ROCKPORT, Maine — Almost 300 people sampled the taste of Maine on Thursday night as they helped celebrate the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s 50th birthday, and it was clear from the sparse leftovers that local food tastes good.
From Appleton Creamery cheeses to tidbits from Primo in Rockland, only crumbs were left over after the crowd toasted the nonprofit group’s half-century mark with, naturally, wines, beer, cider and spirits from local producers.
More than 40 area farmers, fishermen and restaurants provided treats for the Art of Local Food tasting party at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. The event was a fundraiser for the NRCM, and served to draw attention to the economic and environmental benefits of being a locavore — a person who eats locally produced foods.
“We just think that buying locally reduces the impact on the environment,” said Judy Berk, the council’s communications director. “Local food is better for the environment, and the great thing is that all of these local farmers, vintners, goat herders, bakers and chicken farmers pitched in to make this event possible.”
The council was founded in 1959 by a group of Maine hunters and fishermen concerned with the deterioration of the state’s rivers, lakes, streams and woods. Their first project was to advocate for the protection of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, according to Berk. Since then the group has worked on many campaigns, in-cluding the development of recycling programs, the removal of billboards, development of clean energy and the enactment of a bottle recycling bill.
Brownie Carson, the executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, explained to the crowd that the event featured local food because most American produce travels at least 1,300 miles from the farm to the table.
“Local food systems can reduce food miles and transportation costs, offering significant energy savings and reducing air pollution and the threat of climate change,” Carson said. “We diners also benefit from fresher, better-tasting and more nutritious food, and keep more food dollars in our communities.”
Melissa Kelly is the chef at Primo and a longtime proponent of the local food ethic in Maine. She said the restaurant has a 4-acre garden, pigs, bees, two greenhouses and more than 100 chickens.
“That’s been a really great experience,” she said at the end of the event. “Maine has such a bounty and so many great farms. So many restaurants are starting to use local [food]. It’s not just for tonight. This is what it should be all around the country.”
Ron Goldstein, the special events coordinator at the Belfast Co-op, presided over offerings of squash flatbread, red jingle bell peppers stuffed with yogurt cheese, and crisp kale chips.
“We wrote down where they all came from,” he said of the ingredients. “Part of our mission statement is to educate the public about healthy food and healthy eating … and by eating local, you keep the money local.”
The tasting event was one in a yearlong series of 50 half-century celebrations for the council. That list has included hikes, canoe paddles, bird walks, and screenings of a new documentary film, “Protecting the Nature of Maine: Fifty Years of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.”
The film screens next at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at the Stonington Opera House and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Colonial Theatre in Belfast.
For more information about the council, visit the Web site www.nrcm.org.