Maine Leads the Way with Unique Farms

Reader Contribution by Mary Quinn Doyle

The diversity of sustainable agricultural enterprises taking place in Maine is truly quite remarkable. As a writer and photographer, it seemed as though documenting Maine farms through photos and stories would be a productive undertaking. Many farm-related books are written for pre-schoolers and elementary school students, and several highly-technical farm publications are also available. For many years, it became apparent that there was a genuine need for an all-inclusive resource about Maine farms that would be geared to middle schoolers through adults.

In June of 2012, the Unique Maine Farms’ project took form. Over the past 28 months, it has evolved into a journey involving thousands of volunteer-hours. Over 30,000 miles have been clocked on our “often but not always reliable” 1994 Toyota Tercel. I have navigated throughout the beautiful back roads, woods, mountains, and the inland and coastal areas of Maine.

The Unique Maine Farms’ project is committed to the preservation of farmland and natural resources for future generations. By promoting the efforts of all types of farms, it educates students and the public about local food systems and the many career opportunities in agriculture. Because of its all-inclusive core belief that “farming is for everyone,” Unique Maine Farms strives to support all types of agricultural pursuits in Maine including farming that is taking place among the disenfranchised and vulnerable populations.

Unique Maine Farms Profiles

Bill and Anna Spiller of Spiller Farm in Wells, Maine, were chosen as the very first farmers to be profiled on the Unique Maine Farms’ website because of their incredible commitment to address the issue of hunger in Maine and to follow through with a pledge to donate a large percentage of their crops to those in need. Although they grow many of the same crops that other Maine farmers do, the Spillers stood out for their efforts in sharing what they have grown on a very large scale with those who have very little.

The Unique Maine Farms website focuses on profiling the many unique Maine farms that are truly “hidden gems.” Maine farmers have adapted to changing markets. They have diversified in ways that farmers in the colonial days through the twentieth century could never even imagine. Farmers often do not have the time or resources to promote the work that they do. For many farmers, marketing and discussions about the possibilities of careers that are available in agriculture takes a back seat. There are so many demands that need to be addressed in the day-to-day operation of a farm.

Opportunities for young men and women to enroll in or to explore agricultural studies and careers are not readily available in some parts of Maine. I strongly believed that there was a need for a book which contains profiles of many different types of farms. It was designed in a format that would appeal to a general audience. That it would contain many vibrant photographs that illustrate the entire spectrum of farming (not just farms associated with a certain organization or a certain type of farming) was instrumental in its design.

Making a Local Product Through Community Collaboration

The pledge to have the book printed in Maine (Penmor Lithographers) on Maine paper (Sappi Fine Paper) was honored. It was felt that it was only right that a book that focuses on Maine’s farms and forests should support the Maine paper and printing businesses. Farms that have incorporated various technologies and methods at their operations including solar, wind, photovoltaic, permaculture, hydroponics, anaerobic digesters, heatless duct pumps, and hugelkultur have been included in the project.

The book would not have materialized without the very generous support of several sponsors including the Leonard C. and Mildred F. Ferguson Foundation, the Hudson Foundation, Northeast Agricultural Education Foundation, Farm Credit Northeast Ag Enhancement, AGCOM- Agricultural Council of Maine, and Sappi Fine Paper. Time and Tide Resource and Conservation Development Area served as the fiscal sponsor monitoring the grants that were awarded. Elizabeth MacMahon, Esq. volunteered her editorial skills. Technological assistance was provided by Sue Colley, Torrey Johnson, and Chris MacClinchy. Slow Money Maine, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and AGCOM were particularly supportive in helping to spread the word about this collaborative volunteer project.

The Diversity of Sustainable Agriculture in Maine

In addition to the many depictions of organic and conventional farms throughout the state, the Unique Maine Farms’ book profiles farms with individuals who are physically disabled and mentally challenged. There are profiles of farms for the visually impaired, homeless, behaviorally challenged, and farms run by single parents.  Farms operated by senior citizens and low income residents, several farms run by refugees and immigrants, a farm that works with the incarcerated, and farm programs that employ migrant and guest workers are also included in the publication. All the stories found in Unique Maine Farms contribute to the premise of the book that various types of farming and gardening can conceivably bring enjoyment and a sense of fulfillment to everyone.

School and research farms, fiber farms, dairy farms, tree-related farms, and highly-diversified farms are profiled. There are stories about Maine farmers who specialize in raising animals, fruits, flowers, vegetables, and herbs. Several historical and cultural farms are profiled, along with various farms which focus on the preservation of land, heirloom seeds, and heritage breeds of animals. There are sections in the book about Native farming and gathering with representation from four Maine Indian tribes. Various aquaculture operations in Maine are also showcased.

Farming for Everyone

The theme of “farming for everyone” is a key component underlying the Unique Maine Farms project. The sharing of this all-inclusive aspect of farming is being communicated through the Unique Maine Farms’ website, a traveling photo exhibit and slideshow and talk, a farm-related interactive puppet show for youngsters, and through the publication of the 296-page book that contains 440 color photographs.  At the present time, arrangements are being made to have a complimentary copy of the book donated to every one of the 323 public and college libraries in Maine.

For additional information about the Unique Maine Farms’ book and project, go to the Unique Maine Farms website. In the coming months, I hope to share some stories with the readers of Mother Earth News about some of the unique farms in Maine that truly are hidden gems.  Hope you will enjoy learning about some agricultural treasures located in the far reaches of northern New England.

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