Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick, Maine. Show summaries are available at Lovemaineradio.com. Here are some highlights from this week’s program.
Amanda Beal: Well, I think, 90 percent of the food that we eat actually comes from outside of Maine, and in Maine, we really don’t have those big agribusiness, large farms that tend to have real issues with pollution and challenges like in other places where there are really large farms. One of the things that we can do is try to buy more food locally because the farms that are in Maine, whether they’re organic, certified organic or not, most farmers are working really hard to take good care of their land and their animals, and you can get to know that farmer if they’re in your community and you’re going to know what their practices are.
Heidi Powell: I want to try to work with smaller farmers to just help them move product themselves so they don’t need to be delivering as often as they do. I want them to be farming and producing, taking care of their crops and such, and I’m happy to be there to move their products around for them.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you’re listening to Love Maine Radio show number 296, airing for the first time on Sunday, May 21, 2017. Today, we’re talking about farms and food. How do we support Maine farmers? One way is to buy our food from local producers. We can also do our best to make ourselves aware of agricultural issues in our state. Today, we speak with Amanda Beal, the president and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust, a member-powered statewide organization that protects farmlands, support farmers and advances the future of farming. We’ll also speak with Heidi Powell, the owner and operator of Dirigo Wholesale, a wholesale distribution company specializing in local and away produce, groceries, and specialty ingredients. Thank you for joining us.
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Dr. Lisa Belisle: With summer now upon us, I invite you to join us at the Kennebunkport Festival, five days of celebration centered around food, wine, art, music, and of course, community. This year’s festival is June 5 through the 10, and we’re especially excited to note that Love Maine Radio’s producer, Spencer Albee, and his band are headlining the Maine Craft Music Festival with special guest the Ghost of Paul Revere. For tickets to the Maine Craft Music Festival and details about all the good times waiting for you at the festival, go to Kennenbunkportfestival.com. All of us at Maine Media Collective look forward to seeing you there.
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Dr. Lisa Belisle: Today, it’s my pleasure to speak with Amanda Beal who is the president and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust, a member-powered statewide organization that protects farmland, supports farmers, and advances the future of farming. How are you today?
Amanda Beal: I’m great, thank you for having me here.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Yeah, it’s great to have you in. I’m a big fan of farms, and I’m hoping most people who are listening are big fan of farms because that’s how we eat these days. How did you become a big fan of farms?
Amanda Beal: Well, I guess I was born into it. Actually, my father is a commercial dairy farmer, and so I grew up on a farm and I don’t know that I really appreciated that upbringing until later in life, but I definitely appreciated having access to woods and fields and animals. It was a rich upbringing in that way. I went away after high school like a lot of kids do and I ended up taking an extended gap year which turned into maybe two-and-a-half years where I lived out in Yosemite National Park. There, I really started to learn about ecology and the environment and conservation and the impact that humans have on land and on the earth.
I think that, as I came back around to Maine and really having still a great appreciation for our working landscape here and for my upbringing on a farm, I started to put things together and started thinking a lot about how we produce food and how we don’t appreciate enough how hard farmers work for us. That they really do try to be good stewards and that it’s important that we start to pay attention to that. I think that’s how it came around. I also got really interested in human health and what we eat and nutrition, which eventually lead me to do my master’s degree at Tufts, at the Friedman School of Nutrition. Yeah, that’s been my journey in a nutshell.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You are looking at nurturing, I guess, people both at a micro and a macro level. If you have a master’s degree from Tufts in nutrition, that’s a little bit more micro and then you’re looking at the circles that go out from that. Not everybody who goes into the field that you’re in has that background.
Amanda Beal: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s an interesting time too. I started getting more and more engaged in the conversations about looking at our food system as a system and so, that’s been a way that my mind has expanded in terms of thinking about how we produce food and how move it around and who has access to it and all of those components of the system itself.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: One of the things I’m interested in hearing from you is we have this great access to farmland in the state of Maine and many people are doing organic farming. It seems it has been difficult to transition to a place where we can provide all the food that we need for all the people who need to eat it and have it all be, at this point, organic, and coming from small farms. How do we make this transition from big agriculture to smaller, more sustainably managed farms?
