What work does GrowSmart Maine do?
Smart growth values sustainability by favoring long-range, regional thinking over short-term fixes. Since 2003, GrowSmart Maine (GSM) has been actively bringing together Maine citizens, government, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to build lasting prosperity without sacrificing the quality of life that defines Maine. The organization’s goals include community revitalization, conservation of farmland, forest and shoreland, and support for sustainable economic development. The following GSM initiatives support growth under Goal IV in the Maine Food Strategy Framework:
The Growing Farm-Friendly Communities Forum was created in 2018 to give people in Maine’s rural and suburban communities the opportunity to learn how to attract and retain small agricultural businesses. The Forum features a moderated panel of community and municipal leaders who share policy approaches and practical ways communities and farmers can benefit from working together. Attendees leave with resources to create and implement a plan in their own communities. Location of forums is determined by community interest. The events are advertised on GSM’s newsletter, social media, and website and are open to the public at a cost of $25 per person or $10 for farmers, and $15 for GSM or Maine Farmland Trust members.
Since a healthy food system is key to smart growth, GSM enlisted a Bowdoin Fellow to create Focus on Gardiner: Successful Food Systems after the organization’s leadership observed the city’s comprehensive food system. This educational brief provides strategies and resources for how small communities can do the same. The educational brief was published in January 2019 and is available to the public on the educational briefs section of GSM’s website.
Making Headway in Your Community builds local connections, capacity, and confidence by focusing on what each community values most. In partnership with the Maine Downtown Center, GSM hosts a series of community-driven meetings with Making Headway communities. In working with the community, small projects are funded with a local match to build capacity in the community and facilitate development of community engagement. The projects can be almost anything that fits into what the community values, and has. For example, a community could ask for funding to start a community garden. Documentation from past projects and additional resources are available on the Making Headway in Your Community website.
How well did GrowSmart Maine do the work?
In 2018, GSM piloted the Growing Farm Friendly Communities Forum in Bowdoinham and Windham in response to requests from individuals who were interested in increasing and strengthening the presence of small agricultural businesses in their communities. Both events were attended by 35 stakeholders, which included representation from community development initiatives, the Maine Farmland Trust, local government, the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and local residents.
GSM created this particular Forum as part of a collaboration with the Maine Farmland Trust to provide community engagement relevant to farming. The events were managed by two GSM staff members and required 40 hours of prep work each. Attendees paid $10 - $25 to participate and the organization reported they came out even financially. Due to continued demand for this topic, the Growing Farm Friendly Communities Forum will be offered in 2019. The Maine Farmland Trust along with the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry will continue to be involved.
An unpaid Bowdoin Fellow performed the necessary research and wrote the Focus on Gardiner: Successful Food Systems with limited supervision from a full-time staff member. In addition to sharing it at future events, it will remain a free, accessible resource on the GSM website.
The Making Headway in Your Community Program has sponsored 19 projects in 12 communities since its inception in 2013.
Is anyone better off?
Since the Growing Farm Friendly Community Forum is a new offering of GSM, it is difficult to demonstrate a tangible impact. “There is an intangible impact of the network building. One of the goals of our forums and events is to convene people and bring them together. Have people start talking to each other,” said Jodi Castallo, Community Outreach Director. Evaluation respondents found the Forum to be very interesting and thought provoking in addition to the following results:
7 respondents reported they were very likely or likely to discuss ideas with colleagues.
4 respondents said they were likely to share ideas with friends and family and follow up with a new contact that was made.
6 respondents reported that they would attend another GrowSmart event.
33 respondents said they were likely to use the information discussed in designing policy.
GSM leadership is looking at ways to capture the tangible impact of attending a Growing Farm Friendly Communities Forum, such as number of policies enacted as a result of attendance.
The impact of the Focus on Gardiner: Successful Food Systems Education Brief will be easier to capture in the future.
While the Making Headway in Your Community Program has not yet yielded any food systems related projects, there is potential for this Program to positively impact localized food systems.
Name: Jodi Castallo
Phone: 207-582-4330 x 2