The Landscapes of My Life

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Kelli Park

School of Education and Human Development, University of Southern Maine

EDU 559: Aspects of Reading for Multlingual Learners

Professor Heather Alden

September 19, 2020

The Landscapes of My Life: An Autoethnography of Creativity through Sense of Place

There are undercurrents in my life that have led me near and far over the course of the past three decades, even if those undercurrents were a mystery to me at the time. When I think of my life, I think mostly of connections: to individuals, to places, to fleeting moments in time that are too beautiful for words, and to the synergy that exists among these evolving elements. 

The elements that define me have long been converging and diverging in a natural rhythm, much like the ebb and flow of the tides: always changing, but forever consistent in their change. The course of my life has been shaped by flowing parallels: as an artist, a writer, a photographer, a traveler, an entrepreneur, an educator, a mother, and an individual with an insatiable desire to explore the nature of connection, near and far. I know now that the threads that weave together these parallels are, and always have been, defined by a sense of place – the “sights, stories, feelings, and concepts” of my surroundings (Ryfield et al., 2019).

From the deserts of Texas to the last frontier of Alaska to the nostalgia of Appalachia to the birch and balsam groves of Maine, and everywhere in between, my childhood was carved by my ever-changing surroundings. As a child, I navigated this immersive lifestyle with an introverted openness that allowed me to become naturally observant, as my fifth-grade teacher once told me. This has since become the element that defines me as an artist, a writer, and a photographer, having “gained a tangible creative benefit from multicultural experience. . .with an open mindset to welcome new experiences,” (Leung et al,. 2008). 

My lifelong immersion in exploration has always felt like the most natural way to live, especially after I (unknowingly, at the time) began to dig deeper into the dynamic “relationship between multicultural experience and creativity. . .as a result of adapting and being open to new experiences,” (Leung et al,. 2008). This fluidity for being receptive to new experiences and surroundings has become a driving force in my life, fueling my endeavors back and forth across the country and beyond, while “seeking out ideas from diverse sources to use in the creative process,” (Leung et al,. 2008).  

The steady flow of change and movement in my life became ingrained in my creativity over time so that the two elements have become inextricably intertwined. My personal explorations and immersions in a changing sense of place have defined my experiences, decisions, and connections, and have shaped the essence of my creativity to “bring [sense of place] into being. . .with a complex intersection of cartography and literature, a charting of interior and exterior landscapes,”(Ryfield et al., 2019). The lens through which I view the world is how I navigate the changing landscapes of my life. My creativity is diversified by the living study of the interconnectedness that exists among individuals, communities, cultures, and their natural surroundings and is something that lives within my mind, my heart, my soul – always. 

From the Rocky Mountains to Big Sky Country to the stark vistas of the Southwest to the granite coves of Maine, and everywhere in between, my adulthood has been defined by something that, up until recently, was not satisfied with stillness. Movement was the only rhythm that felt natural to me for a long time and now that need for constant change has evolved into something more steady with the duality of the changing tides. My deepest connection, in my day to day life, lives within the natural flow of the water that surrounds me. This is another layer of sense of place to be explored, pursued, and depicted over the course of time, and my relationship with the sea, as “a way to identify and respond to the emotional and spiritual bonds people form with certain spaces” (Ryfield et al., 2019). The sea has cast its spell with the mystery of its depths and the eternity of its horizon, so that my connection with it has evolved from “aesthetic experience to part of place” (Ryfield et al., 2019).

The fluidity of movement has become interwoven with every element and parallel in the synergy of my life. It is a force to be reckoned with in my mind, my heart, my soul – always. I navigate the natural flow of my life to depict the sense of place for places that I’ve been and places that I’ll go, and to tell the stories of the individuals who are connected to these places. The spirit of my experiences with these wild places is something that I never forget. I carry it with me always and I think of it often, the feeling of standing on the edge of something faraway. 

References

Leung, A., Maddux, W., Galinsky, A., & Chiu, C. (2008). Multicultural experience enhances creativity: The when and how. American Psychologist, Volume 63(3), 169-181. https://web-b-ebscohost-com.wv-o-ursus-proxy01.ursus.maine.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=ff14e80b-584c-402b-bd98-cf40d40df7a1%40pdc-v-sessmgr04&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=pdh&AN=2008-03389-003

Ryfield, F., Cabana, D., Brannigan, J., & Crowe, T. (2019). Conceptualizing ‘sense of place’ in cultural ecosystem services: A framework for interdisciplinary research. Ecosystem Services, Volume 36, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2019.100907

Oysters – From Delicacy to Staple?

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EMILY SELINGER USES THE COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED MODEL TO BUILD HER MARKET

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

August 30, 2019

Story and Photos By Kelli Park

Emily Selinger has made it her mission to change the way we look at oysters, one farm-share at a time.

Selinger spent her childhood on the Harraseeket River in Freeport, where she fell in love with working on the water. She taught sailing classes at a young age, and pursued her interest in boats by getting her captain’s license and working on schooners up and down the East Coast.

She studied art history in college in Washington and, for six years, on and off, worked on a 140-foot schooner that cruised between Boston and St. Croix.

“I learned a lot on the water in that boat, mostly about myself,” Selinger says. She eventually returned to Maine and work on a lobster boat. She also befriended Amanda Moeser, owner of Lanes Island Oyster Co. in Yarmouth, which inspired her to start a similar business.

“I was totally captivated with oyster farming from the start,” Selinger remembers. “It’s a perfect marriage of all my favorite things about working on the water—hands-on problem solving, physical maintenance, and I can always be improving and reinventing.”

Selinger began working with Moeser in 2017 and quickly decided to take the plunge, buying a small batch of oyster seed, which she grew on Moeser’s farm that fall, and began the process of establishing her own oyster farm.

“I can’t imagine going out and finding a place to grow oysters without the local knowledge from growing up here. Messing around in little boats, running aground, wandering around in the mud,” she says. “I knew, pretty much instantly, where I wanted to site my farm.”

