Tag Archives: Maine Farms

2017 Farmland Access Conference Request for Proposals

MFT and Land For Good are pleased to announce that the 3rd Annual  Farmland Access Conference will be held Monday, December 4 at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, ME. The organizers are seeking proposals for conference breakout sessions. Potential themes and topics can address a diverse array of issues relating to farmland access, tenure, transfer, viability, and protection in Maine and the region. The audience for the conference will include farmland seekers, non-farming and institutional landowners, farmers contemplating succession and transfer, and service providers.

 

More information and the proposal submission form can be found HERE. Submission deadline is Oct 2, 2017. Contact Andrew Marshall, andrew@landforgood.org with questions or comments.

Agrarian Acts 2017: celebrating Maine farms with The Mallett Brothers Band

The 2nd annual Agrarian Acts concert was a beautiful success — over 260 people from near and far came out to Eagle View Ranch in Sebec for an evening of local food and music with The Mallett Brothers Band.

Agrarian Acts is MFT’s annual celebration of agriculture through music. “We believe that art and music are important tools to help cultivate a vibrant culture of farming and food,” said outreach director Ellen Sabina. “Music and art are vehicles that connect us to the past, and help us examine our world in new and creative ways. That’s why MFT has an art gallery and artist residency program, that’s why we create films, books, and photo exhibits, and that’s why we were so excited to present another Agrarian Acts concert this summer.”

A Maine-based band, The Mallett Brothers are a nationally touring country rock and roll and Americana group. Their latest album, The Falling of the Pine, celebrates Maine’s rural history and landscape by re-imagining a collection of 19th century folk songs collected in the 1927 book “The Minstrelsy of Maine”. The Mallett Brothers have a clear connection to the land, and to Sebec specifically. The Malletts grew up just a few miles away from the concert location at Eagle View Ranch. The farm (formerly Varnum Farms) is a 2,000+ acre property that was recently protected by MFT and sold to a farmer who is starting a beef cattle operation on the land. The farm is the largest that MFT has ever protected, and stretches for 6 miles along the Sebec River and the River Road.

The young farmers of Spruce Mill Farm & Kitchen prepared a casual dinner of local food including pulled pork and chicken salad sandwiches, fresh veggie salads, and berry hand pies. Threshers Brewing Company in Searsmont and Bissell Brothers Brewing in Portland donated beer for the event, and The Bangor Daily News was the media sponsor. Concert-goers brought picnic blankets and chairs to watch the band play and the sun set behind the pines. By all accounts, the show was a great way to celebrate Maine farms and cap off another brief but abundant summer season! Stay tuned this winter/spring for news about our 2018 Agrarian Acts concert…

380-acre organic dairy farm protected in Jay and Wilton

On August 16, Thayden and Nora Farrington protected their 380-acre dairy farm with an agricultural easement through MFT. Thayben Farm sits on two parcels in Jay and Wilton, and the couple inherited the farm from Thayden’s father. The Farringtons made the decision to protect the farm from development as they prepare to pass the farm on to their granddaughter.

Thayben Farm has always been a dairy farm and Thayden transitioned to organic production 12 years ago, now selling milk to Organic Valley Cooperative. The Farringtons grow hay and balage on the  100 + acres of tillable ground. There was once an orchard on the farm and the family grew corn off and on over the years.  The southern parcel sits on Spruce Mountain and has beautiful views of the surrounding hills and mountains.  The property extends up to the top of Spruce Mountain and was previously used as a ski hill.

We are honored to be part of making sure that this family farm will remain available for farming for future generations!

A sneak peek of the 2017 issue of our Maine Farms annual journal

In the next week or two, the 2017 issue of our Maine Farms annual journal will be arriving in mailboxes across the state and beyond. (Hot tip: If you’re not yet a member, or haven’t renewed in a few years, join today to make sure you get your copy of the journal!)
Here’s a sneak preview of some the stories you’ll find inside the new issue:
  • Nancy Harmon Jenkins heads north to find Maine-grown grain on the rise in potato country
  • Melissa Coleman considers the sustainability of scaling up
  • Farmer Stacy Brenner imagines the potential for savvy marketing to sync rural farmers and urban customers
  • Machias landmark Helen’s Restaurant shares a recipe for the very best blueberry pie
…and much MORE. 
 
