“Oh, I think MaryAnne,” the woman at one of Waldo County’s biggest farm supply stores told me when I asked her whom she’s likely to vote for to fill the District 11 state Senate seat this fall. When I read her the brief bio of incumbent state Sen. Glenn “Chip” Curry, the woman at the feed store sounded even more sure than at first. “Definitely MaryAnne,” she said.

Currently a state representative from the Waldo County town of Knox, MaryAnne Kinney has earned a name for herself in Augusta and throughout Maine as a steadfast advocate for farming. Agriculture is both an occupation and a way of life that leaves little room for error because of challenging environments both physically and politically.

“In a state with a three-month growing cycle, it’s tough,” Kinney explained. In addition to that, it’s made harder both by regulatory hurdles and new emergence of “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, first discovered in Maine on a Waldo County farm. It would be fitting, then, if the race for the county’s next state senator swung on the issue of agriculture.

The family of Kinney’s husband ran a dairy farm until 1987 when the pressures created by national agriculture conglomerates made it too difficult for small family farms to compete. Since then, Maine has enacted a dairy tiered program that helps the small farms that supply the supermarket brands approach a more level playing field. This is one of Kinney’s many areas of expertise.

Her hometown of Knox, she tells me proudly, is one of only three left in Maine where cows outnumber people (the other two being Albion and Clinton).

Whether it’s potatoes or blueberries or produce or livestock, every agricultural sector in the state faces its own challenges. Like other seasonal businesses in our state, a weakening labor market has been a consistent obstacle across all these sectors. That is why it was puzzling when a state representative from Gardiner who used to be a labor organizer in New York introduced a bill last year to allow farm workers in Maine to unionize.

“It was pure insanity, importing broken ideas to our state,” one farmer who was forced to shutter his family farm because he couldn’t keep pace with skyrocketing costs told me. The bill passed both houses of the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Gov. Janet Mills demonstrated common sense in vetoing the measure, but Kinney’s opponent, Chip Curry, supported it.

“One thing I’ve noticed about governing during COVID-19 is how the Zoom culture has changed so much,” Kinney reflected when I asked her whether she thought there is a disconnect in Augusta with the rest of the state. “It used to be you’d have a farmer get in his or her truck and drive a couple hours to come testify in a hearing, and we’d know then that whoever we were hearing from knew what they were talking about. But now there seems to be a very different set of voices we’re hearing from, we don’t know necessarily where they’re coming from.” She graciously laughs when I ask if we can call such people Zoom Bandits, but it can just as easily be a kid in a think-tank in Washington, D.C., as someone who has spent their life working the land and that matters a great deal.

Like many of the women who have come before her in Maine politics, Kinney is a stickler for detail. She does her homework and follows initiative through rather than falling back on boilerplate ideology. When the Right to Food initiative first surfaced in Maine, for instance, she supported it for the same reason its proponents did. But when it changed from a right to raise food to a right to food, she withdrew her support, leery of the legal confusion to which the current wording may one day give rise.

“One little wording change in one committee can make a big difference,” she noted.

Wherever you drive in Maine now, you can see the campaign signs gather like mushrooms on peoples’ private property. Before the rules allow for the signs to spread to public roadways next month, these early signs of support are somehow more meaningful because they carry the endorsement if the landowners and aren’t simply planted by some big machine. Driving the roads of Waldo County, these early indications bode favorably for Kinney.

If the trend continues, Waldo will soon have a fighter for farmers in the state Senate.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.