AUGUSTA — Local food was front and center on Wednesday at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, which runs through Thursday at 3 p.m.

Shiny tractors and agricultural-related groups lined the floor of the Augusta Civic Center’s auditorium during the 79th edition of the show. The event started Tuesday and runs through Thursday, weather permitting. More than 140 conferences of agricultural groups were planned over the three-day event. More than 100 booths, which featured local food and drink, yarn, and many other products, were on display.

Maine Department of Agriculture Agricultural Promotions Coordinator Anne Trenholm said the event is an opportunity for farmers to learn about their trade during the traditional off-season.

On Wednesday, Chef Rob Dumas, food science innovation coordinator for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, cooked fajitas using a grass-fed flank steak during a demonstration on how to cook local beef.

Rob Dumas makes fajitas with local grass-raised beef flank steaks Wednesday during a cooking demonstration at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center.

Dumas explained that flank steak, a thin, tough cut from the cow’s abdomen, should be cut against the grain, which shortens the fibers of the meat and makes it easier to chew. To help tenderize the thin cut, it was marinated in lime juice, soy sauce and various spices, before being cooked to medium on a grill, then cut and served on a tortilla with sour cream, guacamole, bell peppers and pico de gallo.

Near the main stage, Kevin Woltemath, past president of the Maine Beef Producers Association, spoke with visitors to his booth. Woltemath’s group helps cattle farms market their product, as well as educate farmers on best practices and consumers on the best ways to enjoy the product.

Kevin Woltemath, of Pineland Farms, answers questions Wednesday during the second day of the Maine Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center.

Woltemath said local farmers are dealing with high production costs, which make their products unfavorably priced compared to their supermarket counterparts.

“If you go to buy from an individual farm, it’s going to be based on their individual cost structure, which will probably be more expensive than any other retail outlet you may see,” Woltemath said. “I think that the biggest challenge is producers trying to keep their cost down and market products at a cost that works for them and the consumer.”

On price, Dumas suggested consuming less meat during a single meal to offset the higher cost of local products, but also to cut down on any ill effects of consuming too much in one sitting.

“Rather than each person eating an 18-ounce steak, maybe both of you have an 8-ounce steak,” he said. “You’ll probably spend … less money to buy that local steak and share than buy that commodity beef and I think you’ll feel better after you eat it.”

Dumas also said the meat from grass-fed cattle will carry more of the characteristic beef flavor and the fat within the meat is less saturated, meaning greasy texture won’t linger in your mouth as long as a normal, grain-fed steak from a large farm. Further, Dumas said buying local beef gives consumers better “supply chain confidence,” which allows them to know more about how their food came to be on their plate, and better nutritional value.

Rob Dumas makes fajitas with local grass-raised beef flank steaks during a cooking demonstration Wednesday during the Maine Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center.

“When you’re buying Maine beef, you know it’s being raised on a small family farm,” he said. “You know those animals are being treated with respect, you know they’re being taken to a local processor and they’re being processed in a way that’s utilizing the whole animals.”

Local pork was also on display at the trade show, with Luce Farms, of North Anson, griddling samples of chorizo, spicy Italian and breakfast sausages for people to try. Nearby, Brittany Hemond, the owner of Hemond Farm in Minot, was operating the booth for the Maine Pork Producers Association. Hemond, the treasurer of the association, said her farm’s niche is selling piglets to backyard farmers. She said her farm used to have 80 sows but is now reduced to six as the cost of grain rose too high to sustain a larger herd.

Rob Dumas makes fajitas with local grass-raised beef flank steaks Wednesday during a cooking demonstration on the second day of the Maine Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center.

On the culinary side, pork experts have been trying to defeat a long-standing misconception that the meat must be served well done at an internal temperature of 160 degrees. On Hemond’s booth, an infographic showed a medium-rare piece of pork, cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees and resting for three minutes after being taken out of the oven or pan. The USDA recommended the change back in 2011. That standard applies to all fresh cuts, according to the National Pork Board, while ground pork should still be cooked to 160 degrees.

As for preferred cooking for pork products, Hemond said she prefers keeping it simple with her home cooking, a marinated tenderloin or a seared pork chop seasoned with a garlic seasoning made by Luce Farms.


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