U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $709,713 to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and $999,120 to the University of Maine to bolster ongoing efforts to support producers of organic agricultural products throughout the state of Maine and the northeast region.

“Maine’s thriving local food movement is driven in part by an encouraging wave of young and new farmers who have helped energize agriculture in our state,” Collins and King said in a joint statement Oct. 16. “(MOFGA) and the University of Maine are an important part of that growth. This grant funding will further MOFGA and the University of Maine’s missions to assist farmers in developing sound agricultural practices as they build on Maine’s rich farming tradition.”

The grant funding awarded to MOFGA was allocated through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which is administered under the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Based in Unity, MOFGA was founded in 1971 and is the oldest and largest state organic organization in the country. The association has more than 5,000 members and operates a year-round education program offering conferences, presentations, and workshops throughout Maine. Through its Journeyperson Program, MOFGA also provides advanced training for people interested in organic farming. In 1996, MOFGA purchased 200 acres in the Unity where it now hosts the Common Ground Country Fair to celebrate Maine’s agricultural traditions.

The University of Maine’s funding was awarded as part of USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, which focuses on helping producers and processors who have already adopted organic practices to grow and market high quality organic agricultural products.

The funding will be used to support research by Dr. Ellen Mallory, associate professor of sustainable agriculture, to address factors that prevent the expansion of organic grain production in the Northeast region. Through this grant, the University of Maine will be able to partner actively with agricultural producers to investigate farming techniques and equipment, and strengthen knowledge, skills, and networks among farmers, processors, end-users, and educators.