Meet – Press Herald Sat, 25 Nov 2017 05:09:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Scientist Steve Eayrs knows how to build a better fish trap Sun, 19 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 We met Steve Eayrs at one of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Trawl to Table programs, a daylong crash course at the Portland nonprofit’s headquarters on how the seafood supply chain works. Eayrs, a research scientist at GMRI since 2007 who works in the area of fish behavior and gear technology, has designed some new spins on old gear, intended to make fishing more efficient and sustainable. His clear, no-nonsense explanation of everything from how the gear works to how data about fishing can be twisted into “doom and gloom” scenarios about the state of the world’s fisheries caught our attention. We called up the Australian native to learn more and managed to make only one cheesy reference to the land Down Under. (Sorry, make that two.)

AT THE END OF THE LINE: Before he became a scientist, Eayrs was a fisherman. And not a guy dangling a line on weekends; he was a commercial fisherman pursuing shrimp and orange roughy. That was his first job. He’d grown up in a military family, and the family moved frequently and was often overseas. After finishing high school, Eayrs set off on a hitchhiking journey around Australia. Like a walkabout? (The young, aboriginal male’s rite of passage.) Eayrs laughed. “I see where you’re going. I suppose you can call it a walkabout, in a very general sense.” It’s true that he had little idea of what to do with his life. “Fishing wasn’t on my radar, although I do recall as a young person being very interested in books on marine biology and books on colorful corals and things like that.” Then he fell in with a crew of commercial fishermen. Or were they?

CROOKED CAPTAIN: Eayrs spent a few weeks with these new friends, including someone who said he was the captain of a fishing boat called the Carlisle, enjoying some time ashore. Eayrs decided maybe he’d enter this line of work with his new friends. “I had a promise of a job.” But the “captain” was masquerading in the role, having swiped the checkbook of the boat’s true master and commander, so that promise was empty. “I had no money left. I was broke.” Eayrs landed a job ashore, processing shrimp for about six months, which was more fun than it sounds – “it wasn’t unpleasant” – until he got a gig as a deckhand. On the Carlisle, much to his surprise. (The real captain didn’t hold anything against him.)

FUTURE WIFE/LIFE: “I never felt that I would be a fisherman my entire life. I knew I had to have a backup plan. That was something my father drilled into me at an early age.” After a few years, he enrolled at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania to study fishing technology. While he was in Tasmania he met his future wife. He finished his degree, taught for a year and then, “convinced my wife to let me go back out fishing.” Which meant a lot of time at sea, as shrimping in places like Burma was far from a day-boat kind of operation. “The style of fishing I did, being so remote, meant often being at sea for months a time.” Barges would come out to meet the fishing vessel, offload the catch and leave them with fuel, food, water and mail. “Sometimes you would go months at a time without stepping on land.” The year he got married, he said he was away for about 11 months. “I came home to a wedding already organized.” He’s not bragging; “that is not sustainable.” He went back to teaching.

PROFESSOR OF FISH BEHAVIOR: Away from fishing, he focused on what he recognized as a disconnect between gear and prey. The fisherman’s goal was always to catch more of what he or she wanted, and less in the way of bycatch or discards. But the gear didn’t always serve that goal. The tropical shrimp fishery he’d worked in, north of Australia, had a reputation for pulling up a big bycatch along with the shrimp. “A pretty bad reputation.” He wanted to incorporate what he knew of how different prey moves through the water into gear design. “If you understand the behavior, you can design and modify to exploit those differences.”

INDEPENDENT PEOPLE: As he taught and researched and dreamed up better fish traps, he was also getting two advanced degrees. First he got a master’s at the Australian Maritime College, and then, just after he was tenured there, he got the itch for an international job and a doctorate. He and his family relocated to Portland when he landed the job at GMRI, and he began chipping away at his degree from the University of New Hampshire. “I wanted to understand human behavior and decision-making,” particularly as it relates to change. Because even when he came up with good ideas, the kinds that could save fishermen money (like trawl doors shaped to allow them to burn less fuel) or make them more money (say, a trawling net that weeds out the protected cod from the groundfish the fishermen were pursuing), they didn’t necessarily embrace it. Decision-making isn’t always rational, Eayrs says, and fishermen tend to be traditional sorts. “They are set in their ways, and they are an independent people. Encouraging them to change is a perennial challenge.”

THE INSIDER’S INSIGHTS: New England’s fishing traditions stretch back farther than those in Australia, but Eayrs nonetheless often encounters a disconnect between the general public and fishermen. “People generally don’t understand what fishing is about. Fishing is a food-production system. But unless people are heavily reliant on fish for protein, they don’t understand the challenges and rigors of going to sea in all weathers. Or sometimes not making much money. Or being as heavily regulated as they are, and then coming back and not getting to rest, because in their days off there is always work to be done.” He helps educate outsiders with insights that only a former fisherman would have.

FAR FROM HOME: It’s not always easy living in a foreign country – getting a mortgage with a decent interest rate when you have no American credit, for instance. But more than a decade ago he fell hard for the atmosphere at GMRI and the work the nonprofit does to build economies and stewardship of the Gulf of Maine, “how clever and passionate and wonderful the people were.” His three children are grown and back in Australia now. Will he stick around? “I love the job.” And the place. “Portland, Maine, is just a wonderful place. If we didn’t love it so much we would have, to use the Australian vernacular, pulled up stumps long ago.”


]]> 0 Eayrs specializes in fish behavior and gear technology at Gulf of Maine Research Institute.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 08:05:00 +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
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
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
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
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
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

]]> 0, 06 Oct 2017 12:51:09 +0000
Allen and Elissa Armstrong are driving toward a more sustainable future Sun, 01 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 First of all, the Chevy Bolt is not technically Allen Armstrong’s car. It’s his wife Elissa’s, but she lets him drive it, all over their hometown of Portland and beyond. She also gave the go-ahead to talk to Source about just what makes it so great, how much it cost them and how a guy who used to treasure his gas guzzlers got interested in electric cars in the first place.

IS THIS YOUR FIRST? First fully electric car, yes, but Allen Armstrong has a hybrid already, an early generation (2006) Honda Insight. The Armstrongs do have two other electric vehicles however.

COME AGAIN? “Two recumbent trikes.” Those bike-like things you lie down in? Yes. “And in this particular case, they now have motors on them.” The older of the two he converted to electric two years ago for his wife. “And she found it so helpful in getting around town, particularly on the hills.” We’re talking Munjoy? “State Street is the classic. That is the one I find most challenging in Portland.” He actually built one of the trikes himself (he’s a retired engineer who worked in semiconductors in Massachusetts for much of his career). Were these the gateways to an electric car? “I think they were! I just found out how pleasant electric is. That smooth power…you just drive it with one foot and it does exactly what you want.”

HOLD ON THERE: We pointed out that we drive our gas-powered Outback with just one foot and it does exactly what we want it to, and Armstrong laughed and conceded that he’d always driven a stick, so maybe that was the difference. Nonetheless, he likes the car and the way it drives. “I think if I let you drive it, you’d get it.”

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO BOSTON: The car’s range on a full charge is between 240 and 270 miles. The couple recently tested its limits on a trip to Boston. Were they nervous about making it there and back? “Yes indeed, we were. So what we actually did was we plugged it into a wall outlet in Lexington where we were staying, just to make sure.”

PLUG IT IN: Wait, a wall outlet? Yes, Armstrong explains, he can charge the car on a 110-volt outlet, it just doesn’t take the charge very fast (4 miles per hour). At home he’s got a 220-volt outlet for the car. “That will charge at 25 mph.” Thus his bedtime routine involves plugging in the car. “It works best if you let it go overnight, so having one in one’s home is pretty convenient.” They have yet to try out a commercial charger, even though they’ve had the Bolt since the beginning of June.

POWER STATIONS: Why not? “It is just kind of expensive.” A charge down at the station near the Portland Hannaford on Forest Avenue would cost him about $11, which would get him about 50 miles, he said, and that seems like a lot for now. Kind of like paying marked-up prices for convenience at the corner store – why do it if you don’t have to? But the Armstrongs are planning a cross-country jaunt soon. “We know we are going to have to plot where the stations are.”

PRICE TAG: What did the blue Bolt cost them? “After the tax credit, it will cost us about $35,000.” The tax credit is $7,500, and if they don’t have that kind of tax liability this year, they can roll it over, as they once did with their solar panels. They installed the panels about five years ago, and because the historic district in the West End limited what they could do to the roof, the panels produce just 1.8 kilowatts of power. Recently they joined the Freeport community solar farm to pick up another 6 kilowatts.

HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON? They’re serious about sustainability, but Armstrong said that’s a relatively new thing for him. “It had sort of a religious origin,” he said. “I go to a Unitarian Universalist church, and I went in 2004 to the national convention. They were proposing a study issue for the year on global warming and species extinction. I had no notion what it was or any interest in it. But once my attention was drawn to it, I decided to teach an adult education class just to learn about it. I am an engineer, and I was intrigued by the problem.”

AN AWAKENING: He says it was a shock to realize he should alter a lifelong habit that started in 1957 when he acquired a 1947 Renault (“totally worn out. Had taken four coal miners to work for years in Illinois before I got it”). “I had loved old gas-powered things. I had a lot of motorcycles. Chainsaws. Every kind of gas-powered thing and particularly old cars. All of a sudden I realized I can’t have fun blasting around in these things knowing that I am polluting the atmosphere.” Or more like, contributing to climate change, right? Yes, Armstrong says.

BEST OF THE BOLT: He’s pretty happy with this car, although it has one problem he says he’s discussed with other Bolt owners. He had a chance to meet some other Mainers with Chevy Bolts at a recent test-drive event organized by the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Everybody complains about the shift lever. You have to push in this little button. The way it works is a little counterintuitive. But in other respects, they got it so right. I have tremendous respect for the engineers who put this together.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0, 29 Sep 2017 11:32:47 +0000
Kayla Blindert sees a gleaning trove in backyard fruit Sun, 24 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Kayla Blindert wrapped up her year-long AmeriCorps assignment in Portland in August, but she opted to stick around through the harvest because she’s got a gleaning project she’s excited about. As the first-ever Maine Gleaning Week approaches, we called her up to talk farms, fruit and how Portland residents can help feed the hungry just by opening their garden gates.

WALK THIS WAY: When Blindert signed up for AmeriCorps, she requested Maine for her assignment. Why? The South Dakota native has a thing for New England architecture, and Portland offered another bonus. “I used to live in Spain, and living abroad you are forced to live without a car, and I really liked living without a car, so I thought I am going to choose a city where I can walk everywhere.”

MAP BUILDING: Blindert’s AmeriCorps position is with the Cumberland County Food Security Council, where she serves as the gleaning coordinator. She’s been arranging gleans at local farms all summer, including Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth and Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough. But the legacy she wants to leave behind – her AmeriCorps gig is focused on starting initiatives within a community and getting them on the course to being self-sustaining – is one with a more urban bent – a map of fruit-gleaning possibilities. She’s looking for hidden gleaning opportunities in urban backyards, ones she’s noticed as she rides her bike around the city, namely fruit trees filled with apples and pears. “Just on Munjoy Hill, I know there are a bunch of them.” She’s not scaling any fences to poach fruit; she’s looking for landowners willing to offer their trees for gleaning.

THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE: She’ll take Concord grapes or other varieties as well. “If the fruit is edible and delicious, I’m more than happy to include that tree in our database/map.”

THEM APPLES: The first step in the project (done in conjunction with Cumberland County University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Food Recovery Coalition) has been reaching out to homeowners through neighborhood associations, specifically to people who might otherwise let the food go to waste. As Blindert assesses the backyard fruit possibilities, she’s open to the less than perfect. “The woman I am going to see tomorrow says she has McIntosh but that they are pie apples and not pristine.” Blindert is coordinating with Wayside Food Programs to explore options like making applesauce or apple cider for the food bank. The grand scheme is to establish what’s out there for next year and the year beyond. She’ll take a photo of the tree (with its owner) and the fruit, establish a location on the map and have the photos, along with samples of the fruit, on display at the Portland Public Library on World Food Day, Oct. 16, as Maine Gleaning Week concludes. The map, or database, will be accessible to those in the Maine Gleaning Network, but is not a public document.

Kayla Blindert works in the Cultivating Communities garden on Oxford Street.

LOVE FEST: Blindert grew up on a farm in Salem, South Dakota, where her family plants corn and soybeans and raises cattle. “It’s not like giant, though.” She calls it a typical Midwestern farm, but says that doesn’t mean it fits with the stereotype held by many Easterners: miles and miles of corporate-owned mono crops. Her two brothers work on the farm, along with her cousins and uncle. But it is pretty different from the Maine farming community Blindert sees (and appreciates) in her gleaning work. “I like small, diversified vegetable farms. I love Maine Farmland Trust. I love what they do. And that the community really cares about where their food comes from.”

AT THE MARKET: She gets firsthand exposure to that at the Portland Farmers’ Market, where she took a second job, working at the information booth. “I wanted to get to know farmers, so that I could improve my chances of getting them to let me glean on their farms.” Her responsibilities at the booth include helping those with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) use their EBT cards at the market, which gives them double the value for their dollar on some purchases. “It always feels like every Wednesday I am explaining it to someone new.” And it’s rewarding: “They are so excited to get all this extra money.”

PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE: She knows what she’s talking about with SNAP benefits. “Since I am in AmeriCorps, I qualify because we are paid at the poverty line.” Thus she gets to put programs like Harvest Bucks to work in her own kitchen. There’s some public sentiment that SNAP beneficiaries don’t work. “Me and my friends all work 40 hours a week.”

WHAT’S NEXT? Since she likes Maine so much, is she going to stick around? Probably not for the winters. “The winter months are a little too much with those snow bands. I might just go visit my friends in Spain for the winter.”

PUTTING YOU ON THE MAP: Do you have fruit trees that need picking? Contact Blindert through, and your trees may be added to the gleaning network’s map.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Blindert gleans apples from a tree in the Cultivating Communities garden on Oxford Street.Fri, 22 Sep 2017 14:55:38 +0000
Train conductor Joe Feero will get you to the fair on time Sun, 17 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Joe Feero has taken more trips to the Common Ground Country Fair than even some truly die-hard Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) members, but he hasn’t gone to it. There’s a riddle in here. Read on to find out the answer.

JOURNEYMAN: Feero hasn’t actually attended the fair. He’s too busy serving as conductor for the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad, the train that runs from Thorndike and Unity to the fairgrounds every September, shuttling people to the fair from satellite parking lots. “I’m the eyes and ears” of the train, he said. How did he get that job? Or rather, jobs: “I am the executive director and a conductor and the track guy and an equipment guy.” All of these are volunteer jobs; Feero works full time in a social services agency. Volunteering for the Common Ground Country Fair train is what happens when you have an interest in history, a love for trains and grew up with a grandfather from Brooks who was a “track guy” for that very railroad.

END OF THE LINE: The train runs all day for the three-day fair. “We haul around 4,000 people to the fair,” Feero said. He and the other train crew, from engineers to ticket takers (volunteers, all) like to joke that they are the only commuter railroad in Waldo County, and for three days in September, that’s true. The volunteers are part of the Brooks Preservation Society, the nonprofit that oversees the old Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the line, which runs through Waldo County and was originally planned as a route from Belfast all the way to Montreal (it petered out after 30 miles). The fair gig helps out MOFGA by eliminating at least some traffic from the home stretch to the fair, and it raises funds for the preservation effort to maintain the tracks (leased from Maine’s Department of Transportation) and locomotives going.

THE FAST TRACK: An adult combination ticket for the train and fair admission is $23. The beauty in that is skipping the last painful few miles to the fair via the roads, and that the train ticket gets you unlimited rides that day. Buy a scythe and want to stash it in the car and then go back? Not a problem. The train runs about every 30 minutes from Thorndike and about every 50 minutes from Unity. Feero may not be getting off the train at the fair, but he sees the point of riding it. “The benefit is, obviously it is a fairly short walk from the station to the fair. (It’s right there) And it is nice to wave to the traffic as you go through it.”

MOVING ON UP: Like a commuter train, the fair trains do not guarantee a seat for all. “It can be crowded. But it’s a short ride.” The group is adding more coaches to provide more seating. “Every year that we have done the train we have tried to make it better.” There’s a warm atmosphere on the train, he said, a mix of people with and without children and a lot of repeat customers. “I have seen quite a few of these kids kind of grow up in the in the nine years I have been doing it.”

HITCHIKERS: Oddest customers he’s seen over the years? “Occasionally some livestock.” Come again? Well, people do buy things at the fair, and for some that might be an axe, for others some apples and for still others, animals. “We have had chickens and rabbits.”

TEMPTATIONS: So he’s never been to the Common Ground fair. Does he know what he’s missing? The train station at the fairgrounds is in the woods right behind the fairgrounds. This means Feero can kind of sort of see what’s going on through the trees. Mostly he gets a vivid hit of the fair’s olfactory pleasures. “We just smell the food.” Nobody offers to bring him anything? “I try to bribe people and tell them I won’t let them back on unless they bring me something, but it never works.”

OUTSIDE SUPPORTER: Just because Feero doesn’t get to go into the fair doesn’t mean he doesn’t support its values. “I think organic farming and sustainable living is important. I’ve always been a supporter of both as important to a healthy environment. Local food production helps make communities stronger. It is better for us, the environment and our children.”

PRIVATE CAR: Like many of the train enthusiasts who work for the nonprofit, Feero owns a little piece of the rail magic. Specifically for him, that’s a 1914 caboose built by the Portland Terminal Company. It came to him with as a real fixer upper, including with a leaking roof. “I just wanted to see it saved.” What does his grandfather, still alive and in his 80s think about his caboose? “He thinks I’m foolish. Everybody who has been around railroads knows when you get old equipment, it is a lot of work.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, 18 Sep 2017 09:20:37 +0000
Bowdoin College grad Sam Brody knows climate change Sun, 10 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Perhaps you saw Sam Brody on NBC News, explaining why Houston is prone to flooding, or read quotes from him in the Wall Street Journal, or heard him on NPR’s “Marketplace.” Since the catastrophic arrival of Hurricane Harvey on the Texas and Louisiana coasts, the director of the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at Texas A&M University has been very busy explaining flooding to the world. The rain had just stopped when we called the Bowdoin College graduate to talk about his journey to expert status, how he managed to stay dry in all that rain and what Merrymeeting Bay taught him.

GAME CHANGER: Brody admitted right off the bat that he was exhausted. “I think I have given over 50 interviews over the last few days.” Primarily, he’d been talking about the reasons for the flooding in Houston and what humankind can do to protect its coastal cities and towns from future extreme weather. We wanted to hear about his roots in environmental studies. He said he arrived at Bowdoin College in 1988 thinking maybe he’d be the next great American novelist. He even got to live in the dormitory where Nathaniel Hawthorne had lived (and likely, caroused with his friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). But the very first class he walked into changed his life.

WATER WONKWORLD: It was an introductory environmental studies course taught by Professor Ed Laine. “Ed was an oceanographer and was teaching, essentially, systems planning.” Although Brody had never given land use planning a thought before, “That first day I was like, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do.’ ” He majored in environmental studies and anthropology, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. No novel writing happened, but for his final project as a senior, Brody completed a study of Merrymeeting Bay and the

complications of an ecological system fragmented by many jurisdictional boundaries (Bath, Brunswick, Bowdoinham, to name a few) which would all have to participate in collective decisions for its future. He focused on water quality issues. “I remember going around to each town and looking at their policies.”

SUMMER DREAMING: To this day, he says, “Merrymeeting Bay is near and dear to my heart.” Maine too, he says. One of his early jobs was with Evan Richert, an adjunct professor at Bowdoin who later became the director for the Maine State Planning Office (an office established in the 1960s and eliminated under Gov. Paul LePage) working on coastal issues. “I am basically doing the same thing, or taking the same approach, today” (but with better mapping technology). Brody earned two graduate degrees, one in environmental studies from the University of Adelaide in Australia and another in resource policy and behavior from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He came back to Maine to work for the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment and on that stint in the state, met and married a Brunswick native, Korin Wilk Brody. They were fixed up, despite his insistence to the fixer-upper that he was done with blind dates. “I am a nice Jewish boy from Baltimore. I had been fixed up so many times.” Nonetheless, he opened the door “and that was it. The universe shifted.” They reluctantly left Maine for his doctorate program in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he focused on city and regional planning.

Water covers a country road in Sargent, Texas, on Sept. 1, nearly a week after Harvey crashed into the Texas coastline as a Category 4 hurricane. Associated Press/Eric Gay

AGGIE SPIRIT: He sped through his doctorate in three years. “I was thinking about taking some time off.” Then the phone rang. It was Texas A&M. “They have some of the best coastal programs in the world,” he said. But Texas wasn’t exactly on his or his wife’s wish list of places to live. They decided to give it a try for two years. “That was 15 years ago.” They still come back to Maine as much as they can in the summer. This summer it was to a rental cottage on Orr’s Island, and from there Brody would take runs through Bowdoin’s (new to him) Coastal Studies Center. “I was like, ‘Wow, I wish this was here when I was a student.’ ”

PUBLISH AND FLOURISH: He applied for a National Science Foundation Career Award, making a bid to look at natural hazards around flooding, and received it. “That led to a book and then another book.” And talks around his research, which to his mind hadn’t changed that much, but which his audiences suddenly found much more interesting. “Ordinarily, I would go and talk about it, and it would be a snore fest. And then I started talking about wetlands and habitat and related that to observed flood damages, and people went crazy for it.” The idea that reducing human impact on flood areas would make a difference was in fashion.

