Meryl Kelly weighs apples Jan. 2 at Middle Intervale Farm in Bethel as part of The Local Food Connection linking farmers’ products to western Maine restaurants and consumers. Kelly travels about 150 miles a week picking up products and delivering them. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

BETHEL — It’s Monday, and Meryl Kelly of Bethel is delivering food from western Maine farms to take to area restaurants and customers who have placed orders.

She logs about 150 miles each week as part of the the Local Food Connection. The nonprofit group is like a buyer’s club with a heavy dose of public information and public service sprinkled in. Its mission is to “build and sustain a movement in the greater Bethel region that encourages all community members to grow, prepare, serve, purchase and consume local foods,” according to its mission statement.

Kelly receives orders by 4 p.m. Sunday through a Facebook page. She passes the combined order to the farmers before meeting them Mondays.

Some of her Monday stops are drops between farms, such as Back to Roots Farm on Curtis Hill Road in Bryant Pond village in Woodstock.

Kelly opens the back of her Honda CRV and on her compact scale she weighs out 10 half-pound bags of mushrooms from Shady Grove Mushrooms in Harrison. She mixes the Italian oyster, Lion’s mane, and blue and pink oyster mushrooms into half-pound bags that will sell for $7.50 each at the Back to Roots farm stand. It is a standing weekly order – a collaboration that likely wouldn’t happen without her.

The farmers are appreciative. In the Back to Roots farm stand fridge the owner leaves Kelly a cold, “holy basil water” in a mason jar and there is a muffin on the shelf.


“I love food freedom,” Kelly said between stops. “Anytime someone wants to shut down a farm, I’m the person that wants to tie myself to the tree and yell, ‘NOOOO.'”

From the car, she texts each farmer before she arrives, so they’ll have their orders ready.

On this day, she logs visits to Howe Family Farm and Middle Intervale Farm, both in Bethel. She meets Tina Hayes of Longview Bees in Hartford at Davis Park in Bethel. She drives to High View Farm and to Shady Grove Mushrooms, both in Harrison, Stargazer Farm in West Paris, Back to Roots, Christy’s Crops in Woodstock, and Wright Way Farm in Milton Township.

In Rumford, she stops at No View Farm and Jade’s HomeGrown. Before heading back to Bethel, she meets the owner of Great Brook Farm in Newry. The next day she’ll go to Swain Family Farm in Bethel, Moriah Valley Farm in Shelburne, New Hampshire, Gamut Goods and Morning Glory Farm, both in Bethel.

Some of the food gets packed in coolers, much is loose in bags. Orders are either dropped at customers’ homes for $15, or delivered to Le Mu Restaurant’s parking lot on Main Street in Bethel for $10.

She visits about 20 local farms each week but said that’s only about 20% of the farms in this area. Growers often reach out and want to join but she is trying to keep it manageable. She admits it is already a lot to handle, but in the next breath said, “I’m working on a couple more collaborations.”


“All the farms are spread out … I’m already driving all over the place,” she concedes.

Meryl Kelly of Bethel picks up an order of meat Jan. 2 from John Carter, a seventh generation farmer of Middle Intervale Farm in Bethel. She logs about 150 miles a week picking up farm orders for delivery to area restaurants and customers. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen


Kelly grew up in Oxford Hills and moved back to western Maine in 2012 because her “now-husband” sent her an email looking for a roommate.

“‘I’m homesteading,’ he said … it was a dilapidated house that had indoor farm animals … He definitely tricked me, but he did a good job, because now we are married,” she said.

They have a 2-year-old son named Hudson. She chairs the Bethel Select Board, works as a kitchen consultant, writes for Bethel Living and supports the office at Bethel Kitchen Design.

Kelly said that before that, she worked as a chef at Tanglewood 4-H Camp and realized good food doesn’t have to be just for the rich. “It was where I was first introduced to the concept of slow food, healthy food, wholesome food (for everyone).”


Her mother, Karla Horecky, was young when she had Kelly and raised Kelly and her brother Jasper as a single mother. Kelly said her mother was committed to broadening their art and food horizons. “It was a priority for her to make sure we ate well and we had the nutrition required to have our bodies working in the most healthy way,” she said.

After studying culinary arts at Oxford Hills Technical School in South Paris, Kelly moved to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy. While there, she worked in a fine dining restaurant that she said “really believed in Farm to Table. They even had bees on the roof. It (was) during the slow food movement, as it was coming up 2007, 2008 and 2009. I got really into food and use of high-quality farm products.

“I don’t have anything against a fryolator, but we have all these amazing farms and very seldom do restaurants take advantage of them, obviously that’s changing in Portland … (But) here in western Maine that’s been an ongoing issue,” she said.

She was looped in by a friend when The Local Food Connection first began. Amy Scott, Bonnie Pooley, Kate Goldberg, Anna Sysko, Brian Lenberg, her husband, and Amanda Moran were at the first meeting. “It was a bunch of us who really passionately cared about local foods and cared about access to healthy foods,” she said.

Her first wholesale client was Shady Grove Mushrooms. Kelly sold them to SAaLT Pub in Gorham, New Hampshire. Next, Le Mu hired her as their farmer-liaison. She decided as long as she was out and about selling mushrooms (and more) to restaurants, she would support local farmers by offering their products to individuals.

Meryl Kelly holds her son, Hudson, at Jade’s HomeGrowns on Route 232 in Rumford, one of the farms she visits as part of The Local Food Connection, a nonprofit linking farm products with area restaurants and consumers. With her is farm co-owner Matt Thurston. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

Food anthropology is a side interest for Kelly who researches what grows naturally, but she is also interested in what plants and growing methods are brought to nonnative lands.


She said local farmers break the stereotype of what a rural farmer is sometimes thought to be. At No View in Rumford, Annette Roy Cochran practices Hügelkultur farming. John Carter in Bethel farmed in New Zealand for a time learning about cattle farming, Kelly said.

She has advised the owners of several restaurants, Crossroads Diner, LeMu, Modern Barn, Gemini Cafe and The Elizabeth Inn and Restaurant, all in Bethel, on how to add locally grown food to their menus. Seeing the changes pleases her, she said.

On a  recent social media post, Kelly asks if anyone is interested in fresh scallops from a fisherman on the coast. There are loads of positive replies.

She said she’ll be back in touch with more details.

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