I straddle two worlds as an organic blueberry farmer and a travel editor, but these two realities pleasantly meet in the realm of farm-to-fork adventures—and there is no better place to be than Maine during harvest season.
There are more than 400 organic farms and roughly 130 farmers markets in this rugged state I call home. Maine’s lobster fishery is also a model of sustainable seafood practices, making it a back-to-the-land-and-sea culinary paradise.
Here are my tips for the perfect fall road trip, including the largest organic farmers’ gathering on the planet, which takes place in September.
Day 1: After crossing into Maine on 95 North, make your lunch stop in Biddeford, at the Palace Diner, a converted 1920s railway car where chef-owners Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell put a local spin on classic greasy spoon fare, including their signature tuna melt on challah bread garnished with house-made pickles.
Head farther north, to Cape Elizabeth, for dinner. It doesn’t get more local or seasonal than dining en plein air at the Well at Jordan’s Farm. Do not expect white linens and wine lists; do expect harvested-daily ingredients with an emphasis on simple preparation. Settle beside the outdoor fire pit with your own bottle of wine (BYOB only) and go a la carte or opt for the five-course tasting menu. Afterward, stay the night at the upscale-yet-classic Inn by the Sea.
Days 2 & 3: Most culinary aficionados who already know Maine as the go-to place for rising-star chefs will quickly point newcomers to Portland—and they are right. This compact city of under 70,000 pulsates with innovative restaurants and hip microbreweries.
Plan two days to nibble your way down streets filled with a mostly young crowd who congregate in places like Eventide oyster bar, where you can count on a lot more than fresh Maine oysters. Tip: Their lobster roll—dressed in a brown butter vinaigrette and served on a pillowy steamed Korean-style bun—has garnered national attention.
If you haven’t yet heard the siren of food-critic praise, Central Provisions, a few blocks downy from Eventide, earns its hype with creative small plates like spicy fried Maine potatoes and fall harvest beet salad tossed with avocado and green peppercorns. The historic Danforth Inn, where a growing number of locals say Lawrence Klang is the hottest new chef to arrive on the Portland dining scene, offers a stand-out two-for-one (eat and sleep) experience.
Day 4: Prepare to get happily lost at the Common Ground Country Fair, held annually in late September in Unity, Maine. The fair, which represents the world’s largest gathering of organic farmers and gardeners, is the epicenter of the farm-to-table movement, with some 50,000 in attendance to learn firsthand about sustainable living. Free workshops run the gamut, from how to make your own fruit jam to building a log cabin.
At the center of it all is an organic feast—dozens of food stalls serve everything from organic blueberry pie to wood-fired pizza made with non-GMO ingredients from the Maine Grain Alliance. Musical performers take to the stage daily, along with evening drumming and dancing. Think Burning Man meets Farmer Brown. Tip: Plan to arrive before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m. to avoid traffic.
Day 5: Journey three hours north to Acadia National Park—America’s first national park on the eastern seaboard and an iconic destination for nature lovers the world over. Just before crossing the bridge to Mount Desert Island en route to the eclectic seaside town of Bar Harbor, keep an eye out for Trenton Lobster Pound.
A lobster pound is where local fisherman bring their daily catch, and Trenton has been delivering the classic Maine roadside lobster experience (what fresh lobster is meant to taste like) for generations. Then head to Acadia for a hike up the Precipice Trail, an adrenaline-fueled day trek that rewards with staggering vistas of mountains and sea. Tip: Drive the leisurely park loop to the summit of Cadillac Mountain for an equally stunning view, minus the hiking.
Costas Christ is on the sustainable travel beat at National Geographic, which includes his “Trending” column as an editor at large for Traveler magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CostasChrist.