She then acquired three limited purpose aquaculture licenses for her farm in Freeport, and so began what she calls “the most perfect self-employment opportunity on the water that I ever could have dreamed of.”

CLEAN AND SIMPLE

Selinger’s approach is clean and simple. She operates on 1,600 square feet in the Harraseeket River (with a pending application for expansion) using her 19-foot flat-bottomed, center console skiff, Mignonette. She prefers to work at low tide, when the water is about 2-feet deep, so she can get out and walk in her waders to do routine maintenance.

“I have everything rigged pretty simply right now because it’s just me, and it works well. I’m trying to keep things as minimal as I can,” she says.

After receiving a start-up business grant from the Libra Future Fund, she built a facility in her garage for safe handling and product storage in order to get her enhanced retail license, which is required to sell at farmers’ markets. Selling there is one of her goals for next year.

“I’m trying to approach oyster farming like a vegetable farmer,” she explains.

Selinger spent the past winter developing her strategy, channeling her creativity, and thinking like an entrepreneur.

“It just hit me one day. I was thinking about food and how people sell food and where people sell food,” she says, growing animated. “Where do you think of when you think of eating oysters? Portland. The restaurant scene. Fine dining.”

Oysters have been seen as a delicacy, but Selinger argues that with ideal growing conditions statewide, they can be produced “by the hundreds of thousands.” So why not work to have oysters understood by consumers as “an everyday, eat-at-home item?”

Selinger uses the traditional community-supported agriculture as her model, striving to eliminate the barriers between farmed food and delicacies. Instead of implementing a weekly CSA schedule, which always results in “rotting kale in the fridge,” as she says, this farm-share is individualized: customers purchase allotments of oysters and select year-round delivery dates that fit within their schedule.

Selinger also hopes to increase accessibility through face-to-face connections. She offers personal shucking lessons for first-time customers, and starter kits, which include an insulated cooler bag, shucking knives, and how-to instructions. She also plans to educate customers about different cooking methods (she recommends grilling) to push beyond the raw stereotype and appeal to a wider audience.

Since she launched the CSA earlier this year, Selinger already has 20 customers and has booked shucking gigs for weddings, corporate parties, fundraising events, and festivals in the coming months.

She looks forward to diversifying the local oyster industry while “running her own little experiments” to develop her oyster flavor profile—sweet, salty, and flowery, with a hint of citrus .

And she has strong feelings about the marine economy.

“If we want our working waterfront to continue to grow and be the vibrant community it is now, making some space for people in other ventures, such as aquaculture, is really important. It takes cooperation from everyone, on all sides. The more people we have working on the water here, the better it will be for keeping Maine the way it is. I wholly believe that.”

For more information, visit emilysoysters.com.

Sisters in Recovery: Colleen Francke

Due North Project, Maine Documentary Photography
Aquaculture For Women Recovering from Addiction is Colleen Francke’s Dream 

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

May 21, 2018

By Kelli Park

Planting and maintaining a garden can help those recovering from addiction. The recovering person learns responsibility while cultivating, nurturing, and investing time and effort, during which the individual grows along with the garden.

Colleen Francke has taken this concept and adapted it to the ocean, planning an aquaculture farm in which women recovering from addiction can heal and grow while cultivating kelp, oysters, and mussels. Francke recently put her plan into motion with the creation of Summit Point Seafood, an aquaculture farm that would operate off Sturdivant Island in Cumberland for women who are in recovery and learning to live without substances. Salt Sisters is the fundraising campaign that supports the project.

Francke is committed to providing women with a safe work environment as they navigate the recovery process and learn about aquaculture.

“I decided in early 2016 to stop using substances to cope with life. During that process, I met a lot of women who helped me through that really difficult transition,” she remembers.

“When I started this process, someone said to me, ‘There are things in your life that alcohol took away from you. What are those things?’ My dream to finish college was one of them, my art was another thing, and going further with aquaculture was another one. So I looked at that and said, ‘I’m going to go for it. I’m going to start taking the steps to do this project and build a farm,’” she says.

Francke, 32, has spent most of her life around the water. Growing up in Eastham on Cape Cod, her first job was cutting fish and cooking lobster at a local fish market. After she moved to Maine, she learned about aquaculture while working on a mussel farm in Casco Bay. These days, she lobsters offshore aboard the Linda Kate out of Portland, while planning the future of Summit Point Seafood and Salt Sisters.

On board the Linda Kate, Francke moves with a quiet confidence, tacking tasks swiftly and gracefully, revealing her comfort on the water. She’s in her element.

When she talks about her vision for the aquaculture operation, there’s an energy and joy that show in her smile.

Inspiration from her surroundings came at an early age, she explains, and her connection to the sea informs her goals.

“There was a landing in the town that I grew up in and there was a woman who used to dig clams there. I remember her coming in every day, carrying her catch in bright orange baskets,” Francke says.

“I’d never really seen a woman like that. She was independent and she was stunningly beautiful. She was strong and she was free. I remember watching her and wanting to be exactly like her someday. She had her little skiff and she was happy.”

Those traits can help in recovery.

“Recovery is self-reflective, basically,” she says. “You’re looking at what you’re doing in the world and how you’re feeling, and affecting relationships.”

But as noble as her goals are, Francke has learned that achieving them means relying on others.

“It felt really selfish and ego-driven to say this project is something that I’ve always wanted, and I’m just going to go for it by myself. It just felt like a really shallow endeavor. I wouldn’t have this opportunity without having these other women guide me into this new life that I’m living now,” she says.

“Once I decided to make it a recovery-based program, that’s when the whole thing opened up and got some life to it,” she continues. “Women who are new to recovery can have this place as an outlet, even if they don’t want to work on the farm. They can come hang out and realize that, if I can do this, even if your dream isn’t aquaculture or fishing, there are means in which you can make it happen. If I can do it, you can do it.”

A friend and fellow “salt sister” gives Francke a hearty endorsement.

“Colleen is a frigging powerhouse,” says Mary Taylor of Chebeague Island. “She’s a hard worker, she knows her sh–, she’s good on deck and she’s got a good vision. She wants to be on the water. I’m proud of her with her sobriety. Her vision is true and pure, and she has good intentions. I’d go anywhere on a boat anytime with her,” Taylor, who also lobsters, said.

