When going to the Maine Harvest Festival in Bangor, you’ve got to have a plan — and a budget, list, and enough bags to carry all the stuff you’ll likely buy.
The event — a showcase of Maine food and farms, set for Nov. 19 and 20 this year at the Cross Insurance Center — can be a little overwhelming, considering there’s more than 170 vendors spread out across two floors. Whether you’re shopping for holiday gifts, or just for yourself, there’s an awful lot to choose from.
“We have a waiting list now, for vendors that want to be a part of it,” said Judi Perkins, creator and organizer of the festival. “People are 90 percent sold out by the end of the weekend … I think word has spread among people, especially among those that are at farmers markets across Maine, because those people tell other people about us.”
Perkins said just over 6,000 people make their way through the Cross Center over the festival’s weekend. This year, the Maine Harvest Festival is being held one weekend later than in previous years — meaning a higher likelihood of cold, or even snowy, weather — so Perkins has decided to not have any outdoor food vendors, such as Pizza Pie on the Fly or Nostrano Barbecue. She has, however, brought more ready to eat food vendors inside the venue.
“We wanted to make sure our vendors are well-cared for, but we still want to offer food to eat, on top of the stuff you’re bringing home,” said Perkins. “You’d think that after a couple of hours of sampling cheese and meat and other things people would be full, but people make room.”
There’s almost as much to eat as there is to buy at the festival this year. Returning favorites include egg rolls and dumplings from Winterport’s Far East Cuisine, ice cream from Stone Fox Farm Creamery of Monroe and Wild Cow Creamery of Hampden, and homemade cookies and crab cake sandwiches from Greenville’s Northwoods Gourmet Girl — packed with loads of jumbo lump crab.
“I worked at Jack’s Firehouse [a restaurant] in Philadelphia before I came to Maine, which was at the forefront of the organic food movement, and my crab cake recipe came from there,” said Abby Freethy, founder and operator of Northwoods Gourmet Girl, most well-known for its line of organic condiments. “I tweaked it a little bit. We make our own mayo for the remoulade. We honestly could just do crab cakes, because they are really fabulous. But the best way to eat them is hot. They really have to be made fresh.”
New ready-to-eat vendors include Mediterranean Cuisine by TS, a Bangor-based kitchen offering up tabbouleh, hummus, salads, falafel and other Lebanese delicacies; Fork and Spoon, the downtown Bangor eatery, selling fresh-baked bread and pastries and house-made soups and salads; and pie by the slice from A Tasty Adventure, the catering company and cooking school run by Bangor resident Cathy Speronis.
Even the catering department at the Cross Center gets into the spirit — in addition to the regular offerings of loaded Aroostook county potatoes, there are paninis utilizing Maine specialties like Raye’s Mustard, Sugar Hill cranberry compote and Maine Cheese Company cheese, and bars and cookies made with Maine apples, cranberries and blueberries.
“The Cross Center has always offered food made with ingredients from our vendors,” said Perkins. “It’s been a really great partnership to develop over the years.”
The beer, wine and spirits sampling are also a popular part of the festival; attendees aged 21 and over can purchase four samples for $6 or eight samples for $10 between the hours of 11 a.m. at 3:30 p.m., to try things like Maine-made wines and beers, Maine hard cider and an array of spirits like whiskey, vodka and gin.
In addition to the food and beverage vendors, there are lots of other activities related to Maine farms and food. This year, in what’s almost certainly a first for the Cross Insurance Center, there will be live sheep in the ballroom, courtesy of the Page Farm Museum at the University of Maine, with which the festival has partnered for several years now.
“This is our ‘Sheep to Shawl’ project. We’re going to shear sheep, work the wool, dye it with vegetable dye, spin it and then everyone is invited to sit at the loom and make a big shawl,” said Perkins. “We still have to figure how to get diapers on the sheep, since they’ll be on carpet.”
Other farm-centric activities include a potato-picking competition, a scavenger hunt for children, and numerous demonstrations and workshops on cooking, baking, gardening, pest management and fiber arts. There’s also live music from Erica Brown and the Bluegrass Connection, a screening of the Maine-set “Growing Local” film series set for 2 p.m. Sunday, and, for the first time, a contradance featuring the Orono Contraband, both Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
In addition to being one of the best shopping opportunities during the holiday season, the festival is an opportunity for everyone — attendees and vendors alike — to swap stories and make new friends among Maine’s food and farm community.
“Maine has an incredible producer movement, and we’re extremely proud of our crafters and food producers and farmers,” said Freethy, of Northwoods Gourmet Girl, who has had a booth at the festival for its entire run. “Everybody learns from each other. It’s really a welcoming atmosphere. It feels like a giant hug when you go there.”
The Maine Harvest Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19 and 20 at the Cross Insurance Center. Admission is $8 for adults and free for kids 12 and under. For a full list of vendors, visit maineharvestfestival.com.