Bath cooking class promotes local farms, local food

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BATH — The small but enthusiastic group that attended a cooking class about local foods Tuesday came away not only with a good meal, but with some food for thought, too.

Local Farms-Local Food, a collaboration between the Brunswick-Topsham and Kennebec Estuary land trusts, offered the class, held at Now You’re Cooking on Front Street. Aaron Park, chef/owner at Henry and Marty in Brunswick, used in-season ingredients from Farm Fresh Connection, a Freeport food distributor, to make a meal for participants.

“I had such a great feeling when I left, and my belly was full with incredible food,” said Joyce McPhetres, a Topsham resident who took the class.

She said she plans to buy local, even more so than she does now, and that she attended because “it just seemed like a wonderful cause, an opportunity to be creative and to get inside the mind of an incredible chef.”

Sarah Ayres of Farm Fresh Connection and Chris Cabot, a farmland protection specialist with the land trusts, joined Park in the kitchen and spoke about the benefits and connections that local food has to the community.

Local Farms-Local Food, which is supported by the Elmina S. Sewall Foundation, strives to conserve farmland while promoting local food.

The collaboration’s goal is “to increase farmland conservation and also to enhance the local food economy,” Cabot said on Monday, adding that events like the Bath cooking class promote that cause.

He noted that land trusts have traditionally protected wild lands, such as forests and wetlands. But the two trusts with which he works also recognize the value of protecting local farms, for the health of the local ecology and preserving Maine’s rural way of life, he said.

“One of our other projects is getting a good idea of where all the existing farms are in our area,” Cabot said. “Once we have that inventory, that will give us a good … baseline idea of where we’re starting from now, and where we’ve conserved farms already. And then that will help us in figuring out the needs of those farmers, and in our prioritization of where other lands that should be conserved are.”

The local food movement is growing, Cabot said.

“People are starting to realize that local food has such influential impact on a lot of places in our society, and it can have benefits to the environment, and our communities and public health in general,” he said. “… It’s not a new paradigm that we’re creating here. We’re sort of wanting to get back to the ways that farming has been traditionally for hundreds of years here.”

Increasing the amount of local food consumed in this area indirectly conserves more farms, Cabot explained, by making farming a more viable business and supporting existing farmers.

“The more folks that are knowledgeable about local food, the more folks that are going to buy from those local funds,” he said. “Therefore those landowners will realize that farming can actually be viable in this area, and they don’t need to sell to developers.”

Access to local food at venues like farmers’ markets is key to getting people to buy it, Cabot said. He mentioned the importance of supporting such venues, and of encouraging people to buy shares in Community Supported Agriculture.

By buying a share, “you are essentially giving money to the farmer up-front, and you get a weekly drop-off of veggies from that farmer for the season,” he explained

Having the funds in hand helps the farmers with planting and developing their fields, Cabot said. They receive a steady income, instead of having to guess how much they need to grow and hoping all of it sells.

Knowledge of local food, and how to prepare it, is also important – hence classes like Tuesday’s. Cabot said he hopes those classes will show people “how to chop things up, and how to cook things so they taste good for their kids. It’s another way of disseminating knowledge about the importance of local food and how to use local food.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Katie Byrnes, left, of Brunswick, was one of several people who attended a cooking class Tuesday in Bath on local foods. She watches while Aaron Park, chef/owner at Henry and Marty in Brunswick, makes a meal for the participants. Chris Cabot, behind Park, is a farmland protection specialist with the Brunswick-Topsham and Kennebec Estuary land trusts, whose collaboration – Local Farms-Local Food – offered the class.

For more information

Information about farmers’ markets and other local food events can be found at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association website, mofga.org. More information is also available at eatmainefoods.org, the networking website of the Eat Local Foods Coalition of Maine.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.