Category Archives: Latest MFT News

Maine Farmland Trust will soon be looking for a farmer to purchase 143 acres of land in Windham.

MFT recently bought a portion of the former Clark Farm, which includes 37 acres of open fields and excellent frontage on Swett Road. The farm will be protected with a conservation easement and sold to a farmer at a reduced price.

The property, which does not currently have any infrastructure, is located between Swett Road and Webb Road. There is extensive road frontage that allows good access to the fields along Swett Road and forested land access along Webb Road. Approximately 98 acres (70% of the property) is designated as either Prime Farmland Soils, Farmland Soils of Statewide Importance, or Farmland Soils of Local Importance.

Windham has a strong agricultural past, but given its proximity to Portland, the remaining active farms are threatened.

“Windham has a goal of balancing our relatively rapid growth with preserving the working farms that add so much to the character of the community,” said Ben Smith, Director of Planning for the Town of Windham. “The fields on Swett Road are what many residents consider to be the heart of rural Windham. In all of our planning work, these fields have been singled out for their iconic representation of Windham’s rural character.”

This is MFT’s second Buy/Protect/Sell project on Clark family land. In March 2011, MFT, in collaboration with The Trust for Public Land and the Windham Land Trust (now the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust), purchased, protected, and sold 217 acres to Clayton Haskell, who still currently owns the farm.

Representative Chellie Pingree Introduces the Local FARMS Act

On October 4, 2017, Maine’s own Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), along with Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Representative Sean Maloney (D-NY), introduced HR 3941, the Local Food And Regional Market Supply Act (The Local FARMS Act). Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has also introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Maine Farmland Trust is proud to support this bill. As MFT President Amanda Beal stated at the time of the release, “Maine Farmland Trust is excited to endorse The Local Food and Regional Market Supply Act (The Local FARMS Act). This Act provides the financial support, infrastructure development, and technical assistance that farmers in Maine need to grow the local and regional food economies. At the same time, it increases access to fresh, healthy, and locally-grown food for low-income communities in Maine. Simply put, the tools in this bill will strengthen our economy and nourish our communities. We are grateful for the sponsors of this bill, and especially Representative Chellie Pingree, for working to include these important changes in the next Farm Bill.”

Although the U.S. agricultural economy has experienced an economic downturn in recent years, growing interest from consumers has enabled farmers in Maine and across the country to connect with expanding local and regional markets and find economic success. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2015 over 167,000 U.S. farmers sold $8.7 billion worth of food to local consumers, retailers, institutions, and distributors. In addition, these local and regional food markets can have a significant impact on revitalizing rural communities and keeping families on the farm. However, despite this economic potential, there are barriers that prevent farmers and food entrepreneurs from fully participating in these markets. Such barriers include a lack of infrastructure (e.g. storage, aggregation, transportation, and processing capacity), as well as a lack of associated technical support (e.g. training, marketing, and business planning services).

The Local FARMS Act removes many of these barriers and helps to unleash the potential for greater growth of local and regional food economies in Maine and beyond by:

  • Creating a more comprehensive and efficient program called the Agricultural Market Development Program that merges the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and Value-Added Producer Grants Program. The new Program includes support for farmers’ markets, farm to retail marketing, local food enterprise development, value-chain coordination, food hubs, planning and feasibility studies, producer-owned value-added enterprises, and regional planning through public-private partnerships.
  • Creating a new Food Safety Cost-Share Program to help family farmers comply with new food safety rules and regulations by upgrading on-farm food safety infrastructure and becoming food safety certified.
  • Expanding the Food Safety Outreach Program, the food safety training program for small and medium sized family farmers, by increasing funding and prioritizing projects led by community-based organizations.
  • Reauthorizing the Organic Cost-Share Program for farmers and handlers.
  • Expanding the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program to include low-income military veterans and increased program funding.
  • Piloting a new program called the Harvesting Health Program to demonstrate and evaluate the impact of fruit and vegetable prescription projects in addressing food insecurity, supporting local agriculture, and reducing health care costs.
  • Making it easier for schools to procure locally and regionally produced food by allowing schools to use “locally grown,” “locally raised,” or “locally caught” as a product specification.
  • Expanding the ability of Rural Development and Farm Service Agency grant and loan programs to be used to support livestock, dairy, and poultry regional supply chain infrastructure.

The text of the bill can be found HERE.

Maine Farmland Trust is currently working to create a more interactive webpage for our policy program. Sign up HERE to be alerted when the page is live, and to receive policy updates and action alerts.

Two new Forever Farms: McLaughlin & Meadowsweet

On September 29th, MFT closed on a purchased easement on the McLaughlin Farm in Wilton.  The McLaughlin Farm has operated primarily as a dairy farm for over 100 years.  In the more recent past, the dairy infrastructure was sold off separately from the land and the fields have been leased by local dairy farmer Richard Corey.  The property recently came up for sale and Richard and his wife Michelle decided to partner with Jan Collins and Irving Faunce, who own a neighboring blueberry farm, to purchase the McLaughlin Farm’s 120 acres of fields and forest.    Proceeds from the simultaneous sale of an agricultural conservation easement went towards the purchase of the farm.  The purchase and protection of the McLaughlin Farm ensures that the fields will remain available for Richard’s use, and also increase the likelihood that the fields and forest can be reconnected with the dairy infrastructure sometime in the future.

