Category Archives: Farm Viability

Twenty-five community food grants awarded on Blue Hill Peninsula

MFT recently awarded 25 Blue Hill Peninsula Community Food grants, totaling $61,613. Projects included starting new community gardens, equipment and infrastructure for farm and food businesses, and purchasing of local food for food security programs for students and summer campers.

The Simmering Pot, which provides weekly meals free of charge, regardless of income in the community, received a grant to purchase meat produced by local farmers for their free Monday community supper. Each Monday they cook and serve about 125 meals. “We really appreciate receiving this generous grant.  We know how much it benefits our diners and the local farms we help support,” says Paula Mrozicki, who coordinates the program.

Funds were awarded to the Blue Hill Heritage Trust in order to support their Community Garden Project. Chrissy Beardsley Allen, Development Director for the BHHT explains, “The Community Garden Program is designed to provide a source of fresh organic produce for members of our community facing food security issues and serve as an educational resource for everyone in our community, empowering citizens to learn about leading a healthier life.”

Deborah Joy Corey, of Blue Angel, an organization that distributes food from community and school gardens and greenhouses, states, “we are thrilled to be chosen for this gift of funding. It could not come at a better time as we are building two new gardens this week!” The nonprofit distributes food in the Castine area.

Other grants were awarded to Roaring Lion Farm (a farm in Sedwick with cows, pigs and blueberries), as well as six area businesses who will use the grants for infrastructure equipment. MFT is pleased to facilitate this grant process and in doing so help bolster the local farm and food community on the Blue Hill Peninsula.

Learn more about the Blue Hill Peninsula Food Grants and the grant cycle HERE.

Veggies For All returns to its roots

MFT and Unity Barn Raisers (UBR) are happy to announce that Veggies For All (VFA) has returned to its roots. As of this spring, VFA is once again a project under Unity Barn Raisers.

VFA was founded in 2007 by young farmers who recognized the potential for local agriculture to relieve hunger. UBR provided vital support to the project when it launched, including fiscal sponsorship and administrative support. For the next seven years, under UBR’s care, the program grew significantly and matured into a food bank farm capable of producing literal tons of local produce for hunger relief. In 2014, VFA became a program of MFT, where it has operated as part of a larger organization, connecting the dots between farm viability and food insecurity. In 2018,VFA held a series of community-based evaluations involving different program stakeholders. “The clear message from these evaluation efforts was that the heart of VFA lies within the Unity community,” said Erica Buswell, VP of Programs at MFT. “The program is most valuable as a vehicle for community-building and engagement around food and farming.”

“UBR was eager to take on a successful, place-based, community-building, hunger-relief program like Veggies For All because our values, service area, and community network is a perfect match to theirs,” said Janis Balda, UBR’s Board Chair. “Unity Barn Raisers’ work focuses on improving the vibrancy, sustainability, and health of our community for all people- so VFA will be a natural extension of our current programs.”

MFT and UBR have been working for the past several months to develop a sustainable and responsible transfer of the program from MFT to UBR. Both partners envision that this transfer brings with it an opportunity to re-think the programming and continue to support the program’s hunger relief and educational objectives in new, exciting, and diversified ways that reflect the Unity community’s interests – such as an integration with UBR’s established gleaning program. During the coming growing season, UBR will focus VFA program activities on maintaining the program’s powerful and effective Gleaning Initiative which connects those in the community that are food insecure with the excess crops that inevitably get left behind in our local farmers fields.

“MFT has been honored to be VFA’s organizational home for the past four growing seasons and we are excited about the prospect of the program’s growth and change under UBR’s care,” said Buswell. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to ensure the transition feels smooth and supported and we look forward to watching how the program will flourish in this next phase of its life.”

For more information about VFA and the Gleaning Initiative, please contact Unity Barn Raisers at 948-9005 or ubr@uninets.net

MFT awards Farming for Wholesale implementation grant to Emery Farm

This spring, MFT awarded its seventh implementation grant to help Emery Farm scale up their business. The farm participated in the 201 track of MFT’s Farming for Wholesale program and spent two years working with business advisors to research and define their business plan focused on scaling up for wholesale markets. This implementation grant is competitive and applications undergo an extensive review process by a committee comprised of MFT staff and industry consultants.

“The Maine Farmland Trust Farming for Wholesale program has empowered the financial future of our farm,” Trent Emery shares. “Undertaking an analysis of our farm’s business has allowed our farm to make informative decisions that have resulted in meeting our financial, philosophical, and family goals as a small vegetable farm in Maine.”  

