Small farms are big at Maine Agricultural Trades Show

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AUGUSTA — The 72nd annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show this week is evidence of the steady growth in the number of small farms.

Gary Keough, representative of the U.S. National Agricultural Statistics Service, told those attending the show that New England has had the greatest increase in small farms per capita since the last agricultural census in 2007.

“This has been the greatest growth in the number of farms since the end of World War II,” he said.

That fact was evident in the number of nonprofit, farm-related booths, vendors, and farm and forest organizations set up in the Augusta Civic Center.

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One reason may be the emphasis on youth. Many booths focused on how a young person can get into farming.

Stephanie Gilbert, a farmland specialist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said, “People are coming back and want to farm.”

Renee Brown and Stephanie Stamback were staffing booths devoted to Maine School Garden Day and Maine Agriculture in the Classroom.

“More and more teachers are including agriculture in the curriculum,” Brown said.

The organization, under the leadership of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, holds daylong and weeklong workshops for teachers who want to learn how to use agriculture to get students interested.

Numerous gardens have been established at dozens of schools around the state, including those in Buckfield, Bethel, Mexico and Otisfield.

Kimbalie Lawrence, an assistant to the state Division of Agricultural Resource Development, said school classes visit the trades show to learn the many routes agriculture and forestry may take.

Caldwell Jackson, director of the Division, which is under the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, said state agencies work together to encourage eating local food and growing vegetable gardens.

“We want Maine to become the breadbasket of New England,” he said.

Among the trends is an emphasis on technology in all aspects of farming and forestry, but not all tools and equipment at the trades show are high tech.

Carol Bryan of Perry owns one of only two hand-scythe manufacturers in the United States. She employs four people in the small Washington County town, who build nearly 2,000 scythes annually and ship them all over the world.

All the wood for the customized, full-sized scythes is Maine ash and maple. The blades, which used to be made in America, now come from Austria.

“Maine is our No. 1 customer,” she said.

Young people are beginning to pick up the skill to use and sharpen the scythes. Some also want to conserve nonrenewable energy by using the cutting tool, the Waterville native said.

“As we get into more and more technology, people like to balance it out (with low-tech tools),” she said.

Bill Haynes of Waterford said he owns two scythes he uses around his home. The president of the Western Maine Chapter of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine attended the show Wednesday, which was SWOAM Day.

Haynes was among the hundreds from around the state visiting booths and attending workshops on topics such as farming, milk and cheese production, floral displays, raising goats, cattle and chickens, invasive insects and seed companies.

Wayne and Adelia Thurston of Peru, who produce maple syrup, vegetables and hay, said they attend the show every year.

“We want to see all the changes in the industry,” Wayne Thurston said.

The three-day show closes at 3 p.m. Thursday.

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