Belfast, Maine, September 22, 2011—After years of decline, farming in Maine is on the rise. But farmers still face challenges, and communities can help farmers address them. A new guide released by Maine Farmland Trust and American Farmland Trust, provides specific examples and suggestions of what local officials and residents can do to support farming in their communities.
“There is great opportunity at the local level,” explained John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust. “Some communities have made a real difference by enacting farmer-friendly land-use ordinances, encouraging farmers to enroll in current use taxation programs, or committing funds to farmland protection projects,” he said.
Piotti should know. In addition to his work on agriculture statewide, he is from Unity, where farming has been the centerpiece of local community development efforts for the past fifteen years. During this period, Unity’s land-use ordinance was recast to include several provisions to support farms and protect farmland, while a grass-roots organization named Unity Barn Raisers began a farmers market and a community meals program that showcases local food.
The newly published guide, Cultivating Maine’s Agricultural Future, describes some of what’s been done in Unity and many other Maine communities, including Turner, Cape Elizabeth, Monmouth, and Bowdoinham. Beyond this, the guide provides a set of tools from which a town can choose those best suited to its circumstances and situation.
“The goal is to give communities practical ways that they can support local farms and keep farmland in farming,” said Cris Coffin, New England Director of American Farmland Trust, which co-published the guide with Maine Farmland Trust. American Farmland Trust has published similar guides in Connecticut and New York, which she says have proven popular and useful.
“Residents and local officials alike want to see farms in their community thrive. But they don’t always know what it takes to make that happen. These guides provide the details and direction they need,” Coffin said.
Cultivating Maine’s Agricultural Future is tailored to the specific needs and opportunity facing farms here in Maine, where agriculture is changing. According to federal agricultural census, the number of farms in Maine has grown to over 8,000 from about 7,000 ten years ago, but many of the new farms are small. According to Piotti, the growth of small farms that primarily serve local markets is changing what local official can do to support farming,
“This guide fills a void,” said Piotti. “We get requests all the time from municipal officials and local land trusts who aren’t sure of their options. Now there is in one place a summary of what can be done, and suggestions of how people can get started and where they can go to learn more,” he said.
At present, the guide is available as a printed document from Maine Farmland Trust, or as a downloadable file on the Trust’s website. Ultimately, the website will also provide companion information and direct links to other resources.