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July 23, 2019

Maine Open Farm Day will focus on public experience

Photo / Maureen Milliken Winterberry Farm in Belgrade is one of nearly 150 in the state that will take part in Open Farm Day on Sunday, July 28.

Close to 150 farms, creameries and other related businesses will open to the public Sunday for the 30th annual Maine Open Farm Day, a record number at a time when small farming and related industries are increasing in the state.

The state has upped the focus on public experience for the annual event, as Maine agri-tourism and experiential tourism grows, and events by organizations that promote visits to a variety of farms have also sprouted this year.

Farms and related businesses from across the state participate in the event, sponsored by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and its Division of Agricultural Resource Development. The department has increased focus on public participation, with a printable "passport," for recording experiences and an online survey. It's the second year for both. Participants, both farms and the public, are also being encouraged to share photos on social media, tagging #MaineOpenFarmDay.

The DACF has an interactive map that shows where farms are, and what they offer for the day, from alpacas and blueberries, to skillet throws and wagon rides.

Participating farms have demonstrations, displays, farm-raised products for sale, barn and field tours, milking, hay rides, nature trails, beautiful scenery, and samples for tasting. The day has also sprouted some new events tied that incorporate a variety of farms:

  • The Merrymeeting Trailblazers, Maine Farmland Trust and Kennebec Estuary Land Trust are sponsoring a farm-to-farm bike ride with three different routes that visit a variety of farms in Bowdoinham, Richmond and Topsham.
  • The Midcoast Cheese Trail is promoting nine farms and creameries that are open for the day in Appleton, Waldo, Waldoboro and Whitefield. 
  • In Springvale, a four-mile self-guided walk features six farms and orchards, including two mushroom farms and sheep farm.

The department describes Open Farm Day as "a choose your own adventure, with education for all ages — visitors meet the people of Maine agriculture — Maine's farmers and the businesses that support them."

"Open Farm Day presents a wonderful chance for learning — much of which is hands on — about the opportunities and challenges present in agriculture today and the innovative ideas that our farmers are implementing on their farms as they produce the food, fiber, and other agricultural products that we benefit from in so many ways," said Amanda Beal, commissioner of DACF, in an open letter on the department's website.

Gains, challenges since 2012

Maine's farming industry has had gains, but also challenges in recent years. According to DACF, since 2012:

  • the number of farmers and small Maine farms has increased;
  • the state's largest and most productive farms are expanding;
  • the number of women in farming and the number of young farmers has nearly doubled;
  • Maine had a 53% increase in the value of food sold directly from the farm to consumers;
  • organic farm sales increased by 65%;
  • more than 7,800 acres of farmland were added to the registry of conservation land;
  • the number of farms using no-til conservation increased by 66%; and
  • the total number of farms in Maine declined by about 13% and about 10% of the state's farmland was lost to development.

"Clearly now more than ever, Maine’s farming industry needs our support to limit future declines and to maintain positive momentum," Gov. Janet Mills said in a recent news release.

Mills, the grandaughter of Aroostook County potato farmers, said not only is it a day to recognize the hard work farmers do, but also a chance to recognize and celebrate the state's diverse and expanding agriculture industry.

"I hope that you see Maine Open Farm Day as I do, a day to step into the shoes of Maine’s farming families," she said. "When you visit participating farms, you get to experience firsthand the teamwork, innovation and patience that’s required  to succeed."

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