By sharing the stories of Maine farms and food, we aim to cultivate a curious and informed community of people who are passionate about the future of farming in Maine.
We’re happy to offer this lush, informative, one-of-kind publication to our members. But the real benefit of joining MFT is knowing that you are taking an active and real stand for the future of farming in Maine. Your membership gift goes directly to helping protect farmland, support farmers and grow farming. We simply can’t do what we do without you!

Borealis Breads’ Steamed Brown Bread

In anticipation of our 2017 Maine Farms journal, we are delighted to share this exclusive recipe from Jim Amaral’s forthcoming cookbook, Borealis Breads: the Renaissance of Grains, due out September 2018. Amaral is the founder and owner of Borealis Breads and sparked the revival of local grain production in the 1990s. Wanting fresh whole wheat flour, Amaral began working with Matt Williams of Aurora Mills & Farm in Linneus to reestablish a grower network and processing infrastructure that had been lost. The growth of Maine grains continues today, and the 2017 issue of our journal includes Up in The County: from Spuds to Grains by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Her article tracks the rise of grain production in Aroostook, driven by the growth of craft brewers, distillers, and bakers like Amaral, and the zeitgeist of the local food movement.

The new issue of Maine Farms is ripe with stories from Maine’s vibrant farm and food landscape. Don’t miss it!  Renew or join as a member today to receive your copy in the mail this July. 

BOREALIS BREADS' STEAMED BROWN BREAD

This simple bread is the epitome of comfort food. As you unmold the bread the aromas will embrace you with an
overwhelming sense of goodness. Slice while still warm and top with butter. Amaral bought his pudding mold at “Now
You’re Cooking” in Bath; you could substitute a 4-cup Bundt pan, then covered with tin foil and secured with string.

INGREDIENTS

(Grams, Ounces, Volume)
Whole Wheat Flour 100, 3.5, 2/3 cup
Whole Rye Flour 85, 3.0, 2/3 cup
Abenaki Flint Cornmeal 90, 3.2, 2/3 cup
Buttermilk 227, 8.0, 1 cup
Molasses 160, 5.6, 1/2 cup
Baking Soda 3, 0.1, 1 tsp
Salt 3, 0.1, 1 tsp

PROCEDURE

Grease the inside of a 1 quart pudding mold.

Measure the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and briefly whisk to distribute the ingredients evenly.

In another bowl whisk together the molasses and buttermilk.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and using a spatula stir together until evenly combined.

Pour the batter into the pudding mold and place the cover on it. If a cover is unavailable for the mold, cover it with tin foil and secure the tinfoil to the mold with a piece of string.

Place a vegetable steamer in a large deep pot. Place the filled pudding mold on top of the vegetable steamer. Fill the pot with water till it comes 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pudding mold. Place a lid on the pot and bring the water to a slow simmer.

Steam the brown bread for a total of 1 1/2 hours. After 45 minutes, top the water in the pot up so that it remains 3/4 of the way up the side of the pudding mold.

When done, remove the pudding mold from the pot and remove the lid on the mold. Insert a thin skewer into the bread, the skewer should come out clean.

Place the pudding mold on a cooling rack and let cool for ten minutes. Then using pot holders flip the mold over onto the cooling rack. The bread should slide easily out of the mold.

NOTES

The Maine grains:
Both the whole wheat flour and whole rye flour are grown and milled by Aurora Mills and Farm in Linneus, Maine. They are available at many food coops around the state in the bulk foods sections. The Abenaki flint cornmeal is is grown and milled at Songbird Farm in Unity, Maine. This cornmeal is packaged in 2 lb. bags and is available in many food coops as well.
The Pudding Mold:
Due to concerns over the chemicals such as bisphenol A used in can linings, Amaral recommends steaming the brown bread in a pudding mold rather than in tin cans which have been traditionally used for brown bread molds.