WE DON’T LIKE IKE: Brody’s position at Texas A&M changed after Hurricane Ike in 2008. The administration faced the question of closing for good the university’s satellite campus in Galveston, which had been seriously damaged by Ike. “Or do they double down and become leaders in the this area of coastal sustainability? This being Texas …” They doubled down? Yes. “They started a research center, and I came down to direct that.” The Galveston campus is now a special-purpose campus serving about 3,000 students. “Everything is focused on coastal marine issues.”

THE TROUBLE WITH HARVEY: Regional watershed approaches (like say, Merrymeeting Bay in the early 1990s) has long been the focus of his work. Key to those approaches is smart development that allows for natural barriers, like wetlands, to remain and considers the ultimate impact of creating impervious surfaces through building and paving. (Houston, American’s fourth largest city, has no zoning laws.) Brody has had national and international support for these ideas, but not so much in Texas proper. “I have been talking and writing and speaking and cajoling people for the last 10 years, which I think is why I am so tired from Harvey.” But he senses a shift. “The discussion about the pattern of development and impervious surfaces has really gotten louder and more frequent. I feel like there is hope going forward and this major disturbance will be a starting point for new conversations.”

DRY FEET: The Brody family was stuck inside their Houston home for three days because of the high water. With teenage boys. But no water entered their house. That wasn’t luck. That was planning – earlier this year when the Brodys were shopping for a new house. Brody took a careful look at elevation and drainage. “While Korin was looking at granite countertops, I spent a lot of time choosing a house that I thought would never flood.”

THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT: It occurred to him during their house shopping that average buyers aren’t able to tap into that kind of information easily. Zillow might give them crime rates, but it wouldn’t give them flooding odds. Homes that had been flipped, post-Hurricane Ike in Houston, for instance, might be advertised as “never flooded per seller,” but that was only because the seller hadn’t been there for Ike. “The public thinks that if you are not in the FEMA floodplain, you’re not going to flood. Not true.” A month before Hurricane Harvey hit, the university shared the app that Brody had developed, Buyers B-Where. “There are days when we have exceeded 50,000 users.” He hopes that the app can eventually be extended to the rest of the country. “That is the kind of stuff we need to be doing.”

THE PRICE OF PREDICTION: Although this has been his life’s work, watching it play out around him is not what he expected. “It is something I have studied for as long as I can remember. But the personal drama is stronger than I could have realized. I have gone all over the world talking about this, and then to have it happen. It is almost surreal.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, 08 Sep 2017 10:06:26 +0000
Farmer Ben Whatley turns his parent’s land into an evolving farm Sun, 27 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Ben Whatley is the tall young man who sometimes slips away from his booth at the Brunswick Winter Market to play a little bluegrass in the corner. He grew up in Topsham with parents who had given up farming for practical reasons. As a young adult, Whatley had the idea that he’d become a lawyer. Then he spent some time on a working farm and the die was cast. We talked with him about drought, the lesson he learned from a bad year in cantaloupe and how his brother’s wedding opened up new possibilities for Whatley Farm.

THE GRADUATE: After college, Whatley decided to try out an internship at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough before applying to law school. Broadturn was a fledgling business then. “I got introduced to a lot of things there and got to experience it while they were still blurring the lines between their homestead and their business.” He made the rounds of law schools. But the law started to seem less appealing, especially “when I realized that I was going to have to get through law school.”

APPLYING HIMSELF: After another internship, at a market garden farm in North Carolina, Whatley broached the subject of starting a farm on his parents’ property in Topsham. Or restarting it; the family has farming in their blood. His father grew up on a farm in Auburn, and when his parents bought their land in Topsham in the 1980s, they had 1,000 laying hens and some crops. But those were the days of $1 a dozen eggs and “organic was a dirty word,” and once they started having kids, they decided to do something more practical. His father started Morningstar Stone and Tile, a masonry business, today a thriving venture. But both he and his wife work with their son, focusing on the livestock at Whatley Farm. “He moonlights as a farmer.”

MELON MELANCHOLY: In the Brunswick-Topsham area, Whatley has a reputation for growing a fine melon. But thanks to drought conditions in the midcoast, his customers will have to turn elsewhere this year (try Fairwinds for one). None of the melons made it; the ground was too dry for them to get established enough to produce fruit. “That was one of the things that we had that was planted on some unirrigated ground. Usually we have gotten away with planting there. We were kind of gambling on that. And lost.”

Ben Whatley operates Whatley Farm, an organic farm in Topsham that he started with his parents five years ago. Staff photo by Derek Davis

WATER WORLD: What recourse do you have, as a farmer with land that isn’t irrigated in a summer this hot and dry? Whatley has a 600-gallon water tank on a trailer, used primarily during transplanting. But it’s not practical to take it out and spray, say, young melon plants that aren’t thriving. “To cover an acre with an inch of water would take like thousands of gallons. You really need to have an irrigation system.” But even that isn’t a perfect fix. “It is really no substitute for a good rain.”

LESSONS LEARNED: Whatley said he’s got a new perspective after this summer. That unirrigated field is on leased land, eight miles from Whatley Farm, and Whatley doesn’t plan to renew the lease. He wants to focus on the home base, which is 50 acres, most of it in woods with four acres cleared for field crops. “I’m going to focus more on investing in irrigation on our place. I think we’re going to be able to grow more on less land.”

WEDDING VOWS: The other eye opener was his brother’s wedding in July. The family dug in hard to clean up the farm – including moving some of the equipment from his father’s masonry and stone business – so the young man could marry on the farm. “It showed me we can clean this place up and make it safe for people to visit.” And to participate in farm life, whether by staying in the yurt Whatley is thinking of erecting or attending a community event. “I’m trying to find a way to (make) part of the business be experiences too, and not just products.” The next step is to get more events on the schedule; already a butchery workshop – breaking down a half a pig – is slated for Oct. 1 (visit for more information on that closer to that date).

THE TROPICS: He’s also working on new crops, including ginger root, lemongrass and turmeric. This last one, turmeric, is a red variety from Hawaii. “We just started doing that, and we’ll have it here for the next month or two. It has been really fun. I want to have more tropical plants in the greenhouses.” The greenhouses are new, too, thanks to a $25,000 grant from Farms for the Future and a low-interest loan, and the pair of them add up to about a quarter acre. “We haven’t really realized the potential of them yet, but I am going to be focusing on that a little more next year. I do like being able to just walk out the door and be in the greenhouse.”

TRANSITION TIME: Whatley has been spending less time at farmers markets this year. He’s had more management duties on the farm, having lost some employees, including a few who went off to start farms of their own (Leaf & Caul in Washington, which is focusing on pork, and Good Dirt Farm up the road in Bowdoinham). “I just found I really need to be here every day.” He’s content to be digging deeper into what the farm has already got. “I want to keep it beautiful and really human-scaled.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Whatley operates Whatley Farm, an organic farm in Topsham. When he was younger, he thought he'd be a lawyer.Thu, 24 Aug 2017 18:44:59 +0000
Dishing with food scientist Mary Ellen Camire Sun, 20 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Mary Ellen Camire is professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine. She’s also the director of the University of Maine Sensory Evaluation Center, where much of her research focuses on how consumers respond to Maine-specific commodities, like seaweed, potatoes, berries and grains. We talked with her about her background in nutrition, why where you eat matters when you are taste testing and how the lab works with new local foods.

TEXAS TIME: Camire studied biology as an undergraduate at Harvard and she met a professor there, famed nutritionist Jean Mayer, who inspired her to go on to get an advanced degree in nutrition at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Then I married a food scientist, and he worked for Frito-Lay (in Texas), and they asked me to help with some food testing.” She started with orange juice and experimented with mixers for things like Baccardi drinks. “You wouldn’t want to launch a product and then find out it gives people a bellyache.” While in Texas, she got a Ph.D. in nutrition science from Texas Women’s University. Her dissertation research involved high-protein, high-fiber Cheerios. “I still haven’t seen that in the store yet.”

MAINE MOVE: She applied for the job at the University of Maine in the late 1980s, joining the university’s lab in 1989. At that point, the university had already been doing sensory evaluations since the 1930s. “We’re really the only lab of this kind in New England. Cornell is the closest.” Does she work only on foods that are produced in Maine? “Occasionally, we work with products that aren’t from Maine, but absolutely, our research focus is on crops and products from Maine.”

ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO: One of the very first jobs she worked on at the lab was trying to figure out what to do with the waste from processing potatoes into chips and fries. “We were doing sustainability before it was even trendy.”

WHAT ELSE? They’ve experimented with the invasive green crabs – everyone wants to find a way to eat them – and wild blueberries. One of their missions it to figure out what to do with the culled blueberries from processing (you know, the red and green ones that get raked along with the ripe berries). “Some are going to compost, but we were trying to find value-added ways to use them as ingredients.” Like extracting the pectin and finding ways to get the nutritional parts of the berries into say, dog food. Often the lab will work with companies that have landed a USDA grant. “We will provide the consumer testing for them so they will know if their concept is on target.”

TOP SECRET CHEF: The lab has done some tinkering and tasting with a soy drink involving wild blueberries. Yum, where can we get that? With this particular concoction, apparently, nowhere commercially, yet, although that thesis was completed in 2004. “The timing on these things is really funny. Ideas come up, and 20 years later, they come to fruition.” Or sometimes, the lab doesn’t know where or what happens to their results, because many companies don’t want their research shared, so “it’s hard to track how our information gets used.”

BIG GREEN: “We’re doing a lot with seaweed because the industry is really taking off. Most of the new companies don’t have a food scientist on staff.” Her students have been helping Ocean’s Balance with a kelp bar, a particularly hot item right now (like a protein bar, but kelp-based). “There are about four companies trying to do that.” Ocean’s Balance recently brought a kelp puree onto the market (it’s available at the Portland Food Co-Op and Harbor Fish, among other local outlets) and Camire thinks purees are winners, especially for those who balk at the taste of seaweed. “It doesn’t taste fishy.” Other seaweed products that might be coming through the lab include a seaweed broth. “That will certainly make the vegans happy.”

ON THE ROAD: The lab is in Orono, but often they’ll hold sensory evaluations in other locations, like say, Belfast or Portland. The lab isn’t an ideal setting to see how a new food goes over, Camire said. “Because that is not necessarily how people eat. And we want to see how a person would enjoy the food. Like if we were testing lobster rolls, we might want to take it to a beach. That is a big area in sensory science, understanding the role of emotion and context in how people select foods.”

REWARDS PROGRAM: Camire loves seeing her food science students go on to success. Which she says more often than not involves working on the corporate side of things. Three of her former students have gone on to be vice presidents of food companies (none in state). As she herself has aged, she’s gotten more interested in working with older populations, specifically in trying to find ways to make important nutritional products, like whole grains, more palatable for a generation that isn’t necessarily accustomed to buying bulgur wheat. “I like working with older people. I am getting there myself.”

THE NUTRITIONIST’S DIET: How does Camire herself do in terms of healthy eating? “I am a big advocate for eating different, varied foods. I don’t necessarily eat bread every day. Right now? A lot of greens, including bok choy, My partner planted two whole packages of pea pods so we are eating a lot of stir fries.” And her side gig helps with health too: “I am licensed as a Zumba instructor.” Sometimes, she says, “I wonder why I am working seven days a week. But I don’t get bored.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, 18 Aug 2017 10:56:05 +0000
Regina Grabrovac believes in blueberries for all Sun, 13 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Regina Grabrovac is the food programs manager for Healthy Acadia – Washington County, running everything from farms to schools programs to gleaning operations. We heard that because of the wild blueberry glut, she was looking for gleaners who wouldn’t mind picking up a blueberry rake. We called her to talk about her efforts to get some of those unwanted berries into the hands of hungry Maine families. Along the way we learned how the Machias resident got so interested in agriculture and why she uses a cider press to educate Washington County schoolchildren.

CITY GIRL: Grabrovac knows agriculture, having worked with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in the 1980s, distributing organic produce, helping farmers find markets, and farming or gardening herself, on Mount Desert Island, in Surry and then in Machias. But she’s originally from New York City. How did a city girl turn into a country woman? As a teenager she attended John Bowne High School in Queens, which had an agricultural program. She tended chickens, grew her own crops and spent two summers working on farms. This was not her neighborhood school; in fact, she spent an hour on the bus and subway to get there from Manhattan.

Regina Grabrovac is the food programs manager for Healthy Acadia – Washington County. Photo courtesy of Regina Grabrovac

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: Which was her choice. Why? “I always say that it was my grandmother.” Her grandmother was Quebecois and had grown up on a dairy farm. When she told stories to her granddaughter, “They were cloaked in this ‘it was a horrible life’ tone,” Grabrovac said. “However, she was so passionate about telling the stories that it was clear that underneath she also felt that it was a wonderful life. She would tell me how scared she was when she would have to bring the bull in, or how cold it was. But what I heard was the love.”

PARENTAL PRESSURE: Her mother was supportive of her decision to go to John Bowne for high school and on to College of the Atlantic (Grabrovac ultimately graduated from Marlboro College in Vermont). But she seemed to think that after college Grabrovac would give up her fascination with farming. “For the next ten years after that, she would say, ‘when are you going to get a real job?’ ” But in the late 1980s, Grabrovac got a letter from her mother with a newspaper clipping inside (in the way of all mothers, pre-Internet), and it was “about how organic agriculture was the hottest thing.” She knew then, the question was laid to rest.

PHASE TWO: It was about 2008, long after Grabrovac had settled down with writer Paul Molyneaux and moved to Machias (Surry was getting a little crowded for him), that she discovered her next passion. She attended a farm-to-school workshop and not long after, put in a grant proposal for a coordinator for a farm-to-school program in Washington County. She didn’t get that one, but she got the next and went to work for Healthy Acadia, which serves both Washington and Hancock counties, facilitating community health initiatives. In 2014 she became a full-time employee. She runs gleaning programs, coordinates efforts to ease food insecurity and connects local farmers to the community. Especially in schools.

CIDER PRESS RULES: Washington County has about 4,000 schoolchildren,, Grabrovac said. She’s worked with about half of them. The level of engagement in the farm-to-school program has differed from school to school, with some simply hosting a fall harvest meal, while others have embraced school gardens. Her most tried and true tool for reaching students, she said, is the portable cider press (“not light, but I can get it into a small vehicle!”). Kids love it and it’s a way of engaging them in their own neighborhoods, she said.

HOW’S THAT? Apple trees are everywhere in Washington County, she said. “I looked around and I said, ‘We have schools that do not have an abundance of resources. But we have apples.’ ” So she turns her students into foragers, telling them to go look around their own yards and communities. “Not looking for fancy apples,” she said. “I just tell them to harvest whatever is in their neighborhood.” They’d bring them in and use them to make cider. And she hopes, connections. That program, aptly called the Apple Project, started with funding from the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and is now a Healthy Acadia program in both Washington and Hancock counties.

REGINA APPLESEED? Grabrovac also runs pruning and grafting workshops, through Healthy Acadia and open to the entire community. For her own pleasure, she keeps a resource list of 60 sites in Washington County where heritage apple trees grow. “There is this historically significant resource that is in almost every yard.” Is she Down East’s John Bunker? “I am the John Bunker of Washington County when John was maybe in his 20s,” she said. “I am way behind the curve.”

BLUEBERRIES FOR ALL: She’s also the production manager for two community gardens, one at Washington Academy, one at the University of Maine at Machias. Both supply food pantries. When Grabrovac heard the glut in wild blueberries was driving prices down to the point that some farmers had decided not to harvest, she went into action. With the blessing of Welch Farm in Roque Bluffs, she’s leading a gleaning operation this week and next. And she’s looking for a few volunteers. “It is daunting,” she said, “because a lot of people here know how to rake blueberries, but they want to get paid to do it.” (Call Healthy Acadia’s office at 255-3741 if you want to rake.) Her hope is to get at least a pint of fresh wild blueberries to everyone who visits local food banks. But she’s wistful about the berries that might end up rotting on the vines. “I wish we could create the means to harvest all the berries that are going to go unharvested.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0 GrabrovacFri, 11 Aug 2017 14:46:37 +0000
Retiree Pat Burns thought he’d lend a hand to Georgetown’s bureaucratic matters Sun, 06 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 About six months ago, Georgetown resident Pat Burns got it in his mind that the town’s comprehensive plan, which hadn’t been updated in more than 20 years, might need re-examination. He volunteered his time to look at possible updates. His goal, he said, was to make sure that Georgetown wasn’t falling off the state radar for services like road work, but along the way he learned enough about the town’s changing demographics to get worried about the local economy. That set him off on a path he never expected; overseeing a new entity, Georgetown Aquaculture, and along with it, five new oyster farms that were seeded just this month. We called him up to talk oysters, retirees and the onion ring situation at Five Islands.

TURNAROUND IS FAIR PLAY: Burns has been a Georgetown resident for about 30 years. He and his wife Elizabeth Spaulding are both retired, she from a career in customer relations at L.L. Bean, he from what he describes as “the retail turnaround business.” Translation, he worked with companies in trouble. “The last one was Vermont Teddy Bear.” After he sold a catalog-consolidation business to Walt Disney (essentially a marketing center geared toward environmental organizations), he grew weary of commuting from Maine. “I was in a airplane two or three times a week,” he said. Making more money seemed far less important than quality of life. “So I got to retire at 52.”

(NOT SO) URBAN PLANNING: While he was exploring updating the 1993 comprehensive plan, he took a hard look at Georgetown’s demographics. The median age of the town (population 1,042 in the 2010 census) had increased by 33 percent in the last 25 years, while the number of very young residents (under age 5) had fallen off by 60 percent. “We are rapidly becoming a retirement community,” Burns said. (He’s a case in point.) Retirees are driving up the costs of housing and pricing locals out of the market. “Many who grew up here have limited means to stay in the town.” And he saw a direct link to what was happening with work in the fisheries. “It hit me right between the eyes that our marine activity has seen dramatic declines in the same time frame.” He means fisheries such as sea urchins, shrimp, clamming and ground fish; lobster is still booming. For the time being. “We all know it is just a matter of time because it is declining to the south of us.”

HELPING HAND: Understanding his own demographic, combined with issues related to climate change, are contributing to the problem, Burns wanted to do something. So he and Michael Bonney – yes, that Michael Bonney the one who, with his wife Allison Grott Bonney, recently gave $50 million to Bates College – cofounded Georgetown Aquaculture about five months ago to create ways to help locals find alternatives to traditional fisheries. Bonney spent summers in Georgetown when he was growing up and his family has a house there, and as Burns put it, “I did not have to sell hard” when he asked Bonney to join him in the venture. It wasn’t the first time the two had partnered; they helped finance Michael Gagne and his biscuit and baked goods company Gagne Foods together.

SOWING CHANGE: Burns showed up at the Georgetown Shellfish Committee meeting and floated the plan. He and Bonney would provide funds – in the form of five-year loans – to set up five farms, along with fronting the cost of the seed and help getting licensed through the state. Each farmer gets 10 traps, and the initial seeding will be 240,000 baby oysters. Next year the plan, Burns said, is to add another farm and 600,000 more seed divided among the six farms. They hope for an annual expansion after that. Oysters take between two and three years to mature, so the farmers will have time to bring product to market before starting to repay the seed money, a total of $160,000. Burns said they had no problem getting five farmers to sign up for the spots, and over the course of June and July, they had three educational sessions to get them prepared, with an instructional assist from Dana Morse, an aquaculture researcher with Maine Sea Grant who works with many farmed fish, including scallops and oysters. “That eliminates rookie mistakes.”

SHELLFISH FUTURES: Two oyster farmers are already working in the well protected Robinhood Cove, which Burns said is the best site for oyster farming in the Georgetown area. One of the farmers already up and running, Joshua Stoll, who is with the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences, will let the new farmers piggyback on his website and the oysters will be marketed under the name Robinhood Cove Oysters, Burns said. “The real reason for this is so people will stay in town. The farms will provide a good living and the beginning of a whole new approach to our marine economy in Georgetown.” Georgetown Aquaculture also plans to help reseed an existing clam farm in Georgetown and look at ways to expand into scallops, quahogs, mussels and kelp, Burns said.

SPEAKING OF SEAFOOD: Burns is a fan on more than just a theoretical level. “I will eat two or three pounds of mussels, and I can eat two dozen oysters in a sitting.” Since Burns has the inside scoop on the Georgetown area, we wondered, what is his favorite dish at Five Islands Lobster Co.? “The fish sandwich is always delicious.” But is he, like other fans of the picturesque spot, mourning the lack of onion rings this summer? “You took the words right out of my mouth.” (Breaking news, as of the end of July, Five Islands had resolved the staffing problems that led to them 86-ing onion rings this summer and they are back on the menu.)

