News from Maine AgrAbility Staff

by Ellen S. Gibson

Finding a Way Forward in These Uncertain Times

As of March 19, 2020, Maine AgrAbility’s work continues from home. I checked in this week with our AgrAbility Veteran Outreach Coordinator Anne Devin. In addition to Anne’s role at Cooperative Extension with Maine AgrAbility, she owns Chase Stream Farm in Monroe, with her husband, Tim. They raise organic vegetables, meats, and eggs, and Anne makes value-added products like kimchi and jam.

Anne’s work AgrAbility and veterans

Anne organized the Educate-2-Cultivate (E2C) Conference for veterans that was held at the Augusta Armory in October 2019. Thirty-five veteran farmers and their partners attended, representing 20 farms at the inaugural conference. All agreed it was a great success. The second annual E2C is already scheduled for November 14, 2020, at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast.

Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, Anne then developed Boots-2-Bushels (B2B)—Boot Camp for Market Gardeners and Farmers. This is a nine-month market gardening education and training program for military veterans. This program, sponsored by UMaine Cooperative Extension’s Maine AgrAbility in partnership with the Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener Association (MOFGA), takes participants from seed-to-salary in a hands-on and realistic project.

B2B started this January with sixteen students attending classes on the Togus campus, with plans for four months of classroom training covering topics from soil health to crop planning to marketing. In May, six months of practical fieldwork training was planned at Togus community gardens with the goal of developing a CSA, and building a supportive cohort of beginning veteran farmers. Then, as with the rest of the world, COVID-19 struck, and the VA had to focus on the health of their at-risk veteran population and canceled all recreational therapy programs, including B2B.

Anne D: “We had our 6th class with Boots-2-Bushels on Monday, March 23.  Moving forward, 7 out of the 16 participants are going to come to our farm this summer to finish out the program since we can no longer use the VA garden space. They will get the same benefit of getting weekly shares for themselves, their families, and extra for their communities. Making lemonade out of lemons.”

The Cooperative Extension is working hard to keep farmers connected

Donna Coffin is offering Daily Maine Farmer ZOOM Meetings: Starting Monday, March 23 at 10:00 AM, UMaine Extension is conducting daily ZOOM meeting for farmers to share what is happening on their farm, what is working well, and what isn’t working well. It’s a chance for farmers to chat with others throughout the state and stay connected in these difficult times. Farmers can tune in either through a computer or by phone. No registration is necessary.

Anne D: “Yesterday [Monday, March 23] we spent the time going around the group with introductions and talking about how things are going with them during this time. Flower farmers, in particular, are the most stressed since many weddings and any other social gatherings have been canceled. They are trying to figure out how to adapt to new needs, but there is a lot of fear of the unknown out there.”

Not even a pandemic can stop spring from coming

Photo courtesy of Chase Stream Farm

No matter what, farming provides trials and tribulations.

AD: Lambing just started yesterday for us–we welcomed Calvin from his yearling mama, Chloe. They are doing well and Chloe is so pleased with herself that she gave birth before all of the other old ladies.

Farmers need your support, now more than ever. Working farmers produce healthy economic growth!!