Tag Archives: Growing Local

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)


Meet: Bridget Besaw, filmmaker and recorder of Maine stories

Bridget Besaw’s film project “Growing Local” premieres at the Camden International Film Festival today. The trilogy of short films looks at the various financial obstacles facing the locavore movement. There’s a story about a struggling organic dairy, where a father and son debate issues of inheritance, another about successful butcher Ben Slayton and a last about a young couple who open a general store on their farm. “Growing Local” was made as a collaboration between Besaw’s Seedlight Pictures and Maine Farmland Trust. Source talked to Besaw as she was on her way home to Friendship from the theater, where she was getting a sneak peek at how the films play on the big screen. We spoke about her tendency toward perfectionism, her favorite time of day to film and how a summer job made her a convert to Maine.

HOW DO THE FILMS LOOK? “Too dark!” Besaw said. “There are so many fires to put out; it never stops. Probably for most people they’d be like, ‘Oh it looks fine.’ ” But not for her: By Sunday, the three shorts will have been re-color-graded to get rid of that darkness.

FINDING THE FARMERS: Maine Farmland Trust gave Besaw and her producing partner, Tahria Sheather, a long list of potential subjects (Maine has a lot of farmers facing the tough business of making a living), and eventually the three stories featured emerged. That they represented dairy, meat and vegetable farming was not planned initially, but it didn’t hurt. “We said ‘Oh good, look, we have all of three major food groups represented,’ ” Besaw said, laughing.

PREACHING TO THE CHOIR: In one of the films, butcher Ben Slayton says of his Wales-based business, “Our goal is not to make people feel bad about every purchase that they make. We just want them to think about it.” What was Besaw’s goal? She wanted to further Maine Farmland Trust’s mission of preserving and supporting Maine agriculture by giving the organization a tool to raise awareness. But she worried occasionally that “we were maybe preaching to the choir,” to those who already buy local. “What we don’t realize is that yes, this is a great movement and we are all enjoying the benefits, but it’s not a sure thing at all. It’s tenuous.”

HOW SO? “There is a demographic shift happening on the farms that we as citizens need to be aware of.” Namely, that farmers are aging and a lot of young farmers, even someone like Adam Beal, who is featured in the first part of the trilogy, can’t figure out how to find a farm of their own. Adam works for and with his father, Richard, at their family dairy, but he can’t afford to buy the property outright. And Richard can’t afford to give it to his son; he needs it for his own retirement. Besaw hopes her films inspire people who care about buying local, who might even think they are already doing the best they can, to push themselves. “Can we do a little better?” she asked.

MOVING THE NEEDLE: Besaw’s background is in journalism and still photography. She was a staff photographer at the Bangor Daily News in the late ’90s, then moved on to magazine photography, shooting for Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, among others, and eventually for outdoor-oriented publications like Outside. “After a couple of years of that I decided I wanted to go back outside in a big way and not these short, one-day assignments.” Once she got a taste of filmmaking, she fell “madly in love.” A complex love, “because it still terrifies me,” she said. “I’m in the really romantic phase with it right now, where it is like potato chips. I just can’t stop.” Films, she hopes, will help her “move the needle,” meaning effecting change.

WHAT’S YOUR MAGIC HOUR? In Hollywood, filmmakers love to shoot at the magic hour, the hour just before the sun goes down, when everything looks lit from within. Besaw has a different take, “a nasty habit” of making her subjects get up at the crack of dawn. “Farm projects are great, because the farmers get up usually before I even do,” she said. “The trick to it is to actually be there when the light is right. You can miss it by 10 minutes, which I do all the time.”

MASTER TEARJERKER: Besaw has a way of combining soft light and evocative storytelling into the kinds of films that cause tears to flow, whether it is watching a family struggle with a farm’s future or a pair of optimistic young farmers dance at their rural wedding. Is that intentional? “First and foremost I want them to be effective,” Besaw said. “And yeah, I want them to be tearjerky if that is what it takes for (the films) to be memorable.”

