The Buzz about Buying Local

For many beekeepers in Maine, April 15 is not as much Tax Day as it is New Bee Day. Starting April 15th, packages of honeybees arrive to supplement the state’s 8,000 year-round hives. For Maine’s beekeeping community, it heralds the season’s beginning where bees get busy both pollinating crops and producing honey. “Maine’s honey is of the highest quality and no one has trouble selling this product at local farmer’s markets or elsewhere,” said Lincoln Sennett, owner of Swan’s Honey.

Why Buy Local

Today’s savvy consumers embrace the benefits of locally-produced foods for a variety of reasons. “New on the honey horizon is that real honey is a premium that customers get excited about,” said Erin MacGregor-Forbes, owner of Overland Apiaries in Portland. Locally-produced honey supports local beekeepers who follow good hive management practices, and fewer resources like petroleum are expended to put it on the table. Economically, this purchase supports Maine jobs for beekeepers and the ancillary businesses that they support, such as packaging suppliers and equipment retailers. Honey also has health benefits. Locally-produced honey is rich in vitamins, notably B6 and C, as well as antioxidants. For those suffering from seasonal allergies, Erin notes that honey contains trace amounts of pollen, which may help some people if they eat honey on a regular basis.

The state doesn’t track the sale and production of honey, but the increase in licensed beekeepers is one indicator that beekeeping is on the rise. In 2013, there were 860 licensed beekeepers and 9,657 registered hives, according to Maine’s State Apiarist Tony Jadczak with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry. A decade ago Maine issued 318 licenses and had 5,231 registered hives. Since not all hives are registered, we know the number is much higher.

Professional Resources
The Maine State Beekeepers Association (MSBA) is the resource for more than 500 members, many of whom are known as backyard beekeepers. MSBA fulfills two core functions: The first is education provided through the association’s annual meeting, bee schools, and speaker series that provide information on the latest techniques in this rather scientific field. The second is support at the local club level. Bees are so sensitive to their environment that in a large and geographically diverse state like Maine, beekeeping conditions may vary greatly. Clubs provide access to information on local conditions and support from other beekeepers.

bees, babies, and eggs

bees, babies (the glistening white shapes inside some of the honeycomb cells), and eggs (what looks like pieces of rice in some cells)

Emerging Trend
MSBA President Carol Cottrill teaches beekeeping classes and a growing trend she sees is an increase in younger people – especially women – and families with children including urban and suburban residents. “Many are gardeners and homeowners with their own plot of land with space for a garden and a beehive,” said Carol. These students see the benefit bees provide with pollination.

Economic Impact
Last year, the state imported almost 75,000 hives for commercial crop pollination. Bees pollinate the state’s wild blueberry, cranberry and apple crops along with native and wild flowers. In 2012, our wild blueberry crop’s processing value was reported at $68 million dollars. This tiny insect is a vital link in our state’s agricultural success, but native pollinators cannot do the job alone.

Commercial Operations
As the state’s largest producer and packer of honey, Lincoln Sennett of Swan’s Honey is well-versed in keeping a hive thriving. Lincoln contracts his hives out to pollinate blueberries, apples and cranberries. “The key to success is both understanding what stresses the bees and accommodating that need to reduce bee loss,” said Lincoln. “Economics is driving the problems for the bee industry but through careful management of your hive, you can overcome these issues.”

The two largest stressors on his bees are nutrition and mites, according to Lincoln. He employs the “one hive, one-pollination per year rule” to keep his colonies healthy. Pests like the varroa mite are an enemy of the honey bee. Once a mite has bitten a honeybee, the hole never closes and leaves the honeybee susceptible to disease for the rest of her life. Lincoln concedes that if they could eliminate this pest, raising and keeping honey bees would be far easier.

