Tag Archives: local food

Maine Farmland Trust Annual Meeting 2011

Maine Farmland Trust celebrates its mission to help farms and farmers in Portland on November 2nd

The renaissance sweeping through Maine’s agricultural sector was hard to miss Wednesday night, when Maine Farmland Trust held its annual celebration for members at One Longfellow Square in Portland. The farm conservation organization’s party attracted 125 people, which was a great turnout considering this was the first time the Belfast-based nonprofit held its annual meeting in Maine’s largest city.
Guests enjoyed beer and wine, along with soup, salad and finger foods prepared by Local Sprouts Cooperative Cafe and music from Dog Wants Out. The party also offered a last chance to see select scenes from the “Of Farms and Fables” theatrical production created by Open Water Theatre Arts.

Maine Farmland Trust is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to protect 100,000 acres of the state’s farmland by 2014. So far, the organization has protected 26,382 acres, which leaves more than 73,000 acres to go.

“There are so many people who are just passionate about what we do,” Executive Director John Piotti told me. “There’s been such a change from three or four years ago. People have seen the fruits of what we’ve built over the past 15 years.”

When he addressed the full crowd, he elaborated on this idea, telling us that five years ago Maine Farmland Trust had 300 members. Today the nonprofit counts 3,400 households as members.

“Sixteen years ago the challenges were different,” Piotti said. “Local farmers couldn’t find a market. Now, there’s a huge demand for local products.”

Today’s biggest challenge is finding properties that existing and aspiring farmers can afford to buy. Compounding the problem is the fact that a third of the state’s farmland is projected to be in transition in the next five years, as Maine’s farmers continue to age and retire from farming.

“If we don’t take some serious action, we’re going to lose a resource base,” Piotti said. “One hundred thousand acres is a good chunk of the land that’s vulnerable.”

In order to protect this much land, Maine Farmland Trust needs to raise $50 million. Of that amount, the organization hopes $10 million will come from individuals, which will allow it to seek the rest from grants and other funding sources. So far, $6.3 million has been raised toward the $10 million goal.

The best part, Piotti told us, is if Maine Farmland Trust succeeds in protecting and keeping 100,000 acres as active farmland, that land will generate $50 million worth of economic activity every year.

“If you don’t have the land, you can’t rebuild the local food base,” board member Eleanor Kinney told me.

Kinney is active with the Slow Money Maine movement, which seeks to redirect capital investments into community-based food and farming enterprises. Citing the growing national interest in Slow Money along with the expanding market for locally produced food, Kinney told me: “The whole story about what’s happening in agriculture is a positive story for Maine. There’s a lot of opportunity.”

Staff member Nina Young, who works to acquire farm conservation easements, said there are many older farmers who’d like to pass their land onto their children to keep it as a working farm, but cannot afford to do so.

“These farms are very vulnerable to going out of business,” Young told me.

Working farm conservations easements can be a solution that eases property tax burdens and reduces the sale price of farmland.

“If we don’t protect it, we’re going to lose it,” board member Frank Miles told me.

Dave Colson, who runs New Leaf Farm in Freeport with his wife, Chris Colson, told me about how much the agriculture scene in Maine has evolved since the farm was established in 1982.

“At the time we first certified the farm (organic) in 1985, there were 14 other certified farms in the state,” said Colson, who also works as the agriculture services director for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “Now there are more than 400 certified farms.”

Still, Colson said there is work to be done to make Maine’s farming sector more viable. One hurdle he sees is a lack of farming neighbors who can offer assistance, advice and support. Years ago this used to be the norm in much of the state, but not anymore.

Instead programs such as Maine Farmland Trust’s FarmLink, which connects owners of farmland with people looking to farm, and MOFGA’s Farmer to Farmer Conference help to fill the void left when farmers can no longer chat with a fellow agrarian across the fence.

“When the farms start going away, there’s no business left for the infrastructure,” John McIntire of Unity told me, referring to related businesses such as equipment dealers, feed suppliers and food processors. “But it’s coming back. We’ve hung onto enough of it.”

As he spoke to the crowd, Piotti said the growing support for Maine Farmland Trust reflects the public’s renewed understanding of the importance of local food.