Forgotten Farms at Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville

Join us at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville on Wednesday, May 24th at 7:15 pm for Forgotten Farms, a new film about the important role dairy farms play in New England’s farming landscape.

Dairy farmers remain the backbone of the region’s agriculture but fight for survival in an age of artisan cheese and kale. New England has lost over 10,000 dairy farms in the past 50 years; about 2,000 farms remain. Through conversations with farmers and policy experts, Forgotten Farms reconsiders the role of these vital but forgotten farmers, who will be essential players in an expanded agricultural economy.

Amanda Beal of MFT, Dave Colson of MOFGA, along with the film makers and Maine dairy farmers, will discuss how the themes of the film are present in Maine’s dairy industry today and where we can go from here.

Presented by Maine Farmland Trust & MOFGA

$5 suggested donation.

Maine Fare returns, re-imagined

Maine Farmland Trust’s signature food festival has evolved and taken on new life as a month-long series of hands-on field trips and workshops throughout the month of June, culminating in a unique, collaborative dinner on June 25, 2017.

Formerly a food festival that drew thousands of local food lovers to Belfast, MFT has re-imagined the popular event for 2017. Rather than a two-day festival, organizers have planned six in-depth events throughout the month of June on various topics central to Maine’s food landscape and culture. “We wanted to create opportunities for people to really dig in to specific food system topics,” said Meghan Quinn, Event Manager for MFT. “Through these workshops, folks will have more time to hear from the people who grow, harvest, and prepare our food.”

click on the dates to purchase tickets!

This year’s workshop line-up includes:

June 1: the complicated story of grain in Maine with renowned food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins

June 4: a trip to Portersfield Cider in Pownal to learn about owner David Buchanan’s orchard of heirloom fruit trees and the cidermaking process

June 11: a daylong nose-to-tail butchery workshop with Logan Higger of Farmers’ Gate Market with Winter Hill Farm in Freeport and Turtle Rock Farm in Brunswick

June 18: a farm tour and cheese making demonstration (and cheese tasting) at Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitefield

June 24:  a boat trip down the Damariscotta River to visit oyster farms, taste oysters and local beer, and learn about the river harvest, past and present.

At the end of the month, on June 25, chef Sam Hayward of Fore Street will lead “Food for Thought,” a collaborative dinner at The Freight Shed in Bath. The dinner will serve as the finale of a month of workshops celebrating Maine’s bounty, with four courses prepared by Hayward and a team of guest chefs, including Nate Nadeau, Fore Street’s Chef de Cuisine, Josh Potocki of 158 Pickett Street Cafe and The Bread & Butter Catering Co., Eloise Humphrey and Daphne Comasky of Salt Pine Social and El Camino, and Ben Hasty of Thistle Pig.  The menu will reflect the topics covered in the workshops, as well as Maine’s traditional foodways.

But the evening isn’t just for enjoying a wonderful meal. As the name implies, it’s also meant to provide plenty of food for thought. Following a cocktail hour cider and cheese tasting, guests will engage in a discussion-based “Jeffersonian-style” dinner party.  Each table will have a topic to discuss related to Maine’s food system, and all guests at the table will participate in conversation around that topic. The evening is designed to encourage deep conversation that takes full advantage of the different perspectives and collective wisdom of the dinner guests.

The Freight Shed, a historic building once used to weigh and store railroad freight on the Kennebec River, “is a great setting for this dinner—a reminder of the myriad of connections between land and sea, the elements at the heart of Maine’s food culture, past and present,” said Quinn.

All of the 2017 Maine Fare events will take place in the Southern Midcoast area – Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties. “We like the idea of moving this event around the state each year to highlight local food in different regions of Maine,” said Quinn.

All workshops and the dinner are individually ticketed, and tickets will be available April 24 on mainefarmlandtrust.org. MFT members receive a 10% discount on all tickets.

