Maine has a long history of homesteading. Today, many people are looking to reclaim the skills that were once a necessity for survival in this beautiful state. The following guide will detail what homesteading in Maine entails and how you can start your own homestead. Regardless of which path you choose to take, it’s important to understand the amount of land that is necessary for homesteading in Maine. Most people living off the grid have between 3 and 10 acres.
Maine is home to over 17 million acres of farmable land. This breaks down into approximately 280,000 farms and ranches that are scattered among the state’s counties. Most of this farmable land is located in the northeast corner of Maine, especially in Aroostook County which is commonly referred to as “America’s Dairyland” because it has so much farmland devoted to providing milk and dairy products for the United States.
People gravitate towards Maine for its natural beauty and peace. It’s a place where visitors and residents alike can grow their own food, be self-sufficient, and live off the grid.
You don’t need to own a big piece of land to homestead in Maine. You can begin small and grow into something bigger as you move forward.
Some people choose to start with a small amount of land and build up from there. Others prefer to get more involved in the community once they have set up their farm.
There are many ways you can homestead in Maine and you’ll find the right path for you as you work towards a future of self-sufficiency.
Homesteading in Maine: A Whole New World of Possibilities
If you’ve never heard of homesteading before, it’s completely understandable why you wouldn’t be familiar with the term. When most people hear the word, they don’t think about Maine.
First, it’s important to define “homesteading.” When you look up the term, you’ll find that it has a few different meanings. In its most basic definition, homesteading is when people take over abandoned land and make it their own.
People who practice homesteading take on various skills such as animal husbandry, gardening, and food preservation. These skills have been practiced for centuries and are often forgotten in our modern world.
Many people are interested in re-learning these skills because they offer the potential to live more independently. Our current society is dependent on electricity, running water, and grocery stores for food. We’ve gotten so used to this convenience that we forget how much it costs.
However, the benefits of homesteading go beyond economics. Many people love the idea of learning new skills that can enrich their lives.
How to Buy Farmland in Maine
As of 2021, the Maine Farm Bureau estimates that Maine has a shortage of farmland. The bureau recommends that you don’t buy land until you know you can afford to become a farmer.
Why? Because it takes money to maintain farmland. This is especially true if you want to live off the land full-time. You need to have enough money to make sure all the animals, irrigation systems, home, and other running costs are paid for while also growing a sustainable amount of food each year.
As of 2021, Maine’s farm real estate averages $2,600 per acre. This price is lower than the average for New England states such as Vermont., which includes the value of all land and buildings on farms.
The Maine Farm Bureau indicates that there were 1.35 million acres in farms with a total of 8,173, thus suggesting that the average farm size is 167 acres. However, most farms consist of less than 100 acres when considering the median size instead of average size for farms in Maine.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency offers a variety of opportunities to start, improve, expand, transition, market, and strengthen family farming and ranching operations.
In Maine, farmers have the Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund that can help them purchase land and do renovations. The Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund (AMLF) provides low-interest loans to farmers and ranchers in Maine.
AMLF operates under the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The FSA is a federal agency that provides customers with a variety of financial services, including loans and payments for conservation programs.
The FSA can work with eligible high risk crops. They can also make bulk purchases and purchase livestock. The FSA also sells crop insurance to farmers, which protects against losses caused by natural disasters.
AMLF provides eligible borrowers with loans up to $250,000 at a 5% fixed rate for improvements that will help them acquire land and home farms. Eligible borrowers include farmers and ranchers who own or lease less than 320 acres of land. They must also meet certain criteria in order to qualify for a loan. For more information, visit the Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund website.
In addition, Coastal Enterprises, Inc. in Maine offers low-interest loans to small farms through the New Markets Tax Credit Program. According to their website, Coastal Enterprises also offers programs for food assistance, energy assistance, and childcare.
Farmers may also use offers of financial assistance that is unrelated to Maine. Farm Credit East offers AgDirect for Maine, which is a service to help borrowers with their financial needs.
The service provides information on farm succession planning and farm supports. It also provides a variety of other services to farmers, including education, advice, and short-term loans for basic needs such as buying feed or fertilizer. For more information, click here (https://www.farmcrediteast.com/products-and-services/Loans/AgDirect). In addition, check out countrylivingloans.com offers loans on country homes, farms and land with unique features are our specialty (http://www.countrylivingloans.com/country-living-loans/farm-and-home-loans).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency offers a variety of opportunities to start, improve, expand, transition, market, and strengthen family farming and ranching operations. As a farmer or rancher, whether you are just getting started or if you have many years of experience, every business needs funding at some point.
