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A Deliciously Local Maine Christmas

December 27, 2010

Christmas tree 2010 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) For the most part, mine is a flower garden in which I don’t grow food. (The exceptions are a few herbs that grow in a small kitchen garden by the back door and native wild berries that have been encouraged to naturalize.) It’s not that I don’t care about fresh local food; I do. But I find it difficult to grow the right amount of vegetables for a one-person household; and since I live in a rural farming area, it seems to make more sense for me to support local farmers by buying as much of my food as possible from them.

In recent years, I have been buying more and more food that is locally produced. During the summer months, I belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) scheme in my town and pick up food once a week from the farm. I try to preserve enough local vegetables and fruits when they’re in season to last me through the winter. Butter, eggs, and cheese are also bought from local farms; and I try to buy as much of my milk as possible from MOO (Maine’s Own Organic) Milk, a cooperative of Maine organic dairy farmers.

So, as I planned Christmas dinner this year, it made sense to see how much of it could be made of local food. As it turned out, almost all of it. I eat very little meat, so my once-a-year roast turkey is a special treat that provides several delicious meals and many quarts of turkey stock for winter soups. This year, for the first time, I bought a free-range turkey from a Maine farm, ordering it in early October and driving 30 miles to pick it up two days before Christmas. The turkey was accompanied by mashed potatoes (grown in Maine), butternut squash (from a local farm), and a salad made from mesclun grown at New Leaf Farm in Durham, Maine combined with feta cheese from Pineland Farm in New Gloucester, Maine and dressed with a simple vinaigrette. A turkey dinner wouldn’t be complete without cranberry sauce; and since cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are native to New England, local cranberries are readily available. I turned these into sauce using the incredibly easy and delicious recipe posted by Allison at A Tasteful Garden. I also made whole wheat dinner rolls from Maine-grown wheat flour combined with buttermilk and butter from a Maine dairy farm. For dessert, a dinner guest contributed a raspberry tart from a local bakery topped with whipped cream from a local dairy.

This mostly local Christmas dinner was wonderfully delicious. The first taste of meat from the free-range turkey made eyes pop at the dinner table and brought exclamations of delight. Now that I know what turkey is supposed to taste like, I can’t imagine ever going back to mass-produced supermarket turkey!

I consider myself very fortunate to live in a place where this kind of meal is possible because family farming is a growth industry. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of farms in Maine has increased during the past decade, almost all of these farms are family farms, and dramatic growth in the number of organic farms has led the trend. Many of the new organic farmers are college-educated and business-savvy young people who are committed to a sustainable future and who have decided to settle down, raise families, and live the good life in Maine. In the process, they have made my deliciously local Christmas dinner possible.

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. December 27, 2010 7:34 pm

    When we lived in Maine (prior to 1983, although we’re there every summer), we would make the rounds every Saturday to the egg farm (BYOBox), to the orchard for apples and cider, and to the dairy for milk (BYOGlassBottle). To get the milk, you would turn on giant paddles in a huge open-topped stainless steel tank to mix the cream back in and then ladle the milk unto your bottle. Health regulations probably prevent that now but it was a heavenly experience. In PA, we belong to a CSA and shop at one of numerous growers’ markets so we get the great food. The difference is that in Maine you know everyone, and most likely they are your neighbors. Happy New Year, Carolyn

    • December 30, 2010 9:20 pm

      Carolyn, It’s always amazing to me how many people out there in the garden blogosphere have connections to Maine. I think you’re right that the neighborliness of Maine adds something special to the experience of buying local food. I love the fact that my local CSA farmers host monthly potluck suppers at the farm for all their members (and whoever else those members want to invite). One of my friends claims that the whole state of Maine is just a small town in which everyone seems to know everyone else. I love your story about the creamery with the giant paddles; what a great memory!

  2. December 27, 2010 8:11 pm

    Hi Jean, YES!! Maine certified organic food, it’s the best. I also love everything made by Appleton Creamery and Hahn’s End (where the cheese stands alone).

    Thank goodness family farms are on the rise in Maine, but they wouldn’t be if it weren’t for people like you.

    Please keep spreading the good word.