Historic Berwick farm protected for agriculture

On February 24th, in a simultaneous transaction, Linda and Jerry Covell signed a conservation easement to permanently protect their 70.5 acre farm, and sold the property to young farmers Jeff Benton and Erin Ehlers.

The Covells have thought about protecting their Berwick farm for years. After working through a number of options with Maine Farmland Trust and Great Works Regional Land Trust, the Covells were able to find a way to protect their farm and ensure that the property will continue to be actively farmed.

The farm includes 31 acres of open field and 40 acres of well-stocked forest. In recent years, the farm has produced hay. Historically, the land was owned by the Emery family and has been operated as a farm since at least the mid-1800s.

“Our family felt blessed to be the first to own the farm after several generations of Emery’s stewardship,” said Linda Covell.  “It became increasingly more important for us to honor the legacy of farming the land they had begun in the 1800’s.  Maine Farmland Trust partnered with us to help make that happen and we are truly indebted to them for their contribution in conserving this beautiful piece of land for Jeff and Erin and many future generations of farmers.”

Jeff Benton and Erin Ehlers will eventually move Benton’s Stratham, NH-based organic vegetable farm, Orange Circle Farm, to the Berwick property. Benton currently grows vegetables for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that serves the southern coast. Erin Ehlers is owner/instructor of Yoga on the Hill in Kittery. For the 2017 season, Benton will continue to farm on leased land in Stratham while he and Ehlers build a house and barn and prepare the fields for the 2018 growing season on the new property.

“We’re so grateful that MFT was able to conserve this beautiful piece of land and make it accessible to us,” said Benton. “Farming on leased land has had its benefits over the past few years, but we’re really excited to be able to start making long term investments in the diversity and infrastructure on the farm.”

With the closing of this conservation easement, MFT and Great Works Regional Land Trust have now protected a total of 515 acres on Blackberry Hill Road.

Reclaiming Maine’s Lost Farmland (and rethinking how we farm)

BY JOHN PIOTTI

Philip and Heather Retberg of Quills End Farm in Penobscot have a lot in common with other young couples I’ve seen repopulate old farms: a clear commitment to good farming practices and good food, to improving their community, and through it, our planet.

Yet different farmers take different paths.  A decade ago, when I first met the Retbergs, they were doing something that was rare in those days: reclaiming former farm fields that had grown up in trees. Pioneers in more ways than one, the Retbergs were staking a claim on their future.

It’s easy to forget the vastly different perception of farming’s future held by most Mainers—including many farmers—just a few years ago. When I began working with farmers in the mid 1990s, conventional wisdom held that farming in Maine was dying.

The first statistics that hinted at farming’s potential re-birth appeared in the Federal Agricultural Census of 1997, with stronger signs evident in 2002. From 2002 to 2007, the number of farms in Maine increased by almost a thousand, from 7,199 to 8,136. By 2012, the value of farm production was up 24 percent over 2007, showing that new operations were not all small hobby farms, as some had suspected. Meanwhile, from 2007 to 2012, the number of beginning farmers jumped nearly 40 percent. Clearly, something positive was happening.

Yet these statistics, as informative as they are, can’t capture the complexities undergirding farming’s renaissance. A deeper look at farm operations would reveal that some farms are thriving, while others are struggling, and many more only remain in business because the farmers are willing to work exceptionally hard for little money.

While there is more to the issue, it is safe to say that farming in Maine is growing, if unevenly, and that public perception is more positive than it’s been in generations. There’s a newfound conviction that farming is here to stay.

As farming in Maine grows, what lessons can we learn from the past?

