2022-2023 County Highlights
- President: Beth McEvoy, DVM
- Treasurer: Rick Cabot, MD
- Kim Merritt
Piscataquis County Staff
- Sheila Norman, 4-H Professional
- Trisha Smith, 4-H CEA
- Anette Moulton, Administrative Specialist
- Laurie Bowen, Food Systems Program Associate
Safety is the number one priority when it comes to home food preservation and with the rising cost of food, many Mainers are turning to food preservation as a resource. Dial pressure gauge testing is provided to home food preservationist free of charge and is one of the many services provided by University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Dial gauges must be tested annually to ensure accuracy for safely preserving low acid foods.
The latest, most up to date, tested and reliable recommendations from the USDA are also provided. Boiling water bath canning, pressure canning, freezing and dehydration are among the hands-on workshops offered to residents of Piscataquis County.
Cooking for Crowds, a food safety volunteer training program, is designed for non-profit audiences that cook food for the public as part of food fundraisers and organizations that provide meals at no cost to the public. Cooking for Crowds also meets the requirements of the Good Shepherd food safety training requirements for those who work in food distribution centers.
Other programs that have been offered include growing microgreens, making cost effective spice mixes and workshops on safely preserving wild game. UMaine Extension is available to offer assistance to those who are new to food preservation as well as the experienced home canner.
Piscataquis County 4-H
As the youth programming arm of UMaine Extension, 4-H grounds its practices in positive youth development, where youth “learn by doing” and are guided by caring adults. Traditionally associated with animal, crop, and homemaking projects, 4-H has expanded to support youth interests in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math), civic engagement, community leadership, and outdoor learning, as well. Online offerings have also improved and expanded to help fill gaps created by pandemic restrictions.
2023 is marked by growth and revitalization of 4-H in Piscataquis County. In February, we welcomed former Home Horticulture Community Education Assistant (CEA) Trisha Smith back to Extension in the role of 4-H CEA. Born and raised in Piscataquis County, Trisha hit the ground running, as she came with an understanding of Extension and had worked with 4-H and school youth in her previous role.
We kicked off our revitalized program by piloting Maple Sugaring 101, a collaboration with 4-H Workforce Development Professional, Andrew Hudacs. In addition to online instruction from UMaine Extension experts, Maple Sugaring 101 included hands-on experiential learning at Duck Grove Farm in Dover-Foxcroft. Youth learned about maple tree identification, setting a tap, running lines and collecting sap, evaporating and testing syrup, and finally, tasting the product!
In April, we hosted a 4-H Roadmap, which introduced area families to each other and/or 4-H. Since that event, three new leaders have completed their certifications and trainings, two new clubs have been organized, and four new adult volunteers are in the process of application and certification. One club meets at the Guilford Community Garden and an archery club is forming in Dover-Foxcroft. A small ruminant (sheep and goats)/fiber arts club is in the works beginning in the fall.
Adventures in Health Science will be back in October 2023 as a 6-week Spin (Special Interest) club offered in partnership with Northern Lights Mayo Hospital. Youth, ages 12-18, will have an opportunity to explore career opportunities in health care with local professionals as well as learn practical skills for healthy living.
Through online and hybrid statewide programs, Piscataquis County youth have access to a variety of opportunities such as the Summer Learning series, YOUth Have a Voice community action club, and Ag Leadership Team. Piscataquis youth will be encouraged to participate in 2024 County and State Public Speaking Tournaments, typically held in March and April, with opportunities to compete at higher levels later in the year. We are grateful for the support of individuals and families, businesses and partnering organizations in creating a community where youth can develop confidence, mastery, and generosity in an inclusive, welcoming environment.
One TomatoTM distribution is complete in Piscataquis and Aroostook counties. Over 525 cherry tomato seedlings were distributed. Growing instructions and surveys were distributed as well. This was a great opportunity to also provide the community with other resources such as soil test kits, bulletins on small space and container gardening, pest management, Cooperative Extension resources and instructions on how to preserve all those beautiful cherry tomatoes.
The goal of the One Tomato project is to encourage more people to grow their own food and eat more fresh vegetables. If a handful (less than a pint) was valued at $1.50, the bowl full (pint to ½ gallon) valued at $3 (Agricultural Marketing Service, Northeast, 2014-2018),1/2 gallon to 1 gallon at $10, and bucket full (over a gallon) at $23 then the total estimated value of all the cherry tomatoes harvested from these seedlings is over $22,400 for the first seven years of the One TomatoTM project. That is an average of $8.39 in cherry tomatoes from one seedling.
Preliminary results of the initial survey show about 71% of folks have never participated in the program before. Also, for 30% of people picking up a seedling, this was their first interaction with UMaine Extension.
In Piscataquis County 400 tomato seedlings were given out in Dover-Foxcroft, Milo, Monson, Greenville, Sangerville, and Guilford. Our thanks go out to our staff, Master Gardener Volunteers and Executive Committee members for helping with the distribution. I would also like to thank all the businesses and organizations that hosted us for distribution and for their support of the program. We look forward to another successful distribution next year.
Pollinator-Friendly Garden Certification Program
The Pollinator-Friendly Garden Certification Program has certified over 94 gardens as pollinator-friendly since 2021 in Maine and in New Hampshire. The program educates the public on the importance of pollinators and their relationship with our native plant species as well as our food system. It is estimated that every third bite of our food can be attributed to pollinators. The program educates the public on how to support pollinators by providing food, water, shelter and protecting habitat which in turns helps support our food system.
Master Gardener Volunteers have donated over 500 hours for meetings and application reviews for this program. Outreach has been very successful with 350 native seed packets and 1,200 education material packets having been distributed in 2023 alone. Collaboration with 4-H summer learning series on pollination and pollinators and the relationship between pollinators and our food systems have reached over 360 students in the past year and staff have presented over 25 programs on pollinator-friendly gardening in the past year.
Highland Area Gleaners
UMaine Extension and Healthy Eating Active Living at Northern Light May Hospital together have created a gleaning initiative to help increase food availability for the community and reduce the amount of food waste entering landfills, both helping to prevent food loss. Quality produce gleaned from farms, home gardens and markets will be redirected back to communities in Piscataquis County.
The Central Maine Garden News, a monthly newsletter provides information on ornamental and vegetable gardening, pest management, food preservation, Extension resources for the home and nature articles to over 2,500 subscribers every month. Maine Farm News, and the Beef Producers Newsletters have over 1,290 subscribers from Piscataquis County.
Agricultural Support and Outreach
Programs for agricultural support and outreach include the Maine New Farmers Project, providing new farmers with a chance to learn with other farmers from an expert in the field with self-study options and other training opportunities. Questions on livestock water and feeding as well as meat processing, hay resources, growing vegetables, farming, farm stands, crop production and marketing, pesticides, disease and insect identification, soil test interpretation, irrigation and farm business planning are just some of the questions that Cooperative Extension answers for the people of Piscataquis County. From August of 2022 to May of 2023 over 425 face to face inquiries were answered.