Farms, churches link up through local agriculture

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WEST PARIS – Some advocates around the state are trying to link farms with churches to boost local agriculture and strengthen ties between neighbors and food growers.

And one farm here, which has a community-supported agriculture program already, has agreed to work with local churches to supply fresh vegetables to the congregation.

“I firmly believe that communities really need to be connected,” Jeanette Baldridge of Lolliepapa Farm said recently. “And that is an emotional and spiritual connection that is just as important to health as good food is.”

With her husband, Don, Baldridge owns the farm that sits high on Stearns Hill and has expansive views of snow-covered, low hills.

Along with 1.5 acres of organic gardens, the Baldridges have an apple orchard. They have been farming for seven years and last year started a community-supported agriculture system, which involves subscribers buying, in advance of the growing season, a share in the farm’s annual bounty. Sometimes subscribers also contribute to the planting and harvesting of their own food as well.

Baldridge said last year, Lolliepapa Farm had 11 shareholders, and she said the farm can service up to 25 people.

She and her husband are beginning to grow seeds now for next summer, and Baldridge said she is eager to involve more people who are community-minded with her farm.

“One of the hardest things we tried to do last summer was create a community,” she said.

To share more knowledge with subscribers, she said she and Don will offers workshops to their CSA members this year on how to design and build a solar dryer and also how to can and preserve food over the winter.

The endeavor to hook churches up with nearby growers is happening in pockets around the state, and is being promoted by the Maine Council of Churches and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Anne D. Burt, who works as a director for environmental justice with the Maine Council of Churches, said MOFGA received a three-year grant from Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education last year to build up local food systems, developing both the demand and supply sides.

MOFGA subcontracted the Council of Churches to start developing ties between congregations and local food producers.

Burt said she is in the initial stages of contacting churches in the area, and has already made efforts to reach out to the Unitarian-Universalist churches in West Paris and Norway.

“I feel very strongly where we are really going to achieve environmental and economic justice in communities is when we can come together and build relationships among neighbors, so that we know who has abundance and who has need,” Burt said. “It’s in scriptures, it’s in all the wisdom texts of any religion tradition, this idea of loving your neighbor.

“What we’re really trying to do is make this happen in communities,” she continued. “And where you feel a commitment to the land and to the people.”

Last spring, two young farmers in Rockland beginning to build their organic farm developed a partnership with the First Congregational Church. After this, the church bought 15 shares at Reba Richardson and Bill Pluecker’s Hatchet Cove Farm. One of the shares, which is what subscribers pay for a season’s worth of vegetables, was for the church’s local food pantry, and the rest of the shares were bought by individuals.

“Not only does this allow us to help struggling farms, this offers us an opportunity to knock on the doors of churches and really talk about economic and environmental justice. It makes sense how this could be part of a ministry of a church or congregation,” Burt said.

The three-year goal shared between MOFGA and the Council of Churches is to increase by 50 percent the number of community-supported agriculture shares in Maine, which is roughly around 2,500 now, according to Burt.

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