Farming and the future

Going green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  January 19, 2011

The announcement of the Maine Farmland Trust's ambitious 100,000-acre preservation goal wasn't the only farming news this month (see "Another row to hoe"). And, some thoughts about what lies ahead on the green front.

• The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association released a report in mid-January showing that ORGANIC FARMING CONTINUES TO GROW IN MAINE. There are more than 582 farms in the state that report selling organic foods, according to the US Census. "Maine's organic farmers manage 38,767 acres with organic production — a doubling since 2002," the MOFGA report says. These comprise about seven percent of Maine's agriculture acreage, assets, and gross revenue. According to MOFGA director Russell Libby, the organization aims to increase that percentage to 10 over the next five years, by developing better financial tools for farmers, strengthening connections between certified organic farms and non-certified farms with sustainable practices, and diversifying marketing opportunities for produce and dairy farmers alike.

• Another way to woo farmers to the organic world may be through various FARM-EDUCATION PROGRAMS. "[T]here is increasingly talk of developing a new associates program [related to agricultural training] within the community college system," says John Piotti, executive director of the Maine Farmland Trust.

Governor Paul LePage wants to start even younger. Portland state senator and minority whip Justin Alfond, who met with the governor in Augusta last week, told his Facebook followers that LePage "wants CHARTER SCHOOLS FOCUSED ON FARMING, FISHING AND FORESTRY." LePage's senior policy advisor Stephen Bowen confirmed that the governor believes "a charter model would give a school a little more latitude to do more innovative things" when it comes to training the next generation of Mainers to work the land. The Maine Association of Charter Schools is currently working on legislation to bring to Augusta; Bowen says the administration will push to include language related to agriculturally themed schools.

• The Natural Resources Council of Maine has a new executive director. Here's what Lisa Pohlmann, who formerly served as associate director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, says about WORKING IN A NEW POLITICAL CLIMATE: "There has been a lot of disturbing rhetoric about rolling back environmental regulations. Now we need to see what kinds of bills actually emerge. The LePage Administration should be expected to uphold the strong bipartisan support for a clean Maine environment that has been a hallmark of Maine policy for decades. Furthermore, we must hold Maine's natural resource agencies accountable to their mission, which is to ensure clean air, clean water, and protected landscapes and to promote the health of Maine families, workers and communities by reducing our exposure to toxic chemicals."

• State representative Jon Hinck, an active environmentalist, says he's optimistic about working with new colleagues in Augusta, but offers this forecast: "SOME REPUBLICAN LEGISLATORS AND THE GOVERNOR APPEARED TO HAVE MISSED THE IMPORTANT WORK THAT THE EFFICIENCY MAINE TRUST HAS BEEN DOING for residential, commercial and industrial energy efficiency. Maine now might raid the [Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative] funds and divert them from saving energy and achieving greater efficiency to other purposes.

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