On September 26th, MFT closed on two purchased easements on the Meadowsweet Farm in Swanville.  Sumner Roberts, a longtime fixture at the Belfast Farmers Market, began raising pastured livestock at Meadowsweet Farm in the early 1990s.   Sumner is in the process of selling a 95-acre portion of the Meadowsweet Farm to an incoming farmer and wanted to ensure that the farm was protected from development as part of that transition.   Sumner will be downsizing his operation and moving to a house he is renovating right down the road from the original farmhouse.  Another easement will protect approximately 43 adjacent acres of fields and forest that Sumner is retaining.   Both pieces of land have highly productive soils and will now remain available for agricultural use forever.

Low-income shoppers purchase $100,000 more of local fruits and vegetables through retail nutrition incentive program

A recently developed nutrition incentive program is proving successful at making healthy local food more accessible to low-income shoppers. Through the program, launched in 2016 by Maine Farmland Trust, low-income customers have purchased $100,000 of bonus local fruits and vegetables at 20 participating retail markets throughout the state.

The program is part of Maine Farmland Trust’s 3-year Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive USDA grant intended to increase SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps) recipients’ purchase and consumption of healthy food, and also made possible with support from Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Foundation. The Trust’s program is designed to help more Mainers buy local food: for every $5 purchased on local products with SNAP/EBT, customers get another $5 to purchase local fruits and vegetables. “It’s like winning the lottery every time I go to the store,” said one customer who uses the program.

Nutrition incentive programs provide bonus fruits and vegetables to low-income shoppers, and have been used in Maine for close to a decade, primarily at farmers’ markets. They have shown to be effective in growing low-income access to local foods, as well as growing the customer base for locally-grown food. In 2016, Maine Farmland Trust expanded the successful concept to local food retailers, such as food co-ops and farm stores, with the goal of connecting the dots between Maine farmers who sell their products wholesale and customers who want to buy more fresh, local food but have limited financial capacity and use SNAP/EBT.

Heide Purinton-Brown, the farmer at Toddy Pond Farm in Monroe, says that she and her family  “love that our local food co-op, The Belfast Co-op, offers nutrition incentives. It is a win for our farm and fellow farmers in that more people are encouraged to buy local products (including Toddy Pond Farm yogurt and kefir), great for our community that folks can utilize these programs to support our local coops and small businesses, and fantastic that families get to see their benefits stretched further and are able to enjoy fresh local fruits and veggies grown in their communities.”

Participating stores have been able to integrate this program into their existing systems, and are excited to be part of something that helps the broader community. As Shawn Menard, General Manager at the Gardiner Food Co-op, notes, “The Maine Harvest Bucks nutrition incentive program has enabled us to successfully reach a larger percentage of our community. By offering incentives to SNAP users who purchase local products, we have advanced in our mission to be open to everyone.”

There’s economic benefit, too—one participating market saw sales of fruits and vegetables to SNAP/EBT customers double in the first year of running the program, and other stores are experiencing similar trends. SNAP sales of other local products, such as dairy and meat, have also increased. This translates into increased sales for all of the local farmers selling to those markets. The $100,000 in incentive dollars that MFT’s program has generated equates to $100,000 more local fruits and vegetables that low-income Mainers were able to bring home thanks to this program, and $100,000 that goes back into the local economy.

Looking ahead, the Trust hopes to attract more new customers to participating markets. “Outreach to new customers is a challenge,” says Shannon Grimes, Nutrition Incentive Project Manager at the Trust. “We’ve been expanding and streamlining our program over the past year—now we need more people to help us spread the word that this is out there as a resource. Many stores and markets continue to have an abundance of local produce throughout the fall, and fall is a great time to stock up on goods for the winter.”

Nutrition incentives are also available at farmers’ market, CSA farms, and more around the state in collaboration with other partner organizations. For more information about where to find sites near you, visit maineharvestbucks.org, or contact Shannon, shannon@mainefarmlandtrust.org or 207-338-6575.

FOREVER FARM: South Paw Farm

BY ANNEMARIE AHEARN     PHOTOGRAPHS BY MEREDITH PERDUE

It had been many months since I’d left the coast. It’s easy to forget that so much of the state is farmland; much of it fallow. Some stretches of road are ghostly with abandoned farmhouses, broken-down tractors and decaying agricultural buildings. Others showcase a commitment to keeping agricultural traditions alive, such as Route 137 running through Waldo County.

When I pulled off Greeley Road in Freedom onto the dirt driveway of South Paw Farm, I was greeted by four dogs, two of them pups and all of them some mix of collie and shepherd. A tall, quiet fellow named Santiago greeted me and shooed the dogs away. He called out for Meg Mitchell, co-owner of the farm, before getting back to work himself.

When Meg and I sat down at a weathered picnic table to begin our chat, a little girl no older than ten approached Meg to ask if she could help on the farm for the day, as she was saving up for something special.

Meg had an entire crew to manage and lots to accomplish, but she explained to the little girl that she could tag along if she kept up and took her job seriously.

Meg is kind and honest by any measure. She is also patient, thoughtful, and passionate. Passion in farming can be fleeting, but in Meg’s case, her commitment to that passion carries her steadily along.

