SUPPORT SMALL SEA FARMS! Contact your Maine state representative!
I feel lucky to be part of the wave of new small farms in Maine- both terrestrial and marine- that have been bucking the trend of consolidation that has been ongoing in the US for decades.
We’ve seen the creation of so many small businesses- opportunities for people to be their own boss, make a good living, and help the environment while doing so.
Even with all this progress, I do worry that we will see pressure from the same forces that caused the loss of so many family farms as the industry changes. I hope that a more level regulatory playing field would help small family farms compete in a fairer market with larger operators.
As a small-scale farmer, my access to the market is more restricted than larger operations. Since 2018, small farms have not been allowed on-the-farm sales if permitted as an LPA (the license held by the majority of Maine sea farmers). This keeps the smallest of farms from benefiting from the direct sales opportunities off-of-the-boat, and from fully participating in exciting things like ecotourism and the Maine Oyster Trail.
No matter how we are permitted, unless we have the capital to build a shellfish-dealer facility, we have convoluted hoops to jump through to sell from a setting like a farmer’s market (including selling to a dealer and buying back our own product at a loss). These rules give us a lower price for our hard work and lengthen the chain of custody of our products- without offering any benefit to food safety. This hurts the farms that could most benefit from from one-on-one interaction with customers.
Small farms have also lost the ability to hire unsupervised staff. Making it harder to take a day off, deal with sickness or injury, or cooperate with other farms by sharing knowledgeable workers.
It feels like there has been a strong push for farmers to scale up-with new restrictions on LPAs, but also more gate-keeping- with lease applications becoming more complicated and expensive. The LPA program has been so successful in creating small businesses, and incentivizes farms to make the best use of a small space.
I hope that future rule-making will see the value in small owner-operated family farms, and will help us continue the success story of flourishing small farms in Maine.