Maine farmers are diversifying their crops to meet the demands of customers who are passionate about eating locally and increasingly savvy in the kitchen. That’s what the 2012 census data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture appear to show, according to state agriculture leaders.

Maine farmers are growing more trendy foods, sometimes responding to the menu requirements at farm-to-table restaurants and sometimes driving them. When the last census was completed, in 2007, kale was grown over a total of just 2 acres in Maine, on 10 farms, though the greens are well-suited to Maine’s climate. Five years and a green smoothie craze later, 53 farms grew kale over 16 acres.

The number of pigs and hogs being raised in Maine more than doubled to 8,923, despite high grain prices.

“You get bragging rights in Portland if you can source your foods locally,” said Walter Whitcomb, Maine’s agriculture commissioner. “So the value of those animals has gone up. There’s an incentive now, and we certainly look to that to continue to grow.”

Maine has bucked the broader trend in farming. The number of farms in the United States declined by 4 percent from 2007 to 2012. In Maine, the number increased slightly, to 8,174. The market value of Maine’s agricultural products increased 24 percent, to more than $763 million in 2013.

The local food movement has helped, Whitcomb said.

“I think it is kind of a push-pull with the exponential growth in farmers markets and the growth in the number of farms that participate in” community-supported agriculture programs, in which customers typically buy shares of the harvest directly from the farm.

In 2007, Maine had about 63 farmers markets. By 2012, that number was up to about 100. Today, there are about 135 markets, although that number includes winter markets that might be considered duplicative.

For farmers like Stacy Brenner, who has been farming for 13 years, eight of them at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough, diversification has always been key. She and her husband grow flowers and about 120 varieties of vegetables. “Anything we can get to grow in Maine,” she said. “And people seem to be more open to leafy greens, more open generally to a variety of vegetables.”

Her typical customer has a Vitamix blender at home and is looking for kale and spinach for a health-conscious smoothie. Broadturn has a farmstand in Scarborough and another at Aurora Provisions in Portland, and runs a farm share program. She pushes her customers to try new things, and she learns from their restaurant experiences.

“Brussels sprouts are all the rage now,” she said.

Broadturn Farm also grows potatoes, another crop that has had an interesting transition since the 2007 census, when 464 farms were growing potatoes in Maine. In 2012, there were 741 farms growing potatoes, but the total acreage hadn’t gone up much. That’s because competition with Western growers has cut into the Maine potato’s marketability, Whitcomb said. As a result, some potato fields have been turned over to hay land, primarily for feeding horses. But more growers are adding parcels of potatoes here and there for sale on the fresh market. And not just at farmers markets.

“A lot of these mid-sized Maine growers are supplying the Hannafords and the Market Baskets and the Walmarts,” Whitcomb said.

The census data show other significant shifts on Maine farms. Farmers added irrigation systems on nearly 10,000 acres of farmland, an increase of 47 percent. In 2012, 386 farmers were growing in greenhouses, up from 125 in 2007.

Whitcomb said he will mine the Census of Agriculture for months to come as he makes his way from one speaking engagement to another.

The positive trends he sees in the report include a big boost in aquaculture, with the value of sales increasing by 185 percent, to $75 million, much of it in farmed oysters and mussels.

There are more maple producers in Maine now than in 2007, up 10 percent to 517, and 27 percent more trees are being tapped.

“It’s kind of a fun thing to do of course, but there is also a growing level of sophistication to these operations,” Whitcomb said. “It’s not just putting out four buckets on the trees in the yard. It’s 80,000 taps in one of the operations near the Canadian border.”

Another area of growth, with still-untapped potential, Whitcomb said, is agri-tourism. That’s a wide-ranging category of farm activities, including apple picking, cheese tastings, hay rides and corn mazes. Income to Maine farms from agri-tourism was up 78 percent in the five-year period, with $1.8 million in sales in 2012.

“We see positive trends around the state and it’s nice when the numbers help us verify that it is true,” Whitcomb said.

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