Statewide Highlights

A sampling of programs that have statewide and local importance:

Maine Food System

AgrAbility…Supporting Farmers of All Abilities to Remain Active on the Farm

The average U.S. farmer is 58 years old, and farming is the sixth most dangerous job in America. An estimated 5,700 farmers, farm family members, or farm workers in Maine have a chronic health condition or disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or aging-related issues, such as arthritis or hearing loss. In addition to farmers, fishermen, forest workers, and migrant workers face similar challenges for remaining successful in production agriculture.

UMaine Cooperative Extension partners with Maine AgrAbility to help Maine farmers, loggers and fishermen facing physical or cognitive challenges, to enhance their ability to farm and live independently, which improves their quality of life and economic sustainability. AgrAbility specialists assess issues and offer adaptive recommendations. They provide education about safe work methods and connect people with other resources through this nonprofit partnership between the UMaine Cooperative Extension, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, and Alpha One.

Supporting Maine’s Potato Industry

The $500 million potato industry is the largest agricultural sector in Maine, encompassing over 500 businesses generating over $300 million in annual sales, employing over 2,600 people, and providing over $112 million in income to Maine citizens. The management of insects, diseases, weeds, and other pests is integral in sustaining a healthy Maine potato crop. Without reliable and sustainable pest management strategies, Maine’s potato industry faces the potential of severe crop losses resulting in significant reductions in profits and threats to long-term viability.

In 2016, UMaine Extension engaged in a robust potato IPM program to ensure that Maine’s potato crop is pest and damage free while attempting to minimize the quantity of pesticides that are applied.

The economic impact from Extension’s pest monitoring and educational programs for the 2016 season is estimated at over $12.8 million, with a 135:1 return on investment by the Industry for each dollar invested into the UMaine Extension Potato IPM program.

Controlling Fungal Disease in Maine’s Wild Blueberry Industry

Wild blueberries have an economic impact of over $250 million to Maine’s economy. Since 1945, Maine’s blueberry growers and processors have provided financial support for research at the University of Maine, which in turn has developed improved cropping practices such as Integrated Crop Management (ICM) and Best Management Practices (BMP).

Valdensia leaf spot disease can be devastating to wild blueberry crops. First identified in Maine in 2009, the fungus causing this disease, can cause complete leaf drop that affects flower bud formation and subsequent yield.

UMaine Extension responded by providing growers with information on this disease and how to mitigate its spread. Most wild blueberry growers are now aware of Valdensia leaf spot and scout their fields for this disease. By eradicating this disease, growers save hundreds of dollars per acre in fungicide treatments required once this disease is well established in a field. Grower awareness of this disease has greatly limited its spread and impact on this $250 million industry.

Round bail of hay, potatoes, and blueberries

Connecting Grain Growers to High Value, Diversified Markets

Grain in fieldThe expanding interest in locally grown grains among consumers and food businesses represents a new economic opportunity for grain growers looking for higher value and diversified markets. UMaine Extension plays a unique role in our emerging local grain sector by connecting growers with buyers, as well as providing the production information needed to help growers succeed in growing for these high value markets.

In 2015, Extension was contacted by a Danish food company seeking help in developing a Maine supply of two heritage Nordic grain varieties for their New York City’s restaurant. To evaluate whether the varieties, Øland spring wheat and Svedje winter rye, would grow well in Maine, the UMaine Local Grain project planted large plot trials at UMaine Rogers Research Farm. Both varieties yielded well and had good grain quality. Extension identified growers who could successfully grow the grain and networked them with the buyer.

In 2016, Maine growers produced over 80 tons of Øland spring wheat (65 acres) and 5 tons of Svedje rye (5 acres) for this buyer.  In this initial year, this new market for Maine grown grain represented over $65,000 in increased revenue for Maine growers

Supporting Local Poultry Product Sales and Creating Jobs for Immigrants

Turkeys in a hoop houseUntil 2015, Maine did not have a USDA or State inspected poultry slaughter facility and that prohibited local sales of poultry products in Maine. A 2014 University of Southern Maine survey found that nearly 80 percent of Mainers said they want to buy local meats, but that it is not always readily available. By providing a federally inspected poultry facility in the state could increase supply and allow more Maine meat to be sold locally and across state lines.