FARMING MORE LAND

The idea that farming in Maine is poised to expand is nothing new, but it was thrust into the spotlight last spring with the release of A New England Food Vision. The widely-circulated study showed how New England could produce as much as two thirds of its own food by the year 2060, but only if the region expands its agricultural production by 3-4 million acres. A good chunk of that land will need to come from Maine, simply because it isn’t available anywhere else in New England.  But just because something could happen, doesn’t mean that it will—or that it will in a way that serves Maine well. As history shows, Maine farmers do not always benefit more from growing more. And clearing millions of acres of woodland for local food production could either help the environment or hurt it, depending on how it’s done. The bottom line is that it will take real effort to get this right. And we won’t get it right unless we think differently and act smartly. We can’t expect that expanded farming will  necessarily benefit farmers, unless we address some of the underlying issues that prevent farmers from making a decent living. Beyond this, we can’t think about expanding farming simply by returning overgrown woodland into farm fields. For one thing, we can’t afford to cut trees without paying attention to carbon emissions and water quality. For another, we can’t succeed at any of this unless we see the big picture—how fields and woods can each play a role in food production, and how any sustainable food system relies on the health of the broader ecosystem. Reclaiming former fields is clearly central to the future of farming in Maine. But we also need to move beyond our current thinking that fields are the only places where we can raise crops or livestock.

WHY RECLAMATION?

Unlike a decade ago, today I know many farmers who are reclaiming former fields from woodland, and many more who are thinking of it. Farmland reclamation is driven by both current economics and future possibilities.

The market for biomass (i.e., the woody fiber that comes from cut trees and brush) is now such that a landowner can often clear a swath of land for no cost—even a swath of low-value species like alder or pasture pine. Overgrown fields also appeal to a subset of farmers: those who can’t outlay enough cash for an open parcel, but are willing to invest sweat returning woodland to agricultural production. Meanwhile, the broader factor driving farmland reclamation is that Maine boasts millions of acres of once-farmed land that could be farmed again.

In the 1880s, 6.5 million of Maine’s 20 million acres was cleared land used for farming—either for growing crops or grazing livestock. Today, only about 700,000 acres of land are used in this way. Of the remaining 5.8 million acres, some has been lost to development, but probably not much more than a million acres or so. Over 4.5 million acres of once-farmed land has reverted to woods—and very little of that land is part of Maine’s great northern forest, on which our paper mills rely. Here is a way that Maine could contribute millions of acres to the emerging vision that New England might someday grow most of its own food.

Still, the goal should not be to simply transform millions of acres of woods into fields, but rather, to utilize that land for food production in new ways. There is a subtle yet important difference here, stemming from the fact that open fields are not the only way to grow food.

 

We can’t succeed at any of this unless we see the big picture-how fields and woods can each play a role in food production, and how any sustainable food system relies on the health of the broader ecosystem.

GROWING FOOD IN WOODS

Most of us acknowledge that woods are good places to collect maple sap and perhaps pick a few wild berries, but we seldom think of woods as a potential source of staple food products. And yet, many of the fruits and nuts we eat—though now harvested from orchards and fields—come from trees and woody shrubs with forest origins. Likewise, we may gather mushrooms or fiddleheads in the woods, but never think of raising traditional vegetable crops under a forest canopy. Yet many vegetables grow well in partial shade—including garlic, peas and greens.

We could utilize our woodlands to grow more fruit and nuts, while cultivating vegetables in the understory. This concept of intermixing food-bearing trees with understory crops is the idea behind “forest farming.” Rooted in practices that stretch back centuries, forest farming was formally advanced in the 1930s, and more recently embraced by some of the advocates of permaculture.  Though still rare in Maine, forest farming fits well with our soils and growing conditions.

Woods can also feed livestock, which can thrive off the shoots of many trees, including poplar, locust, and beech. At one time in the South, mulberry was common fodder for pigs; while in Europe, pollarded willows were once customary winter feed for cattle. (In fact, the product was called “pollard hay.”) Slowly, these practices are beginning to return. Here in Maine, I’ve had one experimenting farmer tell me that her goats thrive on spruce, which in turn gives their milk a distinct flavor that makes awesome cheese.

Beyond this, thinned woods are often suitable for pasturing, as many grass species grow well in partial shade. The trees that remain in a sparse wood provide livestock with winter shelter and summer shade, while capturing water during dry spells that helps keep grass alive. Increasingly, farmers are both pasturing livestock and growing woody forage on forested parcels that they also manage for lumber and firewood. “Silvopasture” is the modern term for this collection of ancient practices.

