Back in April, 2004, I was at Portland’s Earth Day celebration, hawking copies of the city’s late, great alternative newspaper, The Portland Pigeon. I met an interesting gentleman, a farmer from The County (that’s Aroostook County, to your flatlanders out there). Jim Cook, an organic farmer from Grand Isle, had a booth and we talked about farming, sustainable economies and how multi-national corporations were killing local culture. As a farmer, he obviously saw things from the ground-floor (pun intended). My intention was to look into the possibility of finding a story about farming and pitch it. We spoke by phone, but other projects and life’s busyness found the idea pushed aside.
Fast-forward over18 months later and Jim Cook and his Aroostook County potatoes, along with a Portland chef are being featured (requires free registration) in the NY Times Dining and Wine section. Lest you think that Cook is just another farmer, seeking to cash in by marketing to a wealthy niche of food snobs and high society types, think again. While selling his potatoes to specialty restaurants and natural food stores helps to keep him in business, his breed of farmer bodes well for the industry’s future. He “gets” the connection between local foods and the future health of society.
I took the occasion of the article (replete with photo) to touch bases with him by sending him an email. I’m starting to ramp up the idea percolator and farmers like Cook, who see the big picture, are perfect Mainers to speak with in helping me see the forest for the trees (or potatoes for the fields). He was as congenial as I remember him to be and I will definitely be sitting down with him some time, soon.
It’s hard not to sense his deep love for his craft and his desire to be part of the solution, I feel better knowing that farming is in the hands of people like Jim Cook (and many others). A lot of forces are at work, that might bring farming and local foods back to center stage, where they belong.
Maybe it’s not accidental that potatoes are on my radar screen at this point. It was the potato that allowed me to get to know my German immigrant farmer better than my other cousins. I remember his own local garden where he grew potatoes, as well as cucumbers, corn, tomatoes and many other vegetables. My Opa knew nothing about organic farming, but he respected his land and cared for it the best way that he knew how. I was fortunate to have experienced those late summer and early fall harvests as a youngster. There’s nothing like a meal from that which comes from your own efforts and bounty.
I look forward to having an opportunity to talk farming and local foods with Cook at some point in the not-too-distant future. For the time being, I’m happy to see Maine spuds enjoy some marquee billing in the Big Apple.