At the age of 18, while in school in Atlanta, Meg attended a semester school reunion in North Carolina. While at a diner, Meg met a man named Daniel Price who had just finished school at College of the Atlantic and gone on to purchase a farm in Freedom with his wife, Ginger Dermott. They had aptly named the new venture, Freedom Farm. Before the reunion was through, Daniel offered Meg the opportunity to move to Maine and work on Freedom Farm. Meg took the job and spent four years familiarizing herself with the land, the soil, the drainage and the potential for growth.

In 2008, armed with her experience at Freedom Farm, Meg set out to own and operate her own business, which had always been her goal. She bought a “squirrely little piece of land” (Meg’s words) in Unity and named it South Paw Farm. As she worked the land, she came to better understand the local market as well as the economic model for the business. Meg quickly realized that while going to farmers markets across the state diversified South Paw Farm’s customer base, she sold the vast majority of her produce at the Portland Farmers Market. It was in Portland’s Deering Oaks Park, selling vegetables, that Meg met her future business and life partner, Ryan Mitchell, who at the time played in a punk band. Then, towards the end of 2014, Daniel and Ginger decided to move to North Carolina and offered to sell their farm to Meg and Ryan.

A few years prior, Meg had enrolled in the Maine Farms for the Future program, where she had written a business plan to grow the vegetable production capabilities of South Paw Farm. When Daniel and Ginger decided to sell Freedom Farm, Meg and Ryan were able to redirect the grant funds Meg received toward securing the land in Freedom. Maine Farmland Trust purchased an easement on the Freedom Farm land, which lowered the purchase price and made ownership possible for the young farmers. For the 2015 season, Meg and Ryan operated under the moniker South Paw at Freedom Farm as they transitioned, taking advantage of the business Daniel and Ginger had built, but giving it their own stamp as they developed a strategy for sustainable growth.

It takes years to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are as a farmer on a particular piece of land. As Meg tells me stories of her challenges over the years running a farm, I pick up on a sense of accomplishment in her voice, despite the struggles. She explains, “One season, cabbage laid to rot in the fields due to an overambitious planting; another there weren’t enough peppers to keep up with demand.” In the past, poor irrigation has led to extremely thirsty crops. But from these mishaps comes wisdom. For example, Meg consulted with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to determine how to prevent leaching with new technology. Now she has more suitable irrigation methods. “Always keep records,” she says with certitude. “You simply can’t improve your farm without them.”

In a state like Maine, running a diversified farm can be critical to long term sustainability.  South Paw is 55 acres of land, much of which is woodlot, and 22 acres of which is either cultivated or pastured. Of that, 18 acres are vegetables. Meg and Ryan recently leased another 8 acres across the road, with an eye toward purchasing that land in the future through a similar arrangement with Maine Farmland Trust.

Seventy percent of South Paw’s business is gener-ated by sales at the Portland Farmers Market, twenty percent is wholesale accounts, such as restaurants and Rosemont Market, and about ten percent is devoted to a small but committed CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The farm has a significant hoop house operation, growing a variety of tomatoes and peppers, basil, and ginger. Meg recently acquired a chili roaster, which tends to be a draw to their booth at the Common Ground Fair. The fragrant mix of hot and sweet peppers tosses in an iron cage over an open fire; a conversation starter on cold days. Meg and Ryan have also established a substantial perennial operation, with over ninety heritage apple trees, peaches, elderberries, and raspberries. As another side project, they are on their sixth round of raising dairy cows for calf stock.

I asked Meg if she faces challenges recruiting labor, as this is a common industry struggle. She said that there is a core team that has been there for a while: Santiago (“Santi”) Zamudio Quiroz, Mike Showalter, and Kelly Murray, without whom they couldn’t possibly make the place run. Farmhands are often traveling folks who head south for the winter months to work in agriculture, hospitality, or other seasonal positions.

It’s the kind of job some people quit fast: demanding responsibility, responsiveness, and serious stamina. While farming has romantic undertones, the reality is that many people aren’t cut out for it, physically or mentally. Luckily, this is a quick discovery for most.

But even for farmers who own their land, a second job is often the norm. Meg and Ryan work for Fedco Seeds in the off season: Meg does most of their potato seed purchasing and Ryan helps with bookkeeping.

Meg has a lot of energy, but her journey hasn’t been a race. Her approach has been measured and carefully executed. I asked what advice she has for future farmers. “Stay as organized as possible,” she said, “and take smart risks. Don’t plant 3 acres of potatoes if you don’t have potato digging equipment, for example.”

She adds that new farmers also need to be prepared to broaden their skill set. Being a farmer means being a carpenter, a welder, an electrician, and a bookkeeper, because farmers don’t make enough money to hire special services or pay someone to fix everything that breaks. As a reward, there is the quiet satisfaction in knowing you can do it yourself.

Meg and Ryan were married in October of 2015. The ring bearer was their cow Madeline and the couple still did farm chores the day of the wedding. They asked a friend from the general store who fills their tank with diesel every week to officiate. From time to time, Meg and Ryan go to the local grange to see friends and other community members. There are other competing farms just down the road, but the prevailing sentiment in town is that they are all part of a movement, helping each other further the mission.

