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USDA Outreach Meetings Held in Aroostook County

Learn how USDA can help you...from the soil up! That has been the theme for the three workshops recently completed in Aroostook County for local farmers and landowners. Like many areas of the country, Maine has suffered from loss of farmers and cultivated acres over the past 20 years. But as other landowners
have moved in, USDA has also suffered from a lack of participation in agency programs. Aroostook County has struggled with this more than most. What to
do?

It’s a challenge that most field offices face in some way, how to increase participation by underserved clientele. A workshop to bring in beginning farmers was originally the brainchild of Pauline Pare´, ASTC of Operations and Helena
Swiatek, DC. However, it quickly morphed into a collaborative effort between all
USDA service center agencies (NRCS, FSA, RC&D, RD) and the District. The
idea was simple: to reach a group that was typically not served by USDA and
make them familiar with what we offer. Descriptions of some of the many programs, assistance, and information available through the various agencies were touched on by speakers from all the agencies — from cost-share programs to wind power, direct loans to conservation planning, direct payment programs to
environmental monitoring. All of these topics and more were briefly explained.
Acronyms were banned and all shared the same message, “Come in and see
us.”

Houlton held the first pilot session on November 4th and it was a resounding success. Thirty-two people attended the event, and all were unknown to any agency staff. After the event both FSA and NRCS’s offices received an influx of customers signing up. Of particular interest in NRCS were high tunnels and forest management plans. Presque Isle held their workshop on January 12th with 20 people in attendance and Ft. Kent held theirs in Frenchville on January 26th with over 20 people in attendance.

Kept to a maximum of two hours, the workshops were short enough to keep attendees attention. Even though fast-paced, adequate information was shared to
peak attendees curiosity and to whet their appetites for more. And that was one
goal - to get attendees interested in visiting their local USDA office. Another
equally important goal was to let attendees know that USDA is here to help - after all, serving the agricultural community is what USDA agencies have and will always be about.