BELFAST, Maine — Last June, Maine Fare brought more than 3,000 people to the Belfast waterfront to learn about, taste, discuss and celebrate the state’s bounty during the two-day event.
But those crowds won’t return this year, as the Maine Farmland Trust has announced that there won’t be a 2016 Maine Fare celebration.
“It’s just so much work. It’s a ton of staff time and energy for those two days,” Ellen Sabina, outreach director at the Belfast-based nonprofit organization, said Wednesday. “We’re feeling sad about it, but it will live on. It will be reincarnated in some fashion. We’re not exactly sure what that will look like.”
The news was quietly announced on the Maine Farmland Trust’s website a couple of months ago. “We didn’t want to make it a big deal,” Sabina said. And as word spread to fans of the unique food festival celebrating farming, fishery and food, it has disappointed them.
“It’s sad to hear,” Belfast Mayor Walter Ash said. “I think a lot of people enjoyed it, and it will be missed. The more that people know about organic farming, maybe the better stewards we’ll be of the land. Getting the word out and having these events is very important, I think.”
Maine Fare was first held 10 years ago in Camden by a volunteer group of local chefs, food writers and food aficionados. It came to Belfast in 2012, brought back from a two-year hiatus by Maine Farmland Trust. Over the years, attendees heard panelists expound on such topics as whether Maine can feed itself, about the importance of eating locally caught seafood and the burgeoning local food movement. They also could feast on a smorgasbord of local foods.
Recently, Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington, a group working to secure sustainable fisheries and fishing communities in eastern Maine and beyond, has partnered with the Maine Farmland Trust on Maine Fare. The fisheries resource center is in the early stages of planning a high-level policy event in the fall, according to executive director Robin Alden.
“We really felt it was the thought-provoking side of things that was important for us to put our energy into,” Alden said.
Sabina said she sees a lot of connections between Maine food, food culture and the work that the Maine Farmland Trust does.
“By not having [Maine Fare] this year, we’re not turning away from that,” she said. “We still plan to have lots of food-focused events. We’re just trying to be really thoughtful about how we do them.”
Staffers at Maine Farmland Trust sometimes had to work to help Maine Fare attendees understand what their organization does the rest of the year, when not holding a two-day waterfront festival. The statewide group aims to protect farmland, support farmers and advance the future of farming.
“It takes a little bit of an explanation to go from an appreciation of local food to how it’s connected to protecting farmland and supporting farmers,” Sabina said of Maine Fare. “It was a really beautiful event in some ways. I think in an ideal world it would have been a fundraising event. But realistically, it wasn’t. It was a great way to introduce ourselves to people we wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
She said that the Maine Farmland Trust is going to be holding more in-depth talks, presentations and panels that are focused on the same land and sea theme as Maine Fare. Some of those events will likely be held at the new Unity Food Hub, and some will probably be held in Portland.
“We also want to do a fun, delicious educational event of some sort,” Sabina said. “I imagine it will be called Maine Fare. It will probably be in the fall — and whatever it is will be good.”