State of Organic Agriculture in Maine
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State of Organic Agriculture in Maine 2009

By Emily Boone and Megan Browning

Executive Summary

The State of Organic Agriculture in Maine 2009 is the third chapter in The State of Maine’s Environment 2009, a report produced by the Environmental Policy Group in the Environmental Studies Program at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.  This is the fifth State of Maine’s Environment report published since 2004.

We examine trends in overall agriculture and changes in organic production over time in Maine relative to other states, primarily using USDA Census of Agriculture statistics. Additionally, we use a Geographic Information System (GIS) to map locations of organic farms in Maine certified by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).  We found that Maine, although a relatively small state in overall agricultural production, is a national leader in organic agricultural production.  We examine reasons for this status and discuss future scenarios for organic agriculture in Maine.  We also consider benefits and drawbacks of having national organic standards.  We conclude that although organic production in Maine requires continued support, Maine policy makers could also promote growth in agriculture by further encouraging local consumption of Maine produced foods.  Additionally we recommend that Maine increase efforts to conserve farmland by supporting organic farmers in the state and helping to protect them from development pressures.


In the U.S., organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing sectors of the food industry.  Once sold and produced only within small niche markets, production and consumption of organic products has been recently increasing at rapid rates.  In 1997, the monetary worth of the industry was $3.6 billion; in 2008 it was $21 billion (Greene, Dimitri et al. 2009).  Additionally, the U.S. has seen an increase in certified organic acreage, quadrupling in size between 1997 and 2005 from just over one million acres to just over four million acres, and it has continued to grow since then (USDA Economic Research Service 2009).  A five-fold increase in federal funding for research and implementation of organic programs in 2008 demonstrates increasing dedication to the industry on a federal level (USDA Economic Research Service 2009).

Defining “Organic”

Organic agriculture is broadly defined as a “locally sustainable, low-input technique for raising crops and livestock” (MOFGA 2009).  The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) adds that it “sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people” and “relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions” (IFOAM 2009).  In the U.S., the term “organic” was legally defined in 2002 by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the passage of national organic standards. The USDA definition refers to an organic production system as one that can “respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity” (USDA Economic Research Service 2002).  Different stakeholders in organic agriculture have varying interpretations of the definition of organic agriculture; this is a characteristic we explore in our analysis.  Whether defined by the legal definition or by other interpretations, on the whole, organic agricultural practices provide environmental and human health benefits by minimizing off-farm inputs.

Environmental benefits of organic agriculture largely result from using ecological methods to maintain soil health. In a nine-year study on soil health, the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) found that using manure as a soil additive was better for building organic matter in the soil than no-till methods commonly used in conventional agriculture that include inorganic nitrogen (USDA Agricultural Research Service 2007). Building organic matter in soil stores carbon, which reduces carbon in the atmosphere and may help to mitigate climate change (USDA Agricultural Research Service 2007).  Additionally, organic production methods have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the release of nitrous oxide, a bi-product of the oxidation of both inorganic and organic nitrogen sources. Furthermore, by eliminating use of synthetic fertilizers that require abundant energy in the manufacturing process, organic agriculture also reduces energy consumption and helps to conserve finite natural resources (IFOAMb 2009).

Consumers often believe organic foods to be more nutritious than conventionally produced ones, although studies on this are inconclusive (Magkos, Arvaniti et al. 2003).  In organic agriculture pests are managed using ecological means, such as natural predators and interruptions in the reproductive cycle, thus eliminating the use of harmful pesticide residues that are commonly found on the products of conventional farms. Animals raised using organic methods generally have a lower ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat. Additionally, managed appropriately, they often have lower rates of disease than animals raised in feedlots that are supplemented with antibiotics that can be harmful to the environment and human health (IFOAM 2006).

History of Organic Agriculture in the U.S.

Organic agricultural practices existed before the term was even conceived of, simply because modern chemical inputs did not exist. However, the first half of the 20thcentury saw advances in biochemistry and engineering that drastically transformed farming methods.  Two chemicals - ammonium nitrate and DDT - helped control disease-carrying insects during WWII and were later employed as pesticides in agricultural production.  The widespread use of chemicals and development of new crop varieties, combined with development in machinery resulted in what became known as the Green Revolution.  It was not until after the use of chemicals in agriculture that a discussion concerning organic agriculture began to take place.

Paralleling other environmental movements, increased interest in organic agriculture was catalyzed by a series of events that brought awareness about the adverse effects of widely used chemical practices to the general public.  In 1962, Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring,” an accessible work on the negative effects of DDT and other pesticides on the environment (Kuepper and Gegner 2004).  A market for organic foods began to build after J.I. Rodale also helped to popularize the terms, “sustainable” and “organic” agriculture (Kuepper and Gegner 2004).  Starting in the 1960s and 1970s as a social movement, the organic idea eventually gained sufficient attention to captivate consumers and larger agro-businesses that saw profit potential in organic markets (Christensen 2009). 

Eventually the need arose for national organic standards to unify individual statewide efforts. Under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 the USDA established the National Organic Program (NOP), whose goal was to establish national standards for production, handling, and labeling of organic foods. The NOP also developed a system of accreditation for certifiers who would inspect those farms interested in certification and hold them accountable to the national standards. Twelve years later, in 2002, the standards were implemented, and thereafter farms that did not become USDA certified could no longer market their products as organic (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service 2008). 

One debate resulting from the establishment of the national organic standards concerned the relative benefits of sustainable versus organic agriculture.  Central to the definition of sustainability is environmental stewardship, using resources wisely to ensure their existence for use by future generations. Although many local farms do achieve both sustainable and organic production, the creation of national organic standards resulted in the growth of “industrial organic.” Consequently, it became possible for larger scale organic farms to become USDA certified organic despite not necessarily employing sustainable practices since the standards do not directly address sustainability. Large farms, for example, although certified organic, often ship their food longer distances and produce more waste than smaller farms, both factors that decrease the sustainability of the farm. USDA organic certification also drew attention away from local consumption by making it possible to purchase certified organic food that was not produced locally.  Local agriculture is also beneficial for the environment and human health because it eliminates extensive transportation of food and emissions for vehicles used for transportation. Sustainable, local, and organic agriculture all have advantages and disadvantages, and opinions on the relative significance of each practice vary among stakeholders.

History of Organic Agriculture in Maine

From the early stages of settlement, agriculture and timber were the primary industries driving the Maine economy. However, short growing seasons, rocky soil, and distance from markets ultimately prohibited the profitability of Maine agriculture.  As a result, populations of farming communities peaked in the 1850s and declined steadily thereafter (Palmer, G. et al. 1992).  Throughout the 19th century, better agricultural conditions in the West pulled populations westward, and the presence of agriculture in Maine deferred to other industries (Darling, Hansen et al. 2007).  Timber companies and paper mills exploited the wealth of forest resources. Tourism developed throughout the turn of the century as a source of income for the state (Palmer, G. et al. 1992).  Over time these development mechanisms resulted in land use changes and altered population distributions, ultimately leading to suburban and urban development pressures on previously agricultural land.

