Fall means harvest season, and Maine’s farmers are here for you
WORDS / SAM PFEIFLE
While Maine’s farmers’ markets are a state treasure virtually year round, late August through the end of September is where they really sparkle. Strawberry season may be over, and the blueberries may even be fading, but the corn and cucurbits (gourds, squash, zucchini, pumpkin, and the like) are booming and the variety can be simply spectacular.
Nor is shopping at farmers’ markets just a fun way to get some fresh food and local crafts — it’s your civic duty! By spending your money directly with Maine’s small growers and producers, you’re supporting family and community agriculture that goes back centuries and keeps families on their land and money in the state. When you buy Maine produce at a grocery store or retail operation, part of your money is paying for distribution, overhead, and the marketing gal’s salary at Hannaford (they make plenty on frozen pizzas and 30-racks of cheap beer). When you buy it at a farmers’ market, you’re probably not only paying a lower price, but more of that money is going straight into the farmer’s pocket — or paying for their kid to go to college.
In fact, even the term “farmers market” is legally protected, to make sure nefarious corporate types don’t try to trick you into thinking they’re locally sourced when they’re not. By law, any market calling itself a “farmers market” has to have at least two documented farmers selling farm products produced on their actual farms. While markets can also invite in non-farmers, even farmers selling other farmers’ wares have to be clear in their signage about what was grown/raised where.
We recommend checking in with the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, a 501c3 non-profit organization that provides supports to market operators and has handy listings of where to find markets and when. Currently, they list 96 separate markets across the state, with handy information about programs like “Bumper Crop,” where employers can work with local markets to provide vouchers to employees for market products as a way to not only promote wellness (saving money on health insurance costs), but also as a way to make employees like you.
It’s similar to paying for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, without having to worry about organizing pickup and delivery and divvying up all the cabbage that no one really wants.
If you support the medical marijuana program and make sure to buy from small craft brewers, you really need to be hitting your local farmers market on the regular.
And now, thanks to Paul LePage (yeah, he did a few things right, we guess), you can actually sometimes find brews, ciders, and liquors available for tasting and sale. Thanks to his signature on a 2017 law, farmers markets can now apply for a tasting license and brewers and distillers can similarly be licensed to set up the card table under the tend and shop their wares.
Already, as many as 20 markets across the state have received their license and that number continues to grow, with at least four craft breweries obtaining their tasting license as well — in addition to farmers making cider and some small-run distilleries.
But be cool! The regulations are relatively strict and no farmer wants to worry about annoying the liquor inspector: You have to consume your tasting at the producer’s booth, so don’t walk away with that cup in your hand. And no one can have more than six of the little tasting cups, so down your sample and then buy what looks good, since they can’t sell samples and can only give them away. No lingering and making people nervous while you chat about the qualities of this or that variety and catch a buzz.
Currently, there’s no way to sell THC-laden cannabis at markets, but there are many hemp and CBD providers who’ve set up shop at farmers’ markets and it is now not uncommon to see clones and seedlings for sale so you can grow hemp at home.
Are some of those seedlings actually THC-laden cannabis? Who’s to say? We’re certainly not going around the state with our testing kits.
Interested enough to get touring? Here’s a rundown of some great markets to hit where you’re likely to find beer, weed, and everything else you need.
While it’s rare that you can go wrong with a Maine farmers’ market, these markets are all relatively robust, so are unlikely to fold up shop in the middle of the season, and well established. Most of them close by the end of October, but some will linger on later into November or move into an indoor venue as the weather gets cold.
It’s never a bad idea to check and make sure these are still happening on the days they usually happen. Nothing worse than driving to a spot only to find they’ve switched days or locations. Just about all of these markets have websites they update regularly.
Deering Oaks Park, Portland
Wednesdays and Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Probably the best-known farmers’ market in the state, this is almost always a happening place, with nearly 40 different farms currently participating. Make a point of stopping in at the Waggin’ Tail Farm & Aegir’s Den Meadery, where you can grab hand-dyed alpaca wool, goat meat and session-style and full strength honey wine made with local honey and fruits from the farm’s haunts in Pittsfield.
290 Tuttle Rd., Cumberland, Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
22 Hat Trick Dr., Falmouth, Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
These are great spots to find some non-traditional stands, along with some true throwbacks. Chirp Creek Farm, for instance, is completely horse powered — no fossil-fuel tractors! And the Maine Mushroom Company comes down from Augusta on Saturdays to hock their organic, boutique mushrooms. But make sure to hit Moonrise Organics so you can grab something from their line of CBD-infused facial and body care products, including tick and bug sprays, important to have on-hand when you head out on the trails next spring.
310 Commercial St., Rockport
Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon
Not all farmers’ markets are municipal affairs — this one takes advantage of Guini Ridge’s home turf and invites in a number of friendly neighbors, including Victory Hemp Co., one of the earliest hemp farmers in Maine. Working at Rebel Road Cooperative Farm in Union, they tout a variety of organic techniques, including biodynamics and Korean Natural Farming strategies that support the entire ecosystem. Make sure to grab some of their cannabinoid-rich flower for a tasty smoke that’s buzz free.
18 Spring St., Belfast
Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
One of the most sophisticated operations in Maine, this market is open year-round with an indoor facility that opens up a series of garage doors for a great summer experience. You’ll be enchanted by Aurora Botanicals’ and Green Witch Herbals’ selection of CBD Magic Salve, CBD Magic Tea, and Mainah Fiyah Cidah. Then head over to Winterport Winery and Penobscot Bay Brewery for a tasting of their wines, ciders, and ales.
61 Commercial St., Waterfront Park, Bath
Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to noon
Open in the winter as well, at 27 Commercial Street, this is a robust market that’s right downtown and often features live music and a bustling atmosphere. Best of all, you can find Sasanoa Brewing here, the only brewery in the state to be fully MOFGA certified, at last check. They specialize in saissons and farmhouse ales and generally deliver in 500 ml bottles, where the beer will get better as it ages. The Lime Basil is a refreshing summer treat.
Somerset Grist Mill, corner of Court and High Streets, Skowhegan
Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays, 3 to 6 p.m.
Sawyer’s Maple Farm, out of Jackman, is always a treat, with maple cream and maple granola to satisfy your sweet tooth. Then move down to Bee Natural Products, where Tracy Chadbourne is a licensed caregiver mixing CBD with Swans Honey to create oils, lotions, creams, and soaps that keep the pollinator population healthy and provide soothing relief.
1 Stonewall Ln., York
Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Is this market among the more touristy of the farmers’ markets? It is. Proximity to Massachusetts is a powerful drug. Watch out for knick-knacks and the like. But you’ll also find here He Be G-Bees, out of Northwood, NH, which traffics in a wide selection of CBD pain relievers, shampoos and conditioner, sunscreen, and just about anything else you can make into a cream or lotion. Also, they have “chewelry.” We don’t know what chewable jewelry is, really, but points for originality.
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