FARMINGTON — The inaugural Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Foothills Fest kicked off at the Farmington Fairgrounds Saturday with live music, food trucks and an array of local artists and vendors.

The festival, which ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., also featured demonstrations ranging from pigeon racing to beekeeping, a petting zoo full of friendly goats and unusually tolerant rabbits, and a massive bouncy house.

The festival was conceived as a summertime replacement for the annual Home and Leisure show which typically took place in March, said chamber director Angela LeClair. Organizers are hoping to continue to grow the festival and attract a wide collection of vendors in the years to come.

“We’re hoping this is the beginning of an annual event,” LeClair said.

Saturday’s affair was relatively small and intimate, with vendors lining up inside one exhibit hall and along the perimeter of the fairgrounds.

Richard Merrow and his wife, Rita, both 70, of Farmington, set up a booth to showcase the products from their emu farm, Birds of a Feather, located on Savage Road.

The Merrows started keeping emus around seven years ago after looking for stock to fill the gap between Thanksgiving and spring, a time when their other birds, including chickens, turkeys and Cornish rocks are typically done laying their eggs.

Richard stumbled across emus, which lay eggs in the winter, and learned the birds make for highly efficient stock. Up to 95 percent of the bird is usable from its lean red meat, which Richard compared to a cross between venison and beef, to fat, bone, hide and feathers available for processing and selling.

Oil from the bird’s fat is used in beauty products and can be used to treat scars, on dry, flaky skin, to soften callouses and relieve diaper rashes, among other uses, Rita said. The oil can also be taken as a supplement to control cholesterol and aid in digestion.

While Rita is ramping up plans to start producing her own beauty products using emu oil, Richard is working to spread the word and grow the emu industry in Maine. To date he has enlisted two farmers in a growing program where he loans out young chicks to raise until they are big enough to process and sell, around 12 to 14 months.

Richard helps train the farmers and then splits the proceeds from the sales. He’s hoping to get enough farmers to create a thriving market for emu products in Maine.

“Currently we don’t have enough emu farmers to meet the demand,” he said.

Outside, Jon Tremain, 51, of Richmond, and his family were also pitching what at least began as less traditional fare. Tremain, along with his wife, Emily, and their children, have run their food truck, Kabayan Philippine Foods And More, since 2004, said in the first few years on the road the family would give away food by way of introduction. Sitting in their instantly recognizable pink truck, Tremain recalled deploying his youngest daughter, who, at eight years old, would thrust samples at potential customers’ shouting, “Try my mama’s food!”

Their sales strategy worked. Now more than 12 years later, the Kabayan truck is in wide demand, benefiting from the explosion of food trucks across the country and in Maine and their established reputation for delicious Philippine dishes like lumpia, a Philippine style egg roll stuffed with beef, cheese or chicken, and pancit, rice noodles with chicken, garlic, onions and other greens.

“The last few years it’s just exploded,” Tremain said, sitting in the pink truck. “It’s just boomed; it’s been great.”

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick

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