Left to right: USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (far left) listen as women panelists share their ideas and opinions on how women can be better supported in agricultural activities. From left to right women farmers are: Laura Neale, Alice Percy, Jean Koons, Gina Simmons and Marada Cook.
By Ramona du Houx
“This Panel created a valuable opportunity to bring together experts and decision-makers to discuss the robust future for women farmers in Maine, and the vital programs, such as those offered by USDA Rural Development that supports them in their renewable energy and energy and energy-efficiency projects and value-added producer and food processing activities," said Virginia Manuel, Maine’s first female State Director of USDA Rural Development, who comes from three generations of Aroostook County farmers. On June 30, 2015 she introduced the Women in AG Panel discussion at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport.
The panelists, joined by over 70 people, discussed access to capital, marketing, growing competition, and distribution of their products, among the challenge of operating a farm or agricultural business in Maine.
“We want to make sure the programs work - are flexible, are creative enough and are there for folks who need them. There is a new awakening for women (in farming),” said USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, invited to Maine by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.
With a growing number of farms in Maine farms have increased to 8,173 farms up from 7,196 in 2002. About 29 percent of Maine’s farmers are women, up 4 percent from 2007.
In recent years, USDA Rural Development has seen an increase in the number of women applying for and receiving funding through two programs that assist Maine farmers, agricultural businesses, and producers- the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which promotes the installation of renewable energy and energy-efficient systems, and the Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG), which helps producers add value to locally grown products.
Women-owned or co-owned farms and agribusinesses that have recently received assistance through USDA Rural Development programs include:
- Northern Girl, Van Buren, $350,000 to construct a new facility
- Cozy Acres Greenhouse, North Yarmouth, $48,750 to construct a zero carbon footprint solar and geothermal greenhouse for the growing of plants and vegetables for the community.
- Broadturn Farm, Inc., Scarborough, $8,062 for the purchase and installation of a renewable energy GARN biomass system.
- SuriPaco, LLC, Yarmouth, $12,450 for business planning and marketing for a specialty, high-end luxury alpaca fiber in the textile market through a mid-tier value chain.
- Keena Tracy, of Little Ridge Farm, in Lisbon $4,554 for a solar system.
- Hutchings Greenhouse, Eddington, $5,850 for a geothermal heat pump system.
- Tide Mill Organics $49,770 to provide working capital for this small family farm so they can increase production and expand sales of their packaged organic poultry from roughly 11,500 to 20,000 birds annually.
- Amy Sprague of Wolf Pine Farm, in Alfred, $4,842 to install 28 solar panels to the barn.
- Cara Sammons of Flying Goat Farm, Acton, $4,961 to install a solar system at a small rural goat farm.
- JG SL Partners, Freeport, $5,590 to install a solar system.
- Haulk’s Maple, in Madison, $7,370, to assist with the purchase and installation of a new, more efficient evaporator.
Women in AG panelist in the Wolfe’s Neck Farm session this week and co-owner of Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative Marada Cook has also seen her farm products benefit from USDA Rural Development funding through assistance which helped Northern Girl build a new vegetable processing facility in Van Buren.
“Our food-safe processing facility was built through the support of Rural Business Development Grant funds and the Town of Van Buren. We hold a long term lease with the Town of Van Buren. This facility and its location close to our growers allow us to create jobs in Northern Aroostook and buy more Aroostook County crops. Without this program it is unlikely as a start-up that we could have constructed a facility to meet today’s food safety standards,” said Cook.
USDA Rural Development offers assistance to woman farmers through the REAP and VAPG Programs, and funding is available. To apply for funding or learn more, interested farmers or agribusiness owners should contact Chery Pelletier (REAP) at 764-4157 or Cheryl.email@example.com or Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or firstname.lastname@example.org (VAPG).
USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.