“A lot of the credit stems from the fact that we’re doing the right thing at the right time,” Piotti said. “That resonates with people.”

This article was featured in the Portland Press Herald on November 6, 2011. Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

Maple Meadow Farm Festival June 28-29

The Maple Meadow Farm Festival is this weekend, June 28 and 29 at Maple Meadow Farm in Mapleton Maine

See the website for full details: www.maplemeadowfarms.com

Beekeeping, Hops Growing, Horseshoeing, No Till Drill, Pickling Potatoes, Horse Dentistry, Hay Baling (with horses), Live Music, Food Vendors are just a few of the activities you can experience at this great local farm fair in Aroostook County.

Staff members from Maine Farmland Trust, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Aroostook County Farm Bureau will hold a “Talk About” for farmers in the Big Tent. Let’s talk about what’s working for farmers in Aroostook County, and what’s not working—markets, processing plants, transportation, and land access. What do farmers need for resources that are not available? How can farmers expand markets and diversify production? We’ll be available to talk about these and other issues throughout the fair weekend. Look for a sign in the Big Tent for appointed times, or just stop by and we’ll get started talking about what’s on your mind.

A Trip to Fossa’s General Store

It’s no secret that farming in Maine has seen an incredible resurgence in the last 15 years. Farmers markets are flourishing, local food is on the menu at restaurants everywhere, and young people continue to flock to Maine to learn how to farm and find land. This growing “local food” movement has, in some cases, led to the revitalization of rural communities, with the growth of local stores selling local goods, and providing a community gathering place. Last Tuesday, I visited one such store in a small town smack dab in the middle of Maine.

P1010840Fossa’s General Store is one of a small range of shops on Main Street in the town of Dexter, the self-described “Heart of Maine.” Although it only opened a year ago, the idea for the store has been in the works for about four years as a way to rejuvenate the downtown. The Fossa family, pillars of the community who owned a general store in the town for years, gifted the building to the Dexter Regional Development Corporation. Although the Fossa family isn’t involved in running the store anymore, the store name is a tribute to their legacy.

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The store does have a bit of an old-time feel, but walking in feels more like a shift in way of life than a trip back in time. You can still smell the fresh wood from shelves that are filled with jars of jam, hand-made jewelry, even beauty products. A chalk sign advertises garlic scape pizza from the wood-fired oven, and the hum of a refrigerator points the way to local milk and a freezer full of a locally-raised meats. I spent a little time admiring the carrot cake whoopie pies in the display case, then was shown upstairs to talk to the force behind the operation.

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Behind the desk was a fervent, friendly woman. I quickly gathered that Judy Wilbur Craig is a big part of why Fossa’s exists today. A Dexter native, like her parents and those before them, she loves her town and wants to keep it vital for future generations.

Judy explained to me that in the beginning, the goal of the store was to be a venue for producers to sell their value-added products. Since then, it has morphed into a general store and eatery and has become a community hub. Now, Fossa’s is a place where all kinds of people from the area come together: an older farmer, a single mom with her small kids, a couple out on date night, or a group of college students back for the summer. “All kinds of people come in here,” she says. “They want to be here. It’s a happy place.”

Judy has had her work cut out for her. She’s worked to get the building refinished, stocked, and functioning. It hasn’t been easy, but Judy insists on sticking it out. “We’re investing in something for the long haul,” she says. “It’s about being part of something bigger.”P1010783

Tucked away in central Maine, away from the picturesque Maine coastline, Dexter isn’t set up to take advantage of tourists, even the growing number of food tourists who might be interested in a rustic farm-focused grocery like Fossa’s. But that’s not the point of the store anyway: Fossa’s wants to sell local goods to local people. And the region has a lot to offer—from Maine-grown flour to iridescent fabric necklaces made by a local artist, everything in the store is from within 35 miles of Dexter. Prices are kept as low as possible to retain the local customers, and although sustainably raised meat is still more expensive to produce than what you might find in a supermarket, growing consumer appreciation for transparent sourcing has kept sales steady.

Judy hopes that there can be more projects like this in other communities. She’s eager to help other people who come to her for advice on starting similar stores in other towns. With time, perhaps stores like Fossa’s will flourish throughout the state (and indeed, similar ventures are cropping up all the time).