As Maine considers how it should once again grow food on once-farmed land, both silvopasture and forest farming have a role to play. It’s not that using partially cleared woodland for these purposes is somehow superior to farming open fields, as is commonly done, but rather, that these practices use the resources differently and form a different imprint on the land. As such, they have a place in any overall system that aims to improve efficiency and reduce negative impacts.

past farming practices often depleted soil and polluted waterways.

THINKING BROADER

We also need to re-think how we pasture animals. Regardless of whether livestock are grazed in open fields or in woods, the ecosystem can benefit greatly by using “management-intensive grazing,” in which animals are frequently rotated from one small area to another. This reduces runoff, while retaining nutrients and building soil carbon. It’s a smart practice, even if it does run counter to the romantic image of a farmer releasing sheep or cattle into a large pasture for the summer.

Another common notion we need to move beyond is that a field, once cleared, should stay a field. Farmers have become accustomed to the idea of raising crops on a rotating cycle of, say, three years; but there is also value in thinking about far longer rotations of a hundred years or more, during which the very use of the land would change, not just the crops. During such a long period of time, a suitable woodland parcel may be either partially or fully cleared for livestock and/or crop production. (The decision of how much to clear would be driven by many factors, including soil qualities.) The parcel could then be managed to revert back to a wood, though perhaps one containing more fruit and nut trees than it had before. Perhaps 50 years in the future, this land could be cleared in some fashion again, starting the cycle anew.

Such a system would bring with it some of the same kinds of benefits of short-term crop rotations, including reducing soil erosion and increasing organic matter, only on a whole different level. It could also serve to sequester large amounts of carbon, since neither land clearing nor farming, if done right, need result in net carbon emissions.

In this light, the new wave of Maine land clearing that is now beginning could be viewed as the beginning of something much broader, and far more beneficial, than just creating new farm fields. Here is an opportunity to craft a dynamic and innovative system for sustainably producing more food.

Maine should never have been farming 6.5 million acres in the 1880s—or at least not those particular 6.5 million acres in that manner. The landscape across much of southern and central Maine during that period was basically devoid of trees, except for orchards. Land was often cleared right up to the banks of rivers and streams. Pastures were often over-grazed and crops worked with little regard for soil conservation. As a result, we depleted our topsoil and despoiled our waterways.

It’s a common story for our species: We push things beyond where they can be sustained, until the point where they collapse. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

FROM “BEST PRACTICES” TO “NEXT PRACTICES”

As Maine now moves to farm more, we need to learn from past mistakes. For instance, if we are to clear more land—whether fully or partially—it’s critical that we do so in ways that prevent soil erosion. Loss of topsoil not only constrains farming’s future, but results in the silting of brooks and streams, destroying spawning habitat for critical fish species. And if we are farming more, we need to be far more conscious of any fertilizers and pesticides we use, because their harmful residuals invariably end up in our waterways.

This makes good sense on more than environmental grounds: After all, if a major reason to expand farming in Maine is to grow more food, it’s foolhardy to grow more food on land at the expense of food that could be harvested from our waters.

Yet as we expand farming, we don’t know exactly what practices to follow to ensure that we are doing things smartly. Consider, as just one example, how we can’t say with any certainty what size buffer strip is required to maintain water quality downstream from a newly cleared farm field. It depends on so many factors, such as the vegetation in the buffer, the way the farm field is managed, the nature of the terrain, and more. Beyond this, it’s critical to design any buffer strip to not only meet the needs of today, but the needs of the future, when extreme weather events are likely to be more dire and more frequent. No standards of this sort have yet been developed, because the research has not yet been done.*

Farmers are used to the notion of “best agricultural practices,” various operational standards articulated in farm publications and, at times, in law. But when it comes to farmland reclamation, the standards that exist are insufficient, either because they weren’t designed to take the full ecosystem into account, or because they don’t respond to the realities of a changing climate. We need to move beyond our current “best practices” to what I call “next practices.”

