News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 24, 2014
Hungry farm animals?
Halcyon Grange awarded $10k for community grain center

Halcyon Grange wins grant to distribute feed grain

Two of the three four-ton bins the Halcyon Grange of Blue Hill plans to use to store farm animal grain in bulk for local farmers and homesteaders. The project is being funded mainly through a $10,000 community food grant from Maine Farmland Trust awarded in 2014.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Chickens, hogs, cows—farm animals need to feed, whether just a few being homesteaded in a backyard or a herd being raised on a small farm. But buying grain—especially organic grain—in small quantities is expensive, said Phil Retberg, a Penobscot farmer and active member of the Halcyon Grange in North Blue Hill. So, the grange is doing what it’s designed to do: help local farmers of all kinds to thrive, by providing a solution.

“We did a feasibility study last late winter…and we had a very good response,” Retberg said. “It’s something that a lot of folk we talked to would love to see.”

This spring, the grange was awarded $10,000 by Maine Farmland Trust in the form of a community food grant to create a grain distribution center. The money—with a couple thousand dollars more from donations—will provide three four-ton grain bins, the concrete slabs to place them on and a driveway to handle the tractor trailer that will deliver the grain to fill them.

“Organic grain is really expensive by the 50-pound bag,” said Retberg, and has a shorter shelf life, especially in warmer weather, than grain with synthetic vitamins added. “If you call around for bulk of organic grain you usually have to order two to three tons minimum. Or you have to mill it yourself.”

Retberg knows the issues of farm economics first hand—he and wife Heather Retberg run Quill’s End Farm in North Penobscot, providing local meat and dairy products at their farm store and local farmers markets.

The Retbergs are one of a growing number of small farmers in Hancock County, which listed 386 farms with an average size of 137 acres as of the 2007 federal agricultural census. Recent reports indicate that, statewide, the number is rising, with small, direct-to-consumer farms in the forefront.

Small-scale farms in Maine have grown, while commodity farming is in decline, John Piotti of Maine Farmland Trust said last year at a talk in Blue Hill on farming as a growth industry in Maine.

Small farms require smaller quantities of grain. In order for the grange to buy in bulk, farmers and homesteaders will pre-order and pick up grain at scheduled times, filling containers directly from the grain bins. The frequency of delivery will depend on demand, as will the specific kinds of grain the grange orders.

“What I foresee is carrying layer pellets year-round and then hog grower in the season when folks are raising pigs. The third bin might have meat bird rations for people moving meat birds—that is a short season. Or it might have dairy mix for goats or cows,” Retberg explained.

“I think the kicker would be if we got some farmers, then the volume would go up. Then we can order more often and have it for the people who are just keeping a couple of goats.”

Farmers and homesteaders can call Retberg directly at 632-4959. Donations to the grain distribution project can be made through the Halcyon Grange website at halcyongrange.org.

The grain project is the second community project undertaken by the grange in the last year. It is currently waiting for the last piece of equipment, a range hood, to complete its community commercial kitchen project.