ADOPTED MAINER: Growing up in a back-to-the-land style household in New Hampshire, Besaw is no stranger to farming. “I think my love of being outside and growing my own food is just straight from childhood,” she said. She came to Maine when she was in her early 20s to spend a summer as a deckhand on a windjammer, the schooner Appledore. “That was my introduction to Maine,” she said. About a year ago, she bought her first home in Maine. “My husband is not sold on winter here,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes.”


‘Growing Local’ film series to be screened throughout the state

Posted:  Tuesday, September 30, 2014 – 5:15pm

BELFAST — A new film series, Growing Local, points to both the vibrancy and the growing pains of the local food movement in Maine, and the uncertain fate of the farmers and farmland that keep it alive. The films are a collaboration between Maine Farmland Trust and Seedlight Pictures, and recently debuted at the 2104 Camden International Film Festival and to the gasps, sighs, and cheers of a packed theater.

Growing Local contains three short vignettes, each of which focus on a different challenge hindering the growth of the local food movement, and point toward possible solutions.

“While many are aware of the challenges faced by small farmers today, these three short films weave together the interconnectedness of farms, community and health in a unique and innovative way. They make us think about our values, about things we may take for granted, and, most importantly, what we can do to effect positive change,” said John Piotti, President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust.

“Changing Hands” visits one of Maine’s oldest organic dairy farms at an uncertain time of transition. As Richard Beal of Rocky Ridge Organic Dairy attempts to pass the farm on to his son, Adam, they both face the perverse economic reality of the dairy industry, and struggle to find a way to transition the farm without putting either of them into crushing debt. Richard’s daughter, and sustainable food systems consultant, Amanda steps in to help her family with business planning and a promising grant application as they seek a stable way forward.

Ben Slayton is an artisanal butcher, and new breed of middleman at the center of “Pig Not Pork.” His butcher shops Farmers Gate Market and The Farm Stand create a new distribution model to connect small farmers and consumers. That kind of infrastructure is necessary for a local food economy to thrive, and the film points to the need for consumers to step up and commit to buying local food.

The local food movement also needs continued energy, the sort embodied by young farmers like Ben and Taryn Marcus, as is demonstrated in “Seeding A Dream.” Together, the couple revived Sheepscot General Store and Uncas Farms, and have been at the center of building strong community in the rural town of Whitefield. But while they have the energy and entrepreneurial spirit needed, they lacked access to capital and land. With the help of a landowner and financial help from others in their community they’ve been incredibly successful; yet they live with little security to show for all their work.

Each story shows both hope and successes in the midst of ever present barriers of access to capital, land, and public awareness and support. The future for each venture remains dependent upon consumers, organizations, and the continued growth of the local food movement.

Maine Farmland Trust will be screening the films across the state beginning in October. The schedule will be updated on the Maine Farmland Trust website. Maine Farmland Trust is a statewide, member-powered nonprofit organization working to protect farmland, support farmers, and advance the future of farming. For more information on specific programs, visit Maine Farmland Trust located at 97 Main St. in Belfast or on the web at www.mainefarmlandtrust.org.


Growing Local: From Cedar and Pearl











By John Piotti, from his column “Cedar and Pearl” in The Republican Journal

Ten years ago, the best kept secret in Maine was that farming here—after decades of decline—was growing. Today, that secret is out. Today, the commonly held view is that farming is growing. In some circles, continued growth is now seen as inevitable. More and more people see the future promise of Maine to not only feed itself, but to help feed the region.

As someone who has been a champion of Maine farms for the past twenty years, and as someone who has worked hard to turn public opinion away from the persistent pessimism that was commonplace until recently, I clearly welcome this change in attitude. But at the same time, I worry that some of the newfound optimism is, well, perhaps a bit too optimistic.

It’s great that farming in Maine is growing and well poised for the future. But the truth is that some agricultural sectors are stagnant, while others—noticeably dairy—have been in decline.

