MOFGA's Farmer to Farmer Conference

Conference Notes from Blue Bell Farm

November 3-5, MOFGA hosted it's annual Farmer to Farmer conference.  The event kicked off with farm tours Saturday afternoon.  This year we visited two farms run by families in the Amish community, a vegetable grower and a dairy farm. It was the first time for many to visit an operation where there were no electrical connections to the grid, and the primary power was four legged. The walk in cooler chilled by giant blocks of ice was truly impressive. But it was also not so different from other farms, there were some very interesting uses of modern pneumatic tools, and solar panels for charging cordless drills. It's all about well thought out intentionality, which is how non-Amish, organic farmers approach the use of one method of farming or another. Two very intentional methods of farming that received a lot of attention at the conference were no-till and mulching. Frith farm in Scarborough is one farm that is combining the two very successfully to run a profitable farm, but also one that can respond to more extreme weather events. Most farms in Maine have had challenging spring conditions with a lack of rain, and now the fall it has been too rainy! By reducing tillage and adding mulch (organic matter), Frith Farm's soils act as a sponge for water to ride out periods of drought, or absorb water in times of rain. One farm in the spotlight using lots of mulch was Snakeroot farm in Pittsfield which gets leaves dropped off from neighbors and raking companies. Those get composted for a year before getting spread on fields. In their talk on "low input farming" their feeling is that farms should really be plugged into the community and an end point for many streams of "waste," and the beginning of very few.

The keynote was given by Paul and Sandy Arnold of Pleasant Valley farm in Argyle, NY. They are known for their farm scale year round growing innovations, and mentoring a number of successful Maine farmers...including the folks at Six River Farm in Bowdoinham!  There were sessions on farming for the Good Shepherd Food Bank. Also sessions by our local Turtle Rock Farm and their work to preserve a little bit of summer in jars. A session on downy mildew, was a great reminder that the components that affect farming happen on all size scales, from the local foodshed, down to the microscopic level in your field. 

Maine School Gleaning Month!

October is Maine School Gleaning Month

Press Release

The Maine Gleaning Network is a coalition of partner organizations working throughout the state to connect communities to their local farmers. Gleaning is a community activity that increases access to healthy fresh local food and, and this year, Maine School Gleaning Month will be focused on offering creative educational outlet for teachers to bring students out to farms, as well as increasing the amount of locally grown food available for all students.

Gleaning is an age old practice and tradition whereby people gather to harvest crops that farmers have either been unable to secure markets for, or for which the return cannot justify the investment in harvesting. Every farm, and every crop, is different. From apples to zucchini, farmers are often in a position where they leave marketable and edible nutritious food in their fields, unharvested. Our market pressures to avoid small cosmetic differences, like blemishes, or only accept products that meet particular shape and size specifications, and an increasingly volatile market, all result in food loss on farms. Unfortunately Maine is home to 83,000 food insecure students, who would benefit from that nutrition greatly. This year the Maine Gleaning Network is making new connections between farms and schools.

 

“There is nothing like the connection made in a child’s mind when she pulls a wonky carrot out of the ground and thinks it is funny, beautiful, and edible,” says Hannah Semler, founder of Whole Crops, and a major force behind the Maine Gleaning Network. “Getting students and volunteers out on farms, meeting and working with farmers to recover what would otherwise be lost, is a great chance to make those connections while addressing student hunger.”

 

Maine farmers do not like seeing the crops they have grown go uneaten. Farmers need more commitment from buyers. In the meantime, students can be a food recovery force, harvesting the product to stock their school pantry with fresh local food. This October, Maine School Gleaning Month is dedicated to connecting all of these dots to ensure Maine students learn about agriculture and nutrition, while developing a sense of solidarity, and learning about new ways to feed their communities and themselves.

 

The Maine Gleaning Network is comprised of the following groups: Androscoggin Gleaners, Cumberland County Food Security Council Gleaning Initiative, Central Maine Gleaners, FoodCorps Maine, Healthy Acadia Gleaning Initiative (Hancock and Washington Counties), Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, Lincoln County Gleaners, Merrymeeting Gleaners, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Western Waldo County Gleaners, and Whole Crops. Partners to the Maine Gleaning Network include countless local farms, statewide networks such as Maine Network of Community Food Councils, Maine Farm to School Network, and members of the Food Recovery Coalition, in Portland.
 

