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Crop diversification is creating growth and opportunities for new Caribou farm

Hundreds of seasonal migrant workers come to Maine every year to help harvest crops in more than 50 farms during peak harvest season.

CARIBOU, Maine — Agriculture and farming drive the city of Caribou is a practice that has been going on for generations.

Caribou has more than 13,000 tillable acres of farming land and 14% of the city's property taxes come from farming, according to Penny Thompson, Caribou's interim city manager. 

"Our farmers really are the foundation of our tax base. They are the ones that are funding all the wonderful programs that we enjoy here in Caribou," Thompson said.

Thompson said Caribou’s Farm Families are some of the largest taxpayers for the city. Caribou farmers like Thomas Ayer. The 35-year-old started a new farm last summer, Circle B Farms LLC

"Starting a business is a very very scary thing," Ayer said.

"It's a really important part of my life and the community's life," he said when describing what farming means to him.

Ayer was born and raised on a broccoli generational farm where he saw an opportunity to branch off and diversify. He now grows kale, apples, cabbage, brussel sprouts, pick your own blueberries, collards, bok choy, swiss chard, beets, squash, and tomatoes.

With a diversified farm, seasonal immigrant workers help harvest the crops when they are ready to pick.

"What we make in Mexico only lets us eat, but if I want to do something or prosper, here is where make a little more," said migrant worker Yessi Torres.

Circle B Farms requested a handful of migrant workers. Ayer said their hard work is critical in helping harvest the crops on time.

According to the department of labor, this year Maine requested H2A (temporary agriculture) visas for 13 apple orchards, 40 diversified crop farms, and nine logging companies. More than 1,000 workers were requested this 2021. Not all of those requested workers were granted a visa.

"We take advantage of these opportunities because, with the money we make, we make a small house or put up a small business back in Mexico to make ends meet," said Torres.

"They come, they are here every morning, and they are good people, they really are," said Ayer.

Ayer explains taking a farm during a pandemic was no easy task, meeting the requirements of Harmonized GAP Plus+, finding reliable workers, supply chain issues, finding new markets, dealing with mother nature, among other challenges. 

"In a community like Caribou, every policy that we work on, everything that is undertaken by the planning board, city council..they know that it is our farmers that are the foundation," said Thompson.

Posted by Circle B Farms LLC on Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Many farmers including Ayer's Circle B Farm donates a good portion of the crops to the Good Shepherd Food Bank and other local charities to help feed hungry Mainers.

Thompson said each year, the building permits issued by the City of Caribou are heavily laden with farm investments. 

"When other Maine families seek out potatoes, broccoli, and other fruits and vegetables grown in Caribou and support our local agriculture, they are helping to sustain our quality of life," said Thompson.

Posted by Circle B Farms LLC on Wednesday, August 11, 2021

One of the ways to support local farmers is to visit farmers' markets. Here is a list of the farmers' markets in Maine.

To visit or buy from Circle B Farms LLC, click here.