Mainewhile: The future of Maine farms could include happy trails and horses

Small family farms are a big part of what makes Maine special. Farms provide jobs, boost local economies, maintain cultural ties and keep the land open. More importantly, last year when the supply chain collapsed and supermarket shelves were empty, our small farms literally fed us.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what you think; write to him at [email protected]

Despite all this, they are in trouble. A recent agricultural census reveals that between 2012 and 2017, the state experienced “the loss of approximately 10 percent of Maine’s farmland…573 farms,” ​​as reported by the Bangor Daily News, and a “drop of 15, 8% of the average net income per farm… at $16,958.

As dire as it may be, the situation has only gotten worse for our dairy farms, an industry that MaineBiz says “produced 593 million pounds of milk, or $115 million in sales in 2020.” Recently, Horizon milk canceled its long-standing contracts with organic dairy farms in Maine (Boo on you, Horizon!), leading to deep uncertainty about the future of our farms.

I realize that a real solution to this crisis will require progressive legislation and major economic investments, as well as support for the Maine Farmland Trust and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association for all they do.

However, I have an idea (admittedly a little selfish) to propose.

We all know Airbnb, yes? I have a love/hate relationship with him. I love the options it offers, I hate what it does to the availability of affordable housing all year round. My feelings aside, there’s no denying its impact. A 2020 MaineBiz article reports that “Airbnb hosts in Maine earned $100 million from over 534,000 guests in 2019,” with steady increases since.

Imagine if you could leverage everything good and fun on the platform, bringing that cash flow to farms without undermining the surrounding housing market. In fact, revolving around the fundamental nature of the farm.

The idea is this: a syndicate of farms, connected by trails, each providing overnight accommodation for riders and their horses as they cross the state.

The Equine Business Association reports that equestrian sports are a $102 billion industry in the United States, and rumor has it that the fastest growing equine market is for women in their mid-50s who want to ride long distances with their horses. It’s me.

Imagine: working farms create a safe turnout with shelter, provide water and hay, and provide accommodation for the rider. It can range from a simple tent space, to a room in the main house, to a small cabin with a kitchen and a hot tub – whatever the farm wants to provide. Prices would vary accordingly.

Each farm would be inspected and certified safe by a veterinarian and all riders would provide a horse health certificate when booking. The riders would provide all of the actual care for the horses as well as the feeds and supplements the horses need, all of which would be kept in lockable bins that the rider could rent or buy.

The reservation fee would include transportation of bins from farm to farm. So, at the end of a long ride, riders arrive to find their gear waiting for them. Secure transport of the horse by truck, if the distance is too great to cover in one day, would also be an option.

It’s a long, stress-free ride. It’s a rider’s dream and a potential source of income for small operations.

Maine already has an enviable reputation as an outdoor destination. We’re perfectly ready to get this thing humming. A more detailed version is in my files, free for anyone who wants to make a thing out of it.

As for me, I’ll shake out my sleeping bag and dream of trails.

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