Emery Farm will use the $48,276 award to assist with new infrastructure costs as they scale up production of crops under protected growing environments. The new structures will allow them to grow more for their institutional markets.

This is the third year MFT has offered implementation grants for farms that have participated in the 201 Farming For Wholesale program. “Access to financing to implement new changes and ideas on farms continues to be a challenge,” said Alex Fouliard, Farming for Wholesale Program Manager. “MFT is pleased to be able to fill that need and keep the momentum moving forward for these farms.”  

Learn more about Farming for Wholesale.

Action Alert: Contact your Legislator: Support LD 920, the Local Food Access Bill

Nutrition incentive programs in Maine like MFT’s  Farm Fresh Rewards and Maine Federation of Farmers’ Market’s Maine Harvest Bucks are a win for both low-income shoppers and farmers. LD 920 would provide state funding for these programs to avoid funding gaps, leverage more federal dollars, and support administrative and outreach efforts to expand these programs, especially in rural areas.
LD 920 will soon be voted on by the Maine Legislature. Please contact your legislator today and let them know:
  • You hope they will Vote Yes on LD 920.
  • Nutrition incentive programs increase access to local and healthy foods by providing low-income shoppers with additional money to buy more local fruits and vegetables.
  • These programs contribute to the economic success of farms in Maine by helping them gain new customers, build sales, and keep more dollars in Maine’s food economy.
  • Maine should support these programs financially so that they continue to thrive and expand across the state.

Want to receive Action Alerts? Sign up HERE

Results of 2017 Ag Census Concerning for Maine Farms and Farmland

Last week, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the USDA released the 2017 Census of Agriculture. The Census is conducted every five years, and provides national, state, and county-level agricultural data that informs many federal farm programs, policies, and funding decisions. Maine’s Census Report contains some very alarming facts about the loss of farmland and farms in our state, although there is some more positive news about farmer demographics, local food sales, and organic agriculture.

According to the 2017 Census, Maine has lost a significant amount of farmland in the last five years.

  • In 2012, Maine had 1,454,104 acres in farmland, but by 2017 that number had dropped to 1,307,566 acres – a loss of 146,491 acres or 10% of Maine’s farmland.
  • In fact, according to American Farmland Trust, Maine was in the top five states with declines in farmland between 2012 and 2017.

Our losses in farmland were coupled with an equally troubling loss of farms.

  • Maine has lost 573 farms since the Census was last conducted, going from 8,173 farms in 2012 to 7600 farms in 2017.
  • Farms disappeared in every size category except for small farms (1 to 9 acres), which went from 1,239 farms in 2012 to 1,427 farms in 2017, and the largest farms (2,000 acres or more), which went from 55 farms in 2012 to 70 farms in 2017.

The new Census data also reflects the difficult economic conditions many farmers face in Maine and across the Nation.

  • The total and average per farm market value of agricultural products both decreased during the last five years. The total market value went from $763,062,000 in 2012 to $666,962,000 in 2017 (a decline of 12.6%), while the average per farm market value of agricultural products decreased from $93,364 in 2012 to $87,758 in 2017 (a decline of 6%).
  • In addition, farmers in Maine lost income over this period. Average net income per farm decreased from $20,141 in 2012 to $16,958 in 2017 (a decline of 15.8%), and average net income for producers declined from $19,953 in 2012 to $16,894 in 2017 (a decline of 15.3%).
  • Interestingly, total farm production expenses decreased from $645,631,100 in 2012 to $586,564,000 in 2017 (a decrease of 9%, which could be explained in part by the number of farms that were lost), and average production expenses decreased slightly from $78,996 in 2012 to $77,179 in 2017 (a decrease of 2.3%).

The numbers are clear — now’s the time to step up and support a future for farming in Maine.

It’s not all bad news. There are some positive trends identified by the Census, including farmer demographic statistics. The 2017 Census made some significant changes to the way it collected demographic data to better represent the individuals making decisions about a farming operation. As such, the Census collected information on up to four producers per farm. This change not only provides us more robust demographic data on producers, but it also counts more farmers in Maine. Here are some of the most significant demographic changes, although it is important to note that some of these changes could just reflect the change in data collection processes.

