Growing Local

One of my first encounters with Great Works Regional Land Trust (GWRLT) and their work in conserving farmland was during a walk at Beach Plum Farm, where their office is also located. This old New England salt-water farm in Ogunquit overlooks nearby dunes and ocean and, as if the spectacular setting wasn’t enough, discovering the thriving community garden in the middle of it secured a place in my memory. It was the height of the season then, and a chance meeting of a garden member gave rise to a generous offer of tomatoes from his plot. Imagine my delight as he filled my bare arms with as many of them, still warm from the day’s sun, as I could carry.

GWRLT has a history of protecting farmland that dates back to 1989 when it preserved Backfields Farm, and is accelerating its efforts as agricultural land comes under increasing pressure. By working with farm owners, many of whom are aging beyond the desire or ability to continue farming, GWRLT is seeking to protect 1,500 acres of farmland on 13 farms, located in Berwick, South Berwick, North Berwick, Eliot, and Wells. This year, GWRLT established a partnership with Maine Farmland Trust, a force for farmland protection statewide, to strengthen its farmland protection efforts.

As a kick-off for the partnership, GWRLT and MFT will co-host a screening of “Growing Local” on the evening of Thursday, June 18th, starting at 6:30 pm at the Hilton-Winn Farm in Cape Neddick. The film was co-produced by Maine filmmaker Bridget Besaw and MFT, and explores the growing pains of the local food movement and the uncertain fate of the farmers and farmland that keep it alive. A panel, moderated by MFT President John Piotti, and including Amanda Beal, Policy and Research Fellow at MFT, and other farm and food experts, will lead a community discussion to explore both opportunities and challenges. I’m honored to be asked to join this panel and hope to see you there.

Photograph of Beach Plum Farm courtesy of Great Works Regional Land Trust.

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Finding Local: Black Birch’s Kitchen Garden

Black Birch's Kitchen Garden

While walking to The Black Birch for dinner, it’s easy to miss their kitchen garden tucked away and to the side. As it turns out, this small strip of land is chock full of the season’s first offerings, such as French and icicle radishes, tender spinach, and tiny beets with their greens. It was especially exciting to see Alabama Blue collards and Lincoln peas coming up, planted from seed courtesy of this year’s Heirloom Harvest Project. Thanks to Gavin for the quick tour — looking forward to all of this fresh goodness making its way onto their menu.

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Pea Shoot Pesto with Green Garlic and Mint

Pea Shoot Pesto

This is the time of year when we’re still slightly between seasons. We’re weary of sturdy winter fare but much of what we crave resides in future tense and is yet to come. We make do with what we have, and there are many small joys to be found in that, such as the tangle of tender pea shoots from Meadow’s Mirth that I’d brought home from the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market. After considering the possibilities, I settled on a pesto, and blended the tendrils with a couple of stalks of softly pungent green garlic from Riverside Farm Stand with a handful of bright mint from the garden. This spring-time concoction tastes hauntingly of sweet peas, stays verdantly green, and will go into a week’s worth of dishes — to dress a wheat berry salad, stirred into risotto or a pot full of pasta, smeared onto a flatbread or sandwich, and, as a special treat, a generous dollop on a luxurious piece of wild caught salmon.

Pea Shoot Pesto

Pea shoots are the early vining tendrils and leaves of the pea plant, and are also known as pea greens. Shoots are typically harvested from the growing point of snow pea vines, although they can be from any type of garden pea. Look for pea shoots in spring, early summer and fall. When they do appear at the farmers’ market, their season is short, as peas don’t grow well when daytime temperatures are above 65°F. Pea shoots are best used within a day or two of harvesting — to store these fragile greens, keep them refrigerated, wrapped in paper towels in a closed bin. If pea shoots aren’t available, pea sprouts or micro greens may be used instead.

Pea Shoot Pesto

½ cup pinenuts (or almonds, walnuts)
6 stalks green garlic or 2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups pea shoots, roughly chopped
½ cup mint leaves
¼ cup grated parmesan
Sea salt to taste
⅓ to ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

– In a food processor or blender, add pine nuts and green garlic, and pulse until roughly chopped. Add pea shoots and mint, and pulse to combine. Add salt to taste. With processor or blender running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Process until blended to desired thickness. Makes 2 to 2½ cups.

Local ingredients: Pea shoots from Meadow’s Mirth; green garlic from Riverside Farm; mint from the garden.

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Finding Local: Maine Grains Flour and Grains

Finding Local: Maine Grains

A brand new display of Maine Grains just appeared at Philbrick’s Fresh Market in Portsmouth — including their whole wheat flour, sifted wheat flour, wheat berries and cracked oats, all from Aroostook County and stone ground at the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan — making it easier than ever to cook and bake with local flour and grains.

Finding Local: Finding Local

The back of each bag lists the variety of wheat and where it’s grown. Magog is a hard spring red wheat, with a protein level of 11.62%, which makes it excellent for baking, and is approximate to what’s frequently referred to as all-purpose flour. The sifted whole wheat, with 86% of the bran extracted makes for a lighter flour that produces a loftier bread, while still retaining some of its nutritious qualities.

Finding Local

Even the oats have a name, and the Alymer is known for its plump kernel and high yields. The larger grain makes it particularly suited to milling, with the cracked oats cooking up similarly to the steel cut ones. While Somerset Grist Mill holds scheduled tours, one of the best times to visit is during the annual Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair, now in its 9th year in Skowhegan, and coming up July 30–August 1.

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Change of season, change of heart

Change of Season, Change of Heart... From its beginnings almost four years ago, Diary of a Tomato quickly grew from a record of the garden to a kind of love letter to a particular time, place, and person. How I savored every moment of it — from nurturing seedlings to full fruition, taking what we grew and making something delicious, to the pleasures of our shared table. Things change, however, such is the way of life. I now find myself living in different circumstances and, save for a narrow swath of herbs, without a garden. In a way, this brings me closer to and very much dependent on the larger local food community that surrounds me, and I’m grateful for how it sustains and nourishes me, body and soul. Food has always been a personal subject for me, and when one knows the people who grow, prepare and serve it, it becomes even more so. Thank-you, dear friends, for visiting me here as I continue exploring this remarkable world — snacks and field trips included — and for joining me in celebrating all that we together are creating.

Posted in interlude | 16 Comments

Wild Massachusetts Razor Clams

IMG_0003While on a quick trip to Chicago this past weekend, I spotted wild razor clams from Massachusetts at the Eataly fish counter. Though harvested in our own region, most of these bivalves get shipped off to other places like Chicago, and are only very rarely available in local seafood cases. They’re sometimes featured as a special at such restaurants as Anju and Eventide, so it’s with great delight to see this native food claim a place of its own on the menu at the newly opened Franklin Oyster House in Portsmouth.

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The Eastern Bike Trail: Leafing Out in Maine

Eastern Trail

By the timing of this year’s leaf-out, spring has only just arrived, and has been making up for its tardiness mightily ever since — one day bare branches, the next fully draped in tender greenery. To celebrate this turn in weather and in honor of National Bike Month, I grabbed my newly tuned-up steed and took it out for a spin. Several sections of the nearby Eastern Trail are off-road, affording long stretches of traffic-free riding, making it a terrific place to train for the upcoming Maine Women’s Ride. Remember to get outside this long week-end, dear friends, and enjoy some wind in your hair and sun on your skin.

– The Eastern Trail:
– Bicycle Coalition of Maine:
– Maine Women’s Ride:
– Gridded Spring Indices, National Phenology Network:

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