In Maine, remaining farms were challenged to compete with industrial, conventional farms in the West and Midwest, and a need arose to develop a distinctive market.  This spurred early growth of the organic agriculture movement in Maine.  In 1971, years ahead of the establishment of national organic standards, a group of Maine farmers started an association of organic farmers and gardeners, MOFGA, that currently claims to be “the oldest and largest state organic organization in the country” (MOFGA 2009).  In 1972, MOFGA began a system of certifying farms as organic based on the Rodale Organic Garden certification guidelines, thirty years before the U.S. government took interest and created national organic certification standards (MOFGAb 2009).  Today MOFGA has a separate Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) in charge of certification that is accredited by USDA (MOFGAb 2009).  In addition to certification, MOFGA provides several resources for Maine organic farmers, including technical assistance and education about growing organically and publication of monthly organic price reports. They also host an annual Common Ground County Fair that aims to raise awareness and educate about organic and local food in Maine. 

Partly resulting from the existence and strength of MOFGA as an organization, organic agriculture is a topic relevant to Maine.  As Maine’s economy continues to shift away from historically strong industries, organic agriculture may contribute positively to the state in both environmental and economic terms.

Goals and Objectives

In this chapter we assess the status of organic agriculture in Maine and its implications for economic and sustainable development for the state.  We examine historical trends in Maine’s agriculture in order to identify trends in the growth of organic production.  In doing so we compare Maine to other states in the U.S. as well as other states in New England. The following questions are central to our evaluation of organic food in Maine:  How can agriculture in Maine be characterized? What is the state of organic food production in Maine?  What is the state of demand for organic food?  How does Maine’s agricultural production, and specifically organic agricultural production, compare to other New England States and to the country as a whole?   What are the impacts of these trends on Maine’s economy and environment?  Following our presentation of agricultural trends and the resulting implications, we propose possible scenarios for the future of organic agriculture in Maine and provide specific recommendations for continuing growth based on our research.


In order to best assess the state of organic agriculture in Maine we used both quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis. We conducted 12 semi-structured interviews with farmers, policy makers, and administrators to assess opinions and outlooks from stakeholders in Maine (Appendix A).  After these discussions, we identified trends in the topics and opinions discussed in order to guide our research.  We also conducted a thorough literature review of relevant studies and publications about agriculture in the U.S. and specifically the organic sector to identify the current trends and status of organic agriculture in Maine.  We reviewed both books and online publications to gather information about agriculture and specifically organic agriculture.

We gathered quantitative data about conventional and organic agriculture in the U.S. from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) and USDA Census of Agriculture. We used these data to compare Maine agricultural trends with those in other U.S. states. The USDA website also provided information about federal laws governing agriculture. We gathered Maine specific data from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). 

We estimated the number of organic farms using the number of farms certified organic by USDA accredited certifiers. Data obtained on certified farms before the existence of national standards were considered organic under varying state standards that differed from the federal standards outlined in the NOP. 

Our analysis also included creating maps of all the current MOFGA certified organic farms. We used a Geographic Information System (GIS) to visually represent and to analyze our farm data.  We obtained data from the Maine Office of GIS on roads and boundaries, the U.S. Census Bureau on population density, and MOFGA on the street addresses of organic certified farms in Maine.  We used ArcGIS software (ESRI 2009) and to geocode the location of farms to create a map of Maine with a point on each farm. We were able to match 313 of the 358 given addresses of certified organic farms in Maine with a point on the map.  Those addresses that remain unmatched were incomplete in the database provided by MOFGA or unrecognizable by GIS.

We calculated the number of certified organic farms in each county by using GIS to calculate the frequency of farms per county.  We then used data from the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture to determine the total number of farms in each county.  We estimated the number of conventional farms in each county by subtracting the number of certified organic farms from the total number of farms in each county.  The 2009 count for the number of MOFGA certified farms was 382. The location data we were given only contained 358 certified organic farms in Maine, and the map we used only located 313, or 87% of these.  Thus in our calculations we used 313 as the estimated number of certified organic farms in Maine.  We assume this is a reasonable approximation because the 23% of farms that were not geolocated were likely to follow a similar distribution.


Federal Legislation

Key federal legislation related to organic agriculture is outlined in Table 3.1.  Several laws exist related to pesticide use and food safety.  Those laws most directly affecting the organic industry are the 2008 Farm Bill, and the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act, which gave way to the National Organic Program (NOP) establishing national organic standards.

Table 3.1 Federal laws influencing organic agriculture in Maine





Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act


Mandated that the EPA regulate pesticide use for the protection of human health and the environment

USC Title 7 § 136

Organic Foods Production Act


Mandated the creation of the National Organic Program (NOP) and the passage of uniform organic standards

USC Title 7 § 6501

Food Quality Protection Act


Amended FIFRA and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) by including stricter safety standards and a complete reassessment of all existing pesticide tolerances

USC Title 7 § 136

Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act


US Food and Drug Administration are granted the authority to oversee safety of food, drugs and cosmetics. A 2002 ammendment authorizes the EPA to set tolerances, in the form of maximum residue limits, on all pesticides

USC Title 21 § 301

Farm Bill


Overarching regulation on agriculture in the U.S. including regulations on subsidies and crop insurance

USC Title 7 § 8701

In the late 1990s as demand for organic products grew, a need arose for national organic standards. As a part of the 1990 Farm Bill, the Organic Foods Production Act that included the National Organic Program (NOP) was passed.  The goal of the NOP was to set national standards for organic production.  Twelve years later in 2002, the NOP rule was issued establishing uniform national standards for organic goods including production and handling standards, labeling standards, and a system of USDA accreditation for independent certifiers (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service 2008).

In addition to the NOP, growth in the organic industry has been reflected in several changes in federal law most recently represented in the 2008 Farm Bill, also known as the Food Conservation and Energy Act.  Most notable was the addition of a section specifically addressing organic production, Title X: Horticulture and Organic Agriculture. However, several changes were made in other sections that directly influence organic growing practices (USDA Economic Research Service b 2009).  Generally these changes increase funding for research on organic production and transition to organic production. They also include organic operations as eligible for several existing programs. One notable increase was for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, which provides subsidies to farmers for the certification fee. In 2008, this subsidy increased to $750 per farm, up from $500 per farm in 2002 (USDA Economic Research Service b 2009).  (See Appendix B for a complete list of sections relating to organic agriculture in the 2008 Farm Bill.)

State Legislation

Maine dedicates only a small amount of its budget to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and this amount decreased between 2004 and 2007.  Out of a total 2007 state budget of almost $3 billion, only $6 million was spent on the DEP, representing only 0.2% of the total.  Greater amounts were put into the Department of Labor, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and the Department of Conservation.  All of these departments have an effect on agriculture in the state, but education and health took the greatest percentage, almost 80% between 2006 and 2007, of the overall state budget (The Brookings Institution 2006).  Although health and education are priorities, such an extreme difference in funding available for health and education in Maine put other sectors at a disadvantage.

