Tag Archives: Maine Farmland Trust

2018 Annual Meeting

A lunch & learn meeting to hear more about the key role dairy farms play in Maine’s agricultural landscape. See the premiere of MFT’s new short video about a multi-generational dairy farm in Skowhegan, and hear from a panel of dairy farmers.

Brief board business will include board elections.

This year’s meeting will be held midday to be accessible for dairy farmers.

***Lunch will be provided***

11am – 1pm

Frontier Cafe, 14 Maine St, Brunswick, ME 04011

Please RSVP below OR 207-338-6575

Selling Up: Business Succession in Maine’s Food-Based Economy

Selling a food-based business while maintaining its essential character and role in the local food economy is no small task. It’s never too early to start planning! Come learn from Maine experts and food-based business owners, farmers, and fishermen who have successfully transitioned their businesses, be it to their employees, their children, or to unrelated buyers. Choose from break-out sessions on worker ownership models, legal and financial considerations, family dynamics, and more. This event is associated with the Food Studies Program at University of Southern Maine.

Thursday, November 1, 2018
10:00a – 4:00p
University of Southern Maine
Abromson Community Education Center, Portland Campus

Registration is required for this event.

Now accepting proposals for assistance with the Feasibility Planning for In-State Organic Milk Processing project

MFT is accepting proposals for consulting services and technical expertise to oversee management and coordination of the Feasibility Planning for In-State Organic Milk Processing in Maine project. This project is supported through the USDA Local Food Promotion Program.  Direct all questions to Meg McCormick, mmccormick@mainefarmlandtrust.org, in writing by Tuesday, October 30, 2018. Completed proposals are due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. Potential candidates must be available for a phone or in-person interview during the week of November 5, 2018. The consultant will be selected by November 13, 2018, and the contract will begin on December 3, 2018. The goal is to complete this project by April 30, 2019.

See the full RFP HERE.

Confronting the challenges of land access, farm transfer, and next generation farmers at the Farmland Access & Transfer Conference

MFT and Land For Good will host the fourth annual Farmland Access & Transfer Conference on December 3, 2018 at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta ME. At the day-long conference, farmers will learn strategies for tackling succession planning and incorporating an easement into your farm access or transfer plans, plus how to find and secure farmland of your own, negotiate a good lease agreement, and more.

“Nearly 30% of New England’s farmers are likely to exit farming in the next 10+ years, and 9 out of 10 of them are farming without a young farmer alongside them. At the same time, access to land remains one of the biggest challenges for beginning farmers in New England,” explains Jim Hafner, Executive Director at Land For Good and  co-host of the conference, referring to a recent study (Gaining Insights). “While this does not mean that these farmers don’t have a succession plan, it does suggest the future of many of these farms is uncertain.”

Today’s farmers—both those who are transitioning out of farming and those who are starting new farm enterprises—will have a pivotal role in shaping the future of our regional food system. Farmers can also make valuable connections at this conference. Last year, the conference brought together over 150 established and beginning farmers, landowners, and agricultural service providers.

“The issues, strategies and skills shared at this conference have relevance far beyond Maine,” says Hafner. This is the largest conference in the region focused solely on land access and transfer. Across New England, older farmers are worried about their ability to retire and find a younger farmer who can afford to buy their land.

The conference is geared toward farm seekers, retiring farmers, and land owners to help them better understand the options, resources, and steps to accessing or transferring farms or farmland. Service providers and other advocates, including land trusts, conservation commissions, town planners and lenders with an interest in fostering affordable farmland access can also benefit from strategies and innovative practices, as well as panel discussions.

 

“In the next decade, more than 400,000 acres of Maine farmland will transition in ownership, raising the question: what will happen to that land?” explains Erica Buswell, Vice President of Programs for MFT and co-host of the conference. “To ensure this farmland stays in production, all of us must find a way to support land transition with programs that help farmland owners and make land available and affordable for farmers.”

