Southern Somerset Local Foods Connection

2012 Annual Report for CNE12-095

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Paula Day
Maine Alternative Agriculture Association

Southern Somerset Local Foods Connection



“Southern Somerset Local Foods Connection”
SARE Project # CNE 12-095
26 December 2012


Maine Alternative Agriculture Assoc. (“MA3”) is working to create a local foods hub in southern Somerset County, Maine, a distinctly rural area with minimal urban outlets for small farmers wishing to market directly to consumers. The physical facility is in place to collect, store and do some value-added processing of local agricultural products. This current project, funded by SARE, is meant to move MA3 into the next phase of the effort and has two main components:

• Survey and meet with farmers to assess their willingness to grow or produce for the new enterprise which will develop new markets for their products; and
• Develop contacts with consumer groups, both in rural and in adjacent urban areas, and facilitate direct marketing of farm products via food clubs or other bulk-buying arrangements.

Six public meetings to discuss the project and to present agriculture consultants, experts and practitioners have been held since May, 2012, with representatives from approximately thirty farms participating.

Eighty private households have been surveyed for their feedback on buying local with overwhelmingly positive results, and MA3 is talking directly to two major hospitals about the potential for preseason contracts for Maine farm products for their food service operations.

In addition, MA3 was able to facilitate a new, local foods buying model for an area nursing home by guaranteeing food safety protocols on behalf of its participating farmers.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The objective of this project is to stimulate farm production in an area of Maine that currently has tremendous potential for agriculture – still open farmland, excellent soils, reasonable proximity to urban markets – but much of this valuable farmland is underused. The goal is to see some of this acreage in food production for Maine consumers. (Hundreds of acres with the potential for high-quality food production - vegetables, grains, pasture - are presently being kept open by the production of low-quality hay.) At the same time, the project seeks to engage more Maine consumers in the buy local movement.

By inviting these landowners to a series of presentations on different sorts of agricultural production that might suit their land and labor and equipment resources, we have tried to interest them in growing/producing for local consumers. At the same, we have introduced them to the Maine Alternative Agriculture facility which can serve as both a storage and a marketing medium for any new products they produce.

These presentations have covered sophisticated biological soils management, livestock handling and care, pastured poultry production, large-scale organic production, and farming without glyphosates or genetically modified seed and animal feed. The focus is on sustainable production methods but not exclusively on organic production.

At the same time, we have begun the dialogue with two totally different consumer groups; individual households and large institutional food buyers.


We have brought soils and livestock consultants together with these landowners to assess the viability of these areas for food production:

• May 31, Mark Fulford on biological soils enhancements Part I;
• June 13, Dr. Robert Patterson on safe and humane livestock management;
• June 27, Diane Schivera on pasture raised poultry;
• July 11, Dr. Michal McNeill on long-term consequences of glyphosates in soils and livestock;
• September 12, two current documentary films on genetically modified organisms in agriculture;
• October 3, Mark Fulford on biological soils management Part II.

Two dozen farmers consistently attended these presentations with smaller numbers of consumers participating. Dr. McNeill’s presentation drew sixty-five farmers.

Additionally, Dr. McNeill, a soils consultant from Iowa, met with six individual farmers to assess their specific operations for the possibility of wheat, or other small grains, production.

Outreach to potential consumer/buying clubs and institutional buyers has been conducted as follows:

• Eighty households have been contacted directly and polled for their interest in buying local with follow-up meetings planned for January;
• We are working with one small rural town on a community-wide plan for food self-sufficiency via local farms and a grow-barter-buy plan;
• In Bangor and Brunswick we are working with two major hospitals – St. Joseph’s and Parkview Adventist – to develop models for pre-season production contracts for specific fresh vegetables.

The first milepost goal indicated on the original grant application was “to create clubs amounting to 100 families committed to purchasing at least one half of their weekly grocery order from local sources…, and to organize six to ten farms within a twenty-mile geographic range to fill those orders.” We are now in direct discussion with eighty local households and six farms within-in a ten mile radius of the community to meet that goal.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Our original thinking was that our primary audience for this project, other than farmers, would be the cultural demographic that fits the current picture of those who support local foods movements, i.e., college educated urban dwellers, the same people who are responsible for the great increase in the popularity of farmers’ markets. These were the consumers we intended to target for potential food club members in three relatively urban areas of Maine: Bangor, Waterville and Augusta. All three have farmers’ markets and at least one natural foods store per city and all three have populations that fit the acceptable demographic profile. Additionally, since statewide statistics indicate only 2% of the population frequents farmers’ markets, there still seem to be numbers of people in that demographic who would be potential targets for local food buying club membership; the theory being that if local foods/farmers markets are appealing but not all of the population that support the idea are physically supporting the reality, then making the products more convenient might draw them in.

At the same time, we wanted to engage the rural community where many of our intended farmers are located in the local foods effort. Specifically, we wanted to see if these rural dwellers, many of whom are in lower income brackets, could be induced to see the benefits of eating local. They make up what might be considered a “secondary audience” within the general public, one not in the typical demographic of farmers’ market consumers. Their expressed interest in the project is much stronger than we had anticipated or hoped for and much of our effort for the remaining months of the project will be in finding ways to make local food production and consumption an enduring part of their lives.

To begin the process of de-stigmatizing local food of its perceived over-priced, elitist aura for this audience, we are planning an experimental “grow-barter-buy” campaign for these folks. They live in an area where they can easily grow some products, many already garden and growing vegetables accomplishes two goals: it creates an appreciation for the labor value of food production; and it creates an appreciation for the superior quality of truly fresh produce.

We are still in the early planning process of this experiment but hope to have a grow/barter plan in place for the 2013 planting season. Our hope is that as these consumers realize economic savings on local foods by participating in the production process on some small scale, they will be more comfortable paying the premium for the local products they cannot or do not care to produce.

The strong interest from this rural audience, and by extension, from inhabitants of other rural areas who have heard of this project and who want to know how it is working and whether it might serve as a model for their communities is both surprising and very encouraging.