Crown O’ Maine on Greenhorns Radio!

Howdy, howdy!

Some of you may already be familiar with The Greehorns Project, which works fervently and creatively to ‘promote, recruit, and support new farmers in America’ by creating new resources, covering interesting stories, and trying to foster the exchange of ideas and knowledge.

It’s pretty great, really, and if you haven’t already checked it out, you should.

We were interviewed for the Greenhorns Radio by Severine von Tscharner Fleming and Evan Driscoll about Crown O’ Maine and local food distribution. We also touch on Northern Girl, Fiddler’s Green, mainstream distributors, and small gristmills. It recently aired, and can be heard here:

RADIO LINK FOR AUDITORY INTEREST!!

People say Marada and I sound alike on the phone, but I remain unconvinced. Let me know if you hear more-than-familial inflections…

Enjoy, let us know what you think, and check out the Greenhorns various projects!

-Leah

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Dispatches from the Past: Let the parade begin! Nettles, ramps, fiddleheads, chives, baby lettuce heads…‏

(Editor’s Note: I’m SO CLOSE to being caught up–should be there soon, which is good, since I have lots of other things to write and share with you.

This dispatch originally went out on May 15, 2014.

-Leah)

One by one our favorite foods return!  
Fiddleheads… microgreens… ramps… green onions… chives… baby head lettuce… nettles!

Beautiful microgreens from Village Farm.

Beautiful microgreens from Village Farm.

Good Morning!

I’ll keep it brief, in the interest of getting the list out in rapid fashion. This week the table turned – turned into something a LOT more lively. What is this guest at our local dinners? Choice? We have choices in green things?

It’s always fun to watch the unfolding of spring – particularly when you can eat it. For those of you adventurous chefs & cooks – try the sequencing of spring’s foods. This week I drove home around 9PM one night listening to classical music on NPR (I’m not really a classical music person otherwise I’d rattle off what I was listening to)…the treat was the sporadic bursts of peepers coming through the open windows. Orchestrated? Random?

Or just wild?

Order up! The season is upon us.

Marada

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Dispatches from the Past: How hard must that fiddlehead work to unfurl?‏

(Editor’s Note: This originally went out on May 8, 2014. -Leah)

Great Growing!

How insignificant our effort beside that of a seed. 

Fresh ramps, from the cold North woods.

Fresh ramps, from the cold North woods.

Good Morning!

Right now, while you take your first glance through the day’s roster of emails, while your kids procrastinate getting their shoes on for the perfect just-in-time rush for the school bus, while you brew the tea or coffee in hope of a moment of peace this morning, there are wild things making a tremendous push towards daylight, life, and the sun.

It’s a deceptively quiet time of day considering the millions of growing things awaking – hungry – hatching, growing, swimming, singing, buzzing and unfurling with almost incomprehensible potential energy.

The last two emails have contained comments about the food system being (or not being) comprehensible. Today I’m reminded to dive down the other side of comprehensibility -to bow my head and listen to the unfurling of fiddleheads all across the state. With everything to be done to make the food system WORK, it sure is a healthy thing to remember how well living organisms already work, with or without my interference.

Put your orders together, cross your fingers for the arrival of wild things from our woods, and enjoy this morning with the thought of chloroplasts, not cars, rushing by you on their way to WORK!

Marada

 

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Dispatches from the Past: How small is a ‘small’ farmer?‏

(Editor’s Note:

This originally went out on May 1, 2014. (MAY DAY!)

-Leah)

How Small is Small?

Family size, inter-generational, hand tools, a few employees, 1 acre, 1000 acres?  What makes a small farm small, anyway?

Durham Pea Project

Durham Pea Project

Good Morning!

As our food movement grows, so does our understanding of the nature of farms. Make no mistake, farming at any scale is challenging, sometimes financially perilous, often offering its participants a mixture of success and stress at the same time. We have a particular notion of cherishing & supporting small farms…why?

What, fundamentally, makes us want small farms in existence and at the heart of our food system? You can ask agrarian authors of many stripes, you can ask your local farmers, you can ask neighbors and elders and many answers will be thematic. Family scale agriculture. A comprehensible food system. Resiliency. Diversity.

