Thousands of attendees, hundreds of workshops, 120 exhibitors, a dozen local food vendors, a handful of cooking demonstrations, a couple of live animal exhibits, and a few awards presentations added up to a whole lot of Maine farming, all wrapped up in an event both fun and educational for anyone interested in agriculture. For the 76th year, the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, held in the capital city of Augusta, didn’t disappoint.
The trade show floor was dominated by large equipment of all types for a variety of farm operations. While tractors, front loaders, mowers, harvesters, wood chippers and more demanded center stage, the trade show floor was also crowded with exhibitors with smaller products to demonstrate.
Maple syrup equipment providers were well represented, with several booths of evaporators, tubing, taps, buckets, and bottling supplies. Adaptive tools and equipment for farmers with disabilities were featured from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s AgrAbility Program. Other vendors offered hand tools for those more inclined to work without heavy equipment.
Feed dealers, fencing companies, seed companies, alternative energy suppliers, beekeepers, compost producers, and yarn makers were just a few of the vendors on hand to offer information, sell their products, and often provide visitors with a chance to win door prizes. Incentives such as pens, free candy, shopping bags, key chains and other promotional materials were available at many booths, and helped to draw visitors’ attention.
Royalty were also seen at the show. The Maine Wild Blueberry Queen, the Strawberry Princess and Strawberry Blossom, and Maine Dairy Princesses all made appearances.
Awards presentations included the Agricultural Development Grant Program held in the demonstration area. Earlier that day, the area was used to host a variety of cooking classes, as well as educational presentations on labor, dairy grazing apprenticeships, and more. Walter E. Whitcomb, Commissioner, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, explained the Agricultural Development Grant Program purpose, and revealed the names of the grant recipients.
The grants — totaling over $248,000 — were awarded in several areas of focus including: product enhancement; alternative markets; livestock processing; and technology. Upon final review and approval, the conditional recipients will receive the grant money to implement their proposals. These proposals were selected based on their innovative nature and potential to advance agriculture and natural resources in Maine.
“It’s far more than traditional agriculture that’s being discussed this year,” Whitcomb said of the recipients. “We have six that were chosen for these grants out of 23 applicants.”
The Maine Aquaculture Cooperative received a grant for Maine scallop aquaculture. Maine Cap N’ Stem LLC received funding to increase the production capacity of a B2B mushroom farm. The Maine Landscape and Nursery Association received funding for a pollinator garden. The Hop Yard LLC received funding to create viable commercial hop bales. Undine Marine will be working on a submersible mussel raft with their funding.
The Maine Wild Blueberry Commission’s grant of $50,000 will go towards developing a school food program in conjunction with the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. This will expand the reach of Maine’s wild blueberry industry nationwide. With over 100 million pounds of wild blueberries harvested annually, the commission is focused on finding new markets.
“Ninety-nine percent of our crop is frozen,” Executive Director Nancy McBrady said. “We need to be able to find markets that are new, or existing, that we can expand into. We want to be at the table when it comes to serving our nation’s children healthy fruit.”
The Get real. Get Maine! Product Showcase featured Maine farm products. A half-dozen vendors were selling their wares, from dairy to honey, soap to sauerkraut.
Anne Trenholm, of Wholesome Holmstead, was selling dairy products from the family farm in nearby Winthrop. Anne is the third generation on the farm and she milks their small Guernsey herd twice a day. Her mother is the cheese maker. The dairy offers raw milk yogurt, a variety of fresh and aged cheeses, as well as beef and pork. The farm has a year-round farm stand. Trenholm is involved in the Maine Food Strategy initiative, developing local food systems. She was eager to promote the Get real. Get Maine! vendor opportunity as an effective means of connecting with consumers to educate them about the array of local products available as a means of increasing direct market sales of local food.
Simon Frost, of Thirty Acre Farm, offered a variety of certified organic, raw unpasteurized fermented foods, straight from his farmstead. The lacto-fermented foods included sauerkraut, kimchi and hot sauces. Frost was diligently providing samples for interested visitors, and had plenty of jars available for purchase.
Sunshine Apothecary’s owner and alchemist, Debi Glenn, was on hand to promote her herbal products including chaga tea. Chaga is a mushroom found on white and yellow birch trees. It has healing properties and is used in some of the apothecary’s lotions and tinctures as well.
Education and outreach
It wasn’t all about sales and promotions. Educational workshops on topics as diverse as growing hops, forest ecology, biomass technology, organic apple cultivation, and farm taxes, were offered on all three days of the show. Beginning farmer information, food safety training, pesticide certification, farm business management classes, updates on research projects, forage testing information, and land access discussions were some of the topics being offered, appealing to a very large cross section of farmers, and anyone else interested in Maine’s agricultural trades.
New this year was the Agricultural Career Fair, hosted by the Department of Labor and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Interested job candidates were invited to bring their resumes and meet and greet a variety of agricultural employers seeking employees. The United Farmer Veterans of Maine hosted a meet and greet, inviting the community to learn about their mission to assist veterans in establishing careers in agriculture. The non-profit organization is 100 percent volunteer run, with all funding going into programs.
The Maine Agricultural Trades Show isn’t all about the exhibitors. It’s also an opportunity for various agricultural organizations to hold member meetings and to offer educational presentations. The Maine Beef Producers, the Maine Sustainable Agricultural Society, the Maine Cheese Guild, Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, the Maine Sheep Breeders Association and many others had display booths, offered educational seminars, and held annual meetings during the trade show.
With vendor booths, speaker presentations, and demonstrations, these and other agricultural organizations representing a variety of interests — including forestry, fiber and wildlife management — offered a well-rounded overview of the many facets of Maine agriculture today. From wool to wood, maple to medicinal herbs, and alpacas to apples, the 76th Annual Maine Agricultural Trades Show offered producers — large and small, new and experienced, diversified or specialized — the opportunity to enhance their operations and connect with the ever-expanding agricultural landscape in the state.