Conference presenters include local farmers and service providers working on the ground in Maine, as well as experts from around New England. Exhibits and networking opportunities will be available throughout the day. The conference is hosted by Maine Farmland Trust, and Land For Good. Sponsors include American Farmland Trust, and The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) and Maine Harvest Credit Project. Additional sponsorship opportunities are available.

The deadline to register is November 28, 2018. Cost of attendance is $20 per person and includes a lunch sourced from local farmers and producers. For more information or to register, go to visit the event page.

Moving the Needle on Rural Wellness

Personal Essay

by Stacy Brenner

Each winter, when the snow is deep on our quiet fields, I sit in meetings with “service providers.” Over the years the meeting topics vary: land preservation, ways to increase markets for local products, cooperative marketing, wholesale marketing, farm employment, rural development, food sovereignty, and the best sustainable farming practices.

The service providers—non-profit people, policy wonks, advisors, and academics—are thoughtful and working hard to align us all.

They ask my humble opinion as the farmer  in the room about topics I spend hours thinking about and discussing at the dinner table. We think collectively and then move back into our spheres to make good work happen. They glean farmers’ opinions and look at studies by university researchers. I keep cultivating and harvesting and Instagramming, trying to grow products and our markets. But change is slow and money is tight and human behavior is fickle. Sometimes we have successes and sometimes we realize we are still talking about the same issues 16 seasons later.

Sometimes, while I’m sitting in these meetings, I pull out my phone to check for emergency texts from the farm. I might check my Instagram feed (this is work, mind you!). Did I get any likes on that post about the pregnant cow? Do people like that flower arrangement with the peony? How are berries ranking? Puppies…good grief people love a baby animal! Social media is the outlet that many of us farmers are using to tell our story to customers. We market this rural goodness and these romantic tales of farm life in an attempt to garner support to maintain a cherished way of life. The majority of Americans are no more than five generations removed from farming for subsistence. Not long ago, we all had a connection to the great agrarian way of life. We had a purposeful need to engage with what we now call rural life. And, if you dig deep, most people still crave this connection.

We want our suburban home to be on the edge of farmland; we want to commute past agriculture on our way to somewhere. Our customers sit in their city offices and look at farming Instagram feeds, wondering what it would be like to cash in, leave it all, move to the country, grow flowers.

I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, in a development with 800 homes. Every fourth home looked the same, 200 of each variety. The land, developed in the ‘70s, was once a profitable farm, feeding larger South Jersey towns. The original farmhouse remained in the middle of a sea of suburban ubiquity. I would ride my yellow Schwinn banana seat bike past this farmhouse with my friends, stopping out front to stroke my handlebar streamers, make up stories, imagine a life that once was. I’d head home at dark and watch reruns of Little House on the Prairie. Farming was my dream.

Today, my husband and I, with our two daughters, farm and homestead in Scarborough. So I still live in the suburbs, defined as living within commuting distance to a city. Our little slice of preserved farmland is an oasis that rests at the gateway between the rural communities to the west, the tony beach communities to our east, and the small, vibrant metropolis of Portland 20 minutes northeast. If our land had been developed in 2004 when it was for sale, it would be similar to the neighborhood of my childhood. The farmhouse I live in now would be like the one I rode past and looked to wistfully as a child. The suburbs are something I know well. They are in my fabric.

As a farmer in the suburbs, I borrow time from rural neighbors, learning the roots of agriculture that have existed here since before this area was defined as a suburb. I listen to their stories, they lend us farm equipment, and I feel a sense of belonging in our shared vision of rural wellness. Together, we borrow technology from our urban comrades, using social media to sell the image of our rural lifestyle with a hope that the romanticism of farm work will sell our products. We are looking to create relationships; we are looking to build alliances, understanding, empathy, and awareness. At the root of it, farmers produce food to feed people, to alleviate hunger, and to invite one more person to the table for dinner. I need the knowledge and farming legacy of my rural neighbors and the financial support of my suburban and urban neighbors to continue the good work of agriculture in Maine and to develop markets to sell products.

