Judy Perkins still lives on her family farm in Bangor, near the Glenburn line. Perkins grew up on the farm, and she remembers delivering strawberries, corn and peas with her father to area stores when she was a child. Local food has always been important to her.
“That was always something that has stayed with me, through the years,” said the recently retired Perkins. “Supporting local farmers and cheesemakers and local food has always been something I’m passionate about.”
Out of that longtime passion came the idea for the Maine Harvest Festival, a two-day celebration of all the treats — from cheese to carrots and bread to beer — that Maine has to offer. The festival, now in its second year and set to open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at the Bangor Auditorium, was a dream for Perkins for several years. When it was such a smash success in its first year, her suspicions were confirmed: local food is more important than ever.
“We had 4,000 people come through the doors. We had vendors tell us they ran out of food to sell, and had to run home overnight to grab more,” Perkins said. “It really showed me that there’s not only an audience for an event like this, but that people really, really want to buy local food and support local farmers.”
This year’s event is bigger, with 86 vendors instead of last year’s 50, and this year includes wineries, breweries and fiber artisans spread out over both the auditorium and the conference center. As Perkins notes, it’s all about supporting Maine farms and food makers, whatever it is they make, be it the sausage and bacon from Bagaduce Farm in Brooksville; the pies, cookies and scones from Fire Fly Farm in St. Albans; the brisket, ribs and barbecue sauce from Nostrano in Bar Harbor; the maple syrup and candy from Kinney’s Sugarhouse in Knox; or the wide variety of quaffables from Maine Mead Works in Portland.
“One of the nice things about this festival is that you can grocery shop, but you can also buy stuff for gifts for the holidays,” Perkins said. “And you get to really see who the folks are that are growing the food, and make those connections that you’d never get in a big store.”
Maine is a hotbed of the local food movement, something that has taken hold nationwide in recent years. As evidenced by the soaring popularity of similar events such as the Common Ground Fair in Unity and Harvest on the Harbor in Portland, as well as the new de rigeur mention on restaurant menus of all the food the chefs have sourced locally, it’s more than just a fad.
“When I was a kid, that’s how you got food. Farmers brought it down to the stores, and you’d buy your vegetables that way,” said Perkins. “Now, we’re trying to recapture some of that. And we’re realizing just how much better the food tastes, and how good it is to support local people. The slight increase in price just goes so much further. You can actually see the impact.”
Last year’s Harvest Festival helped propel several Maine businesses into sustainability. Weezie’s Whoopie Pies in Eastbrook went from a small-scale purveyor to selling their treats at the Bangor Mall and area grocery stores. Sisters Salsa in Blue Hill taste-tested their new mango salsa at the festival, and soon after began selling it at Hannaford stores. Susan Watson, a fiber artist who owns and operates Midsummer Night’s Meadow Farm in Garland, was blown away by the response her organic lamb sausage and cuts of meat got at the festival last year.
“It was absolutely incredible. I was there with my lamb products, and I sold out three or four times of my sopressata salami and other cuts. I was almost shell shocked from that weekend. I have never worked so hard in my life,” she said. “This year I’m going as a participant customer, because now I can’t keep up with the customer demand. My business tripled, and I really think I can trace a lot of that back to the festival.”
Watson volunteers for Heart of Maine Resource Conservation and Development, an organization serving central Maine farmers that is one of several presenters at numerous local food seminars set for the festival. Other presenters include the Maine Alpaca Association, and Bangor Daily News bloggers Aislinn Sarnacki and Linda Trenholm, who will present on hiking food. Chefs will also give cooking demonstrations, including Kate Schaffer of Black Dinah Chocolatiers on Swan’s Island, Alison Pray of Standard Baking Company in Portland, Scott Belanger and Jennifer Maeverde of Olde Oake Farm cheese in Maxfield and Todd Chasteen of the Eastern Maine Community College culinary program.
Like Watson did last year, vendors are readying their stockpiles in anticipation of another sellout weekend. Watson and Perkins both believe that this is a vital time for farming and local food in Maine.
“People are more and more interested in healthy, locally grown food,” said Watson. “It’s a great time to be a farmer in Maine.”
The Maine Harvest Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 10-11 at the Bangor Auditorium. Admission is $5. For information and a full list of vendors and events, visit maineharvestfestival.com.