Summary Annual Activities for June 2013 Board Meeting
Aroostook County Agricultural Specialist
More and more the seed of "Aroostook feeding the northeast" is taking root and it is fun and exciting to be a part of the progress. As worldwide pressure mounts on farmland, I feel it is imperative that we continue to help steer the bottom-up change. The natural resources here could lead to vibrant local communities if local people have buy-in and get re-energized about the place where they live and work. I'm starting to call this the Aroostook Renaissance.
In the past 8 months, several large-scale commodity growers in Aroostook have started expanding their land base rapidly. I've heard locals that have been here a long time say things like, "I haven't seen that piece in potatoes since I can't remember." They are buying up or locking up in long-term leases (normally 5-10 year) the highest quality soils and largest fields. Our work here is both urgent and important. This land will likely not be available again in the near future to help build strong local and organic food systems. We need to continue creating viable opportunities that allow family scale farming operations to thrive and keep their land.
New/Transitioning Farmers: This spring I have experienced 40% increase in call/email volume from people who are interested in producing food in Aroostook. Most of these are folks who are not yet ready to "jump in," but the level of interest is exciting and indicates a need for more farm training programming based in Aroostook.
Grains Projects: In early April 2013 I was able to attend the Organic Valley annual meeting/25th anniversary, which was helpful in developing my understanding of how their farmers view the coop and how we can create a cooperative effort toward growing grains here. I have worked with Cooperative Extension and various growers to develop what we think will be a workable organic grain rotation system for Aroostook. There is now a core group of six growers who are going to move forward in "proofing the system" on their farms. A field day is planned for July 9 at the Aroostook Farm Extension site in Presque Isle to look at cropping and tillage options for our growers. I am planning a couple of trips to PEI to visit Mark Bernard's fantastic organic grain and feed operation. This project has given me the opportunity to build solid relationships with a number of farmers who have not historically been part of the MOFGA family.
USDA Red Meat Facility: Elizabeth Sprague of Maine Farmland Trust has started to dive in to the business planning portion of this. She is working with Stan Maynard to understand the need and help finish a viable plan. I am also working with a farm family in Smyrna to transition a 40 cow portion of their operation over to certified organic grass-fed so that they can sell beef to that market niche. A brand/identity under development for the beef may lead to its use by other Aroostook beef producers. He is working to better understand the size, price points, and preferences of the different market segments. We would then have a much better idea of what sort of beef system it makes sense to build here.
Northern Girl/Pea Project: We are working to get peas back as a crop for Aroostook. I have been working with them to understand the agronomics, economics, and production practices needed to grow processing peas here. I have sourced various seeds from processing pea seed companies and found two cooperators that are each going to grow 1 acre of shell peas to be processed and frozen at Northern Girl.
Other Activities: Catholic Charities has started a pilot project to grow part of their food needs. They are ready to plant 3 acres (1 acre each of beets, turnips, and rutabaga). I am part of their technical/advisor group.
I have continued to work with the folks at MicMac Farms as an advisor to them on greenhouse and field veggie /fruit production.