Category Archives: food

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.

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

Borealis Breads’ Steamed Brown Bread

In anticipation of our 2017 Maine Farms journal, we are delighted to share this exclusive recipe from Jim Amaral’s forthcoming cookbook, Borealis Breads: the Renaissance of Grains, due out September 2018. Amaral is the founder and owner of Borealis Breads and sparked the revival of local grain production in the 1990s. Wanting fresh whole wheat flour, Amaral began working with Matt Williams of Aurora Mills & Farm in Linneus to reestablish a grower network and processing infrastructure that had been lost. The growth of Maine grains continues today, and the 2017 issue of our journal includes Up in The County: from Spuds to Grains by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Her article tracks the rise of grain production in Aroostook, driven by the growth of craft brewers, distillers, and bakers like Amaral, and the zeitgeist of the local food movement.

The new issue of Maine Farms is ripe with stories from Maine’s vibrant farm and food landscape. Don’t miss it!  Renew or join as a member today to receive your copy in the mail this July. 

BOREALIS BREADS' STEAMED BROWN BREAD

This simple bread is the epitome of comfort food. As you unmold the bread the aromas will embrace you with an
overwhelming sense of goodness. Slice while still warm and top with butter. Amaral bought his pudding mold at “Now
You’re Cooking” in Bath; you could substitute a 4-cup Bundt pan, then covered with tin foil and secured with string.

INGREDIENTS

(Grams, Ounces, Volume)
Whole Wheat Flour 100, 3.5, 2/3 cup
Whole Rye Flour 85, 3.0, 2/3 cup
Abenaki Flint Cornmeal 90, 3.2, 2/3 cup
Buttermilk 227, 8.0, 1 cup
Molasses 160, 5.6, 1/2 cup
Baking Soda 3, 0.1, 1 tsp
Salt 3, 0.1, 1 tsp

PROCEDURE

Grease the inside of a 1 quart pudding mold.

Measure the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and briefly whisk to distribute the ingredients evenly.

In another bowl whisk together the molasses and buttermilk.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and using a spatula stir together until evenly combined.

Pour the batter into the pudding mold and place the cover on it. If a cover is unavailable for the mold, cover it with tin foil and secure the tinfoil to the mold with a piece of string.

Place a vegetable steamer in a large deep pot. Place the filled pudding mold on top of the vegetable steamer. Fill the pot with water till it comes 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pudding mold. Place a lid on the pot and bring the water to a slow simmer.

Steam the brown bread for a total of 1 1/2 hours. After 45 minutes, top the water in the pot up so that it remains 3/4 of the way up the side of the pudding mold.

When done, remove the pudding mold from the pot and remove the lid on the mold. Insert a thin skewer into the bread, the skewer should come out clean.

Place the pudding mold on a cooling rack and let cool for ten minutes. Then using pot holders flip the mold over onto the cooling rack. The bread should slide easily out of the mold.

NOTES

The Maine grains:
Both the whole wheat flour and whole rye flour are grown and milled by Aurora Mills and Farm in Linneus, Maine. They are available at many food coops around the state in the bulk foods sections. The Abenaki flint cornmeal is is grown and milled at Songbird Farm in Unity, Maine. This cornmeal is packaged in 2 lb. bags and is available in many food coops as well.
The Pudding Mold:
Due to concerns over the chemicals such as bisphenol A used in can linings, Amaral recommends steaming the brown bread in a pudding mold rather than in tin cans which have been traditionally used for brown bread molds.

Two farms receive first Farming for Wholesale implementation grants

MFT has awarded grants to Fishbowl Farm in Bowdoinham and Circle B Farms in Caribou to implement wholesale business expansion. Both farms participated in MFT’s Farming for Wholesale 201 program, making them eligible to apply for the grant.

 During the 201 program (an advanced farm business planning program that can take 1 to 2 years to complete) farms work with Farming for Wholesale’s technical assistance team to evaluate different scenarios to grow their business and become more profitable, focusing on wholesale markets. At the end of the program, farms have the opportunity to write a new business plan based on the scaling up scenario that is most suited to them, and apply for an implementation grant. The grant is intended to give farms who are poised to “scale up” new funds to make possible farm business improvements and innovations. Funds have to be matched 1:1, but funds that qualify as match are flexible. Matching funds can come from the farmer, other grants, loans, services the farm has paid for, etc.

 “Getting into wholesale markets has been extremely difficult for small farmers thus far,” said Alex Fouliard, who manages the Farming for Wholesale program at MFT. “We know that financing is often a challenge, so these grants can help  overcome that hurdle and allow farms to get everything lined up to sell to wholesale customers.”

