AUGUSTA — Joanne Cheney said she loves tomatoes and even sometimes eats them like an apple. But even she was impressed with some of the tomato recipes presented Tuesday during the first day of the 76th Annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta.

Cheney, of Leeds, was one of about two dozen who watched a noontime demonstration by Chef Cynthia Finnemore-Simonds highlighting many different uses of Backyard Farms’ heirloom-style tomato varieties.

“I think I’m going to have to get some of her cookbooks and try these at home,” Cheney said before sampling some of the quick-pickled veggies, which included a pickle glaze made from dried hibiscus and cucumbers, rainbow carrots and cauliflower.

Finnemore-Simonds also used Backyard Farms’ yellow marigold tomatoes to make what she called sunset salsa. The bright yellow condiment included yellow bell pepper, corn, mango, cilantro and lemon juice and got a few audible gasps from the crowd when the chef showed it off.

“Imagine walking into a party at someone’s house and seeing that salsa in a bowl next to some tortilla chips,” said Mike Wilson, of Westbrook. “I think these recipes are unique yet easy to make right in your own kitchen, which I certainly can get behind.”

Backyard Farms, of Madison, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its first shipment to Hannaford supermarkets, said marketing director Jim Darroch. He said the company appreciates the commitment Hannaford shows to local programs and locally grown produce.

Elsewhere on the trade show floor, thousands of people took the opportunity to check out exhibitors showcasing agricultural financing programs, farming equipment, solar energy and dairy products.

One of the major topics among exhibitors and attendees was the legalization of marijuana, which voters approved in November and which was confirmed last month after a recount request by an opposition group was dropped. A lot of people had questions about marijuana and how it might or might not effect the farming industry, but there weren’t a lot of answers.

“On one hand, the state voted to legalize, which makes me think ultimately people will be able to grow it and market it and sell it,” said Thomas Shanks, of Portland. “Conversely, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, so the options for running a legit marijuana business are limited.”

In fact, several officials from various agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Maine and Coastal Enterprises Inc., said because of federal regulations, their groups wouldn’t be much help to potential marijuana farmers.

“It’s an all-cash business, but if you are legally selling it in Maine and it’s illegal federally, what are you doing with your money, and are you paying federal taxes?” Shanks said. “It seems like there are lots of issues to be resolved before we start seeing what the new law will mean to Maine.”

Nick Smith, vice president of the Maine Farm Bureau, said regulations, high costs and taxes are some of the issues facing farmers in Maine as the industry continues to search for ways to deal with an aging farmer population while trying to entice young farmers to move to the state. Smith said there must be more incentive than natural beauty and friendly people.

“The cost of living is high for a young person trying to move to Maine when it comes to bills, taxes and regulation,” said Smith, who operates Bull Run Farm in Cushing. “Drawing young people in is something we continue to work on because there are a lot of young people leaving.”

Smith said farmers face other challenges too, including the changing climate and unpredictable weather, which is a tough battle to win.

“(We also fight) the increasing cost of equipment,” he said. “The bills still come, but we’re in a business where we have to buy everything retail, but we have to sell everything wholesale.”

Smith said his operation is mostly self-funded and while there is funding available through many government agencies and programs, accessing capital can be a challenge for some farmers.

“I had the opportunity to take the reins of a farm that was already established, but not everyone has that option,” he said. “Finding financing as a young farmer is a big issue, especially if you’re looking to buy farmland.”

Gov. Paul LePage spent about 30 minutes mingling with exhibitors and attendees Tuesday morning before speaking during the Commissioner’s Luncheon. A Gorham couple, Lyle and Jo-Ann Merrifield, received the Commissioner’s Distinguished Service Award for their contribution to the state’s maple syrup industry and agricultural community.

The trade show continues at through Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center. Admission is free.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @JasonPafundiKJ

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