One of many reasons to step up our game is that we can no longer ignore the impact of carbon emissions.  It may seem that clearing woodland would result in a net increase in atmospheric carbon, but that need not be the case. Any wood that is suitable for lumber could be utilized in a way that ties up that carbon for 100 years or more. Some of the other wood could be converted into bio char, a soil amendment that sequesters carbon while increasing the fertility of the new field. And any remaining biomass could be used as heating fuel or to generate power, replacing fossil fuel now used for those purposes. In addition, there’s a range of ways in which to clear land, each with a different carbon footprint. For instance, pigs can be pastured on partially cleared land as an alternative to using heavy equipment to remove roots. Beyond all this, any newly-created field could be farmed in a manner that sequesters more carbon than did the pre-existing woodland by utilizing no-till methods, aggressive cover cropping, and other regenerative practices.

Simply put: There are many different ways to prepare land for farming and to then farm it—all with different impacts.

* This is a focus of a PhD dissertation now being undertaken by Amanda Beal, a long-standing food systems advocate who serves as Maine Farmland Trust’s Policy and Research Fellow.

RESTORING OUR PLANET

If we are smart about it, Maine could simultaneously advance local food production and environmental health, while also making strides to reduce carbon emissions. The strategy would involve clearing land—both fully and partially—in accordance with forward-looking environmental standards, and then pursuing production practices that wisely steward that land. Partially cleared parcels would become laboratories for forest farming and silvopasture. Fully cleared parcels would be farmed in ways that both produce high yields and sequester carbon.  And wherever livestock are pastured, we’d see widespread use of management-intensive grazing. The whole system would be managed on a multi-generational rotation of 100 years or more.

Of course, that is only part of what’s needed. Despite increased demand for local farm products, there is not yet sufficient demand to support significant increases in production at prices that work for farmers. For an assortment of reasons, often political, many of our farmers don’t make enough money to cover their true costs of production. To abridge my extensive writing on this topic  I’ll simply say that I’m confident that more economically viable markets will develop over time.  But until that happens, the last thing that makes sense is for those farmers to grow more.

Still, perhaps it’s good—in a way—that we have time to think things through before we reclaim millions of acres of former farmland, time to further study and refine “next practices.”

Maine has the chance to do something truly significant, something that is powerful on its own and even more powerful because it could be a model for others. Maine can do far more than feed itself and help feed New England: Through our farmers, Maine can lead the way to restoring our planet.

Heather and Philip Retberg were among the farmers featured in From the Land: Maine Farms at Work, my 2009 collaboration with photographer Bridget Besaw. In it, Philip offered these thoughts:

The farm itself is an ecosystem. Our crop is grass. Our harvesters are chickens and cattle and pigs and lambs and all the microbes and earthworms that live off what we do as we rotationally graze our animals. The entire ecosystem benefits… It increases the fertility of the soil, increases its ability to capture sunlight and do that incredible photosynthesis thing that feeds all life. Our job is to steward the land with the resources we are given: sunlight, water, earth, and photosynthesis.

Our future lies in farms like this.

The Great Farm

Jackson, Maine

In 2013, young farmers Graham and Emily Mallory purchased about 200 acres of what had been “The Great Farm” in Jackson. Though entirely wooded when they bought it, this property had once been an expansive stretch of open land, worthy of the name given to it Boston tycoon Israel Thorndike.  In 1806, Thorndike established the farm, which was once over a thousand acres in size. The story of The Great Farm’s demise is a familiar one, common throughout central and southern Maine. By the late 19th century, a lot of Maine farmland was farmed too intensively, depleting the soil and polluting the water. The outcome was collapse. Graham and Emily had previously raised grassfed livestock on leased land in the nearby town of Monroe. In purchasing The Great Farm, their goal was not only to expand their livestock operation, but to “reclaim and restore” this historic property, returning it to a sustainable form of agriculture. With some help from their animals, they have created 100 acres of forest pasture that intermixes trees and grass. The initial cut of wood went to biomass. Cattle followed, feeding off round bales that returned organic matter to the soil. Next came pigs, turning over the soil between the stumps and tilling the earth for a grass crop. The transformation is astounding—on multiple levels. The couple’s operation, aptly named Pastures of Plenty, utilizes “management-intensive grazing” that works with the natural ecosystem, not against it. Their grassfed beef and woodland pork can be purchased on their website popgrazing.com  

More and more farmers are working with nature to grow food. Shown here Phillip Retberg and son Alexander.