 Chris Cavendish, owner of Fishbowl Farm, will use the $49,500 from MFT to purchase a new refrigerated truck. The new truck will open up the opportunity to work with new wholesale customers that require stricter food safety protocol, including keeping their fresh cut baby salad greens continuously cold from harvest to delivery. A new truck will also increase their delivery capacity, which means they can increase their sales to current customers and add new customers along their delivery route, making each time the truck hits the road that much more efficient. “The program came about at the perfect time for our farm,” said Cavendish. The farm spent a year working one-on-one with Jed Beach of FarmSmart, a member of the program’s Technical Assistance Team. Beach helped Fishbowl improve recordkeeping, analyze financial and production data, and write a business plan focused on scaling up their operations.

 Sam Blackstone of Circle B Farms in Caribou was awarded $48,860 for a new cooler space, which will allow him to hold more blueberries for shipments down to larger wholesale markets in Southern Maine. The cooler expansion is a key part of a greater scaling up plan that involves selling more blueberries as Circle B’s highbush plants mature and give more fruit, also adding a new truck for increased deliveries, and a kitchen to lightly process produce for institutional customers. “It [the cooler] may have come eventually, but the size and quality would be completely changed,” said Blackstone. The grant means that Blackstone is able to start scaling up more quickly and with equipment that is well suited to his business plan.

 “It’s one thing to help farmers figure out what’s next for their business, and another to help them get there,” said Fouliard. “These two farms completed a rigorous year-long program and came out with practical, clear business plans backed up with realistic financial projections. We’re glad to help them pave the way as models for scaling up.”

 

MFT Announces First-Year Impact of 2016 Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund Grant

Maine Farmland Trust has announced the first-year impact of its 2016 Harvard Pilgrim Foundation Healthy Food Fund grant.  Maine Farmland Trust has provided over $12,000 worth of local fruits and vegetables to low-income customers in Saco, Biddeford, Portland, and South Portland through nutrition incentives at Portland Food Co-op, The Farm Stand in South Portland, and Unity Food Hub.

“We would not have been able to do this work in Southern Maine without this partnership with Harvard Pilgrim,” says Shannon Grimes, Nutrition Incentives Project Manager at Maine Farmland Trust. “Because of them, we were able to add staff capacity and reach much more of the Southern Maine community, working with new customers and markets at a whole new level.” Abby Farnham, who coordinates food access projects for Maine Farmland Trust in Southern Maine, adds that “Harvard Pilgrim’s support is flexible in a way that enables and empowers us to get creative when it comes to strategies for connecting low-income Maine consumers with Maine-grown food.”

Nutrition incentive programs provide bonus fruits and vegetables to low-income shoppers, often in the form of vouchers. In 2015, Maine Farmland Trust received a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant from the USDA to work with food hubs, food co-ops, and other retail stores aggregating local food from Maine farms to implement nutrition incentive programs for customers using SNAP/EBT (previously known as food stamps). Harvard Pilgrim’s Healthy Food Fund provides some of the required match for that project, and has connected Maine Farmland Trust with the larger network of grantees.

In total, the amount of healthy, local produce distributed to low-income families in the region increased 87 percent as a result of Harvard Pilgrim Foundation’s Healthy Food Fund contributions; and the amount of produce sold increased 63 percent to 827,000 pounds.  The total dollar value of healthy food reaching households in communities across the region in 2016 is $2.2 million.

Of the 26 Healthy Food Fund projects in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, 17 are selling healthy local food through Farmers’ Markets, Mobile Markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, and farm stands.  A total of 20 are distributing produce through free-to-recipient channels such as gleaning, food banks, community meals, and youth agriculture programs.

“We are so pleased we can show how relatively small investments in local organizations can measurably improve access to healthy food,” according to the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation’s President, Karen Voci.

In 2016, more than $1.4 million in grants was distributed to the Foundation’s Healthy Food Fund initiatives within the region, with funds supporting programs that grow, distribute and/or market fresh food for low-income families and communities across the region.

About The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation

Created in 1980, The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation supports Harvard Pilgrim’s mission to improve the quality and value of health care for the people and communities we serve. The Harvard Pilgrim Foundation provides the tools, training and leadership to help build healthy communities throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. In 2016, the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation awarded more than $2.4 million in grants to more than 900 nonprofit organizations in the region.  Since its inception in 1980, the Foundation has awarded $140 million in funds and resources throughout the four states.  For more information, please visit www.harvardpilgrim.org/foundation.

