FORT KENT, Maine — Kara Beal is a working mom with a husband and two boys and is the lone vegetarian in the family.
Grocery shopping can be a bit of a challenge, she says, but two new options for local food in the Fort Kent area are making the job a bit easier.
“The fiddleheads brought me in,” she said, holding up a 2-pound bag of the wild seasonal delicacy Saturday morning at Bouchard’s Country Store on Route 161 just south of Fort Kent. “But I’m ending up getting some steak for my husband and kids.”
Along with carrying local produce — wild and cultivated — Bouchard’s is also offering their own farm-raised beef, Maine pork, fresh egg and the family’s signature ploye mix to make traditional Acadian buckwheat pancakes.
Janice Bouchard opened the store with her husband, Joe, last year, and this past April the choices for shopping local in Fort Kent got a boost with the opening of the Market Street Co-op in the old A.D. Soucy Farm Supply building on Market Street.
“The response has been great since we opened,” Stacy Martin, the co-op’s general manager, said. “More and more people really want to know where their food is coming from.”
And when that food is produced locally, she said, not only are they more likely eating a healthier diet, they are supporting area farmers and related businesses.
“We used to rely on each other as communities in this country,” Martin said. “It’s important now to live and work together as a community.”
So far the co-op has around 200 members who pay a $50 annual fee to be voting members in the organization and receive discounts on everything from produce to environmentally friendly cleaning products.
The co-op is also providing space for local artists to work and for community meetings.
“We are member-owned,” she said. “And we welcome volunteers to help out.”
Martin stressed the co-op is a retail space and membership is not required to shop there.
The co-op is currently open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, but those hours will expand after the official grand opening on June 14, Martin said.
“Right now we are still trying to get a feel for what customers want,” she said. “As time goes on, we will add more things.”
The co-op currently has enough inventory that a person could do the bulk of their household shopping there, Martin said, at prices competitive with larger, chain stores.
“Our prices are competitive and you will not get sticker shock when you walk in,” she said. “But you do need to be a smart, comparative shopper and really look at what you are buying.”
Back at Bouchard’s store, Janice Bouchard agrees.
“I think when people really look at shopping for their food locally, they will see they can actually save money because they are eating more healthy,” she said. “Plus, they are supporting the local farmers who can then use the money they make to spend in the community.”
Bouchard’s Country Store is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
Both the co-op and Bouchard’s are purchasing produce — some certified organic — from local gardeners in addition to local jams, jellies, honey, syrup and dairy products.
Both are also looking to add food services in the near future — a farm-to-table cafe at the Market Street co-op and a made-to-order ploye bar at Bouchard’s.
Bouchard’s also deals in livestock and poultry feed and is just wrapping up their spring “chick sale” for area residents wanting to raise their own egg-laying or meat chickens and turkeys.
“We already have greens and radishes from our farmer who has several greenhouses,” Martin said. “There will be more as summer goes on.”
There is a real and literal hunger for these products, Martin said, and she is glad the area now has expanded opportunities to provide them.
“A friend of mine wanted to raise a pig this year,” she said. “She could not find one for sale in Aroostook County and that bothers me.”
Janice Bouchard agrees.
“When you buy locally produced food, you know what you are getting,” she said. “If you buy hamburger from a large supermarket chain, there could be meat from 20 different cows in there.”
Bouchard said she, too, is keeping her prices competitive with larger retail outlets, and while both women say they do have to look outside the St. John Valley for some products, they are working to find everything within the state.
Both the Market Street store and Bouchard’s also provide space for local crafters to display their work and between the two stores there is everything from fanciful pinatas to hand-carved wooden wall hangings.
“I’m even able to do a bit of home decorating,” Beal said as she cashed out at Bouchard’s on Saturday, and held up a rustic “Welcome” sign she had found. “I think it’s extremely important to support local producers and eat as much as we can that is grown or raised locally, and,” she added with a laugh, “now I don’t have to go and pick the fiddleheads myself.”
For information on the Market Street Co-op, contact Martin at 207-231-1149 or go to the website at http://marketstreetcoop.net/. To contact Bouchard’s Country Store, call 207-834-3237.