In early October, close to twenty ag sector funders immersed in an inspiring 3-day bus tour of Aroostook County, focused on food system enterprises. An amazingly full and comprehensive itinerary was created through a collaboration with Slow Money Maine (Eleanor, Linzee, Chris) and the Broad Reach Fund (Andrea and Deb).
From Bridgewater to New Sweden, from Grand Isle to Presque Isle, with many stops in between, our trip included opportunities to visit farmers and producers, meet with local food system leaders, discuss topical issues, sample seasonal foods and savor the distinctive beauty of the County’s expansive farm landscapes.
Site visits ranged in scale from a 12-cow dairy recently begun by Josh Turnbull, a new MOOMilk farmer, to a 4000-acre broccoli operation run by the multi-generational Smith family. We gained perspectives about Amish farm communities from Milo Hilty at Wholesome Valley Farm and deeper understandings of potato production & marketing from organic seed potato grower Jim Gerritsen atWoodPrairie Farm and conventional producer Nick McCrum at County Super Spuds. Educational farm programs and specialty markets for vegetable growers were among other diverse offerings during our tour.
In terms of visions & hopes for the near future,Tate McPherson (Maine Seed Co.) provided an overview of grain growing and shared hopes to convert a large warehouse to a grain elevator, while Stan Maynard (Orchard Hill Farm) and John Chartier (MOFGA) spoke of a model of raising grass-fed Scottish Highland beef and needs for a more centralized USDA-certified slaughterhouse.
A fabulous Fall harvest lunch at Northern Girl’s vegetable processing facility (run by Chris, Marada and Leah) was accompanied by a panel presentation focused on food, social justice and health issues from leaders of the local hospital, nonprofits and the Micmac tribe.
At an evening gathering, panelists Marada (COMOC/Northern Girl), Kristi (Pinelands), and Bart (McCain) detailed their enterprises while John Piotti (MFT) gave an overview of farmland issues facing the County and stressed the potential of farming over a million acres of productive land. John also presented supportive facts and figures about economic and cultural influences that determine farmland use and value in the County. Varied views of a vision for sustainable agriculture in the County were part of a lively discussion following the presentation.
Among many of the enjoyable qualities of the trip were informal social interactions that deepened relationships among those committed to active and pioneering engagement in building healthy food systems in Maine. Heightened awareness of needs in this hugely underserved area of our state will likely lead to creative and effective collaborations among many participants.
Many thanks to Andrea, Deb, Linzee, Eleanor and Chris for their thoughtful, skillful contributions to a memorable trip for everyone!!!!