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January 15, 2015

State picks 11 pending projects for $423K in farm grants at Maine Agricultural Trades Show

File Photo / Tim Greenway
File Photo / Tim Greenway
Jason Merritt, operations manager at Rosemont Market & Bakery's produce warehouse in Portland, stands by some recently delivered vegetables in a 2014 file photo.

Eleven of the 47 proposals to the state's Agricultural Development Grant Program have gotten the tentative nod for a total of $422,855 in preliminary cost share grants.

The winning projects, which are pending approval by the Maine Purchases Division and the successful completion of a state contract, were announced Wednesday night by Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walter Whitcomb at the three-day 74th Annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show, which runs through Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center.

The grants are for innovative projects in market promotion, market research and development, value-added processing and new technology demonstration.

The projects identified to receive funding are as follows:

• AgMatters LLC (Vassalboro) – Food safety education for Maine crop distribution systems

• Aurora Mills & Farm LLC (Linneus) – Establishing cover crop seed cleaning capability inside the State of Maine, with associated demonstration of growing practices

• Buck Farms (Mapleton) – Maine Malt House

• Crooked Face Creamery (Norridgewock) - Market expansion of a national, award-winning artisan creamery

• Downeast Salmon Federation's Aquatic Research Center (E. Machias) – Downeast Salmon Federation mobile smokehouse

• Good Shepherd Food Bank (Auburn) – Modern storage facility for year-round distribution of local farm produce to food-insecure Mainers

• Maine Agricultural in the Classroom (Augusta) – Increasing Maine agricultural markets and nutritional awareness of Maine crops through elementary education

• Peaked Mountain Farm (Holden) – Commercial propagation of common milkweed and butterfly weed

• Tide Mill Organics (Edmunds Township) – Developing retail markets for Maine organic poultry

• University of Maine (Monmouth) – Increasing local plum production for farm market diversification

• Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine (Orono) – 2015 wild blueberry major metro enhancement program

"Selected proposals incorporated one or more of four priorities: market development for the processing of animals/livestock throughout Maine; improved utilization and profitability of Maine-grown grains; market enhancements for nutrition and/or food safety; and projects that focus on alternative markets or diversification," Whitcomb said in a prepared statement.

The Legislature in 2014 approved language for the department that improved access to the Agricultural Development Fund after the department identified the agricultural industry need to accelerate new market development, improve technology adoption and promote farm products produced in the state.

Small farm explosion

The annual Maine Agricultural Trades show, one of the largest of its kind in the state, includes more than 111 exhibits, three days of sessions and a speech by the governor. Some 5,000 people are expected to attend.

In his speech Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage emphasized the importance of agriculture to the state's economy.

"In the last five years, the number of small farms in Maine is exploding," he said. Years ago family-owned farms were declining, he said, but "now we're seeing many young people getting back into farming. I often hear Maine could become the breadbasket of the Northeast."

Referring to his proposed state budget, LePage said he is tired of the decades upon decades of Mainers being underemployed and the state being characterized as poor.

"It's time we said enough is enough, throw poverty aside and become more prosperous," he said.

In the last U.S. Department of Agriculture census of agriculture, the value of Maine's products increased 24% to more than $763 million. Maine leads New England in the number of farms at 8,174.

Courting wholesalers

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association opened the first day of the conference with a series of presentations, along with its annual meeting. Speakers emphasized selling to wholesalers like restaurants, hospitals and health food stores to help farmers stabilize their income. They also talked about ways to extend the growing season, including using solar and other technologies to cut electricity prices to heat and light greenhouses.

Said John Naylor, co-owner and treasurer of the grocer Rosemont Market and Bakery, "In our production kitchen [where the store turns older produce into ready-made soups and other foods] we are looking at how to widen the window of perishable products."

He added, "We are looking for warehouse space to take all different grades [of produce]. We hope the kitchen also will be able to pickle, preserve and ferment produce, so that requires all different grades."

Read more

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Feds give $750K to train new Maine farmers

MOFGA day, $450K in grants to highlight Maine Agricultural Trades Show

Small Maine farms and niche food makers must be crafty to distribute to broader markets

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