I left with a huge bag of garlic scapes, 5 lbs. of whole wheat Maine-grown and milled pastry flour, and 2 lbs. of Jacob’s Cattle beans. I didn’t intend to make my journey into a shopping trip, but I just couldn’t resist the products, the prices, or the idea of supporting development in this little community. If I can help sustain a good project and have a few extra tubs of garlic scape pesto to line my freezer, life is pretty good. P1010834

Local Leaders Join Public for Film Screening and Discussion on Maine’s Food Future

Portland, Maine: Penny Jordan, fourth-generation farmer of Jordan’s Farm at Cape Elizabeth and The Farm Stand in South Portland; David Levi, owner and executive chef at Vinland restaurant; and Blair Currier, the former local food specialist for Portland Public Schools, and Ben Tettlebaum of The Conservation Law Foundation, will be joining the public at the Portland Public Library on Thursday, August 14th, for a screening of the documentary “To Make a Farm”.

A beautiful portrayal of what the future of local food and farming may look like, the documentary explores the lives of five young people who decided to become small-scale farmers. With young Mainers taking the jump to farming now more than ever, the audience will find themselves drawing connections between the film and an incredible bright spot in Maine’s future.

Following the screening, Penny Jordan, Blair Currier, Ben Tettlebaum, and David Levi, will discuss their own diverse work on the local food movement, and field questions from the audience as to how they see the movement going forward. As the landscape of Maine’s local food movement shifts, it is the work of stakeholders throughout the state – from farmer to politician to everyday people at farmers’ markets – who will propel Maine towards a more sustainable future.

WHAT: Film screening followed by Q&A to address the future of Maine’s local 
food movement

WHEN: Thursday, August 14th at 6:00 PM

WHERE: Portland Public Library’s Rines Auditorium, 5 Monument Way

WHO:

Ben Tettlebaum, Conservation Law Foundation

Penny Jordan, of Jordan’s Farm and The Farm Stand
Blair Currier, School Nutrition Director at the Yarmouth School District
David Levi, executive chef and owner of Vinland

Sponsored by Maine Farmland Trust, Portland Food Co-op, Portland Public Library, and Environment Maine

A Week of Celebration

Happy National Farmers Market week! It is the height of the growing season, and Maine markets are bursting with beans, tomatoes, summer squashes, new potatoes, basil, blueberries, cucumbers, and SO much more. This is a great opportunity to celebrate and support your local producers by attending a market near you (though in our minds, every week is Farmers Market week!)

Maine’s farmers markets have blossomed over the past 15 years. Today there are over 100 farmers markets in almost that many towns across the state, each offering a growing variety of local goods, including seasonal fruits and vegetables, honey and maple syrup, all manner of meats and dairy, flowers, baked goods, and prepared foods. Thanks to the diversity of market offerings and growing awareness about farmers market accessibility and affordability, Maine farmers markets are increasingly becoming a one stop shop for customers from all walks.

Our local Belfast Farmers Market, held every Friday from 9am-1pm at Waterfall Arts, is a testament to this growing abundance, diversity, and accessibility. Several farms sell fresh produce—mostly organic—with a continually changing selection of vegetables. Cheese vendors like Appleton Creamery have a variety of soft and hard cheeses from cows and goats. Pemaquid Lobster and Seafood brings the freshest catch from local waters, Fire Flower Garden has a vibrant display of flowers next door to Savage Oakes winery, and there’s beef, chicken and even water buffalo! Gardiner’s Honey and Pollination provides honey, Freyenhagen Family Farm has maple syrup, and a couple of stands sell ready-to-eat treats to satisfy your sweet tooth—including gluten-free snacks from Suecakes! You can enjoy a fresh crepe filled with anything from scapes to strawberries, or a sheep’s-milk ice cream sandwich. And two weeks ago, Burke Hill Farm was there selling the first Maine blueberries.

