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Updated: March 21, 2024

Maine's organic food industry looks to grow, with a $1M federal boost

Cheese board Courtesy / Balfour Farm Balfour Farm in Pittsfield makes and sells organic cheeses like the ones shown here.

Four Maine farms and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association will share more than $1 million in federal funding to develop the state's organic food market.

The funding, announced Wednesday by Maine’s two U.S. senators during National Agricultural Week, comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Market Development Grant Program. 

Recipients include Balfour Farm, an organic dairy farm and creamery, which will receive $99,511 to expand farmstead milk processing for organic cheese production.

Courtesy / USDA Rural Development
Heather Donahue, an owner of Balfour Farm, in the cheese cave.

Heather Donahue, who owns the 100-acre farm in Pittsfield with her husband, told Mainebiz they would use the money to add equipment. 

"This will increase our access to larger organic food markets both here in Maine and regionally in New England," she said. "Our project focuses on securing equipment that will enable us to process our milk more efficiently, reduce worker fatigue, and increase the products we bring to market."  

Farm aerial view
Photo / Provided
Balfour Farm in Pittsfield

Full list of grant recipients

  • Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association: $639,449 to strengthen consumer and institutional demand for local organic dairy products
  • Aurora Mills & Farm, Linneus: $100,000 to expand soybean production capacity and for the purpose of nitrogen-fixing soils.
  • Crystal Spring Community Farm, Brunswick: $100,000 to increase access to local organic products at large-scale Northeast grocery chains by providing custom packaging of produce for small organic farms.
  • Balfour Farm, Pittsfield: $99,511 to expand farmstead milk processing, to boost organic cheese supply in the northeastern United States.
  • Blue-Zee Farm, Penobscot:  $97,509 to create and grow a niche regional market for fresh and frozen edamame, while using nitrogen-fixing soybeans for healthy soil.

In a 2020 study cited in Wednesday’s announcement, Maine ranked second in the country after Vermont for the per capita availability of organic food. The study found that for every 100,000 living in Maine,  there are 37 organic farms, and nearly 1,000 farms across the state growing organic produce.

“Maine’s organic agricultural industry continues to thrive with the support of the USDA’s grant programs,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “This investment will give Mainers access to healthier, better quality foods and help strengthen the resiliency of our state’s food supply chain.”

In a separate statement, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said, “I am proud to support Maine’s organic farmers as they provide healthy, quality foods to our communities and boost our state and local economy.”

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