Amanda Beal: Yeah. Well, I think, 90 percent of the food that we eat actually comes from outside of Maine, and in Maine, we really don’t have those big agribusiness, large farms that tend to have real issues with pollution and challenges like in other places where there are really large farms. One of the things that we can do is try to buy more food locally because the farms that are in Maine, whether they’re organic, certified organic or not, most farmers are working really hard to take good care of their land and their animals and you can get to know that farmer if they’re in your community and you’re going to know what their practices are. I think the more that we can think about spending food dollar here and with our farmers and supporting our farmers in the state, the more that we’ll move toward that sustainable vision of our food production and food system.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Your family is from Litchfield?
Amanda Beal: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Do you still have a family farm there?
Amanda Beal: We do, we do. Yeah, it’s actually an exciting story for me personally because a few years ago, I really started trying to help my father and my brother, my youngest brother, figure out how to transfer ownership of that farm to my brother. He’s known, all his life, that’s that what he wanted to do when he grew up. He wanted to take over the farm, that’s what my father has wanted for him. It’s a challenge that a lot of farmers face and this generational transition point is a point in time where a farm can actually be very vulnerable.
There’s just so many complicated issues that come up when trying to figure out how to pass something like that on and especially a dairy farm because there’s a lot of infrastructure and there is a herd of animals. It’s not just a few fields and some greenhouses. For a young person to try to access the kind of capital that allows them to buy into a farm like that is really challenging. Totally coincidental, Maine Farmland Trust was actually shooting a film right around that time and they were looking for a few different stories to tell.
The filmmakers came to talk to me, thinking they were going to have me be an academic perspective that they would interview and intersperse my opinion throughout the film. They asked how I got interested in agriculture and I talked about my family’s dairy farm and that we were really in an interesting turning point and that it was complicated. They said that’s the story we want to tell, so there is actually a 15-minute vignette that is part of the growing local film that was released a couple of years ago before I ever worked for Maine Farmland Trust.
It tells the story of the challenges that we are facing, but in the end, it’s a cliffhanger and you don’t know if they were actually successfully able to do a number of things that they needed to do. I always like to have the opportunity to say that yes, they rebuilt the barn, they’ve been growing the herd, they are well on their way to making this transition and they’ve come a long way but it’s taken years. I think that that’s something that also has helped me to understand that farmers need to be thinking about succession long before they think they’d like to retire.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It seems to me that we went through a time where people didn’t want to go into farming so the succession wasn’t really an issue. It was mostly, “How do I sell this farm?” or “How do I donate the farmlands to a land trust?” There’s now a resurgence in interest, I believe, in farming. Why did you think that happened?
Amanda Beal: I think it’s been the result of a lot of really hard work. When you look at the census numbers, what has been happening in Maine has actually been happening in New England as a block and it’s quite different than what’s happening in the rest of the country and that we are increasing the numbers of farms and we have been for a couple of decades now. When you look at the long history, if you look at a 100 years’ scale, it’s almost imperceptible, that uptick.
What I think is that there are a lot of organizations and people that have been working hard at really getting people to change their minds about the importance of agriculture particularly in a state like Maine where we have an incredible natural resource base here.
I think that young people are really starting to get excited about the idea of knowing how to do something like grow their own food. It feels like a really satisfying profession. I think we still need to keep working really hard though because the economics don’t always work out and there are a lot of challenges that our farmers face that we need to keep trying to figure out how to move through.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Tell me about some of those challenges.
Amanda Beal: Yeah. Well, I mean, basically the share of the food dollar that the farmer gets is still quite low. People spending on food, the rate of which they spend, has remained relatively flat for decades and meanwhile, we’ve got farmers who are dealing with the rising cost of inputs, and then you throw in climate change and some of these other challenges that are changing the way that farmers can anticipate things on the ground and can create more risk for them in terms of crop failure and things like that. Farmers operate with a pretty slim margin anyway and the price of food, the cost of food is not necessarily reflected in what we pay and they’re not necessarily getting the share of the food dollar that helps them to be more stable. We have to work on that from a lot of different angles.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I believe I remember statistics from a few years ago about how much Americans spend on food and I don’t think that’s changed really much, but we spend less on food then most modern nations?
Amanda Beal: Correct.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I think that we actually spend more on healthcare dollars.
Amanda Beal: Correct.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: That’s an interesting irony there.
Amanda Beal: Yeah, I think there’s a real connection there.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You said a lot of people worked very hard to bring younger farmers into doing this type of work, how do we help encourage people to focus their efforts on eating good food rather than waiting until the effects of that food cause healthcare problems?
