SABATTUS, Maine — Edie Williams strolled through a field of flowers in Sabattus on Monday afternoon, cutting a few here and there for her dining room table. She relishes this time of year.
“There is nothing better than fresh fruits and vegetables,” Williams said. “Knowing where they come from, having a small part in helping them grow and then getting to eat them is delightful. Eating something that was just picked a few hours ago not only tastes so much better than store-bought food, it is so much better for you. And to know there are no pesticides involved. Those scare me.”
She had just picked up her twice-weekly bounty of goodies from Willow Pond Farm in Sabattus, where she is part of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSAs are farm-run programs where consumers can purchase a “share” from the farm during a growing season. Willow Pond was the first CSA in the state, and according to Wendy Pollock of Portland, it is by far the best.
Pollock was packing nearly a dozen bags into her car for herself, family, friends and neighbors from the Portland area that have a share in the farm.
“I used to come every week, but it is so much more economical and environmentally friendly for us to take turns,” she said. “This is my second trip this summer.”
The program continues year round, but the staples are foods that have a longer shelf life, like potatoes and turnips.
Farm owner Jill Agnew has not changed how she operates for the past 26 years.
“We feed about 150 families with nearly 100 percent of what we grow being divided up amongst them,” she said. “Some CSAs have an allotted amount they give out, and the rest, they sell at farm stands or markets. This year was fantastic, so the bags are overflowing. We are sending home to everyone about eight pounds of tomatoes every week now. Some years, we are not so lucky. Everyone knows this going into it.”
New recipes are stuffed into every bag, tailored for the produce inside it.
“It gives people a chance to try new foods they might not normally eat,” she said.
Like other CSAs, some choose to help work in the gardens, fields and barns to help pay for their share. Edie Williams is one of those people.
“I have always had a garden and like having my hands in the dirt,” she said. “Where I live now, there is too much shade and it is too much work for me now. I work here a couple hours a week, doing what needs to be done, depending on the time of year. In the summer, it was mostly weeding, but recently, I have been cutting dried onions.
“The fresh kale is one of my favorite dishes this time of year, cooked with onions, toasted pumpkin seeds and tamari,” she said. It is too bad that so many people don’t take the time to cook for themselves. With all the processed foods people eat, it is no wonder we have such a problem with obesity.”
Jill Agnew glows as she watches a continuous flow of people pull up to the barn, where their bags of goodies await. Many look like children on Christmas Day on their way to open their presents, excited to see the fresh treats that await them.
“It is most rewarding — feeding local people with fresh, healthy food that not only tastes good, but is good for them,” Agnew said. “I now have shareholders that are the children of longtime shareholders. Many are like family.
“The toughest part is finding help,” she said. “It is hard work, and most people just don’t want to do it. I work 12-hour days, seven days a week this time of year. I have been working with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). They send me people who work, sleep and eat with us.”
Chelsea Wagner of Orono, picking tomatoes in the fields Monday afternoon, is a recent graduate of the University of Maine.
“I have a degree in biology and had an interest in agriculture, so this was an excellent way to get exposure in the field,” Wagner said. “I think this is something I want to pursue.”
With more than 180 CSAs in Maine, many run by young farmers, Wagner fits the profile of a new generation that is becoming more interested in growing and eating locally grown food.