Establishing Integrated Systems Baseline - Educational - Mentoring Programs
The intent of this project is threefold: 1) to strengthen the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society (MESAS), 2) to provide information that assists farmers in determining whether adopting more integrated practices makes sense on their farms, and 3) to determine the character, degree and extent of sustainability of Maine agriculture.
The justification for the above intent is also threefold: 1) MESAS, as a farmer-member group, has the potential and mission to become an effective promoter of sustainable farming systems, 2) farm-generated (research) information is often more useful to farmers than is experiment station research, and 3) there are indications that awareness of, and information for, sustainable agriculture is growing among farmers and public, alike.
The key components of the project are: 1) the production of a broadcast-quality video, based on farmer interviews, highlighting some of the personal values and philosophy of sustainable agriculture, 2) the establishment of a mentoring program to link knowledgeable sustainable agriculture farmers with farmers interested in learning, 3) the publication of a quarterly newsletter for MESAS, 4) the implementation and analysis of a statewide survey of all Maine farms, and 5) the compilation and publication of case stories of 30 Maine farmers including representative budgets of different types of sustainable farms in Maine.
The intent of this project is to promote the use of integrated farming systems and sustainable agriculture practices in Maine. The specific objectives of the project are fivefold. First, case studies will be developed for roughly 30 farms identified as using integrated farming systems and sustainable agriculture practices. Second, from 18 of the above 30 farms, a number of slide presentations will be developed as an educational piece for Maine farmers. One video presentation will be developed as an awareness piece for the public. Third, a mentoring program will be developed that will link together farmers already using integrated farming systems and sustainable agriculture practices with farmers interested in doing so. Fourth, a quarterly newsletter will be developed for the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society (MESAS), an organization focused on developing, researching, and promoting sustainable agriculture. Lastly, a baseline of the use of integrated farming systems and sustainable agriculture practices in Maine will be developed by surveying the total Maine farming population.
From the initial survey of 220 farmers conducted in 2000 and the following video interviews of 19 representative sustainable agriculture farmers in Maine, an hour-long video featuring seven farms was produced for the public that explores the philosophical underpinnings of sustainable agriculture. Then 21 of 30 case stories of participating farmers were completed. The Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society also initiated a mentoring program to link farmers interested in using integrated farming systems and sustainable agriculture practices with farmers already using them. The first five issues of a MESAS quarterly newsletter were published and distributed to 300 farmers and support personnel, as well as all 16 Cooperative Extension offices in Maine.
Fionally, an analysis of the initial survey has alos been completed. This analysis will lead to the creation and implementation of a statewide survey of Maine farmers and will be written up in the project’s final report. The objective of this statewide survey of Maine farmers is to develop a comprehensive baseline of the extent to which integrated farming systems and sustainable agriculture practices are being used in Maine. In addition, the 30 case stories will be integrated into a single publication that includes an analysis of both surveys.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
To date, there have been a number of outcomes. MESAS has been strengthened as a result of this project, and membership has grown by 25% since the project’s initiation. The publishing and distribution of the first five issues of the MESAS quarterly newsletter has been the driving force in the strengthening of MESAS. In addition, MESAS held its fourth annual farm tour in August 2003. This tour received the largest attendance and participation of any of the tours to date. Also, after premiering our video at a banquet sponsored by MESAS and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Resources in March 2001, 53 copies of the video have been distributed, and one copy has been used as part of a workshop put on by the Hancock County Planning Commission for beginning farmers or individuals considering becoming farmers. Also, the video was featured at the Maine International Film Festival during the summer of 2001 and its showing was followed by a reception with the film’s producer and members of the audience. At the University of Maine, the video has been used in classes such as “Environmental Policy” and “Principles of Sustainable Agriculture.” In March of 2002, the video was aired on Maine Public Television, reaching Maine and New Hampshire viewers. Film footage from the creation of this video was used in a subsequent Northeast SARE Professional Development Grant to create a video for agricultural support personnel. To date, 43 copies of this second video have been distributed, some of which were distributed to all county Extension offices. In addition, the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society’s Mentoring Program has its first three pairs of “learning” and “mentoring” farmers. Participation in this program is likely to increase as its successes spread by word-of-mouth. Both the video and the mentoring program have been publicized by other agricultural groups in Maine.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Maine Department of Agriculture