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Washington County

New program helps farmers get on the land in Washington County

Machias. Maine Farmland Trust is piloting a new program in Washington County to help farmers purchase farmland. The Land Access Loan Program uniquely combines business planning assistance with the opportunity to obtain financing for a land purchase. “The program aims to help grow the farming community in Washington County by attracting new farmers to the area and helping established farmers increase their land base.” explains Erica Buswell, project manager in land protection and farmland access at Maine Farmland Trust. After a pilot phase, the program will be expanded statewide.

“Washington County may be nearing an agricultural tipping point,” according to Ted Carter, co-owner of After the Rain Farm in Alexander. “Local food demand is increasing as is evidenced by the number of buying clubs that source local products. And there is a continued need for more farmers at each of the county’s seven farmers markets.” A recent research project by Sunrise County Economic Council upholds Carter’s sentiment. Their Sunrise Food Infrastructure Initiative identified a number of infrastructure gaps as well as numerous opportunities; one of them being the “county-wide need for more farmers providing local food.” The full report is available on their website: www.sunrisecounty.org.

Access to land is one of the biggest challenges facing new farmers yet it is a fundamental component of establishing a farm business. “Farmland in Washington County may be less expensive here relative to other parts of Maine, but I regularly hear about new people coming to this region who are interested in farming but still do not have the upfront capital to finance the cost of purchasing farmland,” comments Regina Grabrovac, food programs manager at Healthy Acadia, the region’s local Healthy Maine Partnership organization.

The Land Access Loan Program is available to all farmers, though priority is given to beginning farmers of limited means. There are two types of loans: Down Payment Loans for some or all of the down payment needed to secure a loan from a commercial bank, Farm Credit or Farm Service Agency; and Principal Loans in which Maine Farmland Trust provides a first-position loan to help a borrower purchase farm property. The terms, eligibility, and other details are available online here: http://www.mainefarmlandtrust.org/farmland-access/land-access-loan-program/ or by contacting Erica Buswell at (207) 338-6575 or ebuswell@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

Farmers interested in the Land Access Loan Program are encouraged to contact Maine Farmland Trust well in advance of submitting a loan application to the program. “Then we can verify your borrower eligibility and provide any technical assistance with developing a farm business plan. The business planning assistance offered through this program is equally as valuable as the funds available to farmers,” says Buswell.

Maine Farmland Trust will be available to talk about the Land Access Loan Program, as well as other programs, at the Washington County Food Summit in East Machias on March 12. For more information about that event, visit www.healthyacadia.org or call Regina at (207) 255- 3741.

Maine Farmland Trust is a statewide, member-powered nonprofit working to protect farmland, support farmers, and advance the future of farming. Their goal is not just to protect Maine farmland, but to revitalize Maine’s rural landscape by keeping agricultural lands working and helping farmers, and their communities, thrive. To learn more about the organization visit www.mainefarmlandtrust.org.

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