The Maine legislature is considering a bill that would help Maine farms bring more of their food to our tables. “An Act To Support School Nutrition and Expand the Local Foods Economy” (LD 1431) supports Maine in producing and consuming more of its own food. Under a two-pronged approach, the bill gives crucial start-up capital to emerging food hubs that meet certain criteria and incentivizes public schools to source Maine-grown or -harvested foods. It’s a win-win for Maine. (You can read more about this bill in my previous blog post.)
Please act now! The Maine legislature will vote on this bill any day.
Please show your support for Maine farmers and fresh local food by calling members of Maine’s Appropriations Committee, Senate President Justin Alfond, and House Speaker Mark Eves, asking them to fund this bill. Then, call your legislator, asking him or her to vote in favor of LD 1431. If you cannot call, please send an e-mail urging support. You can find your legislator here.
How Does This Bill Help Maine?
In Maine, we import the majority of the food we eat. But our state boasts the second highest concentration of Farm-to-School programs and direct-to-consumer farms and food businesses in the country (just a hair behind Vermont). Why, then, are we importing so much of our food? The answer lies partly with geography, partly with the marketplace, and partly with policy.
Let’s look at the easy one first—geography. If Mainers want large quantities of oranges, pineapples, or avocados, they must either move much farther south or import those foods from away. Unless we adopt a diet rooted more strongly in locality and seasonality, we are stuck hauling in food from out of state.
The marketplace is a little more complicated. Because of economies of scale, shipping in food from away can sometimes be cheaper for grocers, restaurants, institutional markets, and, ultimately, consumers. But the price of food does not always reflect its true cost. Several negative aspects of industrial-scale food production are not factored into the price of the end product. The producers of that food, in other words, do not absorb all the actual production costs.
Who does? We do. For example, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) increase the incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, cause air-quality problems for neighboring communities, contaminate watersheds with concentrated animal waste, and shift the social structure and economy of farming regions. Eventually, we will all pay the price if the true cost of production is not factored into our food.
As for policy, it can either hinder or help local food production. For example, subsidies in the federal farm bill have historically favored industrial-scale farms, making it harder for smaller, diversified farms to compete. CLF’s new regional food policy report offers many suggestions for eliminating policy barriers and filling in policy gaps.
LD 1431 is an example of sound policy that would help Maine’s farms, food businesses, and consumers. How can food hubs help Maine? A food hub is a business that collects, distributes, or markets food products from mostly local or regional producers and strengthens their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand. Food hubs value and work closely with producers to ensure they receive a premium price for their products. Food hubs maintain a triple bottom line, focusing on economic, social, and environmental goals. These businesses offer a way to work with farmers and fishermen to get their products into the hands of more Mainers. Existing food hubs in Maine like Crown O’ Maine and Northern Girl are already doing just that. A national food hub conference a few weeks ago brought together food hub operators from around the country who have added tremendous value to their states by bringing fresh, locally sourced food to in-state communities that otherwise would not have access to those tasty and healthful products.
What’s the Status of the Bill?
Initially, new appropriations to the Departments of Education and Agriculture would have funded implementation of LD 1431. Unfortunately, those dollars have been cut from the amended bill. Funding to the Department of Education for public schools to receive local foods training and to source local food must now come from federal grants. The good news is that, in the near term, there are sufficient funds within Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry to give food hubs grants and loans as directed by the bill.
Last week, the House and Senate unanimously passed this amended version of LD 1431. Now it sits with the Appropriations Committee. Because all funding was stripped from the bill, its price tag is under $5,000, mostly covering rulemaking costs. This paltry sum threatens a bill that would bring more fresh, local food to your table.
Please call your legislator to urge support for this important bill.
With your help, we can support Maine farmers, boost Maine’s economy, foster greater public health, and bring Maine-grown and -harvested foods to more Maine tables.
If you have questions about this bill, please contact Ben Tettlebaum at firstname.lastname@example.org.