Maine Small Farm Field Day
by Arthur Bolduc
Under scattered clouds and surrounded by dazzling fall foliage, small and part-time farmers and gardeners from at least four of the New England states gathered at Highmore Farm in Monmoth, Maine, for the second Small Farm Field Day on Oct. 12, 1985.
Sponsored by the Maine Cooperative Extension Service, Maine Organic Farmer and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), Maine Small Farm Association (MSFA) and hosted by John Harker, manager of the Fruit Research Experiment Station at Highmore Farm, this one-day event is an intensive learning experience in practical small farming.
The theme of this year’s Small Farm Day was small livestock operations, held in and around a large tent erected for the occasion.
Vaughn Holyoke and his committee came up with an information-packed schedule of concurrent livestock demonstrations starting at 10:00 and, with a break for lunch, running until 3:00. It included demos on handling, restraint and first aid to common livestock and poultry, including rabbits.
Successful breeders of livestock were present with excellent young and mature stock that was used in live grading and other demos including goat milking at the end of the day.
Crisp, breezy weather made it possible to hold meat cutting demonstrations outdoors where there was plenty of room and a lot of interested spectators.
At the same time a concurrent schedule of fruit and vegetable cultivar demos were taking place at convenient locations. In addition there were demos on composting, row covers, apple grading and impromptu discussions on just about any farm subject of interest to those participating.
The aggie engineering department of the U.M.O. displayed a shop-built tractor put together from junked auto parts, a blueberry picker, brush cutter and various tractor implements. A home made log skidder also attracted a lot of attention.
Equipment and farm supply dealers also added their expertise.
The Europeans seem to be way ahead of us in the manufacture of versatile two wheel tractors and equipment. Russ Lawson of Bath, Me. was there with his Mainline tractors and a new import, the Goldoni, which I believe is the answer to many small farmer’s power needs. Russ is also looking into other pieces of equipment to fill the needs of the small and part-time farmer and they sound very interesting.
A management seminar held last year was so well received that MSFA initiated a 12-week non-credit course on Small Farm Management now being offered at two U.M. campuses.
It’s difficult to believe that a decade or so ago small and part-time farmers were considered doomed by much of our agricultural and related systems. “Get big, or get out” they were told and many believed it.
W. Gardiner Young, president of the Maine Small Farm Association, tells us that two-thirds of the farms in Maine are classified as small and the state has lost 10,000 farms in the last 25 years. Since the end of World War II Maine farm land has dwindled from 4.5 million to 1.5 million acres.
Maine has always been an area of small family farms, for most of the glacier-scarred land is not suited to large scale farming. The “get big, or get out” mentality leaves little choice but to get out.
The loss of a few farms to land development is to be expected, but the extinction of the small farmer in Maine could have serious impact on the state’s economy and health.
With the loss of every farm go jobs and tax revenue and the increased drain of dollars on the local economy to import from other parts of the country what had been grown at home.
And as any region becomes dependent on food shipped in from long distances there is a sharp decline in quality. The medical and health professionals are finally getting around to recognizing that many of our chronic ills are due to fiber stripped, processed foods laden with sugar, fats, oils, preservatives, insecticides, steroids and, yes, even anti-freeze. And they will also tell you that the best health insurance is wholesome, unprocessed food grown on fertile land. Unfortunately a health insurance policy is easier to come by.
Agribusiness which grew out of cheap, abundant petroleum in the post war world – and nearly eliminated the small farmer in the process – is in serious financial trouble. Skyrocketing oil costs and limit ed future supplies from which most of their fertilizer, insecticides and gasoline are derived are being passed o n to the consumer in the form of ever-increasing food prices. Combined with higher interest rates and ecological problems that result from intense chemical farming, agribusiness has priced itself out of many world markets and is being challenged at home.
The giant food processors are doing little to help the farmer or consumer except to offer expensive service in the form of prepared foods of questionable quality wrapped in wastefully expensive packaging that is pushed on to the consumer by an even more expensive TV advertising campaign.
In Maine they feel they have an alternative.
In the not too distant past a diversified agriculture based on small family farms supplied most of the state’s food and sold a surplus.
Private, non-profit agricultural associations such as MOFGA and MSFA, in cooperation with the State Extension Service and other groups are working through self-help programs to build a sustainable, intensive agriculture based on diversified small farming that can save their remaining farms, help the local economy and produce a lot of food that is now being trucked in from great distances at ever increasing prices.
From what I saw at the Maine Small Farm Day ’85, nobody is taking these small and part time farmers lightly anymore. They are impressing everybody with their practical yet professional approach to the goals they have set for themselves and are developing a whole new school of agriculture that is going to be very interesting to watch. Yes, Yankee ingenuity is still alive and well in Maine.