The state wants to help make Maine farms more energy efficient and accessible to visitors, two themes that emerged at the 71st Maine Agricultural Trades Show.
The event — held annually at the Augusta Civic Center — provides an atmosphere to walk through, observe and educate the public about the wide range of issues and opportunities facing Maine's farmers. This year's forum, held Jan. 10-12, unofficially drew nearly 5,000 people, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture.
"Kennebec Valley Community College had a booth this year, and we invited the Maine Office of Tourism to exhibit, as well," says Mike Marchetti, director of agricultural resource development for the state. "We're partnering with tourism officials to see how we can be active partners in getting visitors interacting more with our farms and farmers, marketing our annual agricultural fairs and other assets."
The agriculture department — one of 40 major agricultural organizations, committees, companies, nonprofit groups and agencies populating the forum with more than 100 exhibits offering information, networking and even tasty food samples — set up outside the main exhibit hall this year.
"We wanted to send the message to exhibitors, this is your event. We're the hosts," Marchetti says, one of the subtler changes from past years.
Farmers and their advisers also took in a wider array of exhibitions on energy efficiency, with booths offering the prospect of long-term cost savings via small-scale biomass, solar, wind and geothermal systems.
The KVCC booth gave out information on various noncredit energy efficiency courses, and KVCC representatives led forums titled "Renewable Energy Options for the Farm." The program, sponsored by Orono-based Maine Rural Partners, sought to connect farmers with information and sources of capital for retrofits.
"We are telling farmers there are a number of ways to reduce their input costs," Maine Rural Partners spokesman Jeff Nichols says. "One of the big ones is energy."