Visit us at www.mainegleaningnetwork.org/events
Follow us @mainegleaningnetwok

Happy Summer! MFC Coordinator Update

Happy Summer!  

It has been an exciting few months for the Merrymeeting Food Council! We have secured funding to expand our Merrymeeting Gleaners program with increased Gleaning Coordinator hours AND funding to pursue an initiative seeking to build community health through increased access to local food. We are very excited to begin this work!

We will host a series of community meetings where all community members can work alongside healthcare professionals, food producers, and others to identify barriers to accessing healthy local food and best practices for increasing food access. Together, we will examine existing programs and models for potential new programs. Following on these meetings the Merrymeeting Food Council and our partners will be seeking sustained community engagement in designing programs that promote wellness through healthy food and physical activity. If you are interested in joining our work group focusing on these issues, helping host or plan the community meetings, or simply to learn more, please contact us. EVERYONE IS WELCOME. You do not need to have related professional experience, personal experience is equally important. Stay tuned for more on this in the coming weeks.

We are able to pursue this wellness initiative and community engagement work thanks to our funders, the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation (www.sewallfoundation.org) and the New England Grassroots Environment Fund (www.grassrootsfund.org). THANK YOU!  Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust was the recipient of the Sewall Foundation grant as MFC is not a non-profit. BTLT is administering both grants, thank you BTLT!

Lots of fun and educational food system events are coming up! If you missed the recent Open Farm Day in Bowdoinham, see our news feed for great photos captured by our partner Bowdoinham Community Development Initiative (BCDI). See the events listed here, with more detail available on our events page

 

More about our funders...

 

The long-term goal of the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation is to improve the well-being and prosperity of all Maine people and the environment in which they live.  Among the most pressing issues currently facing Maine and negatively impacting the well-being of both people and the environment are: limited economic opportunity, environmental degradation, and the existence of barriers that create inequities and separation among people.

We believe that the well-being of people and the environment are inextricably linked.  Neither can thrive while the other suffers.  As the connections between people and their environment are strengthened, both become healthier, more resilient and more vibrant.  Further, we believe that more positive relationships between people across socioeconomic and cultural boundaries can bridge differences, reduce inequities, and contribute to community health.

 

 

The New England Grassroots Environment Fund energizes and nurtures long-term civic engagement in local initiatives that create and maintain healthy, just, safe and sustainable communities using stories, tools and dollars to fuel local activism and social change. Since 1996, the Grassroots Fund's core grant making program continues to fund nearly 150 grants annually, giving more than $4 million in 20 years to more than 2,000 community groups and initiatives covering more than 60% of New England's cities and towns. For more information, please visit grassrootsfund.org or call 603-905-9915.

Harpswell's Fishing Community - Needs Assessment Report Complete

Spurred in part by discussions within the Seafood Advisory work group, Maine Coast Fishermen's Association (MCFA) took on an extensive needs assessment of Harpswell fishing community which is both diverse and resilient. MCFA's assessment was in-depth, and amassed over 200 hours of interviews. The final report, Beyond the Bow, is available for local, regional, and state resources to be developed and modified to better support the fishing community as it continues to grow and adapt.

View the condensed booklet of Beyond the Bow.

View the full, comprehensive fisheries needs assessment final report.

For questions or inquiries, please contact Kendra Jo Grindle from MCFA.

This project was funded in part by the Holbrook Community Foundation. Learn more about their work in Harpswell on their website www.holbrookcommunityfoundation.org.

Happy Spring!  

The ground is starting to thaw and things are starting to poke through the ground, but the soil is not all that's warming up! We have been busy writing grants and making plans for future MFC work and continuing to build our network and Merrymeeting Gleaners program. There are numerous events coming up, so check out our events page for listings of partner programs. 

Last month, the Fourth Food Security Forum hosted by Morris Farm and Chewonki focused on Food is Medicine: Food Security and Health with presentations by Good Shepard Food Bank, Maine Farmland Trust, Cultivating Community, doctors, our Merrymeeting Gleaners, and many more. There were great discussions throughout the day long event and of note was the passion and thoughtfulness shown by the students present from Chewonki’s Maine Coast Semester School, Cultivating Community (Portland), and St. Mary’s Nutrition Center (Lewiston). To see the program from the Forum, click HERE

This week concludes with the Annual Summit of the Maine Network for Community Food Councils on April 13th in Belfast, with an exciting focus on how to knit together the wide range of food systems work occurring at local, to state and regional scales. This event is open to all and provides a wide variety of resources and topics for those engaged in our food system. To register, click HERE.  