Amanda Beal: Yeah. I think that’s a great question, I wish I had the answer but I think a piece of the answer is to just continue talking about this. I think that we’ve come a long way in the last 10 years when you think about all of the books and the articles that had been written about where your food comes from and really digging into some of these issues, and I think that the awareness is rising and we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and doing more of it so that more people understand that connection, so that more people know how to access healthy food and see the value of it.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: There’s also an education that is necessary for running a farm which not all of it can be had in a university setting. Some of it. We spoke to someone who had a soil science degree from a university and that is a very scientific thing that is useful, but some of the stuff that farmers do is very practical and really can only be learned while you’re going through it. How do you help young farmers know what they need to know?
Amanda Beal: Yeah. Well, I think, we have an incredible resource here in the state. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has an excellent apprenticeship and a Journey Person Program. I think the hands-on nature of those learning experiences are really great for people who are thinking about farming and it also gives them an opportunity to step into it without taking on all the overhead and the risk. It also helps to build that network, the social network, of young farmers. I think that’s a really important piece of the puzzle in terms of the new farmers succeeding. I think they really need to feel connected and supported by each other, as well as by older generations who are mentoring and I think that that program does a really nice job of helping to make those connections happen. There are some other more informal ways that people can learn how to grow food in different parts of the state, but I think that particular program has really solidified it, a pathway for young new farmers that want to learn how to grow food.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You also have, I’m sure, both personal and professional relationships with these older farmers. I hope you still have a relationship with your own family members.
Amanda Beal: Definitely.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I’m wondering what they think of all this?
Amanda Beal: Well, I don’t know what other people think about it, but I know what my father thinks about it. At one point in time, I remember him telling me that of all of his children, I was the one he least thought or least suspected would end up being really invested in agriculture and the future of farming in Maine. I don’t know why he thought that but I know he is excited that I do feel passionate about it. From helping out on our own farm, all the way to thinking about what is the broader future of agriculture in Maine and how do we make sure that this excitement, these young farmers, these new farmers, not all of them are young but new farmers, who are interested in growing the agricultural base here in Maine, that they’re not just connecting with land but they’re actually building viable businesses and able to sustain what they’re creating now, long, long, long time into the future.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: How does the Maine Farmland Trust work with other organizations like the fisheries organization and the lobstering organizations within the state that are doing different types of, I guess, sourcing of food products?
Amanda Beal: Yeah. Well, maybe it’s helpful for me to just say a little bit of our work and how it connects to what work that others are doing. We have three primary program areas: we work on protecting farmland, we work on farmland access so these new farmers that are looking for land, helping them to find people who want to lease or sell land, farmland and then, farm viability which is another really important component of success.
Our interest is in making sure that there’s a future of farming in Maine forever and that all of these pieces have to be in place in order to make that happen. Other organizations, and you mentioned some that are working on the fisheries issues, we’re just as interested in making sure that we have access to fish and that people can sustain themselves in coastal communities, fishing for the long-term as well.
We participate in a group called the Downey’s Fisheries Partnership which is really pulling together numerous organizations working on issues on the fishery side of things. We’re really at that table because we feel that all of these resources for Maine and the wonderful benefit that it brings us to have such great seafood and such great food growing on land, we want to see all of that working together.
We don’t want to forget about the fishery side of things. Then, we work with a lot of other organizations in Maine who are dedicated to other ag and food issues and I think the collaboration and keeping connected and understanding the work that we’re all doing is a really important component. If we were just trying to work on our piece by ourselves, it would be a really tough boulder to roll up that hill.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I was talking about soil science a few minutes ago, and one of the things I think about often is how important healthy soil is and obviously, there’d been mills in existence for example, we’ve had the naval airbase that has opened and closed, there are lots of different industries that can contribute negatively to ground water to run off and healthy soil. Is that something that your organization is working on as well?
Amanda Beal: Well, I think, that we always have to be aware of competing uses or of land and ways in which land is being used particularly adjacent to farms or in proximity to farms that could have an impact on the ability to grow healthy food there. That’s certainly something that we pay attention to and to a certain degree, the work that we do around farmland protection is really aimed at preventing a good farmland from being developed upon in a way that would prevent its use as farmland in the future so whether it’s by industry or by residential developments, but just really making sure that we’re protecting our best agriculture soils.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: How closely do you work with conservation trust? We were up in Boothbay last weekend doing 48 Hours for Maine Magazine and they have a huge land trust up there, so many wonderful walking trails. I believe that they just purchased a large saltwater farm with many acres. Is that ever a collaboration that you engage in?
