Opinion

Celebrating The County’s agricultural heritage

Summer is well underway, as is potato season in Aroostook County. Farming is a critical part of Maine’s character and economy.

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

This season, we’ve also seen the really exciting news that Good Shepard Food Bank is starting up a new company — Harvesting Good — to freeze local produce to be sold year-round. Circle B Farms in Caribou will be providing the first crop that will be frozen this year- meaning growth for Circle B and net profits being donated to food banks by Harvesting Good. I’ve been proud to support the Mainers Feeding Mainers program administered by Good Shepherd Food Banks in their efforts to increase use of locally-farmed food in the past, and this new and innovative project will take those efforts to a new level that’s 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 that it can hopefully grow to include even more farms in The County. 

 This news about Harvesting Good and the summer’s festivals are more than just a fun way to gather with our communities: they honor the hard work and dedication of farmers across The County. In the legislature, I’ve worked hard to honor just that by delivering support for Aroostook farmers and the entire agricultural industry. 

 I know that changing and difficult weather conditions are just part of being a farmer. And our state’s farmers are tough and willing to adapt to those changes. However, sometimes the hits that farms take are just too big to recover easily from. For example in 2020, a drought year, the statewide yield for potatoes decreased by nearly 15 percent from the 5 year average. To translate; that means a loss of possibly hundreds of dollars per acre — and that’s in just one sector. That’s why I introduced LD 1998: An Act To Establish a Fund for Farmers Adversely Affected by Drought Conditions. LD 1998 establishes a grant program that Maine farmers can access to weather extreme conditions. It also ensures that farms in unorganized territories will have improved access to water as well. 

 Jeremy Pelletier, who is one of the owners of Ed Pelletier and Sons in Frenchville, was the person who asked me to put in this bill. Jeremy and I took a long walk through his farm to discuss some of the challenges he faced in trying to get access to reliable, sustainable water sources. It was clear that getting water to crops because of bureaucratic red tape at the state level just shouldn’t be something farmers need to worry about. 

 I know that the impact farms have on our communities goes far beyond any one plot of land or farmer. Strong farms means success for the folks these farms employ, agricultural retailers, mechanics, and more. Access to improved irrigation means real and tangible benefits throughout communities. That’s why I put this bill forward at the request of Jeremy Pelletier, and subsequently worked with the Maine Potato Board — to make sure that our state is taking steps to protect and preserve our heritage industries that have powered rural communities for generations. It will ensure  that Maine farms will remain a critical part of the state’s character and economy, especially as we experience more extreme weather. It will provide funding to farmers in a way that will ensure a brighter future for Maine’s proud and storied agricultural sector.

 I know that supporting farmers can’t and doesn’t stop in their fields, which is why I’m proud of the work that my colleagues and I have done, and that really amazing non-profits have done. Last legislative session, I was so happy to support Sen. Eloise Vitelli’s bill to expand Maine’s Local Produce Fund so that schools have a higher reimbursement cap on food they buy from local producers. This means that local farms who are stewarding Maine’s land and water, employing folks, and helping keep our economy running can supply a bigger share of what’s served to students. 

 I know that like all business owners, Maine farmers are working hard to stay ahead of rising costs. I’ll keep fighting to make sure that our farmers have the support they need to continue to thrive and uphold The County’s great agricultural traditions. 

 As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns at 287-1500 or Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov

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