The popularity of organic foods, green technology and a back to the land philosophy has fueled a surge in farmers’ markets across the country. When you purchase local produce, regionally made artisan products and seasonal specialties, you are not only embracing a healthier and more natural alternative to standard supermarket fare, but celebrating the history, culture and agricultural traditions of the land. Small-scale farmers are benefiting from these changing consumer trends. While green growth and farm-to-table concepts are flourishing in restaurants and suburban kitchens around America, the farmers’ market has once again become the communal highlight of a Saturday morning shopping trip. If you are on a quest for goat cheese or cage-free eggs, you probably will not come across a Market Cross. Those elaborate stone spires and architectural obelisks once marked the center of trading communities in Britain, but they never made their way across the pond. However, you will see a vibrant agricultural atmosphere that is more akin to a summer block party than a supermarket.
Maine Farmer’s Markets
In 1990, there were only twenty-five farmers’ markets in Maine. Today, there is close to one hundred. From June to October, these diverse markets are as plentiful as the types of fresh produce, delicious fruit and seasonal items that are found there.
Whether you want to load up your recycled grocery bags with locally raised beef, organic eggs, jam, pickles or heirloom tomatoes like Black Prince or Green Zebra, the Crystal Springs Farm Farmers’ Market, in Brunswick, has a wide selection of locally grown and state-made products. Crystal Springs Farm is a leading example of community-supported agriculture. How does it work? People in the community purchase a share of the farm’s harvest, and this fee supports the cost of growing crops. When it is time to harvest, Crystal Springs Farm distributes a portion of the crop to its shareholders.
The Keough Family Farm, in Hebron, is another co-op styled farmers’ market. While Richard Keough maintains the farm, which is known state-wide for its superb heads of lettuce, red romaine, royal oak leaf and butterhead being the specialties, Barak Olin sells his brick-oven, homemade bread out of the store.
From Aroostook County to southern Maine, there are numerous farmers’ markets operating throughout the state. Take a scenic drive on a summer weekend and you are sure to come to a town square where bushels and baskets of fresh produce are glimmering like the multicolored boats in the harbor.
If Maine’s farmers’ markets are like summer block parties, then it makes sense that some of these outposts for traditional and local products would turn into thriving foodie festivals. Rockland’s Harbor Park is the setting for Maine’s Annual Lobster Festival. Entertainment, a fine arts tent and an amateur-cooking contest are all part of this Maine tradition, which has been taking place every August on the mid-coast for the past sixty-five years.
Maine Food Festivals
What if you prefer snapping open a salty, succulent bivalve to fighting with a nutcracker to get that last piece of lobster meat? In July, Yarmouth holds an annual Clam Festival. There are four tented stages with live music and entertainment, a parade, carnival rides and endless food booths showcasing Maine’s culinary traditions, the spotlight being all things clam related. This is a three-day, family oriented festival and an ideal way to celebrate New England’s favorite bivalve.
While Maine’s 230 miles of coastline make it a paradise for seafood lovers, let us not forget that all menus celebrate the turf as well as the surf, and Maine is as well known for its potato and blueberry festivals as it is its seafood traditions. For 56 yeas, Fort Fairfield has been hosting Maine’s Potato Blossom Festival. This 10-day festival, in Aroostook County, features mashed potato wrestling and antique tractor shows. A banquet dinner is held in honor of the Farm Family of the Year. Downeast Maine produces around 85% of the world’s blueberries, and the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival celebrates this fact every year in late August.
The spirit of rural living is highlighted at the Common Ground Fair. Maine’s Organic Farmers and Gardeners’ have been hosting this event for 40 years. The festival takes place in Unity, Maine, in late September and features over 700 different events. The grass-roots stalls and guest speakers emphasis the political, environmental and economic aspects of organic farming.
Maine’s farmers’ markets, festivals and back to the land philosophy is not only about producing healthier and fresher food, but also about restoring a community-based way of life. To paraphrase Voltaire, the French philosopher: We all must learn to cultivate our gardens. In Maine, one summer you are planting tomatoes and green peppers, and the following season you are installing a windmill, restoring a 19th century water pump and grinding your own wheat for flour.