Organic Farming Gives Maine’s Economy a Boost

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According to the 2014 Organic Survey released by the USDA in September, Maine added the most new organic farms of any state between 2008 and 2014. The state added 139 new organic farms during the time of the survey, for a total of 517, or roughly 10 percent of the 8,173 farms the USDA counted in 2012. In an economy that has faced significant challenges in recent years, this is good news. 

An article in the Bangor Daily News attributes the growth to innovative, private sector programs that connect new farmers with the experienced, help lower the cost of farmland, and make it easier for growers to get their products to large buyers.

One example is the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Their Farm Apprenticeship program has connected over 1,500 people wanting to learn about organic farming with experienced farmers. Many apprentices receive room, board, a stipend, and training in exchange for their labor. They also run a 2-year long Journeyperson Program that provides hands-on support, training, and mentorship to help new farmers successfully bridge the gap from farmworker or apprentice to independent farmer. Since its inception in 1999, 93% of all participants in the Journeyperson Program are still farming today, and 87% of them have remained in Maine.

Also helpful to new farmers is the Maine Farmland Trust, offering assistance in locating land, developing business plans and obtaining loans. Structured as a land trust, MFT is the state’s leading force in protecting farmland, often working in partnership with local and regional land trusts.

Small farmers also need help gaining entry to and managing the logistics of getting their products to retailers and institutions. That’s where one cooperative, Crown O’ Maine, is able to lend a hand. They buy produce from small farms and sell it to retailers throughout New England, as well as local colleges and restaurants.

Finally, there’s the demand. As long as the people of Maine and its neighboring states value locally grown organic produce, this new crop of farmers will continue to grow.

Links:

1. Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

2. Main Farmland Trust

3.  Crown O’ Maine