- Agronomic: barley, corn, hops, oats, peanuts, potatoes, rye, soybeans, sunflower, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Fruits: apples, berries (cranberries), melons
- Vegetables: sweet potatoes, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, parsnips, peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
- Additional Plants: herbs
- Animal Production: feed/forage
- Crop Production: agroforestry, continuous cropping, cover crops, forestry, multiple cropping, relay cropping
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, focus group, networking, study circle
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, marketing management, agricultural finance, market study, whole farm planning
- Production Systems: general crop production
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, community services, employment opportunities, sustainability measures
The communities of Oxford County have historically relied on natural resources for their livelihood. Farming and forestry are the primary sources of economic activity within the County. It is clear that the people living in Oxford County depend on a healthy agriculture sector not only for the economic value but the “quality of life” people are looking for. In 2002, 469 farms operated in Oxford County accounting for a market value of production of $14,651,000. Crop sales account for $11,216,000 and livestock sales accounted for $3,435,000. While this value represents both wholesale and retail sales, the ability of local farms to keep more sales dollars is growing. Retail opportunities have helped to increase net farm income. 89% of those surveyed in 2002, as part of a statewide marketing survey, felt that buying local product strengthened Maine’s economy. Given the relative small average size of farms in Oxford County, maintaining large tracts of open land for agriculture purposes is difficult. Farmers must resort to piecing together tracts of cropland in order to make their operations economically feasible. In order for agriculture to remain a viable economic sector in Oxford County, steps must be taken, beyond what farmers can do, to at least preserve the number of farms and the amount of land dedicated to farmland. The ability of the agriculture sector to compete and be economically viable has relied almost solely on the capacity of farmers to change and adapt to ever shifting circumstances. Competition from other parts of the county and world have force farmers to adopt more direct marketing and retail sales strategies, while being squeezed at the local level by a shrinking support infrastructure. Programs to help farmers remain viable rely on crop subsidies, farm and open space tax breaks, and business planning. For their part communities normally view farms as an opportunity to preserve open space. Agriculture in a town’s comprehensive plan is routinely identified only as part of the rural character of a community and as a way to maintain open space. Very little is provided in the way of community or economic development assistance from the community. A few projects by the Threshold To Maine RC&D Area, Western Mountains Alliance, and others have attempted to help communities take more seriously the economic needs of local farmers. However, when tax incentive financing and other economic incentives are discussed and voted on to attract businesses to a community, agriculture is conspicuously absent. Comprehensive planning also continues to ignore agriculture as a viable economic development strategy. The effects of a communities lack of attention to agriculture economic development is not only felt by farmers and their families but by the local citizens as well. Farmers can only adapt and innovate so much to maintain an economically viable living. Without help from the community they will continue to experience pressures that will eventually drive them out of business. And if a majority of consumers feel that buying local food helps the economy, then losing more farms will not provide those opportunities. There is a disconnect between what citizens act upon for economic development in the community and what is needed to support a viable agriculture sector. Until communities begin to address agriculture economic development, farmers will continue to struggle for economic parity with other businesses in the community.
Project objectives from proposal:
The primary result of this project will be the adoption of a community economic development plan for agriculture by the Town of Rumford. That will be measured by the willingness of the citizens of Rumford on the first Monday of June 2007 to approve the plan. Measuring success of the project will rest with that Town vote. However, the effectiveness of the Agriculture Commission will also determine the success of the plan. The progress of the Commission will be recorded in meeting minutes, feedback from public forums and discussions, newspaper articles on the subject matter, and interviews with a random sampling of community citizens. Interviews with Commission members and an evaluation process conducted by Threshold To Maine will help keep the project on track and ensure that it meets the intended result.
The development of an economic development plan for agriculture in the community is not an end in itself. The process of involving the citizens of Rumford in the drafting of the plan is equally important. Being able to take the plan to Town Meeting with a high expectation of success is another measurement of achieving results with this project. The plan will encourage the participation of citizens in the drafting process. Citizen surveys will be conducted on their understanding of agriculture in the region, willingness to buy local, and willingness to provide monetary and capital incentives for agriculture development. Public meetings and forums will be held to gain public input and feedback at stages of the project. A follow-up survey will be conducted towards the end of the project to gauge any change in citizen perceptions or attitudes.
The Town will have benefited from this project if the citizens ratify the adoption of an economic development plan for agriculture at their 2007 Town Meeting. With the adoption of that plan more emphasis and focus will be place on helping agriculture become a more integral part of the community’s economy.