  • The total number of producers increased from 13,168 in 2012 to 13,414 in 2017, and the total number of principal producers increased from 8,173 in 2012 to 10,705.
  • The total number of women producers increased from 5,398 in 2012 to 5,859 in 2017, and the total number of women principal producers increased from 2,381 in 2012 to 4,265 in 2017.
  • The average age of a farmer in Maine did increase, going from 55.1 in 2012 to 56.5 in 2017, while the average age of a principal producer increased slightly from 57 in 2012 to 57.4 in 2017.
  • The Census did show that there are both more younger farmers and more younger farmers involved in the management of farms in Maine, although again it is unclear the extent to which those differences reflect just the changes to data collection.
    • The numbers of producers age 25 to 34 increased going from 1005 in 2012 to 1068 in 2017, and the number of producers age 35 to 44 increased as well, going from 1,562 in 2012 to 1,780 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers under age 25 increased from 62 in 2012 to 72 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers age 25 to 34 increased from 488 in 2012 to 731 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers age 35 to 44 increased from 834 in 2012 to 1400 in 2017.
  • The number of older farmers in Maine and the number of older farmers involved in the management of farms in Maine also increased.
    • The number of producers age 65 to 74 increased, going from 2,346 producers in 2012 to 2,977 producers in 2017.
    • The number of farmers age 75 and older also increased, going from 920 producers in 2012 to 1,270 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers age 65 to 74 increased, going from 1,652 in 2012 to 2,481 in 2017.
    • The number of primary producers age 75 and older also increased, going from 715 in 2012 to 1,105 in 2017.

While the number of farmers under 44 increased by 9.6 %, the number of farmers age 65 and older increased by 30 %, signaling an urgent need for succession and retirement planning.

There were some very positive trends in both local food production and organic operations.

  • The value of food sold directly to consumers increased from $24,793,000 in 2012 to $37,868,000 in 2017 (an increase of almost 53%).
  • In addition, $74,513,000 of food was sold locally via retail markets, institutions, and local food hubs in 2017.
  • Total organic product sales increased significantly during the last five years, going from $36,401,000 in 2012 to $60,027,000 in 2017 (an increase of almost 65%).
  • As a result, the average per farm organic product sales also makes a huge leap, going from $65,706 in 2012 to $108,744 (an increase of 65.5%).

 

Despite some of these positive demographic and local and organic food production trends, the loss of farms and the loss of farmland during the last five years reflects the significant challenges facing our agriculture sector. We can help to shift these trends by protecting farmland – providing the land base to grow the agricultural economy in Maine – and providing farmers with the critical resources they need for economically viable businesses and successful succession plans. 

Now more than ever, we need your help to make sure Maine farms succeed.  Will you step up to support a future for farming in Maine?

 

 

In blueberry country, two farms hand the rake to the next generation

by Rebecca Goldfine

Photographs by Sean Alonzo Harris

Blueberry season brings traffic to the remote barrens of Down East Washington County, and to Helen’s Restaurant, a Machias mainstay since 1950. At Helen’s, guests line up at the counter for the signature whipped cream-topped pie filled with a quart-and-a-half of fresh, uncooked berries. The berries in their nationally-famous pie are all tended to sweet plumpness from nearby Welch Farm’s foggy perch in Roque Bluffs. “Out by the ocean, the berries taste better,” Helen’s owner Julie Barker says of the hand-raked product Welch Farm delivers daily to the restaurant, in season. “They are always free of sticks and leaves, and never soggy.”

Washington County farms like Welch and nearby Moon Hill Farm constitute an otherwise mom-and- pop backbone of Maine’s 500-plus blueberry farms, working to transfer their enterprises to the next generation in an era of consolidation and depressed blueberry contract prices. Father-daughter duo Lisa and Wayne Hanscom run Welch Farm with help from relatives, including Wayne’s ex-mother-in-law. Their family has held the farm since 1912, when Wayne’s grandfather, Frank Welch, bought 1,000 acres. Frank initially raised livestock and grew grains. By the late 1920s, he had turned primarily to blueberries, once undervalued as commonplace like lobster, marketing his crop as “fog-nourished Bluff Point berries.”

Diversification has been critical to saving the farm. The Hanscoms are eagerly introducing agritourism and selling more “fresh pack” berries direct from their farm stand. Lisa and Wayne’s bond translates to a well-balanced business. When Lisa first suggested building tourist cabins on their land, Wayne was skeptical. When she proposed offering farm tours, he asked, “Why? Who would come?” But when a tour bus pulls in today, visitors enthusiastically pour out. And there is a further commercial side—after giving a farm tour, Lisa offers her berries and unbranded homemade jams for sale.

Welch Farm’s fresh-pack yield is still small— constituting just 12,000 of the farm’s total yield of 98,000 pounds in 2015—and Wayne plans to expand it. Instead of selling all their machine-harvested berries to frozen processors for only 38 cents a pound, Welch sets aside two to three acres to “spot rake” and sell directly for $5 a quart (1.5 pounds).

