Three UMaine projects awarded USDA funding to strengthen economy of rural communities

Three University of Maine projects were awarded a total of more than $1 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to improve sustainable agriculture and help rural communities thrive.

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded nearly $17.5 million to 47 institutions nationwide. The funding is made possible through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

UMaine researchers Jessica Leahy and Mindy Crandall, faculty in the School of Forest Resources; and Kathleen Bell, a professor in the School of Economics, received awards for their projects related to strengthening economic opportunities in rural Maine.

Crandall’s study, “Youth aspirations and labor market transitions in rural communities,” was one of two projects cited in the USDA news release announcing the awards. The project will “encourage youth employment and entrepreneurship activities to foster resilient rural communities,” the release states.

Crandall, an assistant professor of forest landscape management and economics, was awarded $458,275 for the three-year study. The project will look at economic restructuring, community characteristics, and young people’s perceptions of local labor markets in traditionally forest-dependent rural communities in Maine and Oregon.

The project will seek to understand youth decisions about their human capital investments, and the potential impact their choices may have on rural community persistence in the future.

Leahy, interim associate dean for research in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture; and interim associate director of the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, was awarded $498,462 for “Finding the sweet spot: Scale challenges and opportunities for beekeeping and maple syrup production in Maine.” The three-year project aims to increase knowledge of the production and marketing challenges and opportunities for small- and medium-sized beekeeping and maple syrup producers in the state.

Bell, a professor of resource economics and policy, was awarded $77,492 for “Big data, economics, and rural economies: Facilitating innovation and economic opportunities in rural communities.” The long-term goals of the nine-month, sabbatical-grant project are to advance knowledge and understanding of rural communities and entrepreneurs, and enhance rural economic opportunities.

AFRI is America’s flagship competitive grants program for foundational and translational research, education and extension projects in the food and agricultural sciences. The AFRI program area of Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities supports projects that improve agricultural sustainability, protect the environment, enhance quality of life for rural communities, and alleviate poverty, according to the USDA.

More information about the awards and projects is online.

Contact: Elyse Catalina, 207.581.3747