was “in the testing and tweaking sort of phase.”

NEXT UP: Amundsen is also overseeing the design and construction of a 350,000-square foot athletic complex (with Maine’s first Olympic-sized pool, fitness center, indoor track, squash complex, hockey rink and atrium), which will be the largest project in Colby’s history and likely one of its greenest. “LEED silver is the minimum and we’re shooting for, LEED Gold.” It won’t open until 2020, but preparatory work is already underway. The baseball and softball fields were relocated and new fields built, with sustainability in mind, including using terracing to slow down and filter water flow and connecting the new athletic fields to the wooded trails around campus.

WALKABOUT: Those trails get major use, from the cross country teams running them for practice to professors using them to study birds and plants. The areas between fields and woods are being restored with native plants. “So the woods come right in and frame the new fields. The idea was to keep that setting as natural as possible.” That seems like nearly as much of a trend on campuses as solar farms, moving away from manicured lawns as flat as ironing boards. Amundsen agrees, and says it is an entirely positive one. “If you are a college in Maine, you have to have a landscape that is of Maine.”

MEADOWLANDS: She’s also working with landscape architects, soil specialists and builders to create wet and upland meadows around the new facilities. Is that like a wetland? No, Amundsen said, it’s more like they’re working with a wet area that’s already there from a pond, planting meadow grasses and plants that will thrive in wetter soils. “What we are doing is taking advantage of the landscape to tell the story of that water. If you capture the surface hydrology, you are allowing it to be in a more natural state.” The idea is to create a landscape that doesn’t need pesticides or fertilizers and that attracts pollinators and wildlife (Amundsen’s husband Ole is a former executive director of Maine Audubon). “Lawns don’t support much of anything.”

HOMECOMING: The decision to take a job at Colby was an easy one for the family, since Ole Amundsen went to Colby and they have family in Maine. Mina Amundsen grew up in India. “I grew up in very big cities, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta, and we moved around a lot when I was a kid so I love the fact that Waterville is a very small community.” And that her daughters, one in middle school, the other in high school, can bike and walk to school.

DOWNTOWN DREAMING: Which brings us to yet another Colby project, a new dorm in downtown Waterville that will hold 200 students and faculty and staff apartments, as well as retail space at ground level. It’s slated to open fall 2018. Amundsen isn’t overseeing the building directly, but in the overall scheme of college planning, it’s meant to provide a different kind of sustainability connection, revitalizing a downtown that has struggled but is bouncing back. “A strong Waterville is good for Colby,” Amundsen said.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

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