Young organization aims to help start-up farmers find their footing

Posted Jan. 05, 2013, at 11:18 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — Want to start a farm? A coalition of statewide farming support organization wants to help and plans to launch a website to help set aspiring growers, cultivators and producers on the right track.

The Maine Beginning Farmer Resource Network will have its first big showing at the 2013 Maine Agricultural Trades Show, which will be Jan. 8-10 at the Augusta Civic Center.

“This is our big coming-out party,” said Tori Jackson, a farm management and commercial agriculture specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Jackson said the partnership was formed over the past year, and has linked groups, such as the Cooperative Extension and Maine Farmland Trust, in an attempt to ensure that organizations don’t duplicate efforts and provide services that complement one another.

The coalition will provide information and support to people looking to get a start in agriculture, dairy production, wood lot ownership and more.

“We tried to think about every aspect of farming in Maine,” Jackson said.

The website that the network hopes to launch in time for the trade show will guide people eyeing a future in the industry through the process of land acquisition, developing a business plan, and financing their new venture. The website, which will continue to grow, also answers common questions, such as how a farmer can get their soil tested or where he or she can find a large-animal veterinarian.

The initial site is hosted by the Cooperative Extension at www. umaine.edu/new-farmers/answers-to-basic-questions, and will be updated as the network receives feedback.

“Every person who decides they want to get into farming is coming from a different place,” Jackson said. Some come from a big cities and have had little exposure to the industry, some are recent college graduates, some want a second career, and others come from a long family farming tradition.

Erica Buswell, a land projects coordinator and beginning farmer coordinator with the Maine Farmland Trust, said the number of small farmers in Maine is on the rise.

She said the trust, which aims to protect farmland in the state and support the future of the farming industry, has been receiving an influx of applications from people outside the state who are looking to work with the trust to acquire land for farming.

She said the trend is growing thanks to an increase in community-supported agriculture that has prompted more people to get into producing vegetables, eggs, meat, fiber and flowers to sell at farmers markets.

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