BELFAST — At its recent annual meeting, Maine Farmland Trust honored farmers from six farms with Paul Birdsall Awards. The recipients include Nell Finnigan and Justin Morace of Ironwood Farm (Albion), Scott and Ashlee McCormick of McCormick Family Farm (Jackson), Brendan and Katia Holmes of Misty Brook Farm (Albion), Adrienne Lee and Ken Lamson of New Beat Farm (Knox), Adam Nordell and Johanna Davis of Songbird Farm (Unity), and Fred and Laura Stone of Stoneridge Farm (Arundel).

“It is truly an honor to support the farmers at Ironwood Farm, McCormick Family Farm, Misty Brook Farm, New Beat Farm, Songbird Farm, and Stoneridge Farm,” Maine Farmland Trust President and  CEO Amy Fisher said in a press release from the organization. “Their stories and amplified voices were catalysts in bringing us together to ban sludge spreading and enact the safety net for other farmers impacted by PFAS.”

Paul Birdsall Award recipients are members of the state’s farming community who demonstrate the qualities that Birdsall embodied: pioneering vision, tenacity, great generosity, and a deep passion for farming. Birdsall arrived in Maine in 1972 believing small-scale farming had a future — and that something needed to be done to ensure farmland would be available to small farms.

An early proponent of farmland protection and training the next generation of farmers on the Blue Hill Peninsula, in 1999, he joined with other farmers and advocates to found Maine Farmland Trust, expanding his vision for the future of agriculture and cementing his legacy as a proponent of farmland preservation.

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Amanda Beal, a former award recipient, delivered remarks during the ceremony and thanked the farmers for their significant contributions in advocating for funding to ensure the state has adequate resources to support them and other farmers who find themselves dealing with PFAS contamination.

“This year’s Paul Birdsall Awardees have made critical contributions which have elevated our state’s ability to respond to the needs of farmers impacted by PFAS,” Beal said. “We have all learned a lot in a few years about the scope of this issue, and will continue to work to develop and refine best practices for confronting contamination from PFAS.

“At DACF, we remain committed to addressing this contamination and supporting impacted farms and communities,” she said, “and we greatly appreciate the efforts of these farmers, as well as the important work of Maine Farmland Trust.”

At Stoneridge Farm, the Stones were forced to permanently close their farm business and had to cull their herd of dairy cows. The discovery of PFAS contamination on their property occurred years before there was any support for farmers — and through their sacrifice and tenacity, PFAS contamination has become publicly recognized.

In early 2022, Adam Nordell and Johanna Davis of Songbird Farm were the next farmers to publicly speak out on the issue, after they discovered significant PFAS contamination on their farm and in their bodies and had to shut down their farm. Ironwood Farm, McCormick Family Farm, Misty Brook Farm, and New Beat Farm added their voices to the discourse as they, too, discovered contamination and chose to publicly share their stories.

Throughout the year, impacted farmers shared their stories to raise public awareness and advocate for farmer support in many public venues: testifying during committee hearings on LD 1911 to ban sludge spreading and LD 2013 to enact a state PFAS support fund for farmers, speaking at a PFAS press conference at the Maine State House, telling their stories at congressional listening sessions, participating in a PSA video produced by MFT, sharing their stories with dozens of local and national media, speaking at public events, and continuing to transparently share updates with their customers, as the farms still in business are continuously tracking and sharing their PFAS test results.

Maine Farmland Trust worked closely with DACF, Maine Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity, and the award recipients to identify support needs, which led to the creation of the PFAS Emergency Relief Fund that MFT jointly administers with MOFGA. To date, through the PFAS Emergency Relief Fund, MFT has delivered over $820,000 in immediate relief to meet the needs that they and other farmers identified: funding to replace lost income, cover testing costs, implement mitigation strategies and infrastructure to keep their farms viable, and support farmer wellness. For more than six months, this fund served as a critical bridge to keep many farm businesses alive until emergency state support could be accessed.

“I’m honored to receive Maine Farmland Trust’s Paul Birdsall Award alongside my PFAS impacted farmer peers,” said Adam Nordell of Songbird Farm. “I feel very lucky to have a group of smart, focused, farmer friends willing to work hard together to try and change a terrible situation. And I feel incredibly lucky to have the support of Maine Farmland Trust. MFT helped the PFAS-impacted farms get through a period of intense financial uncertainty this year, helped prevent future farmland contamination by advancing Maine’s sludge spreading ban, and continues to work with my family and others to chart a path forward through really challenging circumstances.”

Maine Farmland Trust has remained in conversation with these and other impacted farmers as they determine what is next for their farms, the press release said. With support from Maine Farmland Trust and DACF, Ironwood Farm, McCormick Family Farm, Misty Brook Farm and New Beat Farm have been able to remain in business by changing farm management practices around which land and external inputs they use, and adding infrastructure such as water filtration. Through their participation in Maine Farmland Trust’s Farm Business Planning programs, Ironwood Farm received additional support to help pivot its business to remain viable.

Today, farmers impacted by PFAS contamination have greater access to the support they need to remain viable through state funds. “While much more remains to be done on a federal level to support farmers and continue research toward long-term solutions,” the press release said, “it is thanks to these 12 courageous farmers whose pioneering vision, tenacity, generosity and a deep passion for farming have helped us all to face the PFAS crisis head-on and take action to protect the future of Maine farms.”