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38 Maine farms awarded grants for business model, supply chain adjustments

A second round of Maine Farm Emergency Grants has been distributed to 38 farms across the state to help farmers adjust their business models to deal with market adaptations and supply-chain disruption spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grants are a collaboration of Maine Farmland Trust and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which have distributed $188,960 between this round and the first one in the spring, that distributed grants to 79 farms. Grants are between $500 and $2,000, and this round totaled $47,960.

“Dealing with the day-to-day impacts of the coronavirus on top of a severe drought this summer has made for a difficult year for farms across the state,” said Sarah Alexander, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “As we begin winter it’s important that we continue to support these businesses that are working hard to produce nutritious and high quality food for our communities. These grants are just one piece of the puzzle, and we hope that additional federal and state support is on the way.” 

The farms that received emergency grants have adapted their businesses in significant and multiple ways to meet changes in markets and adjust to uncertainty this year, according to Sarah Simon, farmland access and farm viability program director at Maine Farmland Trust. “A few of the challenges farms continue to grapple with include additional time and labor costs to adapt to restrictions and operate safely, market disruption, and coping with COVID exposure in their families and communities,” she said.

The farms will use to the money to offer products to the community in a safe manner and for essential operating costs, a news release announced the grants said.

Josh Girard, of Girard Farm in Lyman, said he is adjusting his marketing strategy to expand his on-farm selling season. “We will continue to expand and improve our farm stand to accommodate fall, spring and winter sales,” he said.

Market disruptions continue to have a negative impact on many farms’ ability to operate in the usual way. Several cited the need to expend additional time and cost to get essentials that include, livestock, feed and packaging.

Lisa Reilich, of Painted Pepper Farm in Steuben, said the Washington County farm had significant disruption in markets and access to feed with the border between the U.S. and Canada closed, and packaging because of glass shortages. She said the farm has had to significantly shift markets and will use the money to “invest in infrastructure that helps streamline online ordering for on farm pickup and a stand-alone farm store structure.”

Simon and Alexander said that the grants help, but more help is needed.

“We know there’s more need in our farm community than what we were able to meet with these grants, and we’ll continue to offer technical assistance for all of the farms in our network,” Alexander said. “There could still be more challenges to come as farms continue to deal with the pandemic into 2021. We’ll be monitoring the situation closely and will continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for Maine’s farms.”

Simon said, “Our work to support these and all Maine farms extends far beyond these emergency grants. We’ll continue to work together to ensure the viability of farms throughout the state through our respective complementary programs, which help farmers access land, education, and other resources they need to grow thriving farm businesses.”

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