Table 3.2 below outlines specific state programs that concern organic agriculture. A diverse range of state laws address issues related to organic agriculture in Maine, including chemical use, distributors, and consumer information.

Table 3.2 State legislation influencing organic agriculture in Maine





Maine Pesticide Control Act of 1975


Products controlled due to suspicion of tainting by pesticides; gives authority to Board of Pesticides Control to regulate pesticides in Maine

MRS Title 7 § 601-625

Commission To Study the Protection of Farms and Farmland

1975;  ammended 1990

Requires that the valuation of farmland enrolled in the program be based on the current use for agricultural or horticultural purposes, and cannot reflect development values, or attributes such as road frontage or shore frontage

MRS Title 36 § 1101-1121

Land for Maine’s Future Program


Provides state funding to purchase land and easements for conservation.  Prioritizes land with multiple benefits or unique values and allowing motorized public access

MRS Title 5 § 6200-6211

Brands, Labels and Trademarks; revocation


The Maine Department of Agriculture registered the voluntary Maine Quality Trademark

MRS Title 7 § 443-B

Maine’s Nutrient Management Act

1989; supplements 1999

Established requirements for Nutrient Management Plans and Livestock Operations Permits for qualifying farms.  Owners or operators of a qualifying farm are required to have and implement a Nutrient Management Plan pursuant to Maine Department of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Resource (DOA) guidelines

MRS Title 7 § 4201-4214

Farmer’s Market Definition and Prohibitions

Definition 1993, prohibitions 2005

Provided definition of farmer’s market

MRS Title 7 § 415

Board of Pesticides Control


Called for plan to minimize pesticides and gives authority to the Board of Pesticides Control for regulation

MRS Title 22 § 1471-A to Z

Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Act


Allows municipalities to compensate farmers the full value of their property taxes if they receive a conservation easement  being non-agricultural development for at least 20 years

MRS Title 7 § 60-60-A

Failure to Adopt Best Management Practices


Farm not practicing best management practices may be subject to abatement costs by the Attorney General and fines for civil violation

MRS Title 7 § 158

Educational outreach


Educational outreach program for the agricultural community to increase awareness of new legislation and the complaint resolution process related to preservation and protection of agricultural and natural resources

MRS Title 7 § 160

Maine Agriculture Protection Act


Established a Commission to Study the Protection of Farms and Farmland in Maine; Amendments in 2009 implement the recommendations of the Commission to Study the Protection of Farms and Farmland, including "farming for Maine" farms; monitors estate tax changes; establishes district program under Commissioner of Agriculture; requires proposed subdivision under MSPO include a map of farmland parcels of five acres or more

MRS Title 7 § 151-163


MOFGA has historically been an influential advocate for the state in terms of policies promoting organic agriculture.  In 1997, two Maine state senators represented MOFGA by proposing “An Act to Reduce Reliance on Pesticides” which was passed by the Maine Legislature.  The act required all branches of government to minimize reliance on pesticides and called for a system of recording and reporting pesticide sales. In 1998, the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, backed by MOFGA, denied an application to market corn grown with the pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), making Maine the only state in the U.S. to prohibit this product (MOFGAc 2009).

Organic food is free of genetically modified material, and organic crops are required to be isolated from non-organic ones. In 1993, the Maine state legislature created the Maine Commission to Study Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering in response to the MOFGA proposed legislation to label genetically engineered foods. Though the legislation was a compromise to MOFGA’s proposal, the initiative by MOFGA was the first legislative state initiative in the U.S. to propose mandatory labeling of GE foods (Get Free Maine 2007). 

Several state programs have sought to protect farmers from pressure to sell or develop their land.  In 1975, the Farm & Open Space Laws provided property tax relief for agricultural land.  Additionally, programs such as Land for Maine’s Future have supported conservation projects and provided funding to programs that maintain farmland.  The Maine Farms for the Future program provides business planning assistance, grants, and financing for growing agricultural enterprises (Maine Farms for the Future).

In 2008, the Maine legislature created the Commission to Study the Protection of Farms and Farmland in Maine.  Recent Maine state legislation implemented a number of recommendations provided by the Commission.  In 2009, four steps were implemented, which turned recommendations into law. 

The Commission to Study the Protection of Farms and Farmland in Maine provides the Commissioner of Agriculture the authority to design and implement a pilot agricultural program examining the effectiveness of agricultural districts in keeping farmland in agricultural production.  The legislation also establishes a “Farming for Maine” program, which publicly registers local farms and builds awareness and education about land use plans and decisions. Furthermore, the Act enables the Commissioner of Agriculture and the State Tax Assessor to assess the impact of estate tax changes have had on the state farmland base.  Lastly, the Act defines “farmland” and requires that land use decisions through the Executive Department, State Planning Office, Department of Agriculture, and Food and Rural Resources identify farmland on maps and consider municipal programs intended to protect farmland. 


A variety of stakeholders play a role in organic agriculture including both national and state government agencies, as well as organic certification companies, interest groups, and a large variety of producers, suppliers, and consumers of organic goods.


All agriculture in the U.S., both organic and non-organic, is governed by The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  This agency not only implements policy to regulate farming practices in the U.S., but it conducts a census of agriculture to keep track of developments over time.  The USDA developed national standards for organic production, handling, and labeling, as well as a program to accredit independent certifiers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is another federal agency that influences agricultural policy through recommendations, policy briefs, and chemical research.  Additional federal research funding through land grant institutions and the Organic Farming Research Foundation contribute to the impact of policies and agricultural methods. Other federal department stakeholders, in addition to the USDA, include the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Center for Disease Control for the impacts of pesticides on health. 

State government agencies in Maine that have a stake in organic agriculture include the Maine Department of Agriculture, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and the Maine Board of Pesticides Control.  Each of these agencies enforces federal policy and also implements policy to regulate agricultural practices, and pesticide usage within Maine. 


In order to label products organic, farmers must obtain organic certification.  Nationwide, a variety of USDA accredited independent certifying companies exist to grant such certification based on a strict set of criteria about the land and the agricultural practices in use there. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) is the most prominent stakeholder in organic agriculture in Maine.  In addition to being the primary USDA accredited organic certifier, MOFGA provides information and technical assistance to organic farmers throughout Maine.  MOFGA also works to promote local, organic food each year through their annual Common Ground Fair. Additionally, MOFGA advocates for implementation and adjustment of public policy related to organic agriculture (MOFGAd 2009).

Interest Groups and Associations

Worldwide, there appears to be growing interest in organic agriculture, as is demonstrated by the number of interest groups advocating organic agriculture.  The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) unites organic agricultural movements around the world.  Several national associations have a similar mission within the U.S. including the National Organic Coalition and the National Association of State Organic Programs, both of which work to support and promote organic agriculture across the U.S. In addition, similar to MOFGA in Maine, many states have state wide associations in place to facilitate organic agricultural practices by providing support and information to farmers and educating others about organic farming.  Such a group in New England is The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), which is comprised of chapters for each Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  The Maine Farm Bureau, a non-governmental group, non-profit organization, lobbies for policies pertinent to agriculture and rural life.  Other entities, such as the Down East Business Alliance, provide education and assistance to farmers and farmers’ market managers.

