AUGUSTA — Palermo farmer Daniel MacPhee grows fruit trees and organic seeds on the 80-acre farm he runs with his partner, Corinne Wesh, but what the young couple really hope to grow is a future for their kids in Maine.
MacPhee, one of about 5,000 farmers and other attendees expected in Augusta over three days for the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, said help from the Maine Farmland Trust was crucial to grow both fruit and a farming future for their kids, Bennett and Annah, at their farm, Blackbird Rise.
MacPhee credited the Maine Farmland Trust, a nonprofit land trust organization that works to protect farmland, support farmers and advance farming, with allowing the couple “to be able to become productive members of the farming community in Maine,” he said. “There are viable markets (for Maine-grown goods). So we’ll have something to pass on to our kids.”
He said Maine Farmland Trust officials helped the couple work out a deal with their neighbors in 2012, when the neighbors wanted to move but also wanted to see their longtime farm go to another farming family. The trust also helped the couple later acquire another 15 acres across the road from their Palermo farm that had historically been part of the same farm. And they’re taking classes to learn about the business aspects of farming to increase their chances for success long term.
“Getting a piece of land is one thing, making it viable is another,” said MacPhee, who is also farm manager for Kennebec Valley Community College’s new sustainable agriculture program. “Maine Farmland Trust has given us the tools to make that work.”
Walter Fletcher, a dairy farmer from Pittsfield, also credited the trust with helping him expand his dairy farm, increasing the odds it will provide both he and his son with a chance to make a living on the farm.
John Piotti, president of the trust, said the trust purchased 200 acres Fletcher was eying for an expansion of his farm from someone who wasn’t selling it cheaply enough for Fletcher to afford. The trust purchased it and resold 100 acres of the parcel to Fletcher, with an easement on it restricting its use to farming and at a reduced price, and sold the other 100 acres to another farm, in a similar arrangement.
To fund such farmer assistance programs, the trust is seeking to raise $32 million, in addition to the $18 million it has already raised, to fund such programs with the ultimate goal of preserving the future of farming in Maine.
Piotti said because of aging farmers, some 400,000 acres of Maine farmland could be in transition in the near future, meaning the farmers may decide to sell their land. He said land often sells for a higher price if it’s sold for development, not to remain as farmland. He said protecting that land from development benefits everyone.
Wednesday will feature a new youth day designed to promote youth involvement in agriculture with special drawings, activities, and live animals.
The agricultural show continues at the Augusta Civic Center Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 9 a.m. each day.
Other highlights of the show on Tuesday included:
— State organizations, such as the Maine Milk Commission and Board of Pesticides Control, had meetings and training sessions at the show. In the auditorium of the civic center, many vendors had displays of tractors and other farm equipment, or offered services to farmers.
— Janet Spear, a Nobleboro farmer, offered information about agricultural tours, at her booth, which in the past have included trips to Italy, Germany and Switzerland and, closer to home, Maine and Vermont farming-related sites. Stops on agricultural tours have included cheese factories, of course farms, and, in Italy, cooking lessons.
Spear, whose husband, Bob, is a former state agriculture commissioner, said the trips are a good way for farmers and others to see how things are done elsewhere and pick up lessons they might apply at their own farms.
— Jim Peterson, of Dresden, a regional representative for Connecticut-based Bio-Safe Systems, hawked disease-and-insect-control products in the lobby of the auditorium. The firm sells both organic and standard sprays to keep pests and disease away from gardens.
“Some people tend to think if it’s organic, it’s going to cost too much and not work,” Peterson said. “We work to develop products that do what we say they’re going to do. And leave a light footprint.”
He said he’s seen increasing interest in sustainable, organic products from farmers.
The agricultural show continues at the Augusta Civic Center Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 9 a.m. each day. Wednesday will feature a new youth day designed to promote youth involvement in agriculture with special drawings, activities, and live animals.
Keith Edwards – [email protected]