Mapping the Highlands Food System
How do we increase agricultural opportunities?
Nearly fifty local farmers, farm business owners, and farm service providers from the Maine Highlands gathered at the East Sangerville Grange to address this question and challenge. After a day of presentations on food systems efforts in Maine, the Highlands community mapped their resources and needs, and identified actions they could take individually and together to grow agriculture. MFT staff are compiling information for a map of the Highlands Food System– stay tuned!
Dr. Mark Lapping of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School started the day with an overview of the Maine Food Strategy, a year and half effort exploring strategic investments in the food system to help address farming, food insecurity and processing needs. Ken Morse followed with tips about forming a local food council, and the importance of knowing “What’s on your Plate?” A panel of innovators from Skowhegan inspired those present with the success stories of the Somerset Grist Mill and the Pick Up, a multi-farm CSA with over 40 farmers participating. Local farmers from the Highlands area talked about their farm operations and shared their greatest challenges, ranging from erratic weather to a lack of laborers.
At the end of the day, attendees tackled their big questions. They mapped information about their farms, needs, ideas, and ways they can participate or provide assistance. They identified their priorities for the Highlands region:
- Additional shared infrastructure – cold storage and value-added processing
- Winter growing –affordable heated greenhouses
- Education about where food comes from and how it grows, by season
- Better use of social media
- Aggregating resources so farmers can do more
- Better access to information
Listed in bullets, many of these priorities are echoed in other parts of the state. However, creating a dynamic map illustrates a community’s characteristics and shows the how-to answers they come up with, reflect the needs and resources they have in each other.