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Reaping what they sow The Maine Harvest Festival

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Attendees at last year's Maine Harvest Festival buy one of the many products available at the two-day event that features over one hundred vendors. Attendees at last year's Maine Harvest Festival buy one of the many products available at the two-day event that features over one hundred vendors. (photo courtesy of Cross Insurance Center/Jodi Devost)

Sixth annual event returns to the Cross Insurance Center Nov. 18 & 19

BANGOR - The Maine Harvest Festival, an award-winning annual two-day celebration of Maine growers, chefs, food processors, vintners, brewers, distillers, authors, musicians and fiber artisans, is set for Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19 and 20, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

The presenting sponsor for the sixth annual event will be the Maine Potato Board. The Maine Harvest Festival was recently voted the fifth-best harvest festival in the country by USA Today.

Five years ago, Bangor resident Judi Perkins had a vision - to showcase Maine's finest products and the people who bring them to market and to present them all to the public under one roof.

Perkins grew up in a Maine-farm family in Bangor along with three sisters. 'We were very involved with gardening and preparations of vegetables and poultry for my mom and dad's farm,' Perkins told in a phone interview last week. 'We also helped with the deliveries to grocery stores during that time.'

Perkins said that Maine's hardworking farmers captured her heart and imagination and planted the seed for what has become one of New England's most popular trade shows.

'Thinking about the Maine farmer's markets and observing how popular they had become just stimulated the idea,' Perkins said. 'I called the Maine Dept. of Agriculture to talk to them about it and they were very supportive from the beginning. They even suggested the time of year that might be best in order to avoid a conflict with other events happening in the state.'

From the beginning, Judi Perkins' idea was a success. 'Based on the response from that first year, we felt that this could be ongoing for some time,' she said.

The event continues to grow each year, Perkins told me, with this year's sixth annual event hosting more than 150 different Maine-based vendors. 'It's a wonderful feeling that our patrons have supported this event to the degree that they have and our vendors recognize that it's an event not to be missed,' she said.

In addition to all manner of locally-produced foods, food-related products and beverages, there are added attractions on the schedule that fall under the 'Made in Maine' umbrella.

'We've grown the idea to include more from the fiber side and the educational side,' said Perkins.

Fiber artisans at the Maine Harvest Festival will showcase products manufactured with fiber produced by a variety of animals.

'They are artisans; we don't consider them crafters,' Perkins explained. 'They might have that wonderful Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm in Unity, raising their own animals and taking the fiber from those animals to make beautiful and warm hats, mittens and socks. I thought since we feature the inside of so many of these animals from lamb to beef, it makes sense to showcase what's on the outside, that can be harvested at this time of year, and show the products made from it.'

This year's edition of The Maine Harvest Festival will feature the University of Maine's Page Farm and Home Museum & Friends, presenting an assortment of educational and hands-on demonstrations. According to Perkins, they will be one of the highlights of this year's festival.

'They have dedicated almost a year of their time putting together workshops which include presentations on obtaining a loan for a small farm, cooking demonstrations and gardening including dealing with challenges in the garden.'

Perkins says that Maine Harvest Festival attendees will be encouraged to visit the ballroom area of the Cross Insurance Center to watch, learn, try their hand at weaving and sample the fare of a great local chef.

'There is so much history that will be presented in the ballroom from the mid-1840s to the 1940s,' she said. 'Beyond that, there are things still done the same way today. It will be wonderful and informational, educational and fun-filled hands-on experience in that room.'

Harvest Festival Happenings

Among the presentations scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 19, include an 11 a.m. demonstration from acclaimed local chef Cathy Speronis (AKA: The Pie Lady') demonstrating the secrets of making the perfect pie crust.

Chef Brandon Haney (Executive Chef of Cross Insurance Center) will highlight Maine potatoes in his presentation scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m.

Speaking of Maine potatoes, Kimberly Dagher, Professional Chocolatier, will show attendees how to make Maine Needhams at 2 p.m.

Scott and Nickie Demoranville of 4D's Farm in Bradford will give a presentation called 'Backyard Poultry' on both days of the festival starting at 11 a.m. on the Farm Talks stage. They will share tricks and remedies for managing a small poultry farm.

Curious about organic food? Jaco Gardei and Katy Green of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) will explain the art, science and commercialization of organic products in their 12:30 p.m. presentation 'Certified Organic.'

At 2:00 p.m., Don Todd, State Executive Director for Farm Service Agency in Maine, will offer a presentation on USDA/FSA loan programs.

We've all felt a pumpkin but how many of us have needle-felted a pumpkin? Debra Wright will show you how it's done at 1 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, on the Fiber Studio stage.

'Basketful of Bunnies' is the title of the presentation scheduled for 2 p.m. on the Fiber stage with Michaele Bailey, who will demonstrate the shearing of a German Angora rabbit and how to make it most humane for the rabbit while staying most efficient for the fiber artisan.

Sunday's presentations begin at 10:30 a.m. at Brownie's Kitchen Stage with Susan Watson of Midsummer Night's Meadow Farm, demonstrating how to make your own sausage.

Cooking gluten and dairy-free potato donuts is on the schedule for 12:30 p.m. with Rachel Eugley, owner and chef of Raegamuffin's Gluten Free Bakery in Veazie.

Dr. Harold 'Dusty' Dowse, Director of Education for the Maine Grain Alliance, will share his expertise in baking artisanal breads at home at 2 p.m. on the Kitchen Stage.

