Tag Archives: Maine Farms

New USDA Data Shows Growth in Local Farming




New USDA Data Shows Growth in Local Farming

Farming in Maine continues to grow! In statistics released today by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of farms in Maine grew modestly in the five years from 2007 to 2012, from 8,136 farms to 8,176 farms, while the amount of land in farms during this same period grew by 107,738 acres, or 8%. The value of agricultural products increased during this period from $617 million to $764 million, or 24%.

“This data reinforces what we’ve all been seeing, that farming is one of Maine’s growth sectors.” said John Piotti, president of Maine Farmland Trust.

Piotti was quick to point out that the growth is not uniform across all of agriculture, noting that dairy farms have been hard hit by failed federal policies. Yet overall, farming is strong and growing.

The number of farms in Maine expanded even faster in the previous five years, from 2002 to 2007. During that period, Maine went from 7,194 to 8,136 farms, a 13% increase; however, the amount of land in farms remained fairly stable during that period. In the five years from 2007 and 2012, the situation flipped, with the number of farms growing only modestly, but with the amount of land in farms growing by an impressive 8%.

According to Piotti, when you view the full ten years from 2002 to 2012 together, the number of farms and the amount of land in farms both increased significantly. Piotti also sees good news in another key USDA statistic. From 2007 to 2012, the percentage of farms where the landowners list farming as their primary occupation grew from 43% to 48%.

“More and more Maine people are making a real living from farming,” said Piotti.

These statistics are all part of the 2012 agriculture census. Preliminary census results were released on February 20, 2014. Additional results will be released in the coming weeks. USDA conducts a comprehensive agricultural census every five years.



A Collection of Photographs and Writing at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery


Farming is contagious – at least to Isabel Stearns, a young photographer from Simmons College in Boston. This past summer, she drove up to Maine to visit her friend Anna, an apprentice on Four Season Farm on Cape Rosier. Through her friend, she was introduced to the diverse farms in the Penobscot Bay area. Soon Stearns found herself volunteering at Four Season Farm for two weeks alongside eight apprentices. With camera in hand, she had a taste of Maine’s farm life.


According to Stearns, who was raised on a conventional cranberry farm in Plymouth, Massachusetts, working as an apprentice on a farm is a foreign lifestyle to most of her peers today. She states: “As a result of many factors such as industrial agriculture, fast-food, and supermarkets, there is a disconnect between the food that sustains our bodies and where it comes from. We either romanticize farming as the “simple life,” or look down upon it as menial labor. Consequently, farming is easily overlooked as a career path. However, I am excited to see that young individuals of all backgrounds are carefully choosing this work.”


During her weeks in Maine, Isabel created a collection of photographs and assembled handwritten words of farm apprentices in the Penobscot Bay area. “The inspiration was my admiration and wonder for the life of an apprentice. I hope to share the beauty I see in their work,” she explains. “Rather than pursuing more financially secure or socially encouraged career paths, the apprentices have chosen to invest their time in a trade which nurtures the land, themselves, and others.”


Each portrait in this exhibit is accompanied by a statement which begins with: “I farm because…” Isabel Stearns, the photographer, and Anna Abaldo, Maine Farmland Trust’s Gallery Curator, have created an interactive response wall so that visitors, too, can tell us why they farm – “which we hope they do!” smiles Abaldo.


Stearns graduated in May, 2013 from Simmons College in Boston where she studied Business Management and Photography. She took her first darkroom processing class during her first year of high school and has since spent countless hours photographing. Not until the past year did she begin to explore digital photography. This is her first major exhibit.


I Farm Because…. Will be on display at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery from March 7 through April 28.

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.

Introducing…Maine Farms

Like the best farmers, Maine Farmland Trust is always experimenting, searching for new ways to spread our enthusiasm and hope for farming. We are very pleased to share our latest effort, Maine Farms, a farm-driven annual journal for our members. Through Maine Farms, we aim to convey some of what’s happening here, both on the farm and off. Maine is a national leader in the “local foods” movement that is revitalizing farms and communities. Today, farming in Maine is growing and is poised for further growth. It’s a time of experimentation, change, and promise.

Here’s just a snippet what you’ll find inside:

  • Melissa Coleman examines burgeoning new markets that are transforming the local food chain
  • Sharon Kitchens gets a taste of how local ingredients and home cooking lead to a James Beard Award nomination for a Camden chef from Thailand
  • Chelsea Holden Baker looks at the intersection of art and agriculture, and the story of how one family found a farm, and a home, in Maine
  • John Piotti shares a vision for the future of Maine farming

All of our current members will receive this inaugural journal in the mail. Our hope is that the stories within will inspire you, and perhaps broaden your image of the farm and food landscape in Maine. Maine Farms stems from our deeply rooted belief that farming is fundamental to our future — and thus warrants celebration, exploration, and a committed crowd of enthusiastic supporters who can push that future forward.

Not yet a member? Sign up here, and we’ll send you a copy of the journal with your membership!






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)


Mainstreaming: Local Food to Institutions

CLICK HERE for the full Mainstreaming Agenda & Campus Map

Join us on Tuesday, October 14 at Colby College for a day of discussion and workshops exploring the opportunities for strong farm to institution partnerships in Maine.

Keynote: Clara Coleman, Four-Season Farming for the Wholesale Market

This event is an opportunity for institutions, dining services, distributors, farmers, nonprofits, and others to learn more about:

  • Mainstreaming, a new project connecting farms to broadline distributors
  • First steps in wholesale production & scaling up to sell to a distributor
  • Why institutions should consider buying local foods
  • How to work with aggregators & processors
  • How to move more local meat, fish, and other proteins into institutions

This is a free event, but you do need to reserve your spot in advance.
Lunch and refreshments will be provided by PFG & Sodexo.

Signups have closed; please contact Ellen with questions at 207-338-6575 / ellen@mainefarmlandtrust.org



Colby College

Farm to Institution New England (FINE)

Health Care Without Harm

Maine Farmland Trust


PFG (Performance Food Group)


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.”


Cultivate: Farm and Arts Fall Tour

We’re thrilled to be a part of the Belfast Creative Coalition‘s Fall Tour to celebrate arts and farming! We have maps available at our Gallery now and through Columbus day weekend.

Developed by the Belfast Creative Coalition, the Cultivate: Belfast Area Farm and Arts Fall Tour highlights the richness of art, culture and agriculture in and around 26 coastal and rural communities in midcoast Maine.

Happening Saturday and Sunday Columbus Day weekend, October 11-12 from 10am-4pm, the tour includes open studios, farm tours and special workshops and demonstrations. Visitors are encouraged to bring their families and visit the farms, artists’ working in their studios, see a glass blowing demonstration, or learn how to make soap. Discover new sites on the Cultivate Fall Tour map. Have fun creating your own itinerary, or take a look at the suggested routes.

Visit their website for more information!

Artwork at top: Sheep Jones, oil on wood

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