Spring was slow in arriving in The County.
There was snow in early May, back-to-back frosts two weeks ago, and COVID-19 slowed the start of planting for farmers and home gardeners alike. But in the last two weeks, The County has begun reopening and life has fallen into its familiar spring pattern.
For many of us, it’s time to begin planning how to fill our freezers and pantries for next year. It’s been said that The County has enough acreage and enough farms to feed the rest of the state, and that may well be true, although I can’t vouch for it. What I do know is that almost any food one would want is raised here, and by late spring farmers are hard at work.
Fields that until recently were untouched are now plowed and seeded, and some even show the early green of potatoes, broccoli, and grains. While Aroostook is best known for its potatoes, it is also ideal for other agricultural products that support the economy.
If you buy fresh broccoli at the supermarket, it may well come from The County. Smith Farms in Presque Isle is the largest broccoli grower on the East Coast, and other smaller growers also contribute to the Aroostook broccoli harvest.
Potato farmers often rotate grains and other crops on potato fields. In early summer, fields are often golden with canola blossoms and the fragrance floats on the breeze. Some plant oats and other grain and forage crops. Lucerne Farms in Easton is one of the largest suppliers of oats and forage crops, such as high-quality hay, in the northeast.
Further north, near the upper St. John River Valley, Bouchard Farms plants acres of buckwheat that goes into their famous ploye mixes (Acadian buckwheat pancakes) that are sold directly from the farm and in groceries as far south as North Carolina.
In Caribou, Circle B Farms offers high-bush blueberries, apples, asparagus, and increasingly, elderberries, while a few miles farther east, Goughan’s Farm and Berry Haven grows, produces, and sells everything from maple syrup to Christmas trees, including strawberries, homemade jams and jellies, ice cream, and other goodies.
If you’re looking for meats, several farms dedicate themselves to producing high-quality products. Aroostook Beef in New Canada raises Black Angus beef, born and raised right on the farm, and not only participates in local farmers markets but has a farm store farther north in Fort Kent. In Woodland, Chops Ahoy grows pasture-raised organic pork and assorted greens. Farther south, Marley Mountain Poultry raises and processes farm fresh chicken and turkey raised without growth hormones or preservatives.
There are several maple producers throughout The County, including Salmon Brook Valley Maple, right across the valley from us, and honey is readily available from Misfit Farms and other small producers.
And of course, there are farmers markets, where smaller growers and producers offer their wares. The Presque Isle Farmers Market is set up on Riverside Park on Saturdays, and Houlton’s Community Market is set up in Market Square every Saturday. Both offer a variety of fruits and vegetables, baked goods, meats, cheeses and other goodies.
While the food benefits are terrific, for me the new green of sprouting potatoes or broccoli brings a sense of hope, especially after such a hard winter. Life springs anew and while the bigger farmers are busily planting their fields, we’ve put in our garden, assured that winter is finally over.
Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former reporter for The Forecaster. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.