Amanda Beal: All the time, yeah. Our local land trusts throughout the state are such an asset, and we a really wonderful opportunity right now. We have a donor that has really invested in our ability to protect farmland and has given us $16 million. We have to raise the match for that so that comes with a challenge, and we’re working really hard to do that. With that opportunity to protect more farmland and especially more farmland here in Southern Maine where there’s so much development pressure, we work really closely with these local land trusts because they know where the farms are in their community that are most vulnerable and where there could be opportunity to ensure their future. We work closely with them to help identify those farms and also in helping to protect them.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You have done a lot of academic work in addition to the advocacy work and the leadership that you’re doing with the Maine Farmland Trust. You are co-author of A New England Food Vision: Healthy Food for All, Sustainable Farming and Fishing, Thriving Communities. What did you learn from that and what have you learned from the academic side of your existence?
Amanda Beal: Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting. I am actually a PhD candidate at the University of New Hampshire now and so I definitely love the academic side of things. I love researching, and I love understanding trends and why things are the way they are. What was great about working on the New England Food Vision was that I got to work with some people who had been thinking about our ability to produce food and the fact that we could be doing a lot more of it in New England for a long time.
Brian Donahue, who is the lead author, is a professor at Brandeis University, Russell Libby who was the executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association before he passed away, Mark Lapping who was a professor, is retired now, at the University of Southern Maine, and a number of other people who just had a lot of experience working on some of these issues.
Being able to step back and look at our natural resource base and think about a future 50 years forward and what’s possible if we really put our minds to it. On the other side of it, we came out with a moderate projection that if we really all pulled together, we could be producing about 50 percent of the food that we eat here in the region. That it would actually be a really wonderful and diverse diet, and we could really enjoy what we have to offer here in that way. I think it was really just all the way around a great experience to think about what’s possible.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You, personally, how does working on food and having spent so much time thinking about food and having spent so much time thinking about food academically and practically in your current role, how has that changed the way that you lived your life?
Amanda Beal: Boy, that’s a tough question. I don’t remember ever not really caring about food. I love food. I mean, I grew up on a dairy farm and then I have another portion of my family who are lobstermen and fishermen and so I’ve always had good food around even as a kid. Our family celebrations were always about food and so I think I’m just really excited that I’ve found a way to work on issues that I feel so passionate about and I get to have a delicious meal on a pretty regular basis, too. Yeah, I’m really committed to buying locally and supporting local farmers. I think because I come from a farm family, it’s so important and real to me. I really do feel a connection to the food producer when I’m making that effort to support local food.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: As far as the Maine Farmland Trust, what is your highest hope?
Amanda Beal: My highest hope? It’s an incredible organization. I’ve been in this position now for five months, and it’s been a really fast five months, I have to say. The staff are incredible and my highest hope for this organization is that we keep doing what we’re doing and for a long time into the future because we’ve, at this point, protected 55,000 acres of farmland, we do a lot of one-on-one work with farm families and I think that’s going to be needed for a long time, that kind of work. I should say the other piece that I haven’t talked about is that we have a really robust outreach program as well and that includes an art gallery. We’re working to really find creative ways to tell stories about why agriculture is so important in the state and to really help people who maybe haven’t made the connection yet. Make it in a new way and want to support the work that’s being done by a number of different organizations around the state who are really changing our food system and I think for the better.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I appreciate the work that you are doing and I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to come and have a conversation with me today. I’ve been speaking with Amanda Beal who is the president and CEO of the Maine Farmland Trust, a member-powered statewide organization that protects farmlands, supports farmers, and advances the future of farming. Thank you so much for coming in today.
Amanda Beal: Thank you.
Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is brought to you by the Front Room, the Corner Room, the Grill Room, and Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room, Chef Harding Lee Smith’s restaurants where atmosphere, great service and palate-pleasing options are available to suit any culinary mood. For more information, go to Theroomsportland.com. Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is Portland’s largest gallery and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space. The current show schedule includes Nancy Simonds, Elizabeth Hoy, and many more. For complete show details, please visit our website, Artcollectormaine.com.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: My next guest is Heidi Powell who is the owner and operator of Dirigo Wholesale, a wholesale distribution company specializing in local and away produce, grocery and specialty ingredients. Thanks for coming in.
Heidi Powell: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Heidi, you grew up in Wiscasset?
Heidi Powell: I did.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: When you were growing up in Wiscasset, did you think you’d be doing this work?
