As farmers in Cape Elizabeth prepare for growing season, they’re finishing up a winter full of work on a plan to keep their industry viable in the town.

Since November, a committee of farmers has been putting together an agricultural profile of Cape Elizabeth farms and a plan for how the town can help farmers continue to make a living in an increasingly difficult business. Earlier this month, the finished report was presented to the Town Council, and, now, the committee and the council are working together to turn the ideas into reality.

The town’s comprehensive plan, which was adopted in October, indicates that maintaining Cape Elizabeth’s rural character is a top priority for residents. In order to figure out exactly how to keep farms running, the town asked those who know best what challenges farms are facing – the farmers themselves.

The council asked the committee to return with a report in a year, but, less than six months later, the 40-page packet is ready with suggestions about everything from ordinance changes to school programs that would make farms more visible in the community.

“It’s quite comprehensive,” said Penny Jordan, who chaired the committee, called the Cape Farm Alliance. She manages the wholesale business and marketing for the Jordan Farm.

In order to create the report, the 33 members of the committee split up into smaller groups. Each looked in depth at the different ways they could fulfill their mission to make farming more viable in the community, such as through outreach, the schools, town government and conservation and preservation.

John Greene, of Ram Island Farm, led the group that explored ways government could ease restrictions to farmers by amending ordinances and tax requirements. Currently, the committee and the council are discussing changes to the town’s sign ordinance, which would “allow (farmers) a little more flexibility,” he said, so that farms will be able to have bigger signs than other businesses, literally making them more visible in the community.

Another one of the alliance’s first initiatives – a Web site, – is already online. In addition to history and news about farming in Cape Elizabeth is a page displaying what’s in season (currently, parsnips) and a recipe for cooking the featured produce.

Advertising the freshest vegetables is part of the committee’s promotional program. By joining the “What’s Fresh?” e-mail list, residents can keep on top of “what’s available right here in town,” Jordan said.

Starting in September, students will have their pick of the freshest foods, when the committee implements a program to provide produce from the local farms in the cafeterias’ salad bars. Other ways the committee would like to work with the schools is to host field trips to the various farms and start student-run gardens.

“There’s a lot happening,” Jordan said.

And it’s not stopping with Cape Elizabeth, according to Frank Strout, who got involved in the committee through his work on the comprehensive plan.

“Other towns are watching what we’re doing,” Strout said, adding that the leaders from Cape could take the committee county wide.

Though initially the group was formed for the purpose of creating the report, the members have decided to take on a broader charge – to maintain an ongoing alliance among farmers that will meet regularly to share farming tips and marketing tools, in order to both support each other and enrich the community.

“It’s exciting that now they have one voice and are working together,” Greene said.

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