Category Archives: Farm Viability

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.

Four farm businesses receive $50K grants from MFT to scale-up to new markets

Kathi Langelier of Herbal Revolution (left) and Kelsey Herrington of Two Farmers Farm (right, photo by Greta Rybus)

MFT has awarded grants to four farms of approximately $50,000 to implement changes in order to scale up their businesses. The farms participated in the 201 track of MFT’s Farming for Wholesale program and spent two years working with business advisors to research and define business plans focused on scaling up for wholesale markets. These implementation grants are competitive and applications undergo an extensive review process by a committee comprised of MFT staff and industry consultants.

The 2018 crop of grantees, all of who received around $50,000, include Tide Mill Creamery in Edmunds, Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough, Herbal Revolution in Union, and Broadturn Farm in Scarborough. The farms will use the grant funds to scale-up infrastructure, equipment, and expand marketing efforts.

Rachel Bell and Nate Horton of Tide Mill Creamery constructed new housing for their herd and made improvements to their pastures, and installed a 100-gallon vat pasteurizer, which will allow them to sell cheese across state lines. Kelsey Herrington and Dominic Pascarelli, of Two Farmers Farm, will implement a new business plan to sell more vegetables in mainstream markets while maintaining a high level of product quality, and quality of life. Kathi Langelier, of Herbal Revolution, created a plan that scales production to meet national demand for her herbal line. She will also invest in the business’ brand, and create new jobs in farm operations, sales, marketing, and production management. Farmers John Bliss and Stacy Brenner of Broadturn Farm are using the funds to cultivate their brand and marketing to create new opportunities within the floral industry. This includes infrastructure that will help them pave the way for the burgeoning local flower market.

This is the second year MFT has offered implementation grants for farms that completed the 201 Farming For Wholesale program. “Access to financing to implement new changes and ideas 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 momentum moving forward for these farms.”

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

Farm Fresh Rewards

MFT is rebranding its innovative nutrition incentive program under the name Farm Fresh Rewards. Farm Fresh Rewards offers bonus local fruits and vegetables to low-income shoppers at participating retail stores.

Farm Fresh Rewards is currently offered at 16 retail locations around the state of Maine, with more to come in the next year. This program is part of a growing number of nutrition incentive programs that help low-income shoppers access healthy food across the country by connecting them with local produce and the farmers who grow it, building sales for farmers. Farm Fresh Rewards can be used by shoppers using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as food stamps) at participating retail stores. Farm Fresh Rewards complements the Maine Harvest Bucks program that offers incentives to shoppers at farmers markets and CSA farms.

The goal of this program is to expand the number of locations where shoppers can access local food—to make it more convenient, and therefore more attractive. “We are so excited to be working with Maine Farmland Trust to enable more people access to all the fresh, local produce we have to offer in Maine,” says Tina Wilcoxson, Owner of Royal River Natural Foods.

This rebranding comes at a pivotal time for the program. MFT established the program over the past three years largely under a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant from the United States Department of Agriculture and with support from the Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Foundation. MFT is excited by how the program has developed and is currently seeking new funding to allow Farm Fresh Rewards to continue to grow.

“We’re really seeing an impact.” says Shannon Grimes, Nutrition Incentive Project Manager at MFT. “Customers are buying more fruits and vegetables, trying new ones, and noticing health benefits—and sales of local goods are going up too. It feels like we’ve caught some momentum and we hope to amplify these successes.”

MFT looks forward to finding new ways to improve and spread the word about the program as it continues to expand under the new Farm Fresh Rewards brand. For a list of where to find the program and more information, visit farmfreshrewards.org. For a list of all sites that offer nutrition incentives in Maine, visit maineharvestbucks.org.

 

If you would like to support this program, please contact us.

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

Grants available for community food projects on the Blue Hill Peninsula

Blue Hill Peninsula residents are encouraged to apply for a community food grant program. Maine Farmland Trust is now accepting proposals for projects or programs intended to increase food sustainability and improve the health and well-being of Blue Hill Peninsula residents. In addition to meeting these goals, successful applications will be those that place an emphasis on creating a more just and sustainable local food system through food production, education, or related projects. High priority is placed on projects that also demonstrate benefit to the broader community.

Past awardees have included a variety of community food projects. Brooksville Elementary School used the funds to host a summer garden camp for 18 kids; Misty Morning Farm raised three pigs for the local food pantry; and Mill Stream Sugar Shack built a new timber frame shack.

Applicants can apply to receive grants of up to $3,000, which will be awarded based on the merits of the proposal and the likelihood of project completion. Grants are available for nonprofit organizations, schools, community groups, or individuals. Projects or programs must be carried out in the towns of Blue Hill, Sedgwick, Penobscot, Castine, Orland, Surry, Deer Isle, Stonington, Brooksville, or Brooklin.