Amanda Beal: A New England Food Vision

Original story in: Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Winter 2016-2017 Newsletter

In 2011, Amanda Beal and several others, including Russell Libby (then MOFGA’s executive director), began to explore deeply the capacity for New England to produce much more of its food than it currently does. They developed “A New England Food Vision: Healthy Food for All, Sustainable Farming and Fishing, Thriving Communities,” published by Food Solutions New England. That vision was the topic of Beal’s keynote speech at MOFGA’s 2016 Common Ground Country Fair (posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dktL4gcu2o).

Beal grew up on her family’s Maine dairy farm and on Casco Bay, where she has fond memories of digging clams for dinner in summer alongside her grandfather and warming the bench of his smelt shanty in winter.

Beal is a MOFGA board member and past president. She holds a master’s degree from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, is completing her Ph.D. in the Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science program at the University of New Hampshire, and was recently appointed president and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust.

In honor of the 40th Common Ground Country Fair, Beal noted the many Fair speakers who inspired her work, including those from afar – Jim Hightower, Wes Jackson, Vandana Shiva, Woody Tasch and Kathleen Merrigan – and those from Maine – John Bunker, Barbara Damrosch, Rep. Chellie Pingree, Jim Gerritsen, Deb Soule, Ted Ames and “someone who was a dear friend and inspiration to so many of us, MOFGA’s former executive director, Russell Libby, who made many lasting contributions in this work and played an instrumental role in inspiring the efforts I will be talking about here today.”

A New England Food Vision (posted at http://www.foodsolutionsne.org/new-england-food-vision), according to it summary, “describes a future in which New England produces at least half the region’s food – and no one goes hungry. It looks ahead a half a century and sees farming and fishing as important regional economic forces; soils, forests and waterways cared for sustainably; healthy diets as a norm; and access to food as a basic human right.”

This vision began in 2009, said Beal, with conversations among the New England delegates to the Spannocchia Foundation (an 1,100-acre organic education center in rural Tuscany), including Russell Libby, John Piotti (then President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust), Maine chef Sam Hayward, and agricultural historian Brian Donahue of Brandeis University. This trip also catalyzed Libby’s development of the “Maine Local 20”: 20 foods that Maine can produce for its citizens to enjoy all year, including dairy, potatoes, carrots, meats, seafood, apples, eggs, dry beans, greens and more.

In 2011 Food Solutions New England held its first New England Food Summit, where Donahue said he had started looking at data and considering what we could produce in New England. Libby and Beal were interested enough to join in that work.

“I was concerned that the seafood side of story wouldn’t get enough attention,” said Beal. That was based on “my own past experience of being involved in food system conversations and recognizing that often people weren’t even aware of what was going on regarding seafood.”

The draft vision was presented annually at New England Food Summits; to groups of farmers, fishermen, policymakers, consumers, academics and educators; and to many more. Public comments were solicited. “We worked hard to incorporate all of the feedback in a meaningful way,” said Beal. “The resulting vision is so strong; it resonates with many and is being used in a number of innovative ways.”

U.S. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (right), a strong supporter of Maine-grown and organic food, attended Beal’s keynote speech and enjoyed other areas of the Fair as well. English photo

What the Vision is Not

The vision is not, said Beal, a plan or a prescription. “We recognize that many decisions need to be made community by community, business by business, organization by organization, based on local assets and opportunities to address challenges.”

Nor is it a “how to.” “In fact it raises far more questions than it answers!” Beal noted. It does not predict or promise that New England will get to a certain level of production. “Right now,” said Beal, “every New England state has a process underway to develop a statewide food plan. Food Solutions New England continues to hold conversations on a regional level. A lot of work still needs to be done at the municipal, state and federal levels, and to thread all of these layers together.”

A Vision of Possibilities

Currently about 90 percent of New England’s food is brought from outside the region by a global system that produces abundant food but does so in ways that too often undermine the planet’s soils, waters and climate, said Beal. Feeding New England’s 14.5 million people takes about 16 million acres of land, the way we eat now. This represents more than 1 acre per person per year.

New England now produces food on about 5 percent of our land base (2 million acres). The vision calls for as much as 6 to 7 million New England acres producing food – 15 percent of the region, which is about where we were in 1950. That would mean several hundred thousand acres in and around cities devoted to intensive production and several million acres of rural farmland abandoned since World War II supporting crops and livestock.