All distinctions are relative, of course. According to the USDA, Scarborough is classified as rural with regard to economic development programs. It’s true that with our farm’s acreage protected by a conservation easement, folks visiting the farm from Portland are certain they’re in the country. But many of our farming colleagues from towns north and west of us would disagree. With its housing developments, commuter traffic, and tight zoning regulations, Scarborough is a prosperous suburb. When we look at demographic statistics, we note that 1.3 million people call the state of Maine home. Half a million of these residents live in the Greater Portland Metropolitan Area, which includes Scarborough. The bulk of the state’s remaining population hugs the coast. To compare, the population of the Boston metro area is 4.7 million people. Two hours south of our farm, there are three-and-a-half times the number of eaters than in all of Maine. To our Boston friends, Scarborough is rural and downtown Portland, with a mere 66,000 residents, is quaint.

From a policy perspective, the Farm Bill is the federal tool to fund agricultural programs. Initially, rural development (farming) and hunger relief (food welfare) were tied together as a way to achieve political buy-in from rural and urban factions. The idea was that if you built in the need for congressmen from both sides of the aisle, and all geographical regions, to cooperate, you would have more leverage.

To accomplish this, the food stamp program, which in its inception targeted urban poverty, was tied to farm subsidies. Politicians drawn to a social agenda of feeding America’s neediest citizens would collaborate with pro-big ag business politicians from the corn, soy, and cotton states. Initially, the number of qualifying households in urban areas far exceeded those in rural regions. Now, that’s changed. Since 1995, there has been a measurable increase in the number of rural households that access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

By 2014, 14.6% of rural households received SNAP benefits compared to 11% of urban households.

The funding for most major rural development programming is written into the 2014 Farm Bill, amounting to two one-hundredths of 1% of the Bill’s $489 billion five-year budget. For the sake of comparison, nutritional programs, including SNAP, comprise 80% of the Farm Bill budget, and 19% is used to support and subsidize programs for farmers, including crop insurance payouts and conservation cost share programs. What  was historically designed as a tool to address rural development and urban poverty now struggles with a reality where rural poverty and urban development are both on the rise, and there is a grand disconnect between the two.

Without reiterating everything that has been written since the last presidential election, I will simply say yes, the disconnect is real. The lack of commitment to rural development programs is now painfully obvious. And yet, in what may be the most profound irony of all, those living in rural poverty, using SNAP, may themselves also be involved in agriculture. Perhaps the answer lies in tying SNAP money directly to farm businesses in our rural communities, for instance, providing cost-saving incentives to use SNAP to purchase local products.

Federal relief for rural communities, however,  is only one element of a solution. In Maine, where farming is experiencing a renaissance, there are young, talented entrepreneurs creating diversified businesses. Young farmers are re-populating Maine’s farmscape, offering promise. These young farmers bring social media know-how and story-telling skills. But reinvigorating rural communities with a fresh agricultural approach will only be successful if those new businesses have a market  for selling their products. Here, I see a real pos- sibility of bridging the disconnect between rural development needs and urban market demands.

Outside of federal support programs, the  most feasible route to rural development is a concentrated effort to bring urban and suburban communities into the discussion, mobilizing their eagerness to be connected to the land. It will take creativity to market the importance of rural wellness to the populace living in these metro areas. But, looking through the social media lens, I see a captive audience. Leveraging these new avenues of communication, and highlighting Maine’s rural landscapes rich with tillable land and clean water, would be a great step toward defining and connecting authentic values.

Portland, with its solid restaurant culture, is a fine start, but to move the needle Maine also needs to consider the Boston metro area as a major market. Returning Maine to its former status as the breadbasket of New England is a large-scale proposition; but if it is done with an eye towards diverse markets offering fair prices (with or without subsidy) our renewed farming culture will find huge opportunity. Growing successful farms throughout the state creates jobs. Sustainably scaled agriculture can be an economic driver for a region. This is rural development. As a farmer, the best way I can imagine this happening is through building relationships around food and farm products with a market large enough to support the farming potential of the great state of Maine.