• Do you want to buy or lease a farm or ranch?
• Do you need to buy equipment for your farm or ranch such as a tractor or irrigation pipes?
• Would you like to increase your territory and branch into livestock?
• Has a natural disaster, such as drought, flooding, or bad storm damaged your crops or any buildings on your farm?
Check out their website for more details (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/farm-loan-programs/index).
Once you purchased your land, you can register it to prohibit “Incompatible Use” by other landowners that creates problems for you. As a property owner, you have a number of options to control access and/or protect your land by preventing others from using it. It is important to know the law so that any problems are avoided. To learn more about it, click here (https://www.maine.gov/dacf/ard/farmland_protection/farmland_registration.shtml).
How to Grow Crops in Maine
Low temperature is one of the most critical environmental limitations for plants. Especially for low temperature sensitive crops, providing high levels of heat can be important to ensure good crop development. Some plants can’t grow without enough light. Most of Maine ranges from zone 3a to zone 4b with its southern borders ranging from 5a to 5b. A small section in the south east corner is 6a. For more information about the plant hardiness zones and map, go here (https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/2242e/).
Factors that Influence Plant Growth:
- Aeration (fertility)
- Humidity and Air circulation
Major Crops in Maine:
Turf and Grass seed production
High temperatures are also known to increase the germination period of seeds so increased light penetration will provide more opportunities for germination. Lighting can be used with a timer so it doesn’t disturb the plants. Grow lights can be combined with fans to create a natural air movement which helps increase crop growth and development.
Using water in Maine
Do you plan to source your water from your land? Maine’s water needs have been increasing due to population growth. You need to check the zoning codes to learn how close you can get to the public water source. If your property is near a stream or river, you should consider having a backup well so you don’t use up the groundwater. You need to look into the Irrigation Pond Permit Application Process in Maine (http://www.maine.gov/dmr/safety/watersafety/pdfs/irrigation_permit_guide.pdf)
You can also make a more permanent pond yourself, so long as you acquire a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). DEP issues permits for the construction or expansion of irrigation ponds on all waters of the State of Maine, subject to Civil Powers and Rules and Regulations and certain limitations found in Title 22, Part 722 to 758.
You will also need to look into permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection or Land Use Regulation Commission.
If you plan on creating structures on your land, make sure you follow all zoning and building requirement laws. Work closely with the city planning board if planning to build anything bigger than a house like an additional garage or warehouse.
How to raise animals in Maine
Most types of livestock and poultry are suitable in Maine.
The best way to start raising something is to buy young animals from a nearby farm. Or you can start by purchasing animals that are raised in your area so there are no transportation costs.
The state of Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) regulates the raising of livestock.
You will need to plan for a fence as well as a shelter if you plan on keeping animals. DACF recommends you have a chicken house with at least 50 square feet per bird, and each hen needs about 10 square feet. You should also be able to walk comfortably around the house and provide clean bedding material for the chickens.
How to purchase livestock
The Somerset Auction in Fairfield Maine has farm animals for sale on a weekly basis (typically on Mondays). Another option is The Northeast Livestock Expo Event, which happens every year in Augusta. If you go as soon as the expo opens, you can head straight to the livestock auction. In addition, the Maine Beef Producers Association offers sales at various locations throughout the year. In addition, The Maine Farm Bureau and The Maine Beef Council offer a variety of other options for buying livestock. The New England Galloway National Sale in in Fryeburg Maine is another option for purchasing livestock. Other options for purchasing animals includes looking at the Newspaper classified section and contacting local farmers and breeders.
There are usually animals for sale at the Maine State Fairgrounds as well (typically in early August) as well as The Maine Milking Shorthorn Sale every April. Another great way to purchase animals is through farm memberships or buying groups like Farm Share (https://www.farmsharemaine.com/), which offers a subscription service for produce and meat right from local farmers (https://www.farmsharemaine.com/).
How to raise crops in Maine
Don’t be afraid to explore local markets in your area. You can make an initial list of what you’d like to grow so you can start making contacts with local farmers.
How to prep seeds for planting
In Maine, you can plant a wide range of crops depending on what type of farm you are raising. It’s best to consult with local farmers and extension agents as well as research topics on agriculture and gardening.