ABOUT THAT RETIREMENT: Remember how Burns supposedly retired at 52? Community activism (he’s president of the board of the Indian Point Association in Georgetown), deep dives into comprehensive plans (it looks like Georgetown will get a new one of those in the next few years) and now aquaculture; he seems pretty busy for a retired guy. He laughed. “My wife said, ‘The real question is, when are you going to re-retire?'”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 photo by Gregory Rec Pat Burns at Robinhood Cove in Georgetown, where five oyster farms are starting up thanks to a venture called Georgetown Aquaculture that Burns is overseeing.Thu, 03 Aug 2017 19:04:50 +0000
Scott Lindsay knows where the wild things are Sun, 30 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Scott Lindsay is a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. He’s in the department’s Sebago Lake Region, which includes about 100 towns and “pretty much all kinds of Maine wildlife.” We’d called him up to talk about his work but we confess, we did have a very specific question to ask that’s practical, ethical and at this season, timely. Say we’ve trapped a skunk or raccoon in our yard. What should we do with it? Lindsay gave us that answer, filled us in on some reasons why moving a bear isn’t a great idea and told us how home repairs could make our original question moot.

ON THE JOB: Lindsay is a Massachusetts native who came to Maine to study at the University of Maine in Farmington and was happy to land a position with Inland Fisheries & Wildlife in 2000. Although before joining the department full time (he’d worked on some projects for them in his student days), he spent two years in Montana and loved that too; “I can tell you once I got out there I could have easily stayed.” A key part of his job is negotiating the interface between humans and wildlife. While Maine is not even remotely a heavily populated state, the potential for unwanted animal-human interactions is still high, Lindsay says. “We do spend quite a bit of time trying to resolve these situations.” What’s the top priority in these situations? “Our highest priority in any of these situations is to work with landowners to try to find a way to minimize the problems being caused by the wildlife without intervening by catching the wildlife.” That could mean a discussion of say, one’s soffits or trim boards.

TOUGH ON SOFFITS: Wait, what? It’s a matter of access, Lindsay explains. If there’s a spot for the animals, be it squirrel, bat, skunk or what have you, to gain entry to the walls or cellar or attic – or under a deck or porch – the first priority should be shutting off access, rather than moving the animal. “If you don’t combine that with solving the problem, it is just a matter of time before some other animal gets in.” His department also works with homeowners to “identify any sources of attraction at that house for the wildlife.” We’re talking bird feeders, compost heaps, grills with last night’s dinner baked on and smelling appealing. Or a tree that hangs so close to the house that a squirrel can practically step from tree to roof.

MOVING DAY: A homeowner with a skunk in a trap has two options. Kill it or move it. Most tend to go with the latter choice, he said. “It has been my observation that often, a landowner is going to feel very good about moving it, like they are doing the right thing.” They have a rosy vision of the animal’s future. He gets why people decide to relocate the animals, even though it’s highly discouraged by wildlife biologists. “Most people do like wildlife, and they do think it is a better outcome.” As an animal lover, Lindsay wishes people would go beyond considering just the individual animal they’ve moved instead of killed to also thinking about how it will fare in that new environment. Because you’re making a change to the ecosystem.

THE ODDS: While it is obviously true that being dead is not nearly as good an outcome as being moved, Lindsay said such animals have only a 50 to 60 percent chance of surviving a shift to new territory, where they don’t know how to find food and where they may encounter more predators or more competitors for the space. “About 50 to even 75 percent of them might die,” he said.

WHEN YOU PUT IT THAT WAY: The stress on an animal that is relocated is no small consideration, Lindsay said. “Say if I went into your home and all of a sudden I said, ‘You are going to to come with me, we are going to move you, you are creating a problem here, so I am going to take you three towns away and leave you on the front steps of someone’s house.’ ” And more than that, most animals are going to make a quick decision, he said, and that is to flee.

HOMEWARD BOUND: Like the bear he once relocated all the way up by the Quebec border. “Within a week it came back to the area where we had relocated it from. That must have been a distance of some 100 miles. They have a very, very strong ability to find locations.” That traveling bear ended up dead at a hunter’s hands. After all these years on the job, Lindsay said he has come around to thinking that it is far better for everybody if his department can find a way for the landowner to live with the bear in the ‘hood. He and his colleagues would rather move the bear to somewhere else in the neighborhood and then “haze” it a bit, with noise, hit it with some rubber bullets, fire off some pyrotechnics and maybe even “some hound dogs barking nearby.” Bears are scared of dogs, typically.

THE BIRDS AND THE BEARS: Some advice for landowners who live near woods? One of the best ways to attract a bear is to put up bird feeders. So take them down in early April, as Lindsay does and put them back up again in November. In the spring, those birdies are going to be just fine, he said. And they’re the lucky ones; no one minds having them around.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 problems being caused by wildlife, advises Scott Lindsay, pictured at Scarborough Marsh, without catching the wildlife.Thu, 27 Jul 2017 18:24:42 +0000
Brianne Du Clos has created a tool to help wild blueberry farmers Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 University of Maine Ph.D. candidate Brianne Du Clos has spent a lot of time chasing after Maine’s bees. She’s getting ready to wrap up her doctoral work this fall, but first, she’ll be helping wild blueberry farmers navigate a new tool called BeeMapper she created to help them with their pollination management plans. To find out what that means and how the tool works, we called her up and learned a few other things about her along the way, including what she’s allergic to and what piece of Maine she never wants to be without.

START UP: Du Clos’ project was part of a five-year University of Maine project that began in 2012, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture specialty crop initiative grant to help the wild blueberry growers. The Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions contributed $40,000 to help fund Du Clos’ work. The idea behind BeeMapper is to allow farmers to predict how much help they’ll get from native bees in pollinating millions of low bush wild Maine blueberries. She started on the BeeMapper tool in November of 2014, came up with a prototype, tested it with a small group of growers during the 2015 growing season, then refined and tested again in 2016. “I naively thought when I announced it, I would get it done in a year.” It was officially unveiled last week at the University of Maine’s blueberry research farm in Jonesboro, although Du Clos expects it’s going to get its most serious use in January, when growers are making their pollination management plans, i.e., figuring out how many hives of honey bees they’ll need to bring in.

LOCAL BEES ARE BETTER: The Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine estimates a billion bees are brought into the state annually for blueberry pollination. But wild bees play a major role in pollination as well. There are 276 species of wild bees found in Maine, 14 of which are quite common. Du Clos and another graduate student colleague did some extensive research in the blueberry fields of Maine and recorded more than 120 of those species buzzing around. “Our wild bees love wild blueberries.” And they do a better job than the imported honey bees. “They are actually better pollinators. They are able to buzz pollinate.” (Grabbing on to the flower and vibrating, so the pollen shakes out.) “They know how work that kind of flower.”

THE REPLACEMENTS? Are there enough wild bees to get the job done? “Wild bees alone would not be able to provide the services that the honey bees provide.” But with the commercial beekeeping industry struggling with parasites and colonies dying off, wild bees are a vital cog in the wheel. “Anything we can do to increase reliance on wild bees is a boost to the ecosystem,” Du Clos says.

MAPPING BEE TERRITORY: BeeMapper is built on three deeply researched areas: what the land cover looks like, i.e., wetland, urban and developed, forested, agricultural; habitat suitability values for bees; and information about the bees themselves, including their geographic range. Maine’s most far-ranging wild bees don’t travel more than a half mile to look for food. “Most of them are going well under a quarter mile.” All this data is configured in geographical areas. It’s static – in other words, it doesn’t reflect actual bee movements, but rather, makes predictions for a typical growing season, with pie charts predicting wild bee abundance. It helps nail down what has been a somewhat ephemeral component of farming operations; how many wild bees are out there and will they show up? “This tool gives them the connection between the landscape and the wild bees.”

A PLANT PERSON: Du Clos did her undergraduate work in biology at a branch of the University of Wisconsin that she described as like the “Fort Kent” of Wisconsin, her home state. She grew up in La Crosse with a mother who “kicked me outside at 10 in the morning and didn’t let me in until 5 p.m.” She came to Maine to study landscape ecology, with no expectations of studying pollinators. “I was always a plant person. I never wanted to study things that moved.” But the opportunity to work with the wild blueberry ecosystem was too tempting to resist. “It is such a cornerstone of Maine’s economy, which relates to the bigger issue of food security. So many of our most nutritious foods are pollinated by bees, and keeping those crops vibrant is so important.”

POWER LINES: BeeMapper is merely one of three chapters in her dissertation. The others are a survey of bee communities and a study of power lines as a source for bee habitat. Say what? “If you look at a map of Maine, it is really forested.” (Maine is usually ranked in the top three states in the nation for percentage of forested land.) “There’s not a lot of habitat for bees. But if you look at Google Earth you see these long straight lines cut through the forest for the power lines.” She researched bee populations in these strips. “I did a vegetation survey. There are tons of flowers in these lines and tons of wild bees. It is like an early successional forest.” (That is, a forest in the years immediately after clear-cutting.)

THE PRICE OF RESEARCH: Du Clos’ bee research has taken her all over the midcoast and Down East Maine. She wears a head net at all times. While she’s not allergic to bee stings, she is “unpleasantly allergic” to wasps. How many times have her subjects stung her? Surprisingly rarely, in part because, as she notes, the solitary bees you might see working your flower garden do not sting. Bumblebees do, though. “I have been stung twice by bumblebees.” Once was by an orange-banded bumblebee she’d stepped on. “The other time I had a bee in a net, and she did not like that.”

BEYOND PIE CHARTS: With all the time she’s spent thinking about getting Maine’s wild blueberries pollinated, she’s ended up with a deep fondness for the tiny berry. And some recipes. “I make a mean blueberry pie.”

FUTURE PLANS? Is Du Clos going to stick around? She thinks job prospects, or rather, the lack of them locally, will take her out of the state. “It is kind of a bummer.” She suspects she’ll end up working in some other region with some other food specialty that relies on wild pollinators. “I hope wherever I wind up, I am always going to have a bag of wild blueberries in my freezer.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0 Du Clos, a UMaine grad student, sets bee traps. Du Clos developed a tool called a BeeMapper to help farmers develop pollination management plans.Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:56:14 +0000
Katy Kelleher’s new book showcases many different sides of Maine Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 “Handcrafted Maine: Art, Life, Harvest & Home” might launch another wave of migration from Brooklyn. With its lush photography by Greta Rybus, it’s the kind of coffee table book that makes you want to run off to Maine to weave baskets or make leather goods or at least, bread. (Oh, wait, we already live here.) Shortly after the book arrived in our mailbox we called up the author, Katy Kelleher, for a conversation about how she and Rybus chose the Mainers profiled within. We also learned about that time she successfully begged for an internship at one of the hottest websites around, and discussed her obsessions with the North (beyond Maine even) and ghost stories.

PICKING PROFILES: The book includes profiles of the co-owners of Tinder Hearth bakery in Brooksville, two women who run a sporting camp in northernmost Maine, and the family that owns Tide Mill Creamery in Edmunds. There are 22 in all, culled from an extensive list by Kelleher and Rybus. “We had about 250 names at first and we whittled it down.” Geography was a factor; they didn’t want to focus too much on say, Portland. Or have too many people in the same field. “We wanted this book to feel like it really showcased a lot of different sides of Maine.” Narrowing it down wasn’t easy. For instance, “there are so many amazing painters in Maine,” Kelleher said. They decided on Dozier Bell, a Bath native who makes haunting sea and sky-scapes (with lots of birds) in Waldoboro. “That was one of the most incredibly thoughtful conversations I had.” It went beyond brush strokes to “philosophy and Greek auguries and how they used to look up at birds to try to find omens.”

THE NOTEBOOK: Back to the 250 possibilities for a minute; where did they come from? Kelleher started as the online editor at Maine Magazine in 2012 after about a year at Dispatch Magazine (now defunct). One of her favorite tasks was writing the magazine’s monthly “48 Hours” feature, in which she’d soak up a Maine location for two days and try to do and see everything. “I absolutely adored them. That is how I like to travel. I love getting really immersed. It was such an amazing way to get to know Maine.” She had a notebook devoted to “48 Hours” and every time she met someone intriguing, she’d jot down their name. This happened over and over in all manner of spots, not just galleries. “I collected this huge notebook of names.”

ON THE MOVE: It stayed with her when she moved onto the position of managing editor and then when she left the magazine in 2015 to pursue a freelance writing career (she still writes for Maine Magazine). She wanted more time to scout stories, she said. “I realized that my favorite part of writing was talking to people and being in the field. And having that sense of constant curiosity and being on the move. You can’t do that when you are editing a magazine.” One of the writers she’d worked with regularly at the magazine, Jaed Coffin (author of “A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants,” had heard that editor Jan Cigliano Hartman was looking for a team to produce a book about Maine makers. He connected them, and she and Rybus, whose work is also seen regularly in Maine Magazine and who wrote about and photographed many Maine makers in a blog for the Portland Press Herald called “Who I Met.”

SEA SICK: Once the duo had picked their subjects, they paid visits to them, usually more than once, sometimes out of necessity. They wanted to photograph and observe lobstermen in winter, so they headed out with a crew from Stonington in the dead of winter. “We wanted to show that the lobstermen are so tough that they are out there in January. That Maine is not just summer.” But 10 miles offshore in huge winter waves? “I was incredibly sick. And we were pitching so wildly that Greta couldn’t focus her camera.” They had to return in milder weather. The lobstermen only teased Kelleher a little about being sick. But that was OK. “I would rather be teased than pitied.”

ADOPTED STATE: Kelleher, 30, got her start in journalism when she was at Bard College. She’d started reading the website Jezebel and became a fan of its feminist slant and strong writers (founder Anna Holmes is now a regular columnist for the New York Times Sunday Book Review). “I read it every day.” She’d been taking courses in gender studies, including during a study abroad program in Budapest. “I decided I am just going to write to them and tell them that I am obsessed with your website and please let me be your intern.” She did and they said yes. She did a year of interning and then picked up some weekend editing jobs. “I wrote tons of blog posts, 15 things a day.” She ended up in Maine on something of a whim; she and her husband were living in Cambridge and shopping for a more permanent home. The other Portland was a contender, as was Denver. When she landed a job editing Dispatch in this Portland, their decision was made for them.

TIME AND MONEY: The book was edited by Hartman and published by Princeton Architectural Press, with funding by the Robert P. and Arlene R. Kogod Family Foundation, for which Kelleher and Rybus were grateful. “That was huge, because neither of us are independently wealthy.” The two women already had some experience working together, and they had a lot in common. Both grew up doing a lot of things outdoors – camping, canoeing, fishing, waterskiing – Rybus in Idaho, Kelleher in New Mexico and in the summers, in the Adirondacks. They also share a love of northern climes, and this winter traveled together to an artist’s colony in Norway, above the Arctic Circle. Rybus had been there before and suggested it to Kelleher. “She knows that I am obsessed with the North.” And Kelleher had a collection of ghost stories she’s been working on; the time she spent time talking to Norwegians about their mythologies should feed into that nicely.

GETTING BY: They also share a love of “back-to-the-land culture and the makers revolution.” Is it a revolution? “That is one way to put it. It is definitely a movement. There is something happening there.” Part of the point of the book is to show how Maine craftspeople, chefs, builders and artists get by, both in a tough climate and a tough economy. Kelleher could relate. “I work so much. I work every single day.” Right now that includes writing about food and sustainability for the new Boston-based magazine “To Market,” as well as freelance editing for Islandport Press. She also takes teaching jobs, including at Portland’s Telling Room and Maine Inside Out, which introduced her to teaching poetry to the young people at the Long Creek Youth Development Center earlier this month. “It was one of the best things that I have done with my life.” As for “Handcrafted Maine?” When she held it in her hands for the first time, “I immediately started crying. I couldn’t help it. It has been so long in the making.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, 16 Jul 2017 18:19:10 +0000
Jessie Dowling presides over the Maine Cheese Guild Sun, 09 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Whitefield farmer and cheesemaker Jessie Dowling was elected president of the Maine Cheese Guild last November. The owner of Fuzzy Udder creamery jumped right into the political side of the job, speaking on behalf of the guild at State House hearings on two controversial food sovereignty bills (including one that is now law). We called her up to get her take on everything from food sovereignty to the climate change-themed names of her cheeses to what her plans are for the future (big).

Dowling grew up in Arlington, Virginia, but came to Maine for high school in the 1990s. “I didn’t do well,” she said of school in Virginia. “So I ended up at Hyde,” which is known for helping struggling teenagers turn their lives around. Back then, Dowling said, tough love was part of the cure. “It sure made me strong and good at doing physical labor.” It also set her up for acceptance to Scripps College, one of California’s Claremont Colleges, where she was involved in two things that changed her outlook on everything.

GUERRILLA GARDENING: The first was taking part in a guerrilla gardening effort on campus, where students planted fruit trees and produce, hoping to feed themselves and the homeless. “We were building an eco-dome to keep tools in,” she said, but it was bulldozed, “because we didn’t have a permit.” The battle of the garden resolved with the university embracing it and even allowing the construction of the dome. “That was my first experience with community gardening. It was really inspirational.” She returned not long ago and saw the fruits of her labors – literally fruit trees that she remembers as shoulder height – “now towering over my head.” The second game-changer happened when the college student traveled to Black Mesa, Arizona, to volunteer at protests against Peabody Energy over the coal company’s abuse of water resources on Navajo land. “Seeing the water being dried up because of the Peabody coal mine, that was like, ‘Oh my God, corporations are affecting basic human water rights,’ and that solidified for me my entire life plan.”

LONDON CALLING: It struck her that growing food was a way to connect with people directly, outside the corporate structure of America. After a brief foray into solar panel installation in Los Angeles, she came back East and got a job as a farm manager at a vegetable farm in Virginia. “I discovered I didn’t like vegetable farming.” How come? “Weeding all day burns your knees out.” In 2004 she took a internship at the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, which files a lot of lawsuits against GMO-giant Monsanto, further developing her interest in food policy. She signed up for a three-week food policy course at Schumacher College in England, studying with environmental activists (and her personal heroes) Vandana Shiva and Winona LaDuke and ended up staying in England and getting a masters degree in food policy from City University in London.

UDDER JOY: Back in the United States, she worked with the Community Food Security Coalition on the 2007 farm bill, but felt stymied by the lack of success in truly influencing the Farm Bill. It seemed like a better idea to just start farming. Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” had just come out, and given her lack of interest in weeding, something diversified, with livestock, appealed. Surprisingly. “Because of course I had been a vegan/vegetarian for years,” she said, laughing. Maine was also enticing – that Hyde experience had created a connection. Browsing apprenticeships on the MOFGA website, she kept being drawn to dairy farms. Her apprenticeship with cheesemaker Caitlin Owen Hunter at Appleton Creamery, had a huge impact. “Best boss I ever had.” And best gig. “I found out that I can make cheese for 12 hours a day and not hate it.” She worked there for four years, and Hunter gave a start on developing her own line under the Fuzzy Udder name.

Jessie Dowling, the new president of the Maine Cheese Guild, packs a cheese called Windswept in the creamery at her Whitefield farm. Staff photos by Gregory Rec

IT’S ALL IN THE NAME: Dowling shared land in Unity with South Paw Farm for the first few years. Then in 2013 she learned about a property for sale in Whitefield, Townhouse Creamery, that specialized in sheep’s milk value-added products. It was just what Dowling wanted. She’s thriving there, producing 12 cheeses as well as yogurt, from her own goats and sheep. She brings in Jersey milk from another farmer. Her cheeses include Windswept (aged over six months), Cyclone, Frost Heave and The Tempest, which in 2016 won an award from the American Cheese Society. “All of them have weather term names because of my interest in climate change.” One cheese she’d really like to figure out how to make? The Italian La Tur. Experimenting is part of the fun. “With cheesemaking and with farming, the reward is that you get to keep doing it.”

PRIDE OF PLACE: Mainers may have been behind states like New York and Vermont in getting into cheesemaking, but the business is booming now. Dowling said there are 84 licensed cheesemakers in Maine, and 94 percent of that cheese is farmstead (meaning they produce their own milk for cheesemaking). “We have the second most cheesemakers (per capita) right now,” she said. Part of the Maine Cheese Guild’s mission is to raise awareness. “We want people to think, you come to Maine for the lobster but stay for the cheese.” Being in the mix on policy issues feels good, and Dowling says she hopes to continue with the creamery – she has five employees now – and simultaneously get back into food policy. “I’m not looking to run for offices. I am mostly interested in leading from experience. And fighting industrial agriculture.”

THE PRICE IS RIGHT: Dowling wants to encourage beginning cheesemakers. If you’ve got one cow milking and you want to sell a few gallons of milk or farmstead cheese as surplus to neighbors, via word of mouth, more power to you, she says. “I don’t think the feds should come down on you.” But getting into commercial sales? Liability issues stop her from endorsing that. Along with how easy the state of Maine makes it. “I cannot stress how easy it is to get a license in Maine.” She’s done it twice, in Unity and in Whitefield, on a shoestring budget and says the technical advice and testing that comes along with the $25 licensing fee can’t be beat. “They are like, ‘Cool, I will come out and walk you through everything and give you pointers.’ They are all about working with you and where you are at. I am not usually a proponent of states’ rules in anything, but we get a lot for that license.”

