Category Archives: Latest MFT News

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.

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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?

 

 

April is Member Renewal Month!

Over the past 20 years, we’ve worked with farmers and our members to lay a foundation for the future of farming in Maine-and thanks to you, we’ve made so much progress.  The Dostie Farm is just one example of how, together, we can ensure farms get the support they need as they transition from one generation to the next.  As hundreds of thousands of acres of Maine’s farmland are changing hands, and development pressure looms, we need your support more than ever to ensure Maine’s best farmland stays in farming, and will be available for agriculture forever.

Thank you for being part of this work and renewing your membership today.

Windham Organic Farmer Joins National Fly-In to Protect Farm Program Funding

The below press release was written by the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition (NSAC). MFT is a member of NSAC, an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities.

 

Melissa Law of Bumbleroot Organic Farm asks congressional appropriators to support conservation, local/regional food, and beginning farmer programs that help producers thrive.

Washington, D.C., March 28, 2019 – Beginning farmer Melissa Law, in partnership with fellow owner/operators Ben Whalen and Jeff and Abby Fisher, are now entering their fifth growing season at Bumbleroot Organic Farm. By leveraging support from farm bill programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, Law has been able to enhance Bumbleroot’s production of organic vegetables, flowers, and herbs by increasing both sustainability and profitability. This week, Law joined eleven other farmers and advocates from across the country in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) farmer fly-in event in Washington, D.C.

“If our representatives in D.C. don’t understand the positive impact these programs have for farmers, then they won’t support them,” said Law. “And if they don’t support programs that train beginning farmers and help us build viable businesses, then our food system will be in jeopardy. I came to D.C. as part of this farmer fly-in event because I wanted my representatives to meet someone who benefits from these programs, I wanted to be able to tell my story face-to-face.”

In 2014, Law and her husband moved to Buxton, Maine to join Jeff and Abby in starting Bumbleroot Organic Farm. Together, the team grew vegetables and flowers on their small plot of land for two years. In 2016, the four were able to purchase an 89-acre farm in Windham, where they grow a wide variety of organic products.

“We moved to Maine to start the farm and be closer to family, but also because we heard that there are many great service providers in Maine and that the State has a strong agricultural community,” said Law. “I’m glad to say that the rumors were definitely true, and we’ve been supported so many Maine organizations, including Maine Farmland Trust, from whom we purchased our land, Coastal Enterprises Inc, which helped with the financing, and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), who is our organic certifier and has provided countless educational opportunities for us and our peers.”

To learn the skills and access the resources they needed to get their farm started, Law and her partners took part in MOFGA’s Journeyperson and Farm Beginnings programs. The training programs were both made possible thanks to support from BFRDP, and taught Bumbleroot’s owners how to approach the business aspects of being a farmer and how to make a holistic plan that worked for their families and their values.

“Those programs were really important for us because none of us came to farming with a background in business,” said Law. “We learned how to make our farm into a sustainable business enterprise that would be able to support our families.”

Bumbleroot Organic Farm has also utilized the EQIP program to build high tunnels and extend their growing season – which is crucial for a farm that does most of its business through local and direct marketing channels – and is participating in a SARE grant project trialing cover cropping and tarping techniques.

“Our mission is to connect people with the land and food that sustains them,” said Law. “Our goal is to feed our community, and these farm bill programs help us to do that.”

With the 2018 Farm Bill signed into law in December of 2018, farmers and food/farm advocates are now turning their attention to the farm bill’s implementation phase, and to the annual appropriations process. While many farm bill programs receive mandatory funding through the legislative process, those programs can also receive additional discretionary funding through the annual appropriations process. For FY 2020, Law and NSAC asked congressional appropriators to support the following:

  • Protect vital conservation programs: NSAC urges Congress to make NO cuts to mandatory funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), or other USDA conservation programs.
  • Provide $10 million for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, which houses the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program.
  • Increase funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) program to $45 million.

