Investing in the Local Food System

An editorial in today’s paper makes the case for investing in the local food system to balance against risk of future supply chain disruptions.

This vision has Maine supplying half the food to the region by 2060. In another effort, Maine’s diet would be made up of 30% locally sourced foods by 2030.

Both are difficult goals to meet — Maine only consumes about 10% local food now, and that may be high.

But they are worth pursuing in order to make sure food is there when we need it, and to support local producers and their communities, and the wider Maine economy.

Maine Cheese Industry

This week’s Portland Phoenix has a report on the Maine Cheese industry.

Donahue said she is fortunate because her farm now processes all of its milk on-site, meaning it makes cheese and yogurt without having to ship or bottle it.

And unlike many other states, she added, Maine allows farmers to bottle their raw milk and sell it either at the farm or at farmer’s markets or retail stores.

Maine is also unique because of the way it allows cheesemakers to make their cheese, which Donahue said has helped open the door for smaller and new cheesemakers to make higher volumes of cheese to sell.

Maine Heirloom Apple Guide

September has arrived and with it the leading edge of the Maine apple season. Take a look at the updated Maine Heirloom Apple Guide for detailed information on where and when to find dozens of heirloom apple varieties grown at fourteen outstanding Maine orchards.

The guide is a coproduction of Portland Food Map and The Righteous Russet (instagram). We hope this provides you with all the information you need to go out for a self-directed exploration of Maine orchards and the many heirloom apples they offer. Use it throughout the fall to go exploring so you can take advantage of the entire season.

Maine Farmers’ Markets

The Maine Sunday Telegram has published a report on Maine farmers’ markets.

Farmers who sell at markets around the state report similar scenarios. While they are seeing a lot of new faces across the mountains of zucchini and greens, in most cases the number of customers is down. But sales are up because shoppers are buying more meat and produce from fewer vendors. Adding to the trend of bountiful sales is the fact that homebound shoppers are stocking their fridges and pantries more fully but may not be comfortable buying food at a grocery store.

Maine Heirloom Apple Guide

For the last six years Portland Food Map and The Righteous Russet (instagram) have held an annual Heirloom Apple Tasting. We were so looking forward to the opportunity to share our passion for heirloom apples with you again in 2020 in person, but, for obvious reasons, that will not be possible.

In its temporary place we’d like to offer up this Maine Heirloom Apple Guide. We hope that in a small way it can take the place of the apple tasting and give you the information you need to go out for a self-directed exploration of Maine orchards and the many heirloom apples they offer.

The Guide includes detailed information on where and when to purchase dozens of heirloom apple varieties grown at fourteen outstanding Maine orchards. Use it throughout the fall to go exploring so you can take advantage of the entire season.

Vertical Harvest Coming to Maine

An urban farming company called Vertical Harvest (website, facebook, instagram, twitter) is planning to build their second hydroponic  vertical greenhouse in downtown Westbrook. Co-founders Nona Yehia and Caroline Estay expect to start construction in 2021.

Vertical Harvest provides “consistent, meaningful employment” for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. Their focus is to “create partnerships to build cost effective, profitable hydroponic farms that will not only act as innovative urban models for growing fresh food, but will have a substantial social impact.”

The 70,000 square-foot Vertical Harvest Westbrook located on Mechanic Street will initially grow a variety of microgreens and lettuces. It’s estimated this vertical farm will produce a million pounds of produce per year. In addition to wholesale partnerships with hospitals, corporate cafeterias, schools, chefs, restaurants, caterers and more, the Westbrook location will also have a consumer marketplace and plans for a presence at farmer’s markets.

The company anticipates bringing 50 full-time equivalent jobs to Westbrook.

Vertical Harvest got their start in 2016 with the launch of their first vertical greenhouse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Co-founder Nona Yehia stated, “We have felt a kinship with Maine for quite some time. At our beginning stages 10 years ago, Vertical Harvest Jackson engaged the same engineer as Backyard Farms in Madison, Maine. Wyoming and Maine have more in common than just a four-to-five month grow season and drastic seasonal climates – they have polar rural and urban areas, there is deep rooted respect for the environment, the farming and food communities are a source of pride, and there is a sense of responsibility to serve the job and food insecure population. With our second location for Vertical Harvest, we feel honored to become a part of this special state and Westbrook community.”

A documentary about Vertical Harvest called Hearts of Glass was recently released. Here’s an excerpt from the film.

Demand High for Local Food

The Maine Sunday Telegram reports that an “increased appetite for local food keeps farm stores bustling“.

Although the pandemic has meant economic turmoil for many industries, business at many local farm stores has increased. Some farmers have refocused on selling directly to customers rather than wholesale to restaurants and schools. Many have increased their online presence through virtual stores and websites while at the same time giving up once prime spots at farmers markets. Many farms have said it’s too early to know how much difference the uptick in business will make, and they’ve been too busy with sales to take time to crunch the numbers anyway, but the increased interest in shopping at their stores is certain.

Growing Interest in CSAs

Maine Public reports an increased interest in CSAs at Maine farms.

With the depletion of certain items on grocery store shelves and the disruption to the supply chain, there is one thing the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, and that is the importance of locally grown food. In Maine and around the country, small farms in particular are seeing a surge of interest in what they have to offer, and membership sales in community supported agriculture are especially attractive right now.