SAY CHEESE: Enough about policy, what is her dream version of grilled cheese? The bread would be sourdough from Sheepscot General Store. Some Ray’s mustard, maybe the Dundicott Hott. Half-sour pickles from Morse’s. Ruby Kraut from 30 Acre Farm. “We could put some Tempest on it and some Cyclone and then if you wanted a third cheese, you could put my fresh mozzarella on it. And maybe some fresh spinach too.” We’re in.


This article was edited for clarity on July 9 at 9:05 a.m.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 photos by Gregory Rec Jessie Dowling holds baby goats at her Whitefield farm.Sun, 09 Jul 2017 09:05:45 +0000
Aaron Strong organizes Maine water monitors for better ocean health Sun, 02 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Aaron Strong once quit a graduate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But don’t worry, he definitely still managed to get a good education. The Maine native arrived at the University of Maine to teach in the School of Marine Sciences armed with plenty of degrees (Swarthmore, Tufts, Stanford) and a thirst to work with Mainers on better ways to confront environmental challenges. We talked to him about his fast track to professor status, algae in Yellowstone and the project he’s coordinating right now through the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions.

BATES BOY: Strong grew up in Lewiston, where his parents were both professors at Bates College (Mother: Japanese literature and environmental studies. Father: East Asian religion.) He graduated from Lewiston High School in 2002 and went on to Swarthmore, near Philadelphia, where he double majored in political science and biology. “My joke is that I have sort of refused to choose between them ever since.” After Swarthmore, he spent a year doing laboratory work in Montana, where he studied algae in hot springs at Yellowstone, specifically, how algae can photosynthesize in near boiling water. “It was fairly esoteric.” That year was more than enough. “I realized I needed to do science that mattered more to people’s daily lives in order for me to be happy and feel like I am contributing to the world.”

BACK EAST: Next he spent two years at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, working on a long-term research project on how both sea level rise and urban development were influencing salt marshes. “I cut my chops on salt marshes,” he said. He also met his future wife, who was also working at the lab. He still felt too removed from people, and when he started in a PhD program in microbiology at MIT, that sense that he was in the wrong place only worsened. “I did not want to be pipetting in a lab.” (That means measuring small samples into test tubes and such.) He went to his adviser and told her this wasn’t going to work out; he wanted to do something more policy-oriented. She let him quit but promplty hired him to stick around, doing research into “ocean fertilization,” that is, a plan to use iron to stimulate phytoplankton blooms in the ocean to absorb carbon dioxide from the ocean, and why it was such a bad plan. “I got hooked,” Strong said. “I am so intrigued about how people make decisions based on science, and how we, as a society, write new regulations that often involve some weird mix of scientific fact and practice.” He published an article in Nature in 2009 about how ineffective ocean fertilization would be in fighting climate change.

SECOND DEGREE: He picked up a master’s degree in Climate Change Policy from Tufts in Boston after that and considered a government job, maybe at the Environmental Protection Agency. But while at Tufts he did a lot of teaching and found he liked it. He decided to get a doctorate and choose Stanford, where an inter-disciplinary program in environmental resources allowed him to straddle the line between ecology and political science. “I wanted to study how we are writing the rules to manage the carbon and nitrogen cycles,” i.e. sustainability science. “It was fantastic.” The program allowed him time to develop and teach eight courses. “I basically got to create this whole new curriculum there. It was a real passion for me.”

TEACHER TEACHER: By then, Strong felt ready to leap right into a teaching job, but he wasn’t sure anyone would hire him without post-doctoral work. He got lucky, landing a job at the University of Maine in its Marine Policy program, “which is part of our Marine Sciences Department and which is where I love being. I can work with our oceanographers on problems from the global scale down to right here in Maine.” Major bonus? The Mitchell Center, where he is now a fellow. “It is one of the reasons I wanted to work at the University of Maine to start out with.”

ACID OCEAN: One of the major problems facing Maine as a result of climate change is ocean acidification, a process by which carbon dioxide dissolves into water, forming carbonic acid and making the waters more acidic. Creatures that rely on their calcium carbonate shells for homes (like, say, clams, oysters, mussels and scallops) may be slower to develop or quicker to die as a result. In 2014 Maine became the second state in the nation (after Washington) to create a state commission on ocean acidification, Strong said. “Now it is a thing,” Strong said, noting that states like New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York all have them. “We were a bit ahead of the curve.” But while the West Coast states transitioned into government-funded agencies around the topic, Maine did not fund such an agency. Instead the group continues as the voluntary effort of community, government, nonprofit and academic groups, called the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership. Strong recently joined the steering committee. And he got to thinking: “What can I do, what can I study, separate from the policy work?”

CONTROL GROUP: For starters, he can gather more data about on-shore sources of contributing factors to acidification. “What we realized as a scientific community, that changed the game, is that there are drivers of acidification that we might have an ability to control,” like runoff from lawn treatments and farms for instance. Or if they can’t be controlled, maybe they could be predicted, which might mean scientists could give an oyster farmer the heads up about an impending exacerbating factor that she or he could buffer for by say, making a change to water chemistry in a hatchery. Or remediate other areas with something like kelp farming, or protecting eel grass. “We can adapt. It’s not going to fix the whole ocean, but it will maybe make a difference for the species and the local economy that you care about.”

TESTING 1, 2, 3: The potential is already there to do more extensive monitoring. “It struck me that one of the interesting things about Maine is there are a whole lot of volunteer groups (27 of them to be precise) who are regularly making these measurements.” Groups like Friends of Casco Bay, which has volunteers regularly sampling to monitor the health of Casco Bay. A lot of that is a simple pH test. If the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership can expand the monitoring to include assessments of alkalinity and carbon content, the data will help determine what’s going on on shore, or up the rivers. But it’s not as easy as just handing out test tubes. One test would involve adding mercury to the samples. “Who is going to have their volunteers playing around with mercury in a small boat? No one. It is not acceptable.” But making sure all those samples get to someone who can safely work with mercury, in a timely fashion, that’s a goal he can tackle. “Solving the science isn’t about the science, it is about, how do you coordinate the people doing it? This is all exciting from a social science standpoint.” He and others met late last month to begin coordination efforts.

BOTTOMS UP: Twenty-seven groups: Is it like herding cats? Not so bad, he says. “What is amazing in Maine is that we also have folks from the state there, from the Department of Environmental Protection, who are interested in seeing advances in monitoring.” They’ll help, too. “That is what makes Maine unique.” He’s actually writing a paper on the Washington state versus Maine approach. “They have a lot of resources in Washington state. But in Maine, this is very much a bottom up, grassroots approach.” There’s no place like home.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Strong, a faculty member at the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences, is working to expand water monitoring in Maine.Thu, 29 Jun 2017 18:31:07 +0000
Brad Burns of Falmouth angles for return of striper abundance Sun, 25 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Bradford Burns (he goes by Brad) is the president of a conservation group called Stripers Forever, which aims to make striped bass a strictly game fish. In case you hadn’t heard, the stripers are running, and that made us want to talk to Burns. Topics covered include why he thinks commercial fishing for striped bass (not allowed in Maine by the way) is a threat, how he learned to fish and how far he’ll go to do it (above the Arctic Circle). When we reached the Falmouth resident, he’d caught several stripers already that day, in the Presumpscot, although they all went back into the drink. (He is a conservationist.)

FIRST FISH: A lifelong fisherman or woman has to remember the first fish he or she caught, right? Well, not if they learned to fish right around the same time they learned to walk. “It certainly would have been a fish I caught off the dock in Friendship,” Burns mused. He lived there until he was about 10. “In the bait shed there was a piece of the floor that lifted out and they would pour the bait brim – the water that came off the salted bait – into the water.” The water would cloud up and when it cleared, there would be “a million pollock down there.” His first fish, then, was probably a pollock. Then mackerel. “That was a great fish in the summertime.” Burns came from a family of fishermen (“lobster and ground fish and clam digging”), but his father did not want to be in the family business. “He didn’t mind going fishing but he did not want to be a lobsterman.” And so he took a job at Bath Iron Works, and the family moved to Damariscotta. That’s where Burns, around age 11, first encountered the far more “glamorous” striped bass.

Bradford Burns, president of Stripers Forever, fishes in the Presumpscot River near his Falmouth home. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

MADE IN MAINE?: While Burns and Stripers Forever’s treasurer, George Watson, are both Mainers and the group was incorporated here as a nonprofit, it is by no means Maine-dominated, Burns said. Membership is up and down the East Coast, with the biggest concentrations of members in Massachusetts and New Jersey. “With the exception of George and me, our most active members are from Massachusetts.” Among them is Dean Clarke, one of the inventors of the Duck Boat (and an award-winning marine journalist). Burns himself is the author of the “L.L. Bean Fly Fishing for Striped Bass Handbook” and most recently “Closing the Season” about fly fishing in New Brunswick.

A SHORT HISTORY OF STRIPED BASS FISHING: Burns, 67, remembers when there were no bag or size limits on striped bass. “Everyone kept every striped bass they caught, basically.” The fish were heavily fished commercially when he was growing up. “There was no real conservation concept. Nobody thought of it. You saw them, and you knocked them over the head, and you ate them.” In Maine though, the far northern range of the fish, “it had never been a big commercial fish.” Not the way it was in places like Maryland. In 1978, John Cole, the local legend who had co-founded Maine Times, published a book called “Striper.” The book was eye opening for Burns. “The best thing he ever wrote,” Burns said. The book “was bemoaning the crash of the striped bass in Maine. I couldn’t believe it. I called him up.” (The two men ended up writing a book about saltwater fly fishing together.) But Cole was right, and by the mid-’80s, the East Coast population of stripers had collapsed. “They were fished too hard.”

GOALS: Stripers Forever argues that there aren’t enough stripers for a true commercial harvest in the states it is allowed in anyway, which Burns describes as a real “patchwork up and down the coast.” Commercial catches are allowed in slightly more than half the states, with the heart of it in Maryland. Even there, it has been reduced radically. “The whole quota in the Chesapeake Bay is 3 million pounds, which sounds like a lot but used to be a good day on Georges Bank.” He said a lot of cheating goes on in the Maryland and Virginia commercial fisheries. Advocacy by recreational fishermen for striped bass has made a difference. “At this point, we’re certainly not worried about them being extinct or going the way of codfish (in serious trouble) but that is because the recreational fishing community, as disorganized as it is, has made a lot of noise at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.” Recreational striped bass fishing is an industry unto itself, he said, with its estimated 3 million sport fishermen contributing to the overall economy in gear and tourism dollars.

CATCH AND RELEASE: Burns tosses all his stripers back. “I’m a hopeless case.” But he’s not advocating for that from others. “It’s about having a reasonable harvest so that people can eat one from time to time.” In Maine, which has no commercial striped bass fishery, under new regulations, recreational fishermen can take one striped bass of 28 inches or bigger a day. Burns says getting rid of the commercial fishery in other states for this migratory fish (most of the stripers we see in Maine have come north from Chesapeake Bay) would boost populations. “More of them would live to be large fish and that would even out the spawning success, so you wouldn’t have as many ups and downs in the spawning population, and it would be more democratically enjoyed by more people.”

THE PURPOSE IS PLEASURE: Striped bass fishermen aren’t exactly doing this to feed their family. “It’s much cheaper to go down to the store and buy a piece of fish than to try to go and catch your own.” For Burns, their mere presence brings joy. “It’s a very emotionally positive thing. It is like having songbirds or not.” Why are stripers so fun to fish for compared to other fish? Versatility to start with. “You can take striped bass fishing on the bottom with a marine worm or with flies or surface plugs.” Or you can get more extreme. “People do things like swim out to rocks in a neoprene suit and stand out there in the middle of the night. Or you can catch them on the end of a little culvert in a tidal creek in Maine. They fit almost everybody’s idea of a great fish to catch.” The big ones can grow up to 5 feet long and 80 pounds. They live a long time, over 20 years.

ON AND OFF THE HOOK: Fishing, he says, “has been my main interest my whole life.” But he’s toned it down somewhat; back in the day he’d be out all night surf casting for stripers along the Kennebec, where he once kept a dock near Bath specifically for fishing. “And work half-asleep every day.” Burns is in the process of retiring; he owned Portland Computer Copy Inc., which he sold last year to Kyocera Document Solutions. That might mean more time to go farther afield to fish. He recently traveled to Russia, where he fished above the Arctic Circle. But he’s very aware that someone in his family is not such a fan of fishing: Mrs. Burns. “She hates everything to do with it,” he admits. “I have spent way too many Mother’s Days and Fourth of Julys and Labor Days fishing.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Burns, president of Stripers Forever, fishes in the Presumpscot River near his Falmouth home.Fri, 23 Jun 2017 11:00:47 +0000
Christina Hassett stewards Little Chebeague Island for the Maine Island Trail Association Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Christina Hassett is living out a lot of people’s fantasy, living on an uninhabited island with beautiful sandy beaches. But her paradise is Casco Bay and she’s actually working, as the Maine Island Trail Association’s (MITA) steward of Little Chebeague Island. She’s there to create and maintain trail systems – MITA Program Director Brian Marcaurelle credits her as an integral part of the association’s efforts to reopen the island for recreational use after years of benign neglect and an invasion by a non-native species – to help steer visitors to beauty spots and to (gently) encourage sustainable tourism. We talked to her about the island’s secrets and what she does in the off-season.

DEFINING SELF: Hassett, who grew up in Yarmouth, went to the University of Maine at Orono to study ecology and environmental science. In the summer of 2009, while still in school, she and her sister applied for jobs as the co-caretakers of Jewell Island for the Maine Island Trail Association. “We got quite lucky and got the job.” Only two years apart, “we’re pretty close and we have always shared a room,” so sharing an island was a breeze. They liked it so much they went back for a second summer. When Hassett graduated in 2011, she wasn’t ready for a classic career track. “I was kind of looking for something a little different.” Boats had always appealed to her, and she found just the right kind of different at the Carpenter’s Boat Shop Apprenticeship Program in Pemaquid, where she learned to build small wooden boats, starting with a Monhegan skiff. “It was very influential for me and helped kind of define who I became.”

EXTRA CURRICULAR: The program was tuition-free (sales of the boats the apprentices build fund it, along with grants) and Hassett relished the lack of “monetary exchange.” In the evenings, the students were free to use the workshop to work on their own projects. Hassett whipped up a kayak and she knew a few students who turned out harps along with boats. She formed fast friendships with students from all over the country. “Coming out of college, I was a little aimless in some sense and being surrounded by a lot of varied, interesting individuals really opened me up.”

BOATING LIFE: The program ran from September until June, at which point she returned to the Maine Island Trail Association for seasonal work, running a general stewardship program up and down the coast and then eventually, landing the stewardship gig on Little Chebeague. Off-seasons are devoted to boatbuilding, and she’s worked for two major Maine boatbuilders, Hinckley and Hodgdon. It’s not an easy field, but she wants to pursue it full time. “In Maine, you really have to have kind of a niche. Within wooden boat building there are so many skilled boatbuilders.” And that’s where she’d like to end up; steel hulled or carbon fiber boats don’t have the same charm. She’s also got a house to rebuild when she’s not on Little Chebeague; she and her boyfriend purchased a 1901 Cape in South Portland’s Ferry Village last year and are in the midst of a down-to-the-studs kind of renovation. Her marine carpentry skills are helping with tasks like planing old flooring and “giving it a little new life.” Remodel aside, it must be deluxe compared to living in a tent on an island, right? Not necessarily. “Little Chebeague is just so simple.” And that can be easy.

LIKE A JUNGLE OUT THERE: As beautiful as the 86-acre island is (Little Chebeague is the second most popular island in the 200-island strong Maine Island Trail Association), it does have its issues. Like the Oriental bittersweet, an invasive species that rampages over the island. “The island is basically covered in this stuff,” she said. “It is kind of like a jungle.” The Maine Island Trail Association has no expectation of getting rid of it all, it’s just too pervasive and the root system too far reaching. “There have been times when I have been pulling up a root and I end up following it all around the island.” The state of Maine, which owns the island, has lent a hand using licensed herbicides, and volunteer groups have helped clear out patches. But the bittersweet comes roaring back in a matter of weeks. “We’re trying just to optimize the recreational potential of the island,” by keeping the trail system open.

BITTER TO THE ROOT: What’s the story behind the invasion? “There are a couple of theories.” In the first, maybe the people who summered there in the 1800s, or someone on the staff at the old hotel (long gone to fire) brought it out as an ornamental. Bittersweet is pretty, in small doses. The second theory is that the Navy, which bought out the summer residents during World War II, planted it as a way to have cover. They used the island for firefighting exercises and did some serious recreating as well. There was a skeet range and a bowling alley. There are remains of cottages to be seen but the bittersweet makes it hard to hunt for signs of say, the Navy’s old baseball diamond. “What I wouldn’t give just to clearcut to see where these spots were.” The Navy-planted-it theory is just a rumor, she hastened to add. Either way, the bittersweet marches on and has already killed some trees. Not by choking but by stealing light. “It just hogs the sunlight and it’s a slow death.”

TROUBLE IN PARADISE: Other problems include a thriving tick population (check yourself after a visit) and browntail moth invasion brutal enough to have driven Hassett from her campsite last summer. “Infested. I think I left early one weekend; it was kind of me or them.” She’s had one Lyme scare and yes, she’s anxious about the other tick-borne diseases being found in Maine. The prevalence of ticks on Maine islands may keep some visitors away. “I have talked to some people who say that has influenced their decision about where to recreate.” But Little Chebeague remains popular. “On Memorial Day, I think I had 35 people camping along the beach.” She typically visits campsites at around 6 p.m., the “sweet spot” in time when she can encourage campers to build their campfires below the high tide line. “I just make very friendly suggestions because I am not a warden per se, and I don’t have any authority to try to kick anyone off.” Generally, it’s all good. “People are happy to be out there and to have access to these beautiful areas.”

DESIGN FOR SUSTAINABLE LIVING: Her island work impacts her own life, off-season. “Working in a field where you are close up with the natural world, ecologically speaking it does and has affected my behavior in other aspects of my life.” A for instance: “I am more prone to drive less and bike more.” She believes people who visit Little Chebeague may feel the same way. “MITA was founded on the principle that those who use the islands will care for them and that is what they have seen. People kind of take it on as their civic duty.” And as awful as that bittersweet is, it teaches a lesson. “It puts into stark realization that these small human actions can have monumental consequences which are not realized until many years down the road.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Hassett, the Maine Island Trail Association's island keeper for Little Chebeague.Fri, 16 Jun 2017 10:12:06 +0000
Portland’s Susan Webster went from concerned parent to food waste activist Sun, 11 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 There’s a lot of talk these days about reducing food waste, but Portland resident Susan Webster wants to help Mainers tackle the problem with real practical steps. “The statistics around wasted food are crazy,” she said. “Like the fact that more than a third and some sources say it could be as much as half of all food produced in this country is wasted or lost in one way or another. This is at the same time that one in six Americans is facing food insecurity.” (A recent study found that nearly 16 percent of Maine households are unable to afford enough food, making it rank third among the states for food insecurity.)

On June 29, Webster will lead a workshop at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie Center on Food Waste Reduction and Recovery, aimed at schools, restaurants and institutions. We called her up to talk about the workshop and how having two sons in the Portland school system led to unexpected activism nearly a decade ago, which has blossomed into consulting, and educating, on an issue she’s passionate about. We also learned about her poetic past.

GET WITH THE PROGRAM: The daylong workshop (which costs $225) aims to help groups set up and operate data-driven food waste reduction and recovery programs. Translation: keep foods that are still edible out of the dumpster in the first place and make sure discarded food ends up in a compost heap or at a digester. The program will help participants connect with gleaning services and tell them where to donate leftovers. Panelists so far include Jonathan Gibbons, who is a sustainability engagement and data coordinator for Unity College; Troy Moon, Portland’s sustainability coordinator; Kasey Harris, who works with Hannaford Supermarkets sustainability programs; and Hannah Semler, gleaning and farm drop manager for Healthy Acadia. Webster will facilitate the workshop. But she doesn’t consider herself an expert: “I am a small part of this huge initiative. I am just one piece of it.” Her day job is as a freelance technical writer, working with area engineering companies on proposals and reports, “things like that.” So how did she get to be a kinda-sorta, super modest, semi-expert on food waste?

Susan Webster will lead a June 29 workshop at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie Center on Food Waste Reduction and Recovery. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

IN THE BEGINNING: Around 2009, when her two sons were in elementary and middle school (they’re both in college now), Webster was helping to organize one of those parent fundraisers that involves collecting beverage bottles and cans for the deposit. She found out that the Portland school system had no coordinated recycling program. Webster had done some work, years before, for Resource Conservation Services, the company that started the Hawk Ridge composting facility now run by Casella Organics; she’d assumed Maine schools were on that kind of a recycling track. “It seemed astonishing that we were in the 21st century and this was still happening, that we were still dumping everything in the trash.” Well not everything; some schools were trying, but someone needed to pull their efforts together. Webster and another parent started working on a coalition that eventually grew to include members from public works and the city council. “We had some really good partners around the table.” But she was aware that schools are understaffed, often by overworked people. They had to devise a plan that was workable. “We wrote a lot of manuals to show that this would not add to custodians’ burdens.”

