AUGUSTA, Maine — Can you teach a new farmer old tricks?

At the Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center, Jan. 13-14, a coalition of local farm service providers aims to do just that.

The Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine, established in 2012, will hold a series of free workshops to help people who have been farming for less than a decade thrive in the field and hopefully attract newcomers to this rewarding but challenging life.

“We are expecting a banner year, attendance-wise, and are reaching out to military veterans interested in farming,” Tori Jackson, associate professor of agriculture and natural resources at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said.

“We’ve seen a huge cultural shift toward local food, and with that comes increased interest. More people want to become farmers,” Jackson, who also is the BFRN chairperson, said.

Through expanded workshops the network will tackle a diverse array of topics, from financing a farm business to planning for farm succession, such as transferring land to the next generation to going organic.

Holistic management and tips on harvesting wood along with “adding cross-country ski trails in the winter to diversify income and things like maximizing wood lots” are a few practical skills show-goers will learn Jackson said.

The network consists of members of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Maine Sea Grant and Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society, among other like-minded groups and is a clearinghouse for farm business success.

Maine has 8,000 farms and rising Jackson said. “We are still on an upward trajectory. People are still interested in getting into agriculture but are lacking business skills.”

Often new farmers “like the idea of contributing to the food system,” she said.

“They picture in their mind the idyllic life of the farmer. Our job is to bring them into reality,” she added.

Farmers, though gungho and hearty, are not always business-minded. Financing a farm and transferring land to a new farmer or transitioning to organic will be hot topics.

“Farmers are traditionally not well financed. They don’t have extra capital for legal costs,” Jackson said.

The Legal Services Food Hub will be on hand to field questions on land leasing and employment law.

Safety and other farming best practices also will be addressed.

“Farming is the second most dangerous occupation in the state,” Jackson said, adding that learning to outfit a tractor with safety equipment is “super important” to sustain all types of farm work.

“Putting the puzzle together and finding pieces they didn’t have and helping them achieve success” is the goal, Jackson said. “There will be all kinds of vendors. It’s a great networking opportunity and provides context for the life they want to have.”

The workshops start at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13. For more information, visit maine.gov/dacf/ard/market_promotion/ag_trade_show.shtml.

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.