As a state and a region, Maine and New England stand poised to lead the way in alleviating rural poverty through federal, state, and local initiatives. We have thoughtful, creative talent in our service organizations and our nonprofits. In Vermont, the Rural Vermont program provides a great example  of an effective partner service organization.

They have been successful at marketing the idea of rural wellness throughout the state and have created effective ways to fund their organization. They approach communities to determine their goals and aspirations and then work to leverage the talent within other organizations throughout the state to meet those needs. Maine is rich with organizations that have interest and intentions  to support our rural communities and address rural poverty. Unfortunately, the one organization focused solely on rural communities in Maine, the former Maine Rural Partners, closed when its funding dried up. But Maine Farmland Trust, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Maine Farm Bureau, and other like-minded groups have the potential to collaborate on a strong marketing campaign to attract the interest, money, and support of urban centers in Maine and in the Boston metro area, and build markets for Maine’s rurally produced products.

Marketing rural Maine will allow our urban neighbors to participate and be meaningful partners in our cherished heritage. If successful, the original goals of the U.S. Farm Bill, to connect rural development with urban health—to leverage the well-being of all our communities—might finally be met.

 

stacy brenner lives, farms, and flowers at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough with her husband, John Bliss, and two daughters, Emma and Flora. They raise cut flowers and organic vegetables, host weddings, and operate a summer day camp that connects a young community  with nutritious and sustainable food. She’s devoted to understanding and improving farmland preservation, farmland tenancy arrangements, and organic agriculture as an economic driver for Maine. Stacy has worked as a barista, an orchid greenhouse caretaker, a cotton farmer, and a nurse-midwife. She holds degrees in agriculture and nursing. She is a contributor to Taproot Magazine, and is a MOFGA Board Member. Stacy has been farming in Maine since 2002.

Policy teach-in at the Common Ground Country Fair

On Saturday, September 22nd, MFT’s Policy and Research Director, Ellen Stern Griswold, participated in a policy teach-in at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)’s Common Ground Country Fair. The policy roundtable, which MFT co-sponsored with MFOGA, focused on the policy changes needed to better support agriculture in Maine and to grow the agricultural economy.

During the roundtable, Ellen discussed the process that has been underway for the last year to create an Initial Agriculture Policy Platform, as well as the outreach effort that is being planned to farmers and other agriculture stakeholders to get feedback on the Platform and to refine the document before sharing it with the next state administration. This outreach effort will include facilitated in-person meetings across the state, webinars, and online and paper surveys.

Other roundtable participants included Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth and President of the Maine Farm Bureau, who discussed the policy changes that are needed to enhance farmer profitability; Ben Whalen, co-owner of Bumbleroot Organic Farm in Windham and a member of the Southern Maine Young Farmers Coalition, who discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the next generation of farmers in Maine; and Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Family Farm in Bridgewater and President of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, who discussed the federal policy changes that are needed to better support family farmers in Maine. Heather Spalding, MOFGA’s Deputy Director, moderated the discussion.

Join the MFT Policy List to receive updates about our policy work and action alerts about how

you can help shape food and agriculture policy.

As dairy farms struggle, organizations and farmers collaborate to find alternate solutions through new feasibility study

At a time when dairy farmers in Maine and across the country are facing numerous challenges affecting the milk market and resulting in low prices to producers, multiple Maine organizations have joined with Maine organic dairy farmers to investigate alternative market opportunities. A Local Foods & Farmers Market Promotion Program (LFPP) grant from the USDA was recently awarded to MFT, written in collaboration with the Maine Organic Milk Producers, Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, to execute a feasibility study to determine whether in-state processing could enable better market stability for organic dairy farmers. This successful proposal was also bolstered by support from the Maine Dairy Industry Association, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Maine Farm Bureau, Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, and the Congressional offices of Sen. Collins, Sen. King, Rep. Poliquin, and Rep. Pingree.

“Dairy farms play a keystone role in Maine’s farm and food economy,” said Amanda Beal, President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust. “This feasibility study has the potential to benefit all dairy farms in Maine, as losing even one dairy farm can have a sizable impact on the agricultural sector and economy, and we know that having multiple market options increases the resiliency of these farm businesses.”

