FARMINGTON — An organization devoted to improving the quality of life in Western Maine highlighted its annual meeting Wednesday with stories of why people choose to live, work and raise families here.
A large gathering filled North Dining Hall at the University of Maine at Farmington to acknowledge the work accomplished by the Western Mountains Alliance in 2009. The work included 12 educational events, the start of one of the first online farmers markets in the state and the start of fundraising for an endowment.
With respect “for the region’s remarkable natural resources and small, independent communities,” the alliance “strives to make a difference for the region by helping people shape its future,” Roger Poulin, board chairman, wrote in the annual report.
But why this place, “Why Western Maine?” was the question asked of authors Bill Roorbach of Farmington and Robert Kimber of Temple, and members of the Brochu family, Amanda and Mallory, from Stratton. They shared their stories of why they stay or why they’ve returned to Western Maine.
When Kimber first came to the area in his 20s, he “fell hopelessly in love with Western Maine,” he said. Now 55 years later, “I’m still besotted.”
It’s not only the beautiful landscape but also the people, he said.
For Roorbach, who first came to Farmington for a position at UMF, his life path took him to other states but he kept returning. When his daughter was born he wanted to raise her here, he said.
Raised in Connecticut, he described the sprawl that has affected the area where he wandered more rural paths as a youth and reminded the audience, “what we have here could be lost without planning.”
The Brochu sisters, accompanied by their father, Jim, related a family history that included grandparents moving from Quebec to raise eight children here. The family’s work in logging developed into A & A Logging and eventually Stratton Lumber Co. and the biomass plant.
Their next venture, an organic greenhouse, is in the planning stages. Both young women are working with their father on the project. Vowing to leave the area for more adventurous spots, she has returned from Boston to raise her son here, she said.
Western Mountains Alliance Executive Director Tanya Swain gave the audience time to relate their own ideas on “why Western Maine.”
While the Brochu sisters are sharing in a family opportunity that keeps them here now, other young people feel compelled to drive over the Portsmouth bridge in search of work.
Jobs in Maine exist but there aren’t enough qualified people to fill them, Theodora Kalikow, UMF president, said. A recent study of help-wanted ads by the Department of Labor shows positions requiring a college degree are not being filled, she said.
A former UMF instructor, Paul Frederic’s best advice for Mainers is to develop self-confidence. From a Starks farm where he was raised, he has traveled and spent time in China and Africa, and still maintains that this is still a great place to live, he said.
Another person warned of the need to protect the area. Her native North Carolina would be as beautiful as here if it wasn’t for the billboards and strip malls blocking the view, she said. After 27 years here, she said she loves it and wants Maine to protect what people love.