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76 Maine Farmers Receive Maine Farm Emergency Grants

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May 11, 2020

Maine. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) and Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) announced today that 76 Maine farms have been awarded grants through the Maine Farm Emergency Grants program. The two organizations collaborated to fundraise and administer the grant program in response to the needs of Maine farmers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Sarah Alexander, Executive Director of MOFGA, notes, "We're thankful that the funders and supporters of this program stepped up to have a big impact for farms in Maine at this critical time." One hundred percent of the foundation funds that were raised for the grants will go directly to the farm recipients to assist farms with a range of issues brought on by the pandemic. The grants range in amounts from $325 to $2,000, and a total of $141,100 will be distributed through the program. Farms in nearly every county received funds, and include various types of farm businesses--from dairy farms to mixed vegetable growers, wild blueberry producers, orchardists and a hopyard. A key qualifier for the grant was that farms must have participated in a MOFGA or MFT program; many of the farm recipients have interacted with both organizations.

"The diversity of farms that applied for and received grants speaks to how many farms across the state have been bolstered by MFT and MOFGA's programs in the past," said Bill Toomey, President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust. "It also shows how far reaching the impacts of this pandemic are for Maine's farm businesses."

The farms that received emergency grants are all adapting their businesses in multiple ways to meet changing markets and adjust to uncertainty this season. A few of the challenges farms are facing right now include the loss of sales due to the closure of restaurant accounts, the time spent reconfiguring business plans and finding new ways to deliver products to customers, inconsistent farm labor, and the time, labor and supplies spent on new tasks, such as extra sanitization and packaging steps.

At Nezinscot Farm in Turner, Gloria Varney and her family run a dairy as well as a farm store that encompasses a market, cafe, fromagerie, charcuterie, bakery and fiber studio. "Cafe and in-store sales make up the majority of customer visits at our farm," said Gloria, "and cafe meals were basically removed overnight. We've had to make significant online improvements to allow customers to order a larger variety of items online for car-side pickup, delivery, or shipping. This has required additional hours from store staff and our family. And just this spring we've seen a significant loss of income due to the cancelation of spring major events: Maine Maple Sunday, Easter Weekend Brunch, and Bates Graduation."

Jon and Christelle McKee of Copper Tail Farm in Waldoboro, one of the Maine Farm Emergency Grants recipients.The pandemic has meant canceling "Kid Hugging Days," their annual spring income-generating events. Photo by Jenny McNulty for Maine Farmland Trust.

The canceling of spring events impacted Copper Tail Farm in Waldoboro, too, where Christelle and Jon McKee raise goats and specialize in farmstead cheese, yogurt, kefir, cajeta, goat milk caramels, and goat milk soap. "We had to cancel Kid Hugging Days, our major spring income generating events at the farm," said Christelle. "We rely on these events to purchase the supplies we need to start our season. The pandemic also greatly affected our Farmers Market, whose steering committee decided to close the market. We had to quickly pivot to create new avenues for our products. We opened our farm store and joined three different online marketplaces, and created an online pre-order system for our farmers market customers."

Many of the 76 farm recipients identified similar unanticipated shifts, and asked for grants to help cover a range of specific costs. Keena Tracy of Little Ridge Farm in Lisbon noted "I will be hiring additional help to cover bagging time and additional field time needed to make up for time spent bagging shares/deliveries. The grant will be used to mitigate extra labor and materials costs."

Dan and Gail VanWart at Peaked Mountain Farm and Native Pollinator Sanctuary in Dedham are shifting how their Maine wild blueberries reach customers, adding "We will be changing to a u-pick operation with online ordering for a fixed price which will reserve a time and isolated spot in the field along with all needed containers for picking. We will use the grant for the online ordering and to put the picking packages together."

Christelle of Copper Tail Farm adds that while pivoting to online marketplaces has worked out well for their farm, "the loss of our spring events income and the cost of unplanned purchases puts us in a challenging position. The grant will help cover the costs associated with moving our sales online, and to help cover the unexpected purchases of supplies we had to make this spring."

"We know there's more need in our farm community than what we were able to meet with these grants, and we'll continue to offer technical assistance for all of the farms in our network. There could still be more challenges to come as farms get into the busy summer and fall seasons, and we'll be monitoring the situation closely to see what additional support comes from the state and federal levels for Maine's farms," added Sarah Alexander.

While these Maine Farm Emergency Grants are intended to assist Maine producers with immediate needs during the pandemic, MFT and MOFGA's ongoing programs continue to support farms in various ways, and aim to boost farm viability in the long term. Hanne Tierney of Cornerstone Farm in Palmyra added "We are so lucky that farmers are fast on their feet, and that our supporting organizations have stepped up to the plate to aid farms like ours to make necessary adjustments in distribution. We will use the funds from this grant to create safer and more efficient pathways to get our products on more tables of our awesome community members!"

"We are glad to be able to offer so many Maine farms a small infusion of assistance right now," said Bill Toomey, "but our work to support these and all Maine farms extends far beyond these emergency grants. We'll continue to work together to ensure the viability of farms throughout the state through our respective complementary programs, which help farmers access land, education, and other resources they need to grow thriving farm businesses."

MOFGA and MFT continue to support farms through their ongoing programs, which aim to boost the long term viability of Maine farms. You can support our work by making a donation today.

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