Maine farm stock photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded three grants to the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) in support of agriculture enterprises in Lewiston, Portland and northern Maine.

Excerpts from a news release on the Mainebiz website note that a total of $420,000 was awarded to CDI, including a $200,000 Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG), a $175,000 Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant (SDGG), and, $45,000 from the USDA’s 2501 grant tract.

Jonah Fertig-Burd, director of CDI’s Cooperative Food Systems Program, told Mainebiz that the SDGG grant will help support CDI work with a dozen groups comprised of New Americans, Native Americans and people of color, to create cooperative farms, businesses and land trusts.

The lead grant applicant was the Portland nonprofit, Cultivating Community, which seeks to empower communities through sustainable farming practices.

“CDI stands out for its ability to offer technical assistance services to cooperative enterprises in seven states," said Doug Clopp, CDI director of development and communications. “We’re supporting organizations across all business sectors: food, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, housing, social services, purchasing, retail, wholesale, communications, health, software, energy, arts, and more. We’re serving all categories of members as well: producer, consumer, worker, business owner, landowner, fishermen, and multi-stakeholder cooperatives. That’s a really broad, expansive impact of which we’re very proud.”

RCDG funding recently has helped the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn organize a local Farmland Access and Food Economy Conference, which drew more than 100 people to address ways to access farmland in the area. Event organizers have since started working with the Somali Bantu Community Association and other regional farmers.

CDI Executive Director Noemi Giszpenc said the SDGG and 2501 grants represent expanded opportunities that not only help local farmers, “but will also help to change the farming landscape in Maine and the Northeast as more socially disadvantaged farmers are supported to become farm owners."