Processors and Distributors

Farm products often need processing, especially livestock and dairy, in order to add economic value before being sold. Distributors are also necessary for making agricultural products more easily and available and accessible on larger scales than farmers markets where farmers sell their food directly to the consumer. 

Producers, Suppliers, and Consumers

The producers, suppliers and consumers are arguably the most important groups of stakeholders. All farmers, both organic and non-organic, play a role in the state of agriculture.  Most sell their products at farmer’s markets. The presence of farmer’s markets can revitalize towns and cities, bringing locally grown food to people in the neighboring communities. Restaurants are another supplier that creates a market for organic food.  The city of Portland, for example, is home to several restaurants that prepare organic goods. Larger suppliers, such as supermarket chains Hannaford and Shaws also supply goods obtained from farms. Additionally, stores like Whole Foods play a role in promoting locally grown, organic products. Lastly, those who buy the products from farms, whether at a farmer’s Market or in a restaurant, play a large role because it is the buying habits of consumers that help to determine such important factors as supply, demand, price and cost.  These factors ultimately affect what farmers grow and how they grow it.  “Consumers” includes both residents of the community in which the organics are grown, as well as visitors and tourists, especially in a place like Maine, who create a demand for such products.

State of the Topic

In this section we ask how Maine organic production compares that in the rest of the U.S.. We examine the importance of agriculture and organic agriculture in Maine.  We describe the state of organic agriculture in Maine based on trends in number of organic producers and location of farms.  We explore production and consumption, although the majority of our data analysis addresses production due to greater availability of data in this area. We consider whether national demand for organic products is increasing and if production is also increasing. We demonstrate that Maine is a leader in organic agriculture both in New England and in the nation as a whole.

Organic Agriculture in the U.S.

The number of certified organic farms in the U.S. has grown rapidly since the establishment of national standards. This is evidenced by increasing certified organic acreage (Figure 3.1), increasing numbers of certified organic producers, and increasing federal spending on organic agriculture in the 2008 Farm Bill (Figure 3.2).  With production of organic goods on the rise, there has also been growth in the number of farmers markets across the U.S. (Figure 3.3) as well as specialty food stores and restaurants that focus on organic or locally produced goods. Since the reallocation of funds in the Farm Bill was so recent, it is likely that its effects will be observable with delay; however, this increased spending demonstrates a federal commitment to the expansion of the organic industry.

Figure 3.1 Total certified organic acreage in the U.S. 1992-2005 (USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service 2007)

Figure 3.2 Changes in federal spending on organics in the 2008 Farm Bill compared to the 2002 Farm Bill (Greene, Dimitri et al. 2009)

Figure 3.3 Number of farmers markets in the U.S. 1994-2008 (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service 2009)

The success of the organic agriculture market depends on both suppliers and consumers. We limit our discussion to supply because data about consumption trends were too difficult to obtain and is therefore beyond the scope of this study.

Other studies have established there has been growth in demand for organic products in the 1990s through 2005 at roughly 20% each year. This growth is predicted to continue to grow at approximately the same rates through 2010 (Dimitri and Oberholtzer 2006).  The primary factors affecting organic consumption include gender, age, level of income, and whether or not consumers have children (Krystallis and Chryssohoidis 2005).  Price of organic goods also plays a role in their consumption.

Many organic goods have price premiums, or higher prices, which can be attributed to both increased costs of production and distribution, and additionally, consumer willingness to pay. Increased costs result from many factors including longer crop rotations, increased labor, substitutes for pesticides, and high prices for organic seed (Greene, Dimitri et al. 2005). According to a USDA publication on price premiums, depending on the product, consumers may be willing to pay up to 100% more for an organic product than its conventional counterpart (Greene, Dimitri et al. 2005).

It is important to note, however, that when the organic movement started, prices and costs were not necessarily limiting factors. Although they are always involved, the first initiatives in organic agricultural production were generally driven by interested farmers with a desire to prioritize the health of both humans and the environment.  As awareness increased about the adverse effects of chemicals commonly used in conventional farming practices, demand for organic products grew.

Characterizing Overall Agriculture in Maine

Land Use Change

Nationally farmland is being rapidly converted to other land uses and this trend is also happening in Maine.  Between 1950 and 2000, urban areas in Maine increased to 16% of the state’s total land area, and suburban areas increased from 3% to 6%.  During the same time period agricultural land in Maine decreased by more than 60% (Darling, Hansen et al. 2007).

A report published by the American Farmland Trust (AFT) in 2002 entitled, “Farming on the Edge: Sprawling Development Threatens America’s Best Farmland,” found that the U.S. was losing farmland to other development at a rate of 1.2 million acres each year between 1992-1997. This was 51% faster than was occurring between 1987 and 1992.  The same study showed that the rate of farmland loss in Maine increased 195% between the two time periods, growing from an average of 1,320 acres lost each year to 3,900 acres (American Farmland Trust 2002). 

Similarly, according to a 2006 Brookings Report on sustainability in Maine, more than 1,300 square miles of rural land, defined to include both rural fields and woodlots, underwent conversion to residential use in the twenty years between 1980 and 2000.  This amount of land is almost the size of the entire state of Rhode Island. During the 1990s, Maine ranked second in the nation based on the share of rural land lost (The Brookings Institution 2006).


Relative to the rest of the U.S., Maine has a high diversity of agricultural commodities produced (Figure 3.4).  While many states rely on a single commodity for farm revenues, Maine’s agriculture is not heavily weighted toward any one particular commodity.  Potatoes, for example, which hold the largest share of total farm sales only comprise 25% (Figure 3.4) (Palmer, G. et al. 1992).  Diversity of commodities provides security because if one crop fails due to uncontrollable factors such as weather or spread of disease, a farmer has other sources of income.

Figure 3.4 Agricultural cash receipts in Maine from selected years 1970-2001 divided by agricultural commodity. (USDA Economic Research Service c 2009).

Number and Size of Farms

The number and size of farms show that Maine has paralleled agricultural production in the rest of the U.S. in some ways, but differed in others.  The number of farms in Maine, as well as in the rest of the country at the turn of the 20th century was substantially higher than the current number of farms. In 1880, there were 64,309 farms in Maine, and in 1997 there were only 5,810 (Ahn, Krohn et al. 2002) (Figure 3.5). The decline in agriculture in Maine resulted from relatively poor growing conditions, a transition to other industries, and the industrialization of farming activities, i.e. simplified farming systems that allowed farmers to operate larger farming units.  In addition, larger farms were able to expand by buying smaller farms to increase specialization and economies of scale. These processes of consolidation, concentration, and specialization, paralleling those of the rest of the country throughout the 20thcentury, shaped the structure of agriculture in Maine (Maine State Planning Office 2003). 

Figure 3.5 Number of farms in Maine and the U.S. 1950-2008 (USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service).  The U.S. number is in millions and the Maine number is thousands.