The deadline for applications is Saturday, March 31, at midnight. Decisions and grant awards will be made by April 30, 2018. The application can be found online at mainefarmlandtrust.org/blue-hill-peninsula-community-food-grant/.

For questions or assistance with your application please contact Alex Fouliard at Maine Farmland Trust at alex@mainefarmlandtrust.org, or 207-338-6575.

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

MFT Announces First-Year Impact of 2016 Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund Grant

Maine Farmland Trust has announced the first-year impact of its 2016 Harvard Pilgrim Foundation Healthy Food Fund grant.  Maine Farmland Trust has provided over $12,000 worth of local fruits and vegetables to low-income customers in Saco, Biddeford, Portland, and South Portland through nutrition incentives at Portland Food Co-op, The Farm Stand in South Portland, and Unity Food Hub.

“We would not have been able to do this work in Southern Maine without this partnership with Harvard Pilgrim,” says Shannon Grimes, Nutrition Incentives Project Manager at Maine Farmland Trust. “Because of them, we were able to add staff capacity and reach much more of the Southern Maine community, working with new customers and markets at a whole new level.” Abby Farnham, who coordinates food access projects for Maine Farmland Trust in Southern Maine, adds that “Harvard Pilgrim’s support is flexible in a way that enables and empowers us to get creative when it comes to strategies for connecting low-income Maine consumers with Maine-grown food.”

Nutrition incentive programs provide bonus fruits and vegetables to low-income shoppers, often in the form of vouchers. In 2015, Maine Farmland Trust received a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant from the USDA to work with food hubs, food co-ops, and other retail stores aggregating local food from Maine farms to implement nutrition incentive programs for customers using SNAP/EBT (previously known as food stamps). Harvard Pilgrim’s Healthy Food Fund provides some of the required match for that project, and has connected Maine Farmland Trust with the larger network of grantees.

In total, the amount of healthy, local produce distributed to low-income families in the region increased 87 percent as a result of Harvard Pilgrim Foundation’s Healthy Food Fund contributions; and the amount of produce sold increased 63 percent to 827,000 pounds.  The total dollar value of healthy food reaching households in communities across the region in 2016 is $2.2 million.

Of the 26 Healthy Food Fund projects in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, 17 are selling healthy local food through Farmers’ Markets, Mobile Markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, and farm stands.  A total of 20 are distributing produce through free-to-recipient channels such as gleaning, food banks, community meals, and youth agriculture programs.

“We are so pleased we can show how relatively small investments in local organizations can measurably improve access to healthy food,” according to the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation’s President, Karen Voci.

In 2016, more than $1.4 million in grants was distributed to the Foundation’s Healthy Food Fund initiatives within the region, with funds supporting programs that grow, distribute and/or market fresh food for low-income families and communities across the region.

About The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation

Created in 1980, The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation supports Harvard Pilgrim’s mission to improve the quality and value of health care for the people and communities we serve. The Harvard Pilgrim Foundation provides the tools, training and leadership to help build healthy communities throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. In 2016, the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation awarded more than $2.4 million in grants to more than 900 nonprofit organizations in the region.  Since its inception in 1980, the Foundation has awarded $140 million in funds and resources throughout the four states.  For more information, please visit www.harvardpilgrim.org/foundation.

MFT welcomes Erica Buswell in new leadership position

Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) welcomes Erica Buswell into a new position as Vice President of Programs. Buswell, who lives in Searsport, has worked at MFT for over 6 years, most recently as the Farmland Access Program Manager. Buswell will work closely with the President and CEO, and be responsible for overseeing MFT’s three program areas: Farmland Protection, Farmland Access, and Farm Viability.

Buswell grew up in Montana and has been working in local food systems for the past 13 years. Before joining MFT as a member of the farmland protection staff in 2011, Buswell worked in several positions at the Belfast Food Co-op, including a stint as a member of the General Management Team.

“Erica is a proven manager, and a creative problem-solver who is deeply steeped in farmland conservation and the local food movement,” said Amanda Beal, the Trust’s President & CEO.  “We’re so excited to have her step into this new role.”

In addition to her work with MFT, Buswell has served on boards of various food and farm-related organizations, including Waldo County Extension Association, the Cooperative Development Institute, and the Eat Local Foods Coalition of Maine, as well as provided leadership for the Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine. She holds professional certificates in Non-Profit Management, Community Mediation, and Permaculture Design, and is a Wabanaki REACH ally. Buswell keeps her hands in the dirt on her off-the-grid homestead, where she and her husband, Scott, focus on cultivating fruit trees and berries.

“I am excited to have the opportunity to bring the full breadth of my skills and knowledge into the service of our organization,” said Buswell. Buswell will spend the next month transitioning from her current work to her new role at MFT.