SECOND HAND ROSE: That recycling effort, which was implemented beginning in 2012 and is frequently pointed to as a role model for other school systems, made Webster more aware of the issue of food waste. She and her husband, a hydrogeologist, had long practiced a re-use philosophy at home, composting, buying nothing but used cars (they love Saabs), shopping at thrift stores. Where did that come from? She grew up the daughter of a teacher. “We just didn’t have a lot of money or resources to buy everything new.” When her dad got a job teaching mechanical engineering at the University of Maine in Orono, she discovered Goodwill. She’s still a fan. “Their marketing is brilliant,” she said. “People shop it like a department store.”

THE WRITE STUFF: Webster went to the University of New Hampshire, and studied there with future Pulitzer Prize winning poet Charles Simic. She enrolled in an MFA program at Columbia in New York. “I set out to be a poet.” But she couldn’t afford to stay in the program and needing income, talked herself into a copy editing job at Science Digest. “They sometimes took a somewhat sensationalistic approach to science writing. I remember editing stories on things like spontaneous human combustion.” But it gave her an entree into science and technical writing, and landed her her first job in Portland, at E.C. Jordan Co., an engineering and environmental management firm, where she was a technical writer and the head of the marketing department. Webster still considers herself a generalist, despite all the time she has spent on writing that butts up against environmental issues. She worked on the proposal for the Environmental Protection Agency grant that is funding her Muskie School workshop.

SCHOOL LUNCH: Another project she’s working on is a joint effort with a doctoral candidate at the University of Maine. They’ll be surveying the roughly 730 K-12 schools in Maine to find out what cafeterias are doing – or not – to reduce their trash. Are they recycling? If not, what are the barriers? Webster said they aim to survey the schools in the fall and have results in 2018. “Data really helps.” Like the statistics that showed how powerfully the shift in Portland schools reduced the amount of trash (cutting it by between 70 and 80 percent). Webster sees what other New England states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont) have done to ban food waste going into incinerators when it could be used to build soil in composting facilities and thinks, that could be Maine’s future.

POETRY FOUNDATION: Webster still writes poetry on the side, but even when she’s not, the influence persists. “When you start out as a poet, it never really leaves you. What you come away from, starting out there, is an understanding of the power of words, whether you are talking about sustainability or writing a training manual for separating out food into a big blue (composting) bucket.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, ME - JUNE 6: Meet: Susan Webster holds a compost bucket in light rain near her compost piles at her Portland home. (Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)Fri, 09 Jun 2017 08:50:07 +0000
Author Elizabeth Hand goes to dark places Sun, 04 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 A few months ago, a line in a Press Herald review of Maine author Elizabeth Hand’s latest book, a collection of stories and essays called “Fire.” caught our eye. The title story in this collection was “based on her work as a participant in a climate change think tank.” We needed to know more about the Lincolnville resident, who has won many awards for her fiction (14 novels, 5 short story collections) and is a regular contributor to the Washington Post Book World and the “Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.” We talked with her about everything from how she ended up working with that group to how “Lord of the Flies” influenced her and what dark realities like melting ice shelves in Antarctica have to do with her shift from writing science fiction to mystery.

A FAN’S NOTES: Hand had just given a talk in Lincolnville some years ago when a fan approached her. Robert Olson was a summer resident of the area, and for many years the director of research for the Institute for Alternative Futurists in Washington, D.C. (he’s a senior fellow there still). She remembers that he told her he was probably the only person in the room who knew exactly what she’d been talking about when she spoke about how environmental issues and climate change had informed her early science fiction, like “Glimmering,” a 1997 novel featuring rising oceans and a looming apocalypse. They became friends and then a few years ago he asked if she’d be willing to participate in a U.S. Forest Service study on the future of fire fighting in a changing climate. “I said, ‘Really, I don’t know about this, Bob.’ ”

Elizabeth Hand Photo by Norman Walters/Courtesy of Elizabeth Hand

PERSUASION: The other 10 or so panelists were “all much smarter than me. Scientists and policy people.” But Olson persuaded Hand she’d have plenty of research materials to help get her up to speed. And that she had something unique to contribute, foremost her longstanding interest in the environment, but also the grassroots work she’d been doing to try to bring vitality back to Lincolnville Center, which spoke to community resilience. “I was able to see firsthand how a small community could really come together and make things happen.” The “foresight panel” was focused on the physical means of fighting fires in the future, as droughts intensify and human development continues to push deeper into wild areas where forest fires start. “I was looking at it from another perspective, that this is what it is like when you are living in a small suburban community, and how you can prepare for a mega-fire.” The findings of the report were frightening, she said. “It is not a matter of if something like this will happen but when.” (Although much more likely in the West than in places like relatively wet New England.)

AN EDUCATION: Hand did a lot of research. “I learned so much.” About both places with successful wildfire fighting programs (Florida and New South Wales in Australia among them) and human obstacles to what is essentially a natural process. Such as increased population in zones that straddle the line between wild spaces and urban. The study concluded that “conventional fire management approaches are unlikely to be effective in the future.” Hand was struck by how many resources, both monetary and human, go into fighting fires to save homes. “In places where people really probably shouldn’t be living.” She gets it, people want to live near beautiful mountains. But as the climate continues to change, with longer, hotter seasons and more drought, “all of that is going to be obviously making a tinder keg,” especially in areas where human activity has taken a toll on the aquifer.

THIS GIRL’S LIFE: Where did her original interest in the environment come from? Partly just growing up in the 1970s, in the era of the first Earth Day, lines around the block just to get gas during the energy crisis, and revelations about how quickly the world was becoming overpopulated. Her own childhood, first in Yonkers, then later in Pound Ridge, New York, had a very specific influence. “There was an estate that was nearby, on our road, and the people who owned it would let people on it to play and go fishing. It was very beautiful, very bucolic and very rural.” At one point, the community was concerned it would be sold and developed (this didn’t happen). Hand was 10 or 11. “I can remember lying in the bed and thinking, ‘I am going to lie down in the road so they can’t do that.’ It was something that I used to brood about a lot.” The thought of the woods being cut down was unbearable. She dreamed of becoming a zoologist and on family trips to Maine, she was captivated by rural life. “It really imprinted on me.”

AIR AND SPACE: Hand studied cultural anthropology in college, and worked for seven years at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, but another love from childhood – fiction – eventually took center stage. She’d always been a reader and was devouring the likes of George Orwell’s “1984” and William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” at age nine or 10. Too young, she says, but “they both had a really profound influence on me.” So did the science fiction she started reading in college, particularly Samuel Delany’s “Dhalgren,” set in a post-apocalyptic American city. As her plans to be a full-time writer were starting to come together, so were her plans to move to Maine. “I felt like it was a now or never kind of thing.” Hand arrived jobless but with a book in the works, which she soon sold. She temped, including at National Fisherman magazine, which was then based in Camden, and raised two children with her then-partner, writer Richard Grant.

REALITY BITES: While she loved science fiction, she started moving away from it as what was happening in the natural world began, eerily, catching up with what she’d dreamed up on the page. That first book, “Glimmering,” had imagined a world on the brink of ecological disaster, and it featured, among other things, a terrorist flying a plane into a building in Lower Manhattan and an ice shelf in Antarctica collapsing. “It was a near future book, but it reads now like an alternative history.” Hand said she’d thought, as she wove gloomy plot points into her fiction, that they were just that: fictions. “Anything I could make up has been trumped by reality.” Her writing genre today is mostly dark mysteries, some of which are set in Maine, but she still enjoys reading dystopian fiction – as a teacher at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast writing program, she sees plenty of that from emerging writers. And her partner today, John Clute, writes and edits the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

THE AUDACITY OF HOPE: Olson, the friend who roped her into that study of how the United States will handle fire fighting in a landscape altered by climate change, once teased her about her bleak world view. “He said, ‘Can’t you be more optimistic?’ ” She’s trying, and her grown children help a lot. Her daughter teaches first-grade in Hawaii and her son works for SolarCity in New York. He studied sustainable technologies in college. Both of them love the natural world (and Maine) and share optimistic viewpoints about the world’s future. “So that gives me some hope.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0, 02 Jun 2017 15:33:15 +0000
Dan Marion’s a pro skier who made a sharp turn to farming and foraging in Maine Sun, 28 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 When we reached him to talk about farming and foraging, Dan Marion had just come in from harvesting wild ramps. Not at Fresh Pickins Farm, his Cape Elizabeth venture, but in a river bed area whose location he’d obviously prefer to keep secret. We knew he harvests chaga, the wild medicinal mushroom, which he sells under the Fresh Pickins label at health food stores, farmers markets and online, but we didn’t realize how serious he is about foraging. “You’re kind of farming the wild in a way,” he told us. “It sounds kind of weird, but you are sustainably managing it.” One natural crop he’d rather avoid? Poison ivy, which nearly derailed his first venture into farming eight years ago.

SLOPE TO SEEDLINGS: Marion was on the professional ski circuit (half-pipe and freeriding) in Breckenridge, Colorado one winter, hanging out with a group of Maine friends, when he was introduced to Abe Zacharias, whose family owns Zach’s Farm in York. Marion already had an interest in foraging, which he’d been doing in Maine on summer visits, but Zacharias got him thinking more about farming. “I was picking his brain nonstop.” A loan of a pair of fancy skis for “big powder,” led to a deal: Zacharias could have Marion’s big powder skis and gear in exchange for seedlings, greenhouse space to start them and just generally, ongoing advice as Marion started farming.

A DUBIOUS BLESSING: Then he had to ask his grandfather, and his own father, if he could use some family land, 180 acres up in Limington. Marion’s grandfather bought it in the 1960s, and as a little boy Marion had helped keep the fields mowed. But they’d never farmed it, and there was no infrastructure, unless you count the spectacular stone walls left over from a previous century. “They both said the first thing that people say when they hear you want to farm: ‘It’s going to be a ton of work.’ ” But permission was granted. Marion bought a used plow and borrowed his dad’s tractor. He “roped” his cousin Elliot into helping him plow. The soil was tough. It took a lot of hand flipping to loosen. But they felt good. “We think that we’re just invincible. Geez, we’ll have the whole town plowed by tonight.” A few days later his cousin called and asked a fateful question, “Are you itching at all?” They’d plowed out a field full of poison ivy just getting ready to pop out of the soil.

POISON HARVEST: Marion describes his dad as a very “neutral guy.” But he came out and looked at the newly plowed field, filled with these fresh red shoot heads. “He goes, ‘Wow, that is bad poison ivy.’ ” That first year, Marion sucked it up. He seemed to have an immunity, and he mowed repeatedly throughout the season, beating it back to one small corner of the farm. “I had to not give it a chance to grow.” Naturally, he didn’t have much help. But after that first season, when he still managed to produce a good crop of cut flowers – his chosen crop early on – someone signed on. “Year two was when my mom was like, ‘OK, that was pretty cool, I’d like to help you out.’ ”

ALWAYS MOTHER’S DAY: Vicki, his mother, is his farming partner and helps with processing – and general inspiration. His parents had been hobby beekeepers, for instance, and as he looked for crops to sell in the months before flowers came in, he decided to get into beekeeping and from there, value-added products made with honey. She got him thinking about beauty products, despite his initial reluctance. “I am probably kind of stubborn, and I was set on the stuff I was doing.” But he discovered making things like a simple therapeutic lip balm both fulfilling and smart business. “It’s actually the direction we’re headed,” he said. His mom (who calls him Danny) is the glue in the business. “She keeps it all together. She puts up with me, and I put up with her.”

TEAS AMD TINCTURES: Marion still skis, and now he has a coaching job at Carrabassett Valley Academy. But eight years after The Plowing of the Poison Ivy, he remains committed to the farm life. Two years ago, Marion decided to move the farm off his grandfather’s rocky Limington soil. He’s just starting his second season on land in Cape Elizabeth, leased acreage at the historic Ram Island Farm. The decision is not just about better soil, it’s about proximity to markets, friends, and of course, the big city nearby. Cut flowers are still part of the mix, and at the four farmers markets Fresh Pickins hits (including Saturday markets in Kennebunk and Crystal Spring in Brunswick), look for Fresh Pickins’ bouquets. “We put a ton of love into those.” But this past year has been about rebranding the farm name and labels and producing more health and wellness products. Chaga, the medicinal mushroom he harvests from trees, particularly birch, and turns into tinctures and teas, remains a mainstay. But he’s trying to forage more. At the beginning of June, he’ll move on to another wild mushroom, reishi. “We are so lucky in Maine to have these diverse seasons, that you can really roll from one wild edible to the next.”

NATIVE SON: But there are rules. Never harvest more than 20 percent of what’s there. For Marion, that would be the high end. Consider the ramps: “I just took 10 pounds this morning, and I don’t think I took a half a percent.” He’ll go back next spring to see how the “crop” has responded. One of his methods is to take from the densest areas of growth, which he expects will benefit the plants overall, opening up more room for them to grow. “The foraging side is really interesting to me. You are getting something that is wild, which mean if it chose to grow there, that the conditions are right. Being truly native to the spot, you have to imagine that the energy and nutrients are just right on their own.” Which seems to be equally true for Marion, this native son, as well.

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Marion checks on the progress of calendula drying in his Cape Elizabeth barn.Fri, 26 May 2017 08:32:48 +0000
Artist Susan Perrine helps children tap into natural creativity Sun, 21 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 On Thursday, Woolwich artist Susan Perrine spent the day building a woven twig garden structure with students at Lyseth Elementary and Lyman Moore schools in Portland. The project is funded by L.L. Bean through its Outdoor Discovery, Adventure and Stewardship Grant program. We called Perrine up to talk about the environmental lessons she hopes to convey. We learned about the role cute sheep played in the first time she made one of these huts, the ultimate handmade coat for going out for coffee and that time bohemian chic women’s retailer Anthropologie came calling.

WEAVING WITH WOOD: Perrine relocated to Maine from Rhode Island in 2001. She’d long been a volunteer at schools in the Ocean State, doing weaving demonstrations, including in a Sheep-to-Shawl program with a couple of friends. That couple brought the sheep, trotting them up and down stairs and into classrooms, and did the spinning. That was the flashy part of the demonstration. Perrine brought a loom. “And the kids weren’t interested at all.” In 1998 she decided to shake it up and present weaving to the children in a different, more hands-on way, putting bamboo stakes in the ground and having the children weave twigs in between. Soon thereafter Perrine started a job at an art museum and at its bookstore, discovered the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a sculptor who works entirely with natural materials, creating pieces that are often ephemeral, captured only in photographs. She swooned.

MAINE MOVE: The same year she moved to Maine, another sculptor known for his “stick work,” Patrick Dougherty, built “Simple Pleasures,” a cluster of huts on the Bowdoin College campus. Friends kept telling Perrine she needed to go see it. “Finally, I went there. It had snowed and they were like ice cream cones. And it was snowing and the snow was like snow globe snow, falling so softly. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I was really meant to be in Maine.’ ”

IN THE STICKS: She freely admits to some envy of Dougherty, who works with assistants. During her time in Maine, Perrine has built twig installations for exhibit (inside) at the University of Southern Maine campus in Lewiston and at a number of schools. Typically, she builds them in a day and maybe they don’t look quite as spectacular as the Dougherty pieces. “I want them all to be beautiful, but they are hand-built and you just can’t control it.” When she was working on a twig structure at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, one of the staffers there helped her move twigs with a “beautiful red” dump truck. “I never had this much help before. I wondered whether Patrick Dougherty has a big truck like that!”

LESSON LEARNED: After she built a twig house at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, she returned that September and found that the students, who had an active gardening program, had planted climbing squash and vines around it. The hut was covered in green and she said sitting inside it “just blew my mind. … There were vines like, lounging on the twigs. It was transformative. It was like I was inside a green womb there.”

CUTTING WITH CARE: That was about 10 years ago, she said. Perrine has made a habit of bringing seeds with her when she works on an installation, a kharmic way of making up for any disruption she’s caused by cutting twigs. But generally speaking, “I try to cut where there is a lot of competition,” or better yet, in an area that is planned for wood harvesting anyway. She favors birch, maple or oak and cuts segments between 5 and 15 feet long. “I am looking for long, flexible twigs.” At Lyseth, she was working on a conical structure and had some help from students in PATHS (Portland Arts and Technology School), who built the basic structure and framework for a thatch roof, using saplings that had been cut to make room for a solar collecting station. She has plans to oversee another school installation, scheduled for June at an elementary school in Freeport.

COFFEE KLATSCH: In the meantime, she’ll be showing off another creation at Damariscotta’s Stable Gallery, a coat made with something much less recyclable than wood: old coffee bags. “The plastic-coated things.” She gathered bags from Starbucks and local coffee roasters like Wicked Joe’s. “Which is material I just can’t bear to throw away.”

SURPRISE SALE: Most of her installations don’t stay up long, even when they’re outside. Perrine didn’t know what to do with the piece she’d shown at USM (it was a little big for her living room) so she put it up for sale on Etsy. “I said I would deliver anywhere within 50 miles.” She was not imagining that a buyer from Anthropologie would get in touch. “It was a total fluke.” The buyer asked Perrine to make two new sculptures, which were photographed and made it into the chain’s catalog and sold for “just under $2,000” each. No repeat sales however. “The shipping alone must have been so expensive.”

MESSAGE IN THE METHOD: But being sold in a high-end retail store is not her aim. She’d rather work with kids. “I want them to get their hands on natural materials. I want them to know that they could just go in their backyard and make a small thing for themselves.” The best part about her work with twig art is where the “studio” is. “I like to be outdoors. And this gets kids out in the woods.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 artist Susan Perrine with forsythia branches she uses in some of her art.Thu, 18 May 2017 19:02:06 +0000
When Peter Taggart renovates an old Maine building, it also gets greener Sun, 14 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Back in high school, Peter Taggart’s guidance counselor had no advice for the kid who loved shop and couldn’t visualize heading off to college after graduation. So the day after he graduated, he hitchhiked from Wellesley, Massachusetts, to Belgrade to start work as a handyman at a resort. It wasn’t the first time he’d hitchhiked to Maine; the lure of his family’s camp on Great Pond was fairly powerful, but this time he stuck around. Forty-plus years later, he runs a successful, Freeport-based construction company that specializes in green building; the self-made man has a serious interest in sustainability. We talked to him about his electric truck, how he uses solar power as a landlord and how renovating a bed and breakfast changed his life.

MAINTENANCE MAN: That first job of his, out of high school, lasted three years. There were 30 cottages and 400 acres to care for, so he learned everything from fixing septic systems to carpentry. In the off season he’d travel (more hitchiking) and visit friends at their colleges. To please his parents, he tried going to college himself and lasted one semester at the University of Maine. After kicking around some more, doing carpentry work in the Waterville area, he made another run at higher education, enrolling at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to study architecture and engineering. But to get admitted to the engineering department required art classes. He liked drawing buildings, but “you had to paint landscapes and bowls of fruit. I got discouraged with that.” UMass had an auto workshop run by students, part of a bigger network of 21 student businesses that included a record store, a bike shop and a recycling program. This work fascinated him far more than academics and soon he was serving as the financial director for the program’s $1.4 million budget. When he and his then-girlfriend decided to move back to Maine, “I had a lot of credits but none of them added up to anything.”

LOVE AND MARRIAGE: He resumed carpentry and then in the early 1980s found a job that tapped into those business skills, managing the warehouse for the Federation of Maine Coops. The food cooperative, which most knew as Fedco, was in some turmoil over how or whether to grow and closed not long after he left. (Its offshoot, Fedco Seeds, is, of course, one of Maine’s most beloved institutions.) Taggart returned to carpentry and bought his first house, in Oakland. How did he end up in Freeport? Short answer: Love. He met a Boston woman who agreed to move to Maine, but only if they were Portland-adjacent. Throwing down that gauntlet ultimately led to both marriage and a booming business.

FREEPORT FIXER-UPPER: After six years at a Portland construction company that specialized in historic preservation, he was ready to go out on his own. Founding Taggart Construction involved some serendipity; Taggart and his young family lived next door to an apartment building in Freeport whose owner was trying to convert it to a bed and breakfast. But the work was going slowly. “I was sort of watching the guy pick away at it,” he remembers. “One day I just walked over and said, ‘Listen, I will help you write a business plan and if you guys can get financing to do this, I’ll help you renovate it and you can be my first customer.’ ” That was the early 1990s and the B&B, Brewster House, is still in business, although under different ownership. Taggart Construction now has a staff of 25.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: Energy efficiency had long been an interest of Taggart’s and now that he was running his own business, he began to pursue it more seriously. He got deeply involved with the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, a group of builders and architects pursuing better ways of building. “It was that group that by and large was responsible for my growth in and knowledge of green building.” Today, Taggart Construction owns two electric trucks, including a mini-pickup that is the exact model of a tiny, mega-efficient Renault that once captivated Taggart during a trip to South Africa.