Francke is already looking beyond the farm.

“Down the road, the idea is to have this fundraising campaign, Salt Sisters, turn into its own nonprofit. At that point, Summit Point would be running like a flagship farm, and then Salt Sisters, as a nonprofit, can go to Cape Cod and get farms started there for women in recovery, or go to California, where ever there’s a need. That nonprofit will be able to say, we’re going to help these women if they want help with doing the paperwork, lease applications, funding, etc. If these women are in the same position that I’m in now, they’ll keep paying back. It starts a cycle bigger than itself,” she explains.

Francke has submitted an aquaculture lease application to the Department of Marine Resources and has raised $2,000 toward her initial $50,000 goal. For more information , see www.summitpointseafood.com or Summit Point Seafood on Facebook.

One Man’s Seaworthy Seagull Companion

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A RECIPROCAL FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN JOHN MAKOWSKY AND RED EYE

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

As a lobsterman who’s spent six decades on the water, John Makowsky knows the meaning of lasting relationships—with the sea, with his boat, with his crew, and with his best friend of 16 years: a seagull named Red Eye.

Makowsky hails from Long Island Sound in Connecticut, where he grew up in the shadow of his father hauling traps in the early 1960s. He attended college in Vermont and dabbled in a variety of professional endeavors before returning to his roots as a fourth-generation fisherman, taking over the family business in the early 1980s.

In 1984, he had his dream boat built, a 42-foot Cape Dory trawler, F/V Intrepid, which he still uses to haul traps today. After the lobster die-off in Long Island Sound following Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Makowsky found himself working in an office in Massachusetts. He began adding federal permits to his boat and eventually made the jump to the New Hampshire Seacoast.

During his time on the water, Makowsky became aware of the differences in the seagulls that followed his boat.

“Most of them have their own character and individuality, besides physical things. If you have some awareness of the animals, you’ll notice different mannerisms: the way they move, the way they hop around, the way they land on the boat, the way they go after another, the way they avoid conflict or make conflict, the way they make their calls,” he said. “That’s the way I began to identify Red Eye.”

Red Eye, so named for a distinct coloring, began her tenure aboard Intrepid from the stern, where she would rotate between her go-to positions a safe distance from Makowsky.

“There’s been an increase in trust over the years. In the past, she was very camera shy. If I pulled my phone out to take a picture, she’d fly off. That was it. No pictures. Now she lets me take pictures,” said Makowsky.

“For a long time, she didn’t like me making eye contact with her. She’d turn away. Now she’ll just stand there and look right at me and I can talk to her,” he said.

The two friends are now so at ease with each other that Red Eye will eat brown hake—her favorite—from Makowsky’s hand. And quickly.

“Like today when I went out, I didn’t see any seagulls at all for five miles. All of a sudden in the sky, there was one flying toward me, and I knew it would be her. She always finds us,” Makowsky said.

He believes Red Eye spends the night on the Isle of Shoals.

“There have been times in the winter when I may drive offshore, 15-20 miles out, and I haven’t seen her. And all of a sudden, she’s there. When she wants to find me, she does.”

In June, Red Eye injured a foot, causing her to lose her balance on the offshore boat rides that she so loved.

“It was heartbreaking,” Makowsky said, and he began making calls, eventually finding the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick. After three weeks of attempting to wrangle Red Eye into captivity aboard the boat, Makowsky was finally successful in maneuvering his wounded companion into a lobster crate with a net and several bite marks to show for it.

“When I heard that a fisherman had brought in a gull, I was intrigued, because sometimes the gulls are seen as nuisance animals,” said Sarah Kern, community engagement specialist at the Center for Wildlife. “I didn’t realize that was just the tip of the iceberg. Red Eye truly has chosen Captain John as a companion.”

Despite a grim outlook in the early stages of treatment, Red Eye proved that a little comfort food can go a long way. Makowsky delivered her favorite brown hake, which boosted her spirits on the road to recovery.

Center for Wildlife staff members treated the older muscle and nerve damage that was restricting Red Eye’s use of her foot using a bootie designed to retrain the nerve and muscle, along with tub time for preening, waterproofing, and keeping weight off the feet and legs. Staff even turned to homeopathic remedies and reiki.

Within a few weeks, staff decided Red Eye was strong enough to heal in her natural element, with her friend by her side, and made arrangements with Makowsky to celebrate her release together at sea aboard Intrepid.

“The day on the boat solidified that she was right where she belonged,” Kern said. “Often when an animal is being prepared to be released, it’s stressful—lots of moving around, unfamiliar noises—they know something is up. The minute the boat started, Red Eye just sat down in the carrier next to John and waited. It was like she knew she was home.”

Makowsky saw the bird he knew return to form.

“She was so happy to be in the water, just like a playful child. She must have played in the water for ten minutes next to the boat,” he said. “Finally, she lifted up to fly off to Isle of Shoals.”

Since her release, Red Eye has come aboard every day.

“There’s a lot more intelligence than what we give them credit for,” Makowsky observed. “I can identify her as much as she can identify me from other people. There’s no doubt about that. She’s been on the boat longer than any person who’s ever worked with me.”

Spartan Marine: Stuck in the Bronze Age

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This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

Story/Photos by Kelli Park

In a world churning with change, there is a workshop in a cove in Georgetown where the strength of bronze has withstood the test of time. Spartan Marine makes the case that there are some things better left unchanged.

“The marine hardware business has endured,” says Neil Collins, general manager at Derektor Robinhood Marina, which owns and operates Spartan Marine.

“We make deck hardware that really speaks to a different time in the marine industry,” he continues. “There’s not a whole lot of people making bronze hardware anywhere anymore. I think we’re the only ones who make it in the States with these kinds of offerings.” 

The story of Spartan Marine begins in 1963, when Andy Vavolotis founded Cape Dory Yachts in Massachusetts, which produced thousands of yachts over the course of 30 years.

