Tag Archive for: Maine

The word soybeans might conjure up pictures of fields with rows upon rows of the popular commodity crop. But for Sarah Speare, a founder of Tootie’s Tempeh in Biddeford, Maine, soybeans are the protein in a traditional meat substitute that offers plenty of health benefits. 

Not everyone has heard of tempeh. “It’s a super food,” Sarah says. It’s incredibly high in protein and nutrients. It’s fermented, so it’s good for your gut. And it’s made from just three simple, clean ingredients: soybeans, vinegar, and starter culture. So, people need to eat it!”

NCAT’s sustainable agriculture team and two other organizations – Health Care Without Harm and the Plant Forward Future Project – partnered to form a producer cohort in the Northeast to develop and market plant-based proteins to hospitals. The project is funded by a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, and Sarah is part of the producer cohort. 

“NCAT/ATTRA has been a great partner and advocate for our work through a podcast we did with them and especially through their programs that support the sourcing of organic grains and legumes from Maine farmers,” Sarah says. 

“Their work with the Hospital Without Harm initiative has also helped us get more visibility as a healthy locally sourced protein in front of potential customers who make decisions for what workers and patients are offered at hospitals. We have also enjoyed working with them to make a Maine event happen that includes sampling our food and a tour of our facility.” 

Tootie’s Tempeh developed a method for fermenting its product in metal pans instead of single-use plastic bags, which is the practice of much of the industry.  

The company uses organic soybeans and sources them regionally, and it is developing a franchise structure that creates a network of other regional production facilities. That allows the tempeh from Tootie’s to have regional suppliers regardless of where its stores are created. 

Tootie’s Tempeh reflects Sarah’s values – that “essential food can help support the well-being of people, animals, and the planet.”  

It’s also organized as a worker-owned cooperative, as Sarah puts it, “to help support a more democratic economy where workers are the decision makers and share in the profits. 

“I viewed (tempeh) as a sleeping giant ready to be woken up,” she adds. “Plant-based protein are skyrocketing, and consumers are eating more for their health and to decrease their carbon footprint. It really seemed like the right time to help tempeh become a household staple.” 

When Don and Marcia Lyons started SeaLyon Farm in 2017, it was what they describe as a “clean slate.”    

ATTRA got us started on the right foot and gave us the right connections and guidance to navigate the Maine farmer support system and resources that exist already, but that can feel like drinking from a fire hose for the beginning farmer,” Don wrote. 

In particular, the Lyons took part in the Armed to Farm training program, along with more than 800 other farmer veterans since it was launched in 2013 through a cooperative agreement with USDA-Rural Development. Armed to Farm is funded in-part by ATTRA.  

Now the farm, located in Alna, and nestled in the beautiful mid-coast Maine area just inland from Wiscasset, produces a host of organically grown vegetables, fruit (currently raspberries and elderberries), lavender, pumpkins, and honey. The harvest includes hay, as well. 

The Lyons also offer an assortment of value-added products such as pickles, salsa, 11 flavors of jam, and herbal tea. They turn the lavender they grow and the honey and beeswax they gather into lip balm, beard balm, candles, and lavender essential oil. 

Speaking of adding value, the farm also has become the site of Alna Fair, what Lyons calls “a surprisingly popular agritourism venue” on its 34 acres.  

“We run events year-round, and this was the secret to our success through the COVID-19 crisis,” Lyons wrote. Outdoor activities with lots of hand sanitizer (on every wagon), horse-drawn wagons and sleighs, good food, a bonfire, and games for the kids. This continues to be a growing attraction for the Alna area and looks to have a promising future; as the farm grows, so will the events.” 

Fortune and hard work can take a farm in many directions, but Lyons believes NCAT’s sustainable-agriculture programs can be wind at farmers’ backs as they start the journey. 

“The Armed to Farm established the foundation that a beginning farmer with even a moderate drive could build upon and be successful. Whether you want to farm livestock or vegetables, all the information is there to be employed. 

“I would most wholeheartedly recommend NCAT/ATTRA not just to veterans, but to any beginning farmer, whether it’s through Armed to Farm or any of their other workshops or programs to come. I am sure they will be well founded and fruitful! (Pun intended.)”