Jim Buckle is shown last month in the entrance to a room that holds a PFAS filtration system at The Buckle Farm in Unity, purchased with help from a newly created state fund. Buckle’s farm is one of roughly 60 across the state that have so far had to deal with PFAS contamination, and he and other farmers credit the state fund with helping them stay in business. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

UNITY —  Jim Buckle was floored when he got the news.

Buckle, along with his wife, Hannah Hamilton, owns The Buckle Farm in Unity, a 17-acre operation where they primarily grow onions, potatoes and broccoli. In 2022, he received a letter from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry saying that the water on the farm contained 150 parts per trillion of PFAS — 750% more than what the state says is safe.

The farm had to shut down immediately, and at that time, indefinitely.

“It’s a crushing blow to find out that you have some sort of PFAS contamination on your farm,” Buckle said. “You’ve gotta shut everything down and try to get rid of these literal ‘forever chemicals.’ I mean, how do you navigate that?”

Since being shut down in 2022, however, programs established by other organic farmers have helped Buckle’s farm get back on its feet. And now, through a new state program Buckle helped develop, his farm is finding new life.

And it’s not the only one. Dozens of Maine farms experiencing PFAS contamination have been able to stay in business with help from the new state fund, billed as the first of its kind across the nation.


PFAS, which stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are a group of synthetic chemicals that repel both oil and water. The chemicals do not break down in the body or the environment, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.”

PFAS contamination in Maine largely has been linked to the spreading of sludge on farms as an alternative to fertilizer beginning in the 1970s, though the chemicals are used in everything from raincoats to plastic plates.

More than 500 residential wells have since been deemed unsafe to drink due to the chemicals as they have seeped into Maine’s land, water and eventually wildlife.

Roughly 60 farms across the state so far have dealt with PFAS contamination in their soil, water, produce, meat and milk since the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry began testing for the chemicals in 2016.

But where once things seemed hopeless for these farmers, they’ve since gained hope that there’s plenty of farming in their future.



One of the first things that Buckle learned, he said, is that he was not helpless. The second is that he was not alone.

He found that he was not the only farmer in Unity dealing with PFAS contamination. Though none of them knew how to deal with their PFAS problems, Buckle says he became friends with other farmers going through similar struggles.

Jim Buckle describes how the PFAS water filtration system works at The Buckle Farm in Unity last month. Tanks filled with carbon are at the left, next to black particle filters. Buckle’s hand is atop a pressure tank that pushes well water into the system. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“It engaged us in more conversation,” Buckle said. “We got to talk about what was happening at our farms, how we felt about it, and how we could help each other. Many of us, we had the fear that we’d have to sell the farm, but so far, we’ve done pretty well.”

It was through those friends that Buckle was put in touch with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, or MOFGA, a Unity-based organization that was just beginning the rollout of a unique program designed to help farms contaminated with PFAS.

In March 2022, MOFGA and the Maine Farmland Trust launched the PFAS Emergency Relief fund — a program that paid for PFAS testing and directly subsidized many farmers, helping them to make up for income lost due to PFAS contamination, among other forms of assistance.

The program was one of the first in the nation to provide direct support to farms affected by PFAS, raising over $1.5 million within just a few months and helping dozens of farmers get back on their feet, according to Sarah Alexander, MOFGA’s executive director.


“In early 2022, a number of farms in the Unity and Albion area found their farms contaminated, either their water or soil, all at the same time,” Alexander said. “If we didn’t have this in place, worst-case scenario, it would’ve been the end of many of those farms.”

The fund identified four ways to assist PFAS-laden farms: Income replacement, PFAS testing, infrastructure adaptations and mental health support for farmers.

Through those areas of outreach, Alexander says the vast majority of farmers utilizing the program were able to stay afloat while unable to eat their own crops, drink their own water, or dig into their own soil.

“The farmers we’ve worked with will continue to work,” Alexander said.

It was at about the same time when the state began ramping up its own PFAS response. It was already providing a small amount of money for testing and remediation, but nowhere near enough to recoup the losses of contamination.

As more farmers continued finding PFAS in their produce, meat, milk, water and soil, the need for a broader response became increasingly apparent to Maine’s legislators. They found a guideline in the program MOFGA developed.



State officials and legislators began developing their response by first reaching out to their constituents who have already been dealing with PFAS, Buckle said.