Heidi Powell: Definitely not. A ran away to New York because I wanted to be an artist, and that doesn’t work out so well usually the first time around. I came back, I ran away to Boston, came back and then it was just that food industry, I guess, that’s where my creative energy ended up going and this is the perfect place for that.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Tell me what Dirigo Wholesale does.
Heidi Powell: I source local and away produce and distribute it to local businesses, mostly local restaurants and small markets. Usually in the summertime, most of my produce is local and that’s what I want to push obviously, but we can’t have lemons and limes and avocados from Maine unfortunately so those things come from elsewhere which I get from Boston. I also purchase those from a distributor that goes down their local distributor that goes down there and grab stuff for me, so we’re still keeping it into Maine.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: A lot of people are interested in the food industry but you’re take on it is different, doing the wholesale side.
Heidi Powell: Yeah. Well, I worked in restaurant kitchens before so I know that side of it in a sense of I know how people go about sourcing things. I feel the conversations that I have between restaurants and between farmers, I can translate those different languages back and forth to whether it’d be the farmer or the producer.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: When you are growing up, what were your interests? What was it like growing up in Wiscasset?
Heidi Powell: Wiscasset is a strange little town. I mean, it has been in the news lately, but it was very different when I was there. It was a really lovely place, but it wasn’t a place where there was lot of food, there weren’t a lot of restaurants, that wasn’t something that’s a main concern to me and in school or what have you, but my mother was a crazy gardener. Those were my interests then, with family it was like in summer you gardened and spent time outside and then, what I wanted to do was to be an artist. Honestly, that was what I wanted to do as a kid. I don’t know how I ended up with food, but I think it was, you go to art school and you work in a restaurant.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What was your art?
Heidi Powell: Photography.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Do you still do that?
Heidi Powell: No, I don’t really do that. My iPhone does that for me though.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Well, so you still do it. You just don’t use a camera per se.
Heidi Powell: Yeah, no.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Is there anything about food itself that, I guess, called you in some way? Just the visual of it?
Heidi Powell: Yeah, definitely. That was it. I ended up working in a restaurant because that was the easiest thing to do and then I realized, “This is actually a really creative environment to be in.” Plating things and just creating different recipes and things like that, but the actual plating of things was definitely or probably the draw, visually, for me.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Did you start working in restaurants when you are in Maine or when you moved to New York?
Heidi Powell: In Maine. I worked at the Porthole years and years and years ago and then I worked at Sonny’s and then I worked at Figo when Figo was open. That was a lot of fun. I mean, I always had fun, I worked in those places because I had a nice time.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It does seem like there is a parallel between people who are artists and people who work in the food industry.
Heidi Powell: For sure.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: For awhile, it seemed like well, maybe it’s just the flexibility, maybe it’s money, not really sure, but it really seems like there are people who continue to make conscious decisions to both be artists and work in the food industry for a long, long time.
Heidi Powell: Definitely. I mean, I think that’s how Los Angeles actually runs in general. If you didn’t have all of those actors and actresses, then the restaurants probably wouldn’t run either.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: That’s true and I’m also am thinking of our audio producer, Spencer, who’s obviously, he is a musician and he also has links to….
Heidi Powell: Obviously.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Obviously. Has links to the food industry and has been working within it for quite some time. It seems like if it’s something that if you didn’t like doing it, you would just stop.
Heidi Powell: Yeah, well they do work altogether and it’s fun here. I mean, we all know each other here too. It is such a small city, the community is wonderful. I mean, the amount of connections, I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for Spencer, and I’ve known Spencer through restaurants and all those things for years and years.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: As part of Dirigo Wholesale, I would imagine that a lot of what you’re doing is creating and maintaining relationships with both producers and buyers of product.
Heidi Powell: Definitely.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You’ve been doing this now, although you began your organization back in November, you’ve did this for two years prior to that with Rosemont.
Heidi Powell: Yeah, I did. That’s the part of it that’s so wonderful. It’s being able to have those relationships and communicate with those people back and forth. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing right now if I hadn’t done it with Rosemont and created those relationships. I feel like they’re really solid because of that.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What are some of the things that you see as interesting opportunities for both producers and buyers right now in the state of Maine?
