Soil and water

Celebrating the county’s agricultural heritage

Summer is well underway and so is potato season in Aroostook County. Agriculture is an essential part of Maine’s character and economy.

Summer is well underway and so is potato season in Aroostook County. Agriculture is an essential part of Maine’s character and economy.

It’s an essential part of who we are and our rich history in Aroostook County. And there are so many opportunities to celebrate that culture this summer: from Annual Festival of Ployethat Bouchard Family Farms helps sponsor, the 50th ACAP Anniversary potato plotand of course the Potato Flower Festival. In fact, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Potato Blossom Festival, for which I was honored to share my support as a Maine Tourism Grant recipient.

This season we also saw the really exciting news that Good Shepard Food Bank is starting a new venture – Harvesting Good – to freeze local produce for sale year-round. Circle B Farms in Caribou will provide the first harvest to be frozen this year, which means growth for Circle B and net profits donated to food banks by Harvesting Good. I was proud of support the Mainers Feeding Mainers program administered by Good Shepherd Food Banks in their efforts to increase the use of locally grown foods in the past, and this innovative new project will take those efforts to a new level that is the first of its kind in the country. Harvesting Good’s partnership with Circle B is a win-win that starts right in the soil of Aroostook County. I look forward to supporting this work in any way I can so it can hopefully grow to include even more farms in the county.

This news about Harvesting Good and summer festivals is more than just a fun way to get together with our communities: it honors the hard work and dedication of county farmers. In Legislature, I have worked hard to honor this by providing support to Aroostook farmers and the entire agricultural industry.

I know that changing and difficult weather conditions are part of being a farmer. And our state’s farmers are tough and ready to adapt to these changes. However, sometimes the hits trusses take are just too big to recover from easily. For example, in 2020, a drought year, statewide potato yield declined nearly 15% from the 5-year average. Translate; that means a loss of hundreds of dollars per acre — and that in just one area. That’s why I introduced DL 1998: An Act establishing a fund for farmers affected by drought. LD 1998 establishes a grant program that Maine farmers can access during extreme weather conditions. This also ensures that farms located in unorganized territories will also have better access to water.

Jeremy Pelletier, who is one of the owners of Ed Pelletier and Sons in Frenchville, is the person who asked me to introduce this bill. Jeremy and I took a long walk around his farm to discuss some of the challenges he faced trying to access reliable and sustainable water sources. It was clear that getting water to crops due to state-level bureaucracy simply should not be a concern for farmers.

I know that the impact of farms on our communities goes far beyond a plot of land or a farmer. Strong farms mean success for the people those farms employ, agricultural retailers, mechanics, and more. Access to improved irrigation means real and tangible benefits in all communities. That’s why I introduced this bill at the request of Jeremy Pelletier, and then worked with the Maine Potato Board – to make sure our state takes action to protect and preserve our heritage industries that power the rural communities for generations. This will ensure that Maine farms remain a vital part of the state’s character and economy, especially as we experience more extreme weather conditions. It will provide financing to farmers in a way that will ensure a brighter future for Maine’s proud and legendary agricultural sector.

I know supporting farmers can’t and doesn’t stop at their fields, which is why I’m proud of the work my colleagues and I have done, and some truly amazing nonprofits did. During the last legislature, I was so happy to support Senator Eloïse Vitelli bill to expand Maine local produce fund so that schools have a higher reimbursement cap on the food they buy from local producers. This means that local farms that manage Maine’s land and water, employ people, and help keep our economy running can provide a greater share of what is served to students.

I know that, like all business owners, Maine farmers are working hard to stay ahead of rising costs. I will continue to fight to ensure our farmers have the support they need to continue to thrive and maintain the county’s great farming traditions.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns at 287-1500 or [email protected].

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