With National Farmers Market Week Around the Corner, Maine Agriculture Continues to Grow
Farmers’ markets have a long and proud history in New England that dates back to colonial times. And with the exciting growth we’ve seen in Maine agriculture recently, that tradition of farmers bringing their goods to market has bloomed into an important part of our economy.
Agriculture has always been a defining part of Maine’s identity, but as our local food movement expands and more and more people are looking for goods grown and produced close to home, it has been laying down strong roots and becoming a significant economic driver. Farmers’ markets provide an important outlet for Maine farmers to connect with consumers, build their business, and ultimately help grow the local economy in their communities.
This month, we have a perfect opportunity to celebrate the positive impact of Maine farmers’ markets from Fort Kent to Kittery. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared August 7-13 as “National Farmers Market Week,” giving us a chance to reflect on how far our network of community farmers’ markets has come over the years, and where it is heading in the future.
Thanks in part to the work done by the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, a group that works across the state to connect our farmers with their communities, we have seen a real boom in the number of markets here in Maine. In the early 1990s when the Federation first got going, we had about 30 farmers’ markets. Now, the number is somewhere closer to 150 when you include both summer and winter farmers’ markets.
That’s right – winter farmers’ markets. While we often associate farming with the summer months, Maine has about 35 winter farmers’ markets that offer a variety of goods even during our coldest months. Products like local meats and cheeses can be sold year round, and next-generation greenhouse technology is helping to extend the growing season for many crops her in our state. So even though we are celebrating our farmers’ markets during August, this is really a year-round affair.
No matter the season, Maine agriculture and our farmers’ markets our known for their diversity. While other parts of the country are home to larger farms that often focus on one type of crop, Maine is known for our smaller, family-owned farms that produce a variety of crops and products.
That diversity was on full display over the past few days while I toured various family farms and producers in Aroostook County. Of course, the County is famous for its hardworking potato growers who have helped to make the potato an iconic symbol of Maine agriculture, and I couldn’t visit the area without spending time on a potato farm. But I also toured an organic dairy farm, the largest producer of broccoli and cauliflower in the Northeast, other diversified family farms, and even a relatively new malt house that is providing Maine-grown malts and grains to our local craft beer makers.
Family-owned and operated farms across the state, like the ones I toured in Aroostook, are playing a major role in the positive trends we’re seeing in Maine agriculture today. Many of these farms have been in the family for generations, and through their great variety of products and participation in local farmers’ markets, they are helping to drive the growth and excitement that has propelled our local food network to become one of the best in the country.
Markets across the state will be joining to celebrate National Farmers Market Week in the coming days. I encourage everyone to get out there to explore your local farmers’ market, join in the celebration with friends and neighbors, and support the local economy.
Bangor Daily News
August 10, 2016