Heidi Powell: We’re trying to get product from farther up north and move it down. Actually, we really try and help sustain those farms up there. The transportation issue is an issue. The transportation problem is an issue like moving everything around the state is on my radar and something that I really want to try to focus on in the next couple of years. If we can do that, just moving product around the state and making it available to so many more people would be awesome. It would be incredible, it would be so great for even those small restaurants that try to keep costs down so they buy things from away, from Boston but if it’s more readily available and the cost can be less and it can be local. If we can make those things available to the smaller mom-and-pop diners and things like that, there’s no reason why we all can’t be using Maine product.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: How can we keep costs down for people? It seems as though some of the larger distribution organizations have done as well as they have because they’re able to offer things in bulk. If you’re a smaller organization, then how can you, I guess, equalize that?
Heidi Powell: That’s something that I’m definitely working on. I feel like there doesn’t necessarily need to be a big warehouse holding all those things. We need to just be helping each other move product around. If I go pick up 100 pounds of potatoes, maybe those 100 pounds of potatoes go directly to who they need to go to that day and there’s no middle man, there’s no sitting in a warehouse overnight or things like that. Cutting down on transportation and keeping things for a long period of time are going to cut down on cost too if they can just go to where they’re going and have there be some organization in that transportation, then, I think that would keep things sound. I mean, there’s so many producers right now, there’s so many young farmers, everything is available to us at this point in the summertime.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Are you working or currently working on systems that would enable you to more efficiently get something from point A to point B without any middle place?
Heidi Powell: Yeah, that’s top priority really at this point.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Tell me about that.
Heidi Powell: I wish that I had more to tell you about it. It’s something that I think I’ve figured it out some days and then I realize there’s a whole other aspect to it that I need to consider. I think really when it’s going to take eventually is many people working together, doing the same thing in different parts of the state like an umbrella. Just moving quantities from here to there from person-to-person who are all doing the same thing in different areas. That’s what I’ve come up with so far. I want to try to work with smaller farmers to just help them move product themselves so they don’t need to be delivering as often as they do. I want them to be farming and producing, taking care of their crops and such, and I’m happy to be there to move their products around for them.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It’s really identifying who’s best able to play whatever roles are needed.
Heidi Powell: For sure, for sure. Definitely. It’s going to be certainly a game of delegation if you will.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It sounds like maybe some of the stuff that you’re learning is stuff that you didn’t realize was going to be the case when you started.
Heidi Powell: Definitely. I thought I was going to be moving 25 pound bags of carrots to restaurants here and there but it’s a huge issue. It’s so much bigger than that. The state is big; we forget how big it is until you get to drive around it and pick up 25 pound bags of carrots. People who are working on a tight budget, they need some help, and definitely up in the county and such.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Well, yeah. If you’re talking about driving from say the Portland area up to Fort Kent, you’re talking about a six-hour drive, and you have to have somebody who’s willing to do that and do that whenever the product is available.
Heidi Powell: Yeah and the schedule is really the big issue. That’s the part that seems up in the air.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: There’s a networking piece, there’s a scheduling piece, it sounds very logistical.
Heidi Powell: Yeah, it will be. Just talking to everybody about those things now, setting up those meetings to talk to those people that could help you, that all by itself, is a crazy logistical nightmare sometimes especially with so much snow. I can’t even imagine, it’s going to be great when we can work it out, but it’s definitely going to be quite a job.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there are more and more products that I wouldn’t have thought we could actually maybe grow in our state are now being grown in our state.
Heidi Powell: Yeah, definitely.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I mean there’s now Maine-grown grain that wasn’t being produced a decade ago.
Heidi Powell: Yeah. Didn’t they just get a grant? Maine Grains just got that great grant, so hopefully that takes them far. I know they were getting busier and busier and couldn’t really keep up with it so hopefully, that helps. Yeah, there are people doing local ginger and turmeric. The fact that there’s a need for those things is the great part, I guess.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: That is actually interesting because if you think about it, for example, ginger, that was something that was mostly from the Far East.
Heidi Powell: Yeah, in Hawaii, we use to bring a lot of Hawaiian ginger.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Even the idea that we would think, “Let’s try growing this here,” which is a completely different climate, that’s fascinating.
Heidi Powell: Yeah and the ginger, that the people that I’m thinking of who are growing it, is so delicious. So good. It’s fresh and it’s really good.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Are you seeing more people doing stuff with greenhouses?
Heidi Powell: Yeah, actually and the greenhouses like big hoop houses and aquaponics spring works. They do all the greens at this point are all year round which is awesome. Fresh greens all year round. It’s a cool thing.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Yeah, especially when we used to have to truck things in from California. By the time we got these greens, how fresh could they actually be?