I was forwarded this article by Duane Preble, whose daughter organizes tours in California to help customers learn more about farming and the challenges farmers face. The article about one of the tours, titled ‘Viewing the Small Farmer in His Native Habitat’ caught my sense of irony, particularly as it was revealed that the featured farm was a 1500 acre farm…

As usual, it’s something to mull on. I wonder a lot about the relationship between celebrating farming culture and creating sports culture around it, whether we have an iconic vision of the model ‘small farm’ and whether that farm is financially viable today…things I know you think about too.

As we work out the answers, eat the food, get your orders together, and know that although the article mentions California asparagus, hold tight – ours is not far off!

Marada

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Dispatches from the Past: Wouldn’t YOU notice if those weren’t weiners in that package?‏

(Editor’s Note:

As Marada explains below, recalls are a part of being a safe food business. If you subscribe to multiple FDA recall mailing lists like I do, you start to realize that most notifications you see are recalls prompted by labeling errors, and undeclared allergens.

As someone who’s picked up some food allergies recently myself, I’m all on board with the importance of labeling. But here’s the difference between industrial food production and small-to-mid scale production: with one of our producers, if I have any questions about what’s in a product, they know. They made it.

If I call a big plant with the same question, they’re going to refer me to their food safety specialist, who will read off to me from their plan what’s supposed to be in that product, and explain the controls they’ve designed to make sure that stays true. And while that’s great, and a good system, I’m not going to get the line worker who made the product that I’m holding in my hands in my kitchen.

One of the pieces of work ahead of us as a local food practitioners is to mature our traceability. When we’re selling things straight from our cooler at the farmer’s market to our favorite home cookers, the batches of product are small enough that we can reasonably say which lots of ingredients went into which batch. But as we grow and expand our markets, we need to make sure we’re growing and expanding our transparency and record keeping too. That’s what keeps us able to say what is actually in the food we make and eat.

Not a popular opinion, I know, but it’s what allows us to live in the middle ground of a sanely scaled food system, and still be able to reach from making the food to the person using the food within one armspan.

More to follow on this …

This originally went out on April 24, 2014.

-Leah)

Where have all the wieners gone?

Turns out they were cheese dogs!
Click here to learn about a food system bigger than you and I can easily fathom:

A wiener in sheep’s clothing….

I mean, honestly!

I mean, honestly!

Good Morning!

I like to read the Food Safety News. For one, I take healthy pleasure in witnessing the crumbling of the industrial food system. I ALSO happen to like the sensation of ‘is this is what normal people consider normal?’ you can experience when an article starts off with:

“About 96,000 pounds of Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners were recalled Sunday by Kraft Foods Group Inc. of Columbia, MO, because of a packaging error.”

Now. We are in the food business. Several of them in fact. And yes, packaging errors happen. Whether the ‘classic’ Oscar Meyer wiener in question is a cheese dog or hot, it is a classic tale of a food system so large we can barely imagine it.

I’ll help you out. (Turns out I like that part, too!).

96,000 pounds of wieners would fill 48 x 2000# pallets or 2 tractor trailer trucks.
96,000 pounds of wieners would give every public school kid in Maine 2 hot dogs.
96,000 pounds of wieners is roughly 548.5 pigs.

That’s more than a few little piggies that DIDN’T get to market.

Since I’m all about alternatives, let me tell you what that recall would look like at Crown O’Maine. We, in fact, do occasionally conduct recalls. And one year, although I wouldn’t even feed Oscar Meyer wieners to my dog, we had a recall involving some locally made ‘dog food’.

We were notified that the labels were not compliant with FDA/State Regulations. We ran a sales report. We called the customers, and retrieved the product. All documented. It took less than an hour. None of those products were out in front of the public, waiting for poor Fido to have an allergic reaction or Mom & Pop Grocery to be involved in a food poisoning outbreak. Small agriculture, small farms, small stores, and small markets for local foods – all add up to a very understandable, very sensible system.

Best part is, less than 1/10th of a cow had to die to no purpose due to a faulty label.

