George Smith for The Kennebec Journal
Staring out the kitchen window at our ice-covered driveway, I suggested to Linda that she allow me to grab some of her jars of vegetables from the root cellar to spread on the driveway.
I had just read, in this newspaper, an Associated Press story reporting that transportation officials in some places are experimenting with beet juice, molasses, cheese brine and potato juice on their icy roads, because plain salt is ineffective below 16 degrees.
My most immediate thought when I read this was, “Wow! There must be a lot of salt in our preserved vegetables!” Linda confirmed this even as she forbid entrance to the root cellar.
Could this be another way to stimulate Maine’s farming community, I pondered? Farming has been on my mind a lot lately, since I received a copy of Russell Libby’s final book of poems — his parting gift to us before he died — titled “What You Should Know: A Field Guide to Three Sisters Farm.”
Russ is best known for the 17 years he spent building the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association into a national powerhouse, bringing new life to Maine’s small farming community. His final book, published by Blackberry Books, is a gem — capturing his experience on his Mount Vernon farm and eloquently leaving us with his final words of wisdom, such as these from his poem “What Lies Ahead.”
“Always, more than one possibility
lies ahead, and if we were sure to see
the seedling grown to tree, the settled lines
of maturity, outcomes of designs,
that certainty might encourage an end
to caution. We could build stone walls leading
nowhere, just marking where a white lilac bends
across our intended path, proceeding
here, then there. But this lilac blooms early,
mock orange comes later, and the snowplow
by itself shapes the road’s edge with each pass.
Over decades our vision is clearly
just a small part of the picture, and how
we place each stone determines what might last.”
Indeed, how we place our stones very much determines what we leave for future generations. Wandering around the annual Agriculture Show at the Augusta Civic Center a couple of weeks ago, I marveled at how interesting and exciting farming is today in Maine.
My friends at the Maine Farmland Trust are now leading the way. The trust was founded in 1999 by Russ Libby and John Piotti, a former legislative leader and now executive director of the trust, and provides a broad range of programs that help farmers find land, access new markets, craft business plans and protect their farmland with easements. The trust is in the midst of an ambitious $50 million campaign to “Secure a Future for Farming” by protecting 100,000 acres of farmland and helping more than 1,000 farmers become more successful.
Piotti told Keith Edwards, a reporter for this newspaper, that 400,000 acres of Maine farmland are in transition — mostly because the farmers are getting old. Part of the trust’s strategy is to purchase conservation easements on some of these farms, so that they can be sold to new farmers at reasonable prices.
The trust also has published two very interesting books, produced a series of films, including a favorite of mine called “Meet Your Farmer,” and started a wonderful annual celebration of food called MaineFare, in Belfast.
It’s exciting to see Piotti and others placing the stones for the future. From 2002-07, the number of Maine farms increased from 7,199 to 8,136. Farmers markets — some that sell year-round — have opened all over the place, and restaurants now feature farm-to-table food.
Libby had a way of focusing us, through his leadership and through his words, on the most important tasks. So I shall conclude this column with more of his words, for you to ponder today:
“Mostly I think about how important it is to hold
and care for what is still here. Two hundred years ago
it was easy to plant and feel a sense of abundance,
replacing giant pines and maple with annual grains
and hay crops. But that fertility was used hard,
and not replaced, and that means the job for me,
for you, for those to follow — will be to capture
as much as we are able,
to cycle the leaves into soil, into food,
to hold onto what lies beneath us.”