Milk produced by the dairy sector represents Maine’s second most valuable agricultural product; sales value reached nearly $125 million in 2017. All of Maine’s dairy farmers face challenges due to existing political and market forces, which MFT and other partner organizations actively work to address on an ongoing basis through state and federal policy.

However, certified organic farms, which account for nearly one-third of Maine’s dairy farms, face additional challenges as Maine lacks in-state processing infrastructure for their milk.  While the organic market was once relatively resistant to the fluctuating price, supply, and sales of milk and milk products, this is no longer the case.  Adding to the unease for organic producers is the fact that all bulk organic milk produced in Maine is shipped out of state for processing.  This creates a dependence on processors operating in the national milk market, who can get milk elsewhere. This dynamic recently resulted in several organic farmers losing their contracts with an out-of-state processor.

The feasibility study will examine the current needs of Maine organic dairy farms, estimate market-size for in-state processing infrastructure, evaluate various business models and run financial analysis to determine the viability of business models. The study will draw from the experience of MOOMilk, an in-state organic processor that closed in 2014. While many factors contributed to MOOMilk’s closing, the processor’s sales showed strong consumer support for a Maine organic dairy brand.

“Exploring the idea of in-state processing is so exciting for those of us currently in the organic dairy industry,” said Annie Watson, co-owner and farmer at Sheepscot Valley Farm in Whitefield. “This is an opportunity to take an in-depth look at the current landscape of Maine organic dairy. If there is a market for our product on its own label, or in conjunction with a larger processor, we owe it to the future of dairy in our state to seriously consider the possibilities.”

Due to the urgency of the current dairy crisis, partnering organizations plan to finish the study within six to seven months, in hopes to inform some near-term action to expand in-state processing opportunities for our dairy farms.

Forever Farm Party at Romac Orchard & Goat Hill

Wednesday, Spetember 12th

4-7PM

Romac Orchard & Goat Hill was protected last summer through a collaboration between MFT, Three Rivers Land Trust, and the Town of Acton The orchards have produced apples for the wholesale market for 80 years, and the hilltop has long been a cherished destination for year-round and seasonal residents of the region.

Come celebrate farmland protection and community collaboration in Acton.

Music will be preformed by Darlin’ Corey, a duo made up of Erica Brown and Matt Shipman, who feature a blend of vocal harmonies accompanied by fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar.

Food will include sausages from Misty Brook Farm in Albion and cider from Far From the Tree Cider. Romac Orchard will offer special deals on bags of fresh apples for guests to purchase throughout the evening.

Free & All are Welcome!

Up in the County: From Spuds to Grains

By Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Photographs by Mark Yaggie

Up in Maine’s Aroostook County, farming is generational, part of the regional DNA: families proudly trace links to the land that go back sometimes for a century or more. Take Aurora Mills and Farm in tiny Linneus (population just under 1,000), not far from the Houlton county seat. At Aurora, the pitchfork is held high by veteran farmers Matt and Linda Williams, capably supported by their 30-something daughter, Sara, and her husband Marcus Flewelling. Marcus and Sara’s baby, Annabelle, represents the next generation. When I visited, Annabelle was fast asleep in a plastic baby carrier nestled next to her grandfather’s feet as he carefully maneuvered a rattling combine harvester through a sun-bleached field of ripening late summer oats, part of the 200 acres the Williamses have under grains.

The Williamses also harvest and mill wheat (including an experimental patch of hard durum, for pasta), emmer, spelt, and rye, all of it human-food grade, and most of it sold in Maine where a burgeoning market of brewers, bakers, chefs, granola producers, and home consumers demand whole grains, preferably organic and grown in-state. (Aurora’s organic oats do travel as far as Boston University’s mess halls, through Grandy Oats’ distribution networks.)