How to sell your products
- Join your local Maine Farm Bureau
- State Fair
- Farmers Markets
- The newsletter of each livestock organization in your area could also be used to advertise. Also, the website of each livestock organization may be an option as well.
Living off-grid in Maine
It is possible to live off-grid in Maine. Check zoning codes and building codes to learn everything you need to know about utility connections, if there are any. Check and determine if you have public water service nearby so you don’t have to pump your own water. You should also look into the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Waterworks Permitting Application Process as well as the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF).
Most of Northern Maine does not have access to Telephone services and or internet access but you may be able to use satellite internet from companies like (Hughesnet http://www.hughesnet.com/ or Starlink). You will need a back up generator if you plan to run an off the grid home business because there will be times when the power is out, which can last several days at a time during the winter.
Solar panels in Maine will also work for off-grid homes because you can get energy back from the sun during the day (do not depend 100% on sun power or panels for your home.), which you can use at night. You may want to invest in a small wind generator that will provide enough power to run a refrigerator and a small light. Check with your local municipality to see if you can get a permit.
Land parcels located near the coast may benefit from wind power. All homesteaders in Maine need to plan for back up power like a generator or back up batteries to ensure will have power during extended outages.
Being on the coast in Maine is a benefit because you can take advantage of marine benefits, such as qualifying for the Marine renewable energy credit. If you are located near the coast and are interested in having access to these benefits, you will need to check into them further. It may be worth looking into Community Choice Energy (CCE).
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Maine Office of Rural Energy (MORE) offer multiple programs available for energy projects including Geothermal and Solar Thermal systems, wind, and hydroelectric systems.
You can also contact the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
In general, homesteaders deciding whether to live off-grid should consider the energy systems they can afford, their risk tolerance, and the availability of public utilities.
Are there any tax incentives available to farmers and homesteaders in Maine?
Here are some of the programs that you can research in more details:
The Farmland Protection Program may be a helpful tool for protecting your land while making a profit. You can check out more information about it here (https://www.maine.gov/dacf/ard/farmland_protection/fpp_brochure.shtml).
A program called the Homestead Tax Credit is also available in Maine to help you purchase land and build on it if you are thinking about building off the grid or working the land yourself (i.e, without running it through an industrial grower).
Maine’s Farmland Property Tax Program (FPTP) is also available to protect your land and pay you a tax credit if you choose to farm your land yourself or purchase land in the state.
Maine’s homestead exemption program, called the Maine Homestead Property Tax Exemption Program (MHPTP), can help you qualify for an exemption from a state property tax.
The Federal Farmland Protection Program (FPP) provides tax incentives to eligible landowners who develop certain farm and ranch properties.
The federal government offers a grant program that offers loans and grants for the maintenance of conservation practices on eligible lands in Maine.
Maine organizations for new farmers
- The Maine Farm Bureau
- The Maine Cooperative Extension
- The Maine Beef Producers Association
- The Maine Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture and the Environment
- The Coalition For Maine Farmers, which connects farmers to other farmers and also offers training programs.
Maine State Agriculture Education System (MAES) is a program that offers support for students who are interested in agriculture-related fields. This is a great way to learn more about how to pursue your interest.
The Beginning Farmer Resource Network at the University of Maine is another great place to start if you are just starting out.
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) provides educational classes for organic farmers and gardeners.
The Maine Community Foundation is a nonprofit that helps people in need that live in Maine. They provide small grant opportunities ranging from $500 – $5,000 to local nonprofits and non-profits.
Maine Conservation Corps (MCC) is an organization of young people who help the conservation of Maine’s land and water resources.
Maine’s Cooperative Extension System is a great resource for research. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension System is a National Leader in Extension Education, Training, and Outreach.
In terms of networking, many farmers host farm-to-table dinners, farm tours and other events to showcase their products and to host educational opportunities for the public.
To conclude, homesteading in Maine is a unique opportunity. It is possible to make it profitable, but you need to be prepared to invest hard work and time.
Your local land conservancy or conservation director will be a great source of information on the zoning codes and regulations that you need to follow as well as possible tax incentives and other programs. If you decide to purchase land, make sure that you check in with your local municipality before starting to build. You should have water access within a reasonable distance of the property as well as electricity or power lines nearby or research the feasibility of alternative off-grid energy sources such as solar and wind.