|Diane Schivera has been involved for more than 20 years with the livestock industry in Maine. Photo by Gary Dunn|
By Diane Schivera, M.A.T.
MOFGA Organic Livestock Specialist
When I began working for MOFGA in 1998, we certified one goat and 27 cow dairies; and five beef, six lamb, two wool, five egg, three broiler and two turkey producers. We had little contact with conventional livestock farmers except for those who exhibited at the Common Ground Country Fair annually.
Initially I spent most of my time communicating with those certified organic farmers and helping Eric Sideman run MOFGA’s certification program.
One of my funniest experiences was farmers’ reaction when I ate meat at lunch meetings. They assumed I would be a vegetarian because I was a with MOFGA. A livestock specialist who didn’t eat meat would be very incompatible!
Early on we helped the organic dairy farmers establish the Maine Organic Milk Producers, which still represents the concerns of those farmers.
We also participated in a Vermont meeting that resulted in organizating the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance – an active organization that produces a newsletter and an annual field days conference, held twice in Maine.
My contact with other livestock-focused service providers was at Livestock Planning Team meetings, when folks from Cooperative Extension, UMaine and the state livestock specialist and veterinary staff gather bimonthly to discuss livestock-related issues in the state and to coordinate their events. We also organize and teach workshops together. Initially I was a bit of an outlier speaking about organic management, but MOFGA was soon accepted as a contributor to workshops and events, and all methods were presented as options for farmers. This acceptance increased over the years with greater acceptance of the health and environmental concerns of some conventional practices. Also the market for organic products and consumer awareness increased. This collaboration enabled farmers to see all possible management methods.
Over time I started attending meetings or conferences of the Maine Beef Producers Association and the Maine Pork Producers Association, and I served on the Maine Sheep Breeders Association board for at least 10 years.
The Maine Alternative Poultry Growers Association (later the Maine Poultry Growers Association) started around 2002 with a meeting that Dr. Mike Opitz from the UMaine Diagnostic Lab initiated. I edited its newsletter, and was a board member at the start and rotated on and off until it ceased to exist in 2017, when we held a conference with excellent speakers and only three farmers came.
Cooperative Poultry Processors LLC existed from 2004 to 2009, originally to establish a mobile poultry processing facility. Due to regulations and financial restrictions, we ended up buying a large trailer. It was older and not mechanically fit to move, so it was used at two stationary sites. Eventually a permanent building was constructed in Richmond. The operation met with many difficulties – especially regulations surrounding poultry processing, which continue to plague poultry processing plants in Maine. Balancing food safety and the realities of poultry and meat processing can be messy for regulators. It was also difficult to find employees to manage and operate the business. The pay was low, the job part-time. It was difficult to establish a price that would cover processing costs and that farmers could pay. So we dissolved the cooperative.
MOFGA also participated in More Maine Meat with the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society (MESAS) and in the New England Meat Conference. MESAS continues to work to establish processing facilities that charge what farmers can pay and to be a conduit for processors, farmers and markets. The New England Meat Conference, held in 2014 and 2018 in Manchester, N.H., offered workshops on topics ranging from raising healthy livestock to processing methods and cooking exhibits. A major goal was to improve communication among those in the meat industry. A few Maine farmers or processors attended and presented sessions, but many folks were unwilling to travel to New Hampshire.
The Maine Cheese Guild is one of MOFGA’s success stories! We helped establish it in 1999 when the 10 or so Maine cheesemakers came to our site in Unity. Today it holds monthly meetings, workshops, wins awards in national cheese competitions, holds an annual cheese festival and has a booth at our Fair.
The Maine Grass Farmers Network (MGFN) was established with the help of a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant in 2004. We collaborated with farmers Paula and Sumner Roberts of Meadowsweet Farm, Cooperative Extension’s Rick Kersbergen and Dee Potter, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the National Grazing Lands Coalition. MGFN continues to hold its well-attended annual conference, and it organizes pasture walks in grazing season. These are marginally attended, as folks are busy haying and moving fences. Rick Kersbergen and I take the lead on organizing these activities. A few farmers participate on the board, but most are too busy. MGFN owns a well-used and appreciated no-till drill that it rents to members for $100 per use. A manure spreader we purchased with help from a Conservation Innovation Grant aged out of use. We now collaborate with the New England Grazing Network, established with funding from a Cedar Tree Foundation Grant. The network will hold a conference and is working on improving grazing management support for farmers.
MOFGA contributed to the Northeast Pasture Consortium for many years, and I was a farmer representative on its board for seven years – one year longer than usual because it couldn’t find a replacement among the busy farmers. USDA established the consortium to help farmers who used grazing in their systems. Its board consists of farmers and representatives of government organizations, including NRCS, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Cooperative Extension or professors from Northeast universities. Its yearly conference educates farmers about research projects and results in the Northeast. Most importantly, the farmers construct a document prioritizing information to help direct researchers in their projects. The consortium also advocates in Congress for farm-related issues by speaking to legislators – especially regarding the farm bill. In 2016, after almost 15 years, MOFGA hosted the consortium’s conference at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, Maine, because of the inn owners’ support for farmers. Consortium members still talk about the wonderful accommodations and food!
MOFGA worked with Maine Women’s Agricultural Network Beginning Women Farmers and Holistic Management International to teach holistic management training from 2001 to 2006. Each year 10 to 15 women spent 10 Sundays learning holistic management, which covers many aspects of successful farming and life, from setting a holistic goal that encompasses farm and quality of life to financial management to biological and pasture management. I taught primarily about biological and pasture management.
I have appreciated working with these providers and farmers throughout Maine for the past 21 years. My life has been so much richer for all those contacts.