It’s a good life, that of a farmer—not just a job. It is a commitment to a greater purpose that pays in the knowledge that all day, every day, you are contributing to the health and happiness of others. You see progress through your physical work, but also through the betterment of your community. And for Meg and Ryan, there is no better work or life, than this. | southpawfarm.net

Lacinato Kale, Avocado, and Cilantro Salad

When I asked Meg what crops were her finest in late spring and early summer, she enthusiastically replied, “lacinato kale, last year’s shallots and cilantro!” In an effort to embrace all three, I’ve written a recipe that celebrates the early summer gems of South Paw Farm.–AA

For 4 servings

1 shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

Juice and zest of a lemon

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 bunch cleaned cilantro leaves and upper stems, roughly chopped

⅓ cup olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Red pepper flakes

1 bunch lacinato kale, cleaned

1 ripe avocado

2 tablespoons pepitas

1 In a blender, buzz the shallot and garlic with a touch
of salt, before adding any liquid. Use a spatula to
scrape the mixture off the sides afterward. Then
add the lemon juice and zest, Dijon mustard, sherry
vinegar, and cilantro and blend to a consistent
texture. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper
flakes and blend once more. Season to taste.

2 If you are using baby kale, there is no need to cut
it. If your kale is adolescent, cut it across the stem
into thin strips. If it is full grown, pull the leaves
backwards off of the stems and then cut it into thin
strips. If it is particularly tough, you can massage
the cut kale between your hands to tenderize it.
It works! Place kale in large wooden bowl.

3 Cut avocado in half, remove pit and slice across the flesh
every ½ inch, without penetrating the skin. Then make
one, long perpendicular cut through the center, without
penetrating the skin. Use a spoon to release the flesh from
the skin into the kale. Do the same for the other half.

4 Spoon about half of the dressing on the kale and avocado
and gently massage it in. Taste for salt and pepper and
add more if necessary. If you like a heavy dressing, which
is often very nice on a kale salad, add the remainder.
Otherwise, save it for another use. Sprinkle the pepitas
on top of the salad. To make a meal out of it, serve with a
fried egg on top and a hunk of crusty bread on the side.

Enjoy.

Annemarie Ahearn is the owner of Salt Water Farm cooking school in Lincolnville. | saltwaterfarm.com

Back field and Fiore House

Sarah Loftus presents the history of Rolling Acres Farm in Jefferson

Sarah Loftus spent six weeks this summer as the Historical Writing Resident at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center researching the history of Rolling Acres Farm and writing the “farm’s story.” She will present her research and the history of the farm Wednesday, October 25 at 6:30 pm at the Fiore Art Center in Jefferson. The historical writing residency was funded in part by a Maine Arts Commission Arts and Humanities Grant.

Loftus holds an M.A. in Archaeology from the University College London, London, UK, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY. “I journeyed to Maine two years ago to apprentice on a vegetable farm near the New Hampshire border,” she wrote in the application which won her the residency, “and I am still here, all sore muscles and stained hands soaked in New England soil.”

During her six weeks living at Rolling Acres Farm, Loftus frequented the Jefferson Historical Society and the Wiscasset Court House; she interviewed past owners of the farm on Punk Point Road and met with neighbors; she dug through countless books on the region’s history and rummaged through the rusty tools under the barn looking for clues to the farming activities of former inhabitants.

Loftus remarked at the close of her residency that it was interesting how one can see the story of America reflected back in the fields of Rolling Acres. What she found most striking, however, was how the local community treasures and embraces their history. “Everyone was so willing to share their stories with me, even though I’m someone coming in from the outside.”

“I think Sarah’s research is not only of benefit to us and our program – we hope it’s also a gift to the community,” says Anna Witholt Abaldo, Director of the Fiore Art Center. “Knowing the details of a place, past and present, enriches one’s sense of place and in turn, one’s connection to that place.”

Rolling Acres Farm is home to the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center, a program of Maine Farmland Trust that actively connects the creative worlds of farming and art making. The Center offers exhibitions and public educational events, supports research and development of ecologically sustainable farming practices, and hosts residencies for artists on a working farm. MFT is also working to establish a food forest at Rolling Acres Farm, which will provide nutritious food to area food pantries through MFT’s Veggies For All program.

The facility is handicap accessible. FMI visit https://www.mainefarmlandtrust.org/public-outreach-new/jaf-art-center/. To RSVP to this event, please email denise@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

Winterberry Farm Photo Essay

PHOTO ESSAY BY COLLIN HOWELL

Life at Winterberry Farm is the only life Sage has ever known. When her mother, Mary, moved to the farm it had been dormant for twenty years. Mary’s dream was to revitalize the forty acre farm so she could live there with her family and earn a living from the land. With the help of her oldest daughter, Kenya; her son, Gil; Sage, and farmapprentices, Mary has realized this dream.

The organic farm provides food for 50 local families through its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It also has a farmstand, equipped with a commercial kitchen, where the family cooks and sells goods from the farm. In December 2012, Winterberry Farm became a “Forever Farm” through an agricultural easement held by Maine Farmland Trust and the Belgrade Conservation Alliance, ensuring that the farm will remain a farm in perpetuity.

Sage spends much of her time outside helping to run the farm, and is intimately connected to the land and animals. She plays and explores with the wonder of a child, but works with the strength and maturity of an adult. What is it like to be this now ten-year-old farmer?