Take that, industrial ag.

Marada

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Dispatches from the Past: Help wanted – all across the food movement!‏

(Editor’s Note:

I’ve said this before: farm labor in the US has never been fully and accurately accounted for in our economy. From its founding on child and family labor, to morally criminal slave labor, to indentured labor, to migrant labor, to exporting farm labor across our borders to take advantage of favorable exchange rates and economic divides, labor represents one of the biggest invisible sea anchors in our food economies.

It is not an easy problem to solve, or even grapple with, whether on the farm level, the worker level, or the purchaser level. There are groups working to engage with this enormous challenge, to experiment and see what can be done to create fair wages for workers, and affordable help for farmers.

If this topic sounds mystifying, but interesting, think about trying out some farm work, or working with one of the groups trying to work out economic models that support farms and workers. There are schools programs, farm worker programs, farms looking for workers.

As the farming population continues to age, more and more groups are focusing on this central problem of replacement rates, and are slowly recognizing the gap in support workers, not just farmers themselves.

Get in touch with us if you’d like to be pointed in the direction of some of these groups.

This originally went out on April 17, 2014.

-Leah)

What’s wrong with this picture?

There’s no one on the pack line.

“Do you know how much MORE we want to do with our farm,” the owners ask?

This theme resounds from farms statewide.

Potato packing line.

Potato packing line.

Good Morning!

I was tempted to send you pictures of our family farm in Grand Isle and its remaining 2 feet of snow! Instead I’ll leave that to your imagination while I ramble on another potentially depressing topic – getting good help onto farms.

For a couple generations now, we’ve told young folks to pursue careers and wealth in places far away from the land and farm work. We may be seeing a young farmers’ movement where VW Golfs deliver to abundant restaurants, but in many parts of Maine what is more obvious is the drain of quality help from our rural towns.

In these towns, the picture is more bleak.

“They just don’t know how to work.”
“I feel like I’m working for THEM!”
“It’s not even HARD work anymore!”

What makes help ‘good’ anyway?

I encourage you to ask your favorite local farmer – make sure you have time to enjoy the full response.

If you know someone who looking for a job, just graduating from high school, interested in farming but has never actually farmed before – encourage them to actively reach out to local farms for work this summer. Many farms are now year round operations. The potato growers whose beautiful yukons are pictured above have full time (plus) work 10 months of the year and part time for April & May. Send me an email if you’d like to work in Northern Maine (and ignore what I said about the snow up there right now – I DID go cross-country skiing yesterday in the strong sunshine!).

The nature of producing food in Maine is changing. So is the quality of available farm labor. It’s a part of the movement that needs to get moving.

Encourage those around you to get to know the far flung farms of Maine. Ever worked on a potato harvester? Did you know organic farmers use them too? Observed combining from the operator’s deck? Moved tons of product (and I mean that literally) using a skid steer or forklift? Managed a crew of 10?

Farms need good help. And lots of people need work. The perception is farm work doesn’t pay well. Farmers tell me they would happily pay more if they got the productivity they expect.

Your weekly orders are building the economy, and not just in an abstract sense.

Help is wanted on Maine farms because you are eating their goods.

Marada

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Dispatches from the Past: Selling better butter…it’s all been done before!‏

(Editor’s Note: This went out on April 10, 2014, originally.  -Leah)

“If corn is king in this country, then the cow is certainly Queen.”

-Agriculture of Maine: Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture
1901

O'Meara's cows in New Sweden.

O’Meara’s cows in New Sweden.

Good Morning!

It was just over a century ago that Maine became engaged in the trade of butter to Boston and points as far as Philadelphia and even Chicago. The Board of Agriculture in those days published an annual report which is chock full of interesting history of Maine’s agricultural glory – and a fair amount of deserved critique as well.

Unlike many ag publications, the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture (phew!) doesn’t simply promote ‘modernize, mechanize, or bust’. It is rather thoughtful to the limited means of Maine farmers and how they could best maximize the return to their farms through the production of quality goods. This was a day and age where the term ‘improving efficiency’ was synonymous with better care for livestock and soils rather than a code word for taking shortcuts to save money. The whole point of improving efficiency was to improve the health of the systems supporting the production of food, thereby growing yields with fewer purchased inputs.

