Road to Solutions — Forestry, Agriculture & Food Systems

Stacked logsHydrologic and hydraulic performance of novel shallow wells in agricultural landscapes (WRRI 104b 2023)

This project will leverage stakeholder engagement and participation to address water access in agricultural settings, of great importance to the state of Maine as climate change-driven droughts become more frequent and severe. The overarching goal is to assess novel shallow well performance in an agroecological context. Specifically, the team will investigate how the novel shallow well performs over a range of hydrologic conditions.

Socio‐Economic and Environmental Analyses for Using Woody Biochar to Conserve Water and Sustain Agriculture in Maine (WRRI 104b 2023)

Water resources will become scarcer in the future, and agricultural systems in Maine are facing the threat of increasing drought. As an iconic crop, wild (or lowbush) blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium Ait.) may undergo severe drought impacts because they grow on sandy soils with a low water holding capacity. Biochar additions could be a prominent solution to increase soil water holding of sandy soils and crop productivity.

Developing and Deploying a Risk Framework for PFAS Management in Rural America: Connecting Predictive Models of PFAS Contamination with Risk Perceptions to Guide Management Decisions (WRRI 104g)

Across the United States, there is growing concern about the widespread occurrence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in our water, our food, and our bodies stemming from exposure through landfills, pesticides, atmospheric deposition, consumer products and fire suppressants. This is particularly true in rural America, where the land application of municipal and industrial biosolids to agricultural fields or septage disposal sites may be further contributing to PFAS contamination in groundwater and surface water.

Tracking the Effects of Forest Disturbances and Climate Change on Headwater Streams in Northern Maine (WRRI 2021)

Many northern Maine areas with a history of large-scale forest harvest operations are now experiencing rapid changes in climate conditions. Researchers from the University of Maine System are partnering with diverse stakeholders to develop tools to support watershed management decision-making that is based in solid scientific information and accounts for multiple objectives.

Integrated Assessment of Alternative Management Strategies for PFAS-contaminated Wastewater Residuals (WRRI 2021)

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are used in a range of consumer products from nonstick cookware to breathable rain gear and food packaging. Though PFAS have been in use since the late 1950s, it is only in the last 20 years that their toxicity has been well documented. Because these chemicals do not break down, they eventually end up in the wastewater streams sent to treatment plants. During treatment, much of the PFAS are removed from the wastewater and become concentrated in the wastewater sludge, or residuals, that remain. In 2019, the state stopped spreading wastewater residuals on farm fields due to the discovery of unsafe levels of PFAS in virtually all samples and PFAS contamination at several Maine dairy farms. An interdisciplinary research team is examining the environmental, social and economic consequences of a range of management options for PFAS-contaminated wastewater residuals.

Building Knowledge and Capacity for Community-Led Coastal Stewardship

Marine ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them are complex and dynamic social-ecological systems and knowledge of these dynamics is needed to sustain both ecological and human communities. Yet fine-scale data relevant to specific places are often lacking. The University of Maine Darling Marine Center (DMC), in partnership with the Damariscotta-Newcastle Joint Shellfish Committee and Lincoln Academy, is developing a community science research program in the Damariscotta River Estuary. The team is working with local scientists, students, educators, harvesters, and municipal leaders to collect information on shellfish and document how the estuary is changing.

Exploring the Potential for Reusable Take-out Packaging in Maine

Maine residents are generating more waste per capita over time, despite state-initiated goals to reduce this number. Much of the waste stream is made up of single-use packaging, including take-out containers. Reusable packaging models for restaurants are emerging across the United States and around the world and early research suggests that it can save restaurants money, build customer loyalty, and reduce negative environmental impacts. But very little is known about the costs and benefits of different models. This project will test reusable packaging pilot programs with participating restaurants and municipalities to better understand how these systems might operate in Maine.

Increasing Maine Consumer Food Waste Education and Awareness

The Mitchell Center has brought together a faculty/student food waste team to develop a Maine food waste education and action campaign as a key solution for ending food waste in Maine. The overall effort leverages support from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the University of Maine (UMaine), and key Maine food system stakeholders, to enable the team to create a statewide food waste education campaign. The campaign targets Maine residents, communities, schools, organizations and businesses and provides the “why” and “how” to end wasted food and food loss statewide.

Building Maine’s Circular (Zero-Waste) Food System Infrastructure

University of Maine System faculty and students are collaborating on a circular food system research team to focus on solutions for food waste in Maine. Development of Maine’s circular food system will end food waste by insuring that food is put to its best and highest use and never wasted. The research team is focused on building the infrastructure needed to support Maine farm food processing and meet both food waste and food insecurity challenges.

Harnessing Spatiotemporal Data Science to Predict Responses of Biodiversity and Rural Communities under Climate Change

In response to a changing climate, populations of plants and animals move to more hospitable locations. Predicting where species will end up, and how New England farmers and rural communities need to plan for such changes, is the focus of a new interdisciplinary research initiative led by the University of Maine. The project’s goal is to better understand how plant and animal species — including forest plants, wildlife, diseases transmitted from animals to people, and agricultural crops — will respond to a changing climate in the next century.  

Fishing in Hot Water: Defining Sentinel Indicators of Resilience in the American Lobster Fishery

The Maine lobster fishery is among the most valuable commercial fisheries in the United States and supports thousands of jobs in coastal communities across the state. Yet it also faces serious challenges related to climate change, trade and marine mammal entanglement. Although there are multiple monitoring programs that are used to track the status of the lobster resource in Maine, no equivalent system exists to understand the status of the lobster industry. The intent of this research is to develop “sentinel” indicators of resilience for the lobster industry that can be used to detect early signs of vulnerability.

Farms and Rivers for the Future (WRRI 2020)

As climate change continues to emerge as an important factor in natural resource decisions, developing and practicing collaborative, community-based decision-making will prove to be an important process for increasing communities’ capacity for adaptation. The Farms and Rivers for the Future project seeks to identify and better understand community perceptions in the Meduxnekeag watershed in northern Maine, working with a diverse partnership of organizations located in the watershed.

Food Waste Management: Empowering Maine Businesses Toward Sustainability

The Mitchell Center’s Materials Management team has brought together a diverse group of waste management stakeholders to collaboratively imagine how the state might make more progress toward its waste reduction and recycling goals, with the single most important issue for ensuring a more sustainable system being the reduction of food waste and getting organics out of the landfill.

Helping Maine Farmers Succeed in a Changing Climate

University of Maine Cooperative Extension members and the State Climatologist are working on a new project with farmers in Maine. The goal is to listen to farmer needs around weather information and farm management decision support tools, and discuss future capabilities in light of Maine’s changing climate.

Assessing the Climate Mitigation Potential of Maine Agriculture

Farming practices that promote “soil health” can make farms more productive, profitable, and resilient to climate change impacts. Additionally, some soil health building practices—for example, cover cropping, reducing tillage, and biochar application—can contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation. There is growing interest in state and regional policies to incentivize soil health building practices, but to inform these policy efforts, a baseline assessment is needed.

Making Maine’s Local Food System Sustainable: Opportunities to Address Hunger and Reduce Waste

This project builds and expands on the 2018 Food Waste Reduction project which was focused on food loss, food waste, and barriers to establishing a circular food system and environmental sustainability while addressing food insecurity. This project will expand on the earlier project to include: a) University of Maine System (UMS) students’ active engagement in an interdisciplinary undergraduate collaborative team led by undergraduate students who participated in the Food Waste Reduction project; and b) UMS students’ participating in all phases of research.

The Emergent Risks of Food Waste Recovery: Characterizing the Contaminants in Municipal Solid Waste

To approach a more sustainable food system in the United States, our system must become more energy, water and material-efficient. The ideal model is a circular food system that eliminates waste by returning nutrients to agricultural soils while minimizing water and energy use. As we move towards organic waste recovery and nutrient recycling, we must plan for emerging risks that may compromise the safety of a more circular food system.

