No one in Maine thinks of “farm to table” as a menu slogan or a culinary aspiration. It’s simply a way of life — one that’s been embedded in Mainers’ DNA for generations. That nationally lauded chef making your bouillabaisse probably played high school hockey with the guy who grew the tomatoes, is the cousin of the fisherman who caught the shellfish, and went to prom with the pastry chef who baked the garlicky baguette you’re about to dunk in its rich, briny broth.
Nowhere is that ultra-tight culinary network on more glorious display than at the Portland Farmers’ Market. And you don’t have to be an award-winning chef to dig into its riches. Every Saturday in spring, summer, and early to mid-fall, the emerald expanse of Deering Oaks Park attracts a mosaic of local food-loving humanity, from food pros and home cooks discovering new ingredients to families with pups and tykes kicking back with iced tea and berry hand pies on picnic blankets. Here are a few stands not to miss.
1. Alewive’s Brook Farm
A family operation on Cape Elizabeth, this farm sells summer produce from beet greens to rutabaga, free-range eggs, pork, and (if you call ahead) just-caught lobsters. alewivesbrookfarm.com
2. Green Spark Farm
Ecologists Mary Ellen and Austin Chadd and their children grow organic greens and leafy vegetables. In the summer, they offer hard-to-find heirloom veggies, from fragrant Charentais melons and husk cherries to tie-dye-striped tomatoes. greensparkfarm.com
3. Snell Family Farm
Magnificent flower arrangements overflow with everything from daffodils to heirloom kales and mums. Or pick up fresh fruits and veggies, and rhubarb and peach preserves from the farm’s orchards. Need a breather? Grab a loaf of tomato-onion focaccia or a hand pie and find a shady tree. snellfamilyfarm.com
4. Swallowtail Farm and Creamery
This family operation on the Sheepscot River in North Whitefield makes its rich Greek yogurts (all free of chemicals and growth hormones) by hand. Bring home jars of the caramel sea salt and bumbleberry flavors, as well as Icelandic-style skyr in sweet-tangy versions like carrot with lemon verbena laced with maple syrup. swallowtailfarmandcreamery.com
5. Thirty Acre Farm
Pick up tubs of kraut, kimchi, and other fermented creations produced at this organic midcoast Maine farm that grows the ingredients. Fenneled beet with onion is scrumptious on a ham sandwich with Swiss cheese and whole-grain mustard. thirtyacrefarm.com
6. Tiqa Cafe
Steps away from the market, this friendly eatery is an unofficial adjunct to the festivities. Grab a beer and some grilled cheese on sourdough with herbed aioli on the patio, chased by some lawn bocce or a game at one of the outdoor chess tables. 356 State Street, tiqa.net/cafe/
IF YOU GO
The Portland Farmers' Market operates in Deering Oaks Park on Park Avenue, Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. through November 23. The other warm-weather location is Monument Square, Wednesdays 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. through November 27. In the winter (beginning December 7), the market is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 631 Stevens Avenue. portlandmainefarmersmarket.org
Alexandra Hall is a New England food and travel writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday.Sign up here.