UNITY— Walking through meadows of apple trees, and by clusters of wildflowers and sculptures, I entered the grounds of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity on Saturday, August 17 intent on one thing: drinking beer and eating bread.
MOFGA’s first Bread and Brews Festival did not disappoint, drawing nearly 200 people from all over the state. I’ve been to many brew fests around the state, but this one felt small and intimate with 11 breweries in the main area of the Common Ground Education Center
“We heard from many of the brewers that they appreciated how small this was,” said Torie DeLisle, MOFGA’s Director of Development and Membership. “One of the brewers told us that at the large scale brew festivals, they often feel like they are just processing orders, whereas at this festival, they got to really had time to talk about their beer and ingredients with people who were very interested. So, they felt that they got some real interaction with the participants.”
Co-sponsored by the Maine Grain Alliance, the festival highlighted the many ways that Maine-grown grains are enjoying a renaissance in Maine, in both baking and beer. Many people didn’t know until they came to the festival how much the farmers, bakers, businesses and brewers all collaborate and intersect, using Maine grains in a variety of ways. For example, many brewers are sourcing their fermentables—barley, rye, wheat and oats—locally, rather than import from gristmills and farms out of state. See my 2017 related story below.
“The connection between farmers of Maine-grown grains and brewers has really deepened over the years,” said DeLisle. “To give you one example, one Maine brewer who came here, buys the grains from the farmer and runs it through the system to make the beer. When the grains are spent, the brewer then send them to a baker, who uses them in a special beer bread, so you have this full circle process—definitely a collaboration we’re trying to foster.”
The festival was also different from a typical beer tasting in that there was an educational component with multiple demos and workshops in both baking and brewing. Eli Rogosa, founder of Heritage Founder Conservancy, was one such notable presenter, who gave a workshop on “A Taste of Ancient Grains.” A renowned “seed steward” and author, Rogosa traveled the world to collect rare and ancient wheat species, called landrace wheats, which were on the verge of extinction when she brought them back to the United States. These heritage wheats are far superior in proteins and nutrients than commercially processed wheats and tend to grow exceedingly well in Maine’s short growing season.
“We were lucky to have people like Eli and other key people in Maine who are at the forefront of the grain revolution giving classes and baking bread with the participants,” said DeLisle. “We have a wood-fired oven and were kicking out wood-fired bread all night.”
And those who chose to stay the night and set up their tents on the grounds were treated to a “breads and spreads” breakfast Sunday morning. Beyond that, the festival offered food trucks, live music, samples from other vendors and for lack of a better word, a pretty organic experience.
Based on the success of this festival, DeLisle says there’s already plans int he works for a 2020 festival. “We may not make it too much bigger, but will round it out even more,” she said. “Our ongoing role is to create an educational experience that helps brewers connect with Maine growers. We’re even starting to have a conversation about creating a MOFGA-inspired organic beer for next year.”
Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one after drinking all that beer and eating all of that bread to think: “Time to jump back on that diet tomorrow.”
“We were joking that maybe we should probably start out the day with a 5K run,” said DeLisle, laughing. “We’ll see: stay tuned.”
For more information on future MOFGA events visit: MOFGA
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org