Joining the Local Food Movement with Growing Concern

By Lura Jackson


Farming has been a cornerstone of Maine since its earliest pioneers, and long before that as part of Native American culture. That association remains unchanged today, though the isolated family farms of the 1800s began to disappear as they struggled to compete against larger operations from across the nation (and later, the globe). Community support of local farms has kept some of them afloat, and in the past few years, interest in local food products has increased as their quality gains attention. 

In Calais, the Growing Concern greenhouse sits on a verdant spread of land which has been farmed since the early 1830s. Owned and operated by master horticulturist Richard East since it was first opened in 2009, the shop hosts the produce of close to 90 growers, each skilled at their craft. An array of goods awaits the selective buyer, who may opt for farm-raised beef from Tide Mill, Mainely Poultry chicken, tea from Herb Minders, Amish cheeses, or a delicately sweet gelato treat, to name just a few. Paying homage to his southern heritage, East and his wife Judy are also happy to sell Community Coffee from New Orleans.   

As the nature of seasonal changes and mixed husbandry is one of constant fluctuation, the Easts maintain a buying club list (presently reaching 220 members), which one can sign up for via their Facebook site. Growers send word about what products will be available for each upcoming week, and the information is consolidated and sent as a virtual newsletter. Interested buyers can place their orders by Wednesday, and the goods are available to be picked up on Thursday in the shop. 

“The goal is to be socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable,” Richard says, stressing the importance of biodiversity and the implementation of permaculture in maximizing each crop. Soon, the operation will expand into a second greenhouse and a nursery, and he hopes to offer a dedicated area for community gardening in the future. He values the effect of aesthetic beauty, and will soon incorporate aspects of old English gardens in the grounds surrounding the greenhouse (the effect will be complete with the misty graveyard visible in the far distance). “You’ve got to feed the soul,” he says with an easy smile.

Through the efforts of the Easts, the best benefit of the local food movement can be experienced by each of us: getting to sample the crops and produce that have grown from our soil with the guidance and care of expert Maine farmers and culinary artists alike.  To reach Growing Concern, call 454-0183, or swing by to see what’s in at the end of Manning Street.