Three sessions during the 8:30 am-4:00 pm Summit will focus on building a powerful statewide food system network. Session one includes workshops on: Network Design: Sharing is at the heart of networks; Food System Metrics; and Gleaning & Composting: Two Nodes of a Paradigm Shift. Session two includes workshops on: Network Building; Community Education & Engagement Strategies; and Food Policies: How Can Food Councils Make Food & Agriculture a Policy Priority in the 2018 Elections. Session three includes workshops on: Building a Network of Networks, and Open Space for other topics generated during the morning sessions.

As a teaser, here is the scope of the Food Policies workshop which highlights the role for Agriculture Policy in upcoming elections and the Farm Bill renewal. This session will explore what's going on and how community policy work can connect with larger scale policy work (State and Federal). Amanda Beal from Maine Farmland Trust will help facilitate and share a draft Agriculture Policy Platform focused mostly on gubernatorial candidates. Emily Horton (from Representative Chellie Pingree's office) will share federal policy work updates.

MFC is an active member of the Maine Network of Community Food Councils through which we gain knowledge from shared resources and the work of other community food councils and food council partners. Learn more about the network on their website and Facebook pages. 

Grant Award to KELT Expands Local Food Access and Awareness

See KELT's post below for some exciting news about our Merrymeeting Gleaners! (Reposted from KELT)

Awarded annually, the Quimby Family Foundation invests in projects that grow human wholeness by fostering stronger relationships between people and nature. In December, the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT) was awarded a Quimby Family Foundation grant for $15,000 to support the expansion of local food access and awareness programs.

Specifically, the grant award will support food collection efforts by the Merrymeeting Gleaners and educational programs at the LOCAL Garden in Bath and the Georgetown Central School in Georgetown.

The support of the Merrymeeting Gleaners, a project of the Merrymeeting Food Council, will provide capacity for a much-needed, paid coordinator position to organize volunteers and communicate with local farmers. Since 2016, the Merrymeeting Gleaners have focused on increasing the amount of nutritious produce available to food insecure individuals by harvesting surplus produce from nearby farms. In 2017, this all-volunteer group harvested over 22,400 lbs. of food for distribution to local organizations committed to fighting hunger and providing fresh food, many of which are located in KELT’s service region. If interested in volunteering with this active group, visit the Merrymeeting Gleaners on Facebook and email merrymeetinggleaners@gmail.com.

The grant award will also help support a wider array of programming at the LOCAL Garden (Leading Our Community in Agricultural Learning) in south Bath and at the school garden at the Georgetown Central School. Managed by KELT, the LOCAL Garden is primarily used as an outdoor classroom and produce grown is donated back to the surrounding community (1,187 lbs. in 2017). With the generous support of the Quimby Family Foundation, KELT’s goal is to make the garden an educational space for all ages in the Bath region. The land trust looks forward to facilitating more family and adult oriented workshops this year.

The Georgetown Central School’s garden also functions as an outdoor classroom in an effort to get students outside and reconnected with their food. The school will use funding to support their Garden Coordinator and make structural improvements to their well-utilized greenhouse.

KELT would like to thank The Quimby Family Foundation for their support of efforts to connect people with the outdoors and to increase fresh local food available in the Bath area. For more information about The Quimby Family Foundation go to http://quimbyfamilyfoundation.org/.

 

 

 

Happy New Year! And a reflection on Merrymeeting Food Council's first 2 years...