In 2015, UMaine Extension responded by helping to facilitate Commonwealth Poultry to become a USDA inspected facility. Extension assisted the company with their initial Food Safety Management Hazard Analyzes and Critical Control Point (HCCAP), and continued to assist as they expanded. In 2015, Commonwealth Poultry became Maine’s only USDA inspected poultry slaughter and processing facility. The facility is now slaughtering and processing up to 250,000 birds per year, sold locally and in Boston and other broader markets. Most of the company’s 15 employees are immigrants of Somalia and other African countries, and Commonwealth Poultry has become a major employer for this under-served Maine population.

4-H Youth Development

4-H Ambassadors Sparking Student Interest in STEM Careers

Despite its consistently high rate of high school graduation, Maine’s college attendance and success rates are low by comparison. In 2010, the Maine STEM Collaborative estimated that in the next decade one in seven new Maine jobs will be in STEM-related areas and will offer wages that are 58 percent higher than those of other occupations.” It is critical that Maine youth have the knowledge and aspiration to access higher education, particularly in STEM fields. 4-H can be a conduit for youth to higher education and careers, especially in STEM.

In 2016, with the support of the UMaine System Chancellor and Board of Trustees, the 4-H STEM Ambassadors program expanded to six of the seven UMaine campuses. Ambassadors are trained college students who act as caring mentors to youth, facilitate STEM activities with them, and help them learn about college and career options.

As a result, ambassadors reported increases in their knowledge of STEM and comfort facilitating STEM activities. One said, Youth participant surveys suggested they want to learn more about science, feel they are good at science, and feel college could be right for them. Youth were extremely excited that UMaine students came to share STEM activities.

4-H Camps Connecting Youth to the Outdoors, Community and Mentors

3 Boys fishingMore and more youth are connected to digital media, many for 6-8 hours a day. As a result of this isolation and sedentary indoor time, many youth suffer from obesity and/or ADHD, and some lack opportunities to develop positive interpersonal skills such as empathy. Research also shows that youth without positive adult role models are at greater risk for making unhealthy choices or engaging in risky behaviors.

UMaine Extension 4-H camps provide underserved youth ages 4-17 with transformational experiences that create a sense of place and belonging, comfort and confidence in the outdoors, and the opportunity to live for a week or more alongside trained adult educators, mentors, and caring peers. With 141 different summer camp programs focusing on ecology education, the arts, and outdoor skills, youth have a wealth of opportunities from which to draw meaningful experiences.

In 2016, UMaine 4-H summer camps served 1832 youth from all 16 counties in Maine, 31 states, and 7 countries. Through living and working together, campers and staff became part of an interconnected community committed to a sustainable future. The opportunities to develop mastery of skills happens in the context of the residential camp and learning center setting and includes healthy nutrition and activities, inclusive and safe learning environments, and leadership development. Youth and program alumni report that the 4-H Camp and Learning Center experience has helped them develop greater self-confidence, civic engagement, and personal and academic success

Community and Economic Development

Maine Harvest for Hunger: Mobilizing to Support Food Insecure Citizens

People at a farmers martketMaine has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England, and ranks twelfth in the United States. The USDA estimates that

  • over 15 % of Maine households, or more than 209,000 individuals, are food insecure,
  • 24%, or 64,200 Maine’s children, are food insecure, 23% of senior citizens experience marginal, low, or very low food security, and
  • 43% food-insecure people do not qualify for food stamps or any other government program.

It is especially challenging for food insecure individuals to afford high quality, fresh, nutritious food, and donations of fresh produce to Maine’s emergency food system has declined significantly in recent years.

Since 2000, UMaine Extension’s Maine Harvest for Hunger (MHH) program has mobilized gardeners, farmers, businesses, schools, and civic groups to grow, glean, and donate quality produce to distribution sites (pantries, shelters, community meals) and directly to neighbors in need, with the goal of mitigating hunger, improving nutrition and health, and helping recipients develop lifelong positive nutritional habits.

Since 2000, Maine Harvest for Hunger participants have:

  • Distributed over 2,444,040 pounds of food to citizens grappling with hunger.
  • In 2016, donations of 257,195 pounds of fresh produce went to 142 hunger alleviation distribution sites.
  • Over 620 volunteers in 14 counties logged over 5,000 hours and the value of the produce was over $434,660.