Quality on the farm was reflected in quality once the products had departed from the farm. And the deal closer of the system was that quality, especially in butter, paid. More than double the price. The poorer quality the butter, the farther from home it was shipped, into larger and larger markets.

The reason stemmed from surprisingly simple logic, according to one observer:

“Let me suggest to you that a large proportion of the poor butter that finds its way into NY or Boston markets comes from individual farmers who swap butter for calico at the crossroads…and the store-keeper doesn’t dare tell Mrs. Jones that her butter is not as good as Mrs. Johnson’s.” Annual Report…1895.

When the food is local, what is the benefit to selling poor quality? Hopefully, no benefit at all.

These old reports are full of technical advice for farmers, but also quality considerations for the rest of the food movement to consider.

Enjoy reading them (you can get the ebook online for free)… and get your orders turned in as you scroll through the pages.

Marada

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Dispatches from the Past: Oh the gap – between spring and edible fresh foods! No wonder we’ll fry dandelions….‏

(Editor’s Note:

This originally went out April 3, 2014.

Leah)

This is it, folks.  The eight week home stretch.  Don’t worry. The wild treats come soon (I hear ramps are up in Ohio)…

We managed to find a couple limited rounds of root veggies for those for whom a beet or two would make all the difference!

Found grocery list.

Found grocery list.

Good Morning!

I love grocery lists. I’m not particularly good at making them, or following them, or meal planning for that matter.

But I love the lists. And yesterday my six year old made his first handwritten grocery list. Two of them, in fact.

List One:
Apples, Oats, Carrots, Chicken, Hambergers (his spelling), Cheese, Milk, are all on the ‘Warehouse’ list. That is, mom is supposed to remember to bring them home from work (hence the list).

List Two:
Tuna fish, juice, dog food, butter, bananas. Those are from the grocery store.

Now, all terroirology aside in terms of the ethics of banana consumption and the merits or lack thereof of tuna fish (we buy the line-caught, folks, take it easy)…I found it rather remarkable that in the mind of my six year old the world so naturally divides once again into ‘store boughten’ goods and those bought or produced by local businesses.

I’m not saying our family isn’t slightly out of the ‘norm’, because we certainly are. What I’m suggesting is shifting food supply from the ‘one’ back into the ‘many’ is, in a nutshell, as simple a six year old writing two grocery lists.

I’m sure most of you already know this, and certainly I’m cliche in posting my maternal astonishment at the wonder of the next generation (my own next generation in particular) but here’s a secret which I know readers of FOUND magazine will relate to.

When I see a grocery list in a cart or dropped in the parking lot, I snatch them up. There’s rarely anything as succulent as the contents of FOUND, but for someone who spends 40 plus hours a week thinking about the food supply, there is some deep covetous appeal to a discarded grocery list. As though the composer of the list has no clue that ill-attended contents of their pockets are the architecture of the livelihoods of thousands. Would you take the blueprints for the pyramids and leave them in the course of chariots? I think not.

Man’s great achievements are many, and the pyramids will certainly endure beyond the industrial food system. Somewhere along the line a really smart little hieroglypher started stacking blocks and I’m sure his mom thought he was a gift from the gods too.

(Tell me you don’t wonder what her food supply list looked like? I’m not sure if ‘grocery’ translates.)

Whatever your perspective on all this, make up your Crown O’Maine list and send it on in!

Marada

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Dispatches from the Past: Organic farmers are light years ahead of you (or at least a ‘light year’)….‏

(Editor’s Note:

This originally went out on March 20, 2014.

Leah)

Rainbow peppers landed at COM on St. Patty’s Day (frozen and diced and neatly packaged from Northern Girl, I might add!)……

Now, let’s turn them into a pot of gold or soup, depending on your perspective!

Good Morning!

This past week organic farmers sent in their certification applications or renewals. Considered by some to be just paperwork, certification actually entails a good deal of thought put in to crop selection, markets, opportunity, pros & cons of certification, and a bit of review of which crops ran out when and whether we can expand or extend that season.

