Agricultural task force forms

4 mins read

FARMINGTON – An effort to support and continue the strong tradition of agriculture in Franklin County continues to steam forward, with a recently formed task force holding its first organizational meeting on Sept. 25.

Supporters of local farming have received a boost from recent national and global events. A series of imported food scares, from dog food to vegetables, and high transportation prices have made the concept more attractive. Local farmer’s markets are reporting an uptick in business as people seek local alternatives to imports.

More than 100 people attended an April meeting on the subject, held at the Farmington Grange Hall, discussing ways to keep local farmers farming. With a new interest in local products, some worry that farmland is being converted to other uses to rapidly. More than 200 farms on 44,000 acres now dot Franklin County’s landscape, down from 1,469 farms in 1940 when 185,772 acres were agriculturally productive.

During that presentation, farmers and farming advocates noted that several factors still threatened local agriculture, including higher fuel prices, increasing taxes, keeping farmland in the hands of farmers and not developers, the devalued dollar, a limit of renewable energy available, getting locally-grown produce into local stores, and governmental restrictions.

Countering those difficulties were examples of the small, diversified farms quietly carving out a niche market of value-added goods locally sold or, in the case of farmer Bussie York of Farmington, by going organic with his milk herd and founding Agra Energies of Maine that produces a corn-wood pellet mixture for heat and also sells the furnaces.

York noted that rice is now being rationed in the U.S., something he hasn’t seen since World War II. Despite this, “Maine is in a better position with the introduction of food that doesn’t need to be trucked thousands of miles,” York said. “Locally-grown vegetables may bring some opportunities,” he added.

York supported, at that time, the formation of a task force to study ways to keep farmland from being cut into pieces for development, attracting new farmers to Franklin County, and marketing local products. This task force could consider new trends, such as the potential of agricultural-based fuels, and address challenges to farming, such as state and federal regulation and tax assessments.

Bussie York of Sandy River Farms talks about a widening window of opportunity for farmers during a meeting of farmers and other business men on Aug. 21 at the West Farmington Grange. (Photo by Jo Josephson)

He said at the Aug. 21 meeting that a reemergence of agriculture in Franklin County would benefit more than just the farmers.

“When we talk about agriculture as a tool for economic development, we’re talking about increasing opportunities for everyone in the region, not just the farmers” he said.

A 20-person task force was formed by the end of the Aug. 21 meeting, scheduling an organizational meeting in September. The task force is receiving advice and support from Mark Hews, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the meeting was sponsored by the Greater Franklin Development Corporation, Maine Farmland Trust and Western Mountains Alliance.

For further information, contact Mark Hews, Threshold to Maine Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Area at 657-3131 or threshold@gwi.net, or Tanya Swain, Western Mountains Alliance at 778-3885.

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