At this year’s Maine Fare food festival in Belfast, visitors will not only be able to eat fish, they’ll watch as fisherman/scientist Ted Ames demonstrates the gear that catches the lobster, halibut and occasional cod that feeds Maine.

They’ll learn the art of picking crab from a woman who has done it for 32 years, and then discover the secrets to making the best crab cakes.

They’ll watch a butcher break down a whole lamb, then get recipes and cooking tips.

It’s all part of the “tinkering” the Maine Farmland Trust has been doing with the festival since it took it over four years ago to ensure it mirrors the trust’s mission. Many other food festivals are all about tasting fine food and hobnobbing with chefs. Maine Fare has some of that, for sure, but the trust has added farm tours and hands-on classes with the farmers and fishermen who produce food, hoping the public will draw a stronger connection between them and what ends up on their dinner plates.

“We really hope people walk away having learned a lot about Maine’s food system,” Ellen Sabina of the Maine Farmland Trust said.

Maine already has one major event that celebrates, at least in part, Mainers’ connections with farmers and food: The Common Ground Fair, held in late September, draws a much larger crowd. But that focuses on farming and gardening more than on cooking and eating, Sabina said, adding that there’s plenty of room for both events.


“(Maine Fare) is less about learning how to start your own garden and compost correctly,” she said.

Maine Fare, which will be held this year on June 26 and 27, was founded in 2006 in Camden by food lovers who wanted to celebrate Maine foods, chefs, farmers, food artisans and fishermen. After a couple of years it was canceled because of problems with the main venue, and eventually the reins were turned over to the Maine Farmland Trust in 2012 because the founders felt it could use more organizational structure. Last year, the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington became co-host of the event.

Organizers handed out stickers to fairgoers last year and had to stop when they ran out at 2,000, so they don’t actually know how many people attended. Still, that’s about double the crowd that gathered in Camden back in 2006. This year, the Maine Farmland Trust has been tweaking the event to generate buzz, including adding smaller, experimental pop-up events in the Portland area ahead of the official festival itself. On May 11, Maine Fare sponsored a five-course dinner at Vinland featuring Maine seaweed and a representative of Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed, a small company that hand-harvests sea vegetables off a remote island in Penobscot Bay.

Last week, it held a “Hard Cider Revival” at the Deering Grange Hall, where ticketholders could sample hard ciders from local makers and listen to a talk by Maine apple experts.

But the vast majority of Maine Fare events are on the weekend of the event and will be held at the Belfast Boathouse at Steamboat Landing Park; a handful will be under the tents at the adjacent Maine Fare Market and, of course, there are the off-site farm tours.

General admission is free, but tickets are required for some of the tastings and classes. This year, for example, for the first time the festival is selling a limited number of “Taste Tickets” to people attending chef demos. The ticket buys a prime seat and a taste of whatever the chef is cooking. Among the chefs putting on demonstrations this year are Melissa Kelly, owner of Primo in Rockland, who will talk about the differences in taste and production between free-range and conventionally raised chickens, and address the ethics and environmental issues raised by factory farming.


The festival will include a market, as usual, that showcases Maine food trucks and artisanal food vendors, and organizers are repeating the Oysters and Beer event that was so popular last year.

A Seafood Throwdown will pit Michele Levesque, chef at El El Frijoles in Sargentville, against Tom Sigler, chef at Comida in Rockland. Each chef gets a box of local vegetables and pantry staples and a “secret fish” they must use to cook a dish in one hour. These throwdowns, organized by the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, have been held all over New England, but this is a first for Maine Fare. The contest will use fish from Port Clyde Fresh Catch, Sabina said, local, sustainable fish “that’s used but not on every menu, and very plentiful in Gulf of Maine. The MC and the judges will be talking about the ecology of the fish and why we chose it.”

Taking a page from StoryCorps, a national oral history project that records short stories from ordinary people to preserve in the Library of Congress, the festival has set up an ice fishing shack cum mobile recording studio, where people are invited to tell their stories and memories about food – describing their favorite meal, or what they have grown in their garden, or … They’ll leave with a CD recording of their story.

To quench the thirst festival-goers could build up participating in all of these activities, Vina Lindley of the Waldo County Cooperative Extension Service will oversee a “hydration station,” and demonstrate how to infuse water with fruits and vegetables. Visitors will be able to try water infused with flavors such as cucumber, lime and mint; watermelon; strawberries and lemon; rhubarb with mint or lemon balm; and rosemary and orange.

Most of these events are scheduled for Saturday. For serious discussion about the future of Maine food, there will be a daylong forum Friday at the Belfast Boathouse featuring entrepreneurs and organizations talking about new business models and production methods. “Meet the Innovators: The People and Ideas Transforming Our Food Future” will include panelists such as Ben Slayton of Farmers Gate Market and The Farm Stand, Matt Tremblay from the Unity Food Hub, Jackson Macleod and Tyler Gaudet from Fluid Farms, and Ben Conniff from Luke’s Lobster.

The Friday forum costs $10. For more information, go to

Planning to go by car? Watch for parking signs around town that will direct festival-goers to the bigger parking lots. Parking is also plentiful on the many residential streets around the Belfast Boathouse and Steamboat Landing Park.

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