MOFGA Receives Funding for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training for Agricultural Organizations

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) has received funding to offer training to agricultural services providers and organizations on diversity, equity and inclusion. In MOFGA’s 10-year impact plan adopted in 2020 the organization committed to creating a food system that is just and equitable for all as a central component of its education, training and advocacy work. Part of this effort is recognizing that the work of building a just and equitable food system is ongoing and that, as service providers to the agricultural community, we are constantly learning how to better center and support marginalized voices. 
Data reflects a shift in Maine agriculture making this work even more urgent. In Maine there has been an 8% decrease in the number of white farmers and a loss of 573 farms since 2012; in the same timeframe farmers identifying as Black or African American have increased by 76% (according to 2017 data from USDA), and farmers identifying as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+, or having disabilities currently represent over 3,500 farms throughout the state. Given these statistics MOFGA believes that the future of farming in Maine, if not the entire Northeast, is going to be much more diverse than it has been, and service providers trained in issues of social and racial justice, cultural competency and diversity skills will be better prepared to equitably support this trend, grow the beginning farmer population, and create a more just and sustainable agricultural system. “We’re thrilled to be able to offer direct training for service providers in Maine as well as facilitation for organizations to improve our collective understanding of biases, barriers and the specific needs of farmers and food producers from diverse backgrounds,” noted Ryan Dennett, MOFGA’s farmer programs director.
Maine has a strong network of agricultural service providers that collaborate across government and nonprofit sectors to support farmers’ needs. These organizations meet quarterly as the Maine Farmer Resource Network (MFRN) and hold power and influence in shaping Maine’s agricultural landscape. This project will expand the knowledge of this network and build relationships with underrepresented people whose voices have been historically suppressed. Partner organizations involved in the project include Cultivating Community, Land for Good, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF), Maine Farmland Trust, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Wolfe’s Neck Center and others who participate in the Maine Farm Resource Network.  
Jimmy DeBiasi from Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets (MFFM) said the following of his organization’s involvement in the project: “This project will bring a lot of value to farmers’ markets in Maine. MFFM’s involvement in this project will help our organization understand our own limitations in cultivating a more equitable, diverse and just atmosphere in our work and at markets. In turn, with our support, we anticipate that market managers will take more proactive steps to address issues [of] race, class and equity in their groups as well.” 
Additionally, Leslie Forstadt from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension noted, “I value the opportunity to spend some time increasing my understanding of historical discrimination and how this affects current access to land and farming opportunities for aspiring and current BIPOC farmers. These are important lessons to learn and conversations to have if we are going to be part of diversifying opportunities for farmers in Maine.”
The comprehensive and long-term project is underway now and work will continue through February 2024. Dennett said, “We recognize the need for in-depth and continuous improvement in our diversity, equity and inclusion work. We have built in structures to this program to enhance the effectiveness of trainings by incorporating sharing of behavior and program adaptations among participants, accountability-partner relationships, and facilitated discussions within organizations to continue the work of inculcating social justice in Maine agriculture services long after the grant term has ended.” 
The training program is open to all Maine agricultural service providers, and interested individuals or organizations can contact Ryan Dennett ([email protected]) to learn more about how to be involved.

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