Maine celebrates its agriculture at the Big E

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Maine took center stage on Saturday in New England’s first celebration as the Big E returns after being shut down by COVID-19 for a year.

The cancellation of last year’s race doesn’t seem to have driven people away this year. Big E’s Catherine Pappas said 80,993 people attended the fair on Friday. At the last presentation in 2019, some 73,108 people made up the crowd on day one.

Even with a short period of preparation, exhibitors were told in May that this year’s show would take place, exhibitors in Maine did.

“It’s atypical for sure,” said Anne Tremholm, the building manager of Maine at Big E, owned and operated by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “I am delighted that we have new exhibitors who have taken on the task with old favorites.”

Tremholm said Maine is known for its potatoes, lobster and smoked salmon, but the state is more than that.

“We have an ice cream vendor with wild blueberry ice cream, a honey vendor selling a variety of types of honey including garlic honey,” she said.

There is no doubt that Maine baked potatoes have been the main attraction of the Maine building for many years, and this year people lined up even as the doors opened on Saturday morning.

Dan D’Angelo makes sure there are enough potatoes to meet demand. D’Angelo works with the Maine Potato Board in Presque Isle, Maine, to ensure Empire potatoes grown exclusively for the fair are delivered and prepared.

“Each year the potatoes come from a different farm, and this year they come from Caribou, Maine,” D’Angelo said.

D’Angelo said they typically run two full 53-foot trailers of potatoes grown in the northern tip of Maine, just south of the Canadian border.

When aficionados talk about maple syrup, they’re usually fighting Vermont vs. Massachusetts vs. New York for top honors. But Bob Babiarz has said Maine will soon be among the top producers. His Tree of Life farm in Jackman, Maine, sits on the border with New Quebec, Canada, deep in the woods of western Maine.

For generations, this part of the state was primarily privately owned and heavily exploited. However, some landowners have found that they can economically lease their woodlands to maple syrup producers rather than harvesting trees, making thousands of acres of sugar maple available for syrup.

“I should check to be sure, but I think Maine is now the number three producer behind Vermont and New York,” Babiaz said.

The Tree of Life farm produces about 15,000 pounds of syrup per year from 4,000 taps, Babiarz said.

Next year he hopes to have 15,000 taps in his service.

Like Bobiarz, Kathi Langelier finds Maine a great place to grow and harvest organic plants and vegetables that she uses to make herbal extracts called Herbal Revolution. His 23-acre farm is in Union, Maine, not far from Rockport.

Langelier grew up in the woods of Maine and learned the value of local plants early on. She was making her own tinctures and herbal products and soon people started asking for them.

“This is a herbal medicine,” she said, “either apple cider vinegar or alcohol is used to extract the herbal properties.”

Cundy’s Harbor lobster is nothing new to Sue Hawke. Her family has lived off the sea for about seven generations, she thinks. Today, her husband and two sons maintain the family business.

Sue and her partner Linda Tirsch offer Maine’s quintessential lobster roll from their booth at the back of the Maine building. Hawke, Tirsch and their team make between 1,500 and 2,000 rolls per day.

Atlantic salmon have traveled the rivers of Maine for eons. But, due to industrial development and perhaps climate change, salmon today are rather difficult to find in the wild. If you speak with Sabastian Belle, he will tell you that salmon is plentiful in a place called Cobscook Bay near the Canadian border.

Maine Aquaculture Farmers Association executive director Belle said the group represents some 190 farms and generates around $ 100 million in farm gate value. Besides salmon, farmers raise and harvest mussels, oysters and seaweed.

Salmon on a Stick may not seem particularly traditional, but for Big E enthusiasts, this is the best way to experience Maine aquaculture.

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