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April 2, 2021

MOFGA launches diversity, equity training for agricultural service providers

A Black woman dressed in traditional Somali clothing speaks at a microphone as others gather around her next to them is a table piled with produce and a sign that says New roots cooperative farm. Photo / Maureen Milliken Isnino Ibrahim, a member of the Isuken Co-operative at New Roots Farm in Lewiston, speaks at an event in October 2020. As Maine's farming industry grows more diverse, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardners Association has launched a training program focused on equity and inclusion.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has launched a long-term training program to help agricultural service providers and organizations address new needs of the industry as its workforce becomes more diverse.

The diversity and equity program, funded by a grant, is open to all agricultural service providers and is available through September 2024.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer direct training for service providers in Maine as well as facilitation for organizations, to improve our collective understanding of biases, barriers and the specific needs of farmers and food producers from diverse backgrounds,” Ryan Dennett, MOFGA’s farmer programs director, said in a news release. “We recognize the need for in-depth and continuous improvement in our diversity, equity and inclusion work."

The program includes opportunities for organizations and businesses to share behavior and program adaptations, offers facilitated discussions within organizations, and more. Dennett said that it is set up so the training has an impact "long after the grant term has ended.” 

MOFGA cites increasing diversity in the state's agricultural industry that "makes the work even more urgent." The number of farmers identifying as Black or African-American has increased by 76% since 2012, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 3,500 farms in Maine have owners or workers who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ, or with disabilities.

"Given these statistics, MOFGA believes that the future of farming in Maine, if not the entire Northeast, is going to be much more diverse than it has been," the release said. Service providers trained in social and racial justice issues, cultural competence and diversity skills will be better prepared to equitably support the trend, as well as help increase the beginning farmer population and create a more just and sustainable agricultural system.

The project will also expand the knowledge of the Maine Farmer Resource Network, a group of agriculture service providers that shapes the state's agricultural landscape, as well as build relationships with underrepresented people whose voices have been historically suppressed, the release said.

Some of the major partner organizations involved are Cultivating Community; Land for Good; Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Maine Farmland Trust; University of Maine Cooperative Extension; and Wolfe’s Neck Center.  

“I value the opportunity to spend some time increasing my understanding of historical discrimination and how this affects current access to land and farming opportunities for aspiring and current BIPOC farmers," said Leslie Forstadt, of the Cooperative Extension. "These are important lessons to learn and conversations to have if we are going to be part of diversifying opportunities for farmers in Maine.”

Jimmy DeBiasi, of Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, said the project will bring value to farmers markets in Maine. "MFFM's involvement in this project will help our organization understand our own limitations in cultivating a more equitable, diverse and just atmosphere in our work and at markets," DeBiasi said. "In turn, with our support, we anticipate that market managers will take more proactive steps to address issues of race, class and equity in their groups as well.” 

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, based in Unity, has 4,100 memberships, representing more than 8,000 members.

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