Knowing where the farms in your town are located is only the first step. Municipal and regional efforts to support farming will be much more successful if there is a solid understanding of the needs of the farmers within the community. Farmers should be brought into the conversation at the earliest stages of planning. Remember too that farmers typically have multiple interests in a community: they are business-owners; landowners; taxpayers; and residents who are concerned about the economic, environmental, and fiscal well-being of their community.
Learn more about how to solicit the opinions and thoughts of farmers in your community:
One way to engage farmers is to have a small group of local officials meet with farmers at their farms for informal conversations. These conversations are a great way to find out how the farmers in your community feel the community helps or hinders their ability to farm successfully. The interviews can happen as part of a more formal planning process, or can be conducted to better inform municipal officials about how their work affects farmers and/or to build overall awareness of farming in the community.
Here are some tips for a successful informal interview:
- Have someone fairly well known in the community, or known to the farmer, make the first contact and set a time to stop by.
- It helps to have a few interview questions written in advance if you have specific questions you would like them to answer. Often issues will come up that might not get captured in a written survey or more formal forum setting.
- Be prepared to take notes!
See some examples of potential interview questions.
Appointing a local agricultural commission creates an advisory body focused solely on farming issues in your community. Although new to Maine, agricultural commissions are increasingly popular in other New England states as a way to focus municipal efforts on local agriculture. Agricultural commissions are usually established by a town vote, and its members are typically appointed by the select board or council. They are only advisory, but they can provide important input on town plans or ordinances, or identify other ways in which the town can support farms.
See an example of an agricultural commission charter.
Agriculture Working Groups
Since the release of the Cultivating Maine’s Agricultural Future guidebook, several communities in Maine have created agriculture working groups to assess the local farming occurring within the community, and to identify ways the community could better support local farming. Less formal than an agricultural commission, these groups are typically convened by municipal leaders and opened to all who wish to participate. The goals and tasks of the group can be tailored to meet the individual community needs.
See examples of the roles and responsibilities for an agricultural working group.
Learn about the town of Winslow’s Agriculture Working Group.
Hosting special community agricultural forums (perhaps organized as potluck dinners with local fare!) is one way for the community to focus specifically on farmers. Forums can focus on a particular topic like local policies or ordinances, food security, technical advice, or conservation of farm soils – or just be a general gathering of folks to share stories and get to know each other.
See an example of a flyer for a community forum related to food and farming.
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