From left, Keiran Roopchand, Anil Roopchand, Kelly Payson-Roopchand and Sarita Roopchand pose for a portrait on the family’s new Kubota tractor Thursday during a tour of Pumpkin Vine Family Farm in Somerville. They recently acquired the tractor, with a Kubota mower, bottom left, with help from a grant by the Maine Farmland Trust. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

For years Farmer Kev’s Organic farm in West Gardiner had wanted to expand operations, but owner Kevin Leavitt wasn’t sure it was possible, at least until he received a grant from the Maine Farmland Trust.

“The grant is very beneficial to us,” Leavitt said. “We have been trying to purchase new equipment to be able to more efficiently produce some of the produce that we grow. We haven’t yet purchased the equipment, but it will allow us to more efficiently produce our veggies.”

“Right now, we are washing leafy greens by hand in large sinks, moving leafy greens by hand, inspecting them and drying them,” he said. “The machine is going to do that for us.”

The Maine Farmland Trust recently announced the award of matching grants totaling $300,000 to Leavitt’s farm, Ironwood Farm in Albion, Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham, Pumpkin Vine Family Farm in Somerville, and two other farms.

The grants are provided following the completion of a Farming for Wholesale program, a two-year effort that offers up to 100 hours of individualized business planning and technical assistance to farmers seeking to grow their operation.

The program aims to help farmers profitably serve wholesale markets and achieve their own financial goals. According to Emily Gherman-Lad, assistant director of engagement at the Maine Farmland Trust, the organization gets its funding from members and private donors, federal and state funds, and foundations.


“Each farm receives a technical assistance budget to support them with implementation of their business plan/grant,” Gherman-Lad said. “MFT does individual quarterly check-ins with each of the grant awardees in the grant award year. We also continue to engage with farms who have received a grant by offering one to two workshops a year.”

Amy Fisher, president and CEO of the trust, said the intent of the funding is to help farmers in their network be successful.

“Farms are important to our future. They supply our food … and are important to the fabric of Maine,” Fisher said. “It’s a challenging time for everyone but especially so for farmers. There’s uncertainty with weather, the economy, global commodity prices, market fluctuations, so any support we can give them is really critical at helping them making investments for success for the long term.”

Keiran Roopchand fills a bucket with fresh water for goat kids Thursday at Pumpkin Vine Family Farm in Somerville. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Kelly Payson-Roopchand, who owns Pumpkin Vine Family Farm with her husband, Anil Roopchand, spoke about her appreciation for the MFT.

“Honestly, we would not be where we are today without Maine Farmland Trust,” Payson-Roopchand said. “They have been a huge influence on us, and they have helped us be better business people, and they are helping to preserve and conserve farmland for the future.”

“(The grant) really is a dream come true because we never thought it was something we could make happen,” Payson-Roopchand said. “It has changed our business life and it will change our family life, too, because we will have more time to go down to the theater and take more holidays. Our quality of life will definitely go up.”


Pumpkin Vine farm is a goat dairy and farmstead creamery. The grant will allow it to buy new equipment and take other steps so the size of the goat herd can be increased and sell its products more broadly.

“We bought a larger tractor so that we could pull newer, faster haying equipment,” Payson-Roopchand said.

Pumpkin Vine Family Farm seen Thursday through the trees as Keiran Roopchand drives the family’s old tractor to pull a tedder across a hay field in Somerville. The tedder flips over the cut grass to help it dry better before it gets baled up for hay. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Leavitt said the financial pressures a lot of farmers face have been compounded by the economic uncertainty in the United States and beyond.

“Inflation has been pretty brutal,” he said. “It has created a really tight labor market. It has made labor very expensive so that we have had to figure out ways to become more efficient, producing the same amount with fewer people or less time for those people.”

Gherman-Lad noted several of the challenges that they have seen for Maine farmers — including PFAS contamination, increasing costs, processing and infrastructure needs, access to affordable land, and climate change.

“The high costs of diesel, transportation, fertilizer, grain and rising inflation are impacting farmers’ business finances, making it difficult to price products competitively and pushing many farmers to save costs, which for some means cutting production in certain areas or making do with expanding production with limited or aging infrastructure,” Gherman-Lad said. “For dairy farmers in particular, the cost of producing milk has risen steadily over the past few years while prices have become increasingly volatile, and over the last five years this has meant that the costs of production are higher than revenues.”


Keiran Roopchand talks about the family’s new Kubota mower Thursday during a tour of Pumpkin Vine Family Farm in Somerville. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Payson-Roopchand said since Pumpkin Vine has about 30 acres of hay fields, it makes sense to use that resource to their benefit.

“By making our own hay, we can ensure that we cut it at the best time, when the grass has peak nutrition, which is super important for our high-producing dairy goats,” Payson-Roopchand said. “We never thought we could afford new haying equipment before the grant.”

Her son, Keiran Roopchand, 13, noted the various expenses the farm must cover.

“It’s like $140 to fill the tractors,” Keiran said. “It’s another $40 per week to feed the lawnmower. If we had to buy hay as well, we would basically be fighting a losing battle, because the price of hay would increase and the more animals we had, the more hay we’d need.”

Because operations have been running smoothly lately, the family is going to take their first holiday in almost 10 years, to Portland.

“My kid’s going to high school next year,” Payson-Roopchand said, gesturing to Keiran. “I know they won’t be here forever, so I want time with them. I don’t want to always be working on broken equipment.”

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