A Slice of ME

It's an amazing time to be in farming and agriculture in Maine right now. I'd like to share small bits of the past week, as it relates to this and a small portrait of life in this "small town" we call Maine.

Rather than a mosaic of loosely connected people and neighborhoods (read: Los Angeles, NYC), "The Other Portland" resembles one really tightly-knit community. It was very interesting finding out about an event for wedding vendors, hosted by wedding vendors, and then attending - it was truly an engaging community of people trying only further to create a sense of community. It's not about how many connections you make, but how deep and authentic they can become.

Wednesday was open mic night - scouring the talent and venue in which I hope to pursue in the coming week or two. I've never open mic'ed but I think I'd like to try it. I'll be channeling a little Cardinal Road for the courage and gumption to do so.

Friday arrives and I have become accustomed to Tandem Coffee's weekly public cupping at noon at their East Bayside location. Tasting and learning from one of the roasters has been both educational, gratifying, and caffeinating: truly a great start to every weekend I am around. After the adequate amount of nice coffee and good communing in the roasting room, Andrew and I hightail out of Portland for the small town of Unity, ME. The Maine Farmland Trust is hosting their annual meeting at the Unity Food Hub (part event space, commercial kitchen, farmstand style market). Intended for anyone interested in the history and future of farming and agriculture in Maine, the meeting can only be described as magic.

Frank Giglio cooked a quintessentially farm-to-table array of dishes - so much that the people who work the farms were probably in the kitchen helping to prepare it, or mingling at the event. There was perfectly fitting American folk music, supplied by a couple who played fiddle, banjo, guitar, and the good boot-stomping you like to hear against a beautiful hardwood floor.

Senator Angus King, an independent, spoke as the main event for the evening. The room in which he delivered his words was packed to standing-room only type of thing. It's a family-friendly event, but Andrew and I must be two of a handful of young people besides a few kids and those who work for the trust, working the evening. King's speech was rooted in the theme of "ethics." Ethics, as it related to climate and environmental change, the core and nature of Maine population, as well as his experiences in Washington. He spoke with poise, eloquence, and a true relatability to the people. 

His effect on the crowd was incredible. He held interest  for 30 or 45 minutes, and we hung on every word. Because he reinforces the beautiful qualities of most Mainers. For example, he relates a story with a colleague about trying to describe Maine to someone who isn't so familiar. "It's most like a really big small town, but with really long roads," he says. This points to its community-centric type of life out here. He also paints a picture of the Maine spirit through story of a farmer asking to borrow his neighbor's roto-tiller (for tilling soil). He uses it in the spring, and when done, cleans the machine as good as - if not better than - its original condition - and leave it with a full tank of gas. "That's just how we are," he reassures. It certainly feels that way, looking around the cheery room of friendly and well-worn faces of farmers present.

He concludes his riveting discussion of all things farm and Maine and the future by noting wha ta good time it is to be doing both of those things. In the last year, Maine has the highest numbers of rapidly growing small farms in the country, and the sharpest decline in average age of farmers as well. Never have I felt more compelled to work on a farm, learn what it's like, and learn best practice from a culture here in Maine that is both rooted in farming and woodworking traditions. So much is happening, but no one is here to beat you over the face for the sake of being on-trend. There are genuinely interested parties of people who want to preserve the face and heart of this great state. 

To punctuate this evening, King opened the floor for Q+A. But it was the concluding comment that said it all. A very old farmer stands up from his chair, in the center of the room. He leans heavily on his cane, his hands and head tremble with his age. His face is well-worn, and shows clearly how he seems to be using every ounce of energy to stand up and project to the room. "My family has had the same dairy farm in Belfast since the 1700s," he says. "I have been following your political moves since the day you entered, and I just want to say what a good job you have done over the years."

If there were a sound or feeling of hearts dropping from unexpected weight, the room collectively shared that. This man communicates such a heartfelt message of hope, and praise, and genuine thoughtfulness. He, along with King, know how to speak like a proper English-speaking person. There was something so unifying about his words, I, as newcomer, felt included with the Maine spirit. Just as Angus King looks truly humbled and on the verge of more emotion, the man finishes his beautiful speech and the entire room leaps from their seats and the profound feelings were exacerbated with a standing ovation and roaring cheers. It was electrifying; the best Friday night I've had in a long time, one that I hope happens soon enough.

I feel fortunate to be able to be a member of the new Open Bench Project, a community-workshop and makerspace here in Portland. Started by a contractor who doesn't take a paycheck for this nonprofit, the OBP is an incredible resource and community. Without a beat, every time I enter the shop, or this weekend take a bowl-turning class at the local Rockler, there is someone willing to be supportive, engage, and want to help you out at every turn. That's what Portland folks are like, in my estimation so far. Spent way too many hours being mesmerized by the hypnotic spins of a lathe. If you haven't turned a bowl from wood, it's an easy and exhilarating and therapeutic pastime.

Finishing the weekend with some work at home was spent listening to and exploring new music courtesy of Dylan Westhoff, who is in Nashville, TN at the hub of it all (or a lot of it). If you follow him on Spotify you will find an incredibly thorough and stimulating series of mixes that are named after women, the first letter corresponding to a month of the same. I'm gonna follow along, because although he admits to not always having time to search out the latest and greatest tunes, he's damn good at it and one of the outlets that fills the void when I can't do it either.


I've been listening to North Americana by Leiff Vollebekk since coming to Maine. It has proved comforting and interesting folk. He's written music I wish I wrote myself. The entire album is spectacular, and the first song is indicative of this. Take a listen below and let me know what you think of this and the rest of the album. Enjoy this for the week, and if you listen to "At the End of the Line," know that I wish I wrote every inch of that song. Spotify or Youtube depending on preference. And follow @avocadoboards and the blog to see other things!

Chris Battaglia1 Comment