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Heather Steeves

Heather Steeves tries to do things that are fun -- and only things that are fun. So far that's included stilt walking, roller derby and cross-country road trips in her Saturn.

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Posted: June 16, 2014

A farmers market on a boat – A new project considers sailing food from Lubec to Boston

Written by: Heather Steeves

For hundreds of years Mainers shipped their goods on big, wooden sailboats. Those schooners in the bays of Rockland, Bath, Portland, Kennebunkport and between were the 18-wheelers of their day (minus all the fossil fuels). A few organizations are contemplating bringing back the old ways by enlisting a boat or barge to pick up food from farms along the Maine coast and delivering them to people along the way to a larger city, like Boston or New York.

This photo is from the collections of Maine Historical Society of one of the wharfs along Portland's waterfront with wooden sailing vessels alongside, ca. 1890.

This photo is from the collections of Maine Historical Society of one of the wharfs along Portland’s waterfront with wooden sailing vessels alongside, ca. 1890.

This type of project launched in Vermont last year. Sailors from the Vermont Sail Freight Project floated down the Champlain and Hudson rivers on a barge to Manhattan. On the way down, they collected honey, carrots, pickles, potatoes and other shelf-stable foods from 37 farms and then made 13 market stops. In total they sold $50,000 of food.

On Sunday, MOFGA, Maine Farmland Trust, Penobscot Marine Museum and Greenhorns (a nonprofit that works with the Vermont project) are hosting a potluck dinner to talk about the project in Maine, what should happen, how it should happen, what the route should be and what sort of boat they should use. The meeting is 5 p.m. Sunday, June 22 at Tranquility Grange Hall in Lincolnville. Organizers will give a presentation and then ask the public for feedback.

Greenhorns — the nonprofit behind the Vermont Sail Freight Project — helps young/new farmers. I interviewed Greenhorns founder Severine von Tscharner Fleming about the project:

Tell me about Greenhorns and this project

We hope this project will be a cooperative. Greenhorns is an organization that works to support new farmers. We believe in the power of art-stunts to support cooperative, inter-sectoral collaborations oriented at rebuilding our infrastructure, distribution, processing, value added and access to farm-grown food. The power of the wind, and the power of relationships that arise from teamwork, can help us challenge the notions of what is possible. In terms of a foodshed, this can mean a system that connects rural producers with equally rural consumers, building sovereignty, local wealth and a regional supply chain thats reliable. 


Portland Press Herald file photos.

How did it work in Vermont?

The Maiden voyage of Vermont Sail Freight was last year, 2013. We sold $50,000 dollars of regional foods, from 37 farms, a total of 99 products: everything from onions, to pickles, to rice, to beans, to goat-milk caramels.  All of it from sustainable family farms. We did 13 market stops during our 360 mile trip down to Manhattan from Vermont, selling our wares to a mostly pedestrian set of buyers, who’d heard about the project and tracked our progress down the river. We were in The New Yorker, New York Times, the front page of the Hudson, Troy, Mechanicville and Albany newspapers. There was a near constant celebration of enthusiasts from many adjacent interest groups: from maritime history, to folk-song, environmental conservation, local-commerce, traditional craft economy, arts community, farmers, foodies, hipsters, youngsters and the unaffiliated but curious. As vessel we held more than just food, we held an ongoing conversation between parties that can work together, better, than alone. 

Why bring this to Maine?

The name of the state, Maine, refers to ” the Maineland” since much of the early action was on the waves and islands.  Tuning back into the logic of the landscape means seeing the power of the coastline, the winds, the surface area, rivers and towns that are already scaled to the sustainable economy we are building together. 

Portland Press Herald file photos

Portland Press Herald file photos

In Maine would you use a barge, or a schooner?

This is a discussion worth having! And in all likelihood there will be some heated debate in the room after our panel presentation as we think through, in a community brainstorming, what makes sense. This debate, fitting form to function, is a sizzly way to engage the people of the land, people of the sea, in a charette of cooperation. 

Where would the end destination be for the Maine boat? Boston? New York City?

We don’t know yet, but there’s a special ring to “Lubec to Boston.”

Portland Press Herald file photos.

Portland Press Herald file photos.

For more information on the Vermont Sail Freight Project, visit

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