Beal noted that the vision plans for New Englanders in 2060 eating more diverse and healthier foods than today.

The vision modeled three diets.

“In one, we keep doing what we’re doing now.”

“The second, the moderate scenario, also called the Omnivore’s Delight, gets us to 50 percent production and has the region growing most of its vegetables; half of its fruit; some of its grain and dry beans; and all of its dairy, beef and other animal products.” “It recognizes, said Beal, that some things that we want will remain difficult or impossible to grow here, and that growing all of the grain here for our livestock results in a footprint that is just too big.”

“The third model, Regional Reliance, could get us to 70 percent production and means eating less meat and more beans and grains.”

The expanded acreage in all three scenarios leaves 70 percent of the region forested. A companion document, Wildlands & Woodlands (http://harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/news/wildlands-and-woodlands-vision-new-england-landscape), produced by staff and other researchers at the Harvard Forest, recommends that 70 percent of the region stay forested for ecological and economic reasons. In the mid-19th century, said Beal, large swaths of southern New England had as much as 50 percent of the land cleared for farming; in some places, as much as 75 percent. “From this, we learned … that there is certainly a line that can be crossed where too much land in production can cause numerous ecological issues.” After that period, we learned to grow more food on less land, as production remained relatively level.

Calculating fisheries production is more difficult, said Beal, as fish move around and are hard to count. Historically New England fisheries markedly increased harvest volume in the 19th century, as we were ramping up agricultural production, to supply markets here and beyond. A motorized fishing fleet and new technologies improved catch efficiency and increased landings, but with long-term impacts on some species.

In looking forward, the vision identifies many factors that impact the productivity of fisheries, including healthy watersheds; competing uses such as transportation, energy generation and aquaculture; and land use and conversion. “Moving from 3 million to 6 million acres for agriculture, if not done right, can impact our water quality,” said Beal.

The vision seeks to protect and restore keystone species, particularly fish considered the forage base. Beal noted the exciting progress in the number of spawning alewives that have returned as large dams have been removed.

Consumer education can help, too. “So many people don’t know what to do with a whole fish, or with many species of fish,” said Beal. “They have a narrow diet and a narrow palate for fish. People need to understand the seasonality of fish, when it should be available.”

In relation to fisheries, the vision also calls for research on climate change impacts and strategies for adaptation; and for policies that support regulatory structures and management strategies that are flexible and allow for shifting ecological and economic conditions.

“We found that, over the most recent 10-year average,” said Beal, “if we ate every fish that we harvested from the Gulf of Maine and New England, we are producing only about 2.5 ounces of seafood per person per week in New England. That’s a long way from USDA’s recommended 9 or so ounces per person per week. This begs for discussion about how we promote sustainable consumption.” Beal also noted that a lot of that current catch is lobster; that the species richness and production now is just a fraction of what they once were.

“It’s hard to predict exactly what will be here in the future or how much, but we need to do all we can to support restoration of our freshwater and marine environments if we want fish to be part of our diets,” said Beal.

Four core principles or aspirations guide changes to the food system recommended by A New England Food Vision: Everyone has access to healthy food; everyone enjoys a healthy diet; food is sustainably produced; and food helps build thriving communities.

Beal said she has heard arguments against localizing our food system. Some say, for example, that New England agriculture is just a drop in the bucket; that the kind of agriculture or the scale of agricultural production in New England does not measure up to that of other places with massive fields of monocrops and big, efficient machinery.

Some argue that transporting large amounts of food around the globe creates energy efficiency.

“Most of those analyses leave out food waste,” said Beal. “As much as 40 percent of what we produce is wasted,” as are the inputs – energy, water, nutrients – to produce that food. “It’s important to note that, at greater economies of scale, it’s often deemed less costly to throw food away than to prevent wasted food in the first place.”

Beal believes that this kind of thinking is oversimplified and inappropriately reductionist; that it relies on many generalities and assumptions and does not account for the externalities created by our existing global food system.

“We also can’t forget the failures or our greater food system,” she added, including food insecurity and hunger, diet-related illnesses, social injustice and environmental degradation.

“According to the United Nations,” said Beal, “the world produces more than enough food for everyone on the planet, yet 795 million people, or 1 in 9, do not have enough food to lead a healthy and active life.” Locally, said Beal, “protecting or cultivating the knowledge to grow food in communities that can, which is really nearly all New England communities, given the right support, localizes our inherent ability to recognize and address hunger among us.” Localizing our food system, she added, “may also insulate us somewhat against rising food costs in the future due to political factors, resource bottlenecks, pollution and extreme weather events elsewhere.”

