It’s Time to Close the Local Food Information Gap

1/5/2013 7:00 AM
By Robin Follette Maine Correspondent

It started with a picture of a sign posted in a restaurant. The sign said, “Today’s potatoes are from: Idaho.” The sign was Tweeted and the conversation started.

I’ve been supplying restaurants with fresh vegetables for years. I assumed everyone in Maine knows locally grown foods are available to restaurants. Chefs know this, right? As it turns out, not all of them do. And not all Mainers are aware of our growing number of small farms, distribution and what we grow in this big state.

Someone commented that there should be a marketing program for locally grown food. I’ve been so involved in local food production for so long that I forgot that this is new to someone each and every day.

Maine has a marketing program called “Get Real. Get Maine!” The website is

The first agricultural event of the year is the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, which will be held this year from Jan. 8-10 at the Augusta Civic Center. Admission is free. There are vendors to visit, speakers and workshops to attend, and plenty to do all three days of the show. It’s a great place to learn about Maine’s agriculture in one spot.

You can find farms and food produced in Maine broken down by zip code and county on the “Get Real. Get Maine!” website. But, there’s more to the site than foods and farms. You can look for places to go bird watching and cross-country skiing; for arts, crafts and music festivals, and for workshops to attend.

There’s a chocolatier in Lubec, raw milk is available in Perham, and there’s a self-service farm stand in Weld, and I know about these places because of “Get Real. Get Maine!”

The farmers market page allows you to search for markets in the state and offers links to resources related to market farming. Information on using SNAP and WIC at markets, how to start a market, the permits needed to start a market and the state statues are listed there. You’ll also find a page for agricultural fairs and events held in Maine each year.

Searching for farms on Facebook is a good way to find Maine-grown and produced foods. Ask friends for suggestions and recommendations. A phone call to your Cooperative Extension or Soil & Water Conservation office will give you some ideas on where to find locally produced food.

Winter is a quieter time for non-livestock farmers. You might find farmers who would like to tell you about their operation. I always enjoyed hearing from people, especially when I could ask questions of them. It helped me to know what new vegetable or herb I might want to grow by knowing what potential customers are interested in buying.

Food production in Maine doesn’t happen just on land. We have lobster, clams, oysters, mussels, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and fish being managed and harvested off the coast.

My Christmas Eve dinner came from the Atlantic Ocean. My father-in-law, Steve, hand-picks oysters for a local restaurant. They buy only the best-quality shells, those without barnacles. I’m not particular about shells; barnacles on the outside are OK with me. We ate oysters on the half shell, mussels grown on ropes in mussel farms, scallops and lobsters — all produced in the state.

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter about Dad, one I want to continue soon. He digs clams, and seeded (planted so to speak) 400,000 baby clams the week before Christmas. “I didn’t have to do it, but I felt like it was something I should do,” he said. We talked a little about oyster farming in Maine.

During the Twitter conversation, I learned of Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm in Edgecomb. I spent 20 minutes on their website learning how oysters are produced. It’s an interesting process.

Getting locally produced foods into restaurants seems to be more complicated than I thought.

I’m going to make some contacts this week and find out what I can do to help close the information gap.

Robin Follette and her husband, Steve, operate Seasons Eatings Farm in Talmadge, Maine.

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