PORTLAND, Maine — As a truck full of agricultural goods packed in wooden barrels and boxes landed on the pier Thursday afternoon, a cluster of people gathered in the hot sun let out a cheer. The first leg of Maine Sail Freight was under way.
Setting sail at first light Friday, a bounty — 6,400 pounds — of Maine products will travel to Boston Harbor en route to Boston Public Market via wind power on a newly refurbished fishing schooner.
Taking a day and a half, surely there’s an easier way to get honey, beeswax candles, pickles and jam to market? The Greenhorns, a grassroots organization representing young farmers, stages the event to re-examine methods of trade and to get consumers and producers to think differently.
“As a farmer, I know that people don’t know where their food comes from or how,” said Abby Sadauckas of Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham, who served as logistics manager for the event.
The livestock farmer volunteered on Maine Sail Freight’s maiden voyage to prove alternative ways to sell farm-fresh products exist. Many of Maine’s small-scale farmers rely on direct sales at farmers markets. This voyage helps “gain access to regional markets,” said Sadauckas, who expects Maine Sail Freight to happen annually.
Event Director Severine von Tscharner Fleming, a former farmer from New York, chose the ocean as the setting for this radical project. “We have to orient ourselves to rebuilding a more resilient food system,” von Tscharner Fleming, 34, said. “The waterfront is a good place for the conversation. We need to learn across sectors — farmers and fisherfolk.”
A cross section of both participated in the cargo load at Portland Yacht Services.
With summer-long events in Hallowell on the Kennebec River, North Haven and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to educate farmers on local waterways, Maine Sail Freight attracted streams of curious onlookers and volunteers eager to be stevedores for the day.
A dozen helped load the 1926 schooner Adventure, which sailed into Portland Harbor after 11 a.m. The Gloucester, Massachusetts-based vessel is designed to carry 80 tons of fish. Though it was called in at the last minute as a stand-in for the Maine-based Harvey Gamage, the crew jumped to the task.
“It’s a departure from our mission,” captain Stefan Edick said. “But it’s a worthy project indeed.”
And not as far-fetched as one might think. Edick said wine is being imported by ships across the English channel. “Carrying cargo under sail has a future. It’s an initiative that’s gaining steam worldwide.”
And generating a buzz on the Portland docks.
Emily Adams drove down from Dover-Foxcroft to participate. The postal worker heard about the event on the radio and took the day off from work. Between asking volunteers to sign waivers to board, she said “the idea of breaking tradition with conventional commodities” is appealing. ]
Although Maine Sail Freight is “largely symbolic,” Adams, like many adults assembled on the wharf, are gung-ho for change.
“I am excited to see moving freight with a much smaller carbon footprint,” said David Whitten of Cape Elizabeth, whose 8 year-old son Rowan was there to help carry boxes and learn.
“I really think it’s the beginning of something,” Whitten said.
By coordinating trade on a regional basis, “little by little we make our food supply safer and safer,” mastermind von Tscharner Fleming said.
Though she has run similar excursions in Vermont, von Tscharner Fleming said Maine is key because of its available, fertile land. “Maine has the fastest growing number of young farmers in the country,” von Tscharner Fleming said, adding 20- and 30-somethings from states like Michigan and Washington are calling her up to learn more.
Dubbed a “performance on logistics of distribution,” Maine Sail Freight is about moving hand-made goods into a complex market for profitability.
“We can’t as young farmers compete in a commodity based food system,” von Tscharner Fleming said.
Stamped with stickers that say “Maine Sail Freight delivery by sail” with a sketch of a schooner, the goods, participants say, have more value.
A lobsterman surveying a Greenhorns merchandise table, including a new farmer’s almanac, a mixed tape and hardtack, was curious.
“If it’s sustainable, more power to them,” said sternman John Thogersen, who stumbled across the show. “It’s good to get back to the roots. We just don’t do that anymore.”