BLUE HILL — Mainers are fond of eating locally grown food and possibly never more than right now, during this time of global pandemic.
At Roaring Lion Farm in Sedgwick, which relocated to the Blue Hill Peninsula from Rumford not yet two years ago, farmers Colin and Arianna Smorawski offer summer farm shares of organically grown produce, free-range organically fed eggs, pasture-raised, organically fed pork and grass-fed beef.
But, they’ve already sold out for the 2020 season. They’ve also sold out of their summer chicken shares.
“Our farm shares usually reach capacity if we leave them open for several months before it begins, but this year was absolutely because of the pandemic,” said Arianna. “We sold out in just over a day, then increased membership and sold out of that in two days and now have a waitlist. There is such a demand for food from small local farms right now, as we see grocery stores looking emptier than normal and hear of commercial meat facilities shutting down.”
The couple are taking names for a summer share waitlist on their website: roaringlionfarm.com.
However, farms that market themselves to businesses and institutions are in a different place right now.
“I think restaurants are the biggest question mark right now,” said Sarah Alexander, executive director of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). “When will they be able to open back up? Will our tourist season be on track for or will that be affected? It’s stressful right now, just the uncertainty.”
“Most farms had already bought their seeds and had a plan for their established markets,” Alexander said. “Our hope is there’s more demand for local food as people look for nutrient-rich food available locally, especially if there are more disruptions in the supply chain. That’s where a robust local food system becomes really important.”
MOFGA and Maine Farmland Trust have collaborated to offer new Maine Farm Emergency Grants to help farmers affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
“Many farms lost their restaurant and institutional markets overnight and had to quickly adapt to get food directly to consumers,” Alexander said. “At the same time, farms have had trouble accessing federal support programs for small businesses. This grant program comes at a critical time in the season when cash flow is limited.”
Grants of up to $2,000 will assist farmers with a variety of unexpected costs or challenges, such as a loss in sales or outlets, delayed production or hiring due to market disruptions, additional costs related to acquiring supplies or personal protective equipment for safe product handling, or having a need to ramp up production with additional labor or supplies.
“Given the current situation, farmers are having to respond and adapt and pivot pretty quickly to changes that have happened overnight,” said Bill Toomey, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust.
“The demand is definitely there — enjoying local food is something really strong here in the state,” Toomey said. “I think right now farmers are doing what they can to adapt.”
The trust, MOFGA, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the University of Maine-Cooperative Extension have been compiling lists of resources for farmers, including a spreadsheet of local farms and purveyors of local food-such as fish and sea vegetables, arranged by county that is useful for consumers as well. See https://www.mainefarmlandtrust.org/ or https://extension.umaine.edu/beginning-farmer-resource-network/covid-19/ or https://www.maine.gov/dacf/covid19/.