Due to financially-necessary waterfront land sales, Welch Farm has been whittled down to 340 acres. “I don’t want our farm to get any smaller,” Lisa stresses.

Lisa has always been Wayne’s obvious heir-apparent. Young Wayne was the same way when he trailed his grandfather Frank Welch around the farm making it clear Frank could pass it down with confidence. About a decade ago, Lisa started helping Wayne run the farm full-time. She hopes their efforts will allow her to pass on a durable farm to her daughter, Alexandra.

 

Twenty-five miles further Down East, the Beal family is sorting the certified organic wild blueberries they’ve raked since 1991 on Moon Hill Farm in Whiting. Only about 12% of Maine’s “wild” blueberries are organic, but “there’s a lot of potential” to grow this hot market through fresh sales, says University of Maine blueberry expert David Yarborough.

Tim Beal also has deep roots in Washington County where his family goes back four generations. Tim started raking blueberries when he was eight; his father, a Bangor Daily News bureau chief, took the month of August off each year when he put the family to work on his ‘vacation’ project. The Beals all worked for Wyman’s alongside a crew from Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq people. As they all toiled on the fruit, Tim’s dad assiduously reported on the blueberry business beat. In the early 1980s, he broke stories on the first mechanical pickers, as well as the wild blueberry industry’s transition from organic practices to its widespread embrace of pesticides to control the dreaded maggot fly.

Tim’s California-born wife, Lydia, met her husband at the University of Maine at Machias. As a young couple, they chose to homestead in Washington County. “We wanted land, and we wanted blueberry land,” Lydia said. “We wanted to be somewhat remote, to have space and the freedom to develop what we wanted to develop.” Their 260-acre farm is at the end of a dirt road; just at the moment you think that you must have overshot the place, a driveway curls up past the Beals’ 10 acres of blueberries to reach their barn and home.

Last winter, the Beals extended ownership of the farm to their children—Nick, Jay, and Clara, who grew up in the blueberry fields. The packing building walls still bear faint blue smears where as kids they threw berries at each other. With help from Maine Farmland Trust, the Beals recently formed an LLC, the first step in making each child an equal business partner. Both of the boys are building houses on the farm, ensuring, like the Hanscoms, that the business will be in local family hands for at least one more generation of blueberry production.

rebecca goldfine is a Maine native who reports on student life for Bowdoin College communications and writes the trail guide site | mainebyfoot.com

Additional reporting here by Laura McCandlish.

Fresh Blueberry Pie

The legendary blueberry pie at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias is made with Welch Farm berries

and was featured on Food52.com last summer. Helen’s owner Julie Barker, whose father processed blueberries on his Washington County farm, says this original recipe, handwritten and stenciled, is unchanged since Helen and Larry Mugnai opened the restaurant in 1950.

For 6 servings

 

BLUEBERRY GEL

3 tablespoons frozen blueberries

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

½ cup water

½ ounce cornstarch

 

PIE CRUST

3 cups flour

1 ½ cup shortening 1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons water

 

BLUEBERRY PIE

1 ½ quarts fresh Maine wild blueberries

1 cup blueberry gel

1 quart heavy whipping cream

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

 

1. Make the blueberry gel. In a double boiler over medium-low heat, mix together the frozen blueberries, sugar, water and Let simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and let cool.

2. Mix together the flour, shortening, salt, and water for the pie dough just until fi Shape into a 9-inch pie pan and crimp the edges and chill it for at least 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 325°F. Then, once you are ready to bake, dock or prick the chilled dough all over with a fork and bake it for 25 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Let cool.

3. Combine the blueberries and cooled gel together in a large bowl and add the mixture to the pie crust.

4. Whip the whipping cream with the sugar and vanilla and then spread a thick layer all over the top of the blueberries.

5. Garnish the whipped topping with extra blueberries. Chill until solid and can be easily cut with a Cut into six generous pieces!

 

Enjoy.

This article is from the 2017 issue of our Maine Farms journal. Make sure to look through our archives.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

Two new videos to celebrate our 20th year!

This year, we are celebrating 20 years of growing the future for farming in Maine! Throughout the year we’ll be releasing a series of six videos that illustrate our history, our work, and where we’re headed. So far, we’ve released two videos: one about our founding, and one about our work to protect farmland.

Our Roots

Twenty years ago a small group of farmers and farm advocates started talking about this idea: that farmland, and farming, matter and should be protected. Soon, that little seed of an idea took root, and MFT began as the first and only land trust in Maine dedicated to protecting farmland and supporting farmers.

