LINCOLN, Maine — Several feet of snow still cover the sloping grounds at Ireland Farms, but owner Earl Ireland is already well into farming season. He and farmworker Gordon Tratt were filling more than 100 pots for seedlings in his greenhouse at 6 Sweet Road on Tuesday.
His greenhouse farmstand won’t open until May 1, but it already has about 150 customers and drawn about $18,000 in revenue thanks to the Maine Senior FarmShare Program, which kicked off March 7.
The statewide program, town Welfare Director Gilberte Mayo says, allows residents 60 years old or older — 55 if Native American — who earn as much as $20,147 per year in a one-person household or as much as $27,214 per year for a two-person household to receive $50 worth of fresh, local produce from Maine farms for eight weeks during the growing season for whatever produce they seek.
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources program “helps the farmers get seeds and other things they need to start the season paid for and it gives them exposure in the marketplace to seniors,” Mayo said, “and the seniors obviously get fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Ireland and Stone Wall farms are Lincoln’s only participants in the program. A listing of participating farms statewide is available at getrealmaine.com or by calling the toll-free number 877-353-3771.
About 17,000 seniors and more than 120 farmers statewide will participate in 2011. Interested residents must sign up for the program at participating farms or farm stands, state officials said.
With the 150 claimed so far, Ireland’s Farm has about 190 shares still available, Ireland said. Stone Wall Farms owners Alfred and Robin Fugazzi did not immediately return a telephone message Tuesday, but according to the Agriculture Department listing, they had about 300 shares left. They also run a farm stand opposite Mainely Rent To Own at 157 West Broadway.
Last year the state agriculture department gave Ireland’s 75-acre farm 383 shares, he said.
“It’s a good program,” Ireland said, “because we know we’ll have that money coming in. It helps us pay for fertilizer and seeds.”
Besides operating the farm stand, Ireland Farms sells its produce to Hannaford Supermarket in Lincoln and, less often, to the Hannaford in Millinocket, Ireland said.
The farm offers corn, cucumbers, a variety of onions and peppers, potatoes and tomatoes, among other vegetables, and an array of flowers.