This work looks at the life of a family farm through the eyes of a young girl whose only home has been this land that her mother credits for giving her and her children safety, security, and a living. | collinhowell.com | winterberryfarmstand.com

2017 Farmland Access Conference Request for Proposals

MFT and Land For Good are pleased to announce that the 3rd Annual  Farmland Access Conference will be held Monday, December 4 at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, ME. The organizers are seeking proposals for conference breakout sessions. Potential themes and topics can address a diverse array of issues relating to farmland access, tenure, transfer, viability, and protection in Maine and the region. The audience for the conference will include farmland seekers, non-farming and institutional landowners, farmers contemplating succession and transfer, and service providers.

 

More information and the proposal submission form can be found HERE. DEADLINE EXTENDED! Submission deadline is now Oct 5, 2017. Contact Andrew Marshall, andrew@landforgood.org with questions or comments.

Harvest season is in full swing! Help grow access to local food.

Harvest season is in full swing (peaches! tomatoes! blueberries!) and the markets participating in our nutrition incentive programs are working to get the word out and encourage all shoppers to store up for the winter during this bountiful season. Help spread the word to your community about where SNAP shoppers can  go to shop for bonus local fruits and vegetables! Nutrition incentives serve everyone: SNAP shoppers can buy more healthful food; Maine farmers gain new customers; More food dollars stay in the local economy.

Find a location in your neck of the woods:  maineharvestbucks.org/retail

Maine’s Hard Cider Revival

by Chelsea Holden Baker, with contributions by Todd Little-Siebold                        photographs by Greta Rybus

There was a time when Mainers drank cider: more than coffee, more than milk, more than Allen’s Coffee Brandy, sometimes more than water. And this was the hard stuff, not the cloying fresh juice we call “cider” now. Sometimes fizzy, sometimes tart, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, the one thing cider always was, was fermented, meaning: alcoholic.

Early American colonists planted apples from English seeds (some sources trace the year to 1623), and were soon pressing cider. The drink was relatively cheap to make and easy to produce, but in addition, for the several hundred years before refrigeration and filtration came along, it was a safe choice—often more sanitary than water, or at least perceived that way.

Cider’s ubiquity was not unique to Maine. You could devote a whole book to cider’s role in American politics. Both George Washington and William Henry Harrison doled out free cider as part of electoral campaigns in their early careers (a relatively common practice known as swilling the planters with bumbo”), and John Adams is rumored to have drank a tankard a day to keep the doctor away. (He lived until 90 and liked to take cider as breakfast.)

Cider was a drink for morning, noon, and night:a customary refreshment to offer guests, a beverage also consumed by children (albeit in a watereddown form called ciderkin). And it was a point of national pride. Thomas Jefferson tended apples at Monticello, dismissing Old World apples as inferior. Travelling abroad, Jefferson wrote from Paris: “They have no apple to compare with our Newtown Pippin.” (Indeed, Benjamin Franklin had Newtown Pippins shipped to him in London in 1759, kicking off the fruit export industry.) Jefferson also boasted that an apple known as Taliaferro (which he planted in abundance at Monticello but is now lost to history) was “the best cyder apple existing,” writing to a friend that it was “more like wine than any other liquor I have tasted that was not wine.”

And that’s one of the interesting, understated things about hard cider: it is—or at least can be—complex, a reflection of the huge varieties of fruit and yeasts (wild or added) that may go into it, as well as its particular conditions of fermentation. A hard cider’s nuances can be appreciated like a fine wine or coffee, and particularly when drinking a locally produced batch, the drink can offer—to borrow a term from viticulture—an experience of terroir.

“One of the beauties of cider is its natural pairing with a wide range of foods,” says David Buchanan of Portersfield Cider in Pownal. “Full-bodied, tannic ciders in particular go best with a meal. If you love Maine food, this is your native drink.” So why did Maineʼs native drink disappear? And who is driving its comeback?

Nationally, cider is on track to be a billion dollar industry in the next few years, the fastest- growing segment of the beverage market. According to the Chicago-based market research firm IRI, cider sales ballooned 75.4 percent to $366 million between November 2013 and 2014 and signs point to exponential increase. Across Maine, thousands of new trees are being set out, and a vibrant agricultural sector is emerging. Cider, largely abandoned as a commercial product in the 1830s, is resurging; and that means that old apple varieties used for cider are being replanted in numbers not seen in over a century.

The story of cider in Maine is the story of agriculture in Maine, a microcosm of larger shifts. From the time of the first European settlers here, apples were standard fare on subsistence farms: just about everyone outside of cities planted apples from the 1600s into the early 1900s. Before the American Revolution, cider apples were not just used for drink, but apple cider vinegar (an essential for food preservation), apple syrup or molasses (both terms for a boiled-down fresh cider used as a sweetener in a time when sugar was hard to come by), and as livestock feed.

By the early 1700s, annual cider production in New England topped 300,000 gallons and records for Massachusetts show that by the middle of that century, the state’s average resident was drinking 35 gallons of cider per year. Cider was such a staple that by America’s founding in 1776, one out of every ten farms in New England ran its own cider mill, often a gathering place for the surrounding community.

The home production of cider and the local trade and barter economies around it were part of the everyday fabric of life in rural Maine. Going “down to cellar” with your neighbor to drink their cider and catch up on local goings-on was a ritual that survived well into the 1970s in some parts of the state.

