Belfast. Spurred by a freak storm that caused over $60,000 in damage at an Albion farm, a statewide farm organization has developed a new program that will help Maine farms when disaster strikes.
Maine Farmland Trust, which works to protect farmland, support farmers, and advance the future of farming, has now added one more tool to further its mission—a Farm Disaster Relief Fund.
“We’ve been thinking of this for a while,” explained John Piotti, Maine Farmland Trust’s president. “But the damage recently inflicted on Misty Brook Farm pushed us to act.”
On July 28, Misty Brook Farm in Albion was hit by torrential rain, golf ball sized hail, and winds that topped 70 mph. The freak storm tore roofs off two barns and a vegetable shed, killed 79 chickens, and destroyed crops valued at over $50,000.
Katia Holmes, who farms this land with her husband Brendan, described the storm this way on their farm’s website: “It looked like a thunderstorm, but arrived like a hurricane.”
According to Piotti, Katia and Brendan Holmes are excellent farmers who have great attitudes and are determined to bounce back. “But like most farmers, they have limited resources, and a disaster like this could be devastating unless they get some outside help,” he said.
Fortunately, help has been coming. Some people have offered their labor, while others have made cash donations directly to the Holmes.
But Maine Farmland Trust hopes to do more, both for Misty Brook Farm and for other farms hit by disasters in the future. Piotti believes that the new program his organization has developed fills a void. “We can use philanthropic gifts to help farms that don’t receive federal disaster relief or crop insurance,” he said.
Piotti believes that the Trust is in a good position to secure gifts from new philanthropic sources. One of the benefits of providing disaster relief through an organized program of Maine Farmland Trust is that the Trust can accept donations that qualify as tax deductible under IRS rules, which is often useful in attracting larger gifts.
Maine Farmland Trust has initially capitalized its Farm Disaster Relief Fund with $10,000 from its cash reserves, but Piotti hopes that the fund will grow substantially through the generosity of private contributors.
According to Piotti, because the IRS requires that tax deductible donations support a non-profit organization’s approved mission, Maine Farmland Trust will restrict use of its new disaster relief fund to farms that are either protected with an agricultural easement or have received the Trust’s services in some way. Piotti estimates that over 600 Maine farms would qualify, if struck by a fire or natural disaster.
Founded in 1999, Maine Farmland Trust operates statewide out of offices in Belfast and Unity. The Trust has completed over 450 projects, supported hundreds of farm families and protected over 43,000 acres of Maine farmland.