Regarding illnesses, “We’ve developed diets highly dependent on unhealthy, processed foods, because in some cases these are the most affordable, thanks to subsidies and inherent market distortions.” The result: high rates of preventable chronic diseases – the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. The CDC reports that about half of all American adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many related to poor eating patterns and physical inactivity. And the Center for Science in the Public Interest says that in the last 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in adults, tripled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents. The total annual costs of direct and indirect healthcare spending in the United States for just the top seven diet-related chronic diseases is $957,900 billion.

Regarding social injustice, Beal noted the many farmers and farmworkers who don’t make a fair wage; the many minorities who are exploited through systemic racial inequity; and the human rights violations through poor working conditions and sometimes even forced labor. We unwittingly support these things when our food dollar travels far from here, said Beal.

Environmental degradation includes water pollution due to overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, topsoil loss, greenhouse gas emissions and more.

The vision states, said Beal, that “local food is not a panacea, but it may provide an opportunity to gain greater control over our food system.”

Relevance to Maine

Currently New England has about 2 million acres in production, almost 40 percent of that in Maine. To scale up New England to 6 million, said Beal, would mean tripling the amount of land in production in New England but would likely mean almost a quadrupling land in production in Maine, because we have the land base.

Retired University of Southern Maine professor Mark Lapping, a Vision co-author, stressed that we don’t want Maine to be the raw materials producer for value-added activities that happen elsewhere – we want to see that potential realized here. Nor do we want, said Beal, to overly fixate on exporting food to markets elsewhere for the sake of the highest dollar when people in our own communities can’t access adequate nutrition.

What Do We Need to Do?

Beal highlighted two big efforts that would help. We need to support strong incentives, including with our food dollars, that reinforce the type of production and practices that promote the four core values of the New England Food Vision; and we need to support organizations that do good work to build the kind of food system we want. She cited MOFGA, Maine Farmland Trust, Cultivating Community, Penobscot East Resource Center, Downeast Salmon Federation, and many more as examples in Maine. For context, she noted that The Hershey Company alone reportedly spends $562 million per year promoting its chocolate and other products; that food companies spend $33 billion on advertising each year; and that the food industry spends $1.8 billion on advertising and promotions to children each year.

The vision of getting to 50 percent local food by 2060 can help. The document is being used to further conversations in communities; to inform local and state policy development in a nonpartisan way; as a teaching tool in college classes and in research by graduate students; and by businesses and other organizations to reflect upon their role in advancing it and the resources needed.

Maine Farmland Trust, said Beal, recognizes “that assuring we have preserved our agricultural land base for production in Maine is critically important … without it, it’s hard to imagine how this vision for New England could ever be realized.”

Beal ended her talk by reading the dedication in the New England Food Vision: “For Russell Libby, who inspired us to think deeply about a future in which good food is common fare, and encouraged us to plant and build that future, apple by apple, stone by stone.”

The Greens of Spring

and a recipe for asparagus risotto

BY NANCY HARMON JENKINS

  PHOTOGRAPHY BY STACEY CRAMP

When you write about spring in Maine it’s almost obligatory to begin by saying, “Spring comes slowly. . . .” But that isn’t entirely true. Spring, in fact, comes to Maine in frustrating fits and starts. I recall balmy weekends in late February back when I was in high school in Bethel and my pals and I would go off in our Fair Isle sweaters and Bermuda shorts to spend the day skiing in the Sunday River sunshine. And I also recall a spring evening years later, beating my way down Route 17 in a blizzard—not a snow flurry, but a blinding, all-out, day-long blizzard—trying to get from Augusta back to South Thomaston where I had a fearful ten-year-old waiting at home alone. That was on April 15th and it was the first time I heard the phrase “poor man’s fertilizer,” meaning those late spring snows that carpet the plowed fields and drive nutrients deep down into the soil where the plants’ roots will fix.

So when does spring begin in this motley state where on any one day the temperature can vary by 30 degrees, where it can be blowing snow in the mountains and sailing weather on the coast? We have had to develop other ways than the weather of knowing when spring is upon us.

Among the reliable harbingers of spring are robins, though nowadays they stay year-round, grubbing on greening lawns, red-winged blackbirds darting over farm ponds, and what we call phoebes, but are actually black-capped chickadees singing for spring with their two-stroke call: phoebe, phoe-be, feeee-bee. And then, one magical evening toward the end of March or early in April, we hear in the near distance the first tentative peep of spring peepers, the tiny frogs that inhabit vernal pools and river banks and peep-peep-peep frantically, males calling to females with desperate urgency, we can then relax at last because we know now that, come what may—rising water, late frosts, sudden snowstorms—it is spring.