“What went on in the world of apples from 1700- 1900 mimics a lot of what went on in all of agriculture,” says John Bunker, Maineʼs preeminent heirloom fruit expert and preservationist. “Well into the 19th century most of the apples were planted from seed.”

This is an important detail both because trees planted from seed tend to produce small, astringent apples (well suited for cider, less well suited for fresh eating), and because if you plant a seed from a McIntosh expecting a McIntosh you’ll be disappointed. The resulting tree is unlikely to yield tart, red and green fruit with white flesh that’s ripe in September. Instead, the profile of the new tree and the fruit it bears will represent a variety of traits picked up from untold generations of parent trees that have cross-pollinated; perhaps some characteristics of McIntosh will come through, but more likely not. From seed, every apple tree is new and unique. The way to replicate a McIntosh is by grafting a small portion of an existing tree onto the appropriate rootstock for your needs.

What Bunker is getting at is that starting in the late 1700s, American farmers essentially became apple breeders. As they were doing with all crops grown from seed— whether squash or corn or beans—farmers were making choices and selections about what they wanted and needed from their apple trees and began propagating to that standard while still pressing seedling apples (again, each unique) for cider.

However, the formation of the land-grant universities in America after the Civil War began to formalize breeding programs with a larger agenda in mind: a commodity form of agriculture. As the rural, diversified farm model fell apart and was replaced by the larger commercial farm, which was in turn replaced by the commodity farm, it “was all mimicked—or exemplified—by what happened to apples,” Bunker says. Today the land grant breeding programs are, in Bunker’s words: “now all but dead and being replaced by international conglomerates that are breeding plants that are then trademarked and patented.”

But that’s the story of agriculture writ large. Commercial cider production hit its peak between the 1770s and 1830s. There is no singular cause of its ensuing decline, but a concatenation of events from social reform movements to shifting demographics and later, regulatory factors, suppressed the commercial production of cider and relegated local producers to private cellars.

Some of these events proved more directly damaging than others. The collapse of the cider industry, particularly in Maine, seems closely associated with the growth of the temperance movements of the 1820s and 1830s. As the home state of Neal Dow—known interchangeably as The Napoleon of Temperance and The Father of Prohibition—Maine was an epicenter of anti-alcohol social reform, and the first “dry” state. The message from some preachers was that by growing apples and selling cider, farmers were contributing to the downfall of their fellow man. In response, some of the more zealous farmers in New England took torches and axes to their own orchards and—on occasion—those of their neighbors.

Economic and demographic shifts in the 1800s, along with the maturation of agriculture in Maine and the abundance of apples bred not just for cider, but fresh eating, preservation, and shipping, led to an explosion of diversity as local farmers began growing hundreds of new varieties; some they discovered and named themselves, while others they chose from nursery catalogs or itinerant salesmen who travelled the countryside promoting their stock like Johnny Appleseed (who was in fact largely growing cider apples from seed). By 1845, Andrew Jackson Downing and Charles Downing’s classic book, The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, listed close to 1,100 different named apples that had originated in America (about ⅐th of all known apple cultivars). Around 150 of these varieties likely came from Maine.

At the same time, the diversity of America’s people increased. Waves of immigrants from grape-growing and ale-loving countries in Europe brought new pro-clivities and knowledge, which had an effect not just on the market for alcohol, but farming as well.

Maine was sending ships across the pond too: By the late 1800s, the state was renowned as an exporter of high-quality apples for the British market. Maine shipped from 1.5 to 2.5 million barrels a year to Liverpool and other British ports, keeping local apple farmers busy even as the demand for cider declined at home.

As the 20th century approached, orchards in-creasingly morphed from seedling apples used for ci-der to a more diverse mix of “choice kinds” of fancier fruit, ideal for different uses such as eating, baking, storing, and drying. In Bar Harbor, then known as Eden, the local fair gave premium prizes for dozens of these varieties (some now lost) with evocative names like Sweet Russet, Bell’s Early, White Beauty, Maiden Blush, Winter Banana, and Fameuse. These and likely a thousand others blossomed across the home orchards and farmscapes of Maine.

While cider mills persisted in rural areas, they lost their prominence as hubs of commercial pro-duction while the beer, rum, and whiskey industries ramped up in America’s cities. Although Prohibition came a century after cider’s fall from favor began, it all but ensured the end of cider orchards. And with-out the apples, there would be no cider resurgence.

Prohibition lasted from 1920–33 and was capped off by the frigid, damaging winter of 1933–34, a coup de grâce to orchards that had escaped the second wave of anti-alcohol ax-wielders and torch-bearers. Apples are not an ideal crop for a quick rebound, unlike the barley that fueled the beermakers’ swift return to market. Another disadvantage for cider was that grains are cheaper and simpler to ship and store than fruit. Not to mention that the beer and liquor makers in America’s cities had an easier pivot to soda or complementary products during the 1920s, when most of the remaining cider mills simply shut down.

When Prohibition ended, beer and liquor were quick-ly back online. Of course, soda itself filled the niche of a sweet, effervescent, and stimulating tonic—once part of hard cider’s domain—in the marketplace. And the industrialists supported this switch: better to have workers pepped up by Coca-Cola than drunk on cider.