Here is a look at some of the things we have been up to in our first 2 years:

Structure and Funding:

  • established a diverse and engaged Steering Committee which: developed framing documents, guides and supports all MFC work, is seeking sustainable funding, is finalizing a set of core goals and metrics by which we can measure progress toward our goals, and serves as a key point of connection with multiple communities

  • developed an online presence (Facebook and website) with ties to local, regional and statewide food system representatives and organizations

  • established 2 active work groups (Processing and Food Security) and 2 engaged advisory groups (Seafood and Farm) with plans to continue expanding our number of active work groups

  • received over $19,000 in primarily grant funds, almost half of which have been used for purchasing project supplies including a cold storage trailer for gleaned produce

  • received more than $116,000 of in-kind contributions through staff time from partner organizations and volunteer time

Outreach and Network Development:

  • established partnerships with diverse stakeholders: non-profits and for-profits, health care organizations, municipal organizations, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and fishermen, farmers, processors, Maine food councils, and others who have supported and guided our development as a food council

  • active participant in Maine Network of Community Food Councils (MNCFC)

    • presenter at 2 MNCFC Annual Summits

    • working with MNCFC and other food system groups like Maine Food Strategy to plan for coordinated collection of key metrics statewide which would facilitate identification of practices or changes effective at moving key food system levers

  • active participant in the Maine Gleaning Network

  • presenter at first two annual Local Food, Local Hunger forums hosted by Morris Farm and Chewonki

  • advised four student summer fellows through both the Environmental Fellowship Program at Bowdoin College and the McKeen Center for Common Good

  • working with partner organizations to supervise an intern from the Muskie School of Public Policy at USM and a Goodwill AmeriCorps VISTA fellow

  • developed relationship with Master Gardener program and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension

  • supporter of Maine Innovation Challenge which led to the opening of New Beet Market and other area businesses

  • supported bulk purchasing option for Bristol Bay salmon in partnership with Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and New Beet Market

  • promote partner events and achievements through social media

Projects:

  • Educational Resources:

    • developed Edible Main Street Toolkit available for any community interested in building community sidewalk gardens, email for more information

    • developed informational resources about top groundfish species landed in Maine and their fate once landed, email for more information

    • developed information cards about frequently gleaned produce with preparation instructions and recipes to be distributed with produce to recipient organizations , email for more information

    • developed diagram detailing the processing pathways for food within our local system

  • Needs Assessment of the Harpswell Fishing Community:

    • a three-phase project of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and the Seafood Advisory Group

    • the project will identify gaps, concerns, and fisheries successes brought forward by the fishing community

      • Phase I focused on the findings from the groundfish and shellfish fisheries as well as several town personnel

      • Phase II focused on aquaculture, the bait industry, lobster, and recreational fisheries

      • Phase III reconnected with interviews and infrastructure from Phases I and II

  • Merrymeeting Gleaners: a highly successful gleaning project, which has led to over 36,000 lbs of fresh local produce being gleaned and distributed (that's over 18 tons of healthy locally produced food and over 30,000 meals!)

    • built a database of more than100 volunteers who have contributed over 3,000 hours of their time in 2017 alone, a contribution worth more than $58,000

    • work with a growing number of farms, three in 2017: Six River Farm (Bowdoinham), Scatter Good Farm (Brunswick), and Goranson Farm (Dresden)

    • glean from several additional farmers at the Bath and Brunswick Farmer's Markets as well as pop-up gleans at numerous sites

    • established 21 sites for donations of gleaned produce, serving 7 towns

    • created data tracking system for the Merrymeeting Gleaners

    • created criteria and forms for recipient organizations

    • advise and share resources with gleaning groups statewide

    • plan to continue expanding both gleaning and distribution sites until all 14 towns in our service area are served

Merrymeeting Gleaners Overview of 2017

In 2017, the Merrymeeting Gleaners were able to expand in more ways than one. With over 22,000 pounds of produce collected, the Gleaners have been able to reach more recipients through their all-volunteer group. We participated in the first annual Maine Gleaning Week, a collective effort by all gleaning programs in Maine to harvest the bountiful fall produce and to bring in others who may not have been involved in gleaning before. The “Glean with a Friend” event at Six River Farm in Bowdoinham did just that. Twenty people came to get their hands dirty, half of which were new to the group. That day alone, 740 lbs of produce was collected and donated to 10 partners.

During the “Glean with a Friend” event, the Merrymeeting Gleaners were also able to christen their cold storage trailer. This project was made possible by grants from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund and Bowdoin College. It will allow more produce to be stored, which creates greater flexibility for organizations with limited hours and no cold storage of their own. This increases the amount of produce we can provide.

In 2018, the Gleaners hope to expand outreach to organizations that may benefit from receiving produce, spread the word to farms that may want to donate, and increase the number of consistent volunteers.