“Lettuce by Land Carrots by Sea” reads the logo on the paper bags at the floating farmers market on our little island in Maine. Every Saturday morning at 11 on the dot, a boat from Mitchell Ledge Farm in Freeport purrs into the boatyard and ties up to the dock where people are already standing in line waiting for the week’s treasure trove.
I spoke with Ursula Wilmot who operates the floating market with her husband Warren and her sister Olivia LeMaistre. The idea was the brainstorm of Ursula and her husband, and it was honed after they took a business course on farming offered by the State of Maine. They discovered that there is one other market boat in Maine, operating on Sheepscot River in the Boothbay area. Although the idea of a floating market is not common in the US, it is an ancient tradition in places like Venice and Thailand, Ursula points out.
This is their third season in the market boat business, and they serve two islands in Casco Bay. When they leave the harbor in Freeport their boat is full, so if they decide at some point to expand to more islands they will need to add more boats and more personnel. For now, they prefer to take things slowly.
They sell vegetables grown on their ¼-acre plot at Mitchell Ledge Farm, and they supplement with seafood and meat as well as berries and other veggies from local Maine farms, and baked goods from Standard Bakery in Portland. They try to support farms on the islands they serve, offering to buy produce and sell it on their boat rather than compete with them.
Ursula and Olivia grew up in a farming family. Mitchell Ledge Farm was started by their parents, Andy and Mary LeMaistre, and is known for its herd of grass fed Belted Galloway beef cattle. It is the largest working farm in Freeport, Maine (also home to LLBean). As I dug a little deeper, I discovered that the LeMaistres recently put their 132 acres of farmland into permanent conservation, working with the Freeport Conservation Trust (FCT) in partnership with the government and private donors. The easements will protect scenic pastures, hay fields, woodlands, streams and wetlands from future development or subdivision, forever. As a board member of our local land trust, Oblong Land Conservancy, I am intrigued by this model of conserving farmland to ensure it will continue to be productive as farmland into the future. It is a model we are very interested in following here in Dutchess County, where family farms are disappearing at a rapid rate.
Ursula estimates they serve up to 150 people each Saturday at the two islands. On a beautiful Saturday morning in July the line forms before they arrive and remains steady until the last customer is served at around noon. We love our local Pawling Farmers Market, but when we are in Maine the floating market is a wonderful alternative.
Dorian Winslow is the president of Womanswork, and is passionate about making the best products on the market for women who garden and work outdoors.
Horticulture publishes the free weekly e-newsletter, “Smart Gardening Tips,” and “The Curious Gardener,” a free monthly e-newsletter with more tips and articles by Dorian. Subscribe to our e-newsletters.