Tag Archives: Maine Food Systems

Mapping the Highlands Food System

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.


MFT - MappingHighlandsAt 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.




Growing Local

GROWING LOCAL PREMIERES September 28, 2014 at the Camden International Film Festival


The locavore movement is old news. Growing Local takes the conversation to the next level. While “buying local” is on the rise, these three poignant vignettes make clear that small farms and access to locally produced food is not a sure thing. In Growing Local, we meet father and son organic dairy farmers struggling with the realities of producing a commodity food product to keep their farm going and in the family, we follow an artisanal butcher who helps us understand how healthy, thoughtful meat production can be supported and sustained, and the series closes with the story of a young farm couple who, on risky sweat-equity, have revitalized a fertile piece of farmland into a thriving community food hub. These stories help us to better understand the interconnected fates of farmers and farmland, consumers and the local food movement.





CHANGING HANDS: Rocky Ridge Organic Dairy

A dairy farmer for over 40 years, Richard Beal became one of the state’s first organic dairy farmers 17 years ago. However, producing milk—even organic milk—as a commodity that is sold with a small profit margin to a processor has taken a serious financial toll. Now he struggles with how to pass the farm onto his son, Adam, without putting either of them into crushing debt or forcing them to sell  land to developers. His daughter, Amanda, is a food systems consultant and married to a budding cheese-maker who offers a possible new way forward. Changing Hands highlights the human cost of operating a farm in a culture of cheap food, and ponders the fate of the local food movement and working farmland if small-scale family farms cannot survive in the industrialized food system.


PIG NOT PORK: Farmers Gate Market

Ben Slayton is an entirely new breed of middleman. First a farmer, now an artisanal butcher, Ben is helping Maine farmers and consumers to circumvent the industrialized food system by creating a new distribution model to improve access to healthy, sustainably-raised meat. His new approach is based on a gamble that consumers are increasingly aware and concerned about the physical, environmental and economic impact of their food choices. PIG NOT PORK is a portrait of a local food movement in transition and an entrepreneur willing to take risks to create the kind a world we will want to live (and eat) in.


SEEDING A DREAM: Sheepscot General Store & Uncas Farm

A famously fertile piece of land that had produced food for centuries—and once boasted its own store—had been protected with an agricultural easement, ensuring that it could never be developed into house lots; but there was no guarantee that it would ever be actively farmed again. With the financial help of the landowner, young farmers Ben and Taryn Marcus revitalize the farm and transform the store into a thriving community food hub; yet they live with little security to show for all their toil. SEEDING A DREAM helps us realize the value that young farmers bring to our communities and better understand the challenges these farmers face.


Taking Local Food to the Next Level: A Panel Discussion moderated by John Piotti, President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust

The Growing Local trilogy presents an insightful glimpse into the realities of Maine farming and the local food movement. This panel discussion will use the film as a springboard to explore both the challenges at hand and the successes with the potential for replication. Through the expertise of our panelists and audience input we’ll discuss innovative ideas to ensure the local food movement and the Maine farming tradition thrive and flourish.

John Piotti, President & CEO, Maine Farmland Trust


Amanda Beal, Sustainable Food Systems Research & Policy Consultant
Bonnie Rukin, Slow Money Maine
Ted Quaday, Executive Director, MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association)


Feds give $1.2M to boost Maine food production

Organizers running food production efforts across the state are receiving $1.25 million in federal funds, in part to expand access to healthy food in rural areas.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree on Monday announced the federal funding, which is divided between two separate federal programs advocated by the congresswoman.

CEI (Coastal Enterprises Inc.) in Wiscasset received an $800,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Economic Development Program, Pingree said. The funds are meant to support the program’s Healthy Food Finance Initiative and will be used to help finance facility expansions and equipment purchases for small businesses, including small farms and food processors. The initiative seeks to improve access to healthy food options for rural areas in Maine, along with boosting the local economy and creating new jobs there.

Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Marketing Promotion Program, seven Maine food production efforts are set to receive $450,000 in federal grants, Pingree said. The grants were given to the following organizations:

• Plowshares Community Farm in Gorham, which is receiving $100,000 for the creation of a marketing campaign and fresh food storage facilities.

