On the Trail of Maine's Winter Farmer's Markets
Maine’s very effective marketing campaign to Buy Local must certainly have encouraged an evolving reliance for local foods. So it was only a matter of time before the fruits of summer spawned an impressive network of indoor winter farmer’s markets that have become highly attended affairs.
With nearly 20 markets going full force from Farmington to Orono, and York to Ellsworth, dependence on a year-round local harvest seems like a rite of passage happily taken for granted. And I’m proud to be such a farmer’s market fanatic. Come summer I’m on the road going from one to the other, picking up a single item at disparate markets from Gouldsboro (Mandala Farm chickens) to Belfast (Old Sowe Farm cream and butter) to the flower lady at Camden for her fabulous sweet pea stems. In Greater Portland there’s a ring of indoor winter farmer’s markets to chose from in Falmouth, Cumberland, downtown Portland, Brunswick, and Bath.
I regularly attend both the Brunswick and Portland markets, though I’ve become partial towards Brunswick because of its greater diversity. The Brunswick winter market operates out of the Fort Andross Mill Complex off Maine Street and Route 1. It’s in its third season with nearly 40 vendors. It’s a vast space and the array of products is akin to the vibrancy of an outdoor bazaar. The Portland market restricts vendor membership to those who bring only farm raised products to the market, leaving out ancillary vendors who might offer related items not specifically farm raised but local nonetheless. So that leaves Portland largely scant of bread and pastry bakers, fishmongers, spice purveyors, coffee roasters, crafts people, and prepared foods. However, some of the same, more conventional vendors are found at both places. So I find that I may buy, for example, the brownies and savory meat pies at Swallowtail Farm’s Brunswick outpost, and her large Mason jars of raw jersey milk not sold in Brunswick but available at Portland. At Brunswick my favorite stops include Diversity Farm for his incredible raw milk cheddar. He also carries raw jersey cream, milk and butter from Palmer Hill Farms, a small producer from Thorndike whose divergent roots are from the South and Pennsylvania Dutch country. So don’t miss his cache of genuine sorghum syrup nearly impossible to find elsewhere in the Northeast.
For spices you must stop at Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants who have everything from rare chili powders to leaves of mace, cured dried limes and Tahitian Vanilla Beans plus the usual lineup of spices, all of which are organic. This year Gryffon is offering their farm raised ducks and rare heritage breed black pigs pastured at their small Dresden farm. Some of the most authentic Mexican food anywhere in New England hails from Freeport caterer and chef Debrah Rodriguez Gaspardi at her Brunswick market table, Mi, Mexico. Her homemade chips, guacamole, frijoles, soft tacos, enchiladas and other Mexican specialties have the authentic rich flavors hard to find anywhere else in Maine. For baked goods, Judy’s Kitchen has a large variety of pies, biscuits and cookies. I love her old fashion coconut custard and Lemon Sponge pies. At the Bowdoin Baking Company don’t miss the Melting Moments, the sweetest, flakiest cookie you’ll ever have.
There’s always a long line at Zu Bakers for his artisan wood fired wheat breads that are rich and textural. For chickens go to Buckwheat Blossom Farm whose horse powered ecological process at his Wiscasset spread produce some of the best chickens around, which unfortunately are sold out for the season. But he also has eggs with deep yellow yolks, root vegetables and grass fed beef, pastured lamb and pork. Sumner Valley Farm, however, who sells in Portland, has plenty of chickens still, which are favored by the chef at Five Fifty Five.
Six River Farm from Bowdoinham located on the banks of Merrymeeting Bay is another popular purveyor with a great array of winter roots and greens from their hoop house and root cellar. Two new vendors at Brunswick this year are Chasin the Ring, a line of barbecue sauces that have won many competitions, and Pretzel Logic whose homemade soft pretzels in various flavors are easily addictive, if not as addictive as the ever-expanding trail of Maine’s farmer’s markets. For more information go to http://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Winter20102011/Markets/tabid/1802/Default.aspx
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.