Mainers Flock to Harvest Festival Celebrating All Things Local

11/17/2012 7:00 AM
By Robin Follette Maine Correspondent

BANGOR, Maine — People were lined up Saturday outside the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center before the doors opened on the second annual Maine Harvest Festival.

The aroma of wood smoke from Pizza Pie on the Fly’s wood-fired ovens and barbecue from Nostrano filled the air.

Pizza Pie on the Fly offered pizza to eat there or take home later. Nostrano offered pulled pork, briskets, two kinds of ribs, smoked Atlantic salmon and a variety of sauces. Nostrano, translated from Italian to mean “local” and “ours,” describes their fare well.

Judi Perkins, who organized the Nov. 10-11 festival, said attendance had already doubled from last year by Saturday. Admission was $5.

“It’s affordable so everyone can attend,” Perkins said. “They’re receptive to $5. People come mostly from northern, coastal and central Maine, some from southern Maine, and I know some came from other New England states.”

Perkins said attendance was in the thousands, but she did not yet have a final count. Aisles were wide to provide plenty of room to move through vendor booths, but they were still packed with visitors.

This is the second and last year the Maine Harvest Festival will take place in the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center.

“The Cross Insurance Center will open in the fall this year and we’ll be one of the first shows in the new facility next year,” Perkins said. “The festival will be able to expand next year because of this new facility. It won’t get too big, though. It will stay with the focus being on customers and vendors.”

Education is a large part of the Maine Harvest Festival. All of the demo spots were filled with cooking demonstrations, each complete with samples for those who attended.

“We’re always open to new ideas for demonstrations. If someone has a suggestion of what they’d like to see next year, they should get in touch with me,” Perkins said.

Abby Freethy, owner of Northwoods Gourmet Girl in Greenville, explained what she was doing step-by-step as she cooked glazed meatballs. The civic center smelled so good by the time she was halfway through the demonstration that stomachs were growling.

St. Joseph’s Healthcare provided food and nutrition education and served pumpkin risotto. From their vendor booth, they offered samples of pumpkin waffles.

Also included in education were Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council, Maine Departments of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and Natural Resource & Conservation Service, the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Maine Alternative Agriculture Association and Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association.

Eastern Maine Community College’s demonstration included tea-sized appetizers, entrees and desserts using 100 percent Maine-grown ingredients.

“Education and relationships are important,” said Perkins. “Vendors provided locally grown food to demonstrators.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wearing an apron made by custom apron vendor Yo Momma’s Apron Strings, and Dana Moos, author of “The Art of Breakfast,” cooked together. Pairings of Winterport, Maine, served lunch made with local ingredients provided by farm vendors, while the band Evergreen provided live music to add to the already warm ambiance of the day.

Ninety percent of last year’s vendors returned for the 2012 festival, said Perkins, who expects to retain 90 or more percent of this year’s vendors for next year.

“They’re already talking about next year,” she said.

The harvest festival doesn’t include only food. This year, nine fiber farms and artists were added to the roster. Hatie Clingerman of Downeast Fiber Farm raises Rambouillet sheep. In addition to wool, she’s currently spinning poodle hair for a private customer.

Patricia Henner and her staff packed up a large portion of the items at the University of Maine’s Page Home & Farm Museum and moved them to the festival for the weekend.

“They started the spirit of the whole festival as you came in,” Perkins said.

Displays such as a sap trough and other maple syrup equipment guided patrons from the door, down the hall and into the civic center. Photos of farms from yesteryear lined the wall.

Inside the civic center, spinning wheels for plant and animal fiber were on display. Looms were set up and ready to use with instruction from Henner and other volunteers. A corn shucker stood as a reminder of how much simpler the process has become for farmers on much larger equipment.

Six publishers suited to the harvest festival theme also attended as vendors.

“The publishers were very happy with book sales,” said Perkins. “One of them sold more books here than a larger show elsewhere,” a good indication of Mainers’ love of cookbooks.

Author Jennifer Wixson offered her book, “Hens and Chickens,” at her sister Cheryl Wixson’s booth, Cheryl Wixson’s Kitchen. Laurel Wixson, Cheryl’s daughter, served samples of foods created and cooked with Maine ingredients.

“This butter is made from organic peaches and apples grown here in Maine,” Laurel said.

Brewers and wineries offered samples of their wares. Customers purchased bracelets that allowed four samples for $6 or eight samples for $10. While customers sampled, vendors gave advice on pairing their wines and beers with foods.

“We had more wineries and brewers this year than last and expect more next year,” Perkins said.

The $5 admission fee includes samples from many of the vendors. Candies, beef jerky and soppressato, cow and goat cheeses, jams, jellies, sauces and desserts were available to everyone. I was pulled into Captain Mowatt’s by the samples served on tortilla chips.

Also included in the festival was Heart of Maine Symposium’s “We Can Feed Maine: Why We Should and How We Go About It.” John Jemison from University of Maine’s Orono campus spoke about the potential for much of Maine’s food being produced in state.

Bob Neal, co-owner of The Turkey Farm along with wife Marilyn, spoke of the ability to raise enough poultry for the 1.3 million people who live in Maine.

Large-scale organic production was explained by Meg Scott, owner of Nature’s Circle Farm. Bob Burr of Blue Ribbon Farm spoke on year-round greens production. John O’Donnell of O’Donnell’s Farm covered heart-healthy grass-fed beef.

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