    All joys to you and yours,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

    • December 30, 2010 9:22 pm

      Sharon, Thanks for the tip about Appleton Creamery and Hahn’s End. I have a fairly serious cheese habit, but I haven’t tasted these. The next time I’m over in the midcoast/Five Islands area, I’ll have to check them out.

  3. Ali permalink
    December 27, 2010 8:59 pm

    It sounds delicious! Isn’t the taste difference in those turkeys (and chickens) amazing! Have you heard about the Grist Mill in Skowhegan? The mill will be in the old county jail building and will grind locally grown wheat flour. I’m looking forward to trying it.

    • December 30, 2010 9:24 pm

      Ali, I hadn’t heard about the grist mill in Skowhegan; it sounds like a great idea. I usually buy my Maine-grown wheat flour from Royal River Natural Foods, but I’m not sure where the wheat is ground.

  4. December 27, 2010 10:50 pm

    It’s reassuring to read that family farming is a growing industry in Maine. Let’s hope this renewed interest spread across the continent. I tasted free range poultry this past year, for the first time in over 50 years, and it reminded me of food that I had eaten as a child , when my mother would purchase chickens directly from a farmer.

  5. December 28, 2010 5:29 am

    We had a free-range goose that came from a farm about five minutes away, and everything else in the Christmas dinner has been stuff out of the garden. I’ve been blanching and freezing the odd vegetable specially for Christmas. Sadly, the early ice and snow destroyed my Chistmas potatoes, but I still had a sack of Pink Fir Apple in the shed, so I managed to do the 100 per cent home grown (except the goose) dinner.

    • December 30, 2010 9:32 pm

      Allan, I think this was my first taste of free-range poultry, and it was really a revelation. I think a lot of Maine’s new mini “back-to-the-land” movement can be attributed to the hard work of those who participated in the earlier back-to-the-land movement here in the 1960s and 1970s, especially those who created the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in 1971. MOFGA has both an apprentice program and a journeyperson program to provide support and training to young people interested in farming. My local CSA farmer was one of their journeypersons this past year.

      IG, I love the taste of goose, so I bet a local free-range goose would be close to divine. Congratulations on your home grown Christmas dinner. What a fitting (and satisfying) way to celebrate your first year of vegetable gardening.

  6. December 28, 2010 9:20 am

    Dear Jean, it sounds very, very delicious! It’s early yet, but I’m ready to eat after reading your delicious post! I love family farms ! Go Maine!

  7. December 28, 2010 9:29 am

    Yum yum! Christmas dinner at your house sounds delicious (and nutritious)! I was just saying to my husband how nice it would be to have a turkey for Christmas dinner (we ordered an organic free-range turkey several years ago for Thanksgiving from the local co-op – wow). How great for you to eat local food even at this time of year. We also buy all our meat, chicken, milk, and eggs from the local farms here – and yes, the taste is different – much stronger flavor. We no longer support mass producing meat farms. We will begin canning more and more of our garden as it gets going. I think it’s great that more and more people are doing so. What a wonderful message and practice any time of year!

    • December 30, 2010 9:39 pm

      Tatyana and VF, It was delicious! I am so grateful for the transformation in food practices in the United States that has made this kind of local meal more and more possible. Each year, I buy less and less in the supermarket; I have to try to restrain myself from proselytizing when I am in the supermarket. (I get so frustrated for people buying California strawberries in the supermarket in June when you can walk across the parking lot to the farmer’s market and buy much more flavorful local strawberries at a lower price!)

  8. December 28, 2010 10:15 am

    Congratulations on your deliciously local Christmas dinner, and thank you for supporting local farms.

    • December 30, 2010 9:40 pm

      Laura, Thank you so much for visiting. I am always happy to make the acquaintance of another Maine family farmer. Supporting local farms is my pleasure; they represent much of what I love about living in Maine. You all enhance the quality of my life.

      • December 31, 2010 8:50 am

        And people like you, Jean, who appreciate and understand the importance of local food, allow farm families like my own to continue farming. For many people, the most important thing about food is a cheap price. But with that cheap price for food from far-away places comes hidden costs to the local economy, to a person’s health, to the environment and to the animals that are forced to live in crowded, unhealthy conditions on factory farms. I think it’s very important for animals to live as nature intended. For cows, that means lots of pasture, grazing on grasses, sunshine, and walking to and from the barn twice each day for milking. The cows who are allowed that are so much healthier and happier than their counterparts in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I wish more people were aware of what cheap food is costing all of us. The way we choose to spend our food dollars has a huge impact on our communities and our world.