“Andy was dissatisfied with what was available for deck hardware, so he designed his own,” Collins said. “That’s what we still make. He started a bronze hardware business (Spartan Marine) for his own vessels,” and then sold the hardware to other yards.

“They did everything from sailboat masts to tables to architectural pieces. They did a lot,” said Collins. 

And they stuck to proven designs, explains Skip Collins (no relation to Neil), machinist at Spartan Marine and the man behind the metal since the 1980s (off and on).

“The hardware has stayed the same since 1963,” he said. “This hardware was in use in the 1800s. The cleats and everything have been like this for 300 years.”

Skip Collins, whose father ran what was formerly known as Boothbay Region Boatyard, has spent the past 60 years working in Maine’s maritime industry. He started out as a dock boy and remembers working at the boatyard in Cozy Harbor, where they “hauled boats out with a 4-wheel drive and a winch.” 

The casting for Spartan’s hardware is done at a foundry in Massachusetts, after which the pieces are transported to the workshop in Georgetown for Skip Collins’ finishing touches. He uses machinery from circa 1942 to shape and refine a variety of bronze marine hardware pieces, including cleats, ports, seacocks, and outboard motor mounts.

“We have an excellent reputation in the industry for our opening ports, which are really the finest made anywhere in the world. They’re incredibly strong,” said Neil Collins. “Our outboard brackets were adapted from a turn-of-the-century design. We’re the only ones that make these. These are very popular with people who have traditional looking boats, but still want to be able to get off and on the mooring.”

Although the hardware remains the same, the business has changed a bit with the times. In 2018, Spartan started a website for online ordering, and it uses distributors in Europe and Australia. In a time when 3-D printing is changing the concept of production and redefining the notion of efficiency, and electronics and composites are taking over more traditional aspects of the maritime industry, Spartan Marine still relies on classic craftsmanship to create works of art with a purpose. 

“A lot of it hasn’t changed at all,” said Skip Collins, whose hands are weathered by bronze. And for now, the Bronze Age continues to live on.

Airboats Find a Home in Maine Waters

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Long a staple for the swamps of the South, airboats are now finding their way into Maine waters. 

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

Story and Photos by Kelli Park

The flat-bottomed, fan-propelled vessels have grown in popularity, and find practical use in shallow water. Airboat hulls are built with aluminum or fiberglass and are coated with polymer to protect against hard surfaces, including snow and ice.

Propulsion is achieved with an aircraft-type propeller and an aircraft or automotive engine, ranging from 50 horsepower all the way to 600 hp, and the boats can reach from 35 mph to 100 mph.

“Think of a reverse airplane,” explains Harpswell Harbormaster Paul Plummer, who uses a town-owned 20-foot airboat. “You know how airplanes have the props in front? Well, just flip it around. And put a boat on it. It’s literally pushing you with all that horsepower from behind.”

The airboat was invented in Nova Scotia by Alexander Graham Bell in 1905. Airboats were used for military purposes during World War I by the British Army in the Middle East, the Soviet Union in World War II, and by the U.S. in the Vietnam and the Iraq wars.

In the 1920s, Glen Curtiss, an American aviation pioneer and a founder of the U.S. aircraft industry developed an enclosed airboat that could comfortably seat six passengers, while frog hunters in the Everglades tinkered with what they could find to develop their own version of the airboat. In 1933, Johnny Lamb and his friend Russell Howard built a 12-foot airboat using a second-hand aircraft propeller and a plywood rudder to work more efficiently in the Everglades, where they harvested 75 pounds of frog legs a night.

Shellfish harvesters in the Midcoast agree that airboats provide increased efficiency on the flats in more ways than one. Harvesters can reach their destination on airboats when the tide has already receded from the shoreline.

“The airboat makes the job a lot easier,” says Daniel Fortin, who digs for clams at Maquoit Bay in Brunswick. “It saves your legs. It saves your hips. You only run your boat for four or five minutes each trip in and out.”

Cody Gillis, who works with Fortin, agrees.

“It beats walking. It beats waiting for the tide in a regular skiff.”

Airboats also allow for easier access to different, possibly more fruitful, areas. “You can get in and out when you need to,” says Peter Holman, who’s been clamming in Maquoit Bay for 30 years and has enjoyed the benefits of his father’s airboat for the past four years. “You couldn’t do that with a regular boat.”

Being able to arrive and depart freely on the mudflats is also important for safety during medical emergencies and severe weather.

“They’re handy in case something happens out there,” Fortin noted.

Airboats gained prominence during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 for their ability to navigate over partially submerged buildings and wreckage. The so-called Cajun Navy evacuated over 5,000 people on 30 airboats in less than 36 hours.

Marine law enforcement officials realize the value of the airboat in Brunswick, with its 67 miles of coastline, and Harpswell, with 216 miles of coastline. Brunswick introduced the airboat to the mudflats in the mid-1990s, and Harpswell recently purchased a new 20-foot airboat with a 550 hp, 6.2 liter big block engine for $76,000.

Although airboat operators take small craft advisories seriously, the vessels can work on frozen bays in winter for search-and-rescue operation. Marine wardens also use airboats to conduct shellfish surveys.

Plummer, Harpswell’s harbormaster, warns that different skills are needed to operate an airboat.

“It’s a dangerous piece of equipment. It’s good to find out what the boat’s capable of,” he cautions, before zipping off in one.

A Woman’s Place on the Working Waterfront

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JENNIE BICHREST BEGAN HAULING TRAPS BY HAND, AND NOW RUNS A LARGE BAIT BUSINESS
 

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

(Personal photos courtesy of Jennie Bichrest)

August 2019

Story and Photos by Kelli Park

From hand-hauling lobster traps to selling more than 10 million pounds of bait annually, Jennie Bichrest knows the working waterfront inside out. This summer, as the lobster industry faces a shortage of herring, the bait of choice, her business—Purse Line Bait—is playing a critical role in keeping that waterfront working.

