HALLOWELL — A fair showcasing local farmers and their community supported agriculture programs Sunday afternoon illustrated how some farms have diversified their offerings and are increasingly collaborating with other farms.

Dig Deep Farm, an organic vegetable farm that previously leased land from Goranson Farm in Dresden, was selling shares for its new program with Willow Pond Farm in Sabattus. Anne Trenholm from Wholesome Holmstead in Winthrop said she’s been in talks with Farmer Kev’s Organic, also in Winthrop and one table over at the fair, to sell her family farm’s cheese through his community supported agriculture, or CSA, program. And Mary Perry from Winterberry Farm in Belgrade was promoting the start of a fresh-cut flower program, a plan to begin renting out her farm for weddings and a summer day camp for children.

Around ten farms or agriculture-related groups were at Sunday’s fair at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, one of five fairs around the state organized by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association this weekend to celebrate CSA programs and connect people with local farmers. About half of the vendors were primarily vegetable farms, but vendors also included Out On a Limb, a heritage apple CSA program in Palermo, and the Gardiner Food Co-op & Cafe, which plans to open in downtown Gardiner this spring.

The agricultural organization, which also hosts the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity each year, began holding these fairs at least eight years ago to familiarize people with the CSA model, said Heather Omand, the organization’s organic marketing and business coordinator. At the time, the CSA model, where people pay up front for shares of vegetables and other products, was relatively unknown to many people, Omand said. The model began with people buying shares and then receiving weekly boxes of vegetables during harvesting season, but some farms are now selling credit that people can use to purchase products during the season.

Omand said CSA programs play a crucial role in many farmers’ business models because they bring in revenue when farmers normally don’t have any cash flow. The model also creates a sense of community and helps teach people more about where their food comes from, she said.

For Perry, whose Belgrade farm offers organic vegetables and other products, the sales of CSA shares make up 65 percent of the farm’s income, she said, but a goal of hers is also to connect customers to the farm.

“Getting folks to sign up early is hard, but really important to get people to sign up January, February, March, to help us with our winter expenses,” Perry said. “For us, it’s getting people part of a family farm, bringing their family on the farm.”

The availability of CSA programs in Maine has dramatically increased from when MOFGA began holding these fairs almost a decade ago. The number of farms offering CSA programs in Maine jumped more than 150 percent between 2007 and 2012, from 159 farms to 406, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture census released last year. Throughout the country, the number of farms with CSAs remained flat in the same time period, increasing by less than 1 percent.

Trenholm, whose grandparents founded her family’s farm in Winthrop almost 75 years ago, said she’s seen the market for local food increase in the last decade. In recent years, more people not only know about CSAs, but they come with educated questions about what farms offer and a better idea of what they want, Trenholm said.

But she said there are still a lot of people who don’t know much about CSAs and might not know how the model has changed over the years.

Saturday was the third time her farm participated in the CSA fair, and Trenholm said it allows people to connect with their farmers more.

“It’s really been a great opportunity to network in the capital area. Our farm’s just 7 miles away from Augusta, and I think people probably forget that there are farms in close proximity,” she said.

Suzanne Balbo, who helps run Crooked Door Farm in Whitefield, said the fair gave her farm the opportunity to get its name out in the community. This year will be the organic vegetable farm’s third season.

“I think it’s really important for people to meet their farmer and have conversations with them, so they’re not just blindly signing up for a farm,” she said. “I think that personal connection is really important.”

The farm started with less than ten CSA shares for friends and family in its first year and increased to 25 CSA members last year, Balbo said. This year, they’re aiming to sign up 40, likely the maximum the farm could support, she said.

Also at Balbo’s table was Andrea Bachynsky, who operates Honeysuckle Way, a flower farm on Crooked Door Farm. People who sign up for Crooked Door Farm’s CSA can also get a flower CSA from Bachynsky or milk and cheese from Fuzzy Udder Creamery, which operates on some of Crooked Door Farm’s land, Balbo said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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