Alex is one of a dynamic cohort of innovators who are working to reshape Maine’s agricultural landscape—from farm to processing to market—by bringing back the production of high-quality, heritage, and landrace grains lost more than a century ago to the Midwest. Such efforts have been percolating in the state for decades, similar to others taking place in states like California, Pennsylvania, and New York. Now, these businesses are poised for growth as an inter-connected group of financiers, agricultural researchers, and business support groups works to help them revitalize Maine’s rural landscape through bread, pastries, noodles, and beer.
Experts and farmers say there are a lot of reasons for the downturn. Increasing competition is a big one. So, too, is the customer’s need for convenience over a relationship with their friendly neighborhood farmer.
There are many varieties of seaweeds, and methods of farming differ, but sugar kelp production works well in Maine. Kelp farming generally involves gathering source tissue from wild kelp and then using the spores from that tissue in a lab to grow kelp seedlings or “sporophytes” on strings that are then attached to ropes strung out just below the ocean’s surface. Leaf-like blades then grow downward while clinging to the rope from what is called a holdfast, hanging below the surface of the water in rows.
In 1965, Wendell Berry returned home to Henry County, where he bought a small farm house and began a life of farming, writing and teaching. This lifelong relationship with the land and community would come to form the core of his prolific writings. A half century later Henry County, like many rural communities across America, has become a place of quiet ideological struggle. In the span of a generation, the agrarian virtues of simplicity, land stewardship, sustainable farming, local economies and rootedness to place have been replaced by a capital-intensive model of industrial agriculture characterized by machine labor, chemical fertilizers, soil erosion and debt – all of which have frayed the fabric of rural communities. Writing from a long wooden desk beneath a forty-paned window, Berry has watched this struggle unfold, becoming one of its most passionate and eloquent voices in defense of agrarian life.
Recipe development and testing goes on all the time in restaurant kitchens, but is especially intense in the weeks before opening a new place. It gives chefs the opportunity to make tweaks in dishes that can transform them from just OK into real crowd pleasers. It gives the kitchen staff time to become familiar with ingredients and techniques. And it can help chefs balance their overall menu.
Russets and other late-season apples, by contrast, are typically crisp and crunchy. They contain high levels of acidity and sugar that play off each other in fascinating ways. The flavors run the gamut: from well balanced or cleanly sweet to floral, astringent or punchy tart, complicated flavors that no early season apple can replicate. Some people liken the taste of russets to pears. It’s the extra tree time to ripen that makes the difference.
Gov. Paul LePage has signed a bill into law that affirms the rights of cities and towns to regulate local food production, making Maine the second state in the nation to allow consumers to buy directly from farmers and food producers regardless of the state and federal licensing and inspections that would otherwise apply.
In the brewing business, buying locally often isn’t feasible. In Maine, the climate has always been right for growing grain, but the infrastructure just hasn’t been sufficient to meet our needs. Much to our delight, we’ve recently seen a steady and substantial increase in the amount Maine-grown and malted grains. That’s why we’re making the pledge that by 2021, Allagash will be buying one million pounds of Maine-grown grain per year.
The Wednesday edition of the Portland Farmers Market, which draws more than two dozen farmers downtown every week, officially ended in November, but Piper shows up throughout the winter to sell his meats, honey and prepared foods. It’s not a big money-maker. Piper, 73, says it’s mostly enjoyment that brings him out. He needs to get away from his Buckfield farm and socialize.