The Williams family are not the only grain farmers in The County. In Benedicta, an unorganized township on the outskirts of Baxter State Park, Andrew Qualey’s forebears have farmed potatoes since they arrived from Ireland in the 1840s. And potatoes remain a quintessential harvest on Qualey’s broad fields that slope westward to the brooding silhouette of Mount Katahdin. But today, partnering with his son-in-law Jake Dyer, Qualey has shifted to more valuable organically-farmed grains, as well as field peas, soybeans and Japanese black buckwheat.

Qualey and Dyer began their grain experiments  in 2008. Last summer’s drought ironically created near-perfect grain harvest conditions. The yield was light but the quality was high, Qualey said: “In general, we’re shooting for quality, not quantity.”

When I asked why the conversion, he laughed. “Our generation,” Qualey said, “ate potato chips. His generation”—he pointed to Jeff Dec, a lean, young baker who with his wife operates Brazen Baking in Camden and had accompanied me to The County—“they don’t eat chips anymore.”

I got the point. National potato consumption has declined in recent decades, although potatoes remain the number one vegetable consumed by Americans. For this and other reasons, potatoes are no longer the unchallenged mainstay of The County’s wealth. While no one would abandon the crop entirely, it’s time to look at productive alternatives, such as organic grains. But potatoes will always be important, admits Dyer, who works for the Potato Board developing crops for diversifying Aroostook potato farms.

Another advance in the Aroostook grain game is taking place in Mapleton, just west of Presque Isle, where the Buck brothers, Jake, Josh, and Jaret, are pioneering their Maine Malt House enterprise, pro- cessing barley into high-quality malt for the scores of sprightly breweries mushrooming in Maine. Malting is a complicated process that makes you wonder how beer was invented. First, grain is steeped in water to soak, then spread in a thick layer to germinate: the

germination is stopped by heating and drying  in a kiln. Enzymatic activity increases the sugar in the grain, lending sweetness to the beer and giving the yeast something to feed on.

Not every brewery uses local malts, but a growing number tout Maine-grown ingredients. Vaunted Allagash, Oxbow, and Rising Tide are among a good 20 breweries setting the pace for using Maine-grown grains, malts, and hops. Allagash brewmaster Jason Perkins is especially proud of “16 Counties,” a creamy, flavorful ale that boasts entirely Maine ingredients, including Maine-grown organic hops. Oxbow uses the Maine Malt House product in its forthcoming “Domestic” farmhouse IPA, and has a 100% local beer spontaneously fermenting for two-plus years underway, made of all Buck Farm, Maine Grains and Alna Hops-sourced ingredients.

From Left to Right. Katahdin rises above fields of oats at Benedicta Grain Co. In 1987, as the town’s population dipped to around 200 residents, Benedicta surrendered its plantation status and became an unorganized township.

Spelt in the auger. Spelt is an ancient wheat that is naturally lower in gluten.

Sara Williams Flewelling behind the wheel of a swather, cutting buckwheat into windrows so the grain can dry down in the field prior to being picked up for processing.

 Sara, Marcus, and baby Annabelle in a field of Japanese buckwheat. Aurora is working with Takahiro Sato, chef/owner of Yosaku in Portland, to develop a soba noodle made with Maine buckwheat. The noodles will be available in his restaurant this summer.

But while Oxbow is experimenting with Maine malts and grains, the brewery still sources most of its malt from France and Germany. “We’re working towards using more and more Maine grains—and malts,” Tim Adams, co-founder and head brewer at Oxbow, told me—a statement that holds true for many other breweries as well.

About a quarter of the Bucks’ 1,000 acres is planted to barley; the next step will be hop vines, another critical element in beer-making. “The potato market is mature,” Jake Buck explained as we toured the malt house. Like Qualey and Dyer, the Buck brothers are diversifying from total reliance on potatoes.  “We count on working with local farmers to spread the risks around,” Jake said. But they could do a lot more, he admitted. Right now, despite producing  240 tons of malt annually, they can’t keep up with in-state demand. And with just two maltsters in Maine (the Bucks’ place in Mapleton and Blue Ox Malthouse in Lisbon Falls), there’s room to grow.

