If you asked me five years ago where my food came from, I probably couldn’t even tell you what state it was grown in, much less the actual farm that produced it. But when my husband and I left “big city living” and moved to Maine in 2002, something changed in the way I looked at food. I realized that every plant and animal had a story and I wanted to know what it was.
We started buying locally produced products more and more, supporting Maine farmers and businesses as much as possible, reveling in the bounties produced here. We instituted a mealtime ritual of recognizing which items were local and what farm they came from. Even during the long winter we maintained our connections, buying local meat and dairy products and eating berries frozen the summer before. So when spring arrived this year, we decided to try to take it up a notch and eat only Maine foods for the summer and into the fall.
The only guideline that we set was that all food items had to be grown in Maine and anything that was purchased had to have all Maine ingredients. That eliminated many things right from the start: coffee, chocolate, olive oil, peanut butter, sugar, and pretty much every item on the shelves at the grocery store! It took a couple of weeks of research to figure out where we could buy staples such as Maine-grown oats and flour, what dried fruits and seeds were available, and how to replace the “packaged” items we had come to rely on, such as cereal and granola bars, but we were confident it could be done. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone ate local foods. Grocery stores didn’t even exist until 80 years ago, and processed foods are a truly modern idea (although not necessarily a good one).
On July 1st we went “all Maine.” There were some hurdles at first, finding substitutes for some things and simply learning to go without others, but it continues to be an amazing experience. Over 90% of the dollars we spend on food went directly from us to local growers, which is incredibly gratifying. Our food hasn’t been shipped cross-country or packaged in plastic; we know where it was grown and in most cases who grew it. We have been eating well and feeling great … sugar-, caffeine-, additive- and preservative-free. But the most gratifying part has been sparking other people’s interest. We have had fascinating conversations with so many people who I know are now thinking more about where their food comes from. To reach even more people, I started a blog (https://localfoodie.livejournal.com), which I updated daily all summer with commentary about the experience, daily menus and lots of great “all-Maine” recipes.
When September rolled around we decided to add a little flexibility to our diet by making some allowances for dining out occasionally and eating at friends’ houses without bringing our own local food doggie bags. We also decided to add a couple of non-local items: olive oil, nuts and the occasional piece of chocolate that we were really missing. (Local eaters often refer to such items as “Marco Polo” exemptions, referring to the fact that even hundreds of years ago, explorers traveled to far-off lands to bring back spices and other specialty foods that could not be obtained or grown locally.) So with a few minor exceptions, we have been able to maintain our Maine diet.
Things will certainly get more complicated when the Farmers’ Market closes for the season and I face the trauma of returning to the grocery store. Till then we will continue to enjoy and share wonderful local food and keep packing our freezer to extend the season as long as possible.
Local Food Resources
While Maine has lots of connections for local foods, our experience was very successful with a limited number of sources.
• We have a couple of CSA shares: vegetables, pork, chickens and eggs through Broadturn Farm in Scarborough (www.broadturnfarm.com) and grass-fed beef through O’Donnells in Monmouth (www.mainegrassfed.us).
• We shopped the Portland Farmers’ Market both Wednesdays and Saturdays.
• Most of our meat during the summer (since the CSAs don’t deliver beef and pork till fall) came from Windy Hill Farm in Windham, which carries its own naturally raised beef and pork, Maine-ly Poultry chicken and turkey, and naturally raised bison from another farm. It also carries a great assortment of Pineland Farms cheese from New Gloucester.
• Until we recently began milking a cow each week in exchange for milk, we were purchasing our dairy at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook (www.smilinghill.com), which also houses the Silvery Moon Creamery, makers of many wonderful cheeses. Customers can find milk, cream, butter, yogurt, cheese, crème fraiche and more at the farm store. (Smiling Hill also makes great ice cream with only a few nonlocal ingredients.)
• We stocked our freezer through several pick-your-own farms, including Maxwell’s Strawberry Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Estes Blueberry Farm in Buxton, and Libby and Son in Limerick.
The above resources provided about 90% of our diet, so almost all of the food dollars we spent went DIRECTLY TO FARMERS and back into the Maine economy.
The remaining 10% mostly came from the bulk aisle at Whole Foods: dried apple rings from Ricker Hill Orchard, roasted pumpkin seeds and whole oats from Grandy Oats, dried beans from the Beanery, and whole wheat pastry flour from Aroostook County. We also purchased Aroostook Wheat from Borealis Breads.
A couple of other good sources for specialty items include: Sabbathday Lake Shakers in Gray for dried spices (also sold at Maine’s Pantry in Portland), Maine’s Pantry in Portland for dried blueberries, Overland Honey in Portland.
Additional Resources and Good Reads
https://localfoodie.livejournal.com My Maine eating blog
www.getrealgetmaine.com Resources for finding local foods
www.mofga.org Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
www.westonaprice.org Traditions in food and farming
www.uvlocalvore.com Very organized group of local eaters in Vermont and New Hampshire
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon – Great recipes and nutritional information
Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
Empty Harvest by Dr. Bernard Jensen
The author lives in Portland, Maine, can be reached at: [email protected]