        “The most political act we do on a daily basis is to eat, as our actions affect farms and landscapes…” –Professor Jules Pretty, University of Essex, UK.

  9. December 28, 2010 10:31 am

    Delicious post Jean! I hope your Christmas was and continues to be warm and love filled. I can read it was filled with yummy treats. One of the most exciting changes going on today is how we are reclaiming our food from the large corporate farm factory/ industry. Our local farmers markets are still going on throughout the winter months. It is so easy today to have our meals be local and organic. Not so just a few years back. It is very hopeful and as you say most of the new young farmers are college educated and concerned for our planet . . . as well as our bodies. Our local bakeries are that way too! In regards to our food this is a great time! Many Blessings for the New Year! Carol

  10. December 28, 2010 11:29 am

    Jean, all sounds wonderful. A small local grocer does offer free range poultry but I have never tried it. It is more expensive, but I will give it a try the next time I am shopping there.

    Eileen

    • December 28, 2010 12:41 pm

      Greetings Jean!
      Just stumbled upon your blog and have enjoyed perusing your posts! I’m curious about the free range turkeys. My husband enjoys seeing the wild turkeys in the acreage behind our home as he hunts for deer. I would love for him to bag one, but they are notoriously elusive and difficult to hunt! Your Christmas dinner sounds really healthy and delicious. We cooked our 20 lb. store brand turkey in a disposable pan on our son-in-law’s huge grill. It was quite good and yielded some good broth, part of which I used to make the most delicious savory gravy I’ve ever tasted. My son-in-law also cooked a wonderful turducken which had the most flavorful juices which I also added to the gravy. I think I could have made an entire meal of potatoes and gravy!!! lol Not so healthy, but I reserve making gravy for special occasions, so maybe that’s not so bad. Hope you’ll visit us at Stick Horse Cowgirls!

      • December 30, 2010 9:51 pm

        Carol, I agree that the movement to reclaim food from agribusiness makes this an exciting time to be living (and eating :-)).

        Eileen, I encourage you to try free-range poultry if you have the opportunity. Be careful, though, about big producers who market birds as “free range” because those birds had a theoretical access to the outdoors, even though they’ve never been out of the coop in their lives. What you really want is a “pastured” bird. A great resource for finding all kinds of fresh local food, including poultry, is localharvest.org; you can just type in your zip code and do a search for what’s available in your area. (This is how I found my CSA.)

        Vicki, Thanks for visiting. We have a lot of wild turkeys here, too, but I have no idea how good they are to eat. (I think there is a hunting season for them.) A better bet might be to find a local farmer who is raising heritage breeds by going to localharvest.org.

  11. December 28, 2010 1:24 pm

    Merry Christmas Jean! Sounds like you had a wonderful dinner. It got me thinking about where my christmas dinner came from and I was actually surprised to find many of the ingredients were local such as the potatoes, parsnips and sausage. We’re lucky to live in a place where so much local food is available. But I do think I have room for improvement as our turkey was a Butterball. Perhaps next year I’ll try for a local turkey or duck.

  12. December 28, 2010 10:34 pm

    I might guess that everything was fresher and more delicious than if it had come from farther away. It’s great that you’re supporting both your local farmers and a more sustainable way of life. I’m trying to reconcile my love of tropical fruits–pineapple, banana, mango, etc–with trying to live greener. Maybe I should treat them the same way you treat meat, limiting them further, treating them as the wonderful indulgences that they are.

    May the new year bring you more wonderful local food experiences, along with some tasty and thoughtful indulgences from farther away.

  13. December 29, 2010 4:12 pm

    It sounds like a perfectly delicious Christmas feast Jean! Isn’t the difference in turkey flavor amazing? When I started to shift from my more traditional food-shopping methods, to shopping locally (or growing our own…including the turkey), and focusing on foods in season, it was amazing how often one of us would say ‘wow, forgot what such-and-such food was supposed to taste like’. I must admit though, our cranberries weren’t local this year, but the rest of our holiday meal was. With the surge in CSA’s and Farmer’s Markets, it’s become so much easier for so many to eat fresh and local. Happy New Year!