What can we do for the bees?
Honeybees that come to our state in packages to populate our hives, and in trucks to pollinate our crops experience a lot of stress. During the month of February, almost 95 percent of commercial bees in the United States come together in the almond groves of California, where they share diseases and pests (most notably the varroa mite). Traveling is stressful for honeybees. Additionally, while pollinating their diets are limited to single foods and what beekeepers feed them – usually sugar water or corn syrup. Like us, bees need a varied, natural diet to keep healthy. It is thought by many that the combination of all these stressors – disease and pests, bad nutrition, and the way migratory hives are treated more like factories than families – are responsible for the high levels of colony losses that beekeepers have experienced in recent years in the US and around the world.
Erin Forbes is experimenting with ways to use northern raised queens to reduce mortality in hives of Maine beekeepers, and increase our state’s self-reliance on bees that can thrive in our climate. You can read about this work at Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education

Aside from these larger issues, anyone can help the bees by learning to love dandelions, clover and other flowers that grow in lawns. By including flowers into lawnscape, people convert a food desert into a bounty of nectar for bees and other pollinators. “Dandelions are one of the first reliable crops for bees in the spring and can help sustain them into the season,” remarked Carol. And that’s something to buzz about!
bee on dandelion

Associations and website links -

Maine State Beekeepers Association

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry

Overland Apiaries

News from the Steering Committee

Steering Committee Members: Back Row (L-R): Ben Martens, Dana Morse, Heron Breen, Mark Hews, Ted Quaday, Bob Dorsey. Front Row (L-R) Daniel Wallace, Bill Eldridge, Molly Anderson, Sara Trunzo, Deb Burd, Anne Trenholm, John Jemison. Not pictured: Mark Dvorozniak, Caldie Jackson, John Piotti, Penny Jordan, Rosie Vanadestine, Lisa Webster.

Undeterred by monthly snowstorms, the 19-member Maine Food Strategy Steering Committee has been meeting throughout the winter to develop consensus around a set of draft goals for the initiative. Committee member Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth said she expected to be challenged by the process:

“When I decided to become part of the Steering Committee, I knew that the work would challenge me and my patience, but I knew if we brought together a committed group of informed people that embody Maine values and believe in possibilities, through our collective networks and relationships, we can influence the evolution of a food system that is dynamic and responsive,” Penny said.

Penny recently joined fellow committee members Mark Hews of M.E. Hews and Company and John Jemison, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension faculty member in looking at how the initiative can connect with more individuals and groups as it seeks both input and partners.

“As a member of the Maine Food Strategy, I appreciate the willingness of such a diverse group of people to tackle the very real challenge of balancing the larger food policy issues of developing a sustainable food system with the practical, on the ground, solutions that food producers are implementing every day,” said Mark Hews. “Finding a way to juggle process with action is never an easy road.”

On March 12th, a day-long workshop featuring the “You Get What You Measure” curriculum was facilitated by Samantha Dunne of Yellow Wood Associates, and Molly Anderson, a steering committee member trained in the process. Energized committee members work through the early steps of framing a strategy with measurable goals.

Steering Committee determining priorities

Steering Committee determining priorities

Over the coming month, the committee will look at what conditions need to be changed or created to support a set of broad goals aimed at strengthening Maine’s food system. The initiative anticipates releasing information for input from stakeholders later this spring.



Tapping Success with Maine Maple Syrup

IMG_5111March in Maine brings longer days, rising temperatures and soon, a delightfully sweet aroma wafting across the countryside. Lines and taps are appearing in backyards and fields to collect what some call liquid gold. Sugarhouses and commercial operators across the state are gearing up for maple syrup season and its signature event, Maine Maple Sunday™. Mark those calendars for March 23rd!

Maple syrup is produced exclusively by the concentration of sap from the maple tree. Once sap is collected, it goes to the sugarhouse where it is boiled down, processed and bottled within hours.

In 2013, Maine was the nation’s third largest producer of maple syrup with 450,000 gallons according the US Department of Agriculture. Second was New York with 574,000 gallons and the undisputed king of the maples is Vermont with 1.3 million gallons.

“Maple syrup processing is one of the fastest-growing agriculture commodities in the state,” remarked Lyle Merrifield, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association. Lyle noted that while the cold temperatures are delaying first taps, historically speaking we’re not that far off from start dates.