• Greater Portland Council of Governments, which is receiving $25,000 for a study on encouraging schools and colleges to use more local fish and produce.

• Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, which is receiving $76,000 for the expansion of a local Community Supported Agriculture program, The Pickup.

• Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, which is receiving $100,000 for the development of buying relationships with local farms, some of which will receive funding to expand storage and distribution.

• Grow L+A, which is receiving $25,000 for a study on changes in the Lewiston-Auburn area’s food system that would help make it more sustainable.

• Maine Farmland Trust, which is receiving $100,000 for the development of a food hub at Unity College that will aggregate, store and market local food.

• Sunrise County Economic Council, which is receiving $24,000 for a study on methods to expand and develop local food opportunities.




As a member-powered non-profit, we know generosity changes communities. The 5,000+ supporters of MFT – Mainers, farmers, local food enthusiasts, and you – make our land protection projects possible, keep FarmLink up-to-date on available farmland, and help farmers grow their businesses.

#GivingTuesday is a global day dedicated to giving back. On December 2, 2014 folks from around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. We are most excited that you have an incredible opportunity to create an impact this giving season: when you support MFT’s Securing a Future for Farming Campaign on #GivingTuesday, your donations will be doubled!

We recently launched our largest campaign ever, Securing a Future for Farming. This campaign will raise funds to:

  • protect 100,000 acres of Maine’s farmland
  • provide 1,000 farm families with individualized services and support.

That’s the impact we believe necessary to ensure farming stays a viable and vibrant part of Maine’s economy well into our future.

They are big goals, but we are on our way. To date, MFT has helped protect over 40,000 acres of farmland and provided services and support to more than 500 farm families. To ensure farming has a bright future in Maine we are working to protect more farmland, help farmers thrive, and increase access to local food.

It’s going to take a whole lot of hard work to make this happen. And we will need a dedicated community of people who are passionate about Maine food and farms. This year, on #GivingTuesday, will you start a monthly donation to Securing a Future for Farming? Two generous donors will match your monthly donations, doubling your impact and providing sustaining support for land protection, farmer services, and programs that will grow a bright future for farming. Maine could become New England’s food basket. With your help, it will.

Put #GivingTuesday, December 2, on your calendar and think about how your contribution of $10/month could change the future for farming in Maine.

Harvesting Maine’s New Wholesale Opportunities – Free Workshops for Farmers


How can wholesale fit with your farm? Are you curious about wholesaling your harvest for the first time?  Are you an experienced wholesaler wanting to increase your sales or streamline your operation?

From buying clubs to supermarkets accounts, the surge in demand for locally grown products invites new wholesaling opportunities for Maine farmers during a time when the prices of foods “from away” have reached historical highs. Consumers want to buy locally grown.

But wholesaling can present significant challenges and risks that you might be unprepared for.

Harvesting Maine’s New Wholesale Opportunities is a free workshop that will help you decide how and when to add wholesale to your operation. There will be plenty of discussion – you’ll have the time to crunch some numbers relevant to your farm and use the tools you’ll need to continue working when you return home.

Your farm will receive a free copy of Family Farmed’s 300-page ‘Wholesale Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Postharvest Handling, and Packing Produce’.  After your session you can follow up with specialists throughout your upcoming growing season – and apply to attend a free 2-day intensive (Fall 2015) where you’ll dig even deeper into your 2016 farm plan.

During Harvesting Maine’s New Wholesale Opportunities we’ll help your farm with:

  • Figuring your costs, pricing for profit, and calculating your break-even points,
  • Integrating wholesale into your overall farm plan,
  • Understanding and implementing food safety requirements,
  • Plugging into distribution options, and
  • Creating and maintaining relationships with wholesale customers.

