Changing consumers

Q: Do you see changing awareness of food issues among your customers?

Lindholm: I’ve been very impressed at the general cultural awareness growing up in the past 10 years.

When I started the Maine Seed-Saving Network in 1995, there weren’t a lot of people — especially farmers, let alone gardeners — talking about saving their own seed. Everyone pretty much just went to the seed company every year.

At that time, genetically engineered vegetable varieties were just being introduced, and the big wholesale seed companies were being consolidated. There was a small organization called Seed Savers Exchange, in Decorah, Iowa, and I really liked what they were doing, but I could see there was a need to do some of that — and then some — at a local level. I started it as a membership organization and we hosted a seed swap. I gave talks and seed-saving demonstrations and that sort of thing for gardening clubs, MOFGA chapters, the Common Ground Fair, schools and things like that.

That organization is dormant, but what I saw happen is companies like Fedco Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Pinetree Garden Seeds, all three based here in Maine, basically took the bull by the horns in that time frame. By 2002, they were promoting seed-saving, getting small New England farms to grow some of their varieties, increasing their selection of heirloom varieties and open-pollinated varieties.

And from then to now, everyone’s awareness has come about. It’s almost a household thing to be talking heirloom tomatoes. “Local,” at least in our area, seems to be a big term — how far away your food has to come from, how close to your own home can you eat? And that has a lot of larger cultural repercussions, too.

It certainly is useful to me, as a small farmer, to garner interest from a whole bunch of people who, five years ago or 10 years ago, never even thought of going to farmers markets. When I joined the Stonington farmers market, 10 years ago, there were about three or four of us. Now there’s about 10 farms and about 20 other food and craft vendors, and I think 400 to 500 people visit it every week — it’s mobbed.

And that’s in the tiny little fishing village of Stonington.