You can’t get more land-locked than Nebraska, where I grew up. So I find going to Maine and seeing the very different ways of life and livelihoods through food in that state fascinating. Mainers also exhibit a special vibe, a vibe that feels very real, genuine, simple and good.
Here are a few photos from early September in Maine to help you get a feel for what I felt while there.
It was pure luck to stumble upon the Brunswick, Maine farmers market, the oldest farmers market in the state, other than Portland’s. Two women were selling lobsters for $4.49 a pound, less than hamburger at today’s prices. Much of this trip was about lobster, eating it, watching the hard working lobstermen, and seeing the lobster traps set up. A neighbor acquaintance here in Boulder who grew up in Maine likes to say that “You knew who the poor kids were in school because they had lobster in their lunch buckets.”
This is the fella that I enjoyed visiting with the most at the Brunswick market. His name is Dick Keough and he farms on seven acres, with four hoop houses. I noticed that he was selling baby lettuces so I asked if they were for those who have winter gardens in Maine, knowing that the legendary four season gardening expert, Eliot Coleman, hails from these parts. My suspicions proved correct, as Keough is a big winter gardener and is a friend of Coleman’s. He said that they use eight (or more) layers of plastic in the coldest winter time periods, including bubble wrap – in their winter hoop houses. A key piece of knowledge is that there are 27 winter vegetables that can tolerate being frozen, so if you stick with those in your winter hoop gardens in Maine, and figure out the art and science balanced with the right amount of attentiveness, winter vegetable growing there can be a success.
When I asked Keough why he had such strong nice fall rhubarb, he credited fertilizing it with Espoma Plant-Tone which he uses for his other vegetables, too. Plant-Tone is an all-organic fertilizer containing beneficial soil microbes. Keough is a seasoned gardening expert who has participated in the Brunswick farmers market for 27 years, and he told me that it is obvious to see how Maine’s climate is changing. He said that in recent years he only uses a snowblower about three times per winter, whereas this area used to get lots of snow all winter-long.
Other interesting things that I noticed at the Brunswick farmers market were the low cost for eggs at only four dollar per dozen. Here in Boulder at our farmers market they often cost six dollars per dozen. One stand was selling their own home made cider vinegar. One stand sold grass-fed beef. I spoke with its farmer, Dennis Wilk of “King and I Angus” and he explained to me that nearly all beef raised in the region is “grass-fed” due to the nature of the land, the small farm sizes, and, I suppose, the lack of organized large-scale industrial feedlots and cattle markets. How nifty is that?
Dick Keough told me that sometime, I must allow a day to visit Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. It is a 5,000-acre working farm that demonstrates responsible farming techniques.
This scene is near the children’s garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens at Boothbay. Though the 270-acre garden is relatively new, it has already become one of the main tourist attractions along the coast.
This is a stack of lobster cages in Portland near two of our favorite lobster/fish shacks, The Porthole, and J’s Oyster. Yummm.
Popham Beach was reasonably uncrowded and we walked its entire length. This was the view of an island right across from it that had a house on it. Years ago I read the 1896 book, The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett who captured the mood of Maine island living so well. I stared and stared at the island and the home, trying to imagine what it would be like to live there. I must re-read Jewett’s book sometime soon. Maine is all about a “mood”, especially if you live there in its difficult weather and moody forest all the year-round. It is a very special place.