Maine Medicinals and Farming for Wholesale

On a gray, misty day last week, I visited Edie Johnston at her farm in Dresden. Edie’s farm looks quite different from other farms I’ve visited for MFT: there are no animals (aside from her son’s dog), and just one high tunnel, in addition to long rows of different perennial plants and large piles of mulch at various spots around the property. This farm is the growing space for Maine Medicinals, a certified organic processor and manufacturer of standardized nutraceuticals from locally-sourced plants. This year, Edie participated in MFT’s farm business planning program Farming for Wholesale, which helps Maine farmers better serve wholesale markets.

Edie and her husband Phil moved to Portland, Maine from Pennsylvania in 2002, and bought their home in Dresden Mills in 2003.

“I saw elderberries growing wild throughout Maine, and in particular abundance  along the Eastern River which flows by our house.” Edie said. “I wondered if Maine’s native medicinal berries and botanicals were especially high in health-promoting constituents, and when that was verified through my research, I was interested in seeing if they could be grown organically at a commercial scale.”

Her federal and state funded research led to establishing both the farm and Maine Medicinals. In 2009, their son Geo joined them in Maine to help launch their first product, Anthoimmune– an organic elderberry syrup.  Geo’s wife, Sarah has also since joined the family business.

The process of finding farmland took almost a year and they looked at dozens of places. “We choose Dresden because it’s close to Portland and like many small rural towns in Maine, it had an inherent beauty and great history; not to mention lots of agricultural opportunities.” They have since expanded the original purchase and also expanded their manufacturing facilities last year,  moving production from their farmhouse in Dresden to the Ames Mill in Richmond.

Edie found out about Farming for Wholesale through Daniel McPhee, director of MOFGA’s Education program. “He sent me an e-mail introducing MFT’s Wholesale 101 program. Our business is about 90% wholesale. To keep up with distribution of Anthoimmune we need the farm to produce at it’s highest capacity.  As we increase distribution and expand our product offerings, we recognized the need for the tools and know-how to keep pace, effectively manage farm expenses, and improve overall efficiency.”

Edie says taking the workshop was one of the smartest and most timely things she has done to support the success of both aspects of the business: farming and wholesale manufacturing.

Edie was also impressed by the fact that in addition to leading the workshops, Jed Beach and Alex Fouliard both visited the farm and offered their expertise and suggestions- which she immediately put into place by refining their accounting practices and purchasing key equipment to support the sustainability and profitability of their organic orchard, among other things.

“One great example of this expert advice was Jed’s recommendation to look into buying a Millcreek Mulcher. This tractor attachment allow us to efficiently apply mulch row by row in our orchard. Every year I use literally hundreds of yards of biomass (ramiel mulch, dried leaves, compost, grass clippings, etc.)  to keep our orchard healthy, our plants happy and the rows of berried and botanicals  weed free. Before the mulcher we were applying mulch several times a year by hand, and the labor costs were quite high.  In less than two years the purchase price of the mulcher will be fully offset by savings in labor costs.”

Why focus on helping farmers like Edie sell wholesale? MFT believes the next wave of growth for local agriculture will be to help farmers scale-up and tap into wholesale markets in ways that retain the best features of local agriculture. This includes ensuring that adequate benefits flow back to the farmers.

“Wholesale is an important, and sometimes overlooked, market in Maine’s local food economy.” says Alex Fouliard, director of Farming for Wholesale. According to the Maine Food Strategy’s 2014 Consumer Survey Report, 97% of Mainers purchase the majority of their food from a wholesale market. Wholesale includes grocery stores, co-ops, institutions, restaurants, food hubs, and other kinds of distributors. In the Farming for Wholesale program, we’re helping farms tap into these markets – by helping farmers identify their products best suited for wholesale, assess infrastructure and equipment needs, or whatever challenges and goals farmers hope to achieve through selling to wholesale markets.

There are several innovative models and initiatives going on around the state to achieve this larger goal (including the market development work of the Unity Food Hub and MFT’s FINI grant to expand the customer base at local food retailers). The Farming for Wholesale program is focused on helping farmers with the business planning to be able to produce for these types of markets.

“The most exciting part to me, is how eager farmers are to get involved,” says Alex. “There’s been so much interest in the program and seeing farms want to get started immediately has assured me that we are truly meeting a need for the farming community.” She goes on, “We’re hearing from farmers that they see wholesale as the best way to grow their businesses. Whether their direct-to-consumer markets are saturated, or too resource intensive, for logistical reasons, or for personal reasons, wholesale is where many farmers see potential for growth.” The Farming for Wholesale program helps farms — big or small —  determine how best to enter or expand wholesale markets, and do so in ways that are profitable and sustainable.