Average farm size in Maine historically has been smaller than average farm size across the U.S. (Figure 3.6).  The period of consolidation lasted until 1980 in Maine, at which point the average farm size in the state reached 216 acres and has since plateaued, and even declined (Palmer, G. et al. 1992).  In 1950 Maine farms were 42% smaller than U.S. farms, on average and in 1995 Maine farms were 62% smaller than U.S. farms, on average (USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service). Throughout the 1970s as the U.S. average farm size increased, the average farm size in Maine was decreasing.  In the 1980s Maine farms began to increase marginally in size, at a much slower rate than the U.S. as a whole. Since the 1990s farm size has been declining in both Maine and the U.S.

Figure 3.6 Average farm size in Maine and the U.S. from selected years 1964-2007 (USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service)

Organic Agriculture in Maine

In 2008 there were 40,870 acres of certified organic farmland in Maine, up from just over 9,000 acres in 2000.  Although Maine’s total agricultural land represents only 0.14% of the total in the U.S., and the amount of viable agricultural land is relatively small compared to other states, Maine’s certified organic acreage represents approximately 1.5% of the total certified organic acreage in the U.S. (USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service 2007).

There are currently 380 certified organic farms in Maine (MOFGAe 2009).  In 2007, Maine had the second highest percentage in the nation of certified organic farms out of total farms in its state.  Maine’s 3.6% organic farms far exceeded the national average of 0.76%, second only to Vermont (Figure 3.7).  On this measure, the top five states in order are Vermont, Maine, California, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.  Notably, all but California, the state in which the organic movement began, are in New England. This may have to do with the organic movement growing in New England alongside the Back to the Land Movement in which those wanting to rebel against urban development and corporate society moved to rural areas to lead an alternative lifestyle by setting up small farms (Jacob 1997; Christensen 2009). 

Despite Maine’s high ranking, the overall low national shares of organic production demonstrate room for growth in this industry, not only in Maine, but nationwide.

Figure 3.7 Percentage of organic producers out of total agricultural producers in each state 2007 (USDA Economic Research Service d 2009).  Maine is second largest, and denoted in a darker color than the other states.

Because national standards for organic agriculture were recently set in 2002, national historical data on organically produced food is limited.  However, prior to the establishment of the national standards of organic food in 2002, Maine and Vermont had more than double the number of organic producers compared to the other four New England States(Figure 3.8). They continue to hold this position today.

Figure 3.8 Number of organic producers in each New England State 2000-2007 (USDA Economic Research Service d 2009)

Over time, the total number of MOFGA certified organic farms has steadily increased since it began certifying in 1972, with the exception of the early 1990s (Figure 3.9). Vermont, the only other New England state with a combined established organic association and certifier had similar trends to those of Maine in growth of certified organic productions until 2002, when Vermont’s growth rate began to exceed that of Maine (Figure 3.10). 

Figure 3.9 Number of MOFGA certified farms 1972-2008 (MOFGAe 2009).  Some data is missing in the first few years due to less organized data collection when certification first began.

Figure 3.10 Number of MOFGA certified farms 1972-2008 (MOFGAe 2009) and number of Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) certified farms 1993-2008 (Vermont Organic Farmers 2009).

The leadership of these two states, Maine and Vermont, relative to the rest of New England, is also evident in terms of acreage.  The certified organic acreage in Maine and Vermont is considerably greater than the other four New England States and growth of certified organic land in these two states is clear whereas certified acreage in other states has remained low (Figure 3.11).

Figure 3.11 Certified organic acreage in each New England state 1997 and 2000-2005 (USDA Economic Research Service d 2009)

Locations of Organic Farms in Maine

In order to learn more about the location of organic farms in Maine we created two maps with a point on the location of each MOFGA certified organic farm.  We found that Maine organic farms are concentrated in the southeastern part of the state, with a small cluster of farms in the northern part of the state, Aroostook County (Figures 3.12 and 3.14).  Several factors affect this trend including availability of developable land, access by roads, and population density.

Figure 3.12 Location of MOFGA certified farms and major roads.  Land under the jurisdiction of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) appears in green. 

Figure 3.13 Location of MOFGA certified farms and population density.  Land under the jurisdiction of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) appears in green.

Maine is broadly divided into two categories of land: land in the “Unorganized Territory” under the jurisdiction of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), and land in the organized territories, non-LURC land.  It is the non-LURC land where most people live and where most development in the state takes place. Consequently, viable agricultural land and land for residential use is limited to a small land area and thus most farms are contained in this area. Additionally in 2000, 90% of Maine was covered by forests (most of which is within the LURC territory) making it the most forested state in the nation (Schwartz, Sinnott et al. 2007) thereby further limiting the availability of farmland. 

We estimated how many certified organic farms and conventional farms were in each county as described in the methods section.  We also calculated the percent of farms in each county that are organic and the percent that are conventional (Table 3.3).  Waldo is the county with the highest percentage of organic farms and Oxford County has the highest percentage of conventional farms. By rank, comparing the top five counties that have the most certified organic farms with the top five counties that have the most conventional farms, Kennebec County had the highest number of organic farms while Aroostook County had the highest number of conventional farms (Table 3.4).  Only two counties, Kennebec and Aroostook, rank in the top five for both types of farm.

Table 3.3 Number and percentage of organic and conventional farms in each Maine county


Total Farms

Organic Farms

Conventional Farms

% Organic

% Conventional

































































































Table 3.4 Each Maine county and its ranking in two categories: number of organic farms, and number of conventional farms





















































It is clear from the maps that within the organized territory, organic farms in Maine are located in areas of high population density and near to major roads. Such location helps to minimize costs related to transportation, marketing, and processing.  By creating virtual buffer zones around the major roads in Maine (this included the limited access roads, and the highways), we were able to determine how many organic farms were located within a given distance from these roads (Table 3.5).  The high proportion (90%) of the certified organic farms within 10 km of a major road demonstrates that accessibility is critical to organic farm location.  Unfortunately without the street addresses of every conventional Maine farm, we cannot compare organic to conventional farm location; however, we expect that conventional farms would illustrate a similar trend.

Table 3.5 Number of MOFGA certified organic farms located within given distance of major roads (including limited access roads and highways)

Buffer Zone (km)

Number of Organic Farms

% of total




















National Organic Trends

Pros and Cons of the National Organic Program

By establishing national standards, the National Organic Program (NOP) brought national attention to organic agriculture, which had and continues to have a powerful influence on all stakeholders.  Such attention has influence on both farming decisions and consumer demand. On a federal level, establishment of the NOP has had numerous implications for the organic agriculture industry in the U.S.

As demonstrated by the increase in number of certified farms since the passage of national standards, the NOP is recognized as being partially responsible for the recent, rapid growth of the organic industry.  This has contributed to the increase in national demand for organic goods.  An increase in certified farms makes organic food more readily available and uniform labeling makes it more easily identifiable as organic. Additionally the more organic farms there are, the greater the environmental benefits.