Heidi Powell: Not so fresh. My partner works at Peaks Island at the elementary school and they’re focusing on doing food systems through teaching their kids food systems and she asked me what is available locally, and she made up this tiny little list like potatoes and onions like, “What’s available right now?” I went back through and looked at the availability list for me right now and it’s so long, you can get so much right now still, local.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Well, run through that for me.
Heidi Powell: I wish I had the list in front of me. It’s crazy. Daikon radishes, obviously potatoes, onions, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers. I wish I had the list, beets. Gosh, I mean you can get those greens, Maine greens all year round. What am I forgetting? Sunchokes, so many things, so many things.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Do you find that people are more accepting of trying to eat within the season than they once were?
Heidi Powell: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if my answer is a reasonable answer. The people that I’m selling to are people who push those kinds of things anyway. That’s their thing is that they’re selling local whenever they can, so I would have to say yes, and the people that I know, they certainly do. I’m not sure, that would be a interesting statistic to find out.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Who are your main clients? Who do you work with mostly?
Heidi Powell: The small restaurants downtown here. I have Blue Spoon, Hugo’s, Eventide, Honeypaw, East Ender, the juice bars, Blake Orchard, Flying Fox, Drifter’s Wife. Like the people who buy smaller quantities of things, not necessarily large cases of things, but they buy what they need like everyday or every other day.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: How does that work? Do you let people know what is available and they say, “Yeah, I’ll take so many of these or so many of these,” or do they come to you and say, “We’re looking for this?”
Heidi Powell: A little bit of both. I have an availability list that I try to keep updated. That includes local and away items. I also definitely search things out for people if they need something specific.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I’m seeing, when I’m out and about eating, I’m seeing that there’s generally a set menu that people will offer and they’ll offer it for a long time but then, the ones that I really enjoy, going to a lot of the restaurants, are people that will create these very interesting seasonal specials or even daily specials. They’ll bring in something that I didn’t know, maybe a sunchoke this time of year, but that requires some flexibility, and it requires a little bit of trust on the part of the restaurant goer because if you don’t know what a sunchoke is, then you’re probably not going to want to have that special.
Heidi Powell: Sure, sure. I think that I’m lucky to work with the people that I do because they have a specific clientele that is a little more daring perhaps. Yeah, I think that those are the places that I generally work with, they want to try some new things.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Are you able to say, “I have this, whatever it is, Jerusalem artichoke and I think that you could use this in this way.” Are you able to help make that translation for them?
Heidi Powell: Most of the places I work for, I wouldn’t even need to say the last part of that. What I have to say is, “Hey, I got these really beautiful purple sunchokes in from Ironwood Farm. Do you want to try some out?” Most of the time everybody will say, “Yes, definitely,” even if it’s just a pound or two.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Does it make a difference when you say they’re from such and such farm?
Heidi Powell: At this point, I don’t think it does. I mean, most of the farmers that are working in Maine or in this area, at this point, they all have pretty good reputations and are nice people. There are so many young people that are farming too which is really cool.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I’ve also found that interesting because it seems like it would hard job to jump into farming and yet, the willingness to go out there and do this. Many of them, they have young families and they work a lot of hours.
Heidi Powell: Yeah and it’s not just men farming anymore either, there are so many women that they’re all about it right now. Really out there doing a lot of the hard work which is cool to see too especially now.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Yeah, we had people for a piece that we wrote for the Eat Guide from Six River Farm in Bowdoinham and this is a couple. It’s a man and a woman and their child, I don’t think the child is doing a ton of farming right now….
Heidi Powell: Not yet.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It seemed like a very equal partnership. They both did things that they were good at and they both worked very hard and they had this great relationship with Royal River Natural Foods, and there’s a place for their produce to go and it was very symbiotic.
Heidi Powell: Bowdoinham too, there’s so many great places up in Bowdoinham. It’s a big, young farming town.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Yeah, there is something about the soil up there and the rivers that all come in.
Heidi Powell: Exactly, they’re all in that general area.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Maine used to be one of the bread baskets and from what I understand, Bethel specifically, used to be a bread basket, I believe, during the Civil War and I’m surprised by that because it seems cold. We’re bringing people who are able to create enough food to send elsewhere, but we’re not a warm state.
Heidi Powell: Yeah, no, we’re not. There’s so many ways around that though. Greenhouses and digging down into the earth and building your hoop houses that way. I mean, there’s a million different ways. I guess everybody was getting around it for years before we were around.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Yeah, they didn’t have all this technology, but somehow they still knew how to have winter kale.
