Colin Sarsfield was anxiously checking the weather in the days before this week’s storm was due to hit Maine, and by Sunday knew he had to move his family’s 32-foot sailboat from its exposed mooring at the outer edge of Belfast Harbor.
So Sarsfield of Searsport piloted the Mimi Rose across Penobscot Bay to a sheltered anchorage off Brooksville, where he waited out the storm. Comfortable and safe, it wasn’t until the day after the storm that he and his wife, who was working elsewhere in Hancock County, began to wonder what was going on back home in Searsport at their empty house. They figured they had lost power and then remembered their freezer and the packages of pricey, tasty local lamb that were left inside of it — meat that seemed likely to thaw before either would return home. So Sarsfield called a friend in Belfast to mount a meat-centric rescue mission, and the friend obliged, driving to pick up the packages and then placing them safely in his working freezer.
“I thought we were going to have to have a barbecue, but it was still frozen,” he said Wednesday, adding that he really appreciated the successful rescue mission. “One of the things I love about Maine is the community, period. It comes up all the time. Maybe more in the fall and winter.”
Sarsfield was one of many, many Mainers who scrambled this week to salvage the things in their freezers after the Monday storm that caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their power across the state. By midweek it became clear that hopes for a quick fix of the tattered electrical infrastructure were, for lots of people, too optimistic. And so the race was on to find alternative power sources or other freezer space for goods that thrifty Mainers were saving for later use, including garden vegetables, homemade pesto, local meat, breast milk and so much more.
People used social media and their networks of friends to help them find ways to keep their frozen things safe to use in the future. Also, Mainers who are eligible for food supplement benefits may be able to receive replacement benefits for food lost to power outages.
In western Maine, a traveling generator meant that several families were able to keep their freezers cold enough, according to massage therapist Emily Bilodeau of Farmington. She said her friend’s father had given his daughter a generator when she and her family moved to the Franklin County town of Industry.
“It hung out in the garage forever,” Bilodeau said. “Until this.”
Although the generator was not believed to be in working condition, its first stop was in Temple, where another friend’s handy husband was able to get it up and running in no time flat. It ran long enough to restore safe refrigerator and freezer temperatures and then was brought down the road to a nutritionist’s house, where three freezers full of vegetables were at risk of thawing. Then it went back to Industry, to cool down the owners’ freezer, and then was scheduled to stop at Bilodeau’s home until her power came back on Wednesday morning.
“It’s one of those mini-ones. It’s just enough to keep your food secure, and it’s traveling back and forth to the houses that need it,” Bilodeau said. “It’s very Maine. All of the husbands do know each other, but the connection is the wives. So it’s the sisterhood of the traveling generator.”
Over in Northport, the power outage came at a very full time of year for Judy Berk and David Foley’s two freezers. The couple strives to produce as much of their food as they can on their small, fruitful Ocean Glimpse Farm, and by the end of October, the freezers are stuffed with 30 Freedom Ranger chickens, meat from two Katahdin lambs and homegrown fruits and vegetables including kiwis, mulberries, peaches, kale, broccoli, pesto and tomatoes.
“These fruits of our labor, so to speak, are resting comfortably in our freezers,” she said. “All the stuff in the freezer is at risk if it gets to too high a temperature.”
It’s not the couple’s first extended power outage, so they knew the drill. Keep the freezers shut tight and cover them with down sleeping bags for insulation. Still, this one felt different because it is still quite mild outside, so by Tuesday the couple took the sleeping bags off and plugged the freezers into a borrowed generator. And by Wednesday afternoon, they got the news that many in Maine longed to hear — the power was back on and the freezers would be fine.
“We’re back up and running, so we’re happy,” she said.
Another Mainer who depends on the garden to feed her family and her freezer to preserve the harvest is Jennifer Jacques of Orland. In her freezer, she has stored homemade meals such as stuffed peppers made from peppers she grew as well as packages of pesto, tomatoes, green beans and other produce.
“You just can’t lose that,” Jacques said. “It’s expensive to buy these things and we spend so much time growing them. And so much labor of love went into that.”
So on Wednesday she emptied the freezer, filling four big shopping bags with its contents, and drove to a friend in Ellsworth who had freezer space to spare.
“Now I know that all of that work is salvageable,” she said.
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