At the Waterville Farmers Market in May 2019, Hanne Tierney, of Cornerstone Farm in Palmyra, hands boxes of seedlngs to Mary Dunn, right. Tierney was one of more than 70 farmers who received a grant to help allay the impact of the coronavirus on her business. Morning Sentinel file photo

More than 70 farms across the state that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic have been awarded grants through the Maine Farm Emergency Grant Program.

The program, which was launched last month, is a collaboration between the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the Maine Farmland Trust to help farms navigate issues brought on by the pandemic.

A total of $141,100 will be distributed to 76 farms across Maine that participated in a MOFGA or farmland trust program in the past. The operations range from dairy farms, mixed vegetable growers and wild blueberry producers to orchardists.

“The diversity of farms that applied for and received grants speaks to how many farms across the state have been bolstered by MFT and MOFGA’s programs in the past,” Bill Toomey, president and chief executive officer of Maine Farmland Trust, said in a prepared statement. “It also shows how far reaching the impacts of this pandemic are for Maine’s farm businesses.”

Each farm will receive anywhere from $325 to $2,000 to help with loss of sales, delayed production or hiring, additional costs for supplies or personal protective equipment, or meeting the need to increase production with additional labor or supplies.

Hanne Tierney, who runs Cornerstone Farm in Palmyra and is a regular vendor at the Waterville Farmers Market, said she would be using the grant she received to help keep up with the increased costs of deliveries and pre-orders. 

“We’ve had increased costs for the distribution of our products, and we need more people on staff at market,” Tierney said during a phone call Monday. “We’ve been having a lot of pre-orders as well, and that takes more labor to make sure we do those efficiently and safely. So that’s what our grant money will be going towards.”

Tierney said having organizations such as MOFGA and farmland trust is comforting in such an uncertain time.

“It’s great to know that these organizations have our back when things get tricky,” Tierney said. 

The program launched with $70,000 in funds raised from the Broad Reach Fund, the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, and the New England Food System Resilience Fund.

Just hours after the program was announced on April 23, the Onion Foundation joined the list of sponsors and the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation increased its contribution, raising the total available to $100,000.

Additional funds came from individual donors, according to Sarah Alexander, executive director for MOFGA.

“We had several organizations reach out to us after they saw the announcement of the grant,” Alexander said. “We also had a number of individuals come forward after they saw the announcement, and they were excited to contribute to the fund so that we could get more funds out to the farms that requested money.”

Alexander said that after MOFGA and the Maine Farmland Trust monitor the additional aid that is expected to be given to farms from the state and federal government, they will decide whether they will continue fundraising efforts for another round of grants.

“Farms are adapting quickly and we saw that response in the applications that we received,” Alexander said. “We know that the impact is different for every farm, and everyone’s just trying to navigate this to the best of their ability. And we’re just happy to be here, (and happy) that we can support them and that we were able to support 76 farms with this initial grant opportunity. And we’ll continue our work and continue to find ways to support them. We want to make sure that we’ve got plenty of food for Maine people and that all of our farms can stay in business.”

Before the program launched, MOFGA and the Farmland Trust created a survey in early April to gauge the kinds of disruptions farmers had begun to experience because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Alexander, of the 179 farms that responded to the survey, around half had already begun selling produce for the season.

The state mandated shut down of bars, restaurants and schools has greatly contributed to the disruptions farmers have experienced, Alexander said in April.

“The farms that had started selling their produce saw a 57% decrease in sales because of restaurants and school cafeterias shutting down,” Alexander said April 23. “But others saw about an 18% increase in sales direct to consumers.”

Another effort to help farmers during the pandemic has come from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, which launched an online directory of farms around the state in an effort to increase direct to consumer sales.

The extension, in collaboration with MOFGA, also created a program to enlist the help of temporary workers for dairy farmers in the event the farmers contracted the coronavirus.

“We are glad to be able to offer so many Maine farms a small infusion of assistance right now,” Toomey said in a prepared statement. “But our work to support these and all Maine farms extends far beyond these emergency grants. We’ll continue to work together to ensure the viability of farms throughout the state through our respective complementary programs, which help farmers access land, education, and other resources they need to grow thriving farm businesses.”

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