David Asmussen of Blue Bell Farm in Bowdoinham talks about the challenges of farming and feeding people since March during the coronavirus pandemic. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

BOWDOINHAM — The town of Bowdoinham ditched the tradition of awarding one person with the “citizen of the year” award to collectively honor the town’s farmers for their efforts to feed a community during a global pandemic.

“This year is different in so many ways,” the select board announced Tuesday. “The onset of the current public health crisis has disrupted and reshaped so much of life in Bowdoinham, as it has communities around the world. We have all had to find new ways to do just about everything, from school and work to the simple act of getting food for ourselves and our families.”

Selectman Jeremy Cluchey said there were other nominations related to food and farming but the nomination for Bowdoinham’s farmers stood out.

“I think it resonated in a lot of ways because this has been such an unusual year where collaborating and doing things together is even harder than usual,” Cluchey said.

At right, David Asmussen of Blue Bell Farm in Bowdoinham and his assistant farm manager Ailifh Kress harvest carrots from the Carding Machine Road farm. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Farmers created a system where residents could get locally grown, healthy foods at a time when many were afraid to shop in the supermarkets.

Many farmers created or revamped farm stands and figured out ways shoppers could stop at their convenience to get food and pay online or leave money. Cluchey said people were coming from other towns to get food in Bowdoinham, which has fertile farmland “and is blessed with so many vibrant farms.”

David Asmussen of Blue Bell Farm on Carding Machine Road usually opens his farm stand in June, but said people wanted food in March. So he opened the stand early and also increased his selection. The stand was profitable and is more a working part of the business this year. He sells food at the Bowdoinham Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, but this way customers can get food as they need it during the rest of the week.

The local food demand brought up overall sales this spring and summer, despite the loss of commercial sales. One restaurant isn’t buying anything and another is buying slightly less produce, “but the farmers market is up,” Asmussen said.

Locals also bought takeout from restaurants like Three Robber’s Pub, the town’s only restaurant, which consistently buys Blue Bell greens and tomatoes.

He also talked to neighboring farmers market managers about how to safely manage Bowdoinham’s market during the pandemic.

“I’m absolutely honored to be considered,” Asmussen said of the citizens of the year award. “We couldn’t do what we do without the support of the whole community to get us where we are to be able to offer local food.”

There were new customers coming to the farm stands and farmers market, Asmussen said. The local food movement has enabled the local farms to establish in town and during the pandemic crisis, “it allowed farmers to show how useful and resilient local agriculture is,” he added

“Having safe, regular access to local, healthy food has been critical for Bowdoinham residents and our neighbors in surrounding towns,” the select board wrote. “In the face of a global pandemic, the town’s farmers stepped up, collaborated, and found creative solutions to support their community and feed their neighbors.”

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