Good things are growing in Maine
Imagine a bustling scene of friends and neighbors sorting through piles of fresh vegetables, artisan cheeses and farm-raised meats. In most places throughout America, that would be a quaint but unrealized dream. But in Maine, we call that a Saturday at the farmers market.
Farmers markets have deep roots in New England. Our farmers have been carting their goods to town since colonial times, and that proud tradition is carried on with vigor here in Maine.
Our state is blessed with a vibrant and expanding network of local farmers' markets. From York to Presque Isle, we have more than 130 of them here in Maine. That’s an average of more than eight per county! This is thanks, in no small part, to the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets and their work to connect markets and communities across the state.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has declared August 3-9 as “National Farmers' Market Week,” so there is no better time for us to reflect on the impressive network we have now, and where that is headed in the future. This success is thanks in large part to the thriving local food movement that has sprouted here in Maine, and in turn, that movement has been fueled by the emergence of more and more farmers' markets.
The popular phrase “eat local” has certainly taken hold in the Pine Tree State, where everything from broccoli to braised goat can be found at farmers markets in every corner of Maine. In turn, many of Maine’s chefs source local food — either from the market or directly from the farm.
This close relationship between farmers, restaurants and consumers helps to create a level of trust that we’re eating healthy, high-quality food. It’s important to know where your food is coming from — but it’s even better to know your farmer by name. That familiarity and peace of mind may be the most valuable item you can buy at the farmers' market.
According to recent data from the Agriculture Census, we have more than 8,000 farms scattered like seeds throughout the state, and most of them are small and midsized. While the larger farms are focused mostly on national and international markets, the smaller farms depend on local markets and consumers. It’s a win-win for farmers, customers, the environment and communities.
And it’s not just the number of farms or markets, but the diversity of products available that make Maine’s local food community so special. While big, mono-crop farms may work in the Midwest, our culture, climate, and land base support our farmers who grow a diverse variety of crops and products and create wonderful value-added items from them — providing consumers with a wealth of local foods.
We have a seemingly endless grocery list of products that includes apples, blueberries, broccoli, potatoes, legumes, meats, cheeses, dairy, even organic tofu. It’s this wonderful mix that adds so much color and life to our farmers' markets, and that has helped propel us to the forefront of the local food movement nationally.