Good eats took center stage at Maine Historical Society’s History Maker Awards, where individuals, families and businesses that laid the groundwork for today’s food renaissance were honored Nov. 13 at the University of New England in Portland.

“This program illustrates how much Maine today is shaped by its history,” said Executive Director Steve Bromage. “The people we are honoring have had a significant impact. When we look back at this time, I think the enthusiasm and energy behind the food industry will really stand out.”

Like the other multiple-generation family businesses honored, Smith’s Farm in Presque Isle showed a willingness to change with the times, shifting focus from potatoes to broccoli and expanding its reach with land in Florida. Likewise, O’Hara Corp. moved its fishing vessels to Alaska while staying headquartered in Rockland. The Barber family has been processing and selling chicken since Gus Barber, a proud son of immigrants, opened a meat shop in Portland in 1955. Even though the business sold to Tyson in 2017, Barber Foods continues to employ immigrants of more than 50 nationalities.

“Today Smith’s Farm is the largest producer of broccoli east of the Mississippi,” said Lance Smith, whose grown children are the sixth generation to run the business. “I’m just so fortunate to have young people willing to be there every day. One lifetime in business is not enough to get it done; you need the next generation.”

Individual honorees included Sam Hayward, a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement, and David L. Geary, father of Maine’s craft beer scene.

“By no means was I the first to use local ingredients in a commercial restaurant,” said Hayward, who works with 35 farms to bring fresh ingredients to Fore Street restaurant. “Even though I was taking advantage of local ingredients as early and fully as I possibly could, there were already cultural currents of using the food of local farms.”

“The culture of Maine is one that embraces individuality, innovation and tradition,” said Geary, who was the first on the craft brewing scene, not only in Portland but in all of New England when he opened Geary’s in 1986.

Alan and Robin Lapoint, who bought Geary’s last December, were at the History Maker Awards to toast to the company’s founder.

“We feel that the brewery has such an important place in the history of craft brewing here in the state as well as New England,” Robin Lapoint said. “That was part of our interest in buying the brewery was to steward that brand.”

For more about Maine’s food history, visit Maine Historical Society’s exhibit “Maine Eats: The Food Revolution Starts Here” through Feb. 9.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

filed under: