Students from College of the Atlantic and University of Maine will take part in, “Finding the Sweet Spot: Scale Challenges and Opportunities for Beekeeping and Maple Syrup Production in Maine,” thanks to a $500,000 USDA grant.Students from College of the Atlantic and University of Maine will take part in, “Finding the Sweet Spot: Scale Challenges and Opportunities for Beekeeping and Maple Syrup Production in Maine,” thanks to a $500,000 USDA grant. Credit: University of Maine

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.” Dr. Jessica Leahy at UMaine is the principal investigator on the project; COA Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems Dr. 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.”

COA Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems Dr. Kourtney CollumCOA Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems Dr. Kourtney CollumThe grant was awarded through the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which is considered America’s flagship competitive grants program for foundational and translational research, education, and extension projects in the food and agricultural sciences.

“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,” U.S. Rep. and COA alumna Chellie Pingree ’79 said 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 UMaine and COA. Students will receive a modest research stipend and travel funds to present their research at events across Maine.

Leahy, Collum and the other co-principal investigators—Dr. Julia McGuire, a postdoctoral researcher at UMaine, and Dr. 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 between producers, landowners, rural development specialists, policy makers, researchers, extension professionals, and other stakeholders.