AUBURN — The Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn, in cooperation with local, state and regional partners, is organizing an LA Region Farmland Access & Food Economy Conference on Thursday, March 7.

It will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Auburn Senior Community Center at 48 Pettengill Park.

The conference will bring together farm owners, farm-seekers, agricultural service providers and community and economic development officials and organizations.

The agenda will focus on building connections and relationships between the groups, along with providing some stories around farmland, farming and food business in Lewiston-Auburn.

Organizers are seeking to build a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem for the growth of the farm and food economy in the Lewiston-Auburn region.

“The idea for this unique conference came about as our food council listened to the community,” council coordinator Julia Harper said. “This is an economic sector that the community clearly wants and has the capacity to grow, but there are challenges here, both similar and unique to those faced all over the country.

“With a diverse group of planning partners, we imagined this conference to be an opportunity to gather a unique mix of stakeholders who each hold a piece of the puzzle to focus on these issues, discuss challenges and work collaboratively toward solutions,” she said.

The Lewiston-Auburn region is rooted in farming heritage and contains vast farmland with prime agricultural soils. Many farm owners will be considering retirement in the next five to 10 years and much of the land will change hands. At the same time, the region is home to many who are searching for land to farm.

Agriculture is one of the largest sectors bringing younger people to Maine, with 40 percent of farmers age 34 or younger. Maine is the only state in the nation to experience an increase in the number of young and beginning farmers – those who are seeking to “Grow It Here.”

There are more than 100 New American farmers in the Lewiston-Auburn region who are starting farms and/or are searching for farmland close to Lewiston-Auburn to lease or own.

Auburn is considering changes to its Agriculture and Natural Resource Protection Zone, which covers 20,000 acres, or 40 percent of the city’s land mass.

According to Maine Farmland Trust, less than 4 percent of Maine is prime agricultural soil. Of that, 1 percent is already developed or in the process of being developed, and 1 percent is conserved.

Approximately 400,000 acres of farmland in Maine are expected to change hands in the next five years due to aging farmers and landowners.

Maine has more than 8,000 farms that produce $3.8 billion in sales and create 24,000 jobs, according to Maine Farmland Trust.

Host organizations are Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn, Land for Good, Cultivating Community, Cooperative Development Institute, Somali Bantu Community Association, Land in Common Community Land Trust, St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, Maine Farmland Trust and Androscoggin Land Trust.

Sponsors are Farm Credit East, city of Auburn, city of Lewiston, Good Shepherd Food Bank and Agrarian Trust.

The conference has reached the 100 maximum registrations for venue capacity. Those interested in attending are invited to add themselves to a wait list by calling 207-464-4800 or go online at goodfood4la.org/la-farmland-food-economy-event.


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