“America’s family farmers made many of the historic victories of the 2018 Farm Bill possible,” said NSAC Interim Policy Director Juli Obudzinski. “Through all the delays and setbacks, they stuck with us and continued fighting for the programs and policies that matter to them, and now they’re continuing that advocacy into the appropriations process. We’re grateful to have had Melissa and our eleven other farmers and food advocates join us this week in asking Congress to build upon the success of the 2018 Farm Bill, and ensure that critical food and farm programs receive the funding they need to succeed.”

Water and Fire, Drawings and Dirt: The 2018 Fiore Residents at MFT’s Gallery

During the summer of 2018 six visual artists, one writer, one performance artist and one gardener lived and worked together at Rolling Acres Farm in Jefferson, Maine. All had been selected for the MFT’s Fiore Art Center residency program, because of the common thread running through their work: a meaningful engagement with themes related to agriculture or the environment.

The solitude, natural setting and communal aspect of the residency allowed the artists to focus, explore and create in new ways. The exhibit of the work produced during their residency is a fabulous exploration of color, atmosphere, and connection to the natural environment. The 2018 Fiore Residents Exhibit opened March 18 and will be on display until May 24th. It concludes with artist talks at 5pm and a closing reception from 5:30-8pm at the MFT Gallery in Belfast.

Performance artist Heather Lyon woke many mornings at dawn to walk through dew-covered fields down to the lake. Working in and with the water, she ultimately crafted several performative videos. MFT Gallery displays her “Safety Poncho (Orange)” video. With its hushed silvery greys and bright red-oranges, the video engages in a riveting dialogue of water and fire with Michel Droge’s vibrant, atmospheric oil paintings: “Yesterday’s Fires” and “Pleiades Showers.” Through her interactions with the land and observation of constellations above the farm, Droge explored patterns in the micro and macro relationships of life in her watercolor and graphite drawing of “Queen Anne’s Last Wishes.”

Carol L. Douglas created her vivid plein air landscape paintings “Blueberry Barrens, Clary Hill” and “Blueberry Barrens, WC” in oils and watercolors respectively, investigating the confluence of paired painting to see if the fresh mark-making that occurred in her watercolors on Yupo would translate to her more familiar oil paintings.

Maxwell Nolin took advantage of the uninterrupted time in the studio to work on two large, luminous oil paintings, “Self-Portrait, 2018” and “Tea,” which enabled him to slow down and reflect on the conceptual aspects of his work, as well as explore different experimental techniques with his process.

In addition to working on her narrative manuscript, writer-in-residence Jodi Paloni produced a beautiful lyrical writing called “Rain Begins the Day,” which captures the essence of the farm landscape and the connection felt by all who were taken in and nurtured by it.

Clif Travers spent time exploring the natural environment of the field and woods and connecting with the community at the farm. In the studio, he constructed an 8 x 6 foot sculptural panel using discarded lumber and other wood products, in an attempt to honor and reconstruct the beauty of trees. Travers then painted the three-dimensional panel in a style referencing church mosaics and stained-glass windows. He contributed a print of the stunning “I Dream of Trees” for this exhibit.

During her residency, Stephanie Mercedes continued building archives of missing violent histories and created a variation of her “Relicarios” installation. Mercedes’ work honors the grandmothers who protested the disappearance of their children by wearing lockets. Her work on display includes research on those that escaped political persecution in Argentina and relocated to Maine, drawings, and a lighted locket.

Thu Kim Vu, from Vietnam, was inspired by the personal bonds formed during the residency through the communal kitchen, food, and the garden. She created a wonderful series of miniature paper drawings of pots, pans, and utensils glued on several overlapping sheets of Plexiglas that are designed to be viewed through the natural light of a window.

In addition to growing unusual vegetables and ornamental food for the residents, the resident gardener Rachel Alexandrou created a video installation called “The Nature of Stewardship”. This was inspired by her work in the garden and kitchen and explores the relationship between human, body and earth.

