FARMINGTON, Maine — Three ostrich fern fiddleheads seemingly growing out of a cluster of woody debris and invasive Japanese knotweed attracted the eyes of people of all ages during Saturday’s first Fiddlehead Festival field trip.
Nobody dashed across the Sandy River floodplain under a canopy of silver maples to pick the small but tasty, tightly coiled and bright green ferns that fetched $4 a pound at the festival.
Instead, people listened intently as field trip leader Dave Fuller of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension described how to distinguish them from other ferns growing nearby.
He told them to look for a deep, U-shaped groove on the inside of the fiddlehead stem and brown papery scales covering newly emerging fiddleheads.
The scales, which contain tannin, must be removed from the early spring delicacy by thoroughly rinsing the fiddleheads in a colander with clean, cold potable water and not river or stream water, Fuller said.
“Fiddleheads. They’re good for you because they are a source of fiber, vitamins A and C, and Omega-3 fatty acids,” he said.
Using the site as an example of unsustainable harvesting, Fuller stressed that fiddleheads should only be harvested from healthy crowns that can sustain picking.
Such crowns will have at least four fiddleheads rather than one or two. Picking all of the heads every year over a series of years often kills the fern, he said.
The field trip venue was a 400-yard walk from a room on the University of Maine at Farmington campus where Fuller held a presentation that morning titled, “Facts on Fiddleheads: The Fern, the Harvest and Food Safety.”
That talk was one of several presentations and outings that focused on the day’s overall theme: “A Celebration of Local Foods and Delicacies.”
“I would say we have a success on our hands,” Theo Kalikow, UMF president, said prior to participating in Fuller’s field trip.
Kalikow said the festival was prompted by concern over food security in the region, and holding discussions was aimed at finding solutions.
“We all know that consuming and producing good food locally can bring many things to our community,” Kalikow said.
It can help the environment by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions caused by trucking food from a distance, she said.
And, “It can contribute to a vital local economy by supporting food producers who enhance our rural way of life,” she said.
Kalikow stressed that growing food locally can also help build more cohesive communities and “contribute to our health by offering many tasty options for the dining room table, the part I like the best.”
Keynote speaker Mark Lapping, director of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, spoke at length on “Understanding Maine’s Food System.”
He said Maine doesn’t really focus on food as much as it does on agriculture, which needs to change. Investing much more money into the food industry would help grow a sustainable economy, he said.
“We spend only about 50 percent of our food dollar in the home and we spend 50 percent of our food dollar eating somewhere else, at maybe a restaurant or in our cars,” Lapping said.
“This is pretty significant and you can imagine what a big change that’s been in over 200 years when everything was literally done in the home and pretty much consumed in the home,” he said.
One area in which Maine’s food system has seen a total deterioration is in processing, Lapping said.
He said Maine has lost its processing infrastructure. Maine grows food here, ships it out and buys it back in the finished product. That doesn’t create income or jobs, he said.
“If there was a place where we could grow a really significant number of jobs and have much more happening in terms of economic activity in small towns and rural areas, it’s going to be a revival in the processing sector,” he said.
(c)2012 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)
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