But spring is not all sound and fury, birdsong and flooding streams. It’s also about what we eat and why. Take dandelion greens, for instance. Back in the old days (I’m thinking almost a century ago when my parents were young), folks were sick to death of winter diets by March: salt fish, salt pork, dried beans, sprouting onions and potatoes, squashes and apples that were showing their wear. What could be more appetizing than a bowl of fresh greens, newly harvested, dressed with a splash of vinegar and bacon sautéed in its own fat?

My mother said we needed greens in springtime for iron to bulk up our thinning blood. Is that true? Close enough for me not to want to discount it. She gathered dandelion greens with a sharp little paring knife, cleaned them of soil, steamed them for a very long time, and served them with a splash of vinegar to cut the bitterness.

One of the best-loved greens for early foragers are fiddleheads, the tightly furled fronds of ostrich ferns, just as they emerge from the ground, looking like the curled tops of miniature bright-green fiddles. We never knew of fiddleheads when I was growing up in the Midcoast and a letter to Kenneth Roberts, Maine’s great novelist, quoted in Marjorie Mosser’s Good Maine Food, explains why: Fiddleheads, according to the President of the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, were well known in northern Maine but unrecognized, he avowed, south of Unity. Today all that has changed and fiddleheads are a beloved kind of folk food all across the state. Unlike dandelions, which pop up with the first green grass, fiddleheads emerge around the end of April in southern Maine, their harvest gradually moving north until they arrive in the St. John valley in late May. They’re sold at farm stands and in farmers’ markets. (If you forage for fiddleheads, make sure you know what to look for. Bracken ferns, which are similar but not identical, contain a carcinogen that can be dangerous if over-consumed.)

Look for glossy green fronds, tightly furled, with a pearly freshness to them. They should be cleaned of the papery covering, which can simply be rubbed off, and steamed for 10 to 15 minutes.  As soon as they’re tender, they’re ready to serve with melted butter, a spritz of lemon, a sprinkle of Maine sea salt, and several twists of the pepper mill. I’ve also been known to sauté fiddleheads, steaming them for just 5 minutes, then sizzling them in a mixture of butter and olive oil, again with a spritz of lemon on top at the very end.

No matter which way you do it, fiddleheads should be cooked until very tender.

I know there is wild asparagus out there in the woods but frankly I’ve never been able to find it. In any case, nothing, to my mind, beats asparagus fresh from the garden, the green spears snapped off just moments before cooking. My father was a champion asparagus grower and he especially loved it for breakfast—steamed and served on buttered toast with more melted butter poured over the top. He liked the cultured butter he got when he visited his relatives down in Jonesboro, with its slight taste of the barn, and I’m happy to say that, after years of subsisting on Land O’Lakes, that kind of butter is being produced once more in Maine, from venerable producers like Kate’s in Ogunquit to Casco Bay Butter in Portland and Pleasant Acres in Livermore Falls.

Asparagus season is usually seen as a reason to consume the green spears until your pee smells grassy, morning, noon, and night. If you get tired of plain boiled asparagus, there are loads of other things to do with it, from soup to salad (cold asparagus with a vinaigrette sauce); asparagus is delicious grilled over charcoal and almost as good baked in a gratin dish with a cheesy sauce and buttered breadcrumbs on top. And if you want to go fancy for dinner, you would not go wrong with risotto. The one thing you must keep in mind is the right kind of rice to use: Arborio rice is widely available; Carnaroli or Vialone Nano, if you can find them, are even better. But don’t use ordinary long grain rice, which lacks the starchiness a good risotto needs.

But spring is not all sound and fury, birdsong and flooding streams.  It’s also about what we eat and why. 