In addition, the Volstead Act (which enforced Prohibition) included limitations on fresh, non-alcohol-ic cider. Orchards were only permitted to produce 200 gallons of fresh cider a year. On top of the cap on fresh cider production, federal alcohol regulations prohibited the sale f hard cider across state lines if the drink contained added preservatives. Beer and wine, while sometimes treated with added preservatives just like cider, were exempt from the restrictions. While the regulation was a clear impediment to any possible resurgence of a national cider industry, no strong evidence of a beer-wine-soda collusion has ever come to light. But as Bunker puts it: “Whether inadvertently or on purpose, it was in the interest of other alcoholic beverages not to have the competition from cider.”

In a single generation, commercial cidermaking all but disappeared, and the practice of pressing cider was relegated to local markets and home producers in rural locales.

Then came the 1960s and 1970s. Back-to-the-land homesteaders flowed into Maine, bringing their curiosity and gumption in the nick of time, before the old apples and the old timers with heirloom knowledge disappeared. John Bunker was among the transplants, pressing cider himself as he went down the rabbit hole of seeking out
“lost” apple varieties. He was interested in apples as a route to a living wage for farmers, as part of a vision for a new agricultural economy in Maine. Through the ’70s and ’80s, as Bunker traveled the state from his home base in Palermo, he not only learned about apples at the local level, but the cur-rent state of the larger apple market. “Back then,” Bunker says, “I would go to commercial orchards and they would tell me about the hundreds or even thousands of bushels that they were selling for pennies to the applesauce companies, or in some cases, just not even picking them.” It was too expensive to pay for the labor.

Bunker had a hunch that reviving hard cider might be the answer not just to reinvigorate the orcharding sector, but to attract more people to farming and make it profitable at the same time. But Bunker’s primary interest was in the apples themselves, not alcohol, and as he began to explore around Palermo, moving farther and farther afield following rumors and remembrances, he continued to uncover and resuscitate lost varieties. His book, Not Far From the Tree: A Brief History of the Apples and Orchards of Palermo, Maine 1804–2004 includes vignettes about these rediscoveries, which have happened in all sixteen counties of Maine.

In 1984, Bunker started the tree division of Fedco Seeds, where he still works today. At his own farm in Palermo, he grows over two hun-dred varieties of apples and he’s now sharing these fruits with a wider audience through the new heritage orchard at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s Common Ground Fair grounds in Unity. (Bunker is a past president of MOFGA.) There, a band of volun-teers is slowly planting six hundred apple va-rieties (and likely more in time) that were once grown in Maine. The site is a former gravel pit, restored and transformed into a meeting place for public education and outreach, not just for apples, but a variety of tree fruits.

“You can’t buy good cider apples the way you can buy top-quality beer ingredients,” Bunker says. “No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy good cider apples because they aren’t out there.” While this aspect of cider production could be seen as a challenge, from Bunker’s vantage, it’s driving interest and excitement in planting orchards, unlike any he’s seen in his lifetime—and he’s now in his 60s. “If you want to do good cider,” he says, “either you or your friend, someone has got to grow the apples.”

One of the first people to bring back hard cider production in 20th century Maine was Tom Hoey of Brooksville. Hoey began home-produc-ing cider in 1983 and commercial production in 1991. Under his Sow’s Ear Winery label, Hoey not only crafts hard cider, but wines from a variety of local berries, including blueberries, choke cherries, cranberries and grapes. His massive hand-powered press evokes the days when orchards were common in the region.

Hoey has refined techniques like the French méthode champenoise for making exquisite, carbon-ated off-dry hard cider. The dégorgement—removing sediment from the bottle—is still done by hand. He describes his sparkling cider as having a “crisp, tart, natural style” that comes from the wild yeast picked up in the fermentation; no sugars or sulfites are added. The 60-gallon oak barrels aging in the huge split stone cellar of Hoey’s 1870 house connect his present-day offering with almost-lost traditions.

And that is at the heart of the cider quest: combining old knowledge with new discoveries, or as the case may be, rediscoveries. Noah Fralich started Norumbega Cidery in New Gloucester using local apples, as well as traditional English, French and American varieties, to make a range of hard cider styles. He tends to use the traditional varieties for bitterness or tannins that contribute complexity and depth to the cider produced by more acidic, local apple varieties.

Fralich says, “For me, planting older, rarer, more cider-specific varieties is an opportunity to explore the past and reestablish an old American tradition.” It also provides an opportunity to work with local ingredients that he understands intimately. “My approach to cidermaking is simplicity of ingredients,” Fralich says. “The higher the quality of the fruit and wider breadth of varieties, the less one has to compensate with additives.” While there’s always room for experimentation, Fralich adds that his main focus is on the apples, that he thinks of his cider as an agricultural product as much as a beverage.

Bunker backs that up by saying that because good fermented cider has just one ingredient, the onus is on its maker to choose wisely. “It’s like the difference between an orchestra and solo guitar player,” Bunker says, comparing cider to beer’s multiple ingredients. “With the orchestra you can blend it all together and hope that your violin doesn’t sound too bad, but when you’re on stage by yourself, that’s all there is. If your only ingredient is apples, then the apples you use become really, really important.”

