By Ramona du Houx
A proposed law to expand the use of fresh Maine foods into new markets like school food service programs moves out of committee with a divided report from the state’s Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee.
“This measure strengthens our agricultural economy, protects our resources, and provides healthy food for our people,” said Democratic State Senator Chris Johnson of Somerville, the sponsor of the proposed law. “This is a triple win for our bottom line.Maine has a great opportunity to help farming grow and help farmers.”
Currently, New England only produces only 10 percent of the food consumed in the region. But according to New England Food Vision report, New England has capacity to produce more than 50 percent of the food consumed.
Maine has the most farms in New England with 8,174 farms and contributes more than $2 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to the Maine Farm Bureau Association.
The proposed law, LD 1284 "An Act To Expand the Local Foods Economy," is a continuation of Senator Johnson’s efforts from the 126th Legislature: LD 1431, “An Act to Support School Nutrition and Grow the Local Foods Economy,” was passed unanimously in the Senate and broadly supported in the House before Gov. LePage vetoed the measure. While the bill was successfully overridden in the Senate, it narrowly failed an override in the House.
The proposed law also provides small competitive grants for business plan development followed by competitive loans.
“Whether the need is a test lab or a shared-use licensed kitchen this loan program can help with local foods infrastructure and adding value in a shortened food chain,” said Johnson. “In the end, that is good for farmers and consumers.”
The measure will now go to the Senate for consideration in the coming weeks.