Asparagus Risotto

Risotto recipes usually call for grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, but it’s fun to use an aged Maine-made cheese instead. Try Hahn’s End’s Ragged Island, made from cow’s milk, for instance, or York Hill’s Capriano goat cheese, aged anywhere from 5 months to a year.

risotto

For 6 servings

6 cups chicken (preferred) or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, halved and

very thinly sliced

2 cups Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano,

or similar short-grain rice

 

¾ cup dry white wine

1 ½ pounds trimmed asparagus*

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grated zest and juice of half an organic lemon

½ cup ricotta cheese

2 or 3 tablespoons finely minced chives or flat-leaf parsley

¾ cup freshly grated aged cheese

1 Heat the stock to a bare simmer and keep it simmering gently while you make the risotto.

2 In a heavy kettle or saucepan large enough to hold all of the rice when cooked, melt the butter in the oil and add the sliced onions. Sauté them gently over medium-low heat until they are thoroughly softened but not browned, about 15 minutes.  Add the rice and stir well with a wooden spoon, until coated with oil. Cook the rice for about 5 minutes or until it appears translucent. Raise the heat slightly and add the wine. Cook, stirring gently—just a couple of strokes—until the wine has evaporated or been absorbed by the rice.

3 While the rice is cooking, snap off the extreme tips, the blossom ends, of the asparagus and set aside. Cut or snap the tender stalks into one-inch pieces. When the wine has been fully absorbed, add the asparagus pieces, minus the tips, and stir into the rice. Add a ladle or two of simmering stock, along with a small pinch of salt, and stir. (Keep in mind the saltiness of your stock and also the fact that the cheese added at the end will add salt to the dish.)

4 When the rice has absorbed the liquid, add more, along with the grated zest and juice of the lemon. Continue adding simmering liquid, ladle by ladle,

stirring as you add.  There should always be liquid visible in the pan but it shouldn’t be soupy. Do not add all the liquid at once; this will produce boiled rice instead of risotto. After about 10 minutes, stir in the reserved tips of the asparagus, and continue adding the liquid.

5 The rice will be done when it’s soft but with a bit of bite in the center—what Italians call al dente. Each grain should be well coated with the asparagus sauce, which should be dense and almost syrupy. The risotto should be thick enough to eat with a fork and not soupy. (You may not need to use all the stock.) Total cooking time varies from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the degree of doneness that you’re looking for.

6 While the rice is cooking, combine the ricotta and chives or parsley (or both) and beat with a small wire whisk or a fork until thoroughly incorporated.

7 When the rice is done, remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the ricotta-parsley mixture along with 1/4 cup of grated cheese. Add a few grinds of pepper, cover the pan, and let it sit for 5 minutes to settle the flavors. Taste before serving and add more salt if you wish. Serve immediately, passing the rest of the grated cheese at the table.

* Want to be sure you’re using Maine asparagus and not something grown in Mexico? Look on Mainelocavore.org for a growing number of farms that can supply vegetables, especially asparagus. Or check with your farmers market: Often even if farmers don’t grow asparagus themselves, they will know someone who does.

Feeding Maine: Growing Access To Good Food

Veggies For All volunteer Sarah “Sass” Linnekin brandishes a new beet. Veggies For All is a food bank farm that grows crops on four acres of land in Unity; it’s quickly becoming a model for other organizations across the state. A May 2015 graduate of the Environmental Writing and Media Studies program at Unity College, Sass herself was once food insecure and relied on hunger relief programs to feed her family. She now gives back by volunteering

PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRENDAN BULLOCK           TEXT BY ANNIE MURPHY

If you see the phrase “food insecurity,” you might picture scenes from distant places hit by the global food crisis: barren fields marked by drought, families fleeing wars, or people waiting in long ration lines. You might not picture Maine.

Yet more than 200,000 Mainers are food insecure. The term means hunger and scarcity; it also means lack of access to food that’s fresh and healthy.

Meeting that need for good food is where Maine’s farmers, workers, and volunteers come in. Our state already has the elements required to feed everyone who lives here: farmland, farmers, and people who are invested in forging ties between farms and low-income Mainers. By making fresh ingredients accessible to those who need them most, the projects featured here are also creating new opportunities for local farms—by opening up markets, diverting waste through farm donations and gleaning, and creating new customers by helping people learn to keep home gardens and cook with fresh ingredients.

This series is part of a larger photo project that seeks to document some of the many people working for change in their communities, with the hope that these efforts will continue to grow into a resilient food system that serves all Mainers. A joint collaboration between Maine Farmland Trust and Good Shepard Food Bank, the photo project will be shown around the state beginning in September 2015.

AT GREEN EARTH GARDENS IN UNITY,

Veggies For All volunteers join in the harvest. They come from all over: this group includes Unity College students, volunteers from local food pantries, and VFA staff. From left to right: John Hoeltzel, Tim Libby, Anna Mason, and Trevanna Grenfell.