TYPICAL DAY AT THE OFFICE: Taggart Construction might be working on the remodel of a historic cottage – right now he’s working on a seasonal cottage on Pound of Tea Island in Freeport – or remodeling a kitchen or bath. The company philosophy is to look for moisture issues and improve insulation even during a simple bathroom remodel. “Let’s not miss an opportunity to improve performance while we’re here.” Like most, he recommends taking care of the cellar before any other insulation work. Taggart gets a lot of repeat customers – they’re about to do a fourth remodel for someone in Cape Elizabeth. “We often get called back to tweak something or add on something.” They spent three years on an extensive remodel in Brunswick’s Pennellville Historic District, basically dismantling the entire house step by step and eliminating all the drafts in a drafty old house. “It is probably one of the most energy-efficient houses in town.”

OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES: Taggart also has a realty business and owns 17 buildings in Freeport and Brunswick, including the Stetson block, which he hopes to restore to its original late 19th-century glory. “I love buildings, and I love fixing up buildings.” He’s installed solar panels on three of them and distributes the credits he earns there to power the other buildings (or at least, to the shared electricity in them; tenants pay their own electric bills). The buildings are either heated with natural gas or, where the envelope is tight enough, heat pumps.

THE COBBLER’S CHILDREN: How about his own house? How tight are his windows? Not very, he confesses. “The cobbler’s children have no shoes! You can ask my wife. I am about to replace my windows for the third time.” The first time, he bought inexpensive replacement windows. The second time, the seals weren’t good. This time they’ll be greener. Once he gets started. “I hate working on my own house.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Taggart of Taggart Construction in the back of one of his electric pickup trucks.Thu, 11 May 2017 19:07:07 +0000
Kaitlyn Abrams is the founder of the University of Maine’s new environmental journal Sun, 07 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 In December of her first year as a graduate student at the University of Maine, Kaitlyn Abrams went to the chair of her English department and asked whether the university had any environmental journals. “She said, ‘No, but maybe you should start one,’ ” Abrams said. Which is exactly what Abrams did, with help from faculty and other students. The journal, called Spire, debuted online last week. We called Abrams to talk about Spire and learned a few things about how her path from fiction diverged and what it was like to start a journal from scratch. We also found out about her next move, which involves, of all things, lions.

EVERGREEN STATE: Abrams is a native of Kent, Washington, a Seattle suburb. How did she find her way to Maine? “The siren song of full funding,” she said. She’d graduated from Western Washington University and was up for going far, far away to graduate school. In addition to working on her masters, she teaches English 101. “That is how I put bread on the table.”

FILLING A VOID: It’s hard to believe a university that is home to both the Institute for Climate Change and the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, not to mention a cafeteria run on hard-core sustainability values, did not have a journal devoted to sustainability prior to this. “I experienced the same bafflement,” Abrams said. She met with Dan Dixon, who is a professor as well as director of the university’s Office of Sustainability. He liked the idea of a journal, agreed to serve as the faculty adviser and directed Abrams to come up with a name, a mission and a concept.

MAINE MISSION: One core concept was inclusivity, encompassing people from all departments at the university and beyond. “We definitely stressed that it should be interdisciplinary, because one of the challenges we discussed was, ‘How do we get people involved, how do we get them thinking they have a stake in sustainability?’ ” They sought out potential advisory board members, put together a proposal to the provost to make it official and then focused on getting the word out. What about that name? “It’s not like a funny story,” she said. “I wanted a simple, memorable word or turn of phrase that was emblematic of high places, a peak to strive for.”

JUMPING BARRIERS: Abrams says she herself is a prime example of the interdisciplinary energy they’re trying to create. “For instance, your assumption was that I was in the Climate Change Institute.” (Guilty). Regardless of department or area of expertise (nursing, art, literature) everyone should feel part of the overarching discussion about sustainability and the environment. The first issue features submissions from many departments, including biology and ecology, graphic design, photography, nursing and forest resources, among others. Works from Lee Ann and Thomas Mark Szelog’s photo documentation of the proposed Maine Woods National Park are included, and the school’s Hudson Museum is showcasing that project in an exhibit (through June 30) that coincides with Spire’s release.

OUT OF SOUTH AFRICA: At this triumphant moment, Abrams is preparing to say goodbye to the journal she created (and which served as her thesis project). She’ll be moving to England to attend Oxford. And not to study English. A funny thing happened on the way through her master’s program; she decided to get a master’s in science, focusing on nature and society and environmental governance. With an emphasis on environmental policy. If there’s funding, she’ll stay for a doctorate. “I have this dissertation topic already that I stumbled on.” It’s about the odd and awful practice of lion tourism in Africa, where tourists can pay to cuddle with lion cubs. “It is adorable, but what they don’t know is that those lions were bred in essentially a puppy mill for human entertainment. Then they will be sold to a hunt reserve where they will eventually be shot in an enclosure.” (For another kind of tourism.) Abrams will be studying how shifting legislation in the United Kingdom could help end the practice.

THE FUTURE OF SPIRE: She hopes to leave Spire in good shape for its next issue. The student-run editorial staff was able to publish about half the submissions received, she said. Now they are looking for more, from scholars and community members who have articles, essays, data, artwork, photography or poetry “with an environmental, conservation or sustainability theme.” (Visit for more information on how to submit). Abrams wants the submissions to be far-ranging in topics but relatable to a broader audience. “One thing I was looking for, as the general editor, is how can we bring this back to our Maine constituency?” The first issue includes a piece on climate change in Syria – her task there as editor was to make sure the relevance beyond Syria was clear – and one by UMaine professor and bee expert Frances (Frank) Drummond about wildflowers, bees and the cultivation of honey. Of this piece, Abrams says, “We were blown away.” None of the contributors get paid. Nor does the journal cost anything. It’s web-only, making it a greener read about being green.

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0 of Maine graduate student Kaitlyn Abrams with images featured in the new online journal Spire.Thu, 04 May 2017 19:12:33 +0000
Joe Walsh is Maine’s Mister Sustainable Clean Sun, 30 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Joe Walsh came to Portland in 2005 with a plan to stay the summer. He’s still here. And he’s heading up a house-cleaning company that specializes in elbow grease and all natural products, Green Clean Maine. We called him up to find out what the market is for green cleaning in Maine (based on the size of his staff, 30, we’re going to say it’s pretty strong), got a few tips on unexpected cleaning agents (like baking soda) and learned about the role Ireland played in his decision to make a career out of a sustainably oriented business (pubs are involved).

Growing up in Rhode Island, Walsh worked first in the family construction business, starting as a teenager. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, he worked in the insurance business and for a startup that made high-end cakes. “I loved being in the startup atmosphere. I felt right at home because growing up working for a small family business, everyone had to pitch in to do a little bit of everything.” He remembers borrowing his parents’ minivan to pick up products in Massachusetts. “The energy is there, when you’re thinking, this could be huge.” The cake company didn’t make it, but he learned a lot. In 2002 he moved to Ireland and bartended and waited tables in Galway. And he developed a whole new perspective on life.

CULTURE SHOCK: How so? “It was the first time I had experienced life in a human-sized, walkable city without a car.” Being part of a culture where people walked everywhere, including yes, to the pubs on those long, late summer nights, made him want the same back home. “Coming back to the States was incredibly difficult.” It was, he said, “like reverse culture shock.” He realized that what he was missing was “the sense of place that you got when you were in these little towns in Ireland, and all over Great Britain, where every place just felt unique and different.” On his return to Rhode Island he worked in community development and became passionate about urban planning and renewable energy. “I became really interested in this idea that you could make money while helping the environment.” California, in the midst of a solar boom, was particularly alluring. “I thought, what an elegant solution.” He sold everything that wouldn’t fit in his Honda Civic and planned to move across country to work in the California’s solar industry.

A SLIGHT DETOUR: But first he headed north to visit friends in Portland, whom he had met in Galway. “I was just going to get some job for the summer. I didn’t care what it was.” Portland’s Buy Local movement was just getting started. “I was totally wooed by the supportive atmosphere and the attitude of Yankee ingenuity.” He interviewed for a contract position – just four months – with a new publication catering to consumers looking for eco-friendly products and services, as well as good deals. His new boss was Heather Chandler, and he was the Sunrise Guide’s first employee.

SUNRISE SUNSET: Walsh’s job was to sell ads for the coupon and discount book, a publication with high ideals but that did not yet exist. He made cold calls, and he walked around with a copy of the Northwest guide that Chandler was modeling Sunrise on, and an ad rate sheet. “I was so unprepared for how difficult that was going to be.” He’d done cold calls before, but in this case, the product was such an unknown. Selling a $200 ad on those terms meant he had to be really persuasive. “That is a big ask.” Selling ads for the second book was easier. And it was then that he had the idea for Green Clean Maine. He’d found a card for a green cleaning service, but when he called the owner to pitch him on being in the Sunrise Guide, he got a surprising answer. “They were like, ‘Oh my God, are you kidding? I would never advertise. There is no way I could take any more clients; I’m already so busy.’ ” He got off the phone and told Chandler. She pointed out that this would be a good business opportunity. He started working on a business plan. (You can see why Chandler won Source’s Pollinator award this year.)

A MOP AND A PLAN: He applied for (and won) a $5,000 business grant from the Libra Foundation and went into business. This might have seemed like a big leap, but as he noted, Walsh is a startup kind of guy. And he loved to clean – although he would like to emphasize that his mother wouldn’t agree. “She’d say, ‘You had a funny way of showing it then.’ ” His room when he was growing up was definitely not pristine. “The way it manifested itself was in my cars. I was like a 16-year-old kid in love with my car. And I just loved that satisfaction of getting everything just so.” He even remembers the date of his first cleaning job: October 2, 2007. “A friend of mine hired me to clean her condo. It was just me. I had a vacuum, a mop and a plan.”

SHELF LIFE: Walsh bought products that were Green Seal-certified, the only third-party certification for commercial cleaning products, but soon eased into making his own products. As he experimented, he realized he could make products for less than the cost of buying commercial ones, and he was convinced his products worked better. “I ended up pivoting to all handmade products.” By the end of this year, Walsh hopes to be marketing his own products through the company’s website. But first he has to make them self stable. “We don’t use any emulsifiers to preserve the oils, so after two weeks, it actually goes bad.” Like, smelly bad? “It starts to not smell good,”

CHEMICAL FREE: Is he completely chemical free? “I wouldn’t say that chemicals are never necessary. I would say that they are not necessary 95 percent of the time.” Like, on moldy shower grout, Green Clean Maine staffers tend to get out a bleach pen. “To me that is acceptable because in all the other rooms in the house I have used absolutely no chemicals.”

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: What can’t he live without? 1. A good plant-based dish detergent, like a Seventh Generation or Planet Earth brand liquid detergent. 2. Baking soda. “It is amazing. It absorbs odors, is a great scouring agent, softens the water.” 3. Distilled white vinegar. But he would like everyone to know that while vinegar does have some antibacterial properties, it is a rinsing agent, not a cleaner.

OFFICE POLITICS: Walsh doesn’t clean anymore; he’s got a staff of about 30 and about 400 regular clients, from Freeport south to Biddeford and to the eastern shore of Sebago. His prices range from about $80 to $300, depending on the size of the house (and the depth of the dirt). “The average transaction price is $140,” he said. Timing-wise, 2007 was good time to get into this business, just when demand was growing for environmentally friendly services. He’s got competitors now, but there’s room in the marketplace. “I definitely think that we are appealing to a wider audience than we were 10 years ago. I don’t really have to sell the green thing.” People, he said, “kind of get it.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Walsh, owner and founder of Green Clean Maine, an environmentally friendly residential cleaning company.Thu, 27 Apr 2017 19:12:35 +0000
Hanna Sihler is a Solar Ambassador who spreads the power of sunshine Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Hanna Sihler has less than two weeks left to come up with $35,428 dollars. It’s not for her tuition at the University of New England’s (UNE) waterfront campus in Biddeford. She’s raising money to fund a solar project that would allow Scarborough’s Camp Ketcha to reduce carbon emissions and save money on its electricity costs.

Source called her to ask what motivated her and how she and her classmates are raising money. Along the way, we also learned something about sharks and the allure of physics.

REVOLVING DOOR: Sihler is a junior majoring in oceanography and biophysics. One of her advisers, associate professor Noah Perlut, met Re-Volv executive director Andreas Karelas at a conference and learned about the group’s work with college students. Re-Volv helps crowdsource solar projects around the nation and runs a Solar Ambassador Project directed at college students who want to help a community organization near their campus finance and install solar projects. The students serve as fundraisers who also educate their communities about the value of solar power. The overarching goal is to reduce carbon emissions and build a network of new environmental stewards. Perlut suggested his students apply, and after racing to put together an application in under a week, they were named Re-Volv ambassadors. Sihler is the lead on the UNE project, one of three current university projects – others are in the pipeline – Re-Volv is backing around the country.

SHINE A LIGHT: Silher and her classmates had to pick a worthy nonprofit for the project. One of the group’s members, an alternative education student, had children who had benefited from Camp Ketcha’s school programs and suggested the Scarborough camp, which has programs during the school year (a Montessori preschool and after-school programs) as well as traditional, equestrian and other specialty summer camps. “They are so well rounded about what they do for the community,” Silher said. “We wanted to partner with a nonprofit that was going to give back to the community.” Moreover, they saw the potential to influence another generation through Camp Ketcha. “We want to instill those environmental ideas, those caring ideas, in kids.” Sihler directed a video made by the UNE students as a fundraising tool (she got to “drive” a drone). The group of five students is working with ReVision Energy, which will install the panels. The crowdfunded donations go into a revolving fund while Re-Volv covers the upfront costs for the materials and installation. Over 20 years, the camp will pay a small lease fee on the installation. That money will be reinvested into Re-Volv’s Solar Seed Fund, which will be used for other projects down the line.

SOLAR APPEAL: Solar power wasn’t a foreign concept to Sihler, who grew up in Killington, Vermont (yes, she learned to ski at about the same time she learned to walk), and attended high school in nearby Rutland. “We had a solar farm right next to my high school,” she said. It was built on top of a decommissioned city landfill. “They thought it could be used for something other than just kids going out there.” I’ll say: What they built was big enough to land Rutland the honor of having the most solar per capita of any city in New England. That solar farm won the 2015 Project of Distinction Award from the Solar Energy Industries Association.

SUN SAVINGS: How much money and energy will the Camp Ketcha solar projects save? Projections show the solar array on the roof of a barn at the camp will save the nonprofit 15 percent on their annual electricity bill, Sihler said, with solar energy providing 98 percent of their electricity. In the first year alone, the project is expected to offset 19,000 lbs of CO2 emissions. To cover the costs, the UNE students are committed to raising $35,428. They’ve got a website set up to take tax-deductible donations, as well as a Facebook page. The UNE ambassadors have held fundraisers at Portland Pie (with 10 percent of sales going to the Camp Ketcha project) and are planning raffles and an ice cream (“sundaes” and yes, they’re punning on Sun Days) event, as well. They’ll be showing up at farmers markets around the area for the rest of the month asking for donations and answering questions about the benefits of solar power. Even a dollar donation is welcome, Sihler said.

SHARK TANK: Sihler first became aware of UNE through its soccer program. As a high school athlete, she was looking for a school that allowed her to play soccer but put academics first. She’s found that to be the case at UNE. “My coach really wants me to succeed post-college,” she said. Her early interest in marine biology evolved into an oceanography and physics major after she’d had a few semesters at the school and realized how much she enjoyed math and physics. “I love the ocean, but I love physics,” she said. “UNE helped me realize what I could do.” She lists shark research among her more memorable coursework, using the waters off Orchard Beach and also Rhode Island to study populations of everything from basking sharks to dogfish, “which are really tiny but classified as sharks.” ” And no, she hasn’t seen any great whites. “I know that is a huge question. There could be some here or there, but we didn’t see any.” The research involved catching sharks with “regular rod and reel,” bringing them up on the boat, taking blood and measurements. “I have seen pretty big ones. Like 8 or 9 feet.” That sounds like fun. “Oh my gosh, it is a blast.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Sihler, an oceanography and biophysics major at the University of New England, holds a chain dogfish.Thu, 20 Apr 2017 18:44:55 +0000
Matt Prindiville takes on an alien menace Sun, 16 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 When we reached Upstream Policy’s executive director Matt Prindiville, who runs the national environmental organization from Rockport, he confessed to burning the midnight oil for days, if not weeks. The modern, passive solar house he and his wife have been designing and planning and dreaming about for more than a decade had just cleared its bank inspection. He’d been tiling a bathroom into the wee hours to make that happen. “I kind of want to take a weeklong nap,” he said. But he rallied to talk to Source about the joys of solar power, how “playing defense” is often the norm for those involved in environmental work today but how thankfully, plastic waste, one of the key issues he works on, has so far remained an issue politicians from both sides of the fence can agree on.

LAW SOUP TO NUTS: Prindiville worked at the Natural Resources Council of Maine for almost 10 years before moving to Upstream Policy. “It was a great time,” he said. “It is kind of a pressure cooker kind of place to work.” He tackled legislation in a “soup to nuts” kind of approach, learning “how to take an idea and get it passed into law and implemented.” During the Gov. John Baldacci administration, he worked with a crop of young leaders, including Hannah Pingree. “We worked a lot together on climate and toxics and product policy and watersheds. It was really a heady time.” Then Gov. Paul LePage was elected. “A lot of that came grinding to a halt in 2010,” he said. Prindiville saw the writing on the wall. “I didn’t want to spend the next four years – I thought it would only be four years – playing defense.” When the founder of Upstream Policy contacted him about running the group, which is national but works with other, similar organizations all over the world, he signed on.

MISSION CONTROL: Upstream Policy’s stated mission is to advance sustainability, end plastic pollution and reduce climate disruption. Big tasks. The group calls itself a “think/do tank” and works with local governments, public interest groups, companies and citizen activists on product stewardship initiatives. It is part of a “Break Free from Plastic” campaign with other nongovernmental organizations, including Greenpeace. It also works with cities, including Portland, on developing best practices and reducing plastic waste. Then there is the sustainable packaging policy project, which encourages take-backs from corporations – where a company is responsible to pay for recycling the materials it generates. “Plastics are really the poster child for what is wrong with our material economy. Many of them have applications destined to last just minutes.” Like coffee cups and plastic cutlery. “There is this systemic design flaw where we are using this material which is really an alien substance to the planet and where nothing really biodegrades,” Prindiville said.

FOOD CHAIN: Including in the oceans, where one of the world’s most important food sources live. “Here is seafood, which is supposed to be one of the healthiest foods out there and yet we are perpetually contaminating it.” To the tune, he says, of 8 million tons of plastics that end up in the ocean every year, the equivalent of five plastic shopping bags (washing up) on every foot of coastline in the world. “The other statistic that is really alarming, too, is that there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the ocean by 2050 unless we change course.”

U-TURN? Is it realistic to think of changing course, especially right now, when the world is in such turmoil and the United States is backing out of, say, climate change accords? “I actually feel like with plastic pollution, it has not become a politically polarized issue yet. You don’t have Republicans and Democrats lining up on either side the way you do on climate and energy issues.” Plastics, with all their single-use applications, are more tangible than big issues like climate change. “People see and touch plastic every day. For them I think it is more tangible than, ‘I get into the car and drive to work or drive my kids to school, and I might be contributing to climate change.’ ”

THE LIMITS OF RECYCLING: For those who say, “but, recycling!” Prindiville has a message: “A lot of these products have literally no value in the recycling process.” Sure soda bottles and water bottles and milk jugs have value as they’re recycled. “But pretty much everything else, there is no value in. It’s a net cost to process.” In places like the Philippines and Indonesia, the scale of plastic pollution is “just staggering and astounding.” Scavengers scoop up the high-value plastics, leaving things like single-serve food packaging. “And single-serve shampoo or laundry detergent bottles are just rampant.” Upstream Policy works to get manufacturers to move away from these kind of uses for plastic. “You need to identify the high-pollution items.” And remember that not all plastics are bad. “I am quick to remind people, I love my surfboard, I love my snowboard. I just built my dream house, and it has Styrofoam insulating the foundation,” Prindiville said. “There are good and important issues for plastics. But we do not want to be using plastic for all these single-use applications.”

BRIGHT IDEAS: There are a number of work-arounds to the those single-use applications that Prindiville and Upstream Policy are excited to promote. These include encouraging coffee shops to establish a deposit system for customers who arrive for a cup of coffee and want to take it to go in a reusable cup instead of the usual cardboard. Or how about biodegradable cutlery? “They are making cutlery out of bamboo or compressed paper fibers. They can do a lot with engineering.” He’s got his eye on a new company in New York State making take-away food containers out of mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms. Grown into molds and highly compressed. “It is not just a pie-in-the-sky idea. They just inked a major deal with Ikea to replace all the Styrofoam in their packaging supply chain.” That’s a game changer, Prindiville says, and exactly the kind of model Upstream Policy tries to promote. People want to see progress,” he said. “They want to see wins.” What if he and his colleagues could convince say, a Starbucks to start putting low-cost, reusable mugs in its stores? “What a change that would be.”

