By Russell Libby
MOFGA Executive Director
Picking up my tree order at FEDCO is one of my favorite days of the year, and from the long lines on Friday morning this year, I know that I’m not alone. The sale is a sure sign of spring, but it’s also sending important messages about what kind of food we want. For me, it’s also become a day to connect with dozens of farmers and homesteaders and gardeners from across Maine as we all look forward to the time when the trees and seeds and potatoes that we pick up turn into the food that supports our communities and us.
At the core is, obviously, John Bunker, who spends hours and hours answering almost any conceivable question about apples, and fruit trees in general. This year he was particularly busy, as everyone wanted to check in and see how much better he is doing after a fall and winter of medical treatments. (Great! is the answer.)
As I worked my way through the Fedco buildings, there was a sense of great excitement about the possibilities ahead.
Seth Yentes and I talked about the old Maine orchardists’ practice of topworking ‘Baldwin’ apples onto ‘Tolman Sweet’ to improve hardiness. He and his brother and their partners bought a farm in Monroe, and they’re planting stock that will become the orchard.
I waved Jon Ellsworth and Jen Schroth over to the side as they were trying to leave; I hadn’t seen them for a year or more. Jon is rightly excited about his winter in the woods. His team of Suffolks twitched out enough logs to build a timber frame that will be raised in July. All the years of work in the woodlot are starting to come together with his carpentry to produce beautiful buildings. He and Jen are also excited about a new local farmers’ market in Brooklin. Carding Brook Farm’s markets have moved from Blue Hill and Deer Isle-Stonington to a cluster that’s mostly within 5 miles of home. Now he’s puzzling about a wagon that his team could take to that local market, closing the circle even more.
Geof Hancock and Gina Fiori were there with their twin daughters, Emelia and Adeline, five months old. So the next generation of MOFGA farmers and gardeners gets exposed to the world. Some other young tree-planters were enjoying the puddles in the warehouse in their rubber boots – something they’ll remember for years to come.
Two former MOFGA board members, Elise Brown and Gregory Moore, are reviving their farms after years spent in other parts of their lives. Sometimes we think our lives and plans are going to happen in a straight progression, and then something happens to change what we need to do right then. But the dreams, and the rewards of food fresh from the garden, those don’t change.
I think the reason I was so encouraged by all the energy and excitement is the uncertainty that comes with this spring. In one way, it’s amazingly nice to be able to plant early (peas in on Easter for me, two weeks earlier than ever), and in another it means that all the old patterns may no longer be working. Obviously, one year is weather, and many years is climate. But how do we know, as we move from year to year, which to expect?
Many high-level policy conversations are underway right now about the future of New England’s food system. Will we be producing more? How? Where?
It’s obvious from the Tree Sale that many of us are creating answers, right now, right where we are. That is, ultimately, a big part of the solution that we’ll need in the years ahead. Keep planting!