Mitigating Environmental-Human Determinants of Tickborne Disease Risk in Acadia National Park

Resource stewardship in parks and natural areas encompasses promoting both healthy ecosystems and healthy visitors. In Acadia National Park (ANP), millions of tourists and outdoor enthusiasts per year are at risk of exposure to a suite of pathogens transmitted by hard-bodied ticks.

Food Waste Reduction

The ultimate goal of the Diana Davis Spencer Partnership for a Sustainable Maine is to develop, implement and evaluate solutions to complex problems requiring a careful balance between economic development and environmental preservation. The central element of the project’s solutions strategy is to inspire and equip a new generation of engaged, entrepreneurial citizens by providing students with transformative, hands-on experiences in the power of innovative partnerships to create a brighter future.  

Older Projects

Maine Farm to Institution Food Project

One of the most important questions facing the local food movement in Maine is how to make it sustainable—environmentally, economically, and socially. A major approach has been to promote a farm-to-institution (F2I) movement whereby farms will be able to sell their produce to local institutions such as universities and hospitals, and reduce environmental costs through these local supply chains.

Cheesemaking in Maine

A sustainable agricultural system must do many things, including satisfying human food needs, contributing to biofuel needs, enhancing environmental quality, and, sustaining the economic viability of agriculture.

Improving Weed Management on Organic Farms

This project is developing a decision-aid tool to improve the economic sustainability of Maine organic farmers through improved weed management. Stakeholders will be included in the development of this tool and will also help publicize the finished product.

Mobilizing to Fight the Emerald Ash Borer

The invasive emerald ash borer could decimate Maine’s ash trees—and jeopardize the livelihoods of Maine’s Indian basket makers, who rely on the tree for their time-honored craft…

Engaging Maine Blueberry Growers to Develop Tools for Native Bee Use and Conservation

Native bee conservation has become a pressing need. With honeybees, long the crop pollinator workhorse, on the decline, researchers are working with farmers to see if they can conserve and bolster Maine’s native bee populations…

Sustainability of widespread forest certification and the Maine Forest Practices Act

The sustainability of Maine’s forest industry is of critical interest to multiple stakeholders within the state. Both industry advocates, as well as environmentalists, have a vested interest in ensuring that practices in the state enable forests and forest management activities to persist into the future.

Sustainable Food Systems Research Collaborative

Creating and maintaining sustainable food systems is a critical and growing challenge to global society. The impacts of population growth, demographic shifts, climate change, and income inequality are felt throughout the food system at all levels. Maine ranks first in New England in food insecurity—23.9% of Maine’s children are food insecure…

Enhancing Dialogue Between Wild Blueberry Growers and Researchers

Wild blueberry production is very important to Maine’s natural resource economy. Management of a natural resource always affects the environment and so it should be a high priority that management of this wild crop is performed sustainably, both ecologically and economically…

Mapping a Sustainable Future
Major forces are altering Maine’s communities and landscape. Over the past 15 years, development pressure has intensified in the southern part of the state, and millions of acres of forest have changed hands in the north…

Understanding An Insect Threat to Maine’s Hemlock Trees
Once limited by extreme cold, the invasive hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA) is spreading north in Maine in the wake of recent mild winters. First reported in southern Maine in 1999, this destructive insect is advancing along the coast and has also been found on Mount Desert Island….

Evaluating Interactions Between Wild Turkeys and Maine Agriculture
Historically, wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) existed in significant numbers in Maine.  By the early 1800’s wild turkeys in Maine were extirpated due to unrestricted hunting and intensive agricultural practices resulting in the reduction of forested land…

People, Landscape and Communities (PLACE)
More than a third of Maine—nearly six million acres—is owned by small landowners in parcels of 1 to 1,000 acres. Their decisions about managing their land affect not only their own welfare; they collectively influence Maine’s communities, broader landscape, and quality and sense of place..