Workshop Locations. Choose from four sessions around the state:

  • Southern Maine: Lewiston/Auburn at Bates College.  Saturday, February 7, 8:00am-5:00pm / Snow day Sunday, February 8
  • Mid-Maine: Belfast at Hutchinson Center.  Saturday, February 21, 8:00am-5:00pm / Snow day Sunday, February 22
  • Northern Maine: Presque Isle.  Saturday, February 28, 8:00am-5:00pm / Snow day Sunday March 1st
  • Downeast: Machias at Machias Savings Bank Community Room.  Saturday, March 7, 8:00am-5:00pm / Snow Day Sunday, March 8

Workshop Costs.  These workshops are offered free of charge.  Manuals and bag lunches are provided. Preregistration is required.

How to Apply:  These are small-group sessions. Apply now!

  • Apply online (http://tinyurl.com/o33w4v5) no later than the Monday prior to each session. Space is limited.  Applicants will be contacted and asked to fill out some additional information ahead of time to confirm their commitment to attending.
  • Download a paper application, fill out and mail to Maine Farmland Trust, attn: Elizabeth Sprague,  97 Main St. Belfast, ME 04915.
  • Still got questions?:  Phone Jed Beach at 207-390-0614.


Harvesting Maine’s New Wholesale Opportunities is a collaboration of Maine Farmland Trust, MOFGA, CEI, Farm to Institution New England, Cultivating Community, Environment Maine, and the Legal Hub of Conservation Law Foundation.

Maine Artist Explores Ties Between Soil, Farmers and Community

The Maine Farmland Trust Gallery presents:

Heather Lyon: “The Farm Project”

February 13-March 27 exhibit

Artist Reception: March 20, 5-7:30pm


Belfast. The Maine Farmland Trust Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition by Blue Hill artist Heather Lyon. The exhibition consists of photographs of local farmers’ hands, an embroidered tablecloth recording the spills from a farm dinner created for the photographed farmers, and a sculpture made of soil sampled from all of the participating farms.

“The Farm Project” exhibition is the culmination of work that Lyon started several years ago, when she began photographing farmers’ hands holding their soil. She was interested in the idea that the soil, that which is essential and which is the beginning of all growth, could be held in a tender gesture by the people who so lovingly work with and care for it. Lyon feels a deep sense of connection to the land, which is the reason she has chosen to make rural Maine her home, and with this exhibit wishes to pay homage to some of the stewards of that land.

The feast, prepared by Aragosta chef and owner Devin Finigan, brought those farmers together to enjoy a meal consisting exclusively of foods grown and raised by them on the Blue Hill peninsula. Lyon has recorded that meal by embroidering on top of spills and stains on the 30 foot tablecloth used during the meal. With her labor, she acknowledges the labor of the farmers.

The final element of the exhibit is a soil sculpture consisting of samples taken from each of the farms. The sculpture is both a literal and poetic bringing together of the farms she visited, a material monument to the shared vision of the farmers. It is the dirt itself that symbolizes a community.

Heather Lyon’s work is an exploration of the palpability of place, systems and ways of perceiving energy, through the metaphoric use of materials. Her work often uses repetitive tasks such as piecing, sewing, wrapping, embroidery, knitting and binding.   She seeks to create objects, environments and images that are simultaneously themselves and more than themselves.

Heather Lyon is an artist born on the coast of Maine. She holds both an MFA and BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After living and working in France for four years, she returned to Maine in 2009 where she built an ecological home with her husband and son. She has shown at numerous galleries in Chicago, Nantes (France), and Maine, as well as being a featured artist in ‘Scope’ New York. She has attended residencies at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont and at Atelier Alain LeBras in Nantes, France, as well as workshops at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (Maine), Ox-Bow Artist’s Colony (Michigan), and the Burren College of Art (Ireland).

She is currently the Exhibition Chair for the Deer Isle Artist’s Association in Deer Isle, Maine.

This exhibition is made possible by farmers from the Blue Hill Peninsula (Horsepower Farm, Quills’s End Farm, King Hill Farm, David’s Folly Farm and Yellow Birch Farm) Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, Aragosta Restaurant and the Blue Hill Wine Shop.

Maine Farmland Trust Gallery is located at 97 Main Street in Belfast and open Monday through Friday (not on holidays) from 9-4. In addition, the gallery will be open Saturday March 21 and Sunday March 22 from 10-2. More information on MFT Gallery can be found at www.mainefarmlandtrustgallery.org or by contacting Gallery Coordinator Anna Abaldo at anna@mainefarmlandtrust.org .