Economic Impact – $49 million and counting
The maple syrup industry‘s contribution to Maine’s economy is $49 million dollars, according to a new study released March 5th by the University of Maine in partnership with the MMPA and Department of Agriculture. It includes the financial impact the maple syrup industry has in the state, including tourism, the number of jobs created and sale of equipment used in processing sap. “This study shows a more complete picture of the industry,” said Kathy.

pancakesSavvy consumers are demanding this pure, sugary delight that contains no added sugar, coloring agents, artificial flavorings, or preservatives. “Packed with minerals and antioxidants, maple syrup is seen as a healthy alternative to refined sugar,” said Kathy, extension educator with the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension. Kathy explained that consumers want to purchase maple syrup that is produced locally, is somewhat healthier than other sweeteners and support local farmers in the process. It’s not just for pancakes anymore, either. Maple syrup is showing up as an ingredient in many baking recipes and in new taste combinations such as the “Maple Pepper Brand Seasoning” produced by Highland Foods in Newcastle.

Emerging Trend
An emerging trend is how manufacturers are adapting equipment to meet the needs of small producers. From reverse osmosis systems to vacuum pumps, new technology enables start-ups to succeed. “Given that small processors can see a return on their investment and time rather quickly, it’s a good hobby or side business to undertake,” said Lyle.

Professional Licensing
The spike in licensed processers clearly demonstrates that the public appreciates maple syrup. In 2011 there were 349 licensed maple syrup processors and today there are 452. At MMPA, Lyle has seen membership rise from 108 to 185 sugarhouses over the past five years.

Commercial Processors
Somerset County is home to more than 40 commercial operations; some are very large with 75,000 to 100,000 taps; the average operation runs 25,000 taps. These processors sell syrup in bulk with roughly 90 percent of their product shipped out of state because that’s where the market for large contracts is. “Currently we’re tapping 1.7 million trees,” said Eric Ellis of Maine Maple Products. “With more than 40 million maple trees in Maine, the maple syrup industry is poised for tremendous growth.”

International Grading System
Maple Hill Farm (8)Selling syrup across state and border lines can be a sticky situation when it comes to identifying grades. Currently, Vermont’s top grade of syrup is Fancy, Maine’s is Light Amber, and Canada’s is Number One. The International Maple Syrup Institute is the driving force behind creating standardized grades of syrup.

The new system – a decade in the planning and a year or two away from implementation – will use four names, Golden, Amber, Dark and Very Dark. Groups like the MMPA and MMP are looking for this solution to create consistency across international retail and wholesale markets.

Sugar houses can still be a part of Maine Maple Sunday™

maple factsContact Jessica Nixon, Promotions Coordinator
Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry mainemaplesyrup

Mark your calendars for Sunday, March 23rd to check out a list of sugarhouses near you.

See you there!

31st Annual Maine Maple Sunday™

Maine Maple Producers Association

Maine Maple Products

University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Courtney Bourns, Henry P. Kendall Foundation

We sat down with Courtney Bourns, Senior Program Officer to hear why developing food systems regionally is a priority for the Henry P. Kendall Foundation based in Boston.

Courtney Bourns, Henry P. Kendall Foundation

Courtney Bourns, Henry P. Kendall Foundation

MFS: We are hearing more about food systems, the term used to describe all the factors that go into feeding a population. What opportunities do you see in 2014 for programs and people working toward these goals?

CB: From my perch at a funding organization, I have a broad perspective within the region, and I see 2014 as an exciting year ahead, offering tremendous opportunity for food entrepreneurs, food growers and producers, and those working for food justice. No matter where you are in the process, you can jump on the bandwagon and become a part of this movement. It’s important to note that we are benefitting greatly from seeds that were sown 30 years ago, thanks to the work done by many pioneers at the local level.

MFS: The Kendall Foundation is focusing on creating a resilient and healthy food system within New England.

CB: Yes, the Kendall Foundation is investing in food systems because it touches so many threads within the fabric of our lives: from health and wellness, to economic development; environmental issues; and community building. Looking at this from a regional perspective, we see how Maine is in step with the Kendall Foundation’s goals for investing in food system development.

MFS: Would you share the Kendall Foundation story with us?

CB: Our current executive director, Andrew Kendall came to the Foundation with experience bringing conserved farms back into active production. Andy wanted to build on the conservation and sustainability legacy of the Kendall Foundation, while doing something that would have immediate impact on people’s daily lives.  He saw the opportunity to impact food systems within New England in a way that supports resilience, sustainability and the quality of daily life for New Englanders, all while encouraging individuals and communities to become advocates for healthy food, grown locally.