Bichrest was growing up in Illinois until a vacation brought her family to the Maine coast in the early 1970s. Her father was hooked, and family vacations were then spent on a commercial fishing boat. Later, her father bought a 46-foot sailboat with a vision of educating his children as they sailed around the world. The family moved to Cundy’s Harbor in Harpswell, and though the children did learn to sail, the around-the-world voyage never happened.

Instead, Bichrest stumbled upon old wooden lobster traps in her neighbor’s barn, which inspired her, with the help of her grandfather, to build her own by steaming and bending wooden bows using a steam-box she found in the barn.

While her father found work on fishing boats in and around Cundy’s Harbor, Bichrest hauled traps by hand with her own skiff and spent time with her friends working on the water, where she was the only woman.

“I was never a ‘girly’ girl,” she says. The group she hung out with was into fishing, so that became her focus as well. She eventually married Mark Bichrest, whose family has been fishing for five generations.

The two worked independently on the water—she lobstering, he dragging—until pogies arrived on the coast in the late 1980s. Mark was fishing for a Russian ship, Riga, which anchored offshore and processed fish into fishmeal. “They all wanted jeans, Levi jeans from Goodwill,” she remembers. “Jeans and cigarettes.”

Jennie and Mark soon started their bait business with a boatload of pogies at a time, delivering to local wharves and individual boats, until word spread and demand grew.

“When we first got in business, we knew you had to have storage,” she remembers. “The herring were only around so long. We survived more on fresh fish coming in. We had dump trucks, and we loaded the fresh fish every day and we would go to the wharves.”

But if there was no catch, her customers had no bait.

“That’s when we started barreling bait,” she explains. “Once they started with the quotas, there was more need for freezers and storage.”

Within a few short years, the business had evolved from boatloads of pogies, to truckloads of fish, to the widespread distribution of salted, barreled bait with the need for storage facilities.

Demand continued to grow and in 1996, the couple bought a facility in Sebasco once used to make ice for fishing boats, and it became home for Purse Line Bait. After their divorce in 2003, Jennie Bichrest expanded the business with the purchase of additional freezer facilities in Harpswell to meet the demand created by quotas placed upon commercial fishing—more freezer space was needed to store fish, ensuring its availability throughout the year after quotas had been met.

Bichrest currently relies on five suppliers for a steady stream of herring, pogies, and redfish from as far away as New Jersey and Canada. She stores three million pounds in each of her Phippsburg and Harpswell facilities, and another three million pounds in rented space south of Portland.

The vagaries of fish populations impact the business, she said.

“The first year pogies hit it was devastating,” because when that fish was available for bait, the demand for other bait, like that which Purse Line sold, can decrease rapidly. If her freezers are full because fishermen are buying bait from different sources, her largest supplier will find other markets for his product.
“People don’t understand that you have to keep it all going, or they’re not going to be there. That’s what frightens me,” she confesses. “They don’t think about all the other people the business supports—the carriers, the other boats.”

In February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cut the 2019 herring quota by about 70 percent, from 110 million pounds to 33 million pounds. Herring is the most commonly used bait in the lobster industry. Bichrest believes that the cut will hit the island communities the hardest, where lobstermen rely on the carriers for bait.

“There’s not enough freezers in the state of Maine with this latest herring cut,” she says. “And really, more importantly, we’re going to lose the infrastructure.”

Bichrest has advocated for conservation measures that would ensure sustainable fisheries, including encouraging closures during spawning on Georges Banks, popular fishing grounds between Cape Cod and Nova Scotia, to promote the growth of young fish.

“You can’t continue to kill babies and expect to have a healthy fishery,” she says.

Portland Shipper Offers ‘First Pallet Free’

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This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

January 21, 2020

Story/Photos by Kelli Park

The Maine Port Authority and Icelandic shipping company Eimskip are collaborating on a new initiative to put Maine on the international map, one pallet-load at a time.

The initiative, launched in April, aims to remove obstacles for Maine businesses exploring international trade opportunities using Eimskip’s vast network. First Pallet Free offers free first-time shipping anywhere on the Eimskip network for local businesses to transport a 4-foot by 4-foot pallet, which can hold as much as 2,000 pounds of goods. Three Maine businesses have taken advantage of the opportunity since the program’s launch, one of which has grown significantly and is now paying to ship products internationally.

Port authority CEO Jon Nass acknowledges that taking shipping to an international market is a big step for many businesses.

“There are a lot of barriers. It’s hard to export things,” he concedes. “There are regulations, there’s cost, there’s risk. We’re taking one of those things off the table—the cost of shipping that product.”

The initiative, Nass believes, will help Maine businesses become competitive globally and have more options. The presence of Eimkip (pronounced AIM-skip) in Portland is key to those options. The Icelandic-based firm has 63 offices in 20 countries on four continents, from Vietnam, Japan, and Thailand to Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, and operates 22 vessels. Most of its shipping is in the North Atlantic, but the firm offers freight “forwarding” service elsewhere.

In Portland, Eimskip took over as the operator of the port in 2013. Monthly ship visits quickly evolved into weekly ships, sailing from Reykjavik, Iceland; to Argentia, Newfoundland; to Halifax, Nova Scotia; and to Portland, and back again—a ten-day journey one way.

“We got to weekly service several years ahead of schedule,” Nass said. “The fact that there’s a ship coming every week attracts bigger customers. It builds on itself. If you’re a company that ships every week or every month, you want to know that the option is going to be there.”

With a little help from Eimskip, the port of Portland has become a key player on the North Atlantic stage. In 2018, $460 million worth of products from 11 of Maine’s 16 counties moved through the port, including frozen blueberries from Washington County.

Portland is the first container stop for Eimskip to enter the U.S. market, with access to 60 million people within 375 miles—roughly a one-day truck drive, a standard industry measurement. This geographic area includes the cities of Quebec and Montreal, and the states of Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

Before Eimskip began operating in Portland, Maine businesses relied heavily on Boston and New Jersey for container shipping.

“Eimskip is the right size for the port we have,” Nass said. “They have a successful niche market that works well with the products we move in and out of here. It’s a great relationship. We would probably not be where we are without a company like Eimskip to prove that this can be done, and that a small port can be successful.”