Much of the growth of the past decade has been in smaller farms that raise a variety of crops and/or livestock for direct sale locally, often through farm stands, farmers markets, or relationships with select stores or restaurants. This kind of farming—now known as “local ag”—has seen impressive growth. But still, local ag only accounts for a small proportion of Maine’s overall farm production. Yes, there is great opportunity for farming of this type to continue to grow, but that is far from inevitable.

The point I make in presentations and articles is that although the fundamentals for farming’s continued growth are strong here in Maine, that doesn’t ensure that growth will continue. And local ag, though full of promise, faces its own set of challenges and problems.

This is the central theme in a new film by Bridget Besaw, Growing Local, which just premiered on September 28 at the Camden International Film Festival. The film contains three short vignettes, each focusing on a different challenge hindering the growth of local ag and the broader local food movement.

This first story, “Changing Hands,” visits one of Maine’s oldest organic dairy farms, Rocky Ridge in Litchfield, at an uncertain time of transition. Richard Beal hopes to pass the farm along to his son, Adam. Together they struggle to find a way to transition the farm without putting either of them into crushing debt—a huge challenge given the economic realities of commodity milk production. Richard’s daughter, Amanda, a sustainable food systems consultant, raises the prospect of not only milking, but only making cheese as a new way forward, one that may help the family make more money. The story ends with the family securing a successful grant to pay for new business planning.

Ben Slayton is an artisanal butcher, and a new breed of middleman at the center of the second story, “Pig Not Pork.” Ben’s two butcher shops, Farmers Gate Market in Wales and The Farm Stand in South Portland, utilize a new distribution model that connects local farmers and consumers. This kind of infrastructure is necessary for a local food economy to thrive. The film points out the need for forward-looking entrepreneurs like Ben, as well as the need for more consumers who are fully committed to buying local.

The third story, “Seeding a Dream,” showcases young farmers Ben and Taryn Marcus of Whitefield. Through boundless energy and determination, they have revived an old farm and created a new store, Sheepscot General, which has become a centerpiece of the local community. And yet, they do not own the land they farm or the store they operate. They have been lucky that the landowner is accommodating and generous. Ben and Taryn dream of the day that they may own the property; yet at present, they have little security to show for all their work.

Each story shows both hope and success, but also reveals the ever present barriers and challenges facing farmers and local food entrepreneurs. These include: the enormous difficulties inherent in transitioning a farm from one generation to the next; the need for new forms of agricultural infrastructure and new forms of local food businesses; and the realities of how farmers and farming are often held back by inadequate access to affordable land and capital.

And throughout the entire film is the recurring point that public and consumer awareness—though so much greater now than ten years ago—is still not all it needs to be, not if farming in Maine is to realize its full promise.

Watching Growing Local is a great way to learn more.

Maine Farmland Trust will sponsor a free showing of the film at the Unity College Performing Arts Center, located on Depot Street in Unity, on Friday, October 17 at 6 p.m.

For more screenings, check our films page.

John Piotti’s column “Cedar and Pearl” appears every other week.

Photo: Ben Slayton of Farmer’s Gate Market, taken by Bridget Besaw


Film screening: Portland

Join us for a screening of our new film series, Growing Local!

January 21, 6:30pm at SPACE Gallery in Portland.

Co-sponsored by Portland Food Co-op and followed by a Q+A with the film director.

Click here to learn more about the films.

Film screening: Bangor

Join us for a screening of our new film series, Growing Local!

January 29: 12pm AND 6:30pm at COESPACE in Bangor, each screening followed by group discussion. Co-hosted with Bangor Area Food Council.

Click here to learn more about the films.

Film screening: Dover-Foxcroft

Join us for a screening of our new film series, Growing Local!

February 6: 7pm at Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft. Featuring a “Farmers Information Market” with local producers. Co-hosted with Dover Cove Farmers Market.

Click here to learn more about the films.

Film screening: Bowdoin College

Join us for a screening of our new film series, Growing Local!

February 10: 6:30pm in Dagget Lounge at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, followed by a panel of local farmers (come early to get dinner from the famous Bowdoin dining hall!)

Click here to learn more about the films.