Maine Farmland Trust is a statewide non-profit organization working to keep Maine’s farms farming. Maine Farmland Trust created its gallery to celebrate art in agriculture, and to inspire and inform the public about farming in Maine. For more information about the Trust, visit www.mainefarmlandtrust.org


Pictured: “ANDY” Horsepower Farm, Penobscot  by Heather Lyon

HARVEST November 2015

HARVEST: Farm and Food News From Maine and Beyond

Check back each month for a selection of articles, stories, and trends you might have missed.

We are changing the way we eat—and that’s a good thing, forcing big companies to change their supply change and at least begin to reflect the needs of farmers.

Congress members have been scored on how well they tackle food issues… keep track of where yours stands and let them know it’s important to you.

Michael Pollan’s manifesto In Defense of Food hits the big screen this December.

There’s a lot that happens between farm and plate, and some top chefs are working to sync up the two food areas through breeding, to provide more delicious food.

A mobile slaughterhouse is the latest in an effort to increase infrastructure and processing needs of Maine’s farms.

The Maine grain market is growing, but we need more producers to keep up with demand. In fact, demand for local flours is rising nationwide.

New university programs are encouraging students to go into farming in some of Maine’s most productive farmland area, Aroostook County. Maine dairies in the same region are getting help to transition to organic, demanded by more and more consumers, and potato growers are looking to build better soil.

The USDA is reallocating money to provide more resources to “new” farmers.

World trade could help redistribute food if climate disaster strikes, but it may make more sense to mitigate losses through micro changes in individual fields.

Food waste is a hot issue these days—find out what you can do to prevent it. Maine has a particularly innovative gleaning program aimed at reducing on-farm food waste.

The new way to connect farms and consumers: farm to workplace.

A few reasons to eat locally at Thanksgiving… or for your next holiday supper, now that the turkey holiday is over. Winter farmers markets are still open all across the state—find yours.

Keep your finger on the pulse of Maine food and farming by following us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. And don’t forget to sign up for our email newsletter.

HARVEST December 2015

HARVEST December 2015

HARVEST: Farm and Food News From Maine and Beyond

Check back each month for a selection of articles, stories, and trends you might have missed.

The New Year is often a time of looking into the future. The past has some pretty good predictions for what food will look like.

More technology models are connecting farmers and consumers with a new take on CSAs.

Videos and apps at the grocery can also help you “meet” your farmer.

Farmland and topsoil is disappearing across the globe… so we need to protect what we can, and quickly.

Maine’s food cluster is a bright spot in the state’s economy, and has a lot of potential opportunities for growth. One of Maine’s largest areas of opportunity is the cheaper land north in Aroostook County.

But, the state government has been lagging in feeding low-income families.

Maine farmers are still busy through the winter—but often off the farm.

We’ve heard this before: seaweed, Maine’s next crop to watch.

Female farmers find new fields in an old sector. Urban agriculture, in particular, has opened up to more women than traditional farming.

Training farmers for success in wholesale markets is taking off across the country (we’re working on this too).

Agriculture only got a small nod at the climate talks in Paris this month, but at least it’s a start.

Maine Representative Chellie Pingree introduced a bill this month to reduce food waste, from the farm all the way down the value chain.

A local food cooperative in Maine is vying for the contract to provide food for the whole UMaine system.

Keep your finger on the pulse of Maine food and farming by following us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. And don’t forget to sign up for our email newsletter.

Can Maine Lead New England to a Farming Renaissance?

Re-posted from Route Fifty.

Encouraging trends offer hope that the region can produce much more of the food it consumes.

NORTHEAST HARBOR, Maine — On a bright morning in early August, scores of shoppers gathered on the harborside village green here, coming to buy the just-picked vegetables and flowers, the just-slaughtered pork, the freshly made artisanal cheeses and other goods produced on local Maine farms.

Much earlier that morning, Dylan Brown had made the two-hour trek down from his Dilly Bean Farm in Newburgh, bringing fresh peas, Swiss chard, kale, squash, cucumbers and sparkling lettuces to show off and sell to the summer crowd in this popular summer getaway.

