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Artists visit farm life in upcoming Brunswick exhibition

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Artists visit farm life in upcoming Brunswick exhibition

BRUNSWICK — A table might not be the first thing that comes to mind when someone says "agriculture," but for artist Maina Handmaker, it's the center of everything that happens on a family farm.

This interpretation of farm life and many others will be on display at Frontier, 14 Maine St. (Fort Andross Mill 3), starting Jan. 11 for the Community Supporting Arts exhibition, a year-long project that paired 14 Maine artists with 13 local farms to produce art inspired by farm life.

The exhibition opened at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in October. It will also have a showing in Belfast at the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery and in Orono at the University of Maine's Hutchinson Center.

Handmaker went in with a very unique perspective: she is a farmer.

It also happened that the organizers were allowing Handmaker to cover Milkweed Farm in Brunswick, where she served as an apprentice for the 2010 harvest season and formed a deep relationship with the Woodruff family, which owns the farm.

"Working for them was definitely what got me excited to become a farmer," Handmaker said Wednesday. "I learned a lot from them: not just about raising animals or picking vegetables, but really about raising a family and being a connected to a place in the community. I really admired how they raised their family."

And it was from there that she came up with the idea to make a paper cutout series based on the Woodruff's family table.

"It's the destination of the food that they raise, and it is a place of bringing people together," Handmaker said. "It's very much a central place in their home."

Lucretia Woodruff, the farm's co-owner, said Handmaker has been like a member of the Woodruff family and that her table piece is very representative of life on the farm.

"We work really hard, but we spend a lot of time preparing and having meals together," Woodruff said. "I think people gravitated towards that piece of art when people attended the opening in Hallowell. It's very simple and beautiful."

Though none of the artists were told to enter the project with a certain perception, CSA's founder and organizer said the overarching idea is to promote the local farm movement and show how they can help us create a more sustainable future.

"I think these (farmers) are showing us a way to a sustainable future," said Deborah Fahy, executive director of the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell.

Fahy said her idea for the project came from her own involvement with local farms, particularly those that use the Community Supported Agriculture model, where customers receive food in exchange for a financial investment or working on the farm.

Melissa Pillsbury, marketing coordinator for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which runs the annual Common Ground County Fair, said Community Supported Agriculture farms have seen "pretty steep and steady growth" since the first few sprouted up in the late 1980s.

The number is now up to around 300 farms in Maine, she said.

"It's really a way of marketing – like going to the farmer's market," Pillsbury said. "Community Supported Agriculture is another form of direct marketing with the potential for it being more than just a sale -there's the potential for a more direct relationship with the customer."

All of the farms that participated in the Community Supporting Arts project use the Community Supported Agriculture model, said Fahy, who hopes other organizations will continue the art project for the years to come.

"It's great having that kind of connection to the farm," she said, "and some of them you can actually volunteer and work there, so it's a great thing to bring my family to and see the entire process, and bring the food home."

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.