Small family farms are a huge part of what makes Maine special. Farms provide jobs, drive local economies, maintain cultural connections and keep land open. More importantly, last year when the supply chain broke down and supermarket shelves were empty, our small farms literally kept us fed.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

Despite all this, they’re in trouble. A recent agriculture census reveals that between 2012 and 2017, the state experienced “the loss of about 10% of Maine farmland … 573 farms,” as reported in the Bangor Daily News, and a “15.8% decline in average net income per farm … to $16,958.”

As bad as that is, it just got even worse for our dairy farms, an industry which, according to MaineBiz, “produced 593 million pounds of milk, which was $115 million in sales in 2020.” Recently, Horizon milk canceled its long-standing contracts with Maine’s organic dairy farms (Boo on you, Horizon!), resulting in deep uncertainty about the future of our farms.

I am aware that a true solution to this crisis will require progressive legislation and major economic investment, and props to Maine Farmland Trust and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association for all they are doing.

However, I have an (admittedly, slightly selfish) idea to offer.

We all know Airbnb, yes? I have a love/hate relationship with it. I love the options it provides, I hate what it does to the availability of affordable year-round housing. My feelings aside, there’s no denying its impact. A 2020 article by MaineBiz reports that “Maine’s Airbnb hosts earned $100 million from more than 534,000 guests in 2019,” with steady increases since.

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Imagine if you could harness everything good and fun about the platform, bringing that cash flow to farms without undermining the surrounding housing market. In fact, revolving around the core nature of the farm.

The idea is this: a syndicate of farms, connected by trails, each offering overnight accommodations for riders and their horses as they traverse the state.

Equine Business Association reports that horse sports are a $102 billion industry in the U.S., and word on the street is that the fastest growing equine market is women around 50 who want to trail ride over distances with their horses. That’s me.

Picture it: Working farms create a safe turnout with shelter, provide water and hay and offer up lodgings for the rider. This could be anything from a simple tent space to a room in the main house, to a small cabin with a kitchen and hot tub – whatever the farm wants to provide. Prices would vary accordingly.

Each farm would be inspected and certified to be safe by a veterinarian and all riders would provide a horse health certificate at booking. Riders would provide all the actual care for the horses as well as whatever feed and supplements the horses require, all of which would be kept in lockable totes the rider can rent or purchase.

Included in the booking fee would be transporting the totes from farm to farm. That way, at the end of a long trail ride, riders arrive to find their gear waiting for them. Secure trucking of the horse, if the distance is too great to ride in a day, would be an option as well.

It is long-riding with the stress removed. It’s the dream for riders and a potential money-maker for small farms.

Maine already has an enviable reputation as an outdoor destination. We are perfectly poised to make this thing hum. A more detailed version sits in my files, free for the taking to anyone who wants to make it a thing.

As for me, I’ll be shaking out my sleeping bag and dreaming of the trails.

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