A selected history of sustainability in Maine.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Mainers were living sustainable lives long before pioneering homesteaders Scott and Helen Nearing moved here in the fifties and prompted waves of young people to drop out and move “back to the land.” Over the past six decades, Maine has experienced suburbanization and sprawl, but the Pine Tree State remains one of those increasingly rare places where people still live close to nature and sustainability seems less a consumer trend than a part of the Down East heritage. Here are some local milestones in green living.
Scott and Helen Nearing, authors of Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, settle in Harborside, on Cape Rosier. Over the next half century, more than a million people follow their example of simple living in Maine and elsewhere.
Rachel Carson, who would write Silent Spring, joins a handful of Mainers concerned about unchecked development to form a branch of the Nature Conservancy — the fourth such chapter in the country— to seek a balance between habitat protection and economic prosperity.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) is founded. In time, NRCM takes a leading role in the establishment of the Land Use Regulation Commission, the passing of the Growth Management Law, the campaign for Maine’s solid waste and recycling law, and more.
After more than a century of operations, passenger trains stop servicing the Boston-to-Portland run, as more Americans turn to automobiles to access the Pine Tree State.
Peter Cox and John N. Cole create Maine Times, an alternative newspaper focused on environmental journalism, progressive politics, and simple living.
Peggy Rockefeller and Tom Cabot form the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, pioneering the use of conservation easements as a way to protect land. Since its founding, the trust has protected more than 125,000 acres in Maine, including more than 250 entire coastal islands.
Tom and Kate Chappell discover that natural toothpaste can be a big business in Kennebunk. Their Tom’s of Maine brand becomes a pioneer in the fledgling natural-care industry. In 2006, the Chappells sell 84 percent of their company to Colgate-Palmolive but retain enough of a controlling interest to ensure that the company’s environmentally sensitive policies remain in place.
Charlie Gould, a cooperative extension agent in Lewiston, fields so many questions about organic farming that he gathers farmers for a meeting. That group becomes the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), a forceful advocate for growing food without chemical fertilizers or pesticides and sponsor of the Common Ground Country Fair.
Twenty-three-year-old Rob Johnston, Jr. moves his fledgling mail-order seed company from his family home in Massachusetts to Maine, quickly establishing Johnny’s Selected Seeds as the go-to source for vegetable, flower, medicinal, and culinary herb seeds. Johnston’s five-hundred-dollar startup would grow to an enterprise with two Maine locations, eighty full-time employees, and a distribution center that ships Maine seeds to more than fifty countries.
Pat and Patsy Hennin start the Shelter Institute in Bath, eventually moving operations to a sixty-eight-acre campus in Woolwich, and instruct thousands of students in the finer points of timber-frame construction.
Maine Audubon opens its Energy Education Center, designed by architect Richard Renner [page 44], at Gilsland Farm in Falmouth, to inspire Mainers to incorporate energy-saving devices — like the center’s solar panels, wood-fired furnace, and wind turbines — into their own homes.
Maine’s first food co-op opens in Belfast, working out of an eight-hundred-square-foot storefront. The co-op’s unique labor system, with discounts offered for volunteers, proves a success as the shop expands twice in less than two decades, to a six-thousand-square-foot facility. Gross sales stand at more than three million dollars annually.
Marion Fuller Brown, a legislator and champion of Maine’s scenic beauty, succeeds in passing a law banning billboards from Maine highways.
Maine’s “bottle bill,” the second such law in New England to require a refundable deposit on all soda, beer, and liquor bottles, takes effect. Litter begins disappearing from the state’s roadsides almost overnight.
The Woodex plant in Lincoln begins producing three hundred tons of wood pellets a day from compressed sawdust, bark, and chips. Maine becomes the first state in the country to have an established retail-distribution network for such pellets, which sell for $125 a ton (most homes require between six and eight tons of pellets during a heating season).
Roxanne Quimby and Burt Shavitz, of Dexter, start selling candles made from beeswax, a byproduct of Shavitz’s honey business. Quimby goes on to create a line of natural skin-care products, eventually moving her company to North Carolina in 1993 before finally selling it in 2007 for just under a billion dollars.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Baum
The Maine Green Independent Party is formed, the first such party in the United States [see page 19].
The Portland Fish Exchange opens, handling thirty million pounds of groundfish annually. Twenty-three years later, following the collapse of marine species in the Gulf of Maine, the exchange processes less than eight million pounds a year, requiring a city subsidy to stay afloat.
Maine’s revised Sand Dune Law takes effect, restricting the use of seawalls, jetties, and breakwaters and requiring that certain coastal structures more than half-destroyed during a storm be torn down or moved. Maine’s shoreland-zoning law becomes an examplar for states on both coasts.
Willow Pond Farm in Sabattus opens as the state’s first community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, offering members a share of the harvest in exchange for a flat fee. Today there are more than a hundred CSAs operating in Maine.
At a stretch break during a Portland City Council workshop, Tom Jewell, Nathan Smith, Dick Spencer, and Cathy Stivers create the Portland Shoreway Access Coalition, which evolves into the nonprofit Portland Trails. To date the group has created more than thirty miles of biking and walking trails in Greater Portland.