Over the past couple years, MFT has worked with partners around the state to help make this great bounty more accessible to everyone. At the Belfast Farmers Market, MFT sets up a booth at the market every week to provide Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) support. This means that anyone with SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) can use their EBT card to buy food at the market. Special incentive funding from the nonprofit nutrition organization Wholesome Wave gives EBT customers 25% off of all of their food purchases, making local, fresh food more affordable for those on a tight budget. This is win-win: farmers get more sales and new customers, and more people can access of fresh, local produce. The machine also accepts credit and debit cards, which is handy for those who don’t like carrying around a lot of cash (although there is a pesky 3% transaction fee for using cards).

In October, we’ll move with the market to its winter location at Aubuchon Hardware. But for now, we’re enjoying the sunshine and the accompanying abundance. This National Farmers Market Week, maybe you’ll swing by the market and meet your farmers for the first time, or pledge to make your farmers market part of your weekly routine!

Check out Maine Federation of Farmers Markets website to find a farmers market near you!

Want more information on how to accept EBT/SNAP benefits at your market? Contact Mike Gold at mgold@mainefarmlandtrust.org.

 

Land protection project helps grow local ice cream business

There are many reasons to protect farmland, and there is often an added economic benefit to farmland owners. By selling the development rights on a farmland property, land owners can then use those funds to re-invest in their farm business, as was the case with the recent Stone Fox Farm Creamery project.

Bruce and Kathy Chamberlain bought their farm in Monroe in 1998. Historically the property had been a small dairy and then a chicken farm. Under the Chamberlain’s ownership, the property has supported horses, hay,a working woodlot,and large vegetable gardens.

In 2010, they decided to approach local food production in a different way, and started Stone Fox Farm Creamery. They make ice cream with rich Jersey milk from the neighboring Hilltop Farm, swirled with Maine-grown fruits or maple syrup whenever possible. The creamery grew rapidly, and left the Chamberlains with little time to work the land to its full potential.

The Chamberlains first learned about Maine Farmland Trust’s farmland protection work at Maine Fare, where they were selling their ice cream to Fare attendees. They began working with MFT to explore protection options in hopes of finding farmers to cultivate their land while they focused on growing the creamery business off-site. However as they started the protection process, their creamery needs shifted, and the couple decided to keep ice cream production on-farm in their State-permitted milk processing plant, and use the capital from the easement to strengthen and grow their business.

On August 25th, MFT closed on a purchased easement protecting the Chamberlain’s 63 acres of farmland in Monroe. When the Chamberlains are ready to transition their land at some point in the future, they hope to sell their farm to young farmers who will cultivate the land and having an agricultural easement in place should help to make that transition more affordable for the oncoming farmers. And for now, the Chamberlains will continue to build the local food economy with their flourishing ice cream business.

Keeping the land available for farming and supporting a Maine business making delicious ice cream with local milk and ingredients? That’s quite a cherry on top!

Growing Local

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

5PM at the STRAND THEATRE in Rockland with POST-SHOW PANEL DISCUSSION

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.

DIRECTOR IN ATTENDANCE! CO-PRESENTED BY THE MAINE FARMLAND TRUST and SEEDLIGHT PICTURES.

 

THE FILMS:

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

POST-SHOW PANEL 6-6:30
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.
Moderator:

John Piotti, President & CEO, Maine Farmland Trust

Panelists:

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

 

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

 

Notes from the Mainstreaming Local Roundtable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday, October 14, farmers, institutional representatives, distributors, processors, and nonprofits came together for a conference dedicated to moving more local food into institutions. The goal of the conference was to connect the various stakeholders in the institutional food system and reach a common understanding—or at least recognition—of individual goals. Unlike other similar conferences, this included a case study of a new pilot project, Mainstreaming, that is working to connect more farmers to institutions through the big, broadline distributors. The project provided a new angle on farm to institution strategies, and helped to frame the days’ discussions and breakout sessions by stressing the need for each stakeholder in the farm to institution value chain to trust one another and work together to reduce risk.

Farmer Stewart Smith of Lakeside Family Farms explains his experience working with broadline distributor PFG during the Mainstreaming Case Study panel.

The concept of farm to institution has been gaining momentum in recent years, thanks largely to a rise consumer demand for local food. Consumers are increasingly becoming aware that eating local food benefits environment, community, and health. And, since many Americans eat at least one meal each day in an institution—in colleges, hospitals, corporate cafeterias, etc—that consumer demand is catching the attention of institutions and food service corporations, and in turn, major food distributors.

