The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is challenging anyone eating in Maine next month – residents, second-home owners, students and visitors alike – to take a pledge to consume as much local and organic food as they can.

Eaters can commit to the MOFGA Local and Organic Pledge for one meal, one day, one week or the whole month of August. The potential benefits, organizers say, are better personal health, increased support for local farmers, a boost to the Maine economy, fewer chemicals in the soil, more pollinators in the fields and happier animals in the barn.

“This is not an exercise in deprivation. We’re not focusing on what you need to avoid if you take the pledge,” says Portland resident Sam May, a MOFGA board member who took the pledge early. He’s in for the entire month. “It’s meant to be a celebration of the abundance of the high-quality food we have in Maine in August.”

USDA Agricultural Census data released in May indicates it is getting easier to find local and organic food in Maine. The value of local food produced in Maine and sold directly to consumers here jumped from $25 million in 2012 to $38 million in 2017. Another $75 million worth of local food was sold locally to retail markets, institutions, and food hubs in 2017. Total local organic product sales climbed from $36 million to $60 million in that same five-year span. According to MOFGA communications director Katy Green, every time you pay $1 directly to any one of Maine’s 536 organic farmers, that transaction creates 67 cents in local spending by the farmer’s family.

You can’t discount the value of the education piece of this campaign, says the MOFGA’s executive director, Sarah Alexander. “We want eaters to take stock of how they eat now and how they can change their habits,” she said. She’s looking at her own snack habit. Tortilla chips and power bars help fuel her through workday afternoons and long car rides. “I look forward to figuring out alternative ways to handle snacking, and I’ll likely cut down on the amount of packaging in the mix as well.”

Under guidelines, Mainers who garden or homestead pledge to eat the crops produced at home. Those who buy produce, meat and dairy products pledge to seek out local and organic options. If a product is not available in a local organic form, but there is a reasonable substitute (for example, maple syrup instead of honey) or it’s produced sustainably (but not certified organically) and locally, then pledge-takers may buy those items. Many items that are not grown locally, such as coffee or nuts, may be certified organic by MOFGA, and pledge takers can use all of these. A few items may not be available either organically or locally, especially global food ingredients, say Thai fish sauce; pledge takers are encouraged to learn as much about the product as possible to make an informed purchase that’s in the spirit of the pledge.

Given that Mainers eat a lot of wild seafood that rarely carries an organic label, pledge takers can refer to the seven principles for choosing sustainable seafood developed by the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. Those include buying seafood from local fishermen that has traveled the least distance, avoiding farmed finfish and shrimp, and passing on imitation seafood products. Under the terms of the pledge, food that has been legally and sustainably harvested or hunted can be consumed as well.

Interested eaters can sign up to take the pledge on MOFGA’s website. May, Alexander and other early pledge takers will blog about their efforts on the site and will contribute recipes, tips and tricks that the organization will push out to all pledge takers. MOFGA staff will also be present at farmers markets and stores throughout the state to educate consumers and conduct cooking demonstrations to entice more eaters to take the pledge. And restaurants throughout the state will create special meals that support the pledge.

I’m in for a month.  How about you?

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

[email protected]

Roasted Maine New Potatoes with Mustard-Garlic Vinaigrette

Roasted new potatoes is one reason I’ll willingly turn on my oven in summer. Transform this side dish into an entree by serving it with a poached (local, certified organic) egg

Serves 4

FOR THE ROASTED POTATOES:

2 pounds unpeeled mixed new potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

8 sprigs of thyme

1/2 cup cooked peas

4 scallions, green parts thinly sliced crosswise

FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:

2 cloves garlic

Salt

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss potatoes liberally with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, shaking the pans occasionally, until the potatoes are tender and browning, 25-30 minutes.

To prepare the vinaigrette, place the garlic cloves on a cutting board, sprinkle with a generous couple pinches of salt, and chop and mash with the side of your knife until the clove breaks down into a salty paste. Add the garlic paste to a small bowl along with the mustards and vinegar. Whisk to combine, and keep whisking while slowly adding the oil until the vinaigrette emulsifies. Taste, and adjust the seasoning with additional sea salt and pepper.

When the potatoes are done, transfer them to a large bowl. Add the peas, scallions, thyme leaves and vinaigrette and toss to coat. Let the potatoes sit for 10 minutes and toss once more before serving warm.