There are also several downsides to the establishment of national organic standards. Almost everyone we interviewed about organic agriculture in Maine expressed some dissatisfaction with the system of national standards. One problem is that many people think they know what organic means when in fact the definition and standards outlined in the NOP are long, and complex, and often difficult to comprehend.  Although many consumers associate the term “organic” with small family farms, the NOP allowed the industry to grow such that certified organic farms can also be large, industrial operations. Currently, the standards do not differentiate between a large, industrial organic producer and a small family farm because both can be certified under the same standards. Thus there are both benefits and consequences hidden in such a narrow definition. 

Another consequence of a uniform definition of organic agriculture is that it limits interpretation, thereby excluding those organic farms that are not USDA certified from being officially organic and allowed to market their products as such.  One negative effect of this is that uncertified organic farms do not get included in research and statistical analysis of organic farms. Our estimates of the level of organic production in the U.S. and in Maine as measured only by those who are USDA certified therefore likely under represents the number of farms employing organic practices.

There are a variety of reasons for farmers to not become USDA certified organic. Certification has both direct costs to farmers including paying a certification fee, and indirect costs including meeting production requirements and completing paperwork.  Additionally, several farmers we interviewed expressed dissatisfaction with the physical process of certification.  Before national standards, the process was educational and communicative; certifiers would inspect the farm but also share information and ideas about most effective methods in farming organically. Since MOFGA became an accredited USDA certifier, the process of organic certification changed to an evaluation of whether or not USDA organic standards are met.  Lastly, standards outlined in the NOP do not adjust based on varying climates across the U.S. thus posing challenges for some farmers where growing conditions are not ideal (Lawn 2009).

Increased Federal Spending on Organic Agriculture in the 2008 Farm Bill

Farm Bills, passed every few years, are major federal legislation with implications for organic farming and are subject to political lobbying.  Because of the complexity and comprehensiveness of Farm Bills, there are dozens of stakeholders with varying and competing interests all lobbying for different policy.  The consolidation of farms in the 20th century enabled a few large and powerful producers of agricultural commodities to have greater influence in federal legislation.  It is thus likely that the increased federal spending in the 2008 Farm Bill is in the interest of the more industrial organic farms, which serve to gain a greater profit from the increased market value of organic goods.

MOFGA’s Role in Maine’s Status as a Leader in Organic Agriculture

With the creation of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) in 1972, Maine became a pioneer of organic production and certification well before the establishment of national standards.  Little national data exists on organic production prior to 2002, largely because many states did not have certification programs before implementation of the NOP. However, the existence of certified organic farm data for Maine spanning more than thirty years demonstrates an early commitment to organic research and documentation, unavailable in many other states.

MOFGA additionally provides support and numerous resources for organic farmers in Maine.  In New England, the services of MOFGA are paralleled only by the Vermont chapter of the North East Organic Farmers Association (NOFA-VT).  Unique to MOFGA, however, is their inclusion of both those who make their living from farming, farmers, as well as those who do it recreationally, gardeners. This allows for a broader membership base and larger support for the association.

Influence of Overall Agricultural Trends on Organic Agriculture in Maine

In this section we explore probable connections between overall agricultural trends and organic agriculture in Maine.

Land Use Change

Rapid transition of farmland to other types of land use in Maine poses a major threat to organic agriculture.  Because of increased production costs associated with organic farms it is more difficult for organic farmers to profit from their farms and are thus more likely to be tempted to sell their land to developers.


A major tenet of organic agriculture is soil health.  In addition to providing security for farmers, diversity of crops is also important for soil health because different crops use different nutrients. If one crop is repeatedly planted on one plot of land, the soil can become drained of nutrients that the crop requires and may necessitate the use of artificial fertilizers to assist in the nutrient cycle. A diversity of crops, however, allows the soil to replenish its nutrients as different crops are planted over time.

In places where the agricultural economy depends entirely on one crop, it is likely that there are many different stakeholders and laws primarily addressing that specific crop.  In Maine, a diversity of crops allows for a variety of legislation regulating different kinds of agriculture rather than focusing on one commodity.

Farm Size

Organic agriculture seems best suited for small scale farming for a variety of reasons. Organic methods of pest control are more expensive and more difficult to employ on larger farms. Price premiums for organic goods provide an incentive for quality over quantity therefore reducing the need for large farms that produce large quantities. Additionally, since consumers are often willing to pay more for organic products, there is an incentive to transition to organic because although costs are higher, farmers can also charge more for their products.

We hypothesize that farm size is a potential indicator of organic farming as the average organic farm is smaller than the overall average farm size. In 2002 the average size of an organic farm in the U.S. was 263 acres while the average farm size overall was 441 acres (USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service 2007). Therefore, the entry of small farms in Maine is a possible indicator of growth in organic agriculture in the state. 

Location of Farms in Maine

We discuss possible explanations for the trends we found in the location of organic farms in Maine based on the maps we created.  Additionally we explore the benefits and drawbacks to these trends in location.

In determining the approximate number of organic and conventional farms in each county, we found that only two counties, Aroostook and Kennebec, ranked in the top five for both types of farm.  This suggests a difference in location between certified organic farms and conventional farms. One possible explanation for this has to do with a standard outlined in the National Organic Program (NOP) that requires an organic buffer zone around a farm in order to become certified organic.  The major implication of this rule is that some farms practicing organic methods and want to become certified simply cannot based on proximity to farms that use chemicals prohibited in the NOP. Aroostook county, for example, though ranking top five in both types of farm, has 1178 more conventional farms than organic.  Although Aroostook County is known for its relatively large scale potato farms, there are potentially more farms in the county practicing organic methods but are too near to the conventional farms to become certified.

Another reason that location may vary has to do with varying quality of land. Conventional farms have generally been established longer than organic farms and thus likely claimed the most fertile land first.  Due to the recency of growth in organic agriculture, many certified organic farms are run by first generation farmers for whom the top choice of land may not have been available when the farm was established.

Eight counties fell within this the top ten ranking for both organic and conventional farms.  This suggests a more subtle difference between the locations of the two, than is evident just by looking at the top five.

Another trend we found was proximity to major roads, defined to include limited access roads and major highways. This is particularly noticeable in looking at the cluster of farms in Aroostook County that appear to be situated only surrounding I-95 and ME-1.  This demonstrates that accessibility is critical to the location of organic farms. Nearness to roads helps to reduce costs to the farmer associated with transportation.  Additionally distance between consumer and producer is minimized.  This demonstrates a link between local and organic agriculture. 

Related to the location trends near major roads, we found that certified organic farms tend to be located in areas of high population density.  This is also an indicator of the importance of accessibility.  Farmer’s markets, for example, are often prevalent in high population dense areas making local food more easily available and increasing communication between consumers and the farmers who grow their food.  Clusters of farms in Washington County exemplify this trend as they only appear in the most population dense areas of the county.

It is important to note, however, that a major drawback to having farmland in high population dense areas is the increased pressure to develop into other types of land use as a result of development needs to accommodate the growing population.  As Maine works to conserve its farmland, those farms in areas of high population density will face the most pressure to develop for other uses.