GOOD SHEPHERD FOOD BANK

runs the Mainers Feeding Mainers program, which partners with farms across the state to purchase fresh, locally grown food; that food is then distributed to pantries, meal sites, and directly to families who might otherwise go without fresh produce. “The food bank doesn’t care if the tomato isn’t the right shade of red, or if the carrots aren’t perfectly straight,” says Kristen Miale, President of Good Shepherd. “We’ll take whatever they have… All that matters to us is that we get fresh produce for people in need.”

JIM BUCKLE OF BUCKLE FARM IN UNITY

lugs a crate of beets to a truck during the Veggies For All Harvest Party. This past spring, Jim gave CSA members a special deal on share prices if they donated $25 to VFA; during the harvest party, he and his farm crew helped kick-start the event by donating their time to work with volunteers. Also pictured in the background are: Kelsey Schrey, a member of Jim Buckle’s crew, and Sara Trunzo, VFA director.

MOHAMED ABDULLAHI MAKES BURRITOS

as part of job training through the Youth Powered Catering program (YPC) run by St. Mary’s Nutrition Center. Abdullahi is a senior at Lewiston High School, and plans to attend college after graduation. At YPC, he enjoys learning to prepare dishes from all over the world. “Before, I didn’t really know that healthy food could also be delicious,” he says. “And learning how to cook is handy because everyone needs to eat.” Abdullahi also participates in St. Mary’s urbanfarming program, and works at the year-round farmers market in Lewiston, which St. Mary’s helped create.

Maine Fare: Sam Richman’s Roasted Squash with Ricotta, Garlic and Cider Vinegar

Roasted Pumpkin with Ricotta, Garlic and Cider Vinegar

This week’s Maine Fare recipe is from Sam Richman, owner and chef of Sammy’s Deluxe in Rockland.  In Sam’s words, Sammy’s Deluxe serves up “simple, fresh, not-fussy, very straightforward, extremely high-value, exceptionally delicious cooking in the style of what your grandmother might have cooked if she were a very good cook who used lots of seasonal ingredients and had a soft spot for Americana.”

This recipe embodies Sam’s straight forward approach. You can use ricotta from the store, but Sam encourages trying to make it yourself too– it’s actually quite simple.  Sam loves kabocha squash; I happened to have kuri. Both red kabocha and kuri squash have a chestnut flavor and rich texture, but this dish would be equally delicious made with lighter and sweeter delicata, or any other squash, really.

Sam will be preparing the food for  our Annual Meeting next Thursday in Rockport, so come join other MFT supporters, eat delicious food, drink tasty local brews and listen to some great music!

Ingredients

  • 2 medium size red kabocha squash (or other variety)
  • oil for roasting
  • salt and pepper
  • herb of your choice for garnish
  • ricotta (store-bought, or make your own using the recipe below)

Ricotta 

  • 1 gallon local, high fat milk
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1 T salt


Directions
Peel and seed the squash and cut into wedges.  Coat with oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees, turning once or twice, for about 20 minutes, or until charred and soft but not falling apart. 

For the ricotta (if you’re making your own):

Combine all of the ingredients in a pot and mix well.
Bring to just shy of a boil over medium heat. Don’t stir the mixture as it comes up or you will break up what would otherwise be big juicy ricotta curds.
Watch the pot as it comes close to a boil so that it never boils.
When it looks just shy of a boil, pull the pot off the heat and let sit for 15 minutes.
You should then be able to very easily lift the ricotta floating off of the top of the whey in big, satisfying scoops.
Let the ricotta sit in a cheesecloth or strainer basket to drain. Keep the whey (liquid) to use in the optional dressing below.
After about 45 minutes it should be firm but not too firm, place in a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

 

For the whey broth/dressing:

  • 1 quart of the reserved whey from above (optional — if you’re using store-bought ricotta, you won’t have whey, so just omit this if that’s the case)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup high quality apple cider vinegar

Blend all ingredients until smooth and season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

To serve:

Put some of the whey broth in the bottom of a bowl (if using, it’s also great without!).
Top with pieces of roasted squash/pumpkin and a nice scoop or two of the ricotta.
Season with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and some olive oil, and top with rosemary. 

Enjoy!

Calling all MFT members & supporters! Have you RSVP’d to our Annual Meeting yet? This year we’ll be at Union Hall in #Rockport on Thurs, Oct 27 5:30-7:30pm. In true MFT fashion, expect lots of good snacks from Sammy’s Deluxe, Maine brews, and toe-tapping tunes from our favorite honky tonk band, The Dog Hounds. Hope to see you there! RSVP to susan@mainefarmlandtrust.org by 10/24