Many of you, like me, have noticed how quickly we’ve run out of such staples as beets, colored carrots, rutabaga, daikon, cabbage. The good news is its not because there was less available, but because we sold it more quickly. Organic farmers across the state are gearing up for a busy year, because above and beyond the produce they sell through us, to you, market for organic produce continues to expand.

The market for all Maine grown and produced goods continues to grow, without a doubt, but in the world I work in, the preference is heard and recognized for certified organic produce. That’s not to say there aren’t customers for farms using organic practices but choosing not to certify, because there certainly are. We continue to offer both non-organic produce and organic, and enjoy using our business as a ‘pathway to certification’ where that makes sense for the farm.

Along with developing our ‘regular’ market, there continue to be larger opportunities for organic growers to (pun intended) grow into. We hope that blending these opportunities will help increase supply for you, and for us!

So as you think about your food purchases this year, remember that in order to feature organic produce items on the list at the end of March, someone, some very dedicated certified organic grower, was thinking of you a year ago today.

Imagine a world where the makers of food think about your health and well being for a year (or even years) before it enters your body.

It turns out that matter matters, and farmers, stewards of our land and co-stewards of our health, have been hoping for some decades that their customer base will join them in this understanding.

Convergence is happening.

Converge those orders right on over to us, please!

Marada

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Dispatches from the Past: Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboards couldn’t be as bare as mine…but I have some ideas of how to fill them!‏

(Editor’s Note:

This originally went out March 13, 2014.

 

Leah)

The Dig Is (Almost) Done.  Now for Stocking.

Below: The foods my house cannot function without…

1. Flour, two or three types.
2.  Dry Beans
4 . Maple Syrup
5. Pancake Mix
6. Eggs, Cheese, Yogurt
7. Meat, (you might go for tofu or tempeh, here)
8.  Vegetables (I’ll settle for ANYTHING).
9 .  Frozen berries
10. Butter

Good Morning!

The glory of terroirology was good while it lasted. And I remain a believer. But a fresh round of snow has gotten me feeling a bit more like the scores of adventurers and -ologists who at some point must have realized they would NOT return from their journeys.

I’ll admit that’s a little melodramatic. But the thought of buying a Maine homebrew BEER KIT to celebrate St Patty’s Day (and distract me from the shortage of cabbage) did cross my mind!

It becomes a bit demoralizing to catalog (as I must, each week) as well as the discoveries, all the food that becomes UNavailable…dozens and dozens of foods with celebrated seasonality. Said seasonality is all well and good until I go to my home cupboard and find it bare. Well, almost bare. There IS that stack of smoked salmon samples I picked up last weekend from Sullivan Harbor Seafood

It’s a good thing my kids are used to this routine. Mom works long stretches at a food warehouse filled with food treasure, loads the car with the cast-offs and short dated products and drives home after bedtime. Or, mom lives a very balanced life, departing work at 5PM, but somehow in the rush to balance work and kids leaves the groceries in the COM cooler.

I wish I didn’t remember my dad doing the SAME kind of quirky feast or famine routine! Bringing home 10 flats of kiwi fruit from Boston after delivering potatoes for a week. Then making a 20 quart stock pot full of wheat berry and potato stew… and I’m pretty sure those were the only two ingredients.

It might even be a tradition in our family. Exploring the nuances of Maine food production and marketing. Preparing some rather randomized menu selections as a result.

How else would you get kids to try smoked salmon? Or tacos without cheese, in the case of last night’s dinner. 100% local tacos from the onions in the burger (ungratefully picked at by the under-five crowd)…to Emily’s Taco Salsa from Cheryl Wixson’s Kitchen to the corn tortillas from our new friend at Tortilleria Pachanga in Portland, made with Maine grown corn.

The side effect of terroirology is a lack of attention to staples. Cobbler’s kids sort of thing. So while I ruefully retire items such as watermelon chunks and yellow onions from this week’s list, my kids remind me that our kitchen lacks some very obvious, otherwise abundant Maine staples. Maple Syrup, dare I confess?

How about your kitchen?

Marada

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