BAR HARBOR — A $500,000 grant to study small- and medium-scale honey and maple syrup production in Maine has been awarded to College of the Atlantic and the University of Maine by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The grant will fund a three-year project entitled, “Finding the Sweet Spot: Scale Challenges and Opportunities for Beekeeping and Maple Syrup Production in Maine.” Jessica Leahy at the University of Maine is the principal investigator on the project; COA Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems Kourtney Collum is a co-principal investigator.
“Many Maine maple syrup and honey producers are interested in expanding their enterprises but face barriers to sustainable growth,” Collum said. “Through this project, we will help producers better understand local production and marketing challenges and opportunities and identify the sweet spots for sustainable expansion.”
The grant was awarded through the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
“It’s a pivotal time for Maine’s rural communities. They have many challenges and opportunities before them, especially when it comes to their economic future,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree ’79, a COA alumna, in a press statement. “Research projects such as these will give businesses and other decision makers in those communities the information they need to find the best way forward.”
The grant creates opportunities for undergraduate students to develop their research skills as part of a Sustainable Food Systems Research Collaborative (SFSRC). Over the course of the three-year project, the grant will provide funded fellowships for eight SFSRC Fellows, four each from the University of Maine and COA. Students will receive a modest research stipend and travel funds to present their research at events across the state.
Leahy, Collum and the other co-principal investigators – Julia McGuire, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maine, and Melissa Ladenheim, associate dean of the University of Maine Honors College – have assembled a stakeholder advisory group comprised of beekeepers, maple syrup producers and extension agents from across the state. Together with the SFSRC fellows, the team will develop outreach programs and resources to communicate research findings and offer direct business consultations to producers.
Through this project, the team aims to link knowledge with action and build resilient collaborative relationships among producers, landowners, rural development specialists, policy makers, researchers, extension professionals and other stakeholders.