Based on our conclusions about current organic food trends in Maine relative to the rest of the U.S., we propose two scenarios for the future of organic food production in Maine.  Recent national trends indicate growth in demand for organically produced foods at a rate of 20% each year (Dimitri and Oberholtzer 2006).  As the effects of climate change intensify and awareness increases about the consequences of large scale, conventional farming, we expect farms will continue to transition to organic production. We therefore assume, in both of the following scenarios, that national demand for organic products continues to grow, and that supply in both Maine and the rest of the U.S. will continue to grow to meet demand.  Factors such as an unstable economy have the potential to decrease demand and are important in examining the outlook in organic agriculture. However, in our scenario planning, we assume a renewed interest with economic recovery. 

Our proposed scenarios address the growth of organic agriculture in Maine relative to the rest of the U.S. In the first scenario, Maine maintains its status as a leader with a high percentage of organic producers out of total agricultural producers in its state. The second scenario predicts that Maine’s rank in terms of percentage of organic producers decreases as other states increase organic production in their states. In these two scenarios we also examine potential changes in the composition of demand for Maine goods, and differences in factors influencing production. 

“Bountiful Harvest”: Maine Remains a Leader In Organic Production

In this scenario Maine continues to be leader in the U.S. for organic agricultural production.  The strength of MOFGA would increase as a result of the success of state and federal programs promoting organic consumption.  Efforts to conserve farmland would be successful and rates of farmland loss would slow. Additionally, incentives would increase for farms to transition to organic methods of production and farms in Maine would continue to become certified at an increasing rate.  In this scenario the success of organic agriculture in Maine would serve as a model for the growth of organic farms in other states.

A report from the Brookings Institution report identifies the importance of quality of place to Maine’s economy (The Brookings Institution 2006).  Similarly, the Maine State Planning Office (SPO) recognizes trends impeding growth in Maine’s natural resource-based industries  and recommends ways to address them in the report, Blaine House Conference: Chart a New Course (Maine State Planning Office 2003). 

Following the recommendations of these reports, recent legislation has demonstrated that Maine legislators have given a high priority to the promotion of local consumption of Maine produced foods. These laws address issues including support from development pressures, recognition in deficiencies in data, the importance of Maine branding, and support for small businesses.

If these policies are effective in meeting their objectives, commodities such as potatoes and dairy, which are primarily distributed out of state, may continue to increase to match national demand.  Additionally, initiatives promoting local foods, as well as the expansion of farmers markets in Maine could increase direct local consumption. 

“Frozen Fields”: Maine Falls Behind in Organic Production

Organic agriculture in Maine has historically benefited from the support of MOFGA, and this benefit continues today.  However, as the organic industry continues to grow nationwide, Maine’s role as a leader in percentage of organic agriculture production may be overtaken as the organic industry grows larger in states where agriculture represents a greater proportion of their economy due to factors such as better overall climates conditions, land area, and historical importance of agriculture.  Increasing supply of organic goods may drive down their price and thus pose challenges for small organic farms in Maine to maintain the more costly organic practices. Additionally, if efforts to conserve farmland are not successful, Maine faces the loss of valuable agricultural land, thus impeding the success of agriculture in the state.

In this scenario, although Maine may fall behind in terms of organic production, Maine has the potential to become a leader in local consumption.  Decreasing emphasis on organic production in the state would create the opportunity for Maine to establish a leadership role in terms of the amount of local agricultural commodities that are consumed in the state.


Although Maine is heavily forested, and agriculture represents a small portion of its economy, a community of small farmers has been growing in the state since the 1970s, and the maintenance of agriculture in Maine is an important part of its “quality of place” (The Brookings Institution 2006).  Additionally, increasing agriculture in the state has the potential to boost Maine’s economy.

Organic agriculture is a market in Maine that is relatively distinctive to the state and has the potential to grow. Maine has proven to be a leader in small, organic farming, and these farming methods influence the health of both Mainers and their environment.


We propose recommendations to Maine policy makers about how to address the future of organic agriculture in Maine.

Increase Local Food Consumption

While organic methods provide advantages for both human and environmental health, increased consumption of local agriculture also has environmental benefits and economic advantages.  Maine farms could see substantial increases in farm income if more of Maine’s food were to be supplied by local agriculture.  With increased income, farmers may have greater ability to meet the increased production costs of becoming certified organic. Furthermore, many of the ideological reasons for consuming locally are intertwined with reasons for consuming organic agriculture. 

While it is important for Maine to promote organic agriculture, we recommend that Maine place additional emphasis on local and sustainable food.  We propose three methods by which this can be achieved: developing a local sustainable label, increasing processors and distributors in the state, and increasing the number of colleges and universities that supply local food.

Sustainable Local Food Certification

While the existence of national organic standards provides a way for farmers to prove and advertise their organic practices, they exclude those farmers who chose not to participate in the certification process. This has implications for consumers in Maine as they may learn to value an organic label when in fact many local farms are practicing organic methods but are not certified.

We recommend that similar to the organic label, a sustainable local label be created to identify foods produced in Maine with sustainable methods. Maine should develop a system of identifying and classifying local farms that employ sustainable practices but are not U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic. A unique “Produced Sustainably in Maine” label could help to distinguish these farms from more industrial farms in Maine that use many external inputs and do not practice sustainable methods. One way to measure this would be to measure the distance the food traveled from its point of production.  Some farmers markets already control for this, but we recommend standardized criteria for markets within Maine.

There is currently a campaign sponsored by the Maine Department of Agriculture Food and Rural Resources (MDAFR), to promote Maine produced foods with a label, “Get Real. Get Maine!” (Get Real Get Maine 2003).  However, this label does not necessarily account for differences between sustainable and non-sustainable agricultural practices. A possible collaboration between the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) and MDAFR could work towards establishing a sustainable local label.

One potential drawback to a sustainable local label is that it could create competition for USDA certified organic foods. In developing a local sustainable label for Maine, it would be necessary to address this conflict so as to allow for the successful coexistence of both labels.

Increase Processors and Distributors

A large portion of the value of agricultural goods is added when they are processed. In order for Maine to increase the value of its farming industry, it is important to develop more processors and distributors in the state.  Although most farms in Maine are relatively small, the state is short of processors and distributors to handle commodities produced by its farms. There is great potential for an increase in local food consumption with the addition of in-state processors (Hayward 2009).

Smaller, diversified farms generally have higher costs if supplying out of state, but increased opportunities for intrastate supply could decrease these costs. The addition of such facilities would create economic opportunities for farmers and also make it more convenient for suppliers such as restaurants to purchase local foods.

Ease Local Supply for Maine Colleges and Universities

There are 39 colleges and universities in Maine; thus students in Maine have the potential to make up a large market for local agriculture.  Only seven colleges and universities in Maine have alternative food programs (Appendix B). Of these seven, five are private institutions.  According to Joe Klaus, Assistant Director of Dining Services at Colby College, there are challenges to supplying local and organic food for colleges and universities.

