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December 20, 2017

Maine Food Insider: Ag trades show adds farmers’ markets to its mix

Photo / lori valigra
Photo / lori valigra
The 76th annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show, shown in this January 2017 photo from the Mainebiz archives, attracted the most attendees and exhibitors in the event's history. This year's show will include, for the first time, the 10th annual Maine Farmers' Market Convention on the final day of the Jan. 9-11 trades show.

The role farmers' markets play in the increasingly active local foods economy will be the theme at the 10th annual Maine Farmers' Market Convention in January, which is being held in conjunction with the Maine Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center this year.

The convention is Jan. 11 at the civic center, while the trades show is Jan. 9-11.

The conference is for market vendors, managers and volunteers from across the state. The theme this year is how to keep "local" competitive in the global market, according to a news release from the Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets, which hosts the convention.

The convention is the primary opportunity for people interested in Maine's markets to come together for inspiration, guidance, and networking opportunities, the organization said.

Not only is it the first time it has been held at the Augusta Civic Center and in conjunction with the trades show, it's also the first time it's been held on a weekday, said Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets. Hallett said registration fees are 30% to 50% lower this year.

She said although moving the conference up from its usual date at the end of January made her nervous, the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has been supportive and great to work with.

"Both the department and the staff at the civic center seem really excited to welcome marker farmers and vendors," she said.

Hallett said the new venue and date "is an exciting opportunity for Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets to reach even more farmers' market stakeholders. "We typically have attendees from all over the state, but with the added attraction of the Ag Trades Show, we expect more will come in from more distant areas and make it a two-for-one trip," she said. "The majority of Maine farmers' markets are in rural communities, so it's extremely important to us to make the annual convention as accessible as possible."

As the local foods movement grows, so does the number of farmers' markets in the state. When the state Department of Agriculture first began keeping track in the 1980s, there were about 30 markets in the state. The organization said there are now 115 summer markets and 35 winter markets.

The growing farmers’ market movement

The evolution of the convention mirrors that interest. The first was in 2009, organized by the Downeast Business Alliance, a division of the Washington Hancock Community Agency and held at the Schoodic Education and Research Center in Winter Harbor. In subsequent years, the convention was held in Belfast, Freeport, Hallowell and Fairfield.

The current federation grew out of the convention. "By 2010, a major theme of the conventions became need for the establishment of a statewide association of Maine's farmers' markets," the organization said. "By 2012, this came to fruition with the decision to restart the Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets."

The predecessor organization had been active from 1991-97. The new organization took over organizing the convention in 2013.

Philip Ackerman-Leist, professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., will be the keynote speaker. His address, "Hacking the Local Foodshed: Packing the Toolbox," will focus on how farmers' markets are society's best representations of "food democracy" and "living economies," and how those who run markets can capitalize on the anchor role that farmers' markets play by linking economic value to democratic values, according to a news release from the Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets.

Hallett shared an email from Ackerman-Leist in which he said, "In an era when so many things seem outside our sphere of influence, I can't imagine a more reassuring way to reconnect, not just with people, but also a sense of empowerment, than by putting a group of community-minded farmers and food entrepreneurs together in a warm room in the middle of winter. And what better place to do it than in Maine, a model of local markets and community control for the rest of U.S.?"

He said while some people get excited about international trade, "I am thrilled to be trading 'local ideas' with marketers in Maine who are finding new ways to rebuild not just local markets, but also community-based food systems."

The conference will include more than a dozen workshops and panel discussions, roundtable discussions and drop-in sessions.

Topics include, "A Holistic Approach to Branding Your Farmers' Market," "Law and Order: Farmers' Market Unit – A Walk Through the Legal Issues That May Impact Your Market," "Fundraising, Friendraising, and Finding Sponsors in Your Community and Beyond," and "New Apps and Digital Tools for Market Management and Direct Marketing."

There will be an onsite WIC farmer authorization training, a SNAP sign-up table with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry scales testing, and exhibitors. For more, visit the federation's website.

Registration, which closes Jan. 2, is required to attend.

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