Most of the summer folk who bought Dilly Bean’s produce probably didn’t know it, but their dollars were supporting an interesting renaissance in farming in Maine, one that has the potential to lead a revival that could dramatically alter the pattern of food-buying in New England and even the rest of the country.

Most Americans don’t pay much attention to the sources of their food. If they bother to conjure up an image of a farm, it’s often a sprawling operation owned by giant agribusiness interests raising chicken, cows, pigs and even produce at industrial scale. The small, family farm is seen as a thing of the past.

But in Maine, young farmers like Dylan Brown are bringing the small farm back, riding the wave of consumers’ changing tastes and their willingness to pay more for locally produced, fresh and safe farm goods than for mass-produced meat and produce from faraway places in America and beyond the seas.

Leading the Way

Leading the renaissance is a passionate advocate of Maine farming, John F. Piotti, who is president and chief executive officer of the Maine Farmland Trust. Piotti has engineering, public policy and management degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served eight years in the Maine House of Representatives.

He has put these educational and political credentials behind a single-minded effort to bring renewed economic prospects to rural communities. He grew up on remote Nantucket Island, 30 miles distant from Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, the youngest of five children and the stepson of a fisherman who taught him a love of land and sea. Nantucket was changing in the ’70s and ’80s, while Piotti was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as wealthy people bought up land, erected large beach houses, patronized fancy new restaurants and golf courses, changing the island from rural to chic and land prices from low to high.

“So I came to realize I could never go back,” said Piotti in an interview. “There were few if any opportunities for local people, no professional opportunities.” As he saw it, “rural communities were either going to wither on the vine, or become hip, trendy and overpriced.” He was deeply disturbed by the dichotomy and resolved that he would work to change it. “So it became the focus of my life,” he said. “I wanted to crack that nut.”

Piotti moved to Maine, where two of his sisters already were living, and resolved to put his technology skills to work in helping small businesses—a metal-working shop, wood processors and the like. “But then a farmer challenged me, saying that you can’t make rural places more vital if you don’t also focus on farming,” Piotti said. He’d been of the view, common even then, 25 years ago, that farming had become a business of the past.

But he was working for a small business incubator, Coastal Enterprises Inc., and he asked its president if he could apply for a grant to work on promoting sustainable farming. Given the go-ahead, he helped form the Maine Farmland Project in 1995, and CEI developed a farm portfolio of loans and investments. The Maine Farmland Trust followed, starting up in 1999, with the goal of providing economic development tools for farmers. A key objective, achieved by means of easements and sometimes outright purchases, has been to keep farmland affordable to the next generation of farmers.

Along the way, Piotti was elected to Maine House, where he sought and gained the chairmanship of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, then chaired the Taxation Committee before being named Majority Leader by then-Speaker Hannah M. Pingree. His eight years in the legislature ended in 2010.

Encouraging Trends

The Northeast Harbor farmer’s market on Thursday mornings is one of four each summer week on Mount Desert Island, the others showing up on Fridays in Southwest Harbor and Town Hill, and on Sundays in more populous Bar Harbor, where the market operates from Memorial Day until the end of October. Scores of such markets listed on the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets website.

And the markets aren’t the only outlets for the small farmers’ products. Permanent stores selling meat, cheese, pies and other goods are also part of the scene, as are direct farm-to-restaurant arrangements increasingly common in Portland, Maine’s largest city, and other towns. Indeed, the “grow-local” movement has helped make Maine a “culinary destination,” Piotti says.

Hard numbers lend encouragement to the hopes of farming advocates in the Pine Tree State. The 2015 edition of the Farmland Trust’s Maine Farms tracks the trends. Farming’s potential rebirth first showed up in the Federal Agricultural Census of 1997, the journal reports. Momentum built: from 2002 to 2007, the number of farms in the state increased by nearly 1,000, to 8,136. By 2012 the value of farm production was up 24 percent over 2007, proving that the new operations weren’t dominated by hobby farmers. The number of beginning farmers jumped nearly 40 percent over the same period. Some could earn incomes that seem OK in rural America—$45,000 or more for a goat farmer, for example—and such small-scale farming offers a lifestyle that many treasure.