Heidi Powell: There are still people living in Maine.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Yeah, that’s right. We’ve always had people who’ve decided to brave the cold.
Heidi Powell: We weren’t wiped out.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Is there something about the healthiness of the produce, or not even just produce, but whatever products that appeals to you, this idea that it’s so fresh, it just came from the farm that’s somehow impacting their health and well-being?
Heidi Powell: For sure. I mean, doing something that you love is great, doing something that you love that can positively impact other people feels so good, for sure. I tried to keep everything on a really quick turn around so if I purchase something from someone, I try to send it out that day, if not within the next day or two, so it is. It’s like it comes from who it comes from and then it goes to where it’s supposed to go.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What do you personally like to make for food when you are not delivering all of these nice times to the restaurants?
Heidi Powell: We make a lot of noodle-y Asian-inspired vegetarian dishes at our house. Also, the farm fresh meat that’s available to us here is like nothing I’ve ever tasted anywhere else, it’s so good. I feel like if you want a steak, buy it in Maine. Those sorts of things.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Given that you have been an artist and probably, at heart, still are an artist, but you’re now in wholesale distribution. If there are other people who are listening to this conversation who are thinking to themselves, “What’s something interesting that I could do with my life?” What kind of advice would you give them?
Heidi Powell: I think that I realized that the creativity in me was something that I have to honor and I have to always do. I think that the only advice that I could give anybody else would be to actually pay attention to what you’re actually doing at the time. If you’re working in retail or if you’re working in a restaurant and you’re doing that out of necessity, what is it about that that you like? Just be present and pay attention to what you’re enjoying even if you’re doing something out of necessity. I don’t think I would have ever known that this was something that I wanted to do if I didn’t do that. Why was I enjoying myself so much selling vegetables? Because I love vegetables. I really love vegetables. That’s it.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Well, I’ve enjoyed this conversation and I encourage people to, I guess, go to eat at those restaurants that you talked about.
Heidi Powell: Yeah, there are so many more. I’m sorry I didn’t say all of them.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I encourage people too, as they’re eating at some of these local restaurants, that you’ve talked about or really any local restaurant, to think about how the food got from there to here and what we’re all putting in our mouths. This idea of food systems, it’s an interesting one. I’m glad that you’re a part of this, Heidi.
Heidi Powell: Thank you, thank you. It’s a good time.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I’ve been speaking with Heidi Powell who is the owner and operator of Dirigo Wholesale, a wholesale distribution company specializing in local and away produce, grocery and specialty ingredients. Good luck with figuring out that whole network thing. I bet you’ll do it.
Heidi Powell: Thank you, I need it.
Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Berlin City Honda where the car buying experience is all about easy. After all, life is complicated enough and buying a car shouldn’t be. That’s why the Berlin City Honda team goes the extra mile by pre-discounting all of their vehicles and focus their efforts on being open, honest, and all about getting you on the road. In fact, Berlin City recently won the 2015 Women’s Choice Award, a strong testimony to their ability to deliver a different kind of car buying experience. Berlin City Honda of Portland, easy: it’s how buying a car should be. Go to Berlincityhondame.com for more information.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: With summer now upon us, I invite you to join us at the Kennenbunkport Festival, five days of celebration centered around food, wine, art, music, and of course, community. This year’s festival is June 5 through the 10, and we’re especially excited to note that Love Maine Radio’s producer, Spencer Albee, and his band are headlining the Maine Craft Music Festival with special guest, The Ghost of Paul Revere.
For tickets to the Maine Craft Music Festival and details about all the good times waiting for you at the festival, go to Kennenbunkportfestival.com. All of us at Maine Media Collective look forward to seeing you there. You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 296, Farms and Food. Our guest have included Amanda Beal and Heidi Powell.
For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Lovemaineradio.com. Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign-up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as @drlisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram.
We love to hear from you so please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are privileged that they enabled us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. I hope you have enjoyed our farms and food show. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day. May you have a bountiful life.
Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is made possible with the support of Berlin City Honda, the Rooms by Harding Lee Smith, Maine Magazine, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music have been provided by Spencer Albee, our editorial producer is Paul Koenig, our assistant producer is Shelby Wassick, our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Lisa Belisle. For more information on our host, production team, Maine Magazine or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at Lovemaineradio.com.
Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick, Maine. Show summaries are available at Lovemaineradio.com. Here are some highlights from this week’s program.