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Meet Jacki Martinez Perkins – Organic Dairy and Livestock Specialist

Jacki Martinez Perkins and Eva

Jacki Martinez Perkins and Eva

September 2019

As MOFGA’s organic dairy and livestock specialist, Jacki Martinez Perkins has a strong background and a formal education in commercial dairy production. Having grown up in central Maine on an 80-cow organic dairy, with a mother who is the only certified veterinary homeopath for large animals in the state, she followed a familial passion and received an associate degree in dairy farm management from Vermont Technical College. She has spent many years in the industry working on machinery on several dairy farms; has been herd manager for a large Maine dairy operation; and artificially inseminated cows for Genex.

Her passions are focused around an addiction to livestock and sustainably integrating them into the food systems of our future. This has led her to much experimentation on her own homesteads in Maine and, formerly, in Vermont. Perkins brings to MOFGA the knowledge she gained from her upbringing, education and her experiences abroad, to bear on the unique challenges that face Maine’s dairy and livestock producers. She is focused on the future of organic agriculture in Maine.

Q. Can you tell us what it was like to grow up on an organic dairy farm in Maine – and to be the daughter of a large-animal vet?

A. The feeling I remember having most was envy of my peers for their “freedom” during school vacations. I didn’t fully appreciate the very special diversity that organic farming affords, until I was able to organize a biology class field trip to my home. The organic dairy farm was able to showcase every aspect of our year-long curriculum, and the pride I felt from that will always stay with me. Another of the many life lessons that I will always carry with me is that, if something is broken, it’s always worth a try to fix it. Success will bring you joy, and failure leaves you no worse off than you were before you started. Much like our beloved Maine motto, “Dirigo,” farming has instilled in me independence and self-reliance. I lead.

Being the daughter of a large animal veterinarian has afforded me a level of confidence that I don’t see in other people. Being my mother’s assistant on farm calls allowed me to witness many different management practices, and the consequences of both good and bad choices. Seeing the suffering of injured animals and witnessing their recovery instilled in me a calm and understanding that has made being a mother in my own right that much less stressful.

Q. What are some of the ways you envision integrating livestock into food systems? How did your experiments (mentioned above) work out?

Permaculture models offer many examples of integrating livestock into a perennial or semi-perennial system, many revolving around rotational grazing. Nature has been built to take care of itself, and as stewards of the land, we would save ourselves a lot of money and heartache if we took the time to absorb the lessons that she has to teach. I’ve spent a lot of time reclaiming abused or neglected properties by intensively, or rotationally, grazing a series of livestock species across specific areas. This approach has allowed for both the animals and the ecosystem to thrive by holding to the model of diversity that nature has shown us.

For example, I’ve started a pasture rotation with cattle followed by sheep and ending with poultry. Cattle prefer to eat certain types of grasses, sheep will choose other varieties, and chickens distribute manure over the field in their search for high-protein dung beetles and flies. A combination of goats followed by pigs lends itself well to clearing sapling pressure, provided an intensive grazing approach is used. One challenge that I have faced is owning a frustrating quantity of land that has not yet reached its yield potential. I have too much to mow but too little to graze throughout the season. While yields have been improving greatly from year to year, I still need to supplement forages.

Q. What have you seen abroad that may contribute to the economic and environmental health of Maine organic farms?

Many concepts are slowly working their way into the collective consciousness of our existing farmers, and as young people, who are a generation removed from farming models and are doing research and returning to an agrarian model, move to Maine to stake their claim, these ideas are coming with them. I believe that one of the bigger lessons even the “transplants” would find economically and environmentally beneficial is knowing how to evaluate infrastructure, and when to use what exists or to start from scratch. Having had the opportunity to see many operations, some of the most valuable information tucked into the corners of my brain is what hasn’t worked for farms, and why. The best advice I can give to anyone starting out is to visit farms; that’s part of why MOFGA started its Farmer to Farmer in the Field series. Who knows better what works and what doesn’t than those in the trenches?

Q. What are you most hopeful about concerning Maine’s dairy and livestock producers?

My hopes for the future of Maine’s dairy and livestock producers actually aligns with MOFGA’s mission. I see the most hope in marketing to our local consumers, who are ready to cut down on their carbon footprint by keeping our staple foods from traveling all over the country before they reach our tables.

Q. As MOFGA’s organic dairy and livestock specialist, what does your day-to-day work involve?

My day-to-day work varies across a spectrum of answering questions via phone or email, connecting people with services, visiting farms and helping troubleshoot any pressing issues, acting as a liaison between farmers and MOFGA Certification Services, helping host and teach at events, and staying abreast of issues in agriculture worldwide.

Q. Do you want to share anything else with readers of The MOF&G?

That I’ve had an addition to my family! Eva MacKenzie Martinez Perkins, born on July 30, has joined my husband, Rafael, my son, Fidel, and me.

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