A Portland nonprofit that has helped create more than 50 farm businesses in the last eight years has received a nearly $600,000 federal grant to assist more Maine farmers.

Cultivating Community is the recipient of a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The money will be used for land access, help with product diversification and market access, and to provide training to new Americans, veterans and other small-scale producers.

Cultivating Community is one of only two organizations in the country to receive all three farmer and rancher grants, in 2009, 2014 and this year, said communications and development leader Lesley Heiser.

“I think it reflects the work that we are doing,” Heiser said. “It is success with the grants, but also the integrated approach we have with developing farmers, the fact that we provide training, education, support, land access and marketing opportunities.”

Cultivating Community’s farmer trainings have helped create 52 farm businesses, and it estimates that the new $597,252 grant will generate 30 more while supporting 12 beginning farmers and providing services for up to 490 others, according to a news release from U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

“It’s been so exciting to see new groups of Mainers enter farming in recent years, thanks to organizations like Cultivating Community that have helped them get started and grow their businesses,” Pingree said. “Agriculture has been especially beneficial in creating economic opportunities for Maine’s new American and veteran populations.”

The three-year grant includes a new focus on helping veterans get into farming. Cultivating Community has worked with refugees and immigrants in Maine, but the state also has a large population of veterans who may be interested in agriculture, Heiser said.

“We recognize that when people come back from being engaged overseas they may want to get into farming and might not have resources to do that on their own,” she said.

The new grant dovetails with access to the 62-acre Hurricane Valley Farm in Falmouth, a nonprofit leased from the Falmouth Land Trust this year. The farm will be the new home for Cultivating Community’s farmer training program in the Portland area, which previously used much smaller plots in communities around the city, Heiser said.

The group’s “incubator” program trains farmers over a period of four to six years, and it is designed to help people who are starting a business or who just want to get better at growing vegetables.

“We offer what we call a gardener-to-farmer pipeline,” Heiser said. “You don’t have to commit to having a farm business to work with us.”

Roughly 40 percent of Cultivating Community’s $1.3 million budget is funded with federal grants, Heiser said. Private foundation grants make up another 40 percent, with the remainder coming from donations and earned income.

Cultivating Community’s partners on the project are the Maine AgrAbility Program, the Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association of Lewiston-Auburn, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Maine Farmland Trust, Community Financial Literacy and Coastal Enterprises Inc.

Peter McGuire can be reached at 791-6325 or at:

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Twitter: PeteL_McGuire