By Betsy Garrold
In 2012, after Patti Hamilton and her husband, Chris, had been living at their current Whitefield farm for a while, they began discussing names for the property and for Patti’s dairy business. That summer as she worked in the garden, a barred owl sat in the trees during daylight hours – which is unusual – hooting its characteristic “Who cooks for you?” call. Patti decided this was a perfect metaphor for her work and for the farm businesses – and so Barred Owl Creamery and Catering was named.
The farm has evolved from the chickens and angora rabbits the Hamiltons brought when they moved from Vermont to Maine in 1995 and to their current farm in 2000. Rather than make conscious decisions about which livestock to raise, Patti likes to “see what animals I’m supposed to have. They will come to me.” She adds, however, that thought and planning do enter into her decisions. Among the animals that came were milk goats; hence the creamery.
In addition to being one of the Common Kitchen coordinators and the Food Judging coordinator at the Common Ground Country Fair, Hamilton also sells her prize-winning cheese in her farmers’ market booth and in the Maine Cheese Guild booth at the Fair. (Her cheese won first prize in North America for her mixed milk feta and second place for the hot pepper jelly chèvre at the American Cheese Society contest last fall.)
A week before the Fair, she starts her prep cooking. On Wednesday afternoon she puts the names of all the Fair volunteers who have offered to help judge the food booths at the Fair in a hat and draws the lucky few. During the Fair she starts at 4 a.m. in the Common Kitchen as the breakfast coordinator. On Friday after breakfast, she rounds up her judges, who then sample from each food booth to determine the “best” awards. This requires a lot of eating. Meanwhile Hamilton constantly checks her own booths. On Saturday and Sunday after breakfast is cooked, she sells her own cheese.
Long before the Fair even starts, however – as early as February – Hamilton begins lining up corporate food donations for the Fair. These calls have to start early, because many businesses start lining up their corporate giving calendar right after the first of the year. Consolidation of much of the organic food industry among fewer and larger corporations can make it difficult to find the right person to talk to about a donation. Hamilton’s solicitations from local businesses and farms are less time-sensitive.
To offer donors more recognition and perhaps inspire greater giving, Hamilton says she would love to give them credit during the Fair, such as making table cards or a big chalk board saying, “Today (or at this meal) you are eating food generously donated by…” This would also showcase local businesses and farms that donate so much fresh food for thousands of volunteers before, during and after the Fair.
Hamilton adds that the Common Kitchen is always short on organic eggs and meat. She says if each farmer reading this donated five dozen organic eggs to the kitchen, and if those who raise meat chickens raised half a dozen extra organic birds and donated them, processed, to the Common Kitchen when they came to the Fair, that would help tremendously. She even dreams of someone donating a cow or half a cow’s worth of organic processed beef.
If you volunteer at the Fair and eat breakfast at the Common Kitchen, you no longer have to wonder, “Who cooks for you?” That who is Patti Hamilton.