The tradition of Maine Maple Sunday is a capstone to the spring maple sugaring season,…
MFT has launched a Farm Network to better address the needs of farmers. The program combines the existing Stewardship, Viability, Farm Business Planning, and Soil Health programs under one umbrella, and makes space for future programming based on the needs of farms in MFT’s network. This more holistic approach will increase the connectivity between farmers in MFT’s network and MFT programs, and allow the organization to more quickly respond to emergent issues that impact farmers, like PFAS contamination. “It’s been amazing to see how quickly MFT mobilized to map out our at risk farms and communicate much needed resources on PFAS out to farmers under this new approach,” said MFT President and CEO Amy Fisher.
Tricia Rouleau will lead the new program area as the Farm Network Director. Rouleau has worked as a Farmland Protection Project Manager at MFT for the last eight years, and brings a deep understanding of MFT’s farm easements and experience working in partnership with farmers. In her new role, Tricia will be responsible for understanding the viability needs of MFT’s network of farms, creating a feedback loop to provide relevant ongoing support to the network of MFT farmers, and managing programs that deliver farm-facing services after a farm has been protected. “My favorite part of working at MFT has always been visiting with farmers across the state,” said Tricia. “I’m looking forward to meeting with the farmers in our network over the next year and listening to their perspectives so we can find new and better ways to serve them.” In recent weeks this work has entailed outreach and support to farmers who are grappling with PFAS contamination, and the work of the Farm Network will evolve and change as the needs of Maine farmers change over time.
MFT holds and monitors easements on nearly 300 farms across the state, all of which are monitored annually by the Stewardship team. In the Farm Network model, the Stewardship team will act as “case managers” for farms in addition to the traditional duties of monitoring the easement. Stewards will work with farmers to help identify needs and opportunities, facilitate referrals and access to MFT’s business planning, soil health services, succession planning, policy involvement, and match farms to programs outside of the organization based on their specific needs. “I always enjoyed meeting with my steward from MFT every year” said farmer Beth Schiller of Dandelion Spring Farm in Bowdoinham, one of hundreds of protected farms in MFT’s network, “but I did feel pressure that they were there to enforce the terms of my easement. I love this new model because the stewards feel more like librarians that can help me access great resources rather than being there purely for regulation.”
Hannah Chamberlain, MFT Farmland Stewardship Program Manager agrees: “This new model empowers us to become more active collaborators with the farmers in the MFT family,” said Hannah. “I hope many farmers will choose to engage with us to help us develop new and better programming here at MFT.”