by Dale Finseth
Kennebec County still has a great deal of farming and forestry within its territory. As you travel around the most frequent examples may be the farm stands and farmers' markets along the roadways, but there is much more going on behind the scenes.
The farmers' markets represent acres of cultivated ground used to produce vegetables and small fruits. Many of those markets and farmstands will begin offering the local fruit which will become available in the coming months. Kennebec still has a number of active orchards in addition to small orchards used by market gardeners. In addition to fresh food, many of the markets also provide processed fruits and vegetables, dairy products and even local meat.
If you know where to look, the options may be right in your own neighborhood. Search them out
If most of your food shopping is only in the larger grocery store, check out which products are actually produced right here in Maine. Many stores now identify "locally grown" products from fruits and vegetables to local preserves, baked goods, meat and seafood, craft beers and wines. There are many enjoyable ways to support the effort to "eat local."
The primary arguments made in favor of eating locally are fresher food and knowing where your food comes from. Depending upon how that food is produced and transported, it may also have a smaller carbon footprint. Perhaps the best reason is that you can actually talk to the person who had a hand literally in the production of that food you purchase and consume. When was the last time you had a chance to talk to the person who picked or produced that chicken nugget you had for lunch? I suppose you may know the person who drove the delivery
A local orchard operator refers to how many gallons of gasoline it takes to get a bushel of California apples to your store instead of the ones from her orchard. Food on our dinner plate has traveled thousands of miles on average in order to finally get to our plate. That's a lot of hydrocarbons and a lot of time that could be spent ripening in the field rather than traveling on the road.
It seems inconsistent that our food must travel such a distance to get to us when we may be able to purchase it from our neighbor and know exactly how it got to our plate. It may have traveled less than ten miles.
While local "winter products" are more limited, many local farmers are extending their seasons. In addition, we have local areas working to become "local food hubs" by supporting local processing plants. Gardiner now has a local slaughter house for locally produced meats. You may need to plan your menus around what is available not what you may be craving at the moment. Having watermelon for New Year's is not usually a realistic option.
It doesn't mean a total ban on your favorites. Even the Romans were willing to pay the price for something they called "ice cream." Just rethink some of your choices and give preference to foods that were grown or produced within 100 miles. There are far more choices than you may realize. Use the Internet and look for "local foods in Maine." Keep your eyes open as you drive around. There are lots of options.
Conservation Too columns are written by staff at by the Kennebec County Soil and Water Conservation District in Augusta. For more information about the district and its projects, call Dale Finseth at