The state of Maine’s “Farms for the Future” (FFF) is a competitive grant program providing selected farms with both business planning assistance and investment support. The grants are awarded by the state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry (DACF.)

FFF was created in 2000 by the state legislature. Over the past 23 years more than 200 farms have benefited from over $2 million and tailored technical and planning assistance, enabling infrastructure, equipment, market development and business and strategic planning improvements.

“Each year, the Farms for the Future program provides valuable support to a cohort of Maine farms, from business planning to budget forecasting, putting each participating farm on more solid footing as they contemplate the future of their business,” said DACF Commissioner Amanda Beal. “I am excited for the farms selected to participate in the program in 2023 to receive tailored technical assistance to match their needs.”

The grants are awarded in two phases. A Phase 1 grant is for $6,000 and allows selected farmers to research ideas for change on their farm and work with a certified business advisor, as well as other agricultural and professional service providers to develop an investment-grade business plan. A Phase 2 awardee receives $25,000 and the opportunity for a subsidized 2% interest rate loan to be borrowed from DACF’s Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund.

Dogpatch Farm in Washington, Maine, is one of the 2023 Phase 2 grant awardees.

Susan Hamel, the owner and operator of Dogpatch, founded the farm 11 years ago.

Becoming a farmer at Dogpatch

In addition to crosses, Susan Hamel raises Mulefoot hogs, a rare American Heritage breed. Photo courtesy of Dogpatch Farm

Situated on 70 rocky and wooded acres – 24 of which are fenced for pasture – Dogpatch Farm is worked by Hamel with the help of her two children. The farm is operational year-round, although she does have busier times of the year when she participates in local farmers markets in Camden, Kennebunk, Kittery and Isleboro.

“Balsam wreaths, chickens and vegetables are seasonal productions, though I now have a high tunnel to extend my season,” she said.

Hamel raises pigs, mostly focusing on Mulefoot hogs (a heritage breed). The farm crosses the breed with others, including Berkshire, Hampshire, Hereford, Large Black, Old Spot and Tamworth. There are also some Narragansett turkeys and Cornish crosses for meat. They pasture raise chickens for meat and eggs and organically grow small quantities of various open pollinated vegetables.

This is not Hamel’s first time applying for a grant. She’s received two USDA Value Added Producer Grants and was awarded the FFF Phase 1 grant last year.

“I decided to apply [for the Phase 2 grant] so that I can make the farm more efficient and viable for the future,” Hamel said. “With the high costs of feed and everything else these days, I needed to make adjustments to my business plan.”

The grant will be used to finish an on-farm commercial kitchen, complete with curing chambers, where Hamel will be able to cut and package her own pork. Dogpatch Farm will also expand into making value-added products including salami and pulled pork.

Hamel is hopeful that the grant will enable Dogpatch to take the next step forward. “With the loan portion of the FFF grant, our future plans include on-farm cold storage and a solar array to help cut our carbon footprint,” she said. “We will also be adding online ordering for both pick up and shipping.”

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by Enrico Villamaino