Getting what Fralich calls “interesting” apples into the mix is the challenge for enterprising cider-makers as they work with what’s locally available while waiting for their own young trees to mature and produce. Fralich started in 2011 by clearing forest on his family’s property and planting cider apples by the hundreds. In 2013 he built and inau-gurated a new ciderhouse, and started selling and distributing his cider throughout the state.

“We’re only just beginning to explore cider in this country,” says David Buchanan of Portersfield Cider, which he refers to as a farm-based conservation center. “There’s a big gap between commercial production using only dessert apples and the flavors we find in small quantities from old and abandoned trees.” Buchanan’s orchard in Pownal is comprised of hundreds of heirloom apples painstakingly collected, researched, and propagated over years, planted alongside a wide variety of elderberries, aronia, and other fruits.

“This is a lifelong commitment,” says Buchanan, the author of Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter, a book about how we can reconnect to the tastes of the places we live. “It can take over ten years to evaluate and bring back into production a single promising variety, and there are always wrong turns along the way.”

Buchanan tries out apples from all over that might give his cider a new twist. To see how things grow under his farm’s conditions, he’ll trial varieties with different rootstocks placed in areas of deeper soil or more moisture. He is attuned to the need to simultaneously experiment with heritage fruits and give them new life and relevance.  “There’s usually little to no available information about American heirloom cider apples,” Buchanan says. “I’ve spent seven years building a collection and learning about the trees, but cider season only comes around once a year. Instant gratification this is not.” But soon, there will be the gratification that comes with sharing and conversing over the beverage: Buchanan plans to open Portersfield Cider’s new tasting facility out of a post-and-beam barn within the year.

“Some people are upset about the Angry Orchards and Woodchucks,” says Bunker, citing two of the biggest brands in commercial cider. “But I don’t believe there would have ever been a craft beer revival if it weren’t for Budweiser and Coors and the other big beer makers. They drove an interest in beer in the U.S. Sooner or later it was going to happen, someone was going to finally say: you know what, I’m going to do something a little bit different, a little more complex.” Bunker acknowledges there has been a contiguous cider movement, small pockets of people (his mentors among them) keeping traditions, knowledge, and trees alive, but those makers just weren’t recognized by a broad public. Cider dropped out of consumer consciousness for most of the 20th century. Craft beer modeled a path for its return.

Today, awareness seems to be pushing toward a tipping point: as hard cider takes up more space on shelves, as more tap handles from the likes of Angry Orchard and Woodchuck appear in pubs, the more consumers are likely to seek out ciders of all kinds.

In 2014 alone, Angry Orchard, the king of commercial hard cider, sold 14.5 million cases. (Angry Orchard is owned by Boston Beer Co., the makers of Samuel Adams.) While Maineʼs artisanal cider houses make a small-batch product that hews to traditional standards of craft and taste, they are also experi-encing dramatic growth. Across the state, cider is showing up on shelves and menus where a year ago it would not have had a place. And small producers are opening tasting rooms, inviting people in not just to taste cider, but to partake in the tradition of social drinking while learning more about local farming.

“I really like the idea that there are, in particular, a bunch of younger people making a living with trees, producing a fruit, and growing a product,” Bunker says. “I want to see people staying on their own pieces of property and making a living there; to see a revival of agriculture in Maine.” He points out that the revival won’t be based on apples alone, but that again, as they have been before, “apples are simply one example of what can happen in some parallel way in other areas of agriculture.”

And Bunker loves that these new cider makers are out scouring the landscape for the next great cider apple. “The genetics are here,” he says, “you’ve just got to go out and find them.” Wild seedlings continue to spread throughout Maine, ripe with the potential to add the qualities someone is looking for in their cider. “The cider maker now becomes like that farmer of 200-250 years ago,” Bunker says, “who is out in the landscape looking for new varieties. In a way, we’ve come full circle.”

Hard cider is no longer an underground movement. It’s come out of the cellar and into a spotlight that lights up vibrant rural traditions, agricultural diversity, and new opportunities for farmers to connect with the land—and consumers.

And that means it’s time to drink up.

A Selection of Maine Cider Houses That Welcome Visitors

Bar Harbor Cellars, Bar Harbor
Blacksmiths Winery, South Casco

Cayford’s Hardened Cider, Skowhegan
Maine Mead Works, Portland
Norumbega Cidery, New Gloucester
Oyster River Winegrowers, Warren
Portersfield Cider, Pownal (coming soon)
Ricker Hill Hard Cider, Turner
Sow’s Ear Winery, Brooksville
Urban Farm Fermentory, Portland

Featured Ciders
Under a thoughtful producer, cider can take on exciting dimensions. Here are three Maine-made labels
found at specialty grocers and beverage stores, tasted by Peter and Orenda Hale, owners of Maine & Loire
(Wine Shop) and Drifters Wife (Wine Bar) in Portland.
| maineandloire.com
Portersfield Dry Cider original dry
nose candied apples, vinous aromas taste like it smells, with delicate bubbles, bittersweet,
clean finish
Oyster River Winegrowers organic cider nose straw, apple skins, honeysuckle nectar
taste tannic, full body, pleasantly sour and tart, playful, long savory finish
Whaleback Farm Cider traditional dry nose vanilla, lanolin, wild flowers, ripe orchard fruits
taste bright bubbles, ripe apples and toastiness, delicate and subtle, finish is long and dry