During my recent visit to our home on Lookout Point in Maine, I decided to attend the first Edible Island Conference on Deer Isle, one of my favorite places in Maine. The conference offered several presentations from the leaders in the local food movement, a wonderful fresh mussel or onion soup and salad farm lunch using only fresh local ingredients, and excursions to local primary producers.
The presentation that was the most fascinating was by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, the owners of Four Season Farm, a year-round market garden on Cape Rosier. Eliot has over 40 years of experience in organic farming and has published extensively on the subject. You may recognize Barbara’s name from her weekly column in the “Home” section of the Washington Post called “A Cook’s Garden”. She is also the author of several gardening books. Both are internationally recognized as leading authorities in the field.
Inspired by trips to France, Eliot and later his wife Barbara, began a journey that has led their farm to become a model for small-scale sustainable agriculture. I am still in awe that they are able to farm year around (all that snow!) and produce absolutely breathtaking produce. They are creative and continually improve their farming practices. They started by planting crops in cold frames located in greenhouses. Today they no longer use the costly and labor intensive cold frames, but rely on protective plant covers. They have also redesigned the greenhouses so that they shed snow and are movable. It should be noted that their greenhouses are, generally, without any supplemental heat. To make this all work, they choose the best and most suitable varieties of winter crops, practice succession planting, and have designed a complete system of garden tools and equipment specific to the needs of organic farming. Compost along with other improvements such as crab shells ensure far better than average soil composition. For more information, please refer to their website: www.FourSeasonFarm.com.
Sustainable seafood was another topic that was explored. Aaron Dority heads the Downeast Groundfish Initiative, a major campaign to rebuild a sustainable groundfish fishery in eastern Maine (www.penobscoteast.org). Ginny and Blaine Olsen, owners of Oceanville Seafood, have been focusing the last five years on organizing conservation efforts for the local shellfish industry. This has resulted in progress in restoring depleted local and historical clam populations. Terry-Anya Hayes, a wild foods educator, spoke about the local, edible landscape (www.terryanya.com).
Now, what about Ingrid? I had the privilege of meeting and having lunch with Ingrid Bengis-Palei, who has been a Stonington author and seafood distributor for 25 years. Working only with local fishermen from Stonington and Penobscot Bay, she services some of America’s premier restaurants, including Jean Georges, the French Laundry, Chez Panisse, Spago and Le Bernardin. She is a primary force behind the Island Culinary and Ecological Center (ICEC), a non-profit organization of people who love to cook. They focus on cooking with regional products while supporting a sustainable environment. They also aim to inspire others and encourage young people in the culinary and hospitality arts. Ingrid and the ICEC organized the conference as well as the special fundraising dinner with renowned chefs Jean-George Vongerichten, Melissa Kelly, Michael Leviton and Lawrence Klang, who donated their services. I unfortunately was unable to attend, but it was an overwhelming success. Check out their website: www.edibleisland.org.
Oh, and by the way, if you recently saw someone with a rather large box trying to negotiate the New York subway from the airport, that was Ingrid hand carrying fresh Atlantic halibut for a dinner by Jean George for President Obama, the Clintons, and other friends. If she does this again and you happen to see her, please do offer to lend her a hand!