In fact, Nass believes small ports are playing an increasing role in the shipping world.

“We’re proving the economics of smaller vessels, particularly between Portland and Halifax,” he said.

The First Pallet Free deal requires extensive legwork—food and alcohol regulations, shipping logistics, marketing, international trade law, product legality, tax implications, and tariffs, to name a few.

The Maine Port Authority collaborates with other organizations, such as the Maine International Trade Center and the Maine Regulatory Training and Ethics Center at the University of Southern Maine, to offer professional consulting services for start-up shipping endeavors.

“It’s altruistic to help small Maine businesses, but it’s also a business builder,” said Nass. “We’ll take the risk, and then if you’re wildly successful, we get to ship all sorts of your product and we’ll charge for that.”

The program shows the potential among North Atlantic markets.

“You can spend $1,000 to truck Maine blueberry jelly from Portland to New Jersey, where you can sell it for $2 a jar, or you can ship that same container from Portland to Tromsø, Norway for $1,000, where you can sell it for $7 a jar.”

First Pallet Free is not the first collaborative entrepreneurial endeavor for Eimskip.

“At one of our networking events, there was a brewer and there was a gentleman from Eimskip,” Nass said. “It was what I like to call the chocolate and peanut butter moment, where he said, ‘I have beer,’ and he said, ‘I have refrigerated containers.’ And they came up with this idea for marketing Maine beer overseas.”

Sean Sullivan, director of the Maine Brewers Guild, recalls the “crazy idea of retrofitting a shipping container with 78 beer taps on the side so we could ship and serve Maine beers around the world.” The moment of persuasion came, he remembers, “When Maine brewers found out it was cheaper to ship a container from Portland to Europe than it was to truck it from Portland to New York City.”

Since then, the guild has shipped and served Maine beers to Iceland, England, and Canada, and those countries have sent their products to Maine, helping cultivate a global exchange of beer.

“As an industry, Eimskip has helped Maine brewers realize that by working together and pushing geographic boundaries, business growth can be created for not only those who are exporting, but also for those who make their money by attracting people to Maine for experiences,” said Sullivan.

For more information about the First Pallet Free initiative, see: maineports.com

Sea to Soil: Invasive Crabs Turn Fields Green

Due North Project, Maine Documentary Photography

 

TWO NONPROFITS WORKING TOGETHER TO JOIN SEA AND FARM
 

November 19, 2018

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

BY KELLI PARK

It sounds like the elements of a macabre ritual—green crabs, a wood chipper, a manure spreader, and 275 acres of farmland.

In fact, it’s an initiative launched by Quahog Bay Conservancy of Harpswell in collaboration with Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & Environment in Freeport.

“Sea to Soil: Piloting a Market Solution to Maine’s Invasive Green Crab Threat” aims to turn the invasive species, which is blamed for killing softshell clams, into fertilizer.

Quahog Bay Conservancy is a nonprofit promoting marine conservation with a focus on building resilient biological and human communities. Its mission is similar to that of Wolfe’s Neck Center. The Sea to Soil project unites the farming and fishing communities and helps the environment by transforming a destructive invasive threat into a sustainable natural resource.

“We could fish these crabs forever and they’re not going away, so we might as well make a market for them,” said Nicole Twohig, development coordinator at Quahog Bay Conservancy.

The organization plans to streamline the fertilizer production and distribution process with grant funding, and research before and after soil conditions to increase the potential for market development. The goal is to provide incentives for harvesting green crabs.

“We’ve got a team of locals who know this area better than anyone. They’ve worked the bay their entire lives,” said Twohig. “They have the knowledge and they know the natural history, seasonal patterns, trends of species. They know this. It’s a model of conservation that works.”

Maine has seen a significant influx in the green crab population in the past few years due to rising water temperatures. Because green crabs are highly adaptable and have no natural predators, they are considered one of the world 100 worst invasive species.

Green crabs are not only able to live in water temperatures between 33 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit, but they also can survive for two months without water. During its three-year life cycle, the green crab can leave behind 370,000 offspring, which are capable of improving their food-gathering skills to decimate populations of native species, including mussels and soft-shell clams.

Recent studies by the Downeast Institute and the Maine Clammers Association suggest that less than .01 percent of juvenile soft-shell clams survive beyond their first year because of predators. In 2017, Maine saw the lowest number of clam landings since 1930.

According to studies conducted by the University of Pennsylvania for Sea to Soil, this invasive species is perfect as a locally-sourced fertilizer.

Tom Prohl, fruit and vegetable production manager at Wolfe’s Neck Center, explains that the tissue within the green crab is rich in nitrogen and phosphorous, while the shell itself is high in calcium and chitin, a naturally occurring compound that stimulates biological activity, enhances plant growth, and suppresses soil-borne pests.

The fertilizer process begins with the green crab harvest in Quahog Bay, where the conservancy employs 100 traps. Green crabs are then transported to the farm, where they’re exterminated; crabs must be exterminated prior to fertilizer production and distribution because, as an invasive species, they are considered a biosecurity risk.

They are then mixed into a manure spreader with dairy and chicken manure, and spread over 275 acres of hayfields, which feed the farm’s dairy cows.

Wolfe’s Neck will also conduct controlled year-long studies to analyze the effects on fruit and vegetable production plots, the results from which will be used to promote the fertilizer among local garden and farm markets. Wolfe’s Neck Center is dedicated to developing innovative practices in regenerative agriculture and hopes to become more involved with its four miles of coastline by developing educational waterfront workshops in the upcoming year.

By transforming a destructive force into an element that enriches and fertilizes the earth, the fishing and farming industries are exploring the potential of evolving within the life cycle. Sea to Soil aims to redefine the way we look at invasive species; instead of focusing solely on the impossible task of elimination, this initiative introduces the idea of adapting within our natural circumstances.

“We are solving the problems that the community needs us to solve,” Twohig asserts. “We’re a unique organization, but the problems aren’t unique to the bay. This model could be implemented anywhere.”