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the state more biker friendly, is founded.
From their farm in Harborside, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch serve as co-hosts of Gardening Naturally, a TV program on the Learning Channel viewed by millions. Coleman’s The New Organic Grower becomes the bible on the subject.
Ellie Daniels and three friends open the Green Store in Belfast, aiming to “promote personal and planetary well-being” by offering environmentally friendly products and information.
The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport joins the “Green” Hotels Association as a charter member, leading the push to encourage hotel guests to reuse towels and conserve water.
Edwards Dam in Augusta becomes the first dam in the nation to be denied its license renewal under a federal law that requires a review of the environmental impact of a dam compared with the value of the electricity it produces. Two years later the dam is breached, depriving the state of 3.5 megawatts of power — but restoring native sea-run fish to the Kennebec River.
Hoping to build on the success of the longest-running farmer’s market in the country, the Libra Foundation opens the Portland Public Market. The Preble Street bazaar fails to attract enough shoppers, however, and the market closes its doors in 2006. The farmer’s market survives, returning to Monument Square, one of its earliest locations.
A fleet of free, propane-powered buses is launched at Acadia National Park to reduce gridlock. To date the buses have prevented more than twenty-five tons of harmful chemicals from entering the air and effectively removed more than nine hundred passenger cars from the park roads every summer day.
Martin Grohman forms Correct Building Products, which manufactures decking materials out of 60 percent recycled hardwood sawdust and 40 percent polypropylene, proving that construction materials made from recycled materials can be as durable as old-growth lumber.
The Maine Farmland Trust is formed in Bucksport to preserve working farmland through easements. Two years later the organization creates FarmLink, which connects would-be farmers with people looking to retire and sell their farms. To date the organization has made thirty-seven matches, keeping 3,105 acres of Maine farmland in active production.
Amtrak launches the Downeaster between Boston and Portland, reestablishing passenger rail service to reach Maine. The Downeaster carries 1.4 million passengers in its first five years.
Farm Fresh Connection is established to provide college dining halls with local food. Bowdoin is promptly named by the Princeton Review as having the best food in the country, an accolade it maintains for three of the next four years.
Oakhurst Dairy, based in Portland, is sued by the agribusiness giant Monsanto, which alleges that Oakhurst’s “farmers’ pledge” of not using artificial growth hormones implies that milk from hormone-treated cows is harmful. Oakhurst agrees to add a disclaimer saying that the FDA has found no significant difference between the two types of milk, but five years later Monsanto divests itself of its hormone-treatment business.
Scarborough voters defeat a “Great American Neighborhood” concept that would have controlled sprawl by creating a compact village and protected hundreds of acres of land, alas.
Backyard Beauties, a twenty-four-acre greenhouse where tomatoes are grown year-round, is founded in Madison, becoming New England’s largest indoor-growing facility.
Maine’s e-waste law goes into effect, requiring the recycling of computer monitors. The state also passes a law requiring that appliance manufacturers pay a minimum of five dollars for every mercury-containing thermostat turned into a Maine recycling center. These and other measures have reduced the amount of mercury released into the air by more than 75 percent since 1991.
Montville becomes the first Maine community to ban genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, arguing that pollen blown from genetically altered plants could potentially contaminate local organic farms.
Maple Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast Inn and Conference Center in Hallowell activates Maine’s largest solar array, a 202-tube solar water heater and fifteen-kilowatt solar electric panels, estimating the assembly will reduce its annual carbon dioxide emissions by forty thousand pounds; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection awards Maple Hill its first Green Lodging Inn certification.
Twenty-eight wind turbines begin producing up to forty-two megawatts of electricity at the top of Mars Hill Mountain, potentially generating nearly half the output of a coal-fired power plant.
Thirteen Mainers, including MOFGA Executive Director Russell Libby and Hannah Pingree, now Speaker of the House of the Maine legislature, volunteer for a study to detect toxins in their bodies. Thirty-six different toxic chemicals, including arsenic and mercury — all caused by exposure to carpets, fire-retardants, and other common household items — are found in their bodies.
Monhegan lobstermen move “Trap Day” from December 1 to October 1. In exchange for the longer season, the fishermen agree to limit their number of traps to three hundred — the smallest number of any area in Maine.
Zach Lyman, son of Maine boatbuilder Cabot Lyman, invents a solar generator that provides six hundred watts of power in a self-contained package the size of an oversized cooler — plenty of power for any off-the-grid camp or cabin.
Photo Credit: Peach Frederick
A consortium of four entities — Maine Maritime Academy, Cianbro Corporation, Marinus Power, and OceanWorks International — announces plans to build a testing station on the Bagaduce River to determine the feasibility of tidal power.
Former Governor Angus King proposes a $15 billion network of offshore wind turbines to make Maine the “Saudi Arabia” of wind energy. Several companies, including Rockport summer resident Matt Simmons’ Ocean Energy Institute, have designs in testing.
The Maine Turnpike Authority raises rates on drivers entering the highway from side interchanges from sixty cents to a dollar. Ironically, E-ZPass drivers will see smaller increases, and some may even see their rates drop somewhat, rewarding the pike’s heaviest users.
- By: Joshua F. Moore