Managing pests for small farms and gardens will be the subject of a 12:30 discussion on the Farm Talks stage with James Dill, University of Maine Cooperative Extension professor.

The film 'Growing Local' will be shown at 2 p.m. on the Farm Talks stage. Three short vignettes will show attendees how farms, consumers and the local food movement are interconnected.

Picking potatoes is a job that never leaves you. Whether you grew up in Aroostook County or grow potatoes in your garden, you understand the definition of real work if you've done it. For those who've never picked potatoes or for those hearty souls who would like to experience a flashback to those frosty autumn mornings when you would be dropped off in a field to stake out a section, the Maine Potato Picking Contest will allow you to dig in and fill your basket starting at 11:30 a.m. at the Corral Stage.

This year, the Maine Potato Festival will occupy nearly every available square foot of the Cross Insurance Center, including the pre-function area at the front of the building, facing Hollywood Casino.

Gabriel Frey will be there with ash-pounding and basket-making demonstrations all day with discussions scheduled for both days at noon. Frey is a 12th-generation Passamaquoddy basket maker. His work reflects Passamaquoddy indigenous values of interconnectedness and reciprocity between people and the natural world, place, family and all beings.

The Maine Forest and Logging Museum of Bradley (also known as Leonard's Mills) will also be set up in the pre-function area, hosting shingle-splitting demonstrations and will bring with them a bateau a flat-bottom long boat used in river drives.

Orono Contraband will demonstrate and host contra dancing at 2:30 p.m. on both days of the festival in the pre-function area.

In the Fiber Studio, be sure to check out the handmade yurt on display, from Susan Watson of Midsummer Night's Meadow Farm in Garland. The yurt was made using wool from her flock of sheep.

Fans of homegrown bluegrass music will want to be at the Maine Harvest Festival on Saturday for live music from Erica Brown & the Blue Grass Connection, a five-piece band from Portland. Their performances will take place from 11 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m. on the Main Street Stage in the arena.

St. Joseph Healthcare Hospital is scheduled to present seminars on the health benefits of harvest foods on Saturday, starting at 11 a.m. Julie Hovencamp, a Registered Dietician Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator and Lori Downes, a Registered Nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator, will discuss the health benefits of harvest foods and offer cooking suggestions for different foods and how they can be used to manage diabetes.

Maine authors will be celebrated on the second day of the festival with a 10:30 a.m. seminar hosted by Deb Neuman, president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. Among the authors scheduled to participate are Jim Haskell with his book 'Two Tents Short,' Kathy Eliscu, author of 'Not Even Dark Chocolate Can Fix This Mess,' Susan Starr, author of 'Memories of a Mad Innkeeper: The Muffin Recipes Revealed,' and Don Carrigan of WLBZ 2 and WCSH 6 with his children's book titled 'Togus: A Coon Cat Finds a Home' about the cat that he and his family rescued that later became the StormCenter mascot for channels 2 and 6.

Wine and cheese lovers will have a unique opportunity to sample and learn about Maine-made wines and cheeses on Sunday at 12:30 on the Main Street Stage in the arena with Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery, Appleton Creamery and ME Water Buffalo Co.

Maine Harvest Festival organizer Judi Perkins says that people who love to make pie will be part of a very special contest at the festival.

'We were asked by the Maine Department of Agriculture to host the State Fair pie competition,' Perkins says. 'It takes place at all of the state fairs who choose to be involved. The winners come to Bangor for the grand finale and there will be great cash prizes, ribbons and recognition.'

Student and home cooks have not been left out, Perkins says. 'We have included a couple of other categories, including student culinary and home cooks who would love to bring a pie and see what the judges think about it.'

The competition is set for Sunday, Nov. 20, starting at 1 p.m. Those dropping off pies for the contest can do so between 10 and 11 a.m. on that day. For contest rules, see the dropdown link under Events & Schedule at www.MaineHarvestFestival.com.

Door prizes, a popular bonus in previous years, will also be a part of this year's Maine Harvest Festival as attendees will have an opportunity to win one of three appliances provided by Dunnett Appliance & Mattress, Penobscot Plaza, Washington St. in Bangor.

Prizes in the Dunnett's appliance drawing include a Weber BBQ grill, valued at $800, a GE gas range, valued at $750 and a Frigidaire wine cooler, valued at $500. One entry per attendee per day, winners must be 21 or over, no purchase is necessary to win and winners need not be present when the winning names are drawn on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m.

Tickets for the Maine Harvest Festival presented by the Maine Potato Board can be purchased in advance at Cross Insurance Center on Main St. in Bangor and will be available at the door. Tickets are $8 per person with children 12 and under admitted free.

'Purchasing your tickets in advance allows you to avoid standing in line and gives you quick access to the event when you arrive,' Judi Perkins says.

More than 6,500 festival attendees are expected over the course of both days, according to Perkins. She says she is excited for the opportunity to connect festival attendees with the many vendors on site.

'I love the fact that people will be discovering some of these vendors for the very first time and I think they'll want to be connected with them year round,' Perkins said.

'We continue to see more and more people each year,' Perkins said. 'And our wonderful vendors will often sign up for the following year's festival while the current one is still going on.'

Perkins told me that she sees about an 85 percent return rate for vendors.

'They recognize that this is one of the biggest events of the year and they want to be sure that they're part of this event each year. We've grown not only in terms of vendors and attendees, but also in terms of how much of the building we take on. We have packed it from the parking lot doors to the pre-function area.'

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