Why should you eat local food? Ask three of Maine's food experts.
It was maine’s most acclaimed chef, Sam Hayward, of Fore Street restaurant in Portland, who best articulated to the crowd at last fall’s Maine Literary Festival precisely why Mainers need to buy and eat local food. “I say to everybody any chance I get that if you want to keep the state that you know and love — and want to keep it looking something like the landscape that we all worship — then you need to buy local food.” Hayward and other experts, plus an audience of hundreds, had gathered in Camden for the three-day festival. After a special locally sourced “church supper,” Hayward, chef Melissa Kelly of Primo in Rockland, and grower Polly Shyka of Village Farm, in Freedom, convened to discuss the ways in which they as food professionals take advantage of Maine’s abundant natural and human resources — and how and why individual consumers can do the same.
On Thinking Like a Chef “At Primo we procure ingredients from farmer’s markets and farmers and build relationships, while I think a lot of home cooks want to go to a supermarket because it’s one-stop shopping and it’s easy. We’re just starting to see this resurgence in the United States of small butcher shops and bakeries. And to be able to support those small businesses as a home cook, you’re going to end up with a much better product, and you’re going to build your local economy all at the same time. Thinking like a chef in those ways — like procuring your ingredients from specialists — I think that would be a good way to start.” —Melissa Kelly
On First Steps “Take small steps first. Russell Libby, who is the executive director of MOFGA, has been saying for years that Mainers should be spending just ten dollars a week on locally raised produce. If you think of the millions of dollars that would equate to over a year, it would be a real boost for Maine’s agriculture economy. Think of buying local or sustainable produced apples to start. Then potatoes, and then tomatoes. Things that are staples within your diet that you know are at least seasonally available and very high quality.” —Sam Hayward
On Restaurant Gardens “Primo sits on almost four acres and we have a little over two acres farmed organically. We have two greenhouses. One is 100 percent solar, and the second is heated with Maine-made biodiesel fuel — as is the whole restaurant. So we grow much of our own food. When you grow a garden you become very attached to the land. The land speaks to you: what it needs, what you give, what you take. It’s a beautiful thing to be that connected to the food. I also work with farmers in the area. We buy our meat locally, we buy our dairy locally. We’re really proud because the money comes back to our community. On Election Day people asked if I voted. I feel I vote every day with the choices that I make. I think we all do.” —Melissa Kelly
On Local Assistance “In western Waldo County we had a pilot program called a community farm share where local towns were giving anywhere from one hundred to a thousand dollars to local farms. The towns were basically buying Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares for low-income families in our area. It was modeled after the Senior Share, where seniors can sign up for a free hundred dollars worth of produce for the season. It’s a very exciting initiative in my mind. Quite a few of my CSA farmer friends often have shareholders who approach them who say, ‘Can I buy an extra share and have you give it away to someone who needs it?’ We’ve already had two families in our small CSA come to us and ask to provide that kind of direct farm support and low-income assistance to a local family. It’s such an intelligent and hopeful direct connection.” —Polly Shyka