20th Anniversary: Member Voices

MFT is a member-powered organization. Throughout our 20th year, we are highlighting some of these amazing members. Read the first batch of member profiles below:

Warren & Helen Balgooyen

Wishing Well Farm. Norridgewock, ME

Our friend Jim Hastings introduced me to MFT at an early meeting at his house in Skowhegan. As a career naturalist and environmental educator, much of my incentive comes from an interest in wildlife and conservation education. I’ve always been an avid land protector, and we worked with MFT to protect our 272-acre farm in 2004, and hope to add another nearly 200 acres in the near future. Over the last 20 years, development has swallowed up prime agricultural land.  Climate change is having an effect via drought, new insects, and invasive plants. At the same time, we see more young people getting into farming- mostly small produce farms.  MFT’s Farmlink and Farmland Protection programs have helped those who can’t afford the rising price of farmland. We hope MFT will continue to keep up the good work!

Warren Balgooyen passed away in January 2019, a few months after this interview.

Member since 2000. Protected their farm in 2004, and protected another 110 acres with 7 Lakes Alliance in December 2018.

Francis Kilea

Appleton, ME

I support MFT’s mission in the abstract because I have long believed in the importance of a strong web of local commerce and food production, but I’m pretty personally invested, too. The livelihoods of former and current employers and mentors—not to mention their customers— depends on the health of that system.  I love that Maine Farmland Trust has a multi-pronged approach to the goal of growing the future for farming.  All of it’s important, too. I grew up in a small town in the midwest and have watched, over the years, patches of land be purchased and developed. MFT’s efforts to keep arable land in the hands of farmers are really important.

Member since 2016.

Troy & Brenda White

Lil Bit Organic Farm. Lagrange, ME.

Some of the fields that we leased for hay went up for sale. We knew these fields would appeal to a developer for house lots. Also, if we lost these fields, it would be detrimental to our bottom line and Maine would lose more farmland! However, the cost was way out of our reach. Without MFT, we would not have been able to secure the farmland and to protect the farmland for future generations.

The landscape of farming has changed in Maine and in our country for many reasons. Developers are buying farmland to turn to house developments. It is imperative for everyone to support MFT so we can all continue to work together to protect our farmland and to help farmers.

Member since 2014. Protected their farm in 2014.

Rob Tod

Allagash Brewing Company. Portland, ME.

There are so many benefits to bringing industries like farming back to local communities: jobs, profits, sustainability, the value in knowing where ingredients are coming from, etc. Much like the craft beer movement, and Allagash, in particular, is bringing beer back to local communities, we see that MFT is working to bring farming back to local communities.

Supporter since 2015.

Visit our 20th Anniversary website to learn more about our 20th year!

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

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.

Searching for Sustainable Scale

by Melissa Coleman

Photography by Greta Rybus

Having grown up on an E.F. Schumacher small-is-beautiful homestead, my heart can’t help but beat with admiration for the grit and self-confidence of the small farmer. Is it possible—we Schumacher types want to know—for these farmers to cultivate a viable business without losing that trademark grittiness and connection to the land?

This quest for the secrets of sustainable scaling up led me down winding country roads to the following Maine farmers. While growing their businesses in size and profit, they’re continuing to foster their communities, families, and land.

The Groundbreakers:

Stewart Smith in his carrot field in Starks, Maine.

Asked to name, off the top of his head, the efforts that have made the most difference for Lakeside when creating a viable business, Smith easily offers the following strategies.

First, he advocates choosing two or three high-volume crops to pay the bills, and a handful of high-value specialty crops to make a profit.

“You can budget a larger tractor with tillage equipment for your high-volume crops, but also use it on the supplemental crops,” he says.

This leads to the importance of finding the right equipment at the right price, and taking the time to maintain it. Big-ticket items include the irrigation system and root vegetable harvesters, which he advocates buying used from commercial farmers.

“Equipment is your biggest expense. You need to have the ability and technical knowledge to maintain it, and you need to enjoy being in the shop tinkering with it to keep it running.”

Finally, he stresses forming strong relationships with buyers, and making delivery a priority.

“Bigger buyers are not as flexible,” he says. “You have to get them the amount they want, marked the way they want it, at the time that they want it. And if anything changes, let them know ASAP.”