In late 2022, leaders from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources; and various state legislators began holding meetings with MOFGA, the Maine Farmland Trust, and dozens of farmers to better understand the impacts of PFAS.

Buckle was one of the farmers involved in the fund’s creation. He was among those pushing for the fund to not just test for and filter PFAS, but also provide farmers direct support after their farms were shuttered.

“The Legislature, to their credit, listened to us,” Buckle said. “There weren’t many questions. We just got what we needed, and that helped us make the program we have now.”

Jim Buckle walks in front of a 2-acre vegetable field at The Buckle Farm in Unity. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

It became clear that the state’s approach needed to be much larger than testing land and installing water filters. So legislators began planning a fund similar to MOFGA’s that would provide direct support to farmers with PFAS contamination through a number of different programs.


Though each farmer’s situation was unique, state PFAS Fund Director Elizabeth Valentine said, a few themes became apparent: Peoples’ livelihoods had been swept out from under them, leaving most without income and nearly all with an existential threat from pollution they didn’t create.

“Producers and farmers were asking for a variety of support,” Valentine said. “As a result, we now have income replacement, we have clean feed, we take requests for equipment and infrastructure. We definitely have been busy.”

When all was said and done, the state allocated $70 million to the Fund to Address PFAS Contamination, taking each of the four areas comprising MOFGA’s fund and expanding on them.

Rather than only covering the cost of therapy and mental health care for farmers, the state is now paying for other PFAS-related health care, including water filtration and blood serum testing.

The fund can also purchase contaminated property from commercial farms unable to reopen. The state is working with the University of Maine to conduct research on PFAS pollution and remediation at farms contaminated with the chemicals.

Since it began accepting applications in late March, Valentine said the fund has helped address and remediate the contamination of nearly every farmer who has applied. Of the roughly 70 contaminated farms engaged with the state’s fund, only five have closed.


“There are much more success stories. The vast majority have continued operating viable farms,” Valentine said. “But the application of biosolids as a farmland fertilizer is a practice that’s been going on across the country since as early as the 1970s.

“Maine is just the first state to acknowledge that we have a problem.”


When the Fund to Address PFAS Contamination was formally created in late 2022, lawmakers created a 15-member advisory committee to oversee the fund’s implementation.

The committee consists of several state legislators, the heads of various state regulatory agencies, academic researchers and five Maine farmers. Buckle was one of the farmers selected to sit on the committee.

“Everyone who got that request (to join the board) took it,” he said, laughing. “It’s designed to help everyone who applies to it in whatever way it can. It’s an individualized program.”


Each of the five farmers on the committee comes from a different background. While Buckle primarily grows produce, other farmers had expertise in grains, meat and other products. Though they may be dealing with the same problem, PFAS affects some crops more than others, Valentine said.

“It looks different on every farm. The severity of the impact and the response partly depends on what they’re producing,” she said. “Dairy farms have been hit particularly hard. Hay is a crop that takes up a lot of PFAS, and then that hay, when fed to a lactating animal like a cow, will show up in the milk and sometimes meat.”

Jenni Tilton Flood, a dairy farmer who manages the Flood Brothers Farm in Clinton, was appointed to the committee in October 2022.

By that point, she had already been trying to push the state to do more for dairy farmers affected by PFAS.

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Jenni Tilton-Flood, a partner in Flood Brothers dairy farm in Clinton, pictured last month, is on the committee that oversees the state’s PFAS contamination fund. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press file

Many contaminated dairy farms have never spread PFAS-laden sludge on their land; instead, Flood said, their problems often come from others who have spread contamination one way or the other.

“There were no other commercial dairy farmers appointed. It’s an important perspective to make sure was included,” Flood said. “We’re not creating this problem, we’re receiving it. Sometimes without us knowing and without control of the situation.”


Both Buckle and Flood say their own experiences as farmers, along with legislators’ willingness to listen, is what has turned the state’s PFAS fund into such a success story.

The Buckle Farm was the second to apply to the PFAS fund they helped develop. Through both that fund and MOFGA’s program, Buckle was able to install water filtration systems at his farm and effectively mitigate the contamination.

In the time since, The Buckle Farm has reopened for business, as have nearly a dozen other farms across the state who have applied for assistance through the state’s fund.

“Every state should see exactly what we’re doing and do it for themselves,” Buckle said. “This isn’t just a Maine problem. It’s not going away.”

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