In 2011, I joined the Kendall Foundation with a background in organizational development and two decades of helping the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors be more effective. One of the things I know is challenging in social change efforts of all kinds is to obtain funding for planning, strategizing, and network-building, so I advocated for this to be a component of the foundation’s current strategy. It’s essential for developing networks like the Maine Food Strategy.

MFS: How does Maine fit into this regional approach?

CB: Maine stands apart because of its geographic advantage, recognizing the size of the state’s land base and the ability its land base offers to support food production.  In addition, there is a strong group of leaders of sustainable agriculture in Maine who’ve been at this for a long time, and they are sharing what they know with others in the region.

MFS: How does Maine Food Strategy relate to other food systems working in the region?

CB: The Maine group was very deliberate about including diverse perspectives on what is occurring at the regional level and applying relative themes here in Maine. The result creates good cross-pollination and a shared narrative describing where we’re all going together.

MFS: Are there challenges you see for Maine Food Strategy?

CB: When you commit to honoring viewpoints from diverse groups that ushers with it a level of complexity and takes a tremendous amount of coalition building and time to create relationships. It’s not easy work but I believe the commitment and perseverance of those who are facilitating this strategy will pay off in the end.

MFS: Any words of wisdom you’d like to share with readers who are striving to better locally-sourced food systems in Maine?

CB: Consumers have the big work to do right now in terms of demanding local food. That is a rally cry!

If you work in a hospital, school, or institution, demand local food. Become a member of a CSA. All of these efforts contribute to the awareness of the benefits of locally produced food and all the little pieces matter.

From beekeepers to lobstermen to farmers: The value of participating in this collective work is that we hear from all the voices within the food system, and it’s a very dynamic system, so no one group can do it alone.

MFS: Any final words about your connection to Maine?

CB: I became familiar with the people of Maine during my time doing training for the Institute for Civic Leadership. During my time at the Institute, I witnessed how Maine’s citizenry is highly engaged and has a strong pride of place. This sense of civic responsibility will be a strength for the Maine Food System and will help the Initiative be successful.

The Henry P. Kendall Foundation’s goal is to create a resilient and healthy food system in New England that increases the production and consumption of local, sustainably produced food.

FMI: Henry P. Kendall Foundation

Draft Legislative Report

The Maine Food Strategy’s Research Committee presents a draft report summarizing the food-related bills introduced during the 1st session of the 126th Maine Legislature and their outcome.

This formidable and informative summary is the work of two members of the Maine Association of Non-Profit’s Sustainable Food Systems Leadership Institute, Gianna Short and Sarah Randall.

Click on the following link to download the draft report:
Draft MFS 12-6-13 Legislative Report

What Do We Know? What Don’t We Know?

download (1)Good information leads to good decisions, right?  Bad information (or lack of information) leads to… well, it depends.

The Research Committee here at The Maine Food Strategy have been busy setting up a scope of work to figure out what we already know, what data and research “gaps” exist, and how we can move forward to leverage the power of good information in service to Maine’s food system.

Check out the full details of what the Research Committee is up to and how you can get involved (if good data is your thing:).

Research Committee page

Communicating About Food Systems & Planning

It’s hard to imagine a topic more complex and all-encompassing as food.  We all eat!  And we all have opinions about how we should be able to get our food and how it’s produced.  Lots of livelihoods are involved as well our cultural stories and behaviors.

Maine Food Strategy team members participated today in a call with folks from all six New England states on how to communicate effectively about food systems planning, given the challenges of this complex terrain.  The call was facilitated by Ellen Kahler from Vermont’s Farm-to-Plate effort.

DSCF3259We heard about convening strategies, communications methods (including, but not limited to electronic methods), network management and the ways to trying to ensure engagement/participation opportunities for folks who traditionally have not be able to get involved!

And we’re not alone in thinking about this here in Maine…There’s lots of chatter about this topic!

One important message came through loud and clear, though, about the power of convening…

Anything we can all do to convene people (and not just the usual suspects) and create an environment for free-flowing conversation, in a well-facilitated and well-structured way is valuable for relationship and network building.  The convening function is really critical and sets the stage for network strengthening and implementation (of food-related action plans).  People find huge value at these convenings because their expertise and passion is valued as part of creating a statewide strategy.

A bit more about food systems communication from around the web….

Community food systems will only thrive with quality communication between farmers and consumers

Introduction to Food Communication

Food Systems – From the Frameworks Institute