Farmers, gardeners and anyone with an interest in the state’s agricultural landscape will head to Augusta later this month for a series of trade shows, forums and workshops aimed at everyone from longtime farmers to those just getting into the business of growing things.
The annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show runs Jan. 9-11 at the Augusta Civic Center. Along with its standard displays of equipment, lectures, training sessions and discussion, there is a series of free workshops presented by the Beginning Farmer Resource Network for new and aspiring farmers.
And, for the first time ever, the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets is holding its annual farmers market convention concurrently with the agriculture trade show at the Augusta Civic Center on Jan. 11.
Combining events into the annual trade show makes perfect sense, according to the state’s commissioner of agriculture.
“Having the Maine Farmers’ Market Convention at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show is a big win for farmers and the organizations that work with them,” Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walt Whitcomb said. “The recent growth of farmers markets and locally sourced foods is good for both Maine farmers and consumers.”
Much of that locally sourced food market is driven by newer farmers in the state and, according to the most recent USDA census, close to one-third of Maine farmers have 10 or fewer years of experience on their farms, which is the definition of a beginning farmer.
“Starting a farm is not an easy or clear process, so we hope to make the path simpler and streamlined for Mainers who are still in their first decade of farming,” Tori Jackson, University of Maine Cooperative Extension education, said. “UMaine Extension is one of 25 agricultural agencies and organizations working together to expedite the opportunities for aspiring and beginning farmers, and helping them connect to resources for farm business success.”
Panel discussions and workshops will focus on programs and services available to new farmers in Maine, challenges facing farming and the growth phases of a beginning farm.
Meanwhile, at the annual Farmers Market Convention, vendors, growers, friends and volunteers are expected to participate in a variety of workshops and discussions on the topic of Keeping ‘Local’ Competitive in the Global Market: Policies, Trends and Resources That Will Impact Maine Farmers Markets.
“Maine’s farmers markets are collectively operated by the market members, so they tend to attract people who are collaborative by nature,” Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets, said. “The convention is an opportunity for them to collaborate on a broader scale, learning from market members from across the state and country, while sharing stories of the successes and challenges of the previous season.”
Members of the general public often assume, Hallett said, that farmers markets “just sort of happen” because they don’t see the months of behind-the-scenes planning, strategizing, scheduling and production undertaken by market farmers.
“The Maine Farmers Market Convention is part of that [planning] cycle,” Hallett said. “It provides farmers, market managers and volunteers an opportunity to learn from each other, guest speakers and exhibitors.”
Among this year’s guest speakers is Lucie Amundsen, co-owner of Minnesota-based Locally Laid Egg Company and an expert at using social media and local press to advertise her products.
A Maine DACF Inspector of Weights and Measures will be conducting scales testing to assure scales used to weigh produce and other food products are accurate, as part of the convention, and a representative of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service will be meeting with farmers and others with questions or interest in signing up to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or food stamps — benefits.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention will also offer a training for farmers on the Women, Infant and Children — or WIC — federally funded supplemental food program and how they can participate with their crops, poultry or livestock.
Limited registration registration spots are still available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 207-487-7114.
“This year’s event will highlight the interactive connection between the vibrant, technology-driven nature of modern agriculture and the local food, know-your-farmer lifestyle that farmers’ markets help promote,” Whitcomb said.
“The theme of this year’s Maine Agricultural Trades Show is “Exploring Connections” in Maine agriculture,” John Bott, director of communications for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said. “It is designed to bring farmers, producers, vendors, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and the general public together under one roof to network, problem solve, share ideas and success stories.”
Later this month, the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association hosts the annual Grow Maine Green Expo, a business-to-business horticulture trade show at the civic center.
On Jan. 24, more than 70 experts in the areas of plants, hardscape, plant nurseries, equipment and business management will attend to speak directly with those involved in Maine horticulture.
January, Bott said, is a great time for growers to gather.
“This is a good time of year for people working in agriculture to participate since it is not during the growing season and occurs before maple tapping season,” Bott said. “A lot of important connections will be made that will yield results in the spring, summer and fall of 2018.”
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