The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding GrowSmart Maine a Rural Community Development Initiative grant of $304,636.

The nonprofit organization plans to use the funds to offer a capacity-building program called Building Community Strength, providing training, technical assistance, and grants to ten rural communities across Maine.

USDA Rural Development Maine State Director Rhiannon Hampson announced the grant with Rebecca Casey, chair of the GSM Board of Directors, at the annual GrowSmart Maine Summit. Chelsea Gazillo, New England policy manager with American Farmland Trust, and Nancy Smith, chief executive officer with GSM, joined Hampson and Casey on the stage. AFT will provide a matching grant to GSM to support the project.

In 2019 the USDA designated GSM as the State Rural Development Council. In this capacity, GSM collaborates with local and state government agencies, as well as economic and community development organizations, to assist rural communities in managing change and accessing resources.

The new program aligns with these goals. It will help communities identify local assets and projects, develop strategic plans, and access necessary funding. By design, this program builds local capacity that will continue to serve communities beyond the span of the program.

Ten communities have enrolled in the new Building Community Strength program: Calais, Danforth, Enfield, Houlton, Machias, Mexico, Presque Isle, Roque Bluffs, Skowhegan and Winn. Trainees from each municipality will tackle issues such as climate resilience, economic development, farm viability and farmland protection, affordable housing, and equitable and inclusive community development. The program will also train participants in researching and applying for state, federal and private funding.


GSM will partner with Build Maine, Eastern Maine Development Corporation, Four Directions Development Corporation, Genesis Community Loan Fund, The Musson Group, and the Sunrise County Economic Council to manage the new program.

USDA Rural Development’s RCDI program funds projects that improve housing, community facilities, and economic opportunities in rural areas.

For more information, contact Bob Nadeau, USDA Rural Development community programs director, at 207-990-9124 or


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