But, as Piotti writes, these statistics don’t capture key facets of the farming picture, with some farms struggling as others do well, and with many remaining in business only because farmers are willing to work “exceptionally hard for very little money.”

A much larger resurgence in farming is envisioned in a study released last year by a team of academic researchers led by Brian Donahue of Brandeis University. Titled “A New England Food Vision,” the paper proposes that New England seek to produce half of its food by 2060. At present, only about 9 percent of the six-state region’s food is produced locally—grown on only 5 percent of the New England’s land. A century ago, much more land was devoted to agriculture, but as farms died, the land reverted to the forests that now cover 80 percent of the region’s surface. Donahue’s goal could be achieved if the region increased its agricultural land to 15 percent, or six million acres, of the total, he projects. Most of the reclaimed land would be in Maine, as the other five states simply don’t have many acres to offer.

Maine is surprisingly hospitable to agriculture; it shares the 45th parallel with Provence in southern France and Italy’s Po Valley and has a longer growing season for certain crops than many might suspect. Piotti notes the little-known fact that the amount of sunlight received is more important than temperature in determining the growing capacity of Maine land. And farmers are finding ways to cover crops of produce during all but the coldest months, extending growing seasons.

This may seem a gauzy vision, inasmuch as most New England agricultural products aren’t price-competitive with imports from elsewhere.

But long-term economic and behavioral trends are working in its favor, Piotti hopes. One, he says, is the probability of food price increases that could make locally grown product more price-competitive. Transportation costs will increase, he believes, in part because today’s low fuel prices likely will rise as population and economic growth boost demand. Water scarcity in other regions will be a factor too; indeed, the huge Ogallala aquifer that irrigates eight Great Plains states is running dry, threatening the output of the country’s traditional breadbasket. California’s ongoing extreme drought, also, promises to reshape U.S. agriculture. (New England is blessed with plentiful water supplies.) And the federal government may change subsidy policies that artificially suppress the price of grains used on feedlots, a change that would make grass-fed livestock in New England more affordable to consumers.

Between Now and Then

In the meantime, it is not easy to keep farming healthy in Maine. It’s a critical time, since so many farmers are becoming too old to keep up the grueling life their calling entails. One third of Maine’s farms, about 2,500, will change hands in the next five to 10 years. Some farmers have sons or daughters who want to take over, but the economics of such intergenerational transfers are tricky.

“Growing Local,” a video sponsored by the Maine Farmland Trust, tells the story of the Beal family, who operate the Rocky Ridge Organic Farm in Litchfield. Richard Beal has been at his dairy and livestock operation for 38 years, and now his son Adam, with financial analytic help from his sister Amanda, is trying to assume the reins. Amanda says, “No one works as hard as my Dad; it’s the human cost to cheap food.”  The father poignantly says that “the farm is my retirement; I can’t just give it to him. He has to get me out of debt and give me something to live on.”

Where Adam will find the money is unresolved. But this is the kind of problem the Maine Farmland Trust addresses, with tools for helping people like Adam find the resources they need to keep going. The Trust works, with easements and outright purchases, to keep farmland from falling to developers, and to keep its price at transfer from rising to a level developers would pay. It also connects sellers and potential buyers with its Farmlink website. Putting a house, or a housing development, on farmland might provide a greater return on investment, Piotti observes, but farming may return a greater value to society.

It’s a tough fight. Federal policies keep the price of milk below the cost of production for farmers like Beal. It’s a capital-intensive business, and with such low margins, Beal struggles every time a piece of machinery breaks down: One more repair or sacrifice to get something newer? Finding the money to keep farms in business, let alone starting new ones, is no easy task.

“The future we want will only be realized if we take deliberate steps to protect more farmland and provide key services to farmers—and only if we do so now, while we still have the opportunity,” says Piotti.