ON GOLDEN POND: Prindiville and his wife, a cranial sacral therapist (that’s a form of body work) bought land on Chickawaukie Pond in Rockport 12 years ago, thinking they’d build a house on it right away. “It was the dream land,” he said. But life intervened (including taking care of aging parents), so they rented in Rockland while slowly hatching a plan for a house in the Frank Lloyd Wright tradition. Low pitched shed roof, huge windows on the south-facing side and built into a slope. “It’s an upside-down house.” Meaning you enter on the second floor, and the bedrooms are downstairs. “You walk in and you really just see the woods and the lake. It feels like you are outside when you are inside.”

PASSIVE PEACE OF MIND: The house is built to be heated passively, and for this first winter, Prindiville has been supplementing solar heat with just one heat pump. “Even when it is 10 degrees outside, the upstairs bakes,” he said. In the summer, a 6-foot overhang keeps the sun from overheating the house and the heat pump doubles as an air conditioner. His wife’s practice is in an small building just down the lane from the house. “We pretty much both work from home, which is pretty sweet. That was the goal.” He does have to travel for work a couple times a month, but, “I feel really fortunate that I can do nationally significant work from Rockport.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0 Prindiville says he believes plastic pollution "has not become a politically polarized issue yet."Thu, 13 Apr 2017 18:29:53 +0000
August Avantaggio brings local meats to downtown Damariscotta Sun, 02 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 August Avantaggio grew up in Damariscotta, the son of a surgeon and the grandson of a chicken farmer from Waldoboro. After graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, he spent a year in Guatemala and then returned to Maine, looking for ways to stay in the state he loved and still make a living. After learning and practicing carpentry for several years, he decided to move into a whole new field: butchery. Last May he opened Riverside Butcher Co. on Main Street in Damariscotta, right next door to Fisherman’s Catch. We called Avantaggio up to talk inherited cleavers, Easter lamb and the complications behind selling local meat.

IN THE BLOOD: Avantaggio’s family moved to Maine in 1949. The Avantaggio family had owned an Italian grocery in Newton, Massachusetts, but as supermarkets started to edge them out, his grandfather made the decision to move to Waldoboro and raise chickens. (He was very on trend; Maine’s poultry industry was flourishing in those years.) They’d sold a “little bit of everything” in the grocery, including meat; Avantaggio has his great grandfather’s clever and butcher knife hanging on the wall at Riverside Butcher Co.. He doesn’t use it, but he could. “It’s a cleaver, those things don’t go bad.”

INFRASTRUCTURE: The farm is still in the family, but the chicken barns are long gone and Avantaggio didn’t grow up surrounded by farm culture. He did however spend his summers working in restaurants and says there has always been a “culinary side to me.” He’d never had any formal training as a butcher when the idea to open a shop in Damariscotta first came to him, but he was aware that Maine farmers who were raising livestock needed infrastructure for their meat, like slaughterhouses and butchers willing to take on whole animals. “It came to me one night after some wine and we were kind of spitballing and chatting and the more I thought about it, the more it didn’t seem like a crazy idea.” Damariscotta already served as something of a food hub for the region, with Rising Tide Cooperative, and there were a lot of homesteaders around, natural customers for a local butcher willing to take on their whole animals once they’d been processed. “I thought I had a finger on the pulse of the town. So far it has been true.”

HOME BUILDING: Avantaggio graduated from Wheaton in 2009 with a degree in American History and Latin American studies. He knew he was entering the job market in the height of the recession, so he figured it was a good a time as any to skip sending out resumes and just go live abroad. He’d been taking Spanish since he was a student at Lincoln Academy and wanted to put his languages skills to use. That took him to Guatemala, where he worked with the nonprofit Safe Passage, the brainchild of Yarmouth native Hanley Denning. Denning had gone to Guatemala in 1999 to study Spanish, learned about the Guatemala City Garbage Dump and the desperately poor people living around it, and started her non-governmental organization, or NGO, to help them. (Denning was killed in a car accident in 2007.) Avantaggio worked at the dump as a volunteer coordinator with before- and after-school programs for the local children. After a year, he was ready to come home. He began working as a carpenter for the Shelter Institute. “I timber-framed for them for a few years and built my own house in the process.”

LOVE STORY: He was at the point in his carpentry career where it was either “time for go out on my own” or to redirect. During that time he met, fell in love with and married another native Mainer. Although Abby Avantaggio grew up in Edgecomb, the couple never crossed paths until adulthood. At least so they thought, but during their courtship their parents made the connection that both August and Abby had been photographed at a children’s book author Barbara Cooney reading by a newspaper photographer when they were about 4 years old. Abby works at Riverside occasionally, although lately she’s been busy with their daughter Edith, who was born in August.

SLIM MARGINS: “We are as local as possible,” Avantaggio said. The slaughterhouses that Maine does have are working at capacity, but despite that there’s not enough meat to stock his shop so he’s had to bring in meat from out of state “that is raised the way we like, grass fed, grain-finished, no hormones, all that jazz. It is very difficult to get 100-percent Maine raised beef.” He can rely on a lamb every week from North Star Sheep Farm, or two in high season or if a lamb-centric holiday, say Easter, is near (call the shop to check on availability for sure, but at press time, Avantaggio was planning on having plenty of North Star’s lamb on hand. He also takes all the pig that popular Winter Hill Farm in Freeport can supply. “We have to wait in line.” It’s a challenge to keep prices reasonable, but a necessity, what with a competitor like Hannaford “a mile down the road” in Damariscotta. He wants to be affordable, but “it is a balancing act.” The margins are slim and for customers, “the reality of sticker shock after processing is tough.” Riverside is working hard at that balancing act, with the understanding that butchery is not a lucrative business. “Not yet.”

FAIR WEATHER FRIENDS: Last summer though, things were better. “In the summer, it is different because there is so much money from seasonal people. We had a great first summer and we are looking forward to this summer as well.” (Yeah, us too.) If they’ve got extra meat that isn’t selling, Avantaggio and his head butcher Ryan Tyler, a Rosemont veteran, make stocks for sale (beef, chicken and bone broth), ragu, beef and barley soups, chili – look for them in the freezer. “We utilize everything that comes in.” They also have a smoker on premises and offer ribs on Mondays and Fridays and smoked half chickens on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. (Arrive around 12:30 if you want some of those.) They make meat hand pies and sausage, too.

THE BUTCHER’S DINNER: What does Avantaggio take home for dinner? “I’ll be honest with you. I eat a lot more fish than I ever used to. I eat less meat now.” Why? “Being the owner, I am the guy that does the dishes and cleans up and by the time I get home it is either some ramen or something quick and easy.” One meat he doesn’t skimp on? “I am eating a lot more lamb than I used to.”

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Avantaggio cuts up half a pig at Riverside Butcher in Damariscotta. Avantaggio had been a carpenter, but he saw an opening in Maine's local food economy for someone specializing in local meat and opened his shop in May 2016.Thu, 30 Mar 2017 18:27:07 +0000
Tasha Gerken makes eating healthy (and local) a SNAP for low-income families Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Tasha Gerken is the nutrition educator and program coordinator at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick for SNAP-Ed, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which teaches low-income Mainers how to make healthy meals on a small budget (using local foods whenever possible). In February, the LePage administration requested a waiver from the Trump administration to block low-income Mainers from buying sugar-sweetened drinks and candy with their SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) benefits. The administration included a second request, to divert funding for nutrition education to the Department of Education, which would likely put Gerken out of a job. We called her up to find out how she came to be a nutrition educator and what she values about the work she does – and learned a little something about gleaning and banana-peanut-butter-apple wraps in the process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Gerken, SNAP nutrition educator, before the start of a cooking class at Bath Head Start.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:51:56 +0000
Linda Woodard doesn’t want anyone to be afraid of science Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Linda Woodard is the director of Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center. But the former high school biology teacher is also a passionate contributor to the Maine Environmental Education Association, where she has been on the board of directors for at least 20 years. On Thursday and Friday, the association will hold its annual conference at Colby College in Waterville, where environmental leaders gather for 30-plus presentations on topics such as empowering the next generation. Woodard’s fingerprints are all over it. So is this particular political moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0, 17 Mar 2017 14:11:04 +0000
Dan Devereaux watches over the waters in Brunswick Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 When it comes to marine issues in Brunswick, Marine Warden Dan Devereaux has a special expertise. He’s in his 18th year on the job, for one thing. And he’s wedded to his work. Case in point: He offered us a 7 a.m. interview slot and sounded quite chipper when we called. If it were summer, he said, he’d usually have been out on the water for a good 30 minutes by that time. “I work weird hours,” he said. “I kind of live this job.” We talked about how he landed the job in the first place and what he’s done with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols


]]> 0 Devereaux at Mere Point Boat Launch.Fri, 10 Mar 2017 09:02:06 +0000
Chebeague Island native’s the driving force behind new aquaculture festival Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Julia Maine and her mother, Carol White, a geologist, recently received a grant from the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership to hold a Chebeague Island Aquaculture Festival, the first-ever such event to be held on the Casco Bay island. The one-day festival, tentatively scheduled for July, is primarily intended to educate community members about the aquaculture farms that are already there, but Maine has a few other ideas about ways it might prove useful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Maine, an educator at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, and her mother, geologist Carol White, are organizing the first Chebeague Island Aquaculture Festival for this summer.Mon, 06 Mar 2017 11:46:36 +0000
Julie Rosenbach runs South Portland’s 1-woman sustainability office Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Julie Rosenbach is a one-woman sustainability shop for South Portland. When she arrived there in March of 2015, she was the city’s first-ever sustainability coordinator. We talked with her about her work, why she went for a ride-along on a garbage truck and what keeps her going, even in tough times for environmentalists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Rosenbach joins the crew of a trash truck for a ride-along Wednesday morning.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 08:55:06 +0000
Geologist Brenda Hall fell for glaciers as a child Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 University of Maine professor Brenda Hall has been on 27 polar expeditions. We have been on exactly zero. But recent news about a crack in an Antarctic ice shelf that has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last few months made us very much want to speak to someone who had and might be able to provide perspective. As luck would have it (well, our luck, her regular work schedule), the teacher and researcher with UMaine’s Climate Change Institute got back just a few weeks ago from a six-week research trip in Antarctica. We talked with her about her journey from growing up in Standish to being a globe-trotting expert on glacial geology and the stability of ice sheets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Hall, seen here in Greenland.Tue, 21 Feb 2017 11:41:41 +0000
Work with kissing dogs led Catherine Frost to livestock photography Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 If you went to the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in January and admired the cover of the annual event’s program, which featured some supremely handsome Belted Galloways in the snow, then you’ve had a glimpse of photographer Catherine Frost’s work. The Freeport photographer has carved out a niche for herself shooting livestock and farms around Maine. We called her up to ask how she got into farm photography and learned a few things about marketing and why it is so important to get a sheep to look you in the eye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Frost photographs a Randall cow at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport.Fri, 10 Feb 2017 11:38:01 +0000
UMaine scientist Eric Venturini encourages growth of life-sustaining bees Sun, 05 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Eric Venturini is an assistant research scientist at the University of Maine’s School of Biology and Ecology, pursuing his love of sustainable agriculture through research into bees and collaborations with farmers. We encountered him while Source was trying to track down the most recent specimen of rusty patched bumblebee (see S1) in the Maine State Museum archives. Venturini has spent a lot of time in those archives recently, looking for clues about the present-day plight of pollinators in the bodies of their ancestors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Venturini, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maine's School of Biology and Ecology, with bee specimens at the Maine State Museum Archives in Hallowell.Fri, 03 Feb 2017 16:33:38 +0000
Todd Hand’s teaching Unity students what murder and mayhem have to do with sustainability Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 One of Unity College’s newest professors is Todd Hand, assistant professor of Conservation Law Enforcement. We know sustainability informs every area of academic study at Unity, but we wanted to know more about how law enforcement fits in with that. A former lieutenant in the Criminal Investigation Division in Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Hand previously taught conservation law at Saint Leo University in Florida. Our conversation ranged from cold cases in the Florida swamps to that time he got to be the star of a true crime novel – it doesn’t get any better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Hand, left, teaches conservation law enforcement to students at Unity College.Fri, 27 Jan 2017 09:02:48 +0000
Fisheries ecologist Lisa Kerr tracks cod and bluefin tuna Sun, 22 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Fisheries ecologist Lisa Kerr has been at the Portland-based Gulf of Maine Research Institute for four years, researching fisheries with the aim of improving sustainability management and understanding the ecosystem as a whole, as well as how it might be changing. She is the expert on all things cod and bluefin tuna. We called her up to talk science and in the process learned about her mother’s cool summertime rule, how the Bahamas played a role in her career and what the inner ear bone reveals about fish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Kerr, above, a research scientist at GMRI, studies fish and how they travel, reproduce and succeed in warming waters.Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:24:18 +0000
Luke Truman is planning for a greener future at Allagash Brewing Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Luke Truman’s job title at Allagash Brewing Co. in Portland is senior maintenance engineer, which means if there is a plumbing emergency, he is definitely on tap to do something about it. But he’s also on the “green team,” i.e., the sustainability team, which is made up of one person from each department at the craft brewery. We connected with him as he was trying to promote an upcoming event involving volunteers building out window inserts at Allagash, and the combination was intriguing enough for us to start asking more questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


]]> 0 Truman pictures a greener future for Allagash Brewery.Fri, 13 Jan 2017 11:03:00 +0000
Dutch Dresser builds wood pellet heating systems Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Besides having a crazy cool name, Dutch Dresser has a habit of being on the cutting edge. In 1990 he got the bright idea to hook Gould Academy, where he used to be a teacher and associate headmaster, up to a new-fangled thing called the internet. In 2007 he and his old friend Les Otten, inspired by European models, started Maine Energy Systems in Bethel, which builds central heating systems that burn wood pellets. We called him up to find out how he got into this line of work, what the benefits of heating with wood pellets are and why he’s a convert.

O INTERNET PIONEER!: Dresser grew up in Cape Elizabeth and taught science in Eastport and at the Hinckley School in Hinckley for several years. In 1979 he began what would be a 25-year relationship with Gould Academy in Bethel. He’d teach usually one course a year and served as the assistant head of school. “I was the academic dean if you will. I was given a fair amount of latitude and started a lot of programs.” Including a training course for a junior Ski Patrol (for skiers under 18 years old). “We jacketed our first Ski Patrol at Sunday River in 1980.” He was also an early adapter to computers and set Gould up with its first computer lab and in 1992, with the help of the University of Maine, helped connect the school to the fledgling internet. “That was just before Mosaic was released.” (Talk about a blast from the past.) The network at the school led Dresser to go into a side business whereby townspeople could dial into a modem at his house and get online.

OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA: Ski patrol and computers – those are some widely varying interests. “I’m sort of an omnivore when it comes to exploration. That is what I do for fun.” In 2007 it led to a partnership with Les Otten, a ski resort mogul who began building his empire with the purchase of Sunday River and then lost it all. Otten’s company, American Skiing Co., was dismantled in 2007. Both men were on Gov. John Baldacci’s Wood-to-Energy Task Force, which explored ways to promote Maine’s forest resources to reduce energy costs. Otten chaired the task force. “We landed on residential heating, basically because we (Mainers, that is) were spending $1 billion a year on heating oil. It just looked to us that there ought to be a better model.” High-efficiency wood pellet burning systems, with their use of renewable resources and lower emissions, were the most appealing. And the market seemed wide open. “Nobody was doing anything serious with pellet central heating.” The models that were available had limitations. “In order to use them, you had to dump pellets in them daily and you had to remove ash daily.”

IF YOU BUILD IT: After working with a Swedish company in 2010 they moved onto a partnership with an Austrian company, ÖkoFEN, that made a model they liked. They started by importing ÖkoFEN systems and in 2013 acquired the licensing rights to manufacture the systems in Bethel. That doesn’t mean they’re doing it from scratch: “Building a boiler is a lot like building a car. Parts come from everywhere and you put them together.” On the plus side for the business, “there was no competitor on the landscape.” On the down side, “nor was there any support or infrastructure in place. There was no one to bring you the pellets. We had to develop trucks to bring you the pellets and blow them into storage units in the home.” But first, they had to design those storage units. “That we later learned had already been done better in Austria.”

WHY WOOD? Dresser sounds envious of Austria and the Scandinavian countries where pellet central heating systems have caught on. “They are more savvy about environmental issues. And about the cost of heating.” The fuel-buying patterns in Austria switched radically in a decade, he said. “The governments got behind fuel switching to biomass. They used the bully pulpit to promote it.” That hasn’t happened in the United States. “We don’t seem to have the same environmental consciousness.” But Maine Energy Systems isn’t giving up. “I think we are getting there slowly.”

HOW’S BUSINESS? Despite strong incentives in some states, like a $5,000 rebate through Efficiency Maine for installing a biomass boiler that burns pellets, “business is not anywhere near as good as it was when fossil fuel prices were high.” He’s sold systems all over the Northeast and well up into Canada. “I have a lot of boilers in the Northwest territories of Canada.” Including one heating a school north of the Arctic Circle. Maine Energy Systems has also trained 700 technicians and installers. But the systems aren’t cheap to buy and install, and thanks to the relatively low price of oil now, heating with wood pellets runs about the same cost. “A lot of people buy based on price.”

WHAT ABOUT THE TREES? Dresser is used to hearing from people who get nervous about heating with wood, that it’s wasteful. He counters that the low-value wood that used to be funneled into the pulp and paper industry is ideal for wood pellets and not much else. “The low-value wood needs to come out of the forest to allow growth in the old-stand stuff.” Which in turn is needed for the health of the lumber business, which relies on that older growth.

FILL ‘ER UP: Those of us who use oil or propane are used to seeing the truck pulling up every few weeks in the winter for a delivery. How does one go about storing fuel with a central heating system that runs on wood pellets? Dresser says in Europe the style is to include a room in the basement devoted to pellets. Here we’re more likely to have a storage bin, assembled in the cellar by the same people who would put in the system. But the deliveryman or woman might need to come only three times a season, if that, he said. A home that burns 900 gallons of oil a year would take about 7.5 tons of pellets to heat. The typical storage bin holds three tons of pellets.

LOW MAINTENANCE: When he’s courting new customers, Dresser finds they’re often nervous that a wood pellet fuel system is going to take a lot of maintenance. Trips to the cellar. Cleaning the thing. He concedes the systems aren’t as low maintenance as say, having the oil truck pull up and pour fuel into the house. But the trips to the cellar are minimal, he said. Home owners have to remove a buildup of ash about four times a year; the noncombustible “salts” from the wood collect. The good news is, they can get dumped right into the garden, which, if the soil is acid, is a good thing. “It’s very much like lime.”

A FAN’S NOTES: In case you’re wondering, yes, Dresser does have a pellet system in his own house, an old farmhouse that came with “a very large oil boiler that would roar to life and heat for four minutes, then quiet down, then roar to life in another 10 minutes.” He switched over to a biomass boiler in 2008 and said he wouldn’t go back. The pellet system burns at a lower but more constant level. “It isn’t up and down. It is a discernibly different feel that we wouldn’t swap for anything.”

ONE LAST THING: How do you get a name like Dutch? “My middle name is Holland.”

]]> 0, ME - JANUARY 3: Dutch Dresser poses for a portrait in downtown Portland. Since 2007 Dresser has been building, importing, promoting, selling and now manufacturing central heating systems for residential use that run on wood pellets. (Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Fri, 06 Jan 2017 10:14:51 +0000
Tanya Swain’s the project director of the Maine Food Strategy Sun, 01 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The Maine Food Strategy, an initiative to bolster Maine’s food systems, hosted a food networking event in December that was attended by the likes of Sen. Angus King and Walt Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Participants talked over issues ranging from diversifying the seafood economy “beyond the lobster” to consumer education and marketing plans. And they hashed out priorities for 2017. We called up Tanya Swain, project director for the Maine Food Strategy, to find out what lies ahead for the group, but also to ask about how she ended up in this line of work, and in Maine itself.

SOFT LANDING: About 25 years ago, Swain had popped up from Boston, where she was working, with a friend who had a house on Clearwater Pond near Farmington. They were opening up the friend’s camp for the summer. Born in Colorado but settled nowhere, Swain was a college graduate with a political science degree who thought that she might want to join the Peace Corps or do international work. Another family friend was visiting, a man who had grown up in Rangeley. They hit it off. “And he wasn’t leaving Maine,” Swain says, laughing. Thus she landed here. Which was a good thing. “I really appreciate how grounded people are here.”

PAYCHECK: Jobs weren’t easy to come by, though. “I have done a million different things,” she says, starting with writing for local newspapers, including The Irregular in Kingfield and the Franklin Journal. She covered municipal governments and got to know her new state. She took away two things from that experience. “One was the ability to just sit down and write. There’s no time to dub around. You just get it out.” (True.) The other thing was learning how to listen and ask questions. During this time she started thinking about systems, about ways to create long-term change “that is going to really, over time, improve people’s lives.”