Coincidentally, on the day I watched Matt Williams harvest oats, I caught up with Amaral, there at Aurora to take pictures for his new cookbook celebrating 25 years of Borealis. “When you’re making bread, you’re basically working with just four ingredients,” Amaral told me, “flour, water, yeast and salt. So it’s important to understand where each of these is coming from.”

As far as consistency, moisture in the grain is a key factor. Wheat, for instance, harvested at 18% moisture, must be dried down to 12 to 14% for safe storage. Otherwise, the grain starts to sprout, leading to the development of amylase, an enzyme that is undesirable, especially for baking. Grain high in amylase produces sticky bread; too low, on the other hand, and the bread will be unacceptably dry. “Variations in protein levels are just the nature of small-scale milling,” says Jim Amaral, who established Borealis Breads (then known as Bodacious) back in 1993. Larger-scale millers can blend various flours to a steady consistency to satisfy bakers’ needs, but the scale of grain growing in Maine, he said, has not yet arrived at that point.

Black Crow Bakery in Litchfield, turning out some of the most stunning bread in Maine over the last 25 years, uses some Maine grains but consistency crops up in any conversation with baker Mark Mickalide. Mickalide is unusual because he himself grinds the flours he uses. The biggest problem is what he calls bitterness in Maine-grown grains: “It doesn’t ripen to a real strong sweetness,” he said, adding that to get the flavor he wants, he blends, in equal quantities, Maine-grown grains with sweeter wheat from the High Plains and ordinary unbleached white flour.

Blending, then, is an issue of capacity. Yes, Maine could grow a lot more grain to supply the needs of both brewers and bakers—and it might well lead to greater possibilities for millers to blend flours. But reaching that capacity is not a quick process, especially not for organic grains, which are what bakers require.

Anyone involved in this revival of Maine grain growing agrees the movement began with Aurora’s modest Matt Williams, in symbiotic relationship  with Borealis’s Jim Amaral. Amaral first got Williams involved in grains on a commercial scale. In the late 1990s with Borealis Bread a success, Amaral decided to enhance his line with a Maine-grown product.

“I kept asking, why aren’t we growing wheat in Maine?” Amaral recalled. Williams, who was then the Aroostook County Extension Service specialist in small grains, had been experimenting with grains in rotation on his Linneus farm. As Amaral pushed, Williams planted, first, a crop of hard red winter wheat harvested in 1998. With no milling capacity in Maine, the grain was trucked across the border to New Brunswick. That continued until the border crossing became difficult after September 2001, at which point Williams added a grist mill to his grain operation.

Amaral now uses Aurora wheat for all his sourdough starters, but he is particularly proud of “Aroostook,” a grainy loaf made 100% from Maine grains, mostly wheat, and mostly from Aurora.

Nor can you talk about grain in Maine without mentioning Amber Lambke and her vision of a “re- generative economy” for Central Maine. In 2012, she co-established the Maine Grains mill in Skowhegan in the old Somerset County jail, where Qualey Farms in Benedicta is among some 24 growers sending their grains in for processing. Maine has just two commercial stone grist mills, in Skowhegan and the one at Aurora. For a decade, Lambke, with a number of like-minded confederates, organized the annual summer Kneading Conference in Skowhegan. What the Common Ground Country Fair is for Maine’s organic farmers, the Kneading Conference has become for Maine’s grain farmers, brewers and bakers.

From Left to Right. Inspecting hops outside Maine Malt House in Mapleton. As the stalwart potato market continues to mature, young farmers like the Buck brothers are looking for ways to diversify, and Maine’s booming craft beer industry offers new market opportunities.

Jake Buck checks the “chitted” barley on the malting floor at Maine Malt House. The Aroostook County malt house is one of just two malt houses in Maine helping to bring locally-grown grains to Maine brewers.

Sara Williams Flewelling holds a prized French heritage wheat, ‘Rouge De Bordeaux,’ known for its excellent baking quality and superior flavor. Over the past few years Aurora has been restoring the grain seed to marketable quantities and expects to have it available to customers this fall.