Edie says they are working hard to see that Maine Medicinals remains on the cutting edge by continuing their research, developing new products and increasing production capacity and efficiency.

“As Americans increasingly look to holistic approaches to health care, we want offer high quality, locally grown and produced formulas that they can count on,” she says. “We see great opportunity here.”

Edie would love to see organic and sustainable farming initiatives continue to expand. “There is a huge opportunity to bring marginalized  farmland into greater production for plants like elderberries, aronia and other emerging high-value specialty crops. As consumer demand for these specialty crops increases, producers and manufacturers are looking to farm partners to provide raw materials, and farmers are going to need to connect with these markets.  Within the herbal supplement industry, this is just now beginning to emerge.”

They recently purchased the Ames Mill, a beautiful old mill building located on the Kennebec River in Richmond. “This beautiful building is a key element to our story. The space will allow us to expand our own production, but we will also be leasing out available space. We would love share the building with other producers, and to encourage that next phase of growth other small businesses.”

Maine Medicinals’ mission is to optimize human health by merging ancient herbal traditions with current phytomedicinal research. They believe in the generational knowledge that comes from the field and grows in the heart. Expanding the larger, and continuously growing, community of artists, producers and manufacturing definitely fits into their company vision.

Learn more about Farming for Wholesale here.

Registration for the 2017 Farming for Wholesale program opens on Tuesday, November 1st.
201 track application deadline is December 1st, and 101 workshop registration deadline is January 6th.

Support for MFT’s work makes services and program such as Farming for Wholesale available to farmers. Become a member to make this work possible.

Staff Spotlight: Shannon Grimes

Shannon Grimes, Nutrition Incentive Program Manager

Shannon Grimes came to Maine for college, and has stuck around ever since.  She grew up in New Zealand and Montana, both incredibly beautiful, natural places, but Maine tops the list with the ocean, lakes and nearby mountains. In addition to paddling, swimming, and hiking, Shannon loves to cook and bake, and tries to eat as locally as possible (you can read about some of her adventures in cooking on her blog, Dancing Tree Kitchen). The one thing that rivals her love of food is her love of dance, and she would love to see more of a Lindy Hop scene in the Midcoast!
Q: What is your role at MFT? 
A: I manage the nutrition incentive programming here at MFT, expanding access to local food for low-income Mainers. That includes coordinating the Maine Local Foods Access Network, and working with our amazing partner organizations to implement incentives (called Maine Harvest Bucks in our state) at various market types. I also manage MFT’s work focused on bringing incentives to retail stores and food hubs, so I work directly with those types of markets to design, implement, and advertise the program; and am a little involved in some of the policy implications of this work.
Q: Why do you work for MFT?
I want to live in a place where community, land, nature, and people are integrated. MFT is working towards that, both in the way we holistically approach issues, and what we’re doing to harmonize Maine’s food sectors. Not to mention that food itself is a wonderful nexus.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you look forward to working on?
I’m excited to be figuring out what about local food gets people excited, and how to share that enthusiasm.
Q: What are goals you’re psyched about that are important in your role?
I hope to learn how to better represent and engage people we work with or are trying to serve—and not just at the beginning of a project, but continually.
Store-Up September with Maine Harvest Bucks

Store-Up September Doubles Maine Harvest Bucks for one month

Maine Farmland Trust is helping low-income shoppers stretch their winter food budgets with an extra bonus this month through their Maine Harvest Bucks program. The nonprofit is encouraging shoppers to stock up on local produce from select local food stores around the state during the bountiful season.

 

Maine Harvest Bucks is an incentive program that provides monetary bonuses for low-income shoppers to buy more local fruits and vegetables. During Store-Up September, shoppers buying food with SNAP/EBT (previously known as food stamps) can double their dollars at select retail stores: for every $10 spent on local foods, they’ll receive another $10 to spend on local fruits and vegetables. This program supports local farmers, increases access to healthy food for low-income shoppers, and builds community connections.

September is one of Maine’s best months for fresh produce, with plenty of tomatoes, melons, peppers, basil, cucumbers, and more. Many of these products are great for canning, pickling, or freezing. Maine Farmland Trust is hoping shoppers will take advantage of the season’s bounty and store up on goods to eat local and stretch food budgets all year long.

Maine Harvest Bucks incentives are also available at farmers’ markets, food hubs, CSAs, and farm stands around the state. For a full list of participating markets (including a map to find them near you), visit maineharvestbucks.org.

Stores participating in Store-Up September include: the Belfast Co-op, Blue Hill Co-op, Good Tern Co-op, Machias Marketplace, Morris Farm Store, Portland Food Co-op, Rising Tide Community Market, and The Farm Stand.

Contact Shannon Grimes for more information, shannon@mainefarmlandtrust.org or 207-338-6575.

 

photography by Jenny Nelson