PLEASE ELABORATE: “In society we have these challenges that on one level are very concrete, like people need food and shelter, and we need to do things that aren’t damaging to the environment. And you can adjust those individual pieces or you can try to move the system that is creating those conditions.” She moved on to public relations work for groups like the Maine Community Foundation. “That got me really interested in the nonprofit sector.” In 2006 she took a job with the Western Mountains Alliance, a community development organization in Farmington that had been doing a lot of work with local agriculture. One of her early observations was that the many small farm operations in the area had trouble connecting with consumers. “If you weren’t from Maine and you didn’t know these families, you didn’t know how to get food from them. You didn’t even know they existed.”

MABEL’S BOOK: But Swain took inspiration from Mabel Dennison, a Temple woman who had taken it upon herself to drive the area talking to farmers about what they were producing and how it could be purchased. Dennison gathered that information into the “Farmington Area Local Food Directory” for the first time in 2000, and it was quickly dubbed “Mabel’s Book.” Swain put it online and updated it, focusing on connecting local schools with local food. The next step was creating an online farmers market, so that the working people who couldn’t make it to a Friday morning market could still gain access to good foods. “You could buy from a bunch of different farms and pay for it one place and then pick it up one place.” The market is still operating and can be found at

NEXT STEP: It was around 2010, Swain said, that people in Maine started gathering around the idea of a central coordinating body for all that was happening with local food. Vermont had started its Farm to Plate Initiative and in 2009 signed into law legislation supporting an investment program. “We didn’t have that level of legitimacy,” Swain says. The Muskie School of Public Service was selected as the backbone organization for the Maine Food Strategy in 2012, and Swain was ultimately given the task of being the project’s director. (Although it has a volunteer steering committee, the Maine Food Strategy is financially supported by Third Sector New England, a management and consultant organization that works with nonprofits.

RESISTANCE FIGHTERS: There was resistance, initially, she said, both to the idea that Maine needed a strategy “or that it was valuable to have people come together and work this way.” Some people felt that such work was already underway – “that ‘We don’t need this plan.’ And I could get this.” She’d encountered similar feelings while working for the Western Mountain Alliance, from people who felt “this is just another layer of stuff that I don’t have time for.” On the flip side, she said, that resistance brought her back to her earlier thinking on systems. “I felt like we are all doing amazing work and pieces of work and everyone is trying to pull in the same direction, but if we are really going to create a systems change that makes it work better for our communities, those are the kinds of problems that require strategy.”

BIG NAMES: Having Sen. King and Commissioner Whitcomb at the 2016 networking session was a validating experience. “They came to us,” Swain said. “We didn’t have to invite them.” The model they established with this 2016 meeting, and one they hope to continue, was that the participants shaped the agenda. (Couldn’t attend? Notes from the presentations are online at One key finding was a need to expand the Maine Food Atlas. It’s already online, and includes geographical distributions of everything from farms to nutrition programs, but has yet to reach its potential, she said. The goal is to make it more searchable, both for those who want to go into food-related businesses and those who want to shop local.

TO DO: Other priorities include replicating ideas like Meet the Buyers programs that connect producers to buyers (the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn held its first Central Maine Meet the Buyers event in November). The strategy also calls for sharing best practices and committing to supporting infrastructure businesses, such as processing facilities and trucking systems. And they’ll assemble a task force to research ways to help small businesses market their local foods. They’ve got a lot on their side – as Sen. King tweeted during the gathering, “We’re sitting in one of the world’s great brands: It’s called Maine” – but it’s a tough market for smaller and mid-sized businesses. “With the food system that we have, large companies are the ones that are controlling the marketplace.”

]]> 0 Swain holds a basket of items from Sandy River Farm Market.Tue, 03 Jan 2017 09:33:54 +0000
How yoga teacher Elizabeth Burd became an accidental Christmas tree farmer Sun, 25 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Elizabeth “Birdie” Burd and her partner run Celebration Tree Farm and Yoga in West Durham. After the paddleboarding and yoga craze broke out, we thought society had reached its peak of namaste mania. Then this place popped up on our Facebook feed and we had to call, if only just to find out how those two things intersect. We learned a few new things, including the fact that Burd, though she’s a “country girl” who grew up in Winthrop and Readfield, never planned to be a Christmas tree farmer. (Yoga she didn’t stumble into.)

INHERITED FIRS: When Burd and her partner, Jonah Fertig (a founding member of Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative) found their perfect house a little more than a year ago, it came with a lot of land, including 14 acres of organically grown Christmas trees planted by the previous owners, John Ackerman and his wife, Diane. Ackerman, a trained forester with a landscaping business, died in November 2014. Burd and Fertig bought the farm about a year later. Two weeks after they moved in, Burd says, they started selling trees. “It was crazy.” And it was almost in self-defense. Burd wasn’t excited about selling trees, but the Ackerman place had loyal customers. “We knew people were going to come anyway,” Burd said. Also, “we wanted to try out the business, even though we had no idea if we would like it, or would want to keep doing it.”

WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE? Sticking with the trees, which are mostly balsam fir with some Fraser firs mixed in, seems like a no-brainer. But not for a couple who weren’t into Christmas trees – in fact, they hadn’t had one in years. “Neither of us as adults had done the tree-in-the-house thing. I would be more likely to decorate a plant that I already had in the house. I am more into lights.”

THE NAME GAME: They renamed the farm, which had been called Brookside, Celebration Tree Farm. “We didn’t want to call them Christmas trees,” Burd said. “We didn’t want to be that specific because not everybody wants a Christmas tree. Some people get a solstice tree or New Year’s Eve tree.” Really? Burd swears some customers have said they were purchasing solstice trees. “I only saw it once,” she conceded. “But Jonah has seen it too.”

ORGANIC CHEMISTRY: Ackerman was a fan of organic, both in the garden and for his Christmas trees. “He did not believe in using the chemicals.” And neither does she, although Celebration Tree Farm is not certified organic by MOFGA (yet – Burd and Fertig are working on it). His trees are natural looking and not, she said “super super cone-shaped.” They haven’t gotten the pruning shears out yet but will next year. “We just loved how the trees looked already. We got so many compliments on the fact that they were not overly pruned.” They’ve got a lot to learn, she said, and in the spring they’ll do some replanting. “We are more focused on keeping the forest healthy and making more room for the younger trees.”

HOLIDAY STRESS REDUCER? The yoga studio is under renovation, but that should be wrapped up in time for January classes. Burd has been a certified yoga teacher since 2004, specializing in Kripalu yoga. She started practicing yoga when she was about 13. “I found a yoga book on my mom’s book shelf and that was just it. The spiritual aspect was appealing to me. Especially during the teen years, it was nice to have something like that to go to.” She teaches everyone from children to people in wheelchairs. “It’s for the people.” She’s hoping that the home studio will reduce her time on the road (and carbon footprint) since she currently teaches in locations from Portland all the way to Lewiston. Next Christmas season, will she offer a holiday stress reliever yoga class? “That will be part of the marketing, thank you.” She already does extra relaxation techniques in classes at this time of year. “I will start in shavasana,” she said. (That’s corpse pose for the uninitiated, and usually it happens at the end of the class.) “And then I will just sort of talk about the holiday stress and about taking five minutes to focus on your breath.”

]]> 0 Brady/Staff Photographer Elizabeth Burd is a yoga teacher and seller of Christmas trees.Sun, 25 Dec 2016 18:58:37 +0000
Cows don’t just get pregnant on their own, they get help from Carolyn Woerter Sun, 18 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 When we first met Carolyn Woerter of Freeport it was a blazing hot August day and she had her truck loaded up with some mysterious-looking cannisters. Being nosy, we asked what they were and immediately asked for her number. Because how often do you meet a woman with a truck full of bull semen? We called Woerter up to find out more about how she got into the business of delivering bull semen to farms around Maine.

LEGACY: Woerter inherited the business, in a sense. This was her husband’s work for 35-plus years, and she watched him get up every morning excited to go to work, which entailed driving around Maine visiting farms (mostly dairy then) to deliver “product,” aka the semen. Frankly, she felt a little jealous as she headed off to her retail job in furniture. He worked for ABS, the Wisconsin-based worldwide leader in bovine reproduction services and technologies. “That anyone could get up and enjoy their work that much,” Woerter says, “I thought, how lucky is that?”

She also feared that the business he’d worked so hard to build up would disappear without him. So after his death at 73, she picked up his client list and stepped into a new career.

Vials of bull semen in a nitrogen-cooled tank.

Vials of bull semen in a nitrogen-cooled tank.

STATE OF AFFAIRS: Back in the day, when Maine’s dairy business was thriving, Woerter’s husband served a section of Maine, dividing up the workload with other ABS representatives. Today, Woerter has almost all of it to herself, with just a small southern slice of the state tended to by an ABS representative in New Hampshire. “I’ve got a couple of herds in the Cornish area, so I go from there up into Farmington, over to Dover-Foxcroft and down to the coast.”

Unlike her husband, Woerter does not provide the insemination service itself; that’s left to farmhands or the farmers themselves these days.

SALES PITCH: New “proofs” come out three times a year, and Woerter tends to deliver those catalogs, which outline the bull’s production and genetic traits as a sire, in person. “I will be on the road most of the end of this month making sure they have that information,” she says. Her style is not to be particularly pushy with the product. “It’s about cow families, and basically what a particular farm is looking for to improve their own herds,” she says. “Basically the farmers know their cattle really well and we don’t want to go in and say ‘We think you should use this bull or whatever.’ ”

Her respect for farmers and the thin margins they live within is deep. “They work very hard for what they make. They have to be very wise about how they go about it, how they spend their money, what is most profitable. Obviously, like any wise shopper, they are always shopping.”

BUSY TIMES? Woerter is on the road regularly, but maybe a bit more in some seasons. “August is a busy time,” she says. “In the heat of the summer, the cattle tend not to settle as well.” Settle, meaning get pregnant, or to use a term made famous by William Faulkner, “light in August.” That’s when Woerter might have to head back to the farm with another batch of product.

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Speaking of, how does she get it? “UPS!” It arrives in a dry vapor tank. She places orders every week or every other week. “It comes in and I deliver it. I can give them a pretty good idea when to expect it (this so that delivery can be timed with a cow going into heat), unless it is back ordering.” Say what? “If it is one of these bulls that doesn’t produce as much as it should,” she explains. Aha. So there is such a thing as a bull that’s too popular for its own good.

FIELD NOTES: Woerter has observed a shift in recent years as Maine’s dairy industry contracts and more farmers get into raising beef herds. She hates to see a farm go. “It is discouraging to see all these farms that have gone by the wayside with no one to take over and they have to sell their property.” Because, as she puts it, “They don’t make land. Once it is gone, it is done.”

In Freeport, where she lives, she sees the steady march of development. That’s why she’s so determined to hold onto her land, which is about 100 acres of active woodlot. She doesn’t do any harvesting herself, does she? “If I could I would,” she laughs. “I have the forester come in.” She’ll keep at that. “As long as I can. But around me, I am being squeezed to exactly the land I own.”

JOY IN THE MORNING? Does she feel, as her husband did, excited to go to work? “Yes I do.” She’s 73 now herself, so one wonders if she’s thinking about retiring. “I felt at one point, maybe it is time. Then I thought about it, and I couldn’t go through with it.” Because the more she thought about it, the more she realized she’d miss hitting the road. “I’d miss the people,” she says.

]]> 0 Woerter carries containers for her bull semen business to her truck in Freeport. She takes the product all around the state, for both dairy cow and beef breeding.Fri, 16 Dec 2016 13:43:11 +0000
These new Mainers started a leather accessory business in their apartment Sun, 11 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Rance and Phoebe Pope definitely know how to brand a company provocatively. They started Needless Society, their handmade accessory line, in September 2016 as a sideline. Together for three years, they got married in May and moved to Maine from Baltimore a week later, holing up in a cabin in Brownville to cut and sew leather goods from wallets to camera straps and satchels.

Poetic, aspirational images featuring Maine scenery began appearing on their Instagram feed right away, piquing our interest. We called the couple up to find out what that name really means, where they fit in with the Slow Fashion movement and how they’re navigating their new state.

CRAFTY COUPLE: Rance has made his career in the leather business and was managing a store for leather crafters, Tandy Leather, in Baltimore when the couple met. Phoebe was studying photography at the Maryland Institute College of Art. They enjoyed crafting together as a couple, as a hobby. “We really liked the collaborative look and aesthetic,” Rance said. They started showing their work to friends and family, who “really pushed us to start making an Etsy (account),” he added. They were “overwhelmed” by the response. “About three months later we were like, we can quit and do this full time.”

Handmade leather wallets at Rance and Phoebe Pope's workshop.

Handmade leather wallets at Rance and Phoebe Pope’s workshop. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

WHY MAINE? Baltimore was fine, but as independent producers, “we realized we could live anywhere in the country we wanted to and we started looking at maps, real estate and where we thought we would be happiest.” Maine fit the bill. “Most of our products and designs are inspired by the outdoors,” he said. “Maine felt like an appropriate place for it.” After spending the summer and early fall in a friend’s cabin in Brownville, they decided to come back out of the woods. They picked Lewiston, which Rance says fits with the millennial tendency to move into urban areas filled with old factories (he used to live in Detroit). “We want to go back to the roots of what America was.”

As of yet, they don’t have a brick-and-mortar store, but are setting up a workshop in their apartment and have a display up in the Hive Artisan Co-op above Forage Market in downtown Lewiston. Earlier this month they hosted a Boots and Brew session at the Hive, teaching people how to winterize their boots (while drinking Baxter beer). “The people in Lewiston have been really welcoming,” Phoebe said.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? One day when they were still living in Baltimore, Rance sent Phoebe a text with a photograph of a stamp he’d put on some leather during his lunch break. It had the points of a compass, with an N and an S at the top and bottom. Phoebe texted back that she really liked it, but what would the letters stand for? “Once he got home, we just Googled words that began with N and S.” The combination of words they came up with, “needless” and “society,” seemed to represent what they were after.

“The whole point of Needless Society is that we are making a product that is going to last the rest of society,” Rance said. “Rather than the purse of the season. We want eventually to fulfill all of a society’s needs.” Lofty goal. But yes, the name does raise questions. Ones to be answered by the consumer, he said. “We like our brand name because when people ask us what it means, we ask them what they think it means.”

Rance Pope sews leather with thread from Maine Thread Company in Lewiston.

Rance Pope sews leather with thread from Maine Thread Company in Lewiston.

THE NEW FASHION FORWARD: Rance said Slow Fashion is a good term for what he and Phoebe do, since they make everything by hand and make it to last a lifetime, but he’s conscious that leather raises questions. “Really, all the leather we use are byproducts of the meat industry,” he said. “It’s mostly cowhide, with the exception of bison, which are grown strictly for their hides. I used to tell people, ‘If McDonald’s stopped serving hamburgers I would be out of business overnight.’ ” The justification is, “We are really, if anything, following in the way of our ancestors and making sure that every byproduct gets used.”

The Popes have been trying to buy all the leather locally, at Tasman Leather in Hartland. “All of our thread we get from Maine Thread Company. Whenever we are able to source our materials locally, we do. We try to support American industry.”

SUCCESS STORY: If Needless Society makes it “big,” like say, a Sea Bags, how would the Popes hold onto their ideals? Do they even want that? “Most name brands and big brands, they all start out well with right intentions and build quality products, but eventually they sell out,” Rance said. “As far as our long-term goal, are we okay if we have to stop doing everything by hand? We kind of go back and forth on that a lot.” But for now, it’s by hand in an apartment in Lewiston. (If you want to check out their goods in Portland, Needless Society will be part of the annual Picnic holiday sale from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Portland Company, 58 Fore St.)

MARRIED LIFE: Running a startup together can’t be easy, even for newlyweds, can it? “People actually ask us, ‘Do you fight all the time?’ ” Phoebe said. The answer is no. “We’ve been together for three years. We get along really, really well,” she said. “We have a lot of the same taste in things so it works out. When either of us are coming up with an idea for something, we’ll ask each other, ‘Do you like this?’ And one of us will say, ‘Maybe rounded corners would be better.’ Sometimes one of us has the idea to make it look more perfect.”

]]> 0 and Rance Pope, owners of Needless Society, in their home and workspace in Lewiston.Sun, 11 Dec 2016 15:03:56 +0000
Sharon Smiley came up with the idea for Brunswick’s Local Market in 20 minutes Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 “Hold on,” Sharon Smiley says into the phone, laughing. “I am going to have to find a quietish spot. In a retail store in November.” She’s the owner of Local Market, an eclectic mix of cafe and deli, market stand, local foods and goods which opened in Brunswick in the summer of 2012. We had called her because we found so many great items at Local for our sustainable gift guide that we wanted to know more about what went into the retail operation. Smiley co-owns Local with Sylvia Wyler, whose Wyler Gallery has been a mainstay in downtown Brunswick for more than two decades.

GOING LOCAL: Wyler had a tenant in the space Local now occupies, a much-loved casual dining spot called Lilee’s Public House. When that restaurant ran into financial difficulty in the spring of 2012, the two women, who are also partners in real life, decided they’d fill the void themselves. And to fit a need they saw on a personal level. “Sylvia and I would find ourselves on Sundays driving to Portland,” Smiley said. They’d hit spots like Rosemont Market. “We didn’t have anything like that in Brunswick, so we’d schlep for fresh bread and cheese and charcuterie,” she remembers. They decided they’d offer all of that, and maybe more. “Within about 20 minutes of the initial conversation we had the entire concept, the name, where we would source, what we would stock.” This includes bread from Standard Baking Co., fresh seven days a week.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: “I think that four years ago was the real beginning of the maker movement in Maine. There were always people here doing it, but it seemed to explode around then.” They did a quick but thorough remodel in five weeks and turned the kitchen into a licensed commercial kitchen to both pack food to go and allow others to use the space for value-added farm products. Then they opened the doors under the name Local. On day 2, farmer Sean Hagan of Left Field Farm in Bowdoinham showed up. He handed Smiley a business card printed on an antique letter press (he was transitioning into full-time farming). “Being a paper geek myself, I loved his business card.” They made a deal that continues to this day for fresh vegetables and fruits, which are tucked into a corner of the market. They also work with Farm Fresh Connection for produce.

PAPER GEEK: For 20 years, Smiley had been a distributor of handmade gifts and stationery – that’s how she met Wyler, who keeps those items in stock at Wyler Gallery. She’d grown up in Brunswick on an old horse farm, and her grandfather was Henry Baribeau, who has a street named after him. It was quite a draw for local kids, she remembers. “There was a pretty enticing pond and lots of animals. And lots of berries to pick.” Smiley went away to study filmmaking and then returned to the state after stints in New York and Boston. Her love of the visual arts continues and is well represented on the walls of Local, where area artists show their work in five- to six-week mini shows. “Just like the farmers that we wanted to provide a venue for, this is something that we feel strongly about.” The local theme extends to Wyler Gallery, where more than half the jewelry for sale is made by local artisans.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: “Our original thought was to be diversified, so that if we had a poor performing category we could switch gears. I would say what is surprising to us is the amount of frozen prepared meals we are selling.” Like? Chicken puttanesca, lamb shepherd’s pie, stews, meatballs, all made by their two on-site chefs. “It’s a growing trend.” They’ve also doubled their grocery section, thanks to more value-added products coming out of Maine makers. “We have a lot more to choose from, and the customers are asking for more.”

LOCAL HERO: So customers are hip to what they’re up to? “They want to know where the materials were sourced, where it is being produced, is it ethical when it comes to stones (in the jewelry at Wyler). As far as food goes, they want to know, is it made without GMOs, how much sugar is in it. We get into some really in-depth conversations with customers.” As much as possible, they try to connect producers with customers. On a recent Saturday, the place was packed with people sampling Winter Hill cheeses and meeting cheesemaker Sarah Wiederkehr as well as trying Jen Legnini’s Turtle Rock spreads and canned goods.

WISH LIST: There are a few items Smiley and Wyler would like to stock but have had trouble finding within what would ideally be a 15-mile range. “I wish that we had some local dried cured meat folks right in the neighborhood. That is one thing that I really can’t put my hands on.” Locally made crackers would be a bonus, too, to go with all that local cheese (you can find Maine cheeses such as Hahn’s End from Phippsburg in their cases). “I can’t even tell you how many crackers we sell.” She does sell two kinds of Maine-made crackers from Waterville, Maine Crisp Company, which are gluten free, made with buckwheat and are entirely locally sourced, but there’s more room in the marketplace. Are you listening, Mainers?


]]> 0 Smiley at Local Market in Brunswick.Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:02:39 +0000
To get to college, Alex Pine drove from California to Maine in his biodiesel-fueled car Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Alex Pine is the director of outreach and technology at Maine Standard Biofuels, a Portland-based company that manufactures biodiesel from used cooking grease from restaurants around the state and beyond. He started as a customer of the company, signed on for an internship, worked as a summer employee and, after graduating from College of the Atlantic, joined the company full time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 8 Pine, the director of outreach and technology at Maine Standard Biofuels, in front of one of a recycled cooking oil tank. Pine is a College of the Atlantic grad who came to Maine from California with an interest in biofuels.Mon, 28 Nov 2016 08:09:07 +0000