Leaving the glow of the Lakeside farmhouse, I can feel rather than see the fields spread around me in the darkness, settling into winter slumber as they have for generations. There’s hope that these fields will be productive for many generations to come.

Stewart Smith and Sarah Redfield Lakeside Family Farm

Heading to Lakeside Family Farm, I leave I-95 behind in the November dusk and enter the fertile farmland  of the Sebasticook Lake basin in Newport. What I notice first about Stewart Smith’s gently-aged profile is an assured wisdom in the curves of his smile. Recent accolades include a SOURCE Maine Elder Award for shaping “a locally focused, environmentally con- scious, 21st-century approach to Maine agriculture.”

As a third-generation Newport farmer, Smith determined while an economics undergrad at Yale that he would work in government, education, and farming over the course of his life. This he did at the USDA under Carter, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress under Clinton, and as a Maine Commissioner of Agriculture. In between, he taught and did research at Tufts and the University of Maine.

With wife and partner, Sarah Redfield, he returned to farming and founded Lakeside Family Farm in 2005. It has since become a role model for a successful mid-size sustainable farm that, while not certified organic, follows best practices to minimize the use of chemical inputs. Lakeside now provides 100-some vegetable options to buyers and distributors including Hannaford and Crown of Maine, restaurants such as The Black Birch in Kittery, and the University of Maine. They also deliver workplace CSA farm shares.

“I’m in charge of the farming and production, and Sarah works with the buyers,” Smith says, with evident gratitude for a partner who is dedicated  to the business.

Smith works with his crew to repair equipment used for harvesting carrots. As his midscale family farm grew, it became more productive to rely on equipment.

The Evolvers:

Chris Cavendish, Gallit Sammon, and their daughter Calliope take a moment to pose in their carrot field in Bowdoinham.

Chris and Gallit Cavendish Fishbowl Farm

The trip to Fishbowl Farm leads me, with photographer Greta Rybus, 45 minutes north of Portland to the inland estuary of Merrymeeting Bay, its soil rich in organic matter.

We track down curly-haired Chris Cavendish at a shared processing facility and are immediately drawn into his bright-eyed enthusiasm for this work. Following him to a 12-acre field that he leases affordably from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, we witness rows of carrots miraculously lifted from the ground by the tractor-towed Scott Viner harvester.

“I’m anticipating that with the new harvester, we can process 1,500 pounds in an eighth of the time, with two rather than three workers,” Cavendish says, though his data is still speculative.

While there are many inspirations and guiding forces that led Cavendish to Fishbowl Farm (meeting his wife and partner, Gallit; MOFGA; Russell Libby), there’s also the 1973 movie that inspired a runner up name, Seventh Wave Farm. As Cavendish tells it, Steve McQueen’s character Papillon, a prisoner on a remote island, notices that every seventh wave in a set is strong enough to carry a man out to sea, and he rides that wave to freedom.

The seventh wave for Cavendish and Gallit (formerly chef de cuisine at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport), has been the decision to focus on wholesale production of just a few favorite crops. These include greens (spinach, kale, arugula, lettuce mixes) and seasonal vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions).

After ten years in business and the birth of their first child, Calliope, Chris and Gallit were feeling the pinch. They didn’t want to sacrifice family life to the 80- to 90-hour-a-week demands of supplying farmers markets and their CSA.

The decision in 2012 to change direction led to a Maine Farmland Trust workshop with Jed Beach of FarmSmart, a Maine-based consulting firm that assists farms with goal-setting, record-keeping, and business planning. The following takeaways have stayed with Cavendish over the past four years.

Know the breakeven point for any given week. “Jed Beach helped to compile our budget, crop enterprise worksheets, and income projections to give me one important number,” he says. “That’s the number of cases a week that we need to sell during the 25-week grow- ing season to be able to end the year in the positive.”

“Chris put this large black number above his desk where he sees it every day,” Beach says.

