PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – It was a day of cultural and natural celebration at the Micmac farmers market Saturday aimed at encouraging natives and non-natives alike to get back to their roots.
The Aroostook Band of Micmacs invited the public to their farmers market on Route 1 near the Caribou and Presque Isle town line for all day basket-making demonstrations, seasonal cooking demonstrations, stories and guided tours of the band’s gardens.
Near completion, the market building was funded by a $492,363 rural business enterprise grant, $31,739 from a USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Grant and $80,000 in tribal matching funds.
The buildings sit on an 18-acre parcel which includes the market, greenhouses, nursery and a planned fish hatchery.
“It’s good to have this open and have the market for our people,” Moin Paul, a member of the Micmac tribe in New Brunswick, said Saturday. “We hope to have it open year-round.”
In addition to selling vegetables grown on the adjacent 10-acre garden, Paul said band members are encouraged to bring their own products and crafts to sell from the building.
Paul, along with several other workers, has been busy this season planting crops including squash, potatoes, peas, tomatoes, onions, corn, herbs, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
The public can purchase the vegetables from the market or enter the fields and pick their own from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday during the growing season.
On Saturday Marci Driscoll had brought her three girls to pick several pounds of fresh green peas.
“This is the first time we’ve been here and it’s wonderful,” Driscoll said. “It’s important to have these kinds of quality, fresh vegetables available locally.”
Later in the day Tony Sutton, a master’s student at the University of Maine, took a group of youngsters on a picking expedition into the garden’s pea, beet and potato patches.
Sutton is working on community-based research with the band as part of UM’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative.
“This farm is a great way to get fresh produce to the community,” Sutton said. “A lot of the prices here are comparable to what you’d pay at the grocery store but it’s healthy and local.”
It was hard to tell who was more excited about the bounty, Sutton or his charges, as one after the other the youngsters ran up to show off trophy-size beets or pea pods.
“This one is giant,” one youngster announced proudly after pulling up a beet larger than his fist.
Among the pickers were friends Rachel Drost, 10, and Emma Patterson, 8, of Presque Isle.
“This is really cool,” Drost said. “I like vegetables, but it depends on what type they are.”
The peas, she said, got the thumbs-up.
Back inside, Mary Sanipass, a 76-year-old member of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, was demonstrating the art of traditional ash basket making and reveling in the activity around her.
“It’s very important to pass things like [basket making] along,” Sanipass said. “We need the children to learn our traditions so they can live and learn the Native way.”
Sanipass, who learned the art of basket weaving from her grandmother, was passing the skills on to her own grandchildren on Saturday.
“It’s good to keep our traditions alive,” Mimiques Joseph, 13, said as she worked on her own basket with her cousin 11-year-old Nagoo Morey.
Sanipass was optimistic the new market buildings can help her people keep their culture alive.
“We’ve got a good thing here and if we can keep it up we can make something really good out of it,” she said. “We need to get our people involved and our children away from the television [because] children can’t learn from television, they just sit in front of it and eat. They need to get outside and exercise.”
Tania Morey organized the basket making demonstration and hopes it will be the first of monthly cultural events open to the public.
“Events like this not only celebrate our culture,” Morey said, “but it helps bridge the gap between our peoples so people can understand us better.”