 

The Monhegan Trifecta: Beer, Coffee, Chocolate

Due North Project, Maine Documentary Photography

HOMEGROWN BUSINESSES COLLABORATE AND SUPPORT EACH OTHER

November 19, 2018

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

BY KELLI PARK

What’s the word on Monhegan? The answer, offered this summer by an island businesswoman, was to the point—beer, coffee, and chocolate.

In recent months, an island-based coffee roaster and a chocolatier have joined Monhegan Brewing in providing products that make life a little, well, finer.

The entrepreneurial spirit is a natural fit for islanders in spite of, or maybe because of, limitations and obstacles. The island is facing an ongoing water shortage because of concerns about salt water incursion into the aquifer. The cost and effort to ship products off the island and receive ingredients is also an impediment, as is the lack of commercial and residential space. Add in a small labor force and short tourist season, and the islanders are pushed to be creative.

“Being out here, there’s space for creativity,” explains Mandy Metrano, who co-owns La Nef Chocolate with her husband Dylan, and is also the island’s school teacher.

“There are so many people walking down this one road,” which provides opportunity, she says. “There are all these things that I can’t do, but what can I do? What’s missing that we can provide?”

Monhegan Brewing Company, in business now for five years under the guidance of Danny McGovern, and Matt and Mary Weber, has played a pivotal role in inspiring new business ventures. “It’s become an integral part of what’s happening on Monhegan now,” says Dylan Metrano. “People starting businesses from scratch, doing something that hadn’t been on the island before, using local resources to create something they didn’t know they were missing out on. Now it’s hard to imagine the island without these things.”

The brewery has boosted the island’s already robust tourism by offering craft beer for visitors. Hikers, visitors, and locals enjoy 4-5 different varieties of craft beer on tap from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, each of them aptly named for aspects of island life: Trap Stacker Special Ale, Crow’s Nest IPA, Lobster Cove American Pale Ale, and Island Farm Double IPA (just to name a few).

Island Farm Double IPA is named for its connection to the island’s community farm, which uses the brewery’s spent grain and grows hops specifically for the IPA. Over 20,000 people visited the brewery this summer, establishing Monhegan as a destination for craft beverages while creating opportunity for other niche markets.

Matt Weber says the brewery’s success has been “more than we expected and more than we ever hoped for.”

TIME TO MAKE THE COFFEE

Carley Mayhew and Mott Feibusch started Monhegan Coffee Roasters last fall as a creative solution to a simple problem: a lack of fresh coffee. As former residents of Philadelphia, where access to a diverse selection of fresh, quality coffee was part of their daily routine, Mayhew and Feibusch began roasting coffee at home for themselves, and as word spread, for friends and neighbors. “It just kind of expanded into a business,” said Mayhew. “A lot of things on islands happen that way, where you just fill a need that already exists.”

The coffee roasters strive to support sustainable farming practices by infusing the island with organic, fair-trade coffee from around the world. Feibusch describes the nature of coffee as an exploration of influences, origins, flavors, and roasts, and hopes to share that with local coffee drinkers.

“You have a different experience with each cup of coffee. Those experiences led to where we are now,” says Feibusch. Monhegan Coffee Roasters hopes to open a cafe in the next three years, which would not only create a year-round gathering place for community members and events, but would also increase employment opportunities and draw new residents to the island.

CHOCOLATE

Beer, coffee, and, last but certainly not least, chocolate. La Nef Chocolate began as a way to explore “art for various senses” while generating a sustainable, supplemental income, according to Dylan Metrano.

He and wife Mandy Metrano spent last winter studying the art of chocolate-making with an online course, experimenting with confections and local flavors. They use local ingredients whenever possible, including sea salt harvested directly from Monhegan waters and pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds) from the island’s community farm. The chocolatiers currently specialize in three products: an assortment of chocolate bars, truffles with ganache, and Sea Legs, pieces of candied ginger dipped in dark chocolate.

Sea Legs are the top seller and are only available at The Barnacle, often the first stop for ferry passengers in search of a remedy for seasickness—lo and behold, chocolate dipped ginger. The chocolate makers enjoy the unrestricted creative process of developing new combinations and flavors, and find great value in sharing their creativity.

“Chocolate is accessible to a lot of people,” Dylan Metrano says. “A lot of artists price a piece of art outside of what people can afford, then one person buys it and you never see it again. With something like chocolate, someone can spend a few dollars and everyone can try it,” explains Dylan.

Island entrepreneurs seize opportunities to support each other with practical solutions to logistical obstacles. La Nef and Monhegan Coffee Roasters currently alternate production schedules to share a commercial space. They also collaborate on coffee-flavored chocolate confections and holiday gift packages with local artist Joan Brady.

Monhegan Brewing Company created Mad Cow Milk Stout with cold brew coffee from Monhegan Coffee Roasters and recently hosted the extremely successful Flights of Fancy, a beer and chocolate pairing event with La Nef Chocolate.

Canada’s Grand Manan Island Beckons Tourists

Due North Project, Maine Documentary Photography

 

FISHING REMAINS LIFEBLOOD AT THE MOUTH OF THE BAY OF FUNDY

October 31, 2018

BY KELLI PARK

This story first appeared in the Island Institute’s The Working Waterfront newspaper, and is reproduced here with permission. Click here

There are places that live in our imaginations and seem just beyond our reach. If you’ve been to easternmost Maine and looked across the water, you have seen one of these places.

Those sheer distant cliffs are on the island of Grand Manan, whose name is a fusion of French, and the Maliseet-Passamaquoddy-Penobscot word for island place: mananook. Although the landscape is stunning and ethereal in many ways, Grand Manan’s true appeal lies in its ability to sustain a delicate balance. The island is a confluence of evolving elements, including its heritage of livelihoods found in its working waterfront. In recent decades, islanders have turned to tourism to create economic activity, a logical move given the island’s natural beauty.

Grand Manan has a rich maritime history. Island life during the 19th century depended on ten steam-powered sawmills, six shipyards, and the booming commercial fishing industry. By 1851, most of the island’s population of 1,200 was involved in the working waterfront; men fished and women pickled and cured herring. Innovative fishing and seaweed harvesting techniques were developed, including weir fishing, torch fishing, and lobster fishing, with the introduction of lobster traps in 1870.

