2014-08-01 / Front Page

Farming’s future supported by $1 million donation

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

An organization aimed at creating the next generation of farmers now has the financial support it needs to continue supporting the creation of organic farms, including Scarborough’s Frith Farm, for the foreseeable future.

Last week the organization announced it has received a $1 million donation from the Partridge Foundation to create an endowment for its farmer training programs. The Partridge Foundation promised another $1 million if MOFGA can raise the same amount before the end of 2015.

Chris Hamilton, MOFGA’s associate director, said through the years the journeyman program has been funded through grants from the federal government or family-based organizations. The Partridge Foundation donation provides the organization “steady funding for the long term.”

Over the last 10 years, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has helped provide more than 200 farmers with the resources and know-how to start organic farms of their own through its journeyman training program. The farmers, according to MOFGA, have created 150 new farm businesses and 89 percent of them are still farming in Maine. Through the apprenticeship program, MOFGA has placed 175 apprentices at 105 Maine farms.

“It helps them to get going,” Hamilton said of the journeyman program. “Most of them come inspired. They know what they want to do. This is about teaching them how to do it successfully.”

Formed in 1971, MOFGA is the oldest and largest state organic organization in the United States.

Hamilton said the journeyman program is a two-year intensive program in which individuals with some farming experience are matched with a mentor farmer. Hamilton said the apprenticeship program, another training program MOFGA offers, is designed more for individuals just out of school who lack farming experience.

Daniel Mays, who runs Frith Farm, is a graduate of MOFGA journeyman training. His partner, Sarah Longsteth, Frith Farm’s live stock manager, is currently in the training program.

“They are really excellent young farmers. They have been doing it four years,” Hamilton said of Mays and Longstreth. “It is quite an operation they have there.”

Mays took part in the journeyman program in 2011 and 2012, shortly after buying the 14-acre farm on Ash Swamp Road. John Bliss and Stacy Brenner, who operate Broadturn Farm, a 275-acre organic farm on Broadturn Road, mentored Mays.

“They are very good friends of mine,” Mays said July 25 during a break from weeding a section of one of his vegetable gardens. “They were very supportive right from the start.”

Mays had long had an interest in farming, but it wasn’t until he was an environmental engineering student at Stanford University that he thought about it as a career.

“I got to thinking about my impact on this world,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges for young farmers, he said, is being able to find and afford land to farm.

“One of the biggest issues is access to land,” he said.

“I was looking for land all over New England because of MOFGA and the community it fosters in Maine, Maine pretty quickly rose to the top,” said Mays, who grew up outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “There were a lot of great opportunities here. I found this property through Maine Farm Link.”

“It was a blank canvas to start a farm on,” Mays said.

According to its website, Maine Farm Link, a program of Maine Farmland Trust, links prospective farmers with farmers who are “seeking to sell, lease or work out nontraditional tenure agreements.”

May’s property was previously owned by the Fancy family, who started farming it in the 1700s. Towards the end, Mays said, the farm was primarily used for haying. Today the farm, named for the farm May’s grandfather ran in England, as well as the old English word for sanctuary, sells organic vegetable and eggs, pasture-raised chicken, lamb and turkeys, as well as operating a consumer-supported agriculture program, in which customers get fresh weekly produce. Mays said the farm grows more than 40 types of vegetables on three acres of land and raises 400 hens for eggs, 500 chickens for meat, as well as 40 pigs, five sheep and 150 turkeys around Thanksgiving.

Mays said the journeyman program gave him access to “a variety of educational events and workshops” to take farming from an interest to a vocation.

“Most young people leave Maine to find a job. Organic farming and farming in general is attracting a lot of young people to stay in Maine or come to Maine,” Hamilton said.

In a release announcing the endowment, Teddy Quaday, MOFGA’s executive director said, “Together we are building an agricultural foundation that will help crate new farm businesses and jobs while making sure the rising consumer demand for local organic food is met.”

“Long term support for these vital learning opportunities will help ensure their continued success and increase the availability of good food in Maine,” he added.

Mays is helping to pass some of that training and knowledge on. Frith Farm has four MOFGA apprentices who have “demonstrated a real interest in agriculture.” On occasion Mays has also opened the farm up to school groups for educational tours.

The future plan, Mays said, is “not to grow in area. It’s more to grow in diversity and intensification of what we are already doing.” One thing he is thinking about doing in the future is creating a poultry processing center that would allow the farm to offer poultry to area restaurants. Right now it is sold directly to consumers.

Mays said determination is important in setting up a farm and ensuring it succeeds.

“I would tell people to go for it. That was the biggest thing for me. Don’t sort of wait endlessly for the conditions to fall in your lap to make it possible,” Mays said.

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