Still, farm to institution models are emerging gradually. Despite the increase in demand, many institutions, and especially those that contract with food service companies and broadline distributors, have been slow to significantly change buying practices. As it is, the current system works well for the institutions and distributors who need to pay careful attention to price, and seek dependable, large volume suppliers. At the same time, local farmers have been slow to scale up to a level that can adequately supply institutions. However as direct sales markets become saturated, farmers are considering larger, wholesale markets.

For farmers, selling wholesale to an institution creates a series of trade-offs. Direct-to-consumer marketing can take an enormous amount of time and effort, but often fetches a premium price. Scaling up to sell wholesale can be simpler, but it doesn’t mean receiving the same price for the same goods: the more you sell, the cheaper it will be. Additionally, most distributors require farms to have big insurance policies and some form of certification to cover food safety concerns, all of which can be expensive.

Ashley Bahlkow of Cultivating Community and Heather Omand of MOFGA at the end-of-day social hour.

One panelist, Ted Sparrow, of Sparrow Farm, suggested finding a niche—cultivating a few products that no one else is growing. He grows leeks, celery, ginger, and kale; focusing only on four crops allows him to grow a lot of each, but also provides some diversity to mitigate the risk of monoculture. Similarly, Marada Cook from Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative noted that more farms need to fill specific niches, such as asparagus, strawberries, and tree fruit other than apples—crops that are in demand, but that no one is growing.

Farmer cooperatives might find it easier to sell to a distributor, aggregating product to help mitigate risk, while ensuring that each item can be traced back to the individual farm. Traceability is essential to both marketing and food safety, and it’s important not to lose the identity and integrity of a local producer when entering the mainstream system. Overall, farmers need to be aware of the needs of distributors: consistent, uniform, and clean product, food safety standards, and clear labeling.

If distributors want to by from local producers, they will need to employ more flexible standards. Local product might be more expensive, but it has a longer shelf life, and is cheaper to ship than vegetables from California sent by freight. Distributors need to be able to make commitments to farmers: if the farmer plants a specific product for a distributor, he or she needs to know that they’ll buy it come harvest time. More transparency would also enhance the relationship. On the “Scaling Up” panel, farmer Sarah Redfield and Patrick Ward of Curran Company role-played a mock negotiation. That honest negotiation of price was helpful for both the farmers and distributors in the room, who need more price transparency to better judge if farm to institution could make sense for their businesses.

Patrick Ward (left) and Sarah Redfield in a mock negotiation

Patrick Ward and Sarah Redfield in a mock negotiation

Institutions who are interested in using local foods should also form more deliberate relationships with farmers. In the “Institutional Realities and Opportunities” panel, institutional representatives noted that they learn much more about the needs of the farmer by having a personal relationship with their producers, and that that relationship also helps the institution be part of the local community. Broadline distributors are certainly the easiest source of food, but a single supply chain doesn’t allow institutions to build relationships with producers.

More flexibility is also important in the kitchen. Food service staff may have to do more food preparation, which can mean higher labor costs, more kitchen space, and more refrigeration and storage facilities. Menus, which are frequently created months in advance, should leave more room for product variability—for example, specifying “roasted root vegetables” instead of “roasted carrots” to allow for last minute changes if need be.

Throughout the conference, it was clear that there are still a number of challenges to overcome. Everyone in the value chain is trying to minimize costs, which leaves little room for other criteria. There’s still a lack of local infrastructure, like processing facilities, which could help increase the flow of product to distributors. We are trying to have it all: more volume, fair prices that can support economic growth for all parties, not to mention good, safe food, and it’s not easy to make it all pencil out for each stakeholder.

In sum, if we want change, each stakeholder must become more aware of the needs of the others. Increased transparency establishes trust, which makes everyone a little more willing to take the necessary risks. Although the conversation certainly isn’t over, Mainstreaming Local was a successful next step in the right direction.

