BANGOR, Maine — Ever wonder where the salad greens, baked potatoes, mussels or rib-eye steak on your plate came from?
In Maine and across the nation, a growing number of consumers are seeking locally grown and raised food, which keeps money in the local economy, helps farmers by expanding their markets, and benefits restaurants and their customers by providing access to food that oftentimes tastes better and is safer.
During a meet and greet event at the Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Bangor, area restaurateurs and chefs got a chance to meet farmers. Tuesday night’s event was organized by Brewer-based Food AND Medicine as a way to increase the use of local foods in area restaurants and small stores.
Sea Dog General Manager Larry Killam is among the believers.
“Obviously, we’re a local company and we buy locally as much as we can,” Killam said. The Front Street microbrewery, restaurant and banquet facility offers a monthly special based on locally grown products. The farmers that produce those foods used in those specials are promoted on the menus.
“This is a great way to get local foods into local restaurants,” said Laura Millay, who formerly ran an organic farm in Penobscot and now lives in Bangor, where she sits on the city’s parks and recreation advisory committee.
“You can trust it. You know it’s safe,” added her husband, Jack McKay of the Eastern Maine Labor Council.
Farmers who produce meats, poultry products, eggs, vegetables, berries and other fruit participated in the showcase, many of them offering nibbles of the products they are working to promote.
Attendees, who included representatives of Geaghan’s Pub, L’Aperitif and the City Park Grille, also got to sample some of the Maine-brewed beer that has put the Sea Dog on the map.
Food AND Medicine’s Laura Binger said the meet and greet grew out of a recent gathering attended by area farmers and representatives from local large restaurants, hospitals and schools who wanted to find ways to increase their use of locally grown food.
Early spring seemed like a good time to organize the meet and greet “because now is the time, really, when farmers are planting and planning.”
Taking advantage of the opportunity to network was Debbie White, who along with her husband, Stuart White, and family members Travis White and Jennie Nelson are starting up a vegetable, cut flower and medicinal herb farm in Winterport.
“We’re here to meet with different farmers to see what works and what doesn’t,” she said, adding that the plan for this season is to farm 2 to 5 acres of her husband’s 140-acre farm.
Promoting Milky Way Organic Farm and Farm Stand’s all-natural state-licensed raw milk was Joan Gibson Call, who owns and operates an 800-acre family farm in Levant with her husband, Brian Call.
During Tuesday’s meet and greet, she extolled the virtues of raw milk, saying that it is more nutritious than its processed counterpart and that it can be digested by people who are lactose-intolerant.
And while Dan and Gail Van Wart of Peaked Mountain Farm in Dedham specialize in the production of blueberry dog treats made from berries plucked from the bushes on their farm, they made the trek to Bangor on Tuesday to gauge potential interest in fresh and frozen blueberries for the human market.
Dan Van Wart said if enough interest is out there, Peaked Mountain might increase production on the farm, which has been in Gail’s family since 1868.
Rachel Katz and her husband, Sam Hazlehurst, use draft horses to grow a variety of organic vegetables at Smith Farm in Troy. Katz said the farm’s customer base now includes RSU 3 schools and patrons of the farmers markets in Orono and Waterville.
“I hope to land at least one major restaurant account,” she said Tuesday night.