    • December 30, 2010 10:02 pm

      Marguerite, It ought to be possible to get good local food in PEI; I think of it as farm country (especially potatoes :-)). Unfortunately, localharvest.org only covers the states. There’s a similar effort in Canada at localcanadianfood.com, but it seems to be still pretty new and uneven in its coverage.

      James, I’m never going to eat totally locally; there are some things that are never going to grow in Maine (I hope; it would be a sign of drastic climate change). Non-local elements in this meal included olive oil and the sugar and orange juice that got cooked with the cranberries to make cranberry sauce. And, although Camellia sinensis doesn’t grow anywhere near here, I can’t imagine giving up my daily pots of tea.

      Clare, I think your turkey tales helped to give me the incentive to go for a local turkey this year, so thank you for the inspiration.

  14. December 30, 2010 7:37 am

    How wonderful to hear that family farming is on the uprise in Maine. I doubt if that’s true in most states. Your Christmas dinner sounds absolutely delicious. I’ve had the same experience with the taste of free-range turkey (and chicken), and for us, too, it’s a once-a-year big bird, since we eat mostly vegetarian, making it taste all the better. I wish you a very Happy New Year!

  15. December 30, 2010 7:30 pm

    A wonderfully local Christmas, Jean. I’m with you in that I don’t grow a vegetable garden because I live in the Annapolis Valley, heartland of food production for Nova Scotia, and our farmers do it better than I ever could. Veg gardening is also very time consuming and with only two of us here, it’s the same challenge–growing the right amount, and having the time to tend that garden. So I opt for blooming fun instead. Family farming has never left in Nova Scotia, which is a good thing for all of us.
    Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year!

  16. December 30, 2010 9:17 pm

    Fresh, locally grown food always tastes better. I also try to use as many locally grown products as possible. It’s very cool that the bulk of your Christmas dinner came from nearby farms – great job. Hopefully the move toward buying local will grow exponentially in the new year.

    • December 31, 2010 5:58 pm

      Barbara, I think you’re right that the increasing number of family farms in Maine is unusual. I think an important factor here is that the topography never lent itself to the development of huge agribusiness farms. The New England Milk Compact, which put a floor under dairy prices in the region, kept small dairy farms going by giving them some protection from the competition of big factory farms in the midwest. In recent years, many Maine dairy farmers have switched to organic production to reap the higher price for organic milk.

      Jodi, Are there federal or provincial policies that protect family farms in Nova Scotia from succumbing to competition from big factory farms? Is there concern in Canada, as there is in the United States, that the average age of farmers has been rising as baby boomer farmers approach retirement and their children move off the farm? That concern is the reason that the influx of new young farmers in Maine has been such good news.

      Joene, I too hope that the local food movement will continue to grow. I think people in the United States are starting to become aware of the concept of “food miles.” A bigger factor has probably been all the food safety issues, which make people want to know where their food is coming from.

  17. December 31, 2010 7:03 pm

    Happy Holidays, Jean!

    Thanks for sharing your ideas to support local commerce. After making the +2,000 mile pilgrimage across IL, IA, NB & CO – mostly farming communities … it’s such a reality check on how talented and fruitful much of our country is. Another eye-opener was the expansiveness of ‘Wind Farming’ in these same states — Iowa being the leader, according to Wikipedia! Harvesting the wind — a whole new ‘spin’ on ‘gardening’!! 😀

  18. January 5, 2011 10:39 am

    Jean, I really enjoyed this post because I have been striving toward the same goal for the last few years..trying to use my $$ to support local businesses as much as I possibly can. The statistic that family farming is a growth business in Maine is really encouraging, I am not sure if that is the case here in MA but I do know 2 local farmers that are expanding (one is a farmstand and the other is a horse breeder) so if that’s anything to go by, maybe things are looking up for locavores and open-space advocates!! Thanks for sharing…and for spreading the word that the best use of our food dollars is to support our local economies and try as best we can to wean ourselves away from the corporate food monopolies that do NOT have our best interest in mind!

  19. January 7, 2011 1:40 pm

    I love the way you show how traditions can be a real treat, far from commercial impossitions. I make my own cranberry sauce and store it for months, everytime I eat it I remember … and almost can smell nature. Lula

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