BELFAST, Maine — After years of decline, farming in Maine is on the rise, boosted by the high number of women entering farming and the establishment of new, small family farms.
John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust, said Monday the growth of small farms that primarily serve local markets is changing what local officials can do to support farming. The number of farms in Maine has grown to more than 8,000 from about 7,000 10 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Farmers face challenges, Piotti said, and although helping farmers isn’t always on the public’s agenda, there are ways Maine’s communities and residents can assist farmers with a number of issues.
“There is great opportunity at the local level,” Piotti said. “Some communities have made a real difference by enacting farmer-friendly land-use ordinances, encouraging farmers to enroll in current use taxation programs, or committing funds to farmland protection projects,” he said Monday.
Successful efforts in his hometown of Unity show how communities can assist the farming sector. Piotti said. In Unity, farming has been the centerpiece of local community development efforts for the past 15 years. During this period, Unity’s land-use ordinance was recast to include several provisions to support farms and protect farmland, while a grass-roots organization named Unity Barn Raisers began a farmers market and a community meals program that showcase local food.
Piotti said a new guide now provides specific examples and suggestions of how communities can support farming.
“This guide fills a void,” said Piotti. “We get requests all the time from municipal officials and local land trusts who aren’t sure of their options. Now there is in one place a summary of what can be done, and suggestions of how people can get started and where they can go to learn more.”
The guide was published jointly by the Maine Farmland Trust, a statewide nonprofit group that works to keep agricultural lands working, and the American Farmland Trust.
The guide, Cultivating Maine’s Agricultural Future, describes some of what has been done in Unity and many other Maine communities including Turner, Cape Elizabeth, Monmouth and Bowdoinham. Beyond this, the guide provides a set of tools from which a town can choose those best suited to its circumstances and situation.
“Residents and local officials alike want to see farms in their community thrive. But they don’t always know what it takes to make that happen. These guides provide the details and direction they need,” said Cris Coffin, New England director of American Farmland Trust, which co-published the guide with Maine Farmland Trust.
The guide is tailored to the specific needs and opportunities facing farms here in Maine, where agriculture is changing, Piotti said. It is available as a printed document from Maine Farmland Trust, 338-6575, or the file can be downloaded from the trust’s website at http://www.mainefarmlandtrust.org/. Ultimately the website also will provide companion information and direct links to other resources.