Farmland Protection at High View Farm

Protecting Maine’s precious farmland is the only way to ensure that we’ll have the land we need to grow food in the future. Several years ago, MFT worked with Bill and Darcy Winslow at High View Farm in Harrison to protect their farm, making sure that that land will continue to be available for farming for the next generation and beyond. High View is just one of the hundreds of farms MFT has helped to protect since 1999.

 

Stay tuned for more videos coming soon! All of the videos were produced in partnership with the Knack Factory.

 

Be sure to check out our 20th Anniversary website, where you can find events, a timeline of our milestones, and membership profiles.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

This June: Maine Farms Listening Tour!

This June, we’re hitting the road to visit Maine farms! There’s no better way to celebrate our 20th Anniversary than with an epic road trip and listening tour that will bring us straight to the fields and barns of the farmers we serve.

During this anniversary year, our staff and board are working on strategic planning and setting a course for the coming years. The listening tour will help us to dig into what is happening on the ground in Maine’s farming community and inform our work in the future. We want to focus primarily on rural parts of the state, visiting and talking to farmers and friends in their homes, at kitchen tables and in dooryards.

We invite you to join us! Where should we go? Who should we visit? Want to host us? We want to hear from you!

If you’re interested in connecting with us during the tour, send an email to ellen@mainefarmlandtrust.org  or call us at 207-338-6575.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

PITCH IN for local food for all

Maine is building a vibrant farm and food economy, but not all Mainers have access to local food. Maine ranks 3rd in the nation, and 1st in New England for the portion of households experiencing food insecurity. At the same time, Maine has lots of farmland and farmers producing nutritious food year-round. Our Farm Fresh Rewards program helps to connect the dots between farmers and consumers, and grow markets for farmers and while reducing food insecurity.

 

Farm Fresh Rewards provide bonus dollars for shoppers using SNAP/EBT to buy locally-grown fruits and vegetables at local retail stores, like food co-ops. The program increases SNAP shoppers’ purchasing power while making healthy food more affordable and connecting farmers with new customers.

The impact of Farm Fresh Rewards is threefold:

  1. Shoppers: We address inequities in our food system by increasing access to affordable, fresh, locally-grown produce for low-income Mainers. 
  2. Farmers: We help grow the market for Maine farmers, who can sell more of their products through local stores that offer Farm Fresh Rewards  and reach a broader consumer base.
  3. Local Economy & Community:  More consumers are able to afford products from local businesses; keeping dollars circulating locally bolsters Maine’s economy. And shopping locally cultivates community connections.

In the first three years of the Farm Fresh Rewards nutrition incentives program:

Over 1000 households using SNAP also used Farm Fresh Rewards, impacting 2500 individuals

  • 373 farms sell  to participating stores
  • More than 20 stores have participated to date
  • Over $170,000 of incentives have been redeemed for local fruits and vegetables

If you believe in this work to grow markets for farmers while also addressing food insecurity in Maine, we hope you’ll consider joining us as a member. Pitch in– we can’t do it without you!   

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

Maine Farmland Trust Awards Blue Hill Peninsula Grants

MFT recently awarded 22 Blue Hill Peninsula Community Food Grants, totaling more than $55,000. The average grant received was just over $2,500. Grants were awarded to projects or programs intended to increase food sustainability and improve the health and well-being of Blue Hill Peninsula residents. MFT recognized programs that create a more just and sustainable local food system through production and education within both the immediate and surrounding communities.

Tree of Life food pantry was one of this year’s grantees. Betsy Bott, a volunteer at the pantry, explains, “The Community Food Grant and Good Shepherd’s Mainers Feeding Mainers have made it possible for us to put the best our local farms have to offer onto the plates of our community’s food insecure. Due to this support, the Tree of Life has returned 8-10 thousand dollars a year back to local farmers. It’s a win-win, as cliché as that is. That’s what’s so great about these grants. They get really good food to our neighbors, and give farmers a payment.” Healthy Peninsula’s Healthy Eating Initiative received one of the other grants.

Awards were also given to individuals and businesses. “Receiving this grant is enabling us to accelerate the growth of our home garden through the purchase of essential tools, cold frames, and a small greenhouse. As a family of five that wants to eat organic, non-gmo, local food our grocery bill is very high – so being able to grow more of our own food is a high priority for us. Working with our children cultivating the land and showing them how to provide for themselves is one of the most important lessons that we can teach.” says Alycia Brown, of the Blue Hill home garden project.

Other projects awarded grants involved purchasing produce from local farmers to share with food insecure neighbors, construction of farm stands, purchasing farm equipment (as well as home garden tools and improvements), and summer camp garden programs for kids. MFT would like to congratulate everyone who was awarded a grant and thank everyone who applied.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.