But in the meantime, young people are starting up first-class butcher shops to process local pork, beef, lamb and chicken, and other stores to market produce, pies, flowers, handmade goods and more of farm families’ output. Farmers markets thrive, there’s the Brandeis report’s long-term vision of the future, and in talks here on Mount Desert Island this summer, Piotti expresses optimism that his long pursuit of a more prosperous rural economy may come to fruition.


Misty Brook Farm

USDA administrator tours Misty Brook Farm in Albion

farm disaster relief fundRe-posted from The Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel, and Portland Press Herald

ALBION — Under a gray sky threatening rain, farmer Brendan Holmes toured Misty Brook Farm, followed by an entourage of staffers for Maine’s elected representatives, bureaucrats and the news media.

Holmes, wife Katia and their sons Johnny and Alister took the group of about a dozen people through the barns where they keep their hogs and calves, into the milking shed, and down into the fields to meet the dairy and beef cattle, sheep and free-range chickens.

The cause of the tour was a visit to the farm by Val Dolcini, the administrator of the Farm Service Agency, a wing of the federal Department of Agriculture.

Dolcini was capping off a weeklong tour of New England farms, with visits to Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, and touting the benefits of the 2014 Farm Bill.

The bill includes new programs such as micro-loans and low-cost crop insurance aimed at helping young farmers start businesses. The new additions are a departure for the bill, which typically has focused on large-scale commodity crops, Dolcini said.

With its added assistance, the bill also is helping farmers focused on organic, local and sustainable food.

New programs are important to keep a robust population of farmers and keep America’s food system affordable and secure, Dolcini added. Giving young farmers a step up is especially important as the average age of farmers approaches 60, he added.

“I like to say that we’re in the American dream business,” Dolcini said, standing in the Holmeses’ chicken pasture, surrounded by old camper trailers converted into chicken coops.

Also on the tour was John Piotti, president of the Maine Farmland Trust, which preserves working farmland and assists local agriculture. Piotti knows the family well.

In July, the farm weathered a serious microburst. For 10 minutes, wind hit 70 mph and the property was pelted with hail the size of ping-pong balls, Brendan Holmes said.

When the storm let up, the couple came out to see metal sheeting torn off the roof of their barns, a chicken coop tossed over and destroyed, dead chickens, destroyed crops and toppled fully grown trees. The storm did an estimated $60,000 worth of damage.

“It was a scene of devastation,” Holmes said.

But the farm weathered the storm, and with help, they patched up barn roofs, fixed what they had to and kept going.

After seeing the devastation at the farm, the trust set up a disaster relief fund to help the farm and other farmers in similar situations, Piotti said.

The Holmeses moved to Albion in 2013, attracted by the opportunity to buy a farm they could call their own.

The couple farmed in Massachusetts for eight years but never had a place of their own. Instead, they leased 14 parcels of land in four towns. When their landlord raised the rent, they decided to look for a place of their own, Holmes said.

They looked around and connected with the Maine Farmland Trust. The trust buys farms on the market and places a agricultural easement that prevents development on them. That lowers the price of the property but gives prospective farmers a chance to buy their own property.

The 600-acre farm on Bog Road was exactly what they wanted.

They run a “full-diet” farm, which produces a wide range of products. The couple raise beef and dairy cattle, sheep and chickens, as well as growing vegetables and grain. It’s a lot to manage, and the couple have six employees on their payroll.

When they moved to Albion, the Holmeses had to change drastically the way they marketed and sold their products.

In Massachusetts, 85 percent of their revenue came from sales at their farm store, Brendan said.

“Now its 5 percent,” Brendan Holmes said. “We’ve had to change 95 percent of our revenue.” The Holmeses now mainly wholesale their products directly to grocery stores in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

And most recently, their disaster helped form a program that will help other farmers in the state.

Piotti said other forms of disaster relief are available, but the trust hopes to form its program around charitable donations.

The trust will put in $10,000 to start the fund and hopes to receive more funding from philanthropic sources.

“Farms are often living on the edge. That’s just the nature of it,” Piotti said. A disaster such as a damaging storm can bring a business down, and if there is a safety net to help in those cases, the state’s food system ultimately will benefit from keeping that farm in business, he added.

“It’s not a handout,” Piotti said.