Grow slow. “I found it important to identify and resolve problems before putting myself in front of a large audience,” Cavendish states. “The most important being creating production and harvest systems to efficiently produce high-quality product and developing easy and efficient ordering, order-tracking, and washing/packing/handling systems.”

Identify non-farm goals and place them before farm goals. “For me that means ensuring we have a certain degree of normal in our family life during the growing season,” Cavendish states.

“If a major decision will significantly and negatively impact our family balance, we don’t do it.”

The results have been commendable, with income tripling from 2013 to 2016. Fishbowl’s recognizable labels can be found on greens and vegetables at Rosemont’s markets and Bow Street Market in Freeport, among others, while bulk orders are sold to Maine Specialty Foods, Flatbread Company, and other Portland restaurants.

When Gallit and Calliope arrive to check on the progress of the carrot harvest, the Cavendish family poses for a photo, sitting together in the fields that sustain them. They appear happy and relaxed, comfortable with their lifestyle—a model farm family, riding that seventh wave to farm-family balance.

After Cavendish uses a harvester to gently uproot carrots, he and his family get to work collecting and cleaning them.

The New Guardians:

Phillip and Lisa Webster North Star Sheep Farm

Upon arrival at North Star Sheep Farm, I’m directed to the Welcome Center to meet owners Lisa and Phillip Webster. Well appointed with leather sofas and space for product sampling and hosting events, it sends the message to any visitor or buyer that North Star is a serious operation.

“People make the decision whether or not to do business when they first arrive,” Lisa tells me. “The impact of a well-maintained farm is key.” Blonde and of strong stature, she’s dressed in a smart business suit because she goes to Augusta to advocate for farmers as past-president of the Agricultural Council of Maine. The rest of the time, Lisa manages North Star’s sales and marketing, and Phillip, her tall and amiable husband and business partner, oversees the farm operations and employees.

Over 3,000 sheep roam the pastures at North Star Sheep Farm.

Chris Cavendish packages clean salad greens for distribution around Southern Maine.

While North Star has only become a go-to for grass- fed lamb in the past five years, the couple bought their first sheep in 1984. Fifth-generation sheep farmers, both Lisa and Phil’s families have raised breeding stock and meat lambs since the early 1800s. The decision to buy 225-acre Stevens Farm in 1997 brought with it the land for a bigger sheep operation and a $400K mortgage, so they decided to pay the bills with a landscaping business and keep the sheep at a loss.

It wasn’t until 2007, after their son graduated from college, that the Websters felt ready to downsize the landscaping business and upsize the sheep farm. They traveled the country to gather ideas from other farms and wrote a 10-year business plan. They banked on their finding that New England has the largest demand for lamb in the US, due to the high number of white-linen restaurants. So, the Websters reasoned, if you add in New York City and Washington DC, the buyers for 60% of all lamb purchased in the US were within their reach.

More Perspectives:

Phil Webster pauses while feeding his sheep.

Despite challenges around establishing viable harvesting, packaging, storage, and transporta- tion systems, in 2010 they secured a deal to sell Whole Foods 12 lambs a week, or more than 1,000 lambs a year, and everything began to fall into place. Foodservice distributor Dole & Bailey and the American Lamb Board began marketing North Star lamb, and they added pork and rabbits.

Today their products can be found at Portland restaurants and markets including Fore Street, Back Bay Grill, and Rosemont Market & Bakery, as well as throughout New England and in select DiCicco Family Markets in New York.

To meet the demand, North Star raises 3,000-plus sheep a year on their farm in Windham, as well as on Collyer Brook Farm in Gray (a property protected by Maine Farmland Trust) and Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. They cross-mate several breeds  that do well on pasture-based grazing in the Maine climate, to create an ideal whole-lamb product.

Phil and Lisa’s advice:

“Don’t let your guard down as you scale up,” Lisa says. “Keep the quality and standards at the same level no matter how you scale. We’re in this because we love sheep farming, not because we want to see how much poundage of lamb we can get to market.”

“You’ve got to love what you do,” Phil agrees. “You’ve got to be able to look across the pasture and feel good every day. If you’re not happy, change what you do, or get out.”