As of 1884, Grand Manan was the largest supplier of smoked herring in the world, with 300 smokehouses on the island, employing 40 percent of the population. Smokehouses, ice and salt houses, fish shacks, dulse (seaweed) drying grounds, and shipyards filled the island as the market expanded and communities thrived. By 1920, Grand Manan had produced 20,000 tons of smoked herring, but by the 1930s, the industry began to decline.

The island’s fishing industry changed with the end of smoked herring in the late 20th century, but it still lives in lobstering, scalloping, weir fishing, dulse harvesting, and pen salmon aquaculture. Lobstering remains the main source of income on the island. Some Grand Manan boats haul 13,000 pounds of lobster in a day, with 4,000 pounds being the typical daily minimum. Grand Manan’s reputation as the dulse capital of the world also has grown since the health and nutrition benefits of seaweed are more widely recognized.

The island’s fishing legacy has become tourism’s draw.

“From when I grew up, the balance between fishing and tourism has become more equal,” says Darlene Cossaboom, an island native and supervisor of the visitor information center.

“For some people, it’s a non-entity,” other than longer lines at the grocery store, she said. “For those that run the accommodations, the gift shops, the restaurants, it’s a huge part of their lives.”

The synergy between tourism and the working waterfront is linked to the preservation of waterfront access. Each village has a protected harbor and a commercial wharf where recreational boats are rare. The lack of recent commercial and residential development has allowed the communities to retain their authentic character, though housing and land prices have grown significantly in the last two decades. It is said that half of the property on the island is foreign-owned. The 1990s saw an average housing cost of $35,000, which increased to over $100,000 by 2006. Today, it’s not unusual to see residential properties listed at over $200,000, out of reach for many locals.

FOR THE BIRDS

During the Victorian Era, Grand Manan became a destination for naturalists, scientists, artists, and writers. The Grand Manan Archipelago is located on a major eastern flyway and is home to over 300 species of birds, which drew John James Audubon in 1831. Nearby Machias Seal Island is home to the largest Atlantic puffin colony in the Gulf of Maine, and Kent Island, originally purchased by John Sterling Rockefeller at the suggestion of Grand Manan native Allan Moses (the “Birdman of Grand Manan”), has housed the Bowdoin College Scientific Station since 1936.

The Bay of Fundy is also home to over 300 whales, including finbacks, minkes, humpbacks, and North Atlantic right whales, which bring their calves to the rich food supply found in the Grand Manan basin each year. The whales also contribute to tourism.

Peter Wilcox is an island native and lobsterman who operates his family’s whale-watch tour boat, Sea Watch Tours.He says the connection with visitors is powerful.

“Last week, I had a woman who cried. That was her reaction. She’d never seen them before. Some people jump up and down,” he said. One whale “would bring her calf over to show us.”

Grand Manan’s natural wonders also have drawn American painters like Winslow Homer and writers like Willa Cather. A wave of 19th century artists made their way to the island to find inspiration among idyllic rolling meadows, vast beaches, rugged cliffs towering 300 feet above the ocean, tight-knit fishing villages, picturesque lighthouses, and the highest tides in the world.

Grand Manan has reinvigorated its arts allure with the recent shift toward cultural tourism. Artists from the mainland often host workshops on the island during the summer, although there are a handful of working artists who live on the island year-round. The arts and cultural presence on the island has been enriched by the presence of Grand Manan Art Gallery, established in 2010, and Grand Manan Museum, which hosts educational exhibits and community events throughout the summer. The island also is home to Summer’s End Folk Festival, begun in 2009.

GETTING THERE

It takes planning to get to Grand Manan. The island is nine miles from Lubec, but Mainers have to cross into Canada and take a 23-mile ferry ride from Black’s Harbour.

But that remoteness is one of its draws.

Beginning in the late 19thcentury, more overnight accommodations were established, including guest houses, inns, and hotels. Families from away began to buy seaside cottages and establish themselves as yearly summer residents, many of whom have continued the tradition through the generations.

The 20th century brought larger ferries able to carry vehicles and island businesses sprang up to serve them. In 1990, Grand Manan saw a boom in tourism connected with the regular service provided by theMV Grand Manan V, which holds 300 passengers and 64 cars and currently runs in conjunction with the MV Grand Manan Adventure.

“I think if you talked to people 25 years ago, they never felt a need for tourism,” says Greg Pidduck, president of the island tourism association. A recent visit by a cruise ship illustrated the change.

“It was amazing how many people went to the wharf to see the boat and talk to the people. We actually had difficulty with people leaving to get on the bus because we had four or five fishermen regaling the people with stories,” he recalled.

The nature of accommodations is changing, though; although campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, cottages, and inns are still popular (and are all often booked on August weekends), there has been a growing presence of Airbnb and VRBO properties, which creates more opportunity for tourists and people traveling to the island on business.

A recent passenger on Peter Wilcox’s whale-watch boat asked about the security of her parked car. “I said, ‘Well ma’am, when I go to the wharf, I leave my keys in my truck. Anybody who wants to move it or borrow it, they can.’ And she said, ‘Do you lock your house at night?’ And I said no. And she said, ‘I didn’t know there was any place in the world left like that.’”

My Grand Manan Story

Finding Grand Manan was the result of what I like to call good travel karma: a beautiful fusion of serendipitous circumstances. We knew we were heading north for the weekend with no itinerary and a sense of spontaneity (and passports), and we knew we were intrigued by an island on the map off the coast of Canada, but the rest was up to chance.

Our sense of adventure led the way as we happened to slide into the last spot on the ferry; the stars aligned again after we arrived on island and stumbled upon a last-minute cancellation at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground. We jumped at the chance to camp atop 200-foot cliffs on the Bay of Fundy. We could have stayed there all day, staring at the horizon and looking for whales, but we had a feeling that this was just a taste of what Grand Manan had to offer, and we were right.

I had never seen anything like it, and I knew I was hooked.

—Kelli Park