Food for thought: At some point in their lives, 12.9 percent of all children born in Lincoln County today will experience hunger, the majority as children or elderly adults, according to Healthy Lincoln County. Far more have inadequate access to healthy foods, sometimes leading to poor health and obesity.
What does our local food system look like? How does it affect those who are experiencing hunger, or suffering from obesity? How do communities coordinate with one another on all the resources? And how is it possible not to duplicate efforts? These are some of the questions Chewonki and Morris Farm hoped to answer in their day-long community forum on Saturday, March 5, entitled “Local Food, Local Hunger”. The forum was held at the Chewonki campus in Wiscasset.
The focus of the event was working toward food security for children and seniors, who are those most adversely affected by hunger, but other issues were also covered, including how to encourage more use of local produce, through farmer’s markets, including sales of produce to Electronic Benefit Transfer holders, who may be on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and reducing food waste in landfills. A series of 12 breakout sessions, as well as an introductory panel, addressed these and many other issues. A healthy luncheon, and time for networking, as well as a video about local food options that solve the issues of food safety and security, economic concerns, environmental concerns, and health concerns, rounded out the day.
One of the more innovative ideas is connecting farmers throughout the state to end users, processors, institutions such as schools and food banks, and other interested parties through the use of food councils. Lincoln County’s nascent food council is just beginning to establish itself through creating a mission statement and other institutional paperwork, but several food councils have been established for five years or more in Maine.
One of the most productive is in the Lewiston area, which has created a food hub in a former mill building, garnered several grants to identify the needs in its community, and created a seed grant program to start small pilot projects dealing with food insecurity.
Karen Bolduc, director of the Good Food Council of Lewiston, outlined some of its successes since its founding in 2012.
Among the programs it has created is a double coupon program for people using EBT cards at the Lewiston farmer’s market, connecting people in need of quality produce to farmers for about the same price or less than would be available in the local supermarket.
One of Good Food Council’s early partners, St. Mary’s, has established a garden lot program on vacant lots. It also provides “prescription produce” coupons for the Lewiston farmer’s market.
Another partner, Seniors Plus, has created a special dining hall for seniors, and has expanded its Meals on Wheels program.
And the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project has fostered farming among recent refugees in the Lewiston-Auburn area. Many of these refugees are self-sustaining and are selling excess produce at local farmer’s markets, including in Bath.
Ken Morse of the Network of Community Food Councils unveiled the state’s newest technological way of connecting food providers to consumers. The food councils have created a “food atlas” online in Maine, where farmers can register and people who are looking for produce can find them and their specialties. Farmers, processors, value-added farms (such as those that produce honey, jam, pickles, or cheese), and more are encouraged to add their farms and businesses to the atlas, which can be accessed at http://www.mainefoodatlas.com/. There is currently no fee to be included.
Much more work needs to be done, said panel discussion member Colleen Fuller, of the Merrymeeting Food Council, which serves the greater Sagadahoc County region. “We need to get all the stakeholders together and determine who is doing what, so we can benefit from one another, and thus benefit the communities,” she said.