AUGUSTA — Amanda Beal knows farming.

Amanda Beal, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, stands in the entry to the department’s headquarters in Augusta on Feb. 26. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

She grew up on the Rocky Ridge Farm, a dairy farm in Litchfield, spending her young years happily exploring the barn, pedaling around on her toy tractor, feeding calves.

As soon as she and her siblings were old enough, they cleaned stalls, let the cows out, worked on the hay crew. Chores, she said, weren’t optional.

Today her youngest brother has taken over the farm. She and her husband are bringing back to life a 200-year-old, 35-acre farm in Warren.

Beal, 46, was recently tapped as Maine’s first female commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

A promoter of the “eat local” movement, Beal has a history of supporting farming in Maine. She was involved in early efforts to build a farm-to-school initiative that became the Maine Harvest Lunch, an annual lunch with Maine-grown food.

She served as CEO of the nonprofit Maine Farmland Trust since 2016. In that role she helped lead the organization’s goal of keeping farms in production and helping younger people get into agriculture.

Beal is credited with working to create food systems that sustain Maine farms by working with farmers, food businesses and organizations. She’s known for co-authoring the report “A New England Food Vision,” which examined the potential for expanding food production.

Before serving with the Maine Farmland Trust, Beal worked as an adjunct faculty member at the University of New England where she taught environmental health. A self-employed food systems research and policy consultant, she did work for several food, agriculture and fisheries related organizations; one of those was the Eat Local Foods Coalition.

Organizations she’s worked with include the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Kennebec Valley Community College Sustainable Agriculture Program and the Downeast Fisheries Partnership.

When Gov. Janet Mills nominated Beal in January, Mills said in a written statement that Beal will build a team of intelligent people who are good listeners, have common sense “and a bit of dirt under their nails” to bring together important interests.

A graduate of the University of Southern Maine and Tufts University, Beal is working on her doctorate in natural resources. Working on her farm, continuing her education and being commissioner will help “keep me grounded in the reality of what challenges exist for farmers,” she said.

Her goals as commissioner include demonstrating that her department supports all farmers, whether they run a small-scale farms, community based or larger scale farms. Maine is characterized by agriculture, conservation and forestry. It’s up to her department, she said, to maintain those operations “and our way of life, our culture.”

Another goal is to ensure that today’s and tomorrow’s farmers have the tools they need to grow and deal with challenges, including shifting markets and climate change. She said she looks forward to serving agriculture, forestry and conservation.

Her upbringing helped reinforce to her how vital farming is to society, even though that is not readily visible at the grocery store and “all too often undervalued,” she said. “Farmers face many challenges and take on a lot of personal risk to provide for us.”

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