Maine bakers like Jim Amaral of Borealis have paved the way for more local grain production. While working with local flour can be less predictable than the standard King Arthur, bakers and eaters are enthusiastic about using Maine grains in breads and baked goods.

The Kneading Conference spurred the Maine Grain Alliance, now headed by Tristan Noyes, another young Aroostook native who, with his brother on the family farm in Woodland, is experimenting with several grains, including Sirvinta, a hard winter wheat from Estonia whose potential has a lot of Maine growers excited.

Noyes is equally enthusiastic about a new project for the Maine Grain Alliance, an 8-month feasibility study to look at creating drying, storing, and sorting facilities in four separate Aroostook County locations. This will take the onus off the shoulders of individual farms and farmers, and incidentally take a lot of the guesswork out of grain production.

Here in Aroostook (as in other parts of rural Maine) local and farm-to-table are not just fancy terms to sprinkle on chic restaurant menus. Local means community and an inter-connected economy. But there is still not enough local grain being grown and milled to serve Maine’s needs. I think of those 18,000 fallow acres up in the County where the climate is so good for grains—cool nights make sweeter wheat—and where taller varieties with better flavor and better baking quality can be grown. “Our biggest challenge is simply getting more land in production,” Matt Williams noted. “And it’s been the challenge from day one.”

Allagash’s Perkins cites a statistic from the University of Maine at Presque Isle—there are 18,000 acres of fallow or idle agricultural lands between Presque Isle and Caribou, all suited to grain cultivation. In fact, Aroostook farmers havegrown grains for a very long time, but almost always in rotation with potatoes (sometimes legumes, too). Such crops are either turned under as green manure or sold as low-value feed for chickens, pigs and cattle. What’s new in recent years is the focus on food-grade (as opposed to feed-grade) grains.

In the last decade or so, Maine has been fortunate to see an explosion of artisanal bread- and beer-crafting. We’ve come a long way since enriched sliced white breads (the Cushman’s and Nissen’s of my Camden childhood) and Haffenreffer and Narragansett fizzy brews. As of last winter, Maine had about 85 craft breweries, members of the Maine Brewers Association, and an estimated 51 craft bakeries, according to the Maine Grain Alliance, producing densely-grained, whole-meal loaves, often from wood-fired ovens, like the superbly nutty rye bread made with Aurora’s rye  by Tim Semler at Tinder Hearth in Brooksville or the variety of breads and pastries at Standard Baking in Portland where, under Alison Pray’s direction in 2016, they used some 47,600 pounds of local wheat, oats,  rye, cornmeal, and spelt, which represents 15% of their total grain use; and the number is climbing annually.

So why aren’t all of Maine’s brewers and bakers using Maine-grown grains? The answer is complex, but it boils down to three factors: 1) capacity, 2) consistency, and 3) price. On that last point, flour from the Skowhegan mill, says Camden baker Jeff Dec, is double the price of King Arthur flour—“and they’re really giving a good price to farmers.” Making grain profitable for farmers is obviously an important piece of the equation, but when bakers and brewers, who operate on similarly slim margins, can get good-quality flour, or malted barley, for half the price, it’s hard to argue with the choice. Still, bakers like Dec, Semler, Pray, and many others acknowledge their customers recognize the value in locally grown grain.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

Agrarian Acts 2018

Join us for our 3rd annual celebration of agriculture through music!

Doors at 3:30/Music 4-7pm ish

BUY TICKETS HERE.

An evening of music in the fields at the Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm in Jefferson. This year’s line-up features three all-female bands with deep roots in rural Maine:

Ticket includes

Farm pizza & salad made by Uproot Pie Co.

Cash bar with beer & wine

Bring your own blankets and chairs

 

Kids under 5 FREE

Kids 6-15 $15

Adults $35

 

BUY TICKETS HERE. Online ticket sales will close at 3pm on Friday, August 24th. Tickets will be available at the door beginning at 3:15 on the day of and at Open Studio Day from noon-3pm that afternoon.