Young Dairy: Dostie Farm

This is another story in our series about young dairy farmers in Maine. In many ways, dairy farms are the cornerstone of Maine’s farming community.  Dairy farmers steward large tracts of farmland for feed and forage, while supporting the feed stores, equipment retailers, and large animal vets that all Maine farms rely upon. Of the 400,000 acres of farmland that will be in transition over the course of the next decade, we anticipate that a large percentage of that land is currently in dairy farming. What will happen to that land, and the infrastructure and communities it supports?

While farming in Maine is growing, Maine’s dairy industry has not seen the same growth. The younger generation choosing to be dairy farmers are few and far between, often deterred by low milk prices and high start-up costs. Those who have bucked the trend and have decided to become either first-generation dairy farmers or to continue their family’s farm, have an important role to play in ensuring that dairy farms remain the foundation of Maine’s farming landscape.

Egide Dostie Sr. grew up on a dairy farm, and started his own farm in Skowhegan in 1972. Eventually his sons joined him on the farm : Egide II is a partner in the farm business, and Robert works full-time on the farm, and in 2000 they moved the operation to a larger farm property in Fairfield. They sold milk to Oakhurst until 2013, when low milk prices led them to make the tough decision to sell most of their cows and heifers and switch to raising cattle for beef.

This is not an uncommon story. Small dairy farms like Dostie struggle to stay profitable, and across New England many have decided to switch to a different type of farming, or stop farming altogether.

But what is less common is that the story of Dostie Farm doesn’t end there. In fact, the family is in the midst of writing a different chapter:  this spring, Dostie Farm will start milking cows again, producing organic milk for Stonyfield.

When I visited the farm on a cold November morning, the sun was just coming up, but the three Dostie men had already been long at work on skid steers, tractors, and trucks, feeding their steers and heifers. In the barns the heifers were contentedly eating certified organic hay cut from the Dostie’s fields, in preparation for spring milk production.

Edgie II walked me through the barns and showed me their revolving milking parlor, one of only a few of its kind in Maine, and as we talked it was evident that he was anxious to get back to milking. Dairy farming is something you’re stuck with, “like a disease” he joked. When Stonyfield approached them, they couldn’t say no. “We decided to go organic, which was a different route than before, smaller and more manageable,” said Egide II. With organic, “you know what you’re getting paid as long as you can produce the milk.”

Over the past few years the Dosties have been preparing for the future of the farm in other ways, too. The family has worked with Maine Farmland Trust to protect their farm properties with agricultural conservation easements, ensuring that their land will forever be available for agriculture. The Dosties can use the capital from the sale of the easements to reinvest in their farm, and to help transition the farm from one generation to the next as Egide Sr. retires and his sons carry the business into the future.

Between their farm properties in Fairfield and Skowhegan, the Dosties grow hay and corn for feed, and also tap over 4,000 trees for maple syrup. Edgie II said they don’t make money on the syrup, but they don’t lose money either, and “we get to be outside, doing what we love.”

For an hour or so, I watched and took photos as the Dosties worked in a synchronous and almost wordless flow, which, said Egide Sr., is “what happens when you’ve done this together as long as we have.” As I left the farm, the sun was still climbing, rising over a farm that’s entering a new phase. Every dairy farmer I spoke to this year has said the same thing: in towns where even just 10 or 20 years ago there used to be several dairy farms,  now there are one or two…or none. In the Skowhegan and Fairfield area, there are still a handful of active dairy farms, and Dostie Farm will continue to be among them, adapting and re-calibrating to keep farming.