Most of all, Phil and Lisa are loyal to the legacy handed down by their family. “We use all the experi- ence of generations past to ensure that today will be successful and tomorrow there will still be a family farm here,” Lisa says.

Bonnie Rukin, the funding fairy godmother of Slow Money Maine, reminds me that scaling up isn’t just about the money. Bonnie has helped numerous small to mid-sized farms, fisheries, and enterprises to focus on larger infrastructure on the path to becoming not just self-sustaining, but sustainable.

“There is no denying the value of material and financial capital, but we don’t want to forget the value of community in the process,” Rukin says. “We’re seeing several farms that rely on people in their community and collaboration with other farms to bring quality produce to a larger number of people in a more consistent and satisfying way than through corporate markets.”

Fred Kirschenmann, president of the board at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from IFOAM, upholds a similar perspective to Rukin.

“We are now faced with transforming into a more ‘regenerative,’ resilient food and farming system that is grounded in community relationships designed in creating shared values,” he told me via email.

Kirschenmann is quoting from Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s article “Creating Shared Value” in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review. He also recommends John Thackara’s book How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today. It “describes how the transition from an indus- trial economy to the next ‘bioregional’ economy is not just about farms, but how we all need to work together in our own bioregions,” he says.

Businesses and individuals alike are in the process of evolving the understanding of what it means to “do business” in the 21st century. The farms mentioned here have found relative financial reward in their respective paths of growth, but they have also, as Rukin and Kirschenmann emphasize, kept a connection to the communities, families,  and acres that sustain them.

melissa coleman grew up on a back-to-the-land farm near Blue Hill, Maine. She is the author of a memoir about the experience, This Life is In Your Hands, and writes for publications including The New York Times, Boston Globe, Travel Weekly, and Maine Home + Design.

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

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March Legislation Update

Act to Establish the Fund to Support Local Fruits and Vegetables Purchasing

On Tuesday, March 12th, the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry will hold a hearing on LD 920: An Act to Establish the Fund to Support Local Fruits and Vegetables Purchasing. MFT supports this legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Bill Pluecker (I-Warren), because it would create a fund to provide incentives to recipients of federal food and nutrition assistance programs to buy more locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. These types of programs, like MFT’s Farm Fresh Rewards program, not only increase access to healthy locally-grown foods for low-income shoppers, but they also help all kinds of Maine farms gain new customers and build sales, thereby keeping more dollars in Maine’s food economy. The hearing will take place at 1pm in Room 214 of the Cross Building.

 

An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Promote Land Conservation, Working Waterfronts, Water Access, and Outdoor Recreation

On Tuesday, March 5th the Land Conservation Task Force, a group of diverse individuals and organizations representing agricultural, municipal, sportman’s and conservation interests, released their recommendations for the next generation of land conservation in Maine. Adam Bishop, MFT’s Farmland Protection Manager, participated on the Task Force. These recommendations included having LMF, Maine’s primary source of funding for conservation in Maine, place a high priority on conserving lands that support Maine’s vibrant farming sector. They also included a request for $75 million in bond funding to support the LMF program and $20 million to support state parks. Please contact your representatives in Augusta and ask them to support LD 911: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Promote Land Conservation, Working Waterfronts, Water Access and Outdoor Recreation, the bond measure based on the Task Force’s recommendations. You can find your representatives HERE.

 

An Act to Limit Greenhouse Gas Pollution and Effectively Use Maine’s Natural Resources

On Wednesday, March 13th, the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on LD 797: An Act to Limit Greenhouse Gas Pollution and Effectively Use Maine’s Natural Resources. MFT supports this legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Ralph Tucker (D-Brunswick), because in addition to setting long-term and short-term emissions reductions goals, the bill calls for an inclusive process with input from various stakeholders, including the agriculture sector, to update the state’s climate action plan. In creating the updated plan, the legislation also requires that consideration be given to encouraging natural climate solutions like healthy soils practices and farmland protection. The hearing will take place at 10am in Room 216 of the Cross Building.

 

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