PRESQUE ISLE — If there are those who doubt there’s more to Aroostook County agriculture than potatoes, all they had to do was check out the 29th annual Agribusiness Trade Fair at the Presque Isle Forum on Saturday.
“We have a very diverse group of exhibitors,” said Janet Kelle, executive director of the Fort Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, sponsor of the event. “This year we really wanted to show how diverse agriculture in Aroostook County is and how it affects so many parts of our daily lives.”
Visitors were able to kick the tires of a brand-new farm tractor, pick up information on alternative energy, talk one on one with farm supply and equipment vendors, and sample a variety of locally produced foods courtesy of the Fort Fairfield Community Market.
Folks were lining up for samples of cheese produced by Robert Kauffman of Smyrna.
“I’m here to promote my cheese and make some sales,” Kauffman said. “People really seem to be excited by it.”
People were also excited by Chops Ahoy, the organic pork producers out of Woodland.
“We just want to let people know we are here,” Deena Parks said. “Right now our market is in the Portland area, but we’d like to sell more locally.”
By raising only a dozen or so hogs a year, Chops Ahoy is definitely into quality vs. quantity.
“Our hogs live happy, healthy lives,” Parks said. “We’ve seen immense interest in people wanting to eat locally grown food, and they like the idea that our hogs are pasture-raised organically.”
Across the aisle, Gary Kaszas of Organic Sam’s Nursery and Orchard in Fort Fairfield was fielding questions on tree grafting and fruit tree production.
“We like to come to these shows and do some grafting demonstrations,” Kaszas said. “It can stir up a lot of business for us.”
From grafting to goats, over at the Maine Women’s Agriculture Network’s booth, administrative coordinator Gail Chase was talking to Michele Cote of New Denmark, New Brunswick, about expanding her farm.
“We have a hobby farm,” Cote said. “We are all about diversifying agriculture and have five milk goats, peacocks, hogs and chickens.”
Cote was talking to Chase about options for producing fleece and fiber products from her goats.
“I feel part of my work here is carrying conversation from one person to another,” Chase said after giving Cote some resource information. “It’s the most basic form of networking.”
There was a lot of that kind of networking going on in the Forum on Saturday.
Sterling Haynes and Keith Boulier were taking time at the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club’s display to reminisce about farming practices gone by.
“I used to farm with this,” Haynes said, pointing to the wooden hand seed cutter.
“We get a lot of questions about the old equipment and machinery,” Boulier said. “We have a lot of fun telling people how it used to work and what farming used to be like.”
One booth that brought smiles to just about everyone passing through the Forum’s doors was the Friends Helping Friends Food Pantry of Fort Fairfield, where youth ministry members were handing out free jars of chocolate sauce.
“We want to spread the word on doing for others and loving each other,” said Steve Lewis, the food pantry’s director. “It’s all about helping each other.”
Aroostook County farmers and producers are examples of how people can ride out slow economic periods, Kelle said.
“Times are tough all over,” she said. “But our farmers are a hardy breed up here [and] we can adapt, and if people can’t do something one way, they find another way to do it.”