From farmers markets to butcher shops to pick-your-own fields of berries to your own back yard, Maine is definitely the Garden State (without apology to New Jersey, which claims this slogan).
Our recent visit to the Saturday morning farmers market in Skowhegan really opened my eyes to the amazing and plentiful crops and products now offered in these markets all over the state. And it was really wonderful to see all the farm kids there.
The Perry’s three children, from Winterberry Farm in Belgrade, are a good example. The youngest, Sage, just 8 years old, leads their farm tours.
It’s important to imprint kids with good gardening and eating habits. I had a 4-H garden, peddling my veggies door-to-door and at a table in front of Wilson’s Dollar Stores on Winthrop’s Main Street, where my Dad worked. Mom and Dad were 4-H leaders.
Today, Linda does most of the gardening at our house. She’s got a regular garden, three raised beds, and a 14-by-28-foot hoop house that produces greens all winter long. I help out by eating her crops, and doing a bit of rototilling.
And sometimes I join her to pick berries, both wild and farm-grown. She got a ton of luscious strawberries at Stevenson’s in Wayne. I am especially looking forward to blueberries from George and Brenda Joseph’s Steep Hill Farm, a beautiful spot in Fayette. They have many varieties so once the picking begins, it goes on and on.
Cayford Orchards in Skowhegan, a six-generation farm, will join other farms in the area to offer pick-your-own apples in the fall. They’ve got 100 different varieties! As farmers have had to diversify, Cayford added honey, and apple and maple syrups to their products — and especially interesting, they now sell hard cider, a product they tell me is growing rapidly in popularity.
At the Skowhegan market, we bought amazing goat cheese from Kennebec Cheesery in Sidney, produced by Jean Koons’ 45 goats, and good bread from — of course — Good Bread of Brownfield.
Sarah Smith, the founder and manager of the Skowhegan Farmers’ Market, a CSA with 40 vendors, and one of our favorite places to eat, the Pickup Café, has her own Grassland Organic Farm, offering organic milk, veggies and organic beef. Sarah says the Skowhegan farmers market is “all about community, family, and diversity.”
Sarah is proud of the fact that the market serves the poor, being the second in the state to accept food stamps. “Good food is a right, not a benefit,” she exclaimed.
That’s all you really need to know to get out this weekend to a farmers market, but the enticement of healthy food ought to motivate you, too. I remember so well my departed friend Russ Libby’s constant reminder that even a small expansion of Maine-grown food would be a huge boost to our economy. It’s so great to see Russ’s vision fulfilled.
And speaking of diversity, how about Bob and Mary Burr’s fresh pasta business, something they added to the sheep, hay and veggies at their Blue Ribbon Farm in Mercer?
On our frequent trips north to camp, we always stop at Herring Brothers’ retail store in Guilford, where the meats from their next-door slaughterhouse can’t be beat.
And then there are farmers’ stores. Cheryl Denz of Terra Optima farm in Appleton has a little market in Rockland. Cheryl has been farming for more than 15 years and her products are available at the farm, the Rockland Farmers’ Market, and through its CSA. Meat choices of the pigs, chickens, turkeys and Jersey cows she raises are also now available at her market. This time of year, it’s impossible to get past the tempting fresh fruits and vegetables. Last time we were there, Linda discovered a cache of ingredients from grits, beans, and split peas, to German mustards and Micucchi’s pasta sauces and dried pastas. Needless to say, she left with a big bag full of goodies!
You can help celebrate Maine farms, and enjoy a wonderful day, at the Artisan Bread Fair on Saturday at the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds. It’s our favorite fair, with everything from culinary tools to wood-fired pizza to amazing cheeses and live music. And it’s free!
The fair also gives you a good excuse to check out the farmers market next to the Skowhegan jail. And that’s another story. Amber Lambke has turned the jail into a grain mill. You can buy her flours in a lot of places throughout the northern Garden State.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.