Mainstreaming Local was organized by: Riley Neugebauer of Farm to Institution New England; Ellen Sabina of Maine Farmland Trust, and Kurt Shisler, Mainstreaming Project. Held at Colby College, the event was sponsored by Colby, Sodexo, Performance Food Group, Health Care Without Harm, Maine Farmland Trust, FINE, and MOFGA.

Is That Wood Local? Notes from Local Wood Works

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local products of all kinds can enhance the economic well-being of our communities, fostering connection to land and cultivating a sense of place. Here at Maine Farmland Trust, we focus primarily on agricultural products, often edible, cultivated by farmers. Yet there is another local product that is also vital to the long-term health of the land: wood.

We were pleased to help sponsor the first ever Local Wood Works conference, hosted by Kennebec Land Trust on November 14. The goal of the conference was to engage, discuss, and learn about Maine’s wood economy, including presentations from innovative local wood businesses, academics, the Maine Forest Service, professional loggers, and land trusts. And although woodlot management is not a core component of our work, we recognize the forest’s important place on the farm, and in food production.

We have been pretty excited about A New England Food Vision (NEFV) that launched this year, a report that plays out a series of scenarios to look at the future of food in New England. NEFV highlights Maine in particularas a potential food basket (if we act now), which provides significant impetus for our work. However, NEFV is only one piece of a larger puzzle: that report, along with New England Forestry Foundation’s New England Forests: The Path to Sustainability, evolved out of the Wildlands and Woodlands Vision for the New England Landscape released in 2010. Together, they provide a regional framework for land use in New England for years to come.

Brian Donahue, one of the authors of both Wildlands and Woodlands and NEFV, came to the conference to speak about future land use in New England, which should include woodlots, wild reserves, and farmland. Wildlands and Woodlands suggests keeping 70% of New England forested in the next 50 years, with roughly 90% of that as sustainably managed woodlots and 10% wild reserves. Donahue emphasized that this number leaves room for agricultural expansion, and the increased development of a local and regional food system. Land in New England could go from 5% farmland to 15%. That would provide enough land to grow at least half of all the food consumed in New England (although acreage is not the only concern here: the seasonal availability of certain products that have become an integral part of our diets is another).

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Brian Donahue, speaking of agriculture and forestry in New England

The central interplay between food and wood systems was echoed throughout the conference. Many presenters noted that the successes of the local food movement bade well for possibilities for a local wood economy. Yet they both face similar challenges.

One of those challenges is infrastructure. Maine is actually a net importer of wood, because we have some important infrastructure (like a pulp mill) to process it; yet we export much of our own wood instead of processing and using it in-state, and the large mills can’t be used by small-scale wood producers. We could grow higher-quality trees for use in Maine, but we need more of infrastructure to support a local industry. Such issues echo obstacles in the local food industry, which is hindered by a lack of appropriate scale infrastructure.

Another barrier to more local wood, and food, is finding creative ways to market local products. Consumers increasingly want to know where their food is coming from, and members of the conference advocated applying that approach to wood as well. Many of the presenters throughout the day shared their logging stories, and emphasized the importance of building relationships within a community (there was even talk of a “Know Thy Logger” bumper sticker). Already, local businesses are finding innovative ways to create a niche for Maine wood products. Collin Miller, former Director of Wood Products Initiatives and now of Northern Forest Center, shared a number of success stories from Maine companies like Cedarworks and Duratherm or regional New England Forest Products. Like local food producers, they have discovered that local products are more profitable as value-added, differentiated products: New England wood cannot compete with huge enterprises that produce building supplies for the world, but we can create our own specialized brand.

Not only would these kinds of resources provide an excellent outlet for Maine and New England products, but they would bring consumers that much closer to the woodlot, much like the local food movement has introduced more people to working farms. These interactions bridge the disconnect between people and the land, creating a sense of community as well as personal stewardship. Both farming and woodlot management “stop removing people from nature, and involve ordinary people in taking care of the land,” as Brian Donahue put it, an important goal.

Forests are an integral part of Maine communities and woodlots provide an important resource for farmers, and all Maine residents. Integrating woodlot management and farming and tying the local wood economy into the local food movement are both vital steps towards a more sustainable Maine.

Watch the short Wabi TV segment on the conference here.