In spite of these challenges, however, colleges and universities have the potential to be large markets for locally grown food. We recommend that more colleges start student-run organic farms on their campuses to educate the students and staff about food production, as well as contribute to local food for college consumption. Additionally, we recommend a “Presidents’ Local Food Commitment” in which college and university Presidents could sign an agreement to prioritize local food supply at their institution. This could be modeled after the existing “Presidents’ Climate Commitment” which, to date, 663 American college and university presidents have signed, agreeing to conduct an emissions inventory, set a target date for carbon neutrality, and take immediate steps toward greenhouse gas reduction at their institution (Presidents' Climate Commitment 2007-2009). There also currently exists a College Sustainability Report Card, which provides sustainability profiles for hundreds of U.S. colleges. It includes a Food and Recycling section that addresses the local food supply of each college (Sustainable Endowments Institute 2009). In accordance with this report card system, signing a local food commitment could add to the institution’s grade in the Food and Recycling category.

Conserve Farmland

The future of agriculture in Maine depends upon Maine recognizing the importance of farmland and prioritizing its conservation. As farmers face development pressures, farmland in Maine is at risk for conversion to other use, which is difficult to reclaim as soil conditions change. In order to reach the agricultural potential of the state, it is important that Maine provide fiscal assistance to farmers at risk of selling land for development.  The Land for Maine’s Future Program is currently working to create incentives for farmers to maintain their farmland (Maine State Planning Office b 2006). The Brookings Report recommends development of a Quality Places Fund in Maine which, among other things, would fund farmland conservation (The Brookings Institution 2006).  We recommend a form of subsidy provided to farmers for conserving their farmland.  The funding for such a program could be written into the next Farm Bill and could presumably apply to other states for which farmland conversion is also an issue. Farms would receive the subsidy based on the number of years in operation. 

Reduce Costs of Organic Production and Consumption

As discussed, costs of production of organic agricultural commodities are currently higher than costs of producing conventionally, thus creating a disincentive to transition to organic. This often equates to higher cost prices for consumers.  Reducing costs to organic producers and to farmer transitions to organic production may allow producers to provide organic goods at lower prices.  Thus, although consumers are often willing to pay price premiums on organically produced goods, reducing costs for farmers may make organic food available to a broader range of people.  As funds in the 2008 Farm Bill increase for organic agriculture, this should contribute to the provision subsidies for organic producers.

Increase Data and Information

The recent growth of organic agriculture across the nation has outpaced the collection and publication of useful data available to the public. Data on organic agriculture would help policy makers, analysts, producers, and other stakeholders to better assess current policies and programs influencing organic agriculture. Increased availability of information may help to improve the efficacy of legislation and provide opportunities for more research on organic agriculture.  It is probable that individual state associations collect data about organic agriculture in their state but this is not readily available.  MOFGA, for example, has data about the number of MOFGA members and the number of certified organic farms in Maine dating back to the 1970s.  We recommend that MOFGA make this data available on their website. 

Although the USDA has several useful databases, their information is not frequently updated. The most recent Census of Agriculture, for example, was in 2007. Additional data from private reports exists but is only accessible with a fee. The results of recent increases in funding for research through the 2008 Farm Bill will likely be seen in the near future, and will increase data collection. To increase data organization and availability we recommend that there be a webpage on the USDA website with links to each state and their individual data as far back as it exists.

Appendix A Contacts:

  1. Jacomijn Gardei, MOFGA Certification Services, LLC.
  2. CR Lawn, Founder, FedCo Seeds; MOFGA Board Member
  3. Spencer Aitel, Owner, Two Loons Farm; MOFGA Board Member
  4. Sam Hayward, Chef and Owner, Fore Street Restaurant; MOFGA Board Member
  5. Tim Christensen, Senior Teaching Associate in Biology at Colby College; MOFGA Member
  6. Emma Balazs, Intern, Snakeroot Farm
  7. Rachael Katz, Owner, Smith Farm
  8. Andy Smith, Co-Founder, Colby Organic Garden
  9. Ben Hummel, Co-Founder, Colby Organic Garden
  10. Joe Klaus, Director, Colby Dining Services
  11. Jeff McCabe, House Representative (D-Skowhegan)
  12. Bob Batteese, Division of Plant Industry, Maine Department of Agriculture
  13. Rick Kersbergen, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
  14. David Gulak, Market Manager, Barrels Community Market

Appendix B Sections of the 2008 Farm Bill that apply to organic agriculture

Horticulture and Organic Agriculture (Title X)

National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program

Increases funding to subsidize $750 of organic costs for each eligible organic operation.

Organic Production and Marketing Data Collection

Allocates $5 million toward collecting organic production and marketing data to be spend over five years and an additional $5 million/year.

Support for the National Organic Program

$5 million authorized to be spent on the National Organic Program that establishes national organic standards. Funding increases to $11 million by 2012.

Conservation (Title II)


Organic Transition Support

Includes organic prouduction in eligibility for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) which provides payments up to $20,000 each year limited to $80,000 over six years.

Technical Assistance on Organic Conservation Practices

Provides technical assistance to organic producers to implement conservation practices outlined in the USDA conservation practices standards.

Organic Certification Cross-Link

Program established to allow producers participating in the Conservaton Stewardship Program to undergo organic certification.

Organic Transition Incentives for Beginning Farmers

Under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) allows new farmers taking over CRP land to transition to organic starting one year before the termination of the CRP contract.

Credit (Title V)


Organic Credit Provision

Adds those who plan to use loans for transitioning to organic production to the priority list of producers eligible for the Conservation Loan and Loan Guarantee Program.

Research (Title VII)


Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative

Increases funding to $78 million for 2009-2012 for the Organic Agriculture Research and Expansion Initiative and adds two new priorities for spending that focus on aspects of organic production.

Crop Insurance (Title XII)


Organic Crop Insurance Provision

This title mandates that the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) study organic crop insurance and 'eliminate or reduce the premium surcharge for organic production.'

Trade (Title III)


Market Access Program (MAP) Amendment on Organic Products

MAP (created in 1978) works to expand agricultural markets with cost-share funding; products produced organically are now included in this program.

Appendix C Which Maine colleges and universities purchase organic food? 

Information provided by Joe Klaus, Director of Dining Services, Colby College.  Alternative Food Program includes organic, local, or sustainable food programs.


Alternative Food Dining Program?

Public Colleges & Universities

University of Southern Maine - Portland


University of Maine - Orono


University of Maine at Augusta


University of Maine at Farmington


University of Maine at Fort Kent


University of Maine at Machias


University of Maine at Presque Isle


Maine Maritime Academy


Maine Community College System


University of Maine Cooperative Extension


Maine Community College System

Central Maine Community College


Eastern Maine Community College


Kennebec Valley Community College


Northern Maine Community College


Southern Maine Community College


Washington County Community College


York County Community College


State Training Academies


Private Colleges in Maine

Andover College


Bates College


Beal College


Bowdoin College


Colby College


College of the Atlantic


Heartwood College of Art


Husson College


Maine College of Art


Maine Media College


Maine Theological Seminary


New England Bible College


New England School of Communications


Saint Joseph's College


Salt Institute for Documentary Studies


Southern New Hampshire University - Brunswick/Winter Harbor


Thomas College


Unity College


University of New England


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