David Buchanan is running a vegetable experiment.

In an effort to help bring back some foods that have dropped out of favor, Buchanan created the Cook’s List. He picks vegetables, herbs and fruits he finds interesting, plants them in one of his gardens, and watches to see if they’ll make it in Maine.

Though he often taste tests some of his produce right there in the garden, he gives what he grows to local chefs for the final word. “They have much better taste buds than I do,” said Buchanan.

He tries to gauge what can be adapted to Maine’s shorter growing season, but there is one requirement he always tries to fill – his curiosity. “I’m growing everything that interests me,” he said.

Buchanan’s newest garden is at the Meserve Farm in Scarborough, where he will continue working alongside new tenants Stacey Brenner and John Bliss. Brenner and Bliss were recently chosen by the Scarborough Land Trust to farm at Meserve to help preserve the historic site. Buchanan has other gardens at their old farm, Turkey Hill in Cape Elizabeth, and will join them in their transition to Scarborough.

Buchanan picks vegetables that are hard to adapt for large-scale farming. Often the vegetables he grows are things that do not produce uniformly or may not ship well, and are therefore hard to find. According to Buchanan, modern farming is about production, and some of the things he’s trying to grow work better on a smaller level.

“It’s just the way the market works,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there still isn’t good stuff out there.”

In order to meet his goal he gets his seeds through a program under Slow Foods, called Renewing America’s Food Traditions.

The Slow Food movement began in 1986 with Carlo Petrini, who thought that the growth of modern farming was standardizing foods and eliminating variety and flavor. Now Slow Foods is a national movement with many chapters called conviviums that run environmental education events, support local breweries, promote organic farming, organize charity events and help create programs such as the Food Traditions Project.

Through the Project, which is dedicated to bringing back forgotten foods, Buchanan can order seeds and learn about the history behind them.

Right now he’s waiting to see how his pumpkins will fare. According to Buchanan it’s a variety of pumpkin that was once extremely popular in New England.

“I hear that it’s the best pie pumpkin variety out there,” said Buchanan.

He’s also growing gourmet French asparagus with a purple tint to it, rattlesnake beans with stripes of crimson, a yellow flesh watermelon, a Ukrainian tomato, white eggplants and anything else that catches his eye.

“I just like to play with all of these things,” said Buchanan. “I want to broaden what is available.”

Eventually his goal is to have everything growing at his new site which he envisions as a garden complete with flowers, fruit and vegetables. He’s also working on a partnership with a restaurant still in the planning stages called the Frontier CafA?©. Located in Brunswick, it would have an international foods theme, complete with gallery. Besides giving the restaurant whatever he grows, Buchanan hopes they could host shows that would help raise environmental awareness.

Right now, he’s still working on finding out which foods are suited to the season and have natural resistance to pests. His foods are organic, which means he doesn’t use pesticides. As a result, some vegetables probably won’t make it.

“It’s still a project deciding what it wants to be when it grows up,” he said.

David Buchanan rids his tomatoes of pests without pesticides, choosing instead to grow organicially and pick off tomato hornworms by hand. One of the vegetables Buchanan is trying to bring back is this yellow